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.
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:
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.
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*
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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 waited for me in a department store while I waited for her in Cardiff Library. Would the meeting take place? Neither of us had thought to share our phone numbers prior to the meeting.
Judith emerged from the lift, in Cardiff Library, wearing a silk purple top that was co-ordinated with her fabulous lilac hair. I warmed to her instantly! Her beaming smile lit up her face and I knew she’d make me laugh. She travelled from Pembrokeshire to take part in a panel on agents, traditional and Indie publishing and agents at the Crime Cymru event, and her huge canvas bag bulged with goodies for the day ahead. I was lucky to grab some time with her.
Judith: At last, I thought you’d got lost in your handbag. I waited in the department store and realised I had no contact details. After I finished my mint tea, I asked three strange women if they were Jessie. They thought I was mad.
Judith’s Yorkshire accent and mischievous blue eyes instantly made me giggle. Great to meet someone who spoke the same lingo.
Jessie: I’m so sorry but I thought you’ be able to read my mind. Couldn’t you hear me calling you in my dulcet tones across the streets of Cardiff? Don’t ask me why I didn’t send you my mobile number and confirm the meeting. I also approached a couple of potential Judiths but the real Judith is much better. So pleased, I found a representative of Honno Press and she had your number.
We laughed and grabbed some coffee from a coffee station in Cardiff Library. The staff set up a couple of chairs for us to conduct the chat. Having spilt the coffee all over my hand, we settled down to chat about Judith.
Jessie: Judith, tell me what a Yorkshire lass is doing in Pembrokeshire.
Judith: We went on holiday to Pembrokeshire, loved it and never returned to Saddleworth. We bought a half-built house and renovated it.
Jessie: Do you miss Yorkshire?
Judith: Pembrokeshire was a great place for our kids to grow up. I miss Yorkshire stone, craggy landscape and the meandering moors. I love our house, in Pembrokeshire, but I always expected I’d live in a stone cottage in my old age. As you can hear, even after forty years in Wales my accent hasn’t changed – I’m still a Yorkshire lass. People say they can hear my voice in their heads when they read my books. Lucky them!
Jessie: Obviously, people love your voice as you have written eight books. How did the writing start?
Judith: Well, I hope they do. As for the writing, I’d written since I was a child but never done anything much about it. Then I went to night school with my daughter. I finished A Level English and went on to gain a degree through the Open University. Whilst studying for the degree, I had breast cancer, and this made me see life differently. I decided to follow my dream to become a writer. Initially, I had an agent but she wanted me to write as an author of Mills and Boon so I parted company with her.
Jessie: That’s ridiculous; your books are not of that genre. The books are historical fiction with engaging stories of the Howarth family. The books have complex plots and characters.
Judith: I write people driven, gritty dramas and wasn’t prepared to adapt my writing. Eventually, I got a contract with Honno Press – an independent publisher in Wales- and found their approach personal and supportive. My first book ‘Pattern of Shadows’
Jessie: What’s Pattern of Shadows about?
Judith: It’s the story of a nursing sister, Mary Howarth, and her family, during World War Two and is set around a POW camp located in a disused cotton mill in a Lancashire town. When I was a child my mother was a winder in a cotton mill and I would go there to wait for her to finish work; I remember the smell of the grease and cotton, the sound of the loud machinery and the colours of the threads and bales of material. Pattern of Shadows was meant to be a standalone book, but the characters wanted me to carry on with their lives. Eventually, it developed into a family saga trilogy. My recent book, the prequel, is A Hundred Tiny Threads. The two main characters, Winifred and Bill, are the parents of the protagonist in the trilogy, Mary Howarth. They wanted me to explain their, how they had become what they are in the trilogy. I was happy to; I think, as we get older, we are made by our life experiences.
Jessie: I’m reading One Hundred Tiny Threads. I’m about a third of the way through. It’s a great read. The opening is engrossing with Winifred waking up to another day in the shop. The characters are so real, and I love getting inside their heads. I’m shouting at them all the time. The way you thread the characters’ attitudes towards women is brilliant. I’m fascinated by the Suffragettes in Leeds. For some reason, I always imagined the movement to be concentrated in London.
Judith: Researching the Suffragettes opened up my eyes. I wanted to tell their story through the voices of the characters and show how women, in the society at that time, were ready for the change. Stories draw people into to the political background of the era, and life was certainly a challenge then. People say my books are dark. Have you got to the gory bits?
Jessie: Well, there has been a murder.
Judith: No, I’m thinking of scene after that – you wait. Bill’s a bastard but it’s his background. I don’t know why Winifred married him.
Jessie: Oh no, what was Winifred thinking of? I’m furious with her, as I haven’t read the terrible news yet. I’m intrigued as to why she didn’t marry the love of her life and scared for her.
Judith: oh ‘eck, hope I haven’t I haven’t spoiled it for you, Jessie. But, you must understand Bill had a terrible life as a child with his father. And then he was a soldier in the horrendous First World Wars. He was also one of the Black and Tans when he returned from the Front. He’s a bastard but didn’t have it easy. As I said, our lives shape us.
Jessie: I agree and people interest me too.
Judith: Yes, well your novel, You Can’t Go It Alone, is also character driven and could become a family saga. I can see it now. I want to know more about Luke and Rosa and their parents.
Jessie: I plan to do that, and you have inspired me to complete historical research. I would have to look carefully into the eras the generations were born into. Thanks for your advice.
Judith: No problem, I teach creative writing in Pembrokeshire, so I just can’t help myself (some would say it’s interfering!!). Writing is like looking at the world through the eyes of a child and I love it. I watch folk walk past my window, at home. It’s hilarious how people walk. I can’t stop people watching and passing it on through my books. I never stop watching and am always so busy.
Jessie: I notice you also organise Narberth Book Fair.
Judith: Yes, I organise it with a friend, author, Thorne Moore. It started in Tenby, but we had to move because we outgrew the venue with so many writers wanting to take part. I think it’s so important to attend these events; to get out there and meet the readers.
Jessie: What advice would you give to fledgling writers?
Judith: Get a professional editor and be prepared for a slog. The first draft of the book is the best bit. I always cry when I get my editor’s comments.
Jessie: Tell me, what have you got in your handbag today?
Judith handed me a copy of Pattern of Shadows and a book entitled Secrets; an anthology of short stories of the minor characters in the trilogy. She proceeded to let me in on the secret life of her handbag. She had some very colourful reading glasses, pens, more pens, bookmarks, a spare blouse, her mobile and an agenda.
Judith: As you can see I do love a bit of colour. I try to be organised and I absolutely love writing. I want you to place these books in your handbag and let the Howarth family keep you company. You’ll love some of the family and dislike some of the other – but that’s life!
Judith is fabulous fun, and I had a blast meeting with her. Meeting face to face is so much better than communicating on line. I delighted in her humour, straight-talking and infectious sense of fun. Judith is a natural storyteller, and this translates in her animated dialogue. She told me she is ‘living each day’. She thrives on her writing and engagement with authors. Her generosity was evident in her willingness to share the benefit of her experience.
Judith Barrow, originally from Saddleworth, near Oldham, and on the wrong side of the Pennines but still in Yorkshire, has lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for forty years.
She has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s College, Carmarthen, a BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University and a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. She has had short stories, plays, reviews and articles, published throughout the British Isles and has won several poetry competitions. She has completed three children’s books.
She is also a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council.
Winifred is a determined young woman eager for new experiences, for a life beyond the grocer’s shop counter ruled over by her domineering mother. When her friend Honora – an Irish girl, with the freedom to do as she pleases – drags Winifred along to a suffragette rally, she realises that there is more to life than the shop and her parents’ humdrum lives of work and grumbling. Bill Howarth’s troubled childhood echoes through his early adult life and the scars linger, affecting his work, his relationships and his health. The only light in his life comes from a chance meeting with Winifred, the daughter of a Lancashire grocer. The girl he determines to make his wife. Meeting Honora’s intelligent and silver-tongued medical student brother turns Winifred’s heart upside down and she finds herself suddenly pregnant. Bill Howarth reappears on the scene offering her a way out.
Love, music and secrets are woven together in this poignant, heart-warming narrative.
Set in a Welsh village, the story explores the contrast in attitudes and opportunities between different generations of women. As the characters confront their secrets and fears, they discover truths about themselves and their relationships. The reader is invited to laugh and cry, with the characters, and find joy in the simple things in life. Listen to the music and enjoy the food, as you peek inside the world of the inhabitants of Delfryn.
Let Sophie show you that no one can go it alone. Who knows, you may find some friends with big hearts…
I really liked You Can’t Go It Alone, there are so many familiar ‘human life’ threads running throughout the relationships of the characters And there are a lot of up and down real life moments throughout, some poignant, some sad, some joyous, some humorous, some unexpected. All thought provoking. There is one sentence that foreshadows the troubles and upsets that will affect them;”The sun was trying to make an appearance but the clouds were dancing in the sky as if they intended to win the dual.”
The characters are well drawn and multi layered. From the protagonist, Sophie who, with her husband, Jack, has recently moved to the village in the hope of a new life (in more ways than one), to the owners of the cafe, Rosa, the ever optimist, and Matteo, a quick tempered, jealous husband and their daughter, the talented Olivia. And then there is the delightful young Daisy.
The dialogue is exceptional; the personalities of the characters were instantly revealed to me, as the reader, through both the internal and the spoken speech.
It’s the Olive Tree Café is where most of the action occurs and there is a strong sense of the cafe’s ambience. Indeed, all of the settings have a good sense of place and it’s almost as if the Delfryn itself is personified as a character in the story, with the interweaving, individual lives it holds at its centre.
Initially the story appears to be a lighthearted look at life in a Welsh village but it is soon revealed that, as the book description says, this really is anexploration of “the contrast in attitudes and opportunities between different generations of women”.
Jessie Cahalin has a lovely light touch with her poetic prose; there are numerous sections which immediately evoke wonderful images and emotions and many sentences that made me stop to reread them just for the sheer beauty of the language.
I recommendJessie Cahalin’s debut novel; You Can’t Go It Alone is an interesting and thoughtful story
Jessie is a bookish blogger, word warrior and intrepid virtual explorer. She loves to entertain with stories, and is never seen without: her camera, phone, notebook and handbag. Fellow authors have deemed her ‘creative and quirky’ and she wears these words like a blogging badge of honour.
Having overcome her fear of self-publishing, she is now living the dream of introducing the characters who have been hassling her for decades. Her debut novel, ‘You Can’t Go It Alone’, is a heart-warming tale about the challenges women still face in society. The novel has light-hearted moments and presents hope. As C. S. Lewis said, ‘We read to know we are not alone.’ Connecting with authors via her Books in my Handbag Blog is a blast. She showcases authors’ books in the popular Handbag Gallery and has fun meeting authors in her virtual world. Communicating with her authors, still gives Jessie a creative buzz.
Jessie Cahalin hails from Yorkshire, but as a book blogger, she has realised that her country of origin is probably The World. She loves to travel the world and collects cultural gems like a magpie. She searches for happy endings, where possible, and needs great coffee, food and music to give her inspiration.
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.’
This is the story of a young woman’s first encounters with rural South Africa. Coming from the all-mod-cons society of Britain at the beginning of the 1980’s, the author is literally transplanted to a farm in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains in what is now Kwazulu Natal.
Once there, she finds her feet in the ways of Africa with the help of a charming, elderly Dutch couple, an appealing but wily African farm hand, his practical and motherly daughter and a wise and fascinating neighbour who has a fund of local knowledge.
These are tales of a different kind of life, which include living without electricity, hand-milking cows, drought, veld fires and mad-cap adventures into the unknown.
They are stories told with deep affection and respect, and above all a liberal dose of tongue-in-cheek humour.
My Review: I gave African Ways 5*out of 5*
Valerie Poore’s African Ways is a brilliant memoir that draws the reader in from the first page.
It is obvious from the beginning how much this author opens herself to people, places…and adventures that most of us would back away from.
I was enthralled throughout by her wonderful descriptions of the land where she made her home with her husband and two young children for three years in the 1980s ( a farm in Natal, South Africa). The love she has for the country and for the neighbours and friends that surrounded her (some with such fabulous names!) shines through in her writing.
Despite everything: the droughts the families endured, the fires ( I was riveted by her portrayal of the unbelievably brave way she, her husband and friends battled against one fire and then, though exhausted, continued their BBQ), the venomous snakes, the swarm of bees that invaded her home and the lack of electricity, it is obvious she embraced the whole experience.
And, threaded throughout the author reveals her superb sense of humour; there are some great ‘laugh out loud’ stories and even some chuckles, despite the dangers, recollections.
African Ways is a memoir I can thoroughly recommend. In fact I would say, you should…really you should…read this book.
Val Poore was born in London, England, and grew up in both north London and the west of Dorset. After completing her degree in English, History and French at Bournemouth, she took a further course in the conservation and restoration of museum artefacts at Lincoln College of Art which qualified her for nothing at all really. She then spent two years doing furniture restoration before going to South Africa in 1981 with her husband and small children.
Valerie left South Africa permanently in 2001 and has settled in the Netherlands, where she shares her time between a liveaboard barge in Rotterdam and a cottage in Zeeland. She teaches academic and business English on a freelance basis and still writes in her spare time, although she admits there’s not enough of that at the moment. In fact, she has been writing since childhood and wrote stories, articles and radio plays for years before embarking on her first book in 2005. Val loves travelling especially when it involves roughing it a bit. She feels that she has better adventures and more interesting experiences that way.
She has written six books altogether: the Skipper’s Child (teen/kidult fiction), How to Breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics (sort of grown-up, humorous fiction), Watery Ways and Harbour Ways (memoirs of her first years of living on a barge in Holland), Walloon Ways (three years as a weekend Belgian) and African Ways (a memoir her life on a farm in South Africa). Her seventh book (another novel) is in progress but is taking rather longer than she had hoped. This is simply due to real life getting in the way.