Murder, Mayhem and Families #womenwriters #Reviews #shortstories #poetry

For a while, I was only been able to read in short bursts; a temporary situation, but I missed being able to immerse myself into a novel. I did use audio books, but I missed the actual action of reading, and I found just listening frustrating, trying to find the actual place in the book that I wanted to emphasise; it’s far easier to skip through pages, either physically or on a Kindle screen. So, when I found these two reads I was delighted.

Cast a Long Shadow: Welsh Women Writing Crime

Book Description:

All original collection of the best of Welsh women’s crime short fiction from new and established voices…

A striking collection of the widest range of crime short stories from contemporary urban thriller to historical rural mystery and the speculative and uncanny.

Includes stories from Tiffany Murray – winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize and an inaugural Hay Festival International Fellow; Eluned Gramich – winner of New Welsh Writing Award and shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year; Alison Layland – whose first thriller was a LoveReading Debut of the Month and Kittie Belltree – poet and Disability Arts Cymru Creative Word Award 2020 Winner. Plus a host of previously unpublished talent ripe for discovering.

My Review:

It’s quite a while since I read an anthology, but I enjoy the crime genre, and this particular collection is special for me because, (and I’m declaring an interest here ) – it’s a Honno published book, and I’m a Honno published author. Nevertheless, I’ve  also been a reviewer of many books for some years and I always write honest reviews. The title of Casting a Long Shadow is taken from one of the stories and, reflects the broad ‘shadows’ of crime: from straightforward (or not!) detective stories, murders, missing people, abuse, drug involvement, secrets and even slants on mythology and fairy tales. All themes written in a variety of imaginative and innovative  ways by Welsh women writers. I look forward to reading more from each and every one of them. As the editors with the final decision when choosing these stories , Katherine Stansfield and Caroline Oakley should be rightly proud. Definitely recommended.

To buy:

Honno:https://bit.ly/3tOrOMu

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/3b9SKzT

In contrast I dipped my toes into poetry. As with short stories it’s been a while since I immersed myself into poems, and when I closed the last page I wondered why I’d left it so long. By its very format, poetry, where every word must count towards the emotion, can evokes strong reaction in the reader. And this collection certainly does that.

Sherry and Sparkly: Paperback

Book Description:

Maureen and Patricia grew up hundreds of miles from each other in different countries of the UK but share common experiences of childhood in the fifties and sixties when ice laced the inside of bedroom windows and corporal punishment was common in schools. They survived to become brides, mothers, career women and technophobes. Sometimes joyous, sometimes painful, these poems are a conversation about love, hope and identity.

Sherry & Sparkly is a Poetry Conversation between two fantastic poets – one you really want to listen in to.

My Review:

What I really enjoyed about this collection is the accessibility of each short poem, and that, as is stated at the beginning of the book, it’s “a conversation in poetry between two poets. Each poem included is a reaction to what has come before”.

For me, as an older reader many of the poems evoked memories, of childhood… “… in a house where you relied on hot-water bottles to survive the night in rooms where windows frosted inside” (No-Brainer), and of past events…”Black and white televisions…Neil Armstrong bunny-hop on the moon…a home phone at the spin of a dial…” (Millennium), and of resistance to change…”No need to resort to that new computer, the size of four washing machines, rumbling in the corner…” ( Modernity).

Wonderful stories told through poetry – I loved it. And thoroughly recommend Sherry & Sparkly

Written by Maureen Cullen and Patricia M Osborne this collection was sold and bought by me to promote a charity they both support.

To buy:https://amzn.to/3zTdA0K

My Review of Where There’s Doubt by Terry Tyler #psychological thriller


Book Description

‘I can be anything you want me to be. Even if you don’t know you want it. Especially if you don’t know you want it.’

Café owner Kate is mentally drained after a tough two years; all she wants from her online chess partner is entertainment on lonely evenings, and maybe a little virtual flirtation.

She is unaware that Nico Lewis is a highly intelligent con artist who, with an intricately spun web of lies about their emotional connection, will soon convince her that he is The One.

Neither does Kate know that his schemes involve women who seek love on dating sites, as well as his small publishing business. A host of excited authors believe Nico is about to make their dreams come true.

Terry Tyler’s twenty-fourth publication is a sinister psychological drama that highlights the dark side of internet dating—and the danger of ignoring the doubts of your subconscious.

My Review

One of the certainties about any of Terry Tyler’s novels is that there will be individualistic characters that, from the moment they are introduced, come to life. Another of her talents is that she tells a great story, whatever the genre. I can say that, in all honesty, having read every one of her books. Whether it’s sagas, psychological fiction or dystopian, it’s the strength of the plots, the characters and the relationship between the two that draw in the reader from the first page. And Where There’s Doubt is no exception, as a psychological thriller this is both powerful and complex.

I love stories told from a variety of first-person points of view; for me it adds to the narrative if it is revealed in this way. We get to know each character, through their voice, through their behaviour, through their perception of the world, of life. In Where There’s Doubt the author introduces trust and gullibility, motivations with coercions, honesty with lies, and weaves them together. All of which kept me guessing. And usually getting it wrong.  

The main characters are multi-layered, from the wary protagonist, Kate, to Nico, the smooth conman, and the three diverse women he meets on an online dating site. And, in the background, adding authenticity to the plot, there are other characters: the would-be suitor of Kate’s, the  friend whose loyalty may be questionable, Kate’s employees in the café, the unpublished and naïve authors – preyed upon by Nico and his claims to be an independent publisher.
There are many settings, but the main background, the seaside town and café, give a unsafe validity to the criminality that is a fundamental theme throughout.

This is a contemporary read, with an all too familiar aspect of deceit and misrepresent in both internet dating and vanity press. But there are always possible consequences with both. I try not to give spoilers with any of my reviews – but I will say that love, loyalty, and justice are also threaded through this book..

 I admire Terry Tyler’s writing style, ability to produce impressive stories, and this thriller doesn’t disappoint. I would highly recommend Where There’s Doubt to any reader who is looking for a fascinating read.

About Terry Tyler:

Terry Tyler is the author of twenty-four books available from Amazon, the latest being ‘Where There’s Doubt’, about a romance scammer. Also recently published is ‘Megacity’, the final book in the dystopian Operation Galton trilogy. She is currently at work on a post apocalyptic series, which will probably take the form of three novellas. Proud to be independently published, Terry is an avid reader and book reviewer, and a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

Terry is a Walking Dead addict, and has a great interest in history (particularly 12th-17th century), along with books and documentaries on sociological/cultural/anthropological subject matter. She loves South Park, the sea, and going for long walks in quiet places where there are lots of trees. She lives in the north east of England with her husband

Presenting the Authors at the Honno Book Fair 7th May 2022 at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire. Today with Carol Lovekin #Honno #authors

Introducing my friends and fellow (or should that be sister?) authors of Honno – The longest-standing independent women’s press in the UK – who will be at the Honno Book Fair on the 7th May 2022 , 10.00am until 4.00pm, at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire. Over the next few weeks I’ll be introducing the each author. I’ll also be showcasing Honno, the publishers.

If you’re in the area,we’d be thrilled if you popped in to say hello.

Today, I’m really pleased to be joined by Carol Lovekin

Hello and welcome, Carol. Lovely to see you here today. 

And glad to be here, Judith

Please tell us, how many books have you written, and which is your favourite?

Four. Favourite is tough. Like my children, I love them all for different reasons. But I’ll pick Wild Spinning Girls as it’s the one everyone says they like best. And it was shortlisted for a prize: the Wales Book of the Year (Fiction Award) 2021.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

During a read through, I spotted it, almost at the end. It was a moment when one of my characters was musing on the essential nature of ‘girls’ and it was perfect.

What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing? Or what was your hardest scene to write, and why?

The opening chapter! It wasn’t until my editor pointed out, during our initial structural edit, that I’d started the story in the wrong place, I realised I had. Once she told me, ‘It begins with Ida’s accident’ (which feeds into the fairy tale element and the story of The Red Shoes), the penny dropped. I was able to draw on my own background in ballet and had the scene written in my head almost before I got home!

What part of the book was the most fun to write?

The scenes involving Olwen – my ghost. I love her. She is my role model and any hauntings I plan will be an homage to her!

If you were to write a spin-off about a side character, which would you pick?

Heather, probably. And some of my readers have expressed an interest in Roni, wanting to know more about her. This is the nature of story however – they are never finished and some threads get left to spin in the wind.

If you’re planning a sequel, can you tantalize us with a snippet of your plans for it? If not, your plans for your next book?

My next book is due out this May. Which is perfect, as the story takes places over the month of May. Only May is the story of May Harper, a girl who can look you in the eye and see your lies. As gifts go, it’s a double-edged sword; May doesn’t always want to know people’s secrets. But at the heart of her family hides the biggest lie of all, one she is determined to see. 

At what point did you think of yourself as a writer?

Before I was published, I was a scribbler with no directions. Once I retired, I decided to take my writing seriously, with a view to publication. And I had an idea I knew could work: if I could write it, it had legs, so to speak. Luckily for me, it had wings. When Ghostbird was published, that was when I knew I was a writer.

What do the words “writer’s block” mean to you?

Get a grip!? In my view and in my writing life, there’s no such thing. Sometimes (mostly) I write, sometimes I don’t. Regardless of any circumstances which may take me away from physical writing, I’m always thinking about my current story. Every aspect of creating a story is a writer’s work.

Are there therapeutic benefits to modelling a character after someone you know?

Absolutely. I did it with my second book, Snow Sisters. Allegra, the mother in this story is a narcissist. While I was writing the book, I finally said ‘No’ to a long-time friend whose narcissism had pushed me to my limit. ‘No’ is anathema to a narcissist and she instantly ended the friendship. Stealing a few of her attributes was a small but satisfying therapy. And the thing about a narcissist is, they will never guess you have modelled a character on them because in a narcissist’s world, everything is about them anyway. They are perfect, and that arrogant, self-involved, manipulative character couldn’t possibly be them!

What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

Beginnings. On every level. Sometimes, even though I know exactly what a chapter is about, I can’t start writing it. Can’t find the perfect opening sentence never mind a paragraph. It can takes hours. And don’t get me started on – well – the start! Once upon a time . . .?   

How do you use social media as an author?

Carefully!

Why did you choose Honno as a publisher?

Although, ultimately, Honno chose me, I always had them in mind. I thought they would be a perfect fit for the first book I submitted. Ghostbird has a quintessentially Welsh feel to it. Added to that was my admiration for Honno as a feminist women’s press supporting women’s voices. I got my debut break with them as a result of taking part in a Meet the Editor session with Janet Thomas. This was life-changing for me. At the age of 71 I became a published author and my fourth book is on the horizon.

Presenting the Authors at the Honno Book Fair 7th May 2022 at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire. Today with Sara Gethin

Introducing my friends and fellow (or should that be sister?) authors of Honno – The longest-standing independent women’s press in the UK who will be at the Honno Book Fair on the 7th May 2022 , 10.00am until 4.00pm, at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire.  

If you’re in the area we’d be thrilled if you popped in to say hello.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be introducing each author. I’ll also be showcasing Honno.

Today, I’m really pleased to be joined by Sara Gethin

Hello and welcome, Sara. And thank you for being with us today. 

 It’s good to be here, Judith

Please tell us how many books have you written, and which is your favourite?

I’ve written two novels for adults, and I’m going to add an optimistic ‘so far’ to the end of that sentence, as I have another storyline percolating in my head. ‘Not Thomas’ was my first novel. It’s a contemporary story about a neglected five-year-old boy and the people who are letting him down – spectacularly – and those who try to help him. The children in my second novel, ‘Emmet and Me’, are also failed by the adults around them. The background to that story is the extremely harsh industrial school system of 1960s’ Ireland. Picking a favourite from only two books feels like an impossible choice, but the most recently published is ‘Emmet and Me’, so I’ll choose that one.

What inspired the idea for your book?

The inspiration for ‘Emmet and Me’ came from a memoir I read by a man who’d been brought up in an industrial school in Letterfrack, Connemara. Those schools were filled with children whose families had fallen on hard times, and they were run, mainly, by the Catholic Church. They operated all over Ireland from the late 1800s, and some of them – a handful of the infamous ‘laundries’ – were still open in the 1990s.

The Letterfrack school was notorious for the extremely harsh treatment meted out by the Christian Brothers who ran it. Peter Tyrrell, the author of the memoir I read, wanted to draw attention to the terrible plight of children in these schools during the 1950s and ’60s. He felt ignored by the people in power, and eventually took his own life by setting fire to himself on Hampstead Heath. The character of Emmet came to me very clearly after reading Peter’s memoir, and I knew that at some point I was going to write about a boy growing up in the inhumane conditions of a rural industrial school in 1960s’ Ireland.

What was your hardest scene to write, and why?

There’s one scene in ‘Emmet and Me’ that readers have said makes them shudder. It’s where one of the characters has a rather nasty and unusual accident. The peculiar thing is I didn’t realise, until I went back to edit that passage, that I’d described an incident I’d witnessed as a child. That same accident happened to a friend I was with in a field when we were seven years old. I had buried the memory until I wrote about it for the book. Writing that scene initially wasn’t as difficult as going back to edit it, and discovering I was reliving the incident from my own childhood.

What part of the book was the most fun to write?

I loved writing the conversations between the two central characters, the ten-year-olds Claire and Emmet. The children meet in school and become forbidden friends. They’re misfits. Emmet is looked down on as he lives in the industrial school, or ‘orphanage’ as the locals call it. Claire feels out of place because she’s been uprooted from her Cardiff home and dumped at her granny’s isolated cottage. Both children love reading and horses, and Emmet and Claire bond over a copy of Black Beauty. It was great fun to write conversations alternating between Welsh and Irish accents, although it was also quite a challenge!

If you were to write a spin-off about a side character, which would you pick?

There are two girls in Claire’s class who are referred to by everyone as the ‘House Girls’. They live in the local orphanage, and they stand out a mile in school because their uniforms are different from the other girls’. They’re ignored or teased by the children in their class, and the teachers treat them appallingly too. Despite this, they show Claire nothing but kindness. I’d love to expand their story one day.

*At what point did you think of yourself as a writer?

The first book I wrote was the collection of stories for children, ‘Welsh Cakes and Custard’. When I found it on the shelf of my local library, I truly felt like a writer. That was back in 2013, and I’ve written three more books for children since then, plus two novels for adults. I still get a huge thrill when I see them on the shelves of Llanelli library, although I really hope they get borrowed too!

Have you ever considered writing under a pseudonym, and why or why not?

I write my children’s books under my real-life name, Wendy White, but I use Sara Gethin as a pen name when I write for adults. That’s because the stories I’ve written for children, so far, have a light touch and are humorous, whereas my stories for adults are in a totally different vein. That’s not to say there’s no humour at all in my novels – I really hope I make my readers laugh or smile a few times when they read ‘Not Thomas’ or ‘Emmet and Me’. But it’s certainly true to say there are darker moments in the stories too.

What do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?

I love to have music on in the background while I write, but not just any music – it needs to be a playlist I’ve put together for that specific piece of writing. Sometimes the playlist consists of one song, repeated over and over, for a particular scene. I find music is the easiest route back into the mood I’m trying to create for a book, especially if I’ve had to take a break from writing. When I’m struggling to find the words, it’s normally because I haven’t yet discovered the perfect piece of music.

How do you use social media as an author?

Ah, social media – love it or loathe it, it’s not going away any time soon, is it?

I’m mainly active on two platforms – Twitter and Instagram – with an occasional dip into Facebook. My favourite is Insta. I could waste many happy hours on there, scrolling through images of gorgeous scenery and beautiful book covers. My own posts are mostly of sandy walks and shipwrecks. Cefn Sidan is my local beach, and it’s very photogenic. I’ve also been known to post the occasional book-related pic.

On Twitter, I love following authors and talking about books I’ve read or am looking forward to reading. I mostly retweet other people’s news, with a shameless flurry of self-promotion when I have a new book out myself, and I’m always so grateful when people share my news too. Pre-pandemic, when I’d organise signings in book shops, I’d tweet about them before and afterwards. My book launch for ‘Emmet and Me’ last year was a Zoom affair. I tweeted  about that to an extremely annoying extent, I’ve no doubt! But it was wonderful to have so much support from the Twitter community for the launch event, and for the new novel too.

Why did you choose Honno as a publisher?

I love the fact that Honno is run by a committee of women, and I’ve been a fan of the publisher and their books since my student days, many years ago now. Long before I began writing, I knew it would be wonderful to be published by them. I feel it’s a huge honour that my two manuscripts were chosen for publication by Honno, and I’m very proud to be featured among the fabulous female writers they have on their list.

Thank you so much, Judith – I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to talk about books again! I’m so looking forward to getting together in May for the Honno Book Fair at Narberth. It will be a very special event indeed! Sara x

Sara Gethin Bio:

Sara Gethin is the pen name of Wendy White. She grew up in Llanelli and worked as a library assistant before becoming a primary school teacher. Her debut novel, ‘Not Thomas’, written in the voice of a neglected five-year-old boy, was shortlisted for the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize. While home is still west Wales, she and her husband spend much of their free time in Ireland.

A Parrot for Your Shoulder? #Reflections #Humour #Friends #BookReview:What Lies Between Them by J.L. Harland

For months now I have been peering at the outside world through a thick net curtain with the odd hole here and there. I haven’t become a ‘Nosy Neighbour’ though, my already limited vision has been exacerbated by cataracts.

My world of shortsightedness began a long time ago. In fact I was seven years old. The school sent home a note to my parents alerting them of the problem.They’d just assumed I was a clumsy child, who fell over a lot, and dropped things.

As the years progressed the lenses in my glasses became thicker – ‘ jam jar bottoms’ was the usual description.

Mind you, it didn’t stop me being “sporty”. I counted the steps needed before I took a metaphorical leap into the dark over the hurdles and high jump, before I took off for the long jump, and worked out which way to throw the javelin.(though, for the latter I did become aware of the the sports teachers always calling out, “it’s Judith’s turn”. Took me a long time to work out why I was so special – and I do wonder what would happen in these days of health and safety). In cross country I would follow the leading group of runners, until my friend told me the finishing line was a hundred yards straight ahead, when I sprinted to the front.

At sixteen, I had my first Saturday job, saved up for contact lenses – and never looked back – well, actually I did look back, and forward, and sideways – and upwards. I’d never realised there were so many stars!! Or should I just say… stars in the sky?

Fast forward a few decades, and suddenly the world became blurry again. Last year it was discovered I’d developed a cataract. I adjusted by writing on the laptop in eighteen font, in bold, and, when reading, altering the Kindle to around twenty words per page..

Which leads me to the ‘getting rid of the cataract’ scenario.

But first a (short – or really, not so short) aside. Two months ago I was diagnosed with a condition called TMD (according to Google, a disorder of the jaw muscles, temporomandibular joints, and the nerves associated with chronic facial pain). I was issued with a sheet of ‘DOs and Don’t’s’ –

1.Do not chew gum or pen tops ( Pen tops?!!! ).

2. Do not bite food with your front teeth. (When it’s almost impossible to open your mouth wide enough to get food to your back teeth).

3.Do not yawn too wide. (Try reading that without getting the urge to yawn).

4.Do not bite your nails. ( Anyone remember that horrid tasting stuff your mother painted on you nails as a child to stop that?)

5.Do not clench your teeth – apart from when eating, your teeth should be apart. (See point two)

6. Do not rest your chin on your hand (Even when totally fed up and peering at the laptop screen from three inches to read the last sentence you’ve written?)

Oh, yes, the cataract!

I was given an appointment for the surgery, followed by a rushed, last minute instructions to have a NHS PCR test, not the Government PCR test, which I’d already had (the two do not have systems that communicate with one another, apparently).

So far so good…

The following is a text I sent to a caring, empathetic and long-standing friend…

‘The test was a bit difficult,’ I wrote. “The fully PPI protected nurse said, “Open mouth.“.
Me: “I can’t” Explained about the TMD.
Nurse: “Well, has to be a mouth test, not a nose test. So, open wide. Wider.” Poking stick through my clenched teeth. “Say Ahh.”
Me “Argghh.” Heaving – gag reflex working well!!
Nurse (brightly): “There, all done.”
Me: Projectile vomiting.

On the way to the hospital for the operation, I explained the PCR problem to said friend, expecting sympathy. Her matter of fact response? “You’ll have to wear an eyepatch afterwards, you know. Would you like a parrot for your shoulder to go with it?

Now, having explained the delay, I can get on with the real reason for writing this post. I’ve been wanting to write the following review for some weeks now.

What Lies Between Them by J.L. Harland (FREE delivery March 17 – 21)

I was sent an Arc of What Lies Between Them by the authors with a request that, if I liked the story, would I endorse the book? Would I? I’ve been honoured to tackle this task

My Endorsement….

” Emotional,sensitive and thoroughly satisfying.”

In addition I also decided to give an honest review.

I gave What Lies Between Them 5*

Book description:

Elin Fiorelli, a career academic, has returned from three months in Finland to Brynderwen university, Wales. She thinks she has her future mapped out, a professorship within her grasp. But, her former lover, Michael Harwick, is now her boss. Her job is at risk and the ghosts of her past come back to haunt her with the secret she has kept buried deep within herself for so long. When her mother becomes terminally ill, trying to balance work and duty becomes more difficult. But Elin is resilient and as the year unfolds, she faces her past traumas, emerging stronger than before.

My Review:

 I loved this story. And I think it was mainly because I was so fascinated by the protagonist, Elin. She encapsulates so many of the facets of any woman’s life: the struggles to be recognised in a male dominated environment, the guilt of conflict between self-fulfilment with the pressures to conform in society, the familial love that juxtaposes duty and yet sometimes underlying resentment.

And then there is the Dean, Michael Harwick, the elusive figure from Elin’s past, whose actions set her on her path for the life she has since led. And which, despite devastating trauma, has given her the strength to achieve the highest respect in her field of work.

The descriptions of the main setting, Brynderwen university, bring the place to life: the sounds of the campus, the lecture halls, the students union, the canteen, the sights of the grounds, the inner offices of the Dean and tutors, the atmosphere of academia. But there is also the background of the home lives of the characters: of Elin and her demanding, yet desperately ill and lonely mother, of Sue, her friend, divided by loyalty to Elin but also to her job. .All set against the bustling life of Cardiff and its people. The authors bring so much of the city to life on the page.

An excellent plot, engaging rounded characters, great dialogue and a good sense of place to keep the reader enthralled from the first to last page. Couldn’t ask for more.,

What Lies Between Them is a story I thoroughly recommend.

About the Authors:

Two authors with one voice makes: J. L. Harland. Janet Laugharne and Jacqueline Harrett enjoy the creative process of working together and producing stories that have a unique, blended voice. Their debut novel, What Lies Between Them’is published by Dixi Books in 2022 and they are currently editing a sequel. J. L. Harland short stories have been published in anthologies and online and a novella is out on submission. Their website, jlharland.co.uk, has a blog on writing where further information about their work can be found. Individually, Janet Laugharne’s poetry has won or been placed in competitions and appeared in Black Bough, Atrium Poetry, Sarasvati and The Dawntreader (forthcoming). Jacqueline Harrett’s crime novel, ‘The Nesting Place’, featuring D.I. Mandy Wilde, is recently published with Diamond Books.

Links to J L Harland:

Website: https://jlharland.co.uk/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JLHarlandAuthor

Buying link for What Lies Between Them:

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/3tWxtzz (FREE delivery March 17 – 21)

My Review of Means to Deceive by Alex Craigie 

Book Description:

Eighteen months ago, Gwen Meredith left the job she loved and came back to Pembrokeshire to help support her irritable and increasingly confused grandmother.
But someone is pursuing a vendetta against her.

As the attacks become more malicious, her old anxieties begin to build.
She’s attracted to her new neighbour who is keen to help…but can she trust him?

When those closest to her are threatened, her desperation mounts.
Who can she trust?

Gwen has a dark secret of her own.
Can she even trust herself?

My Review:

Means to Deceive is what I always call a gripping psychological read. As with this author’s style, it’s a slow- burner; but well worth the wait; the tension slowly but surely racks up the terror for the protagonist,Gwen. The plot twists and turns, keeping the reader guessing, and feeling every emotion Gwen feels: trepidation, unease, her suspicions of those around her. There are two obvious antagonists, but there are also two people in her life she has always loved and trusted, her grandmother, and her brother, even though her lifelong emotional relationship with each of them is completely different. Yet it’s only when, having come back to live in Pembrokeshire to care for her grandmother, her brother visits to help her, and she meetsthe new neighbour Ben, that her life begins to unravel.

Initially I wanted the protagonist to be stronger, more assertive, but the more I read, the more I realised how consumed by guilt and grief she is by something that happened in the past – (not giving away spoilers here). And these two emotions are the silent antagonists, revealed through a recurring section in the book, each time uncovering a little more memory, explaining why the layer of vulnerability in Gwen. Fascinating!

All the characters in the book are well rounded, multi layered. I found myself liking the way they are portrayed, and both loving and disliking some to their actions – to me, this is a sign of a well told story. Certainly I was kept guessing who was really trying to destroy Gwen’s life.

And I like being able to tell who’s speaking in a story, even without dialogue tags, Alex Craigie certainly gives each character their voice in all her books.

I’ve read this author’s works before and one of the talents she has is to bring settings to life by the small details in her descriptions, so the village where Gwen lives: Dernant, the rooms of her home, the garden, the outside spaces, the houses of the other characters are instantly envisaged and give a great sense of place.

As I say, I don’t give spoilers in my review, and here, in the book description, the reader is given enough to know the plot. All I will say, and I hope that has come across in my words, is that I enjoyed Means to Deceive and thoroughly recommend to any reader who enjoys a well written psychological drama

My previous reviews of Alex Craigie’s novels.

Someone Close to Home: https://amzn.to/3JYSMXF

Acts Of Convenience: https://amzn.to/3ICp8XH

The author:

Alex Craigie is the pen name of Trish Power.

Trish was ten when her first play was performed at school. It was in rhyming couplets and written in pencil in a book with imperial weights and measures printed on the back.

When her children were young, she wrote short stories for magazines before returning to the teaching job that she loved.

Trish has had three books published under the pen name of Alex Craigie. The first two books cross genre boundaries and feature elements of romance, thriller and suspense against a backdrop of social issues. Someone Close to Home highlights the problems affecting care homes while Acts of Convenience has issues concerning the health service at its heart. Her third book. Means to Deceive, is a psychological thriller.

Someone Close to Home has won a Chill with a Book award and a Chill with the Book of the Month award. In 2019 it was one of the top ten bestsellers in its category on Amazon.

Book lovers are welcome to contact her on alexcraigie@aol.com

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A lovely review of The Memory from Lynne Patrick, member of Promoting Crime Fiction #PromotingCrimeFiction #MysteryPeople #TuesdayBoolBlog

Published by Honno Welsh Women’s Press,
19 March 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-91290513-2 (PB)

Euthanasia is the greyest of grey areas in criminal terms, especially when the person on the receiving end is incapable of making such an irreversible decision. For thirty years Irene has lived with the memory of her mother Lilian standing at her sister’s bedside holding a pillow. No one has ever talked about it, but it has stood between mother and daughter ever since, a dark shadow that made an already fraught relationship almost unbearable 

And now Irene and Lilian are inextricably bound by the cruellest of fates. Lilian is in the most demanding phase of dementia, and before the disease took hold she refused point-blank to give Irene power of attorney. They are joint owners of the house they live in, Irene’s childhood home, but with no control over her mother’s financial affairs she cannot sell it to pay for Lilian’s care and has to do everything herself. Through a nightmare twenty-four hours, during which Lilian’s demands become increasingly challenging, memories flood into Irene’s mind and she relives the childhood that led to that appalling moment and the frustrated adulthood that followed. 

Rose, the dead sister, was a Downs baby, and Lilian rejected her from the outset. Irene, on the other hand, fell in love. Her adoration of her small sister, and the motherly care she lavishes on her is portrayed in almost tear-jerking detail, as is Rose’s affectionate nature, a common feature among Downs children. Irene is not without support, even after her father, who loves Rose but cannot deal with Lilian, leaves to set up home with another woman. There’s Sam, her childhood friend and later sweetheart, and Nanna, who willingly takes on the burden of the household. The network of complex relationships and all their ups and downs form the foundation of the novel.  

Whether The Memory is a crime novel in any conventional sense is open to conjecture. As a perfectly observed account of the last stages of dementia, and a picture of a family riven and distorted by both tragedy and great love, it is a masterclass. But it is also as meticulously and tautly structured as any psychological thriller. As well as vividly drawn characters and a rich sense of place, there are edge-of-the-seat moments of tension, and a twist at the end that I would never have predicted, obvious though it was the moment it was revealed.

Judith Barrow has taken two emotionally charged situations and woven them into a heart-wrenching story which had me close to tears more than once. Long before the end I had stopped caring whether it qualified as crime. I simply didn’t want to stop reading.

Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Buying Links:

Honno: https://bit.ly/3b2xRSn

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/3qEbVnM

Amazon.com: https://amzn.to/3k8DIMO

Judith Barrow originally from Saddleworth, a group of villages on the edge of the Pennines, has lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for over forty years. She has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s College, Carmarthen. BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University, a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. She is a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council and holds private one to one workshops on all genres.

https://judithbarrowblog.com

Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

https://promotingcrime.blogspot.com/2021/09/the-memory-by-judith-barrow.html?showComment=1631538885937#c1304619422469911346

Promoting Crime Fiction

My photo
UK-based Mystery People, set up in February 2012, was founded by Lizzie Hayes following the discontinuation of the Mystery Women group.
Mystery People is dedicated to the promotion of crime fiction and in particular to new authors.
But this is not just a writers’ group, for without readers what would writers do?
Lizzie says…
“From an early age I have been a lover of crime fiction. Discovering like minded people at my first crime conference at St Hilda’s Oxford in 1997, I was delighted when asked to join a new group for the promotion of female crime writers. In 1998 I took over the running of the group, which I did for the next thirteen years. During that time I organised countless events promoting crime writers and in particular new writers. But apart from the sheer joy of reading, ‘I actually love books, not just the writing, the plot or the characters, but the sheer joy of holding a book has never abated for me. The greatest gift of my life has been the ability to read.”
As a founder member of Mystery Women in 1997, promoting Crime Fiction has always been my passion. Following the closure of Mystery Women, a new group was formed on 30th January 2012 promoting crime fiction. New reviews are posted daily, but to search for earlier reviews please click on the Mystery People link below and select ‘reviews’ from the welcome page. This will display an alphabetic option for you to find the review you would like to read
:

https://promotingcrime.blogspot.com/2021/09/the-memory-by-judith-barrow.html?showComment=1631538885937#c1304619422469911346

The Long and Winding Road. The journey of a Wannabe Writer #MondayBlogs #Writing #EverHopeful

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I wrote for years before letting anyone read my work. If I was self-deluded; if it was rubbish, I didn’t want to be told. I enjoyed my “little hobby” (as it was once described by a family member). But then I began to enter my short stories into competitions. Sometimes I was placed, once or twice I even won. Encouraged, I moved on to sending to magazines – I had some luck, was published – once! But I hadn’t dared to send out any of the four, full length book manuscripts I’d written (and actually never did, they were awful!) That changed after a long battle with breast cancer in my forties and, finally finishing a book that I thought might possibly…possibly, be good enough for someone else to see, other than me, I took a chance.

I grew resigned (well almost) to those A4 self-addressed envelopes plopping through the letterbox. (yes, it was that long ago!) The weekly wail of ‘I’ve been rejected again,’ was a ritual that my long-suffering husband also (almost) grew resigned to.

There were many snorts of exasperation at my gullibility and stubbornness from the writing group I was a member of at the time. They all had an opinion – I was doing it all wrong. Instead of sending my work to publishers I should have been approaching agents.

 ‘You’ll get nowhere without an agent,’ one of the members said. She was very smug. Of course she was already signed up with an agent whose list, she informed me, was full.

 ‘How could you even think of trying to do it on your own?’ was another horrified response when told what I’d done, ‘With the sharks that are out there, you’ll be eaten alive.’

‘Or sink without a trace.’ Helpful prediction from another so-called friend.

So, after trawling my way through the Writers & Artists Yearbook (an invaluable tome) I bundled up two more copies of my manuscript and sent them out to different agents

Six months later I was approached by one of the agents who, on the strength of my writing, agreed to take me on. The praise from her assistant was effusive, the promises gratifying. It was arranged that I meet with the two of them in London to discuss the contract they would send in the post, there would be no difficulty in placing my novel with one of the big publishers; they would make my name into a brand.

There was some editing to do, of course. Even though the manuscript was in its fifth draft, I knew there would be. After all, the agent, a big fish in a big pond, knew what she was doing. Okay, she was a little abrasive (on hindsight I would say rude) but she was a busy person, I was a first time author.

But I was on my way. Or so I thought.

A week before the meeting I received an email; the agent’s assistant had left the agency and they no longer thought they could act for me. They had misplaced my manuscript but would try to locate it. In the meantime would I send an SAE for its return when/if ‘it turned up’?

So – back to square one.

For a month I hibernated (my family and friends called it sulking, but I preferred to think of it as re-grouping). I had a brilliant manuscript that no one wanted (at this point, I think it’s important to say that, as an author, if you don’t have self-belief how can you persuade anyone else to believe your work is good?) But still, no agent, no publisher.

There were moments, well weeks (okay, if I’m honest – months), of despair, before I took a deep breath and resolved to try again. I printed out a new copy of the novel. In the meantime I trawled through my list of possible agents. Again.

 Then, out of the blue, a phone call from the editorial assistant who’d resigned from that first agent to tell me she’d set up her own agency, was still interested in my novel and could we meet in London in a week’s time? Could we? Try and stop me, I thought.

 We met. Carried away with her enthusiasm for my writing, her promises to make me into a ‘brand name’ and her assurance that she had many contacts in the publishing world that would ‘snap her hand off for my novel’, I signed on the dotted line.

Six months later. So far, four rejections from publishers. Couched, mind you, in encouraging remarks:

Believable characters … strong and powerful writing … gripping story … Judith has an exciting flair for plot … evocative descriptions.”

And then the death knell on my hopes.

“Unfortunately … our lists are full … we’ve just accepted a similar book … we are only a small company … I’m sure you’ll find a platform for Judith’s work … etc. etc.”

The self-doubt, the frustration, flooded back.

Then the call from the agent; ‘I think it’s time to re-evaluate the comments we’ve had so far. Parts of the storyline need tweaking. I’ve negotiated a deal with a commercial editor. When she mentioned the sum I had to pay (yes, I had to pay, and yes, I was that naïve) I gasped.’ It’s a realistic charge by today’s standards,’ she said. ’Think about it. In the end we’ll have a book that will take you to the top of your field.’

 I thought about it. Rejected the idea. Listened to advice from my various acquaintances. Thought about it some more. And then I rang the agent. ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ I felt I had no choice; after all she was the expert. Wasn’t she? What did I know?

 When the manuscript came back from the commercial editor, I didn’t recognise the story at all. ‘This isn’t what I wrote. It’s not my book,’ I told the agent. ‘It’s nothing like it.’ The plot, the characters had been completely changed.

‘You know nothing of the publishing world. If you want me to represent you, you have to listen to me,’ she insisted. ‘Do as I say.’

‘But …’

‘Take it or leave it.’

I consulted our daughter, luckily she’s a lawyer qualified in Intellectual Property.

‘You can cancel the contract within the year. After that, you have problems. There will be all manner of complications...

I moved quickly. The agent and I parted company.

I took a chance and contacted Honno, the publisher who’d previously accepted two of my short stories for their anthologies. Would they have a look at the manuscript? They would. They did. Yes, it needed more work but

 I’m proud to say I’ve now been with Honno, the longest standing independent women’s press in the UK, for fourteen years, and have had six books published by them. I love their motto “Great writing, great stories, great women“, and I love the friends I’ve made amongst the other women whose work they publish, and the support amongst us for our writing and our books. In normal times we often meet up . I’m hoping those “normal times” will return before too long.

 Of course, there has been much editing and discussion with every manuscript. But at least, in the end, the stories are told in my words. With my voice

My Review of The Naked Witch by Wendy Steele #TuesdayBookBlog

I gave The Naked Witch 4* out of 5*

My Review:

I enjoyed Wendy Steele’s The Naked Witch. It is an undemanding read with an easy to follow but convincing plot-line which runs smoothly throughout the story. This is a cross genre book, a mixture of romance and mystery threaded through with magic and witchcraft. I was particularly fascinated by these latter themes and often stopped to re-read these sections; to ponder on them and the way the protagonist was epitomised by them. On the one hand Lizzie Martin is a woman who is trying to grapple with all that life throws at her: initially unexplained difficulties within her work life, complicated struggles with her ex-husband, anxieties for an ex, but still beloved, mother-in-law, worries for a teenage daughters growing maturity. All juxtaposed with an intriguing sub plot, the truth about her father’s death. The strength of this character lies with her beliefs in the goddess that guides her and in her ability to take and centre energy in herself from the earth.

And, just as Lizzie is rounded and multi-layered so are the supporting characters. I had empathy and liking for some and instant dislike for others; a true sign of strong characterisation for me.

The descriptions of the settings: Spain, Lizzie’s home, workplace, her Sanctuary give a good sense of place.

The dialogue is believable. It  is clear who is speaking and, mostly, carries the story along. I say mostly because, occasionally, and only occasionally, I felt. It slowed things down by slight repetition. In much the same way that some of the descriptions of food did in parts. I did find myself, every now and again, skipping over the sections where meals were reported. And, in a couple of places the narrative moved a little too quickly from one scene to another.

But these are small grumbles. I loved the lovely conversational style of the author’s writing, the humour that lightens the tone, the interesting insight to white witchcraft and enchanting mystical happenings. Most of all I loved the story.

I recommend The Naked Witch; it’s a good read.

Book Description:

Lizzie Martin’s new boss has asked her to ‘bare all’ and become more corporate.

For Lizzie, swapping paisley for pin stripe is like asking a parrot to wear pea hen.

She has to choose between her job and her integrity, cope with an unexpected stay in hospital, monitor her fourteen year old daughter’s latest crush, continue seeking the truth about her father’s death and juggle two new men in her life.

There is hope though.

At the bottom of the garden is a little wooden shed that Lizzie calls Sanctuary. Within its warm and welcoming walls, Lizzie surrounds herself with magic.

About the Author:

Wendy Steele

In 1972, Wendy Steele came home from the Tutankhamun exhibition and wrote about her experience, beginning a writing journey which she still travels. Since working in the City BC (Before Children), she has trained in alternative therapies, belly dance and writing. Wendy combines these three disciplines to give balance to her life.

Her first novel ‘Destiny of Angels’ was published in 2012, closely followed by two short story anthologies and a non-fiction book ‘Wendy Woo’s Year – A Pocketful of Smiles’, an inspirational guide, offering ideas, meditations and recipes to make every precious day, a happy one.

Moving to Wales, the fulfilment of a 15 year dream, inspired her to write the Standing Stone book series, set in Wales in the countryside she loves.

Writing workshops in Wales widened her writing perspective and the resulting short stories have been published online and in anthologies.

Wendy writes fantasy, with a dollop of magic, exploring the ‘what if…?’ the starting point for all her stories. She lives with her partner and cats, restoring her farmhouse and immersing herself in the natural world on her doorstep.

 

The Rat in the Python #MondayBlogs #Fifties #Memoirs #Humour

Many of you will have enjoyed Trish’s writing here before. She is one of my many talented students that I’m privileged to tutor each week. Hope you equally relish this dip into the past. For some of you it’s a small history lesson, for others, a memory. I am not saying which group I belong to!!

The following words belong to Trish…

If you haven’t heard of a liberty bodice, believe that half-a-crown is something to do with impoverished royalty and never had the experience of slapping a television to stop the grainy black and white picture from rolling, then this book is probably not for you.

It is intended for us Baby Boomers who, in the stability following the Second World War, formed a statistical bulge in the population python. It is a personal snapshot of a time that is as mystifying to my children as the Jurassic Era -and just as unrecognisable.

My intention is to nudge some long-forgotten memories to the surface, test your own recollections and provide statistics to put it all in context.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

The Rat in the Python

Chapter One The House

It would be fair to say that most houses in this country pre-date our generation and so this topic should present few surprises.

However the external appearance is deceptive. We’ve all seen old postcards of towns and can instantly recognise many of the buildings. But what of the insides?

They were different.

In my day none of my friends had fitted carpets and central heating was unheard of. We did have carpets, and the ones I remember were hideously patterned, but they were square or rectangular, circular or oval and housewives in a hurry could lift a corner and sweep the dust and dirt under them.

Heating
We had a coal fire downstairs and my mother would plait and weave strips of newspaper, lay them like a nest in the grate and build a carefully-constructed pyramid of coal in the centre in and around more of these strips. Then she’d light the paper. If it looked as though it was going to sulk and go out she’d produce a sheet of galvanised zinc like a flat shield that she’d hold over the front of the open fire to ‘draw’ it up and once it was going properly we’d feed it with great hunks of coal the size of bread loaves that you could later split open with the poker.

My father would hold the paper he was reading in front of a flagging fire to quickly perk it up. This wasn’t always successful. A dark patch would appear in the middle of the newsprint before the hastily dropped paper burst into flames. Occasionally we’d use a toasting fork to dangle bits of bread in front of the fire but conditions had to be just right. Too soon after the addition of fresh coal and you had a brittle piece of bread with smoked edges; wait until it was too hot and the bread itself would flame and char. There was also a knack to balancing the bread on the fork so that as large a flat surface as possible presented itself to the heat. I lacked this knack. The bread would tear around the prongs and slide down towards the handle or I’d have it so delicately balanced that it would fall off into the gritty ashes or the blaze itself

Paraffin heaters were also popular; ugly great brutes that reeked and smoked but put out an impressive bit of heat. When I first heard ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ I thought of these heaters and even now I can see the blue ring of flames that had to be set at just the right height to balance heat against pollution. And if you’ve lived in a house with a paraffin heater you won’t need me to remind you of that all-pervasive, oily smell.

The non-smelly heating involved electric bar fires. Virtually everyone I knew had at least one of these in the home. They ranged from those of impressive size which stood proudly in the fireplace as a soulless coal substitute, to small, portable ones. These consisted of one or two tightly-wound bars of wire in front of a shiny concave area designed to reflect heat back into the room. You’d flick a switch at the side to turn on one or both bars and then you’d wait to see if either began to glow red. Eventually they’d click and creak and produce a vicious belt of radiant heat from bright-orange elements which were ‘protected’ by a few widely-spaced strips of thin steel. From a Health & Safety perspective these were a nightmare by anyone’s standards. On the other hand, as few families of our acquaintance used fireguards for their coal fires – or their paraffin heaters, for that matter – I suppose it points to a time when Darwinism ruled; parents warned offspring of the dangers and, if they didn’t want to end up as a Cautionary Tale, children kept fingers and other bits at a safe distance.

In the winter, when houses which had never heard of double glazing shivered and quivered, sash windows rattled and draughts moaned through closed doors, the family snuggled up in front of the heat source. Those old advertisements of parents and children in a compact group do reflect the times, but the togetherness was often down to a primitive need to be warm rather than a desire to spend time with each other. Anywhere further than six feet from a fire was as foolhardy as a penguin trying to go it alone in the Antarctic Those of us who got as close to the heat as was possible, without actually spontaneously combusting, suffered from chilblains. I don’t know if anyone in this country still gets chilblains but for me it was an expected accompaniment to the cold weather. My feet were affected more than my hands and I can remember stamping them hard on the ground on my way to school in an attempt to calm the dreadful itch of them.

It goes without saying that when the downstairs was cold, the upstairs was colder. In a time before electric blankets and duvets all we had to protect us was a sheet, blankets and a hot water bottle. Some expensive hotels still use sheets and blankets in preference to duvets but they have the benefit of centrally heated rooms that make them an affectation rather than a necessity. It didn’t seem to matter how many blankets were heaped on the bed, the only bit that felt warm was the bit right next to you that had leached the heat from your own body. Hot water bottles were very welcome but imperfect. Unimaginative relatives knitted weird, lank, garter-stitched covers for them but I never used mine because they absorbed some of the heat intended for me. This meant that at first the bottle was too hot to touch and I’d put my foot against it for as long as I dared before snatching it off at the last moment (exacerbating the chilblain situation). For the briefest of times the temperature was perfect, and it was a real comfort. On waking you quickly learned not to move beyond your imprint in the bed. Everywhere else was inhospitably cold and you could watch your breath curl around the room whilst you mustered the courage to get up. The hot water bottle, by now endothermic, was resolutely avoided until the last moment when both feet would dart down, snatch it up the bed and leave it on top for re-filling that night.

Sometimes, presumably after vivid dreams, I’d wake in the night to find myself either entangled in a nightmare of Witney blankets or shivering because one end was still attached at the foot of the bed but the rest were in a heap on the floor. In the latter case, it was impossible to simply pull them up and go back to sleep; they had to be individually replaced in the right order or they’d be sliding off before you could start counting sheep again.
I was a student when I used a duvet (or continental quilt as they were billed then) for the first time. It was synthetic and the filling quickly moulded itself into clumps that refused to even themselves out again. Nevertheless, from that moment on I knew there was no going back to sheets and blankets.

And there’s nothing more irritating than blankets with rucks in them, unless it’s blankets that don’t line up at the bottom of the bed, or blankets that don’t reach your chin. Or blankets.

Heating also leads me to the issue of plugs and sockets.

My grandmother had a friend who would make sure before she went to bed that every socket had a plug in it. She explained it was to stop the electricity escaping into the house. In her day, as in mine, those sockets were round and the plugs that went into them were round-pin plugs. They were usually brown bakelite and the flex that went into them was covered in a woven material that frequently frayed into long wispy bits at the ends. It’s weird but I don’t remember the changeover from round prongs to square. Did I sleep through it? Did it happen so slowly that it crept up in tiny steps until the old was gone and the new already commonplace?

I suspect that when houses were first wired for electricity they were done in a half-hearted way because no one could think of many uses for the stuff and so one socket per room was considered more than ample. Then people decided on table and standard lamps to cast a warm glow on father reading his paper or mother darning the socks, wirelesses that needed wires, gramophones, electric fires, irons. The only way to deal with such a constraint was to buy adapters and stick one into another until there were sufficient sockets to satisfy demand. The weight of the massed plugs vying for space was frequently enough to drag the adapters away from the wall and someone would have to push them back in to restore power. As I write this, one of the public information films of the time has surfaced in my head and it shows such a cluster of adapters smoking in protest before bursting into flames. It wasn’t just my family, then…

The kitchen
The kitchen seems to be at the forefront of change. In the 50s there were rich pickings to be had for anyone with an innovation that was labour-saving or which made the heart of the home look more modern. Into the 21st century, the wheel has turned in the opposite direction and the more modern look involves a return to butler sinks and free-standing shabby chic furniture in place of the streamlining of the fitted kitchen but, like a return to blankets, there is space for these when other things allow them to be decorative features over the practical.

When I was a child, like most of my friends it was assumed that my mother would stay at home and be a housewife whilst my father would go out and work to keep her there. Women were given housekeeping money and were expected to make it stretch to cover all our needs. A housewife wore an apron to protect her clothes that were comparatively expensive in a time before cheap, supermarket-produced goods. To make ends meet she would frequently cook the same things on the same day of the week so Monday’s meal would be something that made use of the leftovers from Sunday’s roast. She would cook the meals on a white, enamelled stove and ours had bluish-black chips showing where pans had knocked against the enamel. There would also be whorls of grey scratches around the rings where spills had been scrubbed clean.

The food was kept in cupboards or, if you had the space, in a pantry. Vegetable racks held greens with yellowing outer leaves and a limited selection of root vegetables that were prepared in the sink. The first kitchen sink I remember was a white, enamelled one with a green stain under the cold water tap. Taps – which invariably had knobbly cross-shaped tops – seemed to drip with a frequency uncommon today.

Milk was kept in a small fridge (and ours was the envy of our neighbours because it had a freezer compartment that was big enough for some ice cubes or a block of waxy ice cream). I knew someone who still put her milk and cheese in a milk-safe. This was a terracotta container that was placed over the items and doused in water. In hot weather the evaporating water kept the contents cool and at a time when milk arrived daily that was usually enough.

Without the benefit of freezers, a lot of our food came in cans and, before we bought our first rotary, or butterfly, can-opener, the lids had to be removed using a metal lever that was used to punch triangular holes around the top until you could bend the jagged edge back and get at the contents. The rotary opener was a vast improvement on this but there always came a time when it would slip its way round without cutting. You’d have to try clipping it onto the can at a rakish angle and grip really, really tightly, praying that it would get far enough round for success. Inevitably there would be a couple of patches that the opener had grooved but not cut and these were now more difficult to reach. We weren’t the first family, I’m sure, that would resort to sliding spoon handles into the gap, trying to prise the lid back.

There were very few kitchen gadgets in our house when I was a child. We did have a rotary whisk which I found mesmerisingly exciting. Chips were cooked in a saucepan with a wire basket to hold, remove and drain them. You’d put a slab of lard into the pan, heat it up until it was smoking, put the prepared chips into the wire basket and lower it, hissing and spitting like a trapped cat, into the fat. It is no surprise that chip pan fires also feature prominently in my memories of public information warnings.

The cupboards were filled with china, and there was always one cupboard that had the best china in it to be used when visitors came. Cups always had saucers, and mugs were unheard of in the home. If I fast forward to the beginning of the sixties I enter a different world of colour and melamine. We thought melamine was cool and trendy and it spun and clattered without breaking when dropped onto the equally colourful Marley tiles arranged checkerboard-style on the floor. We threw out our melamine when earthenware became popular…

As a child it wasn’t uncommon to have three cooked meals a day. Breakfast might be scrambled eggs on toast or a fry-up, lunch would generally consist of something meaty with vegetables plus a pudding and the evening meal would be a more substantial version of lunch. All of these meals were cooked from scratch which generated a good deal of washing up. As a consequence, mothers around the country would be continually reaching for their Marigolds and balancing the washed items on the wire rack on the draining board to be dried with a tea-towel that had a stripe down each side.

My Review of What’s Left Unsaid by Deborah Stone #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT



What's Left Unsaid

I was given a copy of What’s Left Unsaid by the author as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT, in return for an honest review.

I gave this book 5*

Book Description:

Sasha is just about managing to hold her life together. She is raising her teenage son Zac, coping with an absent husband and caring for her ageing, temperamental and alcoholic mother, as well as holding down her own job. But when Zac begins to suspect that he has a secret sibling, Sasha realises that she must relive the events of a devastating night which she has done her best to forget for the past nineteen years.

Sasha’s mother, Annie, is old and finds it difficult to distinguish between past and present and between truth and lies. As Annie sinks deeper back into her past, she revisits the key events in her life which have shaped her emotionally. Through it all, she remains convinced that her dead husband Joe is watching and waiting for her. But there’s one thing she never told him, and as painful as it is for her to admit the truth, Annie is determined to go to Joe with a guilt-free conscience.

As the plot unfurls, traumas are revealed and lies uncovered, revealing long-buried secrets which are at the root of Annie and Sasha’s fractious relationship.

My Review:

There are some books that grab you from the first page, even the first paragraph. What’s Left Unsaid did just that for me:

“If Annie had just been honest with me, we might have avoided much of the ugliness which followed… but she wasn’t and we didn’t…”

How could I resist? I didn’t! It helped when I realised the story is told in one of my favourite formats; it’s written from different points of view under the name of three characters: the protagonist, Sasha, her mother Annie and her late father, Joe. I especially liked Joe’s objective viewpoint that balanced out the subjective viewpoints of the other two characters as they describe the complex and difficult relationship between them. Even so, the question hovering throughout the text is what is truth and what is lies. It’s a cleverly written narrative and I loved the writing style of Deborah Stone; she moves from character to character, slipping easily into their voices, alternately moving the reader to understand each with empathy, yet being able to see the flaws in them as well.

The plot is tense and tightly woven, moving at different paces to reveal the secrets held for years held by this family. There are many themes: family secrets and deceptions, emotional power struggles between characters, dementia, miscommunications, understandings and forgiveness. All delicately intertwined throughout the text.

I always think that, when we reach a certain age we are formed by the things that we have done, what has happened to us, how we have been treated and how we have treated others. In What’s Left Unsaid the flashbacks to Annie’s earlier life reveal her vanity, her prejudices of others and her jealousy of her own daughter. As a reader I was torn between disliking much of what she was and yet having compassion for what she has become; a woman in the throes of dementia. The flashbacks of Joe’s earlier life show his Jewish family’s struggles to move from a totalitarian Russia at the end of the nineteenth century to the North of England where they face fascism and suffer poverty that they fight to escape, much as they have escaped from an oppressive regime.

The characters are many layered. The protagonist, Sasha is living in a loveless marriage and cannot understand either her husband, Jeremy, who has a secret of his own or her son, Zac, typically a monosyllabic, hormonal teenager. She has no closeness with her mother yet is forced to be deeply involved in her life. The author cleverly and subtly reveals the tensions hidden in Sasha, much as she does in all the major characters.  Her internal dialogue initially shows her timidity, her nervousness, in the way she approaches her family. Yet there is also exasperation and even anger. And this comes out more and more as the story progresses.

Joe’s words, spoken from beyond the grave, are wise and, as I said earlier, objective. I felt they gave a distanced reflective view on human nature as a whole. Yet, through the dialogue and thoughts of the other characters, his personality in life is exposed to have had had the same flaws and weaknesses as their own.

Even without the story being allocated to each character the reader is left in no doubt who is speaking; each have their own distinctive voice.

The narrative describing the settings give a good sense of place and provide an interesting background to the story.

What’s Left Unsaid is a complex and poignant read. Thought provoking and absorbing it left me reflecting on the complexities of marriage and families. I would recommend this to readers who enjoy well-written family sagas

 

 

My Review of Connectedness (Identity Detective Book 2) by Sandra Danby #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

Connectedness (Identity Detective Book 2) by [Danby, Sandra]

I was given this novel by the author as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT in return for an honest review.

I gave Connectedness 4* out of 5*

Book Description:

TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, ARTIST JUSTINE TREE HAS IT ALL… BUT SHE ALSO HAS A SECRET THAT THREATENS TO DESTROY EVERYTHING

Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.

Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?

This tale of art, adoption, romance and loss moves between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain.

My Review:

I enjoyed reading Connectedness. Although it is the second novel in the ‘Identity Detective’ series that features Rose Haldane, journalist and identity detective, who reunites the people lost through adoption, it can be read as a standalone novel. In Connectedness the story revolves around the protagonist, successful artist, Justine King, who discovers her life is, and has been, a web of lies and secrets. She is vulnerable and haunted by incidents that happened in her younger days as a student. The suspenseful plot is revealed through a clever blend of her past and present and has a steadily growing pace after an intriguing prologue.

There are numerous layers to this book, details that are cleverly drip-fed throughout to reveal many themes: of sadness and distress, memories, anger, grief, familial love, discovery, loss and regret.

The characters are well rounded and portrayed to evoke sympathy and understanding in the reader. Both the internal and spoken dialogue add to their credibility.

It is obvious the author has researched the art world that is the basis of the story. Research that adds to the character of the protagonist who uses her emotions, her fears, her pain, both consciously and unwittingly, when producing her work. There is a wonderful sense of art being part of both the human condition and the environment around us,

The descriptions of the settings of contemporary Filey in Yorkshire, Malaga in Spain in the eighties and London are evocative through the use of all the five senses and give a wonderful sense of place. At times I felt I was travelling alongside the protagonist in her journey of discovery.

And the denouement is poignant and satisfying.

Just the one reservation, and I’m sorry to say this, but I don’t like the title. If I hadn’t been intrigued by the book description and if I hadn’t loved the cover on first sight, I wouldn’t have chosen Connectedness. It doesn’t mean anything to me. Suffice it to say I’m glad I did choose this book.

This is the first book I’ve read by Sandra Danby It won’t be the last. The idea of the story itself is intriguing and she has a sensitive yet powerful writing style that I have no hesitation in recommending to readers who enjoy contemporary and women’s’ fiction.

About the author:

An image posted by the author.

Sandra Danby is a proud Yorkshire woman, tennis nut and tea drinker. She believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. Unlike Rose Haldane, the identity detective in her two novels, ‘Ignoring Gravity’ and ‘Connectedness’, Sandra is not adopted.

 

 

 

My Review of Finding Max by Darren Jorgensen #RBRT #Crime #TuesdayBookBlog

Finding Max by [Jorgensen, Darren]

I was given Finding Max by the author as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT in return for an honest review.

I gave this book 4* out of 5*

Book Description:

Five-year-old Max is abducted from a playground on a hot summer day while his brother, Gary, has his back turned. Seventeen years later, Max returns to Gary’s life in a serendipitous twist with a disturbing tale to tell. As they learn to love and trust each other, they must outwit and outrun the nefarious Quinn, who seeks to re-abduct Max for his own evil purposes. Killing Gary and his new girlfriend, Jean, to get them out of his way is just part of his plan. Will they escape? And when all is said and done, will Max and Gary ever truly be freed from the shackles of guilt and pain from the past? Amid the gritty, harsh landscape of New York City, Finding Max explores those areas of society we seldom like to look at—homelessness, hunger and sexual abuse—with profound delicacy, brutal honesty and compassion. This thrilling novel will keep you reading long into the night

My Review:

Finding Max is an intriguing and powerful novel; a cross genre of psychological thriller and mystery. It’s a dark plot that is threaded through with themes of violence, abandonment and sexual abuse but these are juxtaposed and balanced by themes of courage, loyalty and love. I liked the writing style of this author and it’s obvious there has been a great deal of research into the deep-seated trauma of childhood mistreatment and cruelty. Darren Jorgensen treads a fine line but it’s done with sensitivity and skill. The reader is taken into the inner lives of the two main characters, two brothers, Guy and Max and their past and present lives.

On the whole all the characters throughout are well-rounded and believable. Both Guy and Max are multi layered. They are portrayed, individually, as damaged by their history but in different ways, Max, by his abduction as a child, and Guy, by his belief that he failed his brother by his neglect and inability to stop the abduction. But, as in all good writing, both are also depicted to grow and change as the story progresses. This transformation is helped by the introduction of Jean, Guy’s new girlfriend. I wasn’t sure, at first, by this character but eventually realised her purpose to the plot; she is an emotional go-between – having a strong impact on both brothers in the short time span

The antagonist, Quinn, is interesting; a psychopathic murderer who is shown to have a disturbing, unnatural love for Max. He stalks him, desperate to reclaim him and dangerously bitter by his belief that Guy and Jean have taken Max away from him. It’s a strong, well written portrayal of an adversary.

I deliberated over some of the dialogue; I’m not convinced by it, especially that of Max. The inner dialogue, on the whole, is excellent, revealing the horror, the terror, the power of the mind and it gives understanding to some of Max’s irrational behaviour and need to hide, to run away. But the spoken dialogue he is given doesn’t always ring true; there is a sophistication there that feels wrong for this naive character. And, without the dialogue tags, it is occasionally difficult to discern who is speaking, Guy, portrayed as an educated and socially competent man, or Max.

The description of the settings: Guy’s office, the shelter where he is based as a social worker, and his apartment; the way homelessness on the streets is shown, give a brilliant sense of place. I could see the world the characters move around in.

Besides my thoughts on the dialogue, I had only a few reservations. Firstly, I felt that the pace of the plot was slowed down, in places, by the unnecessarily introduction of issues not particularly relevant to the story, Secondly, I was never quite sure about the coincidence of Max walking into the drop-in centre where Gary is based. But, for the sake of the plot, I accepted it as possible.

I think it also should be said that there are explicit details of child sexual abuse some readers may find upsetting.

Although Finding Max is a standalone novel it is open- ended and could lead to a sequel.

On the whole this is a powerful and absorbing read. One I would recommend in particular to readers who enjoy a dark physiological crime genre

 

 

My Review of Someone Close to Home by Alex Craigie #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT

Someone Close To Home by [Craigie, Alex]

I gave Someone Close to Home 5*

My Review:

It’s been quite a while since I read a book in one go but I couldn’t put this one down. Someone Close to Home sent me through a whole range of emotions; delight, sadness, anger, joy, frustration. And this is a debut novel! The writing style of Alex Craigie  is sophisticated, emotive and empathetic.

The start of the story grabbed me straightaway: the image of the protagonist, Megan, watching “each minuscule judder of the hand (of the clock)”, her immobility and her thoughts on her childhood, especially of her selfish and destructive mother who Megan loathed – still loathes, is compulsive reading. There is one sentence that foreshadows all that happens as the story continues: ‘This is all down to my mother… she’s been dead for over thirty years now and still she’s poisoning my life.”

This is a story of two halves: the time that Megan is in the badly-run care home, which lasts around six months and is told in present tense, mainly through the internal dialogue of the protagonist, and the whole of her childhood and younger life.told in past tense as flashbacks. The latter leads the reader inexorably to the point where Megan is lying helpless after suffering a stroke. She is at the mercy of mostly inattentive carers, poorly paid and resentful. Their actions, the way they carry out their tasks on Megan is described simply by her; they are tasks done to her, sometimes carefully, sometimes without heed. And then there is the carer, Annie… I’ll say no more.

The description of  of the protagonist’s days evoke the dreariness. The word, “waiting” is repeated so many times that I, as the reader, also waited with Megan, knowing, with some dread, that something awful will happen.

The main characters: Gideon (childhood friend and later the man she loves. Claire, her true friend in later life, Jordan,  Megan’s husband, egotistical actor and a cruel man, Theo and Camilla, her greedy and selfish children), are many layered and well portrayed; their dialogue identifies them immediately. And, although there are many flat characters,, in the guise of the carers and the owner of the care home, the author also gives them distinguishable voices. 

The descriptions of the settings give a good sense of place. The room Megan is lying in is told in meticulous but confined detail. We see the limited view she has, and only that. (it did give me a sense of claustrophobia, I must admit.). There is “the sturdy chest of drawers topped with shapes that will become a television and some framed photographs”as “the heavy grey light” “pushes into the room” after a long sleepless night”. We hear “the rattle of trolleys” that she knows is “laden with clean and soiled bedding”, the “insistent buzzing” of room bells, the “moans, shouts and cussing from room nearby punctuated by the chivying of staff”. We feel her pain through the roughness of the care, the threat of bed sores. And the details of the places in her childhood, the  houses she lived in, countries she visited as a professional pianist, are full of evocative imagery.

It’s a plot that moves at an even pace but, ultimately, it’s also one that took me by surprise. Even closely following the actions of the characters in the story still didn’t prepare me for the ending.

Someone Close to Home by Alex Craigie is a book I thoroughly recommend to any reader.

Book Description:

Talented pianist Megan Youngblood has it all – fame, fortune and Gideon.

But Gideon isn’t good enough for Megan’s ambitious, manipulative mother, whose meddling has devastating repercussions for Megan and for those close to her.

Now, trapped inside her own body, she is unable to communicate her needs or fears as she faces institutional neglect in an inadequate care home.

And she faces Annie. Sadistic Annie who has reason to hate her. Damaged Annie who shouldn’t work with vulnerable people.

Just how far will Annie go?

Author details:

Born in Sunderland, in the north of England, Alex has wended her way south via Eccles, Bramhall, Histon, Cambridge, Leicester and Market Harborough before finally coming to rest thirty years ago in a peaceful village  in Wales. She lives in an old, draughty house with stone walls 2’ thick that make any DIY a real challenge and she knows she’s really lucky to have all her children and grandchildren living close by. It’s often chaotic and noisy but these are her most treasured moments and she savours them – even if she’s reduced to an immovable heap after they’ve gone.  When not writing, reading or simply enjoying the rural life, she’s in the garden waging a war of attrition against the brambles that she encourages in the hedges for birds to nest in, vicious nettles that support a variety of butterflies, and bindweed that looks lovely but doesn’t share nicely with the other plants.

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/2JDruLL

Amazon.com: https://amzn.to/2KezulB

 

Books in my Handbag Blog Detective Indie Author Investigates #FridayReads #Editing #Publishing The Crime and Coffee Festival

Detective Indie Author Investigates

The Crime and Coffee Festival beckoned me to Cardiff Library to solve the mystery of writing and publishing. The workshop: Cut, Slash and Perfect promised to reveal more about the writing and traditional publishing journey.  As I passed the crime scene tape surrounding the bookshelves, I did wonder if any authors had been lost during the cutting, slashing and perfecting process. I went undercover to find out more about traditional publishing. Would I need an agent, and would I need a sharper pair of scissors?

The panel discussion with: Thorne Moore, Caroline Oakely and Judith Barrow. Has Judith spotted Jessie?

Authors, Judith Barrow and Thorne Moore, chatted with the editor, Caroline Oakley, of Honno Pressabout publishing. The entertaining chat provided food for thought for all authors who wish to publish their work.  As I listened, I captured some of the main points and discovered what makes editors cut and authors cry. The panel put me at ease, and I was able to remove my disguise as an indie author.

Introducing Caroline Oakley who is the editor at Honno Press

Caroline has worked in general trade publishing for over thirty years and has edited a number of award winning and bestselling authors. Caroline works for, Honno Press, an independent Welsh Women’s publisher in Wales.

Clues from the Editor

Caroline gave a balanced overview of publishing

Big publishers only work through agents.

A good editor is key to success for all authors

Agents often have useful contacts within the publishing world and deal with the contracts.  Care must be taken when selecting an agent because, as in all businesses, there are inefficient, self –styled experts, with little experience, out there. Google and search for those authors who write in your genre to find out the names of the agents who deal with your kind of book before submitting. You can approach independent and smaller publishers with or without an agent. Find out what this kind of publisher wants before approaching them.  Research their website; look at the work of the signed authors.  Take your time to select the appropriate one for your genre; consider how much advance that publisher pays, the amount of royalties for sold books you will get, your rights (such as audio and foreign rights for your work) and the terms and conditions of your contract. You must read the small print!

Don’t get disheartened with rejection letters sent to publishers.  Hope your manuscript reaches the publisher at the right time (by this I mean that it’s not a miserable Monday morning for them, or they’ve not had a quarrel with a partner or their family – or they’ve not had a week of wading through a pile of “not very good” manuscripts before they get to yours)– it is subjective.

Indie publishing has its challenges, but it gives you more control and you get all the profit.  The Indie author deals with every element of the process; from the writing to choosing the cover, the blurb formatting, publication and marketing. Traditionally published authors also are expected to promote and market. Indie publishing is time- consuming but as I said before, they do have complete control over their work.

The venue – Cardiff Library

Whichever publishing route you choose, you must get yourself an editor! Although time-consuming (and sometimes devastating!) you must go through the cut, slash perfect process.  A good editor will identify gaps, things that possibly don’t work in your writing, mistakes such as change of dates of characters’ birthdays or colour of eyes in different parts of the book, errors in time scale etc.. But will not tell you what to do, only point out those mistakes and suggest changes to make your work stronger.

It is advisable that every author, whether self-published or traditionally published, has a website, blog and social media accounts.

Introducing Judith Barrow:

Judith Barrow has published four books with Honno Press.  She writes historical family saga fiction. She has also self-published books and a collection of short stories of the minor characters in her trilogy.

What did Judith say about her publishing journey?

Judith Barrow and Thorne Moore are published by Honno Press

I love working with Honno Press.  The staff are friendly and accessible. As a writer you learn what you can and cannot get away with.  I have built up trust with the editor who I know has had a long and professional career in all genres. And, although  Honno Pressalso organises the front cover for the books, they have allowed me input to the final decision .

Working with Honno Press provides me with quality, professional editing.  I cry every time, I get the editor’s comments, but I know, in my heart, it makes the work better.  An editor will read your book line by line and give an overview. A good editor will ask the right questions but will not give you the answers. When you edit your work, you must keep your own voice.

I do not send my very first draft to an editor and probably have about ten revisions.  I ask my friend, who is an author, to give me an honest opinion on anything I have doubts about.  I am also a member of a writing group and we email sections of our books for discussion.  But do, avoid too much input from too many sources into your work as it can confuse you – have a small trusted network of writers.  Believe in yourself! The cut, slash and perfect stages involves a first general edit, as many more detailed edits then necessary to get the writing to its best, a line by line edit to weed out any noticeable mistakes and then a proof read by the publisher’s proof reader. Finally, it comes back to me for a last read to make sure all is correct. I do like this final stage; it does make me feel as though I have control over the end product to some degree.

Introducing Thorne Moore

Thorne had published three books with Honno Fiction and writes domestic noir and psychological fiction.  Thorne has self-published and works with two publishers.

What did Thorne say about publishing?

She has self-published short stories in order to market a published book.  The different publishers are relevant to the books promoted. Regardless of how the books are published, the author must have a good editor.

A writer needs an editor to stand on the mountain and look down on your work.  During the writing process the author becomes too absorbed to be objective.  Through the feedback from the editor, you learn to write.  The editor will locate your common mistakes then you will avoid these in subsequent drafts.

You do need a small critical group of friends who will give you constructive criticism.

Don’t worry about the reviews. Jane Austin has plenty of one star and two star reviews on Amazon.

Don’t give up!  I was rejected by Honno at first. In an interview with Thorne, she told me about the trials and tribulations of her publishing journey. This story of Thorne’s publishing journey will be published very soon.

A good editor is key to success for all authors: traditionally published and self-published need a good editor.  A good editor will identify gaps in your work and ask the right questions.  My editor forced me to ask lots of questions about my book and rework sections.  I learnt a great deal about my writing through this process. As a self-published author I have involved a professional editor, beta readers and other authors.  One must be careful of making new mistakes in a new edit – it is expensive to pay for all the various stages of the edit.  I understand the security of working with an independent publisher who provides an editor. The indie author has greater control of the book but must complete all stages of the process including the book cover and the marketing. In the end, all clues pointed towards the importance of a professional editor during the publishing process.  No matter how many times the author sharpens the scissors to cut, they still need an editor and dosh to pay for quality.   Clearly, this wasn’t an open and shut case and more investigation needed to be completed.

Clue of the Day

Narbeth Book Fair – see Judith, Thorne and Jessie!

Caroline suggested the market for the unreliable narrator in all genres will change. Like fashion in clothes, fashion in books also changes.  No one knows what will be the next ‘in thing’ for novels.

Judith Barrow, Caroline Oakley, Thorne Moore will all be at the Narberth Book Festival on 22nd September.

You can book individual session with Caroline Oakley of Honno Press for £35.  For more information visit the Narberth Book Fair website. Children’s writers can book sessions with Firefly Press.