Changing Relationships #MondayBlogs #families #relationships

olive

It’s twenty years today since my auntie left our home for the last time to go into care; eight years since she died. I wrote some of the following on each of those occasions. Now it seems almost unbelievable how much time has passed. I remember …

During our lives, Auntie Olive and I had three different relationships.

When I was a child I was told she was ‘someone very important in the civil service.’ She was a spinster in every way. I think I was as much a mystery to her as she was to me and we avoided each other as much as possible. But there was one occasion when we united in gleeful rebellion and it caused the only quarrel I can remember between her and my mother.

 For a long time, when I was a child, my mother insisted on my having ringlets. Every night my hair was twisted into rags and my scalp lifted from my skull. It was sheer torture. Auntie Olive hated those ringlets as much as I did and one day, when I was ten, she put a pudding basin on my head and cut round it. I was overjoyed and imagined that I looked like George out of the Famous Five books. My mother was less impressed. She didn’t speak to my auntie for a whole month.

 As I grew up my auntie took it upon herself to educate me in classical music but gave up the day she caught me gyrating to the Beatles. She then changed tactics and taught me ballroom dancing. We whirled up and down the hall of the tiny terraced house, where she lived and I can still do a mean waltz and quickstep, but only in straight lines; I never learned to turn corners. She showed me how to sew which came in very useful in the 60’s; it was surprising how many mini skirts a couple of yards of material could make. Most useful of all Auntie Olive taught me to drive and trusted my skills enough to lend me her car; which gave me a lot of kudos in our village (even if it was just a little blue Ford Popular). And, although we still didn’t understand each other’s ways, we were fond of one another.

So it seemed natural that, when my Nan died, Auntie Olive came  to live with us in Pembrokeshire.

By that time I was married with children and she was not just my aunt; she had become a dear friend. Even so, with little patience for trivial pleasantries and the possession of an acerbic tongue, she demanded respect wherever she was and I was sometimes a little wary of her. 

This made the adjustment to my next relationship with her very difficult.

                                                ***********

 Thirty years later Aunt Olive lives in the apartment, attached to our house. As she walks past my kitchen window she waves a peeled banana at me, which she intends to eat on the way to the shops. She does this every morning, perhaps to let me know she’s eating properly, perhaps as a joke. But, probably, she doesn’t even realise she’s doing it. All I know is that at one time my aunt would not have done something so ‘unseemly’ as to eat in the street.

  As she walks down the drive I realise she has no skirt on.

‘You can’t go out just in your knickers, you’ll stop the traffic’ I joke and we go back to the house. We laugh. She and I laugh a lot these days; it’s the only way to cope. We both know she is trying to keep some control over her life and, more often than not, fails. When she stubbornly insists on wearing her vest over her cardigan; when I find her washing her soiled pyjamas in an overflowing bath, wearing a woolly hat because she can’t find the shower cap she thinks she should wear; when, for the tenth time, the smoke alarm shrieks because she has burned the toast, again, and we both run to waft at it with a tea towel, we laugh. Who cares?

I do, it’s heart breaking.

 In our discussions on current affairs she pretends that she has read the newspaper, yet I know she can no longer read and after less than five minutes conversation I am repeating myself and she is the echo. She remembers her school days, her work in the War Office during the Second World War, a lover killed at Dunkirk. But she forgets that she has already had lunch and insists that I make her another; I feel chained to that damn cooker. Her nights and days are muddled and I am getting used to grilling bacon and frying eggs at three in the morning. It’s easier than trying to explain.

 Sometimes she calls me by my mother’s name as we sit in the garden, and wonders where her own mother is. I have learned to play the game.

  She loves the sun these days.

  ‘Warms my old bones.’ She says, wearing a floral sun hat, which she wouldn’t have been seen dead in ten years ago.   

 She has the same route around the village each day, paper shop, chemist, Post Office, Co-op. Not that she needs anything, I shop for her, but it’s her routine and at each place they are good enough to make sure she is heading back in the right direction.  Sometimes she walks down the road as far as the cross roads. I watch from an upstairs window. She has begun to wander. She’s very clever at slipping out of the house without me knowing she has gone. I drive around in the car looking for her or I get a telephone call from some kind soul who has ‘captured’ her and is supplying tea and biscuits. And safety.

She’s started to flash her knickers at the man who takes her to the day centre once a week.

                                                ************

 Now there is a third relationship I have with my aunt. I am a visitor. We no longer laugh at the silly things she does. I no longer help her to dress or eat. Someone else does all that now. They do it with love and care but it doesn’t stop the guilt i feel. Our conversations are a monologue. She sits and smiles at me. We hold hands. Sometimes she squeezes my fingers and when I look into her eyes I see the fear. I wrap my arms around her and whisper, ‘you’re safe, I’ve got you. It will be alright.’

 Against my shoulder I feel her shake her head.

© Judith Barrow 2018

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My Review of Long Shadows: Tales of Llys y Garn by Thorne Moore #TuesdayBookBlog #Histfiction

long shadows

 

I gave Long Shadows: Tales of Llys y Garn 5*

Book Description:

Llys y Garn is a rambling Victorian-Gothic mansion with vestiges of older glories.

It lies in the isolated parish of Rhyd y Groes in North Pembrokeshire. It is the house of the parish, even in its decline, deeply conscious of its importance, its pedigree and its permanence. It stubbornly remains though the lives of former inhabitants have long since passed away. Only the rooks are left to bear witness to the often desperate march of history.

Throne Moore’s Long Shadows: Tales of Llys y Garn comprises a trio of historical novellas that let us into secrets known only to these melancholy birds.

The Good Servant is the story of Nelly Skeel, loveless housekeeper at Llys y Garn at the end of the 19th century, whose only focus of affection is her master’s despised nephew. But for Cyril Lawson she will do anything, whatever the cost.

The Witch tells of Elizabeth Powell, born as Charles II is restored to the English throne, in a world of changing political allegiances, where religious bigotry and superstition linger on. Her love is not for her family, her duty, her God or her future husband, but for the house where she was born. For that she would sell her soul.

The Dragon Slayer tells of Angharad ferch Owain in the early decades of the 14th century. Angharad is an expendable asset in her father’s machinations to recover old rights and narrow claims, but she dreams of bigger things and a world without the roaring of men. A world that might spare her from the seemingly inevitable fate of all women.

In these three tales the rooks of Llys y Garn have watched centuries of human tribulation – but just how much has really changed? If you enjoyed the kaleidoscopic sweep of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas you will appreciate Long Shadows.

My Review:

I have long been an admirer of Thorne Moore’s work and have not been disappointed with these three novellas in  Long Shadows: Tales of Llys y Garn

The first, The Good Servant is told from the point of view of the housekeeper, Nelly Skeel; the protagonist, living at the end of the nineteenth century.  Well rounded and well portrayed in her actions, there is a vulnerability about this character; as the reader I found myself both can empathising and sympathising  with her and yet being exasperated. Yet should I? She is of her time and  of a certain status in her world.

And, so, on to The Witch. This story, set in the seventeenth century,  takes the reader through the early years of Elizabeth Powell to her adult life. Told mainly from the protagonist’s point of view with the occasional insight to one or two of the  other characters from a third person narrator, the emphasis is on the restrictions of the religion at that time. and the class struggles; land versus money. I liked Elizabeth, which is something I cannot say about Anthony, her brother. Always there is hope that all will be well but there is an all encompassing darkness to her story…

The Dragon Slayer is the story of Angharad ferch Owain, living during the fourteenth  century. Also told from the protagonist’s point of view we read of her fear of her father, of her future. This protagonist I liked the most. The ending is satisfying. I don’t know why I was surprised, but I was. As with the first two novellas, this tale is dark with themes of the women being mere chattels to be bargained with, used for the progression in society of their families.

I enjoyed the way the women were portrayed as having a strength and internal rebellion. But yet there was always the conflicts of status and money, of land and possessions, of greed and thwarted love. Of patriarchy.

In all three novellas, both the internal and spoken dialogue the author has the tone and subtle dialect that I imagine Rhyd y Groes in North Pembrokeshire to have been in those eras.

And, in all, the descriptions of the buildings, of Llys y Garn and of the ever-changing Welsh countryside are evocative and easily imagined.

Just a comment about the style of the book:  

The intriguing Prelude, giving the history of the “rambling Victorian-Gothic mansion” that is Llys y Garn,  is fascinating.  And I loved the short explanations of the after-years of novella. And  then we have the Interludes; told in a conversational tone these are filled both with historical details and those pertinent to the story,. Finally, the Epilogue, giving the continuing, ever-evolving history of Llys y Garn through the following centuries. 

It is apparent that the author has researched thoroughly for each of these stories; the themes of Welsh legends, myths, superstitions  and tales are woven throughout the history of the decades.  

Watch out for the ravens

This is a collection of novellas I can thoroughly recommend to any reader, especially those who enjoys historical literature.

Links to buy:

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/2rDFQj7

Amazon.com: https://amzn.to/2Iap5Hr

About the author:

Thorne Moore

Thorne was born in Luton and graduated from Aberystwyth University (history) and from the Open University (Law). She set up a restaurant with her sister but now spends her time writing and making miniature furniture for collectors. She lives in Pembrokeshire, which forms a background for much of her writing, as does Luton. She writes psychological mysteries, or “domestic noir,” and her first novel, A Time For Silence, was published by Honno in 2012. Motherlove and The Unravelling followed, also published by Honno. She has also brought out a book of short stories, Moments of Consequence. Her last novel, Shadows, was published by Endeavour in 2017. She’s a member of the Crime Writers Association.

Praise for Thorne Moore and her novels:

“Thorne Moore is a huge talent. Her writing is intensely unsettling and memorable” – SALLY SPEDDING, AUTHOR

“Totally had me hooked from page one… Highly recommended if you love a good psychological thriller” – BROOK COTTAGE BOOKS

“I devoured this book. Beautifully written, frighteningly real” – CHILL WITH A BOOK

“A compelling blend of mystery and family drama with a gothic twist… The author’s ability to create an atmosphere is exceptional” – JUDITH BARROW, AUTHOR

“Beautifully told, this really did have me captivated” – CLEOPATRA LOVES BOOKS

“Moore has created a figure who reaches out across the decades and grabs our sympathy… Her character transforms the novel” – BOOKERTALK

 

My Review of Fred’s Funeral by Sandy Day #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

fredsfuneral

I received this book as a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team (#RBRT) in return for an honest review.

 I gave Fred’s Funeral by Sandy Day 5* out of 5*

Book Description:

Fred Sadler has just died of old age. It’s 1986, seventy years after he marched off to WWI, and the ghost of Fred Sadler hovers near the ceiling of the nursing home. To Fred’s dismay, the arrangement of his funeral falls to his prudish sister-in-law, Viola. As she dominates the remembrance of Fred, he agonizes over his inability to set the record straight.

Was old Uncle Fred really suffering from shell shock? Why was he locked up most of his life in the Whitby Hospital for the Insane? Could his family not have done more for him?

Fred’s memories of his life as a child, his family’s hotel, the War, and the mental hospital, clash with Viola’s version of events as the family gathers on a rainy October night to pay their respects.

My Review:

 I think the book description, with all the open questions, reveals all that is needed to say about the story to draw any reader in.

I loved this novella. Although inspired by letters written by the author’s Great Uncle Fred, and written from a third person point of view, it’s Sandy Day’s light touch in her writing style that brings out the poignancy of what is essentially a ghost story.

I actually found it strangely frustrating that Fred Sadler is unable to make his relatives understand that it was his experiences in the First World War that permanently damaged him and led to his erratic lifestyle afterwards .

And it reminded me that ultimately we are all seen by others from their own perspectives. Bearing in mind that this is essentially a true story, (and not knowing if Viola’s viewpoint of him has, in truth, been gleaned from those letters of his) this disturbed and upset me for Fred.

 Which, I suppose, shows how strong is the portrayal of the protagonist – ghost or not.

 The juxtaposition of memories and present day actions, recollections and interpretations of Fred’s life through the contents of his battered old suitcase ,as the family study and comment over them, saddened me.

 This is a reflective and insightful story that will stay with me for quite a while.

 And, my goodness, the cover!  The young soldier, veiled by the handwriting, standing upright and proud in his uniform, as yet unaware of what faced him. Powerful image.

 And what I would give to be able to read those letters.

I realise this is quite a short review for me but I hope it’s enough to show how strongly I recommend Fred’s Funeral to any readers. A novella not to be missed.

Links:

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2sHbv6Z

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2FhHjlP

 

About the Author

sandy day

 

Sandy Day is the author of Fred’s Funeral and Chatterbox, Poems. She graduated from Glendon College, York University, with a degree in English Literature sometime in the last century. Sandy spends her summers in Jackson’s Point, Ontario on the shore of Lake Simcoe. She winters nearby in Sutton by the Black River. Sandy is a trained facilitator for the Toronto Writers Collective’s creative writing workshops. She is a developmental editor and book coach.

Find Sandy on Twitter@sandeetweets

 

 

Castles in the Air: A Family Memoir of Love and Loss by Alison Ripley Cubitt and Molly Ripley #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

 

castles in the air

I reviewed the book as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT in return for an honest review

 I gave Castles in the Air: A Family Memoir of Love and Loss 3* out of 5*

Book Description

A highly readable story about a remarkable life Rosemary S, librarian, NetGalley
Great story about a daughter trying to find her path after she uncovers her mother’s life and secrets, Strongly recommends, CLJ Reviewer, NetGalley

An eight-year-old child witnesses her mother’s secret and knows that from that moment life will never be the same.

After Molly, her mother dies, Alison uses her legacy to make a film about Molly’s relationship with a man she had known since she was a teenager. What hold did this man have over her mother? And what other secrets was her mother hiding?

Castles in the Air follows the life of Molly Ripley through the eyes of her daughter Alison. From Molly’s childhood in colonial Hong Kong and Malaya; wartime adventures as a rookie office girl in the far east outpost of Bletchley Park then as a young nurse in the city; tangled romance and marriage to her challenging middle-age when demons from the past seem set to overwhelm her.

The writer in Alison can’t stop until she reveals the story of Molly’s past.
But as a daughter, does she have the courage to face up to the uncomfortable truths of Molly’s seemingly ordinary life?

As she unravels the private self that Molly kept secret, Alison realises that she is trying to find herself through her mother’s story. By trying to make sense of the past, can she move on with her future?

Honest yet unsentimental and told with abundant love and compassion, this is a profoundly moving portrait of a woman’s life, hopes and dreams.
We learn not only about Molly, but about mothers and daughters, secrets and love.
A story for readers struggling to come to terms with the trauma of losing loved ones.
A 2016 B.RA.G. medallion honoree

My Review:

Castles in the Air is a form of an epistolary memoir, written by the daughter of Molly Ripley. that, through diary journals belonging to the author’s father, Don, and letters sent by Molly to a family friend, Steve, traces  her mother’s life through childhood  in wartime and later through her education and work. From the tone of the letters it seems her attraction to Steve lasts well into adulthood. I wondered why his letters were not kept.

The story begins when Molly’ is eleven in 1937. Her letters date from when she and her parents were about to leave England to go to  the Far East where her father has important work. These are minutely detailed and, I’m afraid to say, laborious letters of life on the ship, shopping  trips, parties, friendships. I would have loved some setting, some information of the world around Molly at this time but, of course, it needs to be kept in mind that this was a child writing. The father’s journals are really sparse notes also.

I found the second half of the story more interesting; the accounts of the family’s struggles, financially and emotionally, from the author’s point of view as she sees her parents from a distance. There is both sadness and poignancy threaded throughout the text after Molly’s marriage, the move to Malaysia, to a rubber plantation,back to England, and then on to New Zealand. there is also the interesting/curious continuing friendship with Steve (seemingly resented by Molly’s husband?) And copious accounts of Molly’s drug addiction.

Time and again throughout Castles in the Air it occurred to me that it would have been  fascinating to use all of Molly’s letter and journals as research for a fictitious story. But I am aware that this is a memoir; lovingly  and obviously sometimes painfully written by  Alison Ripley Cubitt.

 The Book Description is so enticing I was eager to read this memoir but I have to say I was disappointed overall. It is a good family memoir which is surely fascinating to and for the author’s family. I think what I wanted more of, was a greater sense of place and more rounded characters. I realise this is probably impossible to glean from the scant details through letters and journals. 

After writing this review I have looked for Castles in the Air on Amazon. There are some good five star reviews there; it may be this was just not the style of memoir I enjoy.

Buying Links:

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2sbLlJn

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2GTy7o8

About the author:

Alison Ripley Cubitt

Alison Ripley Cubitt is an author, memoirist, novelist and screenwriter.
Her most recent piece for The Telegraph was a story on the filming location of the hit tv series Indian Summers. She wrote a screenwriting column for Writing Magazine for nine years.

Other books by this author:
Buying a House in New Zealand: Find Your Perfect Home (2nd edition)
Mosaics 2: A Collection of Independent Women
Castles in the Air: A Family Memoir of Love and Loss
Buying a House in New Zealand (first edition)
Retiring to Australia and New Zealand (with Deborah Penrith)

She co-writes thrillers with Sean Cubitt as Lambert Nagle.
Their books and short stories include:
Capital Crimes
Revolution Earth
Fractured (short story)

Find out more about the author and future publications at:
http://www.lambertnagle.com
http://www.twitter.com/lambertnagle
https://www.facebook.com/alisonripleycubittwriter

 

Stan Green’s Secret #WW1 #shortstories #RemembranceDay

 

‘How old are you, son?’

 Stan straightened his spine and stretched his shoulders back, looking beyond the man to the recruitment poster of Lord Kitchener, on the wall.  ‘Eighteen, sir.’

‘Hmm. Date of birth?’ The captain studied Stan.

‘October 3rd, 1896, sir.’

‘Okay, lad, you’re in. Report to the sergeant over there.’ He dismissed Stan by shouting, ‘Next!’

 Stan grinned and gave the thumbs up to his mate, Ernest Sharp who stood, behind him. He turned and marched as best he could to the other side of the room to the serveant.

‘If that’s the best you can do as a march lad, I’ve got some work cut out for me.’ But the recruiting sergeant, tall and moustached, gave Stan a grin. ‘Welcome to the East Lancashire Regiment. ‘He winked. ‘We’re doin’ well; you’re the tenth recruit today, so that’s ten half-crowns we’ve earned. We’ll be ‘aving a few pints on you lot tonight.’

 

‘What do you mean, you’ve joined the army. You’re fourteen.’ Stan’s mother stared at him. Drying her soapy hands on her pinny she moved away from the sink full of washing. ‘Emmanuel, tell him. Tell him he can’t; he’s not old enough.’

Stan’s father didn’t move from behind his newspaper. ‘If the lad wants to serve his king and country, Mother, there’s nothing we can do.’

‘Nothing.’ Stan’s mother screeched the word. ‘Nothing? He’s a boy, for God’s sake.’

‘No blaspheming, Mother.’  Now Emmanuel Green did lower his paper.  ‘There’s nothing we can do if he’s already signed up.’

‘We could tell them his real—’

‘I want to go, Mother. I will go.’ Stan didn’t want to hurt her by telling her he needed to get away from home; from his sanctimonious father and a mother who almost smothered him with her love.

‘Ernie’s signed up as well, Mam. We’ll watch out for one another.’ He held out his hand to her but, with a wail and throwing her pinny over her head, Gertrude Green rushed from the kitchen.

‘Ignore your mother; she’s being hysterical as usual.’ His father pointed at Stan with the stem of his pipe. ‘She knows nothing of a man’s duty or the work he has to do. I was in the mill at twelve, myself. Just wish I wasn’t too old to join up but it’s up to you stand in for the family now. Make sure you don’t let us down.’

 Stan waited to see if there was anything else he would say but Emmanuel shook the newspaper straight and disappeared behind it again.

 

Stan sat on the edge of his narrow bed. He’d packed his clothes, his notebook and his copy of Robinson Crusoe and was waiting for Ernie to call for him to join the others down at the railway station. Glancing around the small bedroom he wondered when he’d see it again. He doubted he would come home after his training at Tidworth, or even ever. He was sick of this place; of his father, his five sisters, even his mother who he knew was probably the only one in the family who truly loved him.

 The lid of his toy box in the corner of the room was open; the wooden rifle he used to play with was sticking out. Soon he’d be carrying a real rifle. Soon he’d be trained to defend his country holding it; to kill with it. The last thought made him shiver involuntarily and for a moment, only a moment though, he wondered if he’d done the right thing.

 The clatter of the doorknocker stopped his thoughts. He stood, dropping the note he’d written to his mother on the bed. It was short because he hadn’t known what to say. He read the words again “Don’t worry, Mam. I’ll be careful.” He’d hesitated, wondering if he should tell her he loved her but they didn’t say things like that in his family and it sounded soppy, so he just put a cross for a kiss after his name. Stopping at the door to his room he looked around. It wouldn’t be kept as his room, he knew that. As soon as his sisters realised he’d gone, they be fighting over who could move in. He listened outside his parents’ room; his mother was still crying. He couldn’t go in and, without stopping to say anything to his father he opened the door and stepped onto the pavement.

 ‘Come on, Ernie, me old pal,’ he said, flinging his arm over his friend’s shoulder and hitching his bag under his arm. ‘Let go and see the world.’

 

Stan and Ernie slumped next to each other in the trench. The noise of artillery and grenades above them made Stan’s ears ring

       ‘They’re getting nearer, Stan.’ Ernie’s voice wavered. ‘I can’t stand much more of its.’ He put the palms of his hands over his ears.  ‘Have you thought any more about what the Sarge said yesterday? That, if we own up to being fourteen—’

      ‘Fifteen,’ Stan interrupted. ‘We’re fifteen now.’

      ‘Still underage.’ Ernie plucked at Stan’s sleeve. ‘And the Sarge said all of us who’re under nineteen would be allowed to go home to England if we wanted.’

      ‘Well I don’t.’ Stan was curt.

      ‘We’ve done our duty, Stan; we’ve been in this hell for a year now. Please, Stan.’ The tears made rivulets in the dirt on Ernie’s face.’

      Stop it!’ Stan lurched onto his knees to block his friend off from the rest of the soldiers further along the trench. ‘Stop it, for God’s sake, Ern. D’you want that lot to think you’re a coward?’

      ‘I’ve not felt right since that German sniper got Watson in the head. I can’t get his screams out of my head now. And we left him there—’

      ‘We had no choice; they knew where we were by then, we couldn’t hang around. They’d have come for us.’ Stan sat back next to Ernie and rubbed at the barrel of his rifle with his sleeve. ‘We need to get these cleaned up,’ he nodded at both his and Ernie’s rifles, ‘Before the Sarge comes along.’

       ‘Shall we tell him we want to go back—?’

      ‘No!’ You go if you want. I’m staying.’ Stan ached in every bone of his body, his skin was red-raw from scratching at the lice and he couldn’t remember when he was last dry. But he couldn’t go back home. He didn’t know what he’d do when it was all over but he’d never go back to that house.

 

‘Come on, you lot, we’re moving up.’ Stan watched Sergeant Mills kick the boots of those soldiers who were sleeping as he stumbled through the mud of the trench towards him.

      ‘Ernie, wake up. We’re off again.’

      His friend didn’t speak. Holding on to the side of the trench he struggled to his feet and pushed himself upright.

      Keep your bloody head down.’ The sergeant thumped Ernie’s shoulder. ‘Bloody idiot. Do you want to lose it?’ He stood at the front of the line. ‘We’re moving up to our sector. Stick close to me and keep your gobs shut. We don’t want the soddin’ Krauts doing what they did last week, do we?’

       ‘Oh God.’

      When Stan looked into his mate’s eyes they were unfocussed. He hadn’t been the same since the Germans had raided their trench, armed with knives and clubs two nights ago and taken the division by surprise.

      ‘Buck up, Ern,’ he muttered.  ‘Stick close.’ But he knew he shared the same nightmares. There had been no escape in the assault and fourteen of the men around them had died before they’d even managed to retaliate. It was the noise that haunted him most; the sound of the clubs on skulls, knives through flesh, the screams and moans of the dying.

 

       ‘Come on, shift.’ The sergeant glared at the men fumbling into line, fastening their helmets, fixing bayonets to their rifles. ‘Ready?’          

      ‘Ready, Sarge.’ Stan tried to sound confident raising his voice above the mumbles around him; hoping Sergeant Mills hadn’t seen Ernie’s bewilderment.

 The grenade landed feet in front of the sergeant.  

      The explosion blew three of the men in front of Stan off their feet. Stan wiped his arm across his face to clear his eyes. Looking down at his sleeve he saw the blood and torn tissue mixed with the mud. He swallowed the bile that rose instantly in his throat

      Sergeant Mills seemed to be propped up against the side of the trench at least ten yards in front of them, both legs missing.  As Stan watched the body slid down the wall and fell, face upwards into the mud. Bloody parts of the three soldiers were scattered around the trench. The head of one, Cuthbert Grimes, Stan noted numbly, lay in front of his boots, the skin peppered with shrapnel.

      ‘Our Father who art in Heaven… our Father who art in Heaven… our Father…’

      Behind him Ernie’s voice grew higher. Other voices joined in with him.

      ‘Shut it. Shut up.’ Stan whirled round to face those behind him. They blundered away from him.   He didn’t see the cloud of the yellow gas seeping along the trench. In an instant the gas tore into Stan’s lungs and scorching his eyes. Choking he followed the rest of his division, crawling on hands and knees through the mud.

       Ernie, move. Quick!’ He faltered, rubbing frantically at his eyes, blinded. It was the last thing he remembered.

     

Stan’s throat burned from the stream of vile – smelling liquid that poured out of him, He was barely aware of the soothing words and the gentle touch on his back. When the agony finally stopped he slowly sat up, scared it would start again.

      ‘Okay, now?’ The nurse came into view; a kindly concerned expression on the smiling face of a woman about his mam’s age.

      He nodded, tentative with any movement in case it started again. ‘Where am I?’

      ‘In the hospital at the Base Camp.’

      ‘Ernie?’ he said. ‘My mate, Ernie?’ he looked around the long ward, past beds of injured men. ‘He here as well?’

      ‘I’m sorry; I don’t know where your friend is.’

      ‘How long have I been here?’ He closed his eyes against the harshness of the whiteness of his surroundings.

      ‘A month or so. You’ve been gassed and you’ve been in shock.’

      The tears came easily. Humiliated, Stan leant back, felt the hardness of the bed rail against his head.

      ‘You need more iodine on those cuts on your face. I’ll be back in a minute.’ The nurse walked away, carrying the sick bowl.

     

‘He’s had his sentences confirmed. His execution; it’ll happen tomorrow. They say the chaplain’s with him now.’

      Stan stared at the man shifting uncomfortably on the chair next to his bed. ‘They can’t do that, Harry, he’s only fifteen.’

      ‘They don’t care.’ Harry leant forward, resting his forearms on his thighs. He lowered his voice. ‘They say Ernie ran away; finished up at a farmhouse. Stupid sod told the farmer’s wife he was going back to England.’ He shook his head.  ‘They’re setting up a firing squad for him…’ He looked up at the ward door. ‘Look out.’ Harry rose quickly, stood to attention and saluted.

       Stan raised his hand to his forehead in a similar gesture

       ‘Green.’ The officer stopped at the foot of Stan’s bed. ‘Firing squad 0600 hours. Tomorrow. Report to—’

      ‘I’ve been gassed, sir. I can’t—’

      ‘It’s an order, Green. Are you refusing to obey an order?’ The officer raised his eyebrows, his lips tightened. He tapped his fingers on the bed rail.

      ‘No, sir. It’s just that Ernie– Sharpe’s a mate…’

       ‘He’s a coward. He was charged with fleeing in the face of the enemy. He’s had a fair trial. The man—’

      ‘He’s fifteen,’ Stan interrupted, trying to shut out the words. ‘A lad…’ He heard the sudden intake of breath from Harry.

      The officer stopped tapping his fingers. He fixed Stan with a glare.

      ‘Sir,’ Stan added. ‘He’s only fifteen – sir.’

      ‘He signed on as eighteen; the Army took him in good faith. But he’s a coward, he deserted his post.’ The officer turned away. ‘0600 hours at the cells. Tomorrow.’

 

‘Eyes front!’

      Stan lined up with the other five soldiers on either side of him, facing the wall and the firing post. He couldn’t stop shaking. Out of the corner of his eye he sensed movement at the door leading to the cells.

      When the hooded and bound figure was dragged, legs trailing, into his sight by two burly soldiers he almost cried out. He tried to blot out the sight as his friend was tied to the post. Slumping away from the post despite the ties Ernie whimpered when the captain fastened the white square to his jacket.

       The chaplain was muttering words Stan couldn’t hear. He took in a long shuddering breath.

      Ernie lifted his head, tilted his chin upwards as though trying to see under the hood, even though it was fastened around his neck.

      ‘Stan?’ he cried. ‘Stan? Are you there?’

      Stan turned to the sergeant in silent appeal but, ignoring Stan and with a gesture, the man indicated for the squad to pick up the Lee Enfield rifles placed in front of them.

      ‘Stan?’

      ‘Fire!’

      Ernie’s cry was cut off in the volley of shots.

      The soldier next to Stan pushed him to turn away from the body and when the sergeant ordered, ‘Quick march,’ the man gave him another shove.

       ‘Keep going, lad.’ Stan heard the hissed whisper. ‘Keep it together ‘til you get back to the ward.’

      The men marched into the building, without inspecting their weapons, without turning a head.  Stan didn’t see the concerned looks of the nurses and the other patients in the ward. It was only when he crawled into his bed that he realised that tears were streaming down his face.

 

 Stan held the creased photograph of Ernie’s sister between his fingers.  His hand hovered over the door before he rapped on the wood with his knuckles.

      It was Ernie’s sister who opened it, her eyelids swollen and pink.  She buckled at the knees when she saw Stan. He only just managed to catch hold of her and clutched her to him.

       ‘Stan! Oh, Stan.’ She clung to him. ‘Our Ernie…’

      ‘I know, Betty.’ He lifted her in his arms and carried her into the house, setting her down on the sofa in the parlour.  ‘I know.’ He sat next to her, closing his eyes against the scalding tears. His chest hurt.

      ‘How?’ She held his face between her palms. The scent of lavender from her skin was the sweetest thing he could remember.

       ‘The War Office wrote to say he was suffering from shock but then we heard he was he was passed fit,’ she sobbed. ‘They wouldn’t tell us what happened; why he’d been sent back to fight.’ She pulled back to study his face. ‘You know, Stan. You must know? Mother and me, we need to know as well.’

      ‘Ernie was brave to the last, Betty. I promise. He was a brave soldier to the last’. The words were thick in his throat. ‘The last thing he said to me was that you and his mother should carry on as if he was at home.’ Stan swallowed the lie. ‘And that he’ll always love you both.’

      “We got a letter from him last week.’ Betty fumbled into her cardigan pocket and handed the note to Stan. It was worn and creased as though it had been read many time. There were only a few words scrawled across it. Stan only saw the last lines.

“We were told we could come home because we were underage. But Stan and me had a long discussion and we decided to stay.”

 Then his friend’s last words

“We were in the trenches. I was so cold I went out and took shelter in a farmhouse. They took me to prison so I will have to go in front of the court. I’m in a bit of trouble now, Mam.  I will try my best to get out of it, so don’t worry.”

 Links: 

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2swOWgg

 Amazon.com:  http://amzn.to/2uQhcg2

 

 

My review of No More Mulberries by Mary Smith #FridayReads

 

No More Mulberries by [Smith, Mary]

I gave No More Mulberries 4* out of 5*

Book Description

Scottish-born midwife, Miriam loves her work at a health clinic in rural Afghanistan and the warmth and humour of her women friends in the village, but she can no longer ignore the cracks appearing in her marriage. Her doctor husband has changed from the loving, easy-going man she married and she fears he regrets taking on a widow with a young son, who seems determined to remain distant from his stepfather.
When Miriam acts as translator at a medical teaching camp she hopes time apart might help her understand the cause of their problems. Instead, she must focus on helping women desperate for medical care and has little time to think about her failing marriage. When an old friend appears, urging her to visit the village where she and her first husband had been so happy. Miriam finds herself travelling on a journey into her past, searching for answers to why her marriage is going so horribly wrong.
Her husband, too, has a past of his own – from being shunned as a child to the loss of his first love.

My Review:

I have to be honest; this has been on my TBR pile for ages and I’m sorry but it was the cover that put me off; I wasn’t sure I liked it. And I’m ashamed to say I didn’t even read the blurb; the book was recommended to me by a friend so I just bought it. I should have listened to her; this is a brilliant read. Different from my usual preference but the writing style of Mary Smith is wonderfully paced; flows so well, and she tells a great story. Not only that, the reader (me!) learned a lot about Afghanistan some twenty years ago, about the culture, the society, the politics and the people. Because the author has first hand knowledge of all these; she lived and worked in the country.

It’s fictional but comes alive through the portrayal of the characters and the way they behave: the Western doctors, the people who live in the rural villages, the children. But none more so than Miriam and her husband. Miriam is in a strange country and place, in a second marriage (having been widowed) and her poignant memories of her first husband mingle with the loyalty to her present husband,  Iqbal.

This is such an emotional read: of love, allegiances, losses, secrets  and, I think, emancipation.

The dialogue, both internal and spoken is excellent, fits the characters well. I could feel great frustration for Miriam though her words and thoughts.

And the descriptions of the setting of the book; the larger picture of Afghanistan and the smaller, more intimate scenes of everyday existence bring the whole book to life.

For me No More Mulberries is an unusual and interesting story and I have no hesitation in recommending  Mary Smith’s evocative book to any reader.

Oh, and by the way, I decided i really do like the cover!

Links to buy:

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2wXdpSo

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2eJMSNI

About the Author:

mary smith

Mary Smith has always loved writing. As a child she wrote stories in homemade books made from wallpaper trimmings – but she never thought people could grow up and become real writers. She spent a year working in a bank, which she hated – all numbers, very few words – ten years with Oxfam in the UK, followed by ten years working in Pakistan and Afghanistan. She wanted others to share her amazing, life-changing experiences so she wrote about them – fiction, non-fiction, poetry and journalism. And she discovered the little girl who wrote stories had become a real writer after all.
Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women is an account of her time in Afghanistan and her debut novel No More Mulberries is also set in Afghanistan.

Links to Mary:

Facebook: http://bit.ly/2wWIDci
Twitter: http://bit.ly/2ws6LAt
Blogs: http://novelpointsofview.blogspot.co.uk
http://marysmith57.wordpress.com/2014/07

 

 

My Series of Author & Poet Interviews at Narberth Book Fair. Today with with Helen Lewis

Titleband for Narberth Book Fair

 

 I’ve posted interviews with most of the authors and poets who will be taking part in our Book Fair:  http://www.narberthbookfair.co.uk/.

There are forty authors, so, obviously, there are many genres for both adults and children. There will be talks an writing and books, creative writing workshops for adults  workshops & talks and fun workshops for children, activities for the children  Children’s Page and a fun book trail through Narberth, the gorgeous little market town in Pembrokeshire.  Location.

All free!!

And, of course, there will be the chance to chat with all the authors and to pick their brains on all aspects of writing. Even to buy their books and have them personally signed.

And, as usual, there will also be the writing competition: this year was a poetry competition (now closed) which is being judged at the moment.

Having outgrown our previous venue we have been lucky to hire the Queens Hall: https://www.thequeenshall.org.uk/ who have been very generous in their support of the event.

Although, five years ago,  I started organising the book fairs on my own I was soon joined by Alex Martin: http://amzn.to/2hZCgt2  and Thorne Moore: http://bit.ly/2rc5qyA. Unfortunately Alex has moved on to pastures new  (although is still a great supporter), so Thorne and I have been joined by Elizabeth Sleight. Elizabeth is involved in the charity we are supporting through our raffle; The Harriet Davis Seaside Holiday Trust For Disabled Children: http://bit.ly/2sNyeKQ . 

Our latecomer to the interviews is an author whose book I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed; Helen Lewis.

Version 2

 

Welcome, Helen, could we start by you telling us who is your favourite author?

Do I have to have one? I’m greedy I’d like a few, obviously Joanne Harris, David Mitchell, Audrey Niffenegger, Roald Dahl

So what do you think makes a good story?

Just a little bit of magic. Unorthodox and quirky use of language. Strong characters that you are interested in; worried about their fate

 What book that you have read has most influenced your life

Surely it has to be the bible, forget religion (if you want to), that book is packed with intrigue, murder, fantasy, jeopardy, shall I go on? I think the route of all stories ever told or to be told are planted within those covers.

How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?

Just the one so far, The House With Old Furniture. It is, by far my favourite!

The house with old furniture

 

Here’s my review of Helen’s novel: http://bit.ly/2wf4El2 

Could you tell us a bit about your book and why it is a must-read

The House With Old Furniture is a story of love, loss and betrayal – where no-one can be trusted to tell the full story, and nothing is as it seems. One son dead and the other grieving, Evie is banished to Wales, her world falling apart. She survives in part due to the presence of the mysterious Alys and her son Nye, who reminds Evie of her own lost boy.

OK so I copied the blurb, but the hardest thing, I have found about this writing malarkey, is having to define and summarise the tens of thousands of words you have just spent years scribbling. I think it’s a must read, because even though I have read it now about seven times, at least, maybe eight or nine, I still get lost in the tale, it still grips me even though I know the ending!

 What was the inspiration behind The House With Old Furniture

I literally stumbled upon the inspiration for this story shortly after my family moved to Pembrokeshire twelve years ago. Whilst on a walk with our two boys in the woods that surround our home, we discovered the remains of a cottage. If we’d been in a hurry, and I hadn’t got my boot stuck in the stream, we would have completely missed it. Only parts of three walls remained, ferns, moss and ivy rendered most of it invisible and at some point a huge tree had fallen straight through the middle of it finishing off most of what was left. It took a bit of imagination to picture a cottage amongst the undergrowth, almost like staring at one of those coloured dot pictures trying to find the hidden image. Whilst the boys waited for me to free my boot, they scrambled over the ruins of the little house unearthing all kinds of everyday treasures: the rusty end of a bedstead, a rotten milk churn, and old bottles to name but a few.

You couldn’t help but feel that you were trespassing in someone’s home, although the building was barely recognisable as such the sense of what it must have been like to live there was so strong in my mind. I felt I could hear the last inhabitants crunching through the dead leaves towards us. It was as if some fragment of their being had evaporated into the air around us and become a part of the place, ingrained, like the scent of wild garlic, in the very trees around us.

As we all walked back home through the woods I knew there was a story to be told about that little cottage. So in some down time – broadband down time – telephone wire down time, you know what it can be like living in rural Welsh Wales! I began stitching together this tale, creating the characters that live in it, Jesse, Finn, Andrew and Evie. I wanted my characters to unpick the mystery within The House With Old Furniture for the reader, and decided to introduce an old journal that would slowly unlock the secrets. Bizarrely the idea for the journal came from a very old and decrepit cookery book that once belonged to my Nan – ‘The Diary Book of Home Cookery’. When Nan died, Grandpa, determined to remain independent and ‘carry on’, treated it a bit like a bible. And somehow I have now inherited it. It’s full of his notes, scribbled all over the printed recipes, on how things should really be cooked and it’s packed with his own concoctions jotted down on the backs of old yellowing receipts and envelopes. I love it. It’s a real treasure of mine even though the spine has fallen and most of the photos have turned blue and green. And I’m thrilled that some of Grandpa has made it into the novel, I used his actual hand-written recipes for bread and dumplings as backgrounds on the chapter divider pages. I can hear him chuckling about that!

 How long did it take you to write it?

Forever! Five, very long years.

Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

I have heard from some of them, and it’s been lovely. I love the questions I’ve been asked, it’s made me look at the book in different ways. I still find it surprising that people are actually reading something that I have written.

Do you have any hidden or uncommon talents?

Absolutely none. Sorry. I fully intended to be a ballerina until the age of 16, I had about six lessons a week and taught as well, unfortunately it wasn’t to be. But that is hardly an uncommon talent.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I couldn’t come up with an answer to this question so I (stupidly) asked my husband and teenage sons who just happened to be sat around the kitchen table where I am doing this. So unhelpfully they came up with “You can’t spell.” Thank you husband. “You’re not very good, ha ha.” Thank you teenager two. And “I don’t know what a quirk is.” Brilliant teenager one (who’s not actually a teenager now, but still behaves like one). I haven’t really answered that have I?

Hahaha… families!!

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Run, as far and as much as I can, I’m addicted. Also started open water swimming which is the most awesome, relaxing, stress busting thing invented for humans to do.

What is the most amusing thing that has ever happened to you? Not particularly to do with your writing

Again I deferred to the same male audience mentioned above, and according to the teenagers the funniest thing I ever did was whilst eating chips at the New Inn Amroth, I tried to put sauce on them and, you’ve guessed it already, the lid flew off covering everything in sauce. If I remember rightly, I found that more annoying than hilarious, which I mentioned to the teenagers. “That’s the point,” they said, “No sense of humour.”

Note to self: never ask your family about the most amusing thing that’s happened to you…it’ll normally the most amusing thing they think happened to you!

Give us a random fact about yourself.

I am utterly, totally, completely terrified of heights. 3m off the ground and I’m jelly on the floor.

 Helen’s links:

Facebook: http://bit.ly/2xK2DLP

 Twitter: http://bit.ly/2wG32C4

Buying links:

Amazon.co.uk:  http://amzn.to/2vLv9f1

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2iFnnSg

Helen is published by Honno, where her book is also available: http://www.honno.co.uk  

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