My Review of Bethulia by Thorne Moore #TuesdayBookBlog #DiamondPress

I have read all of Thorne Moore’s books, so far, and I can honestly say this is one author who can turn her hand to any genre.

From her days when she was published with Honno and her domestic noir stories such as: Motherlove, to being published by Lume and the enthralling Llys y Garn books that hold a blend of gothic mystery and family drama, for example: Shadows, to her ventures into Indie Publishing and her powerful Sci Fi novels, beginning with: Inside Out, and now as an author of Diamond Press (her first book with them being Fatal Collision) this author has a talent for compelling plots and characters (to quote a well-known cliche) that leap off the page and live with the reader well after the story is finished.

And so it is with Bethulia.

Book Description:

Alison, Danny, Jude. Three girls bound closer than sisters. Nothing can divide them.

Until Alison falls for Simon Delaney. Handsome, successful and ambitious, what woman wouldn’t want him? He’s surely her perfect husband. So why does she commit suicide?

If it is suicide. The police say yes, except for the driven DC Rosanna Quillan. She says no, but she can only watch as Jude and Danny fight for the prize – the widower. How far would either of them go to have him?

My Review:

This is a story that grips from the start; the death of one of three women who have been friends from childhood. Initially drawn together by grief as young girls, and now, two of them again, Danny, Jude, as young women, with the apparent suicide of the other, Alison.

I say, ‘apparently’, because, thrown into the mix we have an unreliable narrator, the protagonist, Judith Granger. Brought back to England, from her work abroad by the dreadful news, her part of the story is told in first person point of view. And, to be honest, I was completely taken in by her actions. As always, I won’t give any spoilers in my review, but this is so difficult with Bethulia, because there are two plots here, but the same scenarios: one ambiguous, one explicit. And it takes the reader quite a while to get to that, “oh!” moment; that realisation of what is going on.

Because there is also an omniscient narrator, who follows the other characters, and relates their actions in a third person perspective.

And then there is Simon Delaney, the antagonist, who tells his story from his viewpoint, – a man it is easy to dislike, distrust, yet still wonder about….

And each point of view brings conflicting emotions in the reader. And that’s about all I can say about the storyline. Suffice it to say, it’s riveting.

And, as always in Thorne Moore’s novels, every character, even the minor ones, have distinctive characteristics and dialogue that bring an instant image of them. The major players are multi-layered, well rounded, their personalities evolving; being revealed, as the book progresses. Those you learn to love, those who from the beginning reveal themselves to be … shall we say… dubious ( or worse!) Besides the three main characters, Alison, Danny, Jude, I particularly like DC Rosanna Quillan. There is a small but dramatic twist at the end of Bethulia, which makes me wonder if we will hear more of her.

A short word about the settings in Bethulia. Whether it’s the interior of police stations, churches, or the description of houses such as Jude’s memory of Alison’s childhood home, Summervale, “a forbiddingly brown house”, or the secluded converted boathouse, Bethulia, which was to become a haven for Danny, or the snow-filled streets of Oxford, and the ethereal Teifi estuary in Wales,the portrayals give an evocative sense of place.

This is a well written story told in the usual confident and erudite writing style of this author, weaving themes and plot twists effortlessly throughout. As you may have guessed, I really enjoyed this book, and I would thoroughly recommend Bethulia to any reader who enjoys psychological and action thrillers with a strong plot and and memorable characters. You won’t be disappointed.

About Thorne Moore:

Thorne was born in Luton and graduated from Aberystwyth University (history) and from the Open University (Law). She set up a restaurant with her sister and made miniature furniture for collectors. She lives in Pembrokeshire, which forms a background for much of her writing, as does Luton.

She writes psychological mysteries, or “domestic noir,” exploring the reason for crimes and their consequences, rather than the details of the crimes themselves. and her first novel, “A Time For Silence,” was published by Honno in 2012, with its prequel, “The Covenant,” published in 2020. “Motherlove” and “The Unravelling” were also published by Honno. “Shadows,” published by Lume, is set in an old mansion in Pembrokeshire and is paired with “Long Shadows,” also published by Lume, which explains the history and mysteries of the same old house. She’s a member of Crime Cymru. Her latest crime novel, “Fatal Collision is published by Diamond Crime (2022)

She also writes Science Fiction, including “Inside Out” (2021) and “Making Waves” (2022)

Links:

Website: https://thornemoore.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thorne.moore.7

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ThorneMoore

Famous Sisters: Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell and Laura Makepeace Stephen #FamousSisters #relationships #families #artists #authors #lostsisters #Sisters #PreRaphelites #MondayBlogs

“Words are an impure medium; better far to have been born into the silent kingdom of paint.” © Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf and her sister, the artist, Vanessa Bell, were the daughters of the historian Sir Leslie Stephen and Julia Prinsep Duckworth.

Left: Vanessa Bell, 1902. Right: Virginia Woolf, 1902. Images via Wikimedia Commons © https://tinyurl.com/5n7z87cs

Their mother, Julia Prinsep Stephen had become a widow in 1870 after her first husband, Herbert Duckworth, died of a burst abscess. She already had three children:  George, Stella, and Gerald. The latter was born shortly after Herbert’s death in 1870.

Eight years later Julia married Leslie Stephen. English society in the late 1800s was built on a rigid social class system, and as a graduate of Eton and Cambridge, a respected literary critic and biographer, Leslie was seen as one of the literary aristocracy. He was also a widower and father of a girl, Laura, who had a learning disability, and who, incidentally, was the granddaughter of the Victorian novelist William Makepeace Thackeray.

Laura Stephen at Earlswood Asylum: Reproduced by permission of Surrey History Centre © https://tinyurl.com/36sj5mc5

Despite Leslie doting on Laura as a tiny child, by the time she was nine it was obvious that something was wrong; she was slow to talk or read, and veered from total fatigue to violent tantrums. It was a problem for both her father and Julia (although Julia, as friend of the family, had already partly taken on the role as a surrogate parent after Leslie’s wife, Minny, had died when Laura was five). But marriage and producing four children in quick succession: Vanessa  in 1879, Thoby  in 1880, Virginia in 1882, and  Adrian  in 1883, increased the difficulties for the two parents. Neither of them were equipped to deal with a child who had special needs.

Besides being agnostics, both Leslie and Julia were humanists, who advocated the rights for women to be the same as for men, to reach their own conclusions in matters of religion. Yet both believed that the home was the true basis for morality, a sanctuary free from corruption, and therefore home was the place for women. So Julia, who despaired that she was unable to discipline Laura, or train her to carry out domestic chores, apparently felt that her stepdaughter was deliberately wilful. And Leslie, who, during a time when society viewed anyone who was not seen as “normal” as undermining that society, was ashamed of her. His domineering patriarchy in in this upper-class, intellectual, and claustrophobic household would be viewed as bullying these days.

He must have been very frustrated by Laura, and it was a conflicted family: having little parental authority over one daughter, whilst succeeding in having total control over the other two.

Unlike their brother, Thoby, neither Vanessa nor Virginia were allowed to go to school. It was still not considered suitable to send girls to school, so they were educated at home by tutors.

Initially, as small children, they spent their days inventing whimsical stories about their neighbours, then progressed to writing illustrated stories and poems, and making up riddles and jokes for a family magazine they called the Hyde Park Gate News. In years to come, biographers of the two sisters were to declare this as early proof of the reciprocal nature between them that, well before any formal training, they nurtured each other’s art, acting as the other’s friend, adversary, and creative muse. And they must have decided between themselves which of them followed which creative path: Virginia the writer, Vanessa the artist. Yet each one’s individual talents led to the same ending, an endeavour to tell stories through their craft, Virginia with words, Vanessa through her paintings.

But, in the background there was always the perceived family problem of Laura. And, in 1886 at the age of sixteen, when Vanessa was seven, and Virginia was four, Laura was sent away to live with a governess. And was absent from the public family.

This is a family photograph of Gerald Duckworth, Virginia Stephen, Thoby Stephen, Vanessa Stephen, and George Duckworth (back row); Adrian Stephen, Julia Duckworth Stephen, and Leslie Stephen (front row) at Alenhoe, Wimbledon. (Reproduction of plate 37a from Leslie Stephen’s Photograph Album Original: albumen print (7.8 x 10.4 cm.) Presented by Quentin and Anne Olivier Bell. Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College) © https://tinyurl.com/3mjxe2uw

Four years later, despite being deprived of any early official schooling, and notwithstanding the Victorian restrictions on girls and women, Julia and Leslie decided to encourage their other daughters to pursue their talents. Over time, Vanessa  studied both at the Royal Academy Schools and the Slade School of Fine Art, Virginia took classics and history in the Ladies’ Department of King’s College London.

Laura, on the other hand had been diagnosed by psychiatrists as suffering from ‘imbecility’. However I do need to point out that, despite extensive research, I could find no established medical rules of defining mental illnesses at this time. Yet in law, under such acts as the Lunacy Act of 1845 and the Idiots Act of 1886, there were precise specific and distinct legal classifications for certain conditions. These groupings fluctuated though. Laura was initially admitted to Earlswood Asylum in 1893, aged twenty-three, as an “imbecile” but in the 1901 census she was labelled a “lunatic”. which  could suggest worsening symptoms

Virginia and Vanessa had battles of their own to contend with; both, as children, were sexually abused by their half-brothers, George and Gerald Duckworth. As an adult Virginia Woolf wrote extensively about this incestuous abuse in her diaries and letters, although there is little I can find about the abuse with either sister. Understandably, many say this was the origin of the fragility of Virginia’s psychological state.  But It needs saying that it has been suggested in various papers that there were genetic connections of mental instability on the paternal side: Leslie Stephen was prone to violent mood swings, his father suffered from depression, a nephew had a bipolar disorder and was admitted into an asylum for mania. Virginia herself suffered from depression, and Vanessa is reported to have had at least one nervous breakdown. I should also add here that therefore it could follow that this family history of the Stephen family means it is likely that whatever condition Laura suffered from in her life, her genetic composition means she was more susceptible to other mental disorders.

In 1895, their mother. Julia Stephen died of heart failure, following a bout of influenza. Shortly afterwards, Virginia had her first mental breakdown. And, when their older half-sister Stella Duckworth, who in the absence of their mother had stepped in to run the household, also died two years later, and after their father died in 1904 after a long battle with stomach cancer, Virginia made her first suicide attempt.

Vanessa took charge. After dealing with all the domestic affairs, she moved the family (Vanessa, Thoby, Virginia, and Adrian) from Hyde Park Gate to the Bloomsbury district of London in 1904 to begin a new life.

Here Vanessa, Thoby, Adrian and Clive Bell started The Bloomsbury Group with friends who were writers, intellectuals, philosophers, and artists who rejected the oppressive Victorian principles of their parents’ generation, and they adopted creative freedom, sexual permissiveness, and atheism. They became known for their unconventional lifestyles and love affairs, shocking many outside their social group.

Vanessa Bell © https://tinyurl.com/5n7944n4

As the older sister Vanessa dealt with many of Virginia’s emotional and mental breakdowns. But she also held true to her own code of conduct; her lifestyle, her unconventional, sometimes eccentric relationships, were reflected in her art: the nude portraits of her friends and family, the use of design in her work. (both considered to be the prerogative of male artists)  Yet her loving care for her sister was balanced by the long term and continuous rivalry in their separate spheres of creativity. Reading through the lines during my research I wondered whether, sometimes, this conflict was wearisome for the older sister; whether Vanessa’s marriage, in 1907, to Clive Bell was subconsciously an effort to distance herself from Virginia.

circa 1927 Harvard Theater Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University. https://tinyurl.com/mryj58p5

The marriage, a  year after their brother Thoby’s death from typhoid, made Virginia descend again into some sort of nervous breakdown. The marriage meant that Virginia and their brother Adrian had to move out of the Bloomsbury house, thus providing a distancing between the two sisters.  A distance Virginia resented, because, before long, she began to pursue Vanessa’s husband, Clive. Their love affair lasted, intermittently, over six years. And there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that reveals enough proof, I think, to believe that the underlying reason for the affair was so that Virginia was once again at the centre of her sister’s life.

In 1914 Vanessa began a life-long relationship with Duncan Grant, who was bi-sexual. Taking Vanessa’s two sons, Julian and Quentin, from her marriage to Clive, and accompanied by Duncan’s lover, the writer David Garnett, they moved to Charleston Farmhouse, Sussex. In 1918 Vanessa and Duncan had a daughter, Angelica.

Because I have concentrated on these two women as sisters, and because much has been written about their achievement by far more scholarly people than me, I have left out details of the body of work that both women produced. I was more interested in what made them ‘be’, what formed them as human beings.

 I found an extensive amount of articles, journals, newspaper reviews, discussions, diary quotes, lectures etc. on Virginia that revealed much of her personality and mental health. But far less details on Vanessa’s character. Because she didn’t keep a diary as Virginia did there is little written about her personally, except for the time of her son, Julian’s death during the Spanish War, when she became extremely and understandably depressed. But, mainly, there are only facts about her place in the family, about her marriage and relationships, her part in the Bloomsbury set, and the cannon of her work. And I found almost nothing on Laura. Having left few records of her own, she’s as invisible in history as she was in her family. And yet, her small story needs to stand alongside her famous sisters, because, I think, her presence (wherever she was during her life) must have had some effect on Vanessa and Virginia. There had to be some experiences, some memories they shared, that would always have impacted on the three of them.

Troubled by mental illness throughout her life, Virginia was institutionalized several times and attempted suicide twice before drowning herself by filling her overcoat pockets with stones and walking into the River Ouse on March 28, 1941. Her ashes are buried in the National Trust garden of Monks House, Rodmell.

Vanessa died at Charleston Farmhouse, at the age of eighty-one, after a bout of bronchitis, on 7th April 1961. She was buried on 12th April, without any form of service, in Firle Parish Churchyard.

Laura Stephen, c.1870 Reproduction of plate 35f from Leslie Stephen’s Photograph Album.© Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College.https://tinyurl.com/2zxbrek8
Laura Makepeace Stephen (1870-1945) was born prematurely on 7 December 1870. She was the only child of Leslie and Minny Thackeray Stephen. Laura was “mentally deficient,” according to Leslie Stephen, and may have suffered from a form of autism. She lived at home with a German nurse, Louise Meineke, when Virginia Woolf was a child. In 1888, Laura was settled with Dr. Corner at Brook House, Southgate, and she died at the Priory Hospital, Southgate, in 1945. https://tinyurl.com/2zxbrek8. Her burial details are unknown.

N.B. Leslie and Julia visited Laura until Julia’s death in 1895. Stella visited her until her death in 1897. Her aunt Annie Thackeray Ritchie visited her until her death in 1919. Annie’s daughter Hester Ritchie brought her home for visits on occasion. Then the visits stopped. When Laura died in 1945 the asylum did not know of any living relatives, though both Vanessa and Adrian outlived her and even inherited the remainder of the legacy Leslie had left for her care

Sometimes, family members can become estranged from one another, either by choice or by circumstances. “In one of her informal reminiscences from around 1922, Virginia describes ‘Thackeray’s grand-daughter, (Laura) a vacant-eyed girl whose idiocy was becoming daily more obvious, who could hardly read, who would throw scissors into the fire, who was tongue-tied and stammered and yet had to appear at table with the rest of us.’ Virginia makes the difference between them clear: Laura was not, in fact, one of “us,”’ https://tinyurl.com/36sj5mc5

And, in a way, this is how Lisa (formerly Mandy) feels about her sister, Angie, in my next book, Sisters, when she says, “I never wanted to be in Micklethwaite ever again. Yet here I am. And meeting the one person I never wanted to see again. “

Sisters will be published by Honno on the 26th January 2023, It’s available to be pre-booked:

Places in our Memories: With Jane Frazer #Memories

There are places that remain in our memories, the details may become slightly blurred, nostalgia may colour our thoughts, but they don’t fade. And how those places made us feel at the time is the one thing that remains.

Today I’m really pleased to welcome Jane Fraser to Places in our Memories. Jane is a a Honno author like myself, I’ve known her quite a while, and know how much she loves Wales. Here she tells us how, although enjoying a wonderful holiday in… she missed her homeland… and how it brought other thoughts.

Hiraeth

Home Thoughts From Abroad

I am in the elevator going up to the condo on the 6th floor. It feels moist: a stale smell of sweat and coconut sun-oil cloying the cramped space I’m sharing with my husband and another couple. We’ve all rushed off the beach because of the squall. The sign with the palm tree on the wall tells me to have a nice day.

         “Where you guys from?” asks the man with the baseball cap.

         “Wales,” I say.

         “Oh, part of England – we passed through it on our way to Ireland when we did Europe a couple of years ago, didn’t we Jo? he says to his wife who says: We sure did. It’s where Princess Diana was from.

         I don’t bother to even try and explain but say, Bye, enjoy your day as we make our way back to our little rental overlooking the Atlantic which is now stewing, a nasty grey, with white spume peaks whipped by the wind as far out as the eye can see. I sit on our balcony, my mind’s eye can see far across this ocean, as far as the wet west coast of the home I’ve escaped this Christmas.

         “You homesick?” my husband asks.

         “A bit,” I say. “The weather, probably.”

         “Least it’s hot rain. Won’t last. They’re not there anyway.”

         He’s right. My daughter and the kids are in Australia to see the in-laws; my son is happy with his girl-friend in the north of England. My parents are sorted going to my brother’s for Christmas lunch in Cardiff and I know they’re OK as I see them all year, living just a couple of miles away. I’m guilt free. I haven’t left or abandoned anyone. No person I love. It’s just my house I see empty and forlorn; standing unlit and unloved, in the place that tugs at my insides.

         “Don’t you miss our house? Our beach?” I ask my husband.

         “It’s just a place, “he says. “C’mon. We’ve worked all year for this.”

         I continue looking at the ocean, listen to its constant churning. It sounds the same as home. And it’s beautiful. But at 27 degrees north 80 degrees west Hutchinson Island is not 51 degrees north and 4 degrees west in Llangennith. The tide hardly budges here between high and low water, no vast expanse of sand exposed on the ebb. When my wind blows from the south west it is mild and wet, it cakes my windows with salt and browns and bends everything I try to grow in my garden. Everything here is back to front: the north-easterly brings the rain, steamy and sticky; and when the wind blows from the south-west, it’s off the land, hot, dry on the skin, giving respite from the humidity. When my sun rises it is behind me, comes up over Llanmadoc Down and when it is done at the end of the day it falls into the sea just to the left of Burry Holms. I just cannot come to terms with the sun coming up over the ocean and going down over the land.

         “You’ve got no sense of home, have you?” I snipe at my husband.

         “What Merthyr Tydfil? London? Gower?”

         “You don’t belong anywhere, do you?”

         “No. Happy in a camper van, me. Don’t need that stuff.”

         “What stuff?”

         “Roots.”

         “Running away all the time, you are.”

         “Nothing to run from.”

         “No place you see yourself dying? Spending your last days?”

         “Jesus. We’re supposed to be on holiday.”

         I see myself in my own bed at home. I am lying propped up on pillows, looking out through the sash windows at the expanse of ocean. The window is pulled up slightly at the bottom and fresh air rushes through the gap, making the silk curtains billow, and cooling my face which is warmed with the sun in my south-facing house. If I had a choice about the last thing I’d like to see in life it would be the view through this window: the bronzed burrows, the conical dunes, the limestone island of Burry Holms which when the tide is high rises like a turtle out of the sea.

          But it is beautiful here in its own way. Now. The scale of the views astounds: big skies; big seas; but too much sea if there is such a thing. Sea that is not broken up or interrupted with headlands or coves or churches or castles that run down to the water’s edge. There is but one long, straight continuous ocean’s edge strung out along the rim of the pan-handle. I long for things to shrink, for the familiar littleness and quirkiness of my peculiar patch of earth.

         I’m in the tropics in a flat right in the dunes and I am happy and grateful for what life has dealt me. But they are not my dunes. My dunes are golden and soft-sanded, carpeted with marram grass, sea holly and thrift and all manner of orchids and blackberries when autumn comes. Here the sand is greyer and grittier, a flat colour pitted with holes where ghost crabs burrow. Where blue and pink-bubbled Portuguese men of war with foot long tentacles lurk ready to sting at the tide’s drop line. Here everything grows quickly, too quickly; it is hard to keep things under control, to hold back the mangrove to prevent the railroad vine choking. Here the dunes sometimes cannot hold back the hurricanes. Here there are signs that say evacuation route.

         My husband goes back inside the condo to the chill of the air-con, sliding the door behind him. Even though it is raining, I am covered by the popcorn roof of the balcony and shielded from the wet by the sliding concertina-folded shutters. The heat is sapping the life out of me. I consider life’s evacuation route. When and how my end will come. There have been a few near-misses to date and again, I am grateful that I’ve still got a few lives left. My mind wanders and I hope I will have what my grandmother used to call a ‘good death’. A death that is in old age, that is relatively pain-free. One where there is time to say goodbyes.

         I open the sliders and go inside. The air-con confronts me like a fridge.

         “Do you want to be buried or cremated?” I ask my husband. But he cannot hear as his earphones are on and he’s on the iPad catching up with latest episodes of ‘London Spy’.

         “What?” he shouts, taking out one of his ear-pieces.

         “When you die. Buried or cremated? We need to make our wills.”

         “You need to see someone. Seriously.”

         “I want to be buried. In the church. Near the wall. Gets the sun all day. And I can keep an eye on what’s happening in the pub opposite!”

         “Just feed me to the birds. Or drop me overboard near Burry Holms.”

         “I was thinking Burry Holms to start with too: though sprinkled like your mother. Then I changed my mind and fancied the crem. But thought, no. Production line. So it’s to be burial. But not in Llanrhidian with my mother’s lot. Too dark. Damp.”

         “Long as I know.”

         “Don’t you want to be buried with me, then?”

         “Don’t believe in all that tosh.”

         “Is it ‘cos we’ve got different names? Shall I change my name to Griffiths?”

         “You do what you like. I just want to go back to nature. No fuss.”

         “That’s great. Buried alone. That’ll give them something to talk about.”

         “Who?”

         “Villagers.”

         “Well, you won’t hear them, will you?”

On Christmas Eve the sun has decided to shine again. It is in the high eighties. The checkout girl in Publix tells us the weather here is Bipolar. My husband tells me he thinks I am too.

         We hit the beach again with our striped canvas chairs, turning away from the sea to follow the sun as the day progresses. We watch fisherman landing croakers and pompanos, their rods bent like arcs over the sparkling ocean along the water’s edge as far as the eyes can see. One man is sweating with the effort of reeling in a big fella that’s been taking line for over an hour as far south as Miami. Must be a shark or a stingray his friend says who stands at the ready with a rope to help him when the time comes. But the line snaps and it was the one that got away.

         The sun is high even in mid-winter, searing the crown of my broad black-rimmed hat which I notice is fading so fast. I look at my watch. 3pm. Eight o’clock back home. It’ll be dark and raining and the teles will be blaring and the pubs heaving. At this precise moment I’m not missing it at all.

          But at six o’clock, when the light goes yet the heat remains locked in, I’m out of kilter again. The condo looks bare even though we’ve tried out best with potted red tulips and white lilies and red and gold baubles which are too glitzy for my liking. The Christmas cards we’ve bought each other in Barnes and Noble are too schmaltzy and shmucky: like the apples and the vegetables in the supermarkets, too big and shiny and perfect that look lovely but don’t actually taste of anything.

         The tele goes on but it’s all American Football and medical adverts every few seconds with lists of alarming side effects of certain medications. It’s Fixer Upper then, nothing but edition after edition of Fixer Upper and houses that are transformed in Wacko Texas for under $80,000 including land. Next is Chopped which I tell my husband is a poor imitation of Bake Off and even worse than Australian MasterChef.

          I turn to my iPad for comfort and start googling Llangennith. I get the Gower Webcam from The Worms’s Head Hotel looking across Rhossili Bay. But it’s dark there, the sea hardly visible just an eerie rippling. It will restart live at sunrise tomorrow morning the message promises. Apparently it’s been a great day for surf. Overhead and light winds from the south west. I go to Wikipedia: pictures emerge of a village on the Gower peninsula near Swansea in Wales. It has an 11th century church dedicated to St Cenydd. It is the largest Church in Gower and the only one with a lych gate. I know. We were married there. I am suddenly in its nave, in its chancel, standing among the choir stalls with a bouquet of lily of the valley, taking our vows. It’s where I’ve recently told my husband I’ll be buried. I can see the unkempt grass, though not onscreen, see the weathered tombstones, tottering at all angles, see the names of generations of Taylors and Groves and Bevans and Beynons. I think I’ve made the right decision about being buried there, I say to my husband but he’s engrossed in Dallas Cowboys v Pittsburgh Steelers. I can smell home through the ether, pine and Christmas pudding.

         “You umbelicalled to that thing?” he shouts from the sofa.

         I’m on Google Earth now, I’ve keyed in my postcode SA3 1JE and I’m being taken from the beginning of Cock Street following a white arrow like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs, past Gill and Paul’s at Bullen’s Well – I can see the spout from the well, taste the spring water I always taste in cupped hands when I’m finishing up my daily walk. The camera takes me on along the single track lane – there’s Cock Street Farm with the gate with the two horses’ heads and the Land Rover parked in the yard. Must have been taken a few years ago as Joe Grove has changed it now for an Isuzu Trouper. And it must have been early summer too as the gorse is out, a blaze of yellow and the ferns at the lane’s edge are hip-high. I press the arrow with a compulsion, I’m at Long Offing now, and then the old barn in the field next to mine – Steve Taylor’s Fiesta is parked outside the gate – probably watering the plants in his polytunnel. And then there’s my gate. From 5,000 miles away right in front of me is my five barred farm gate and my drive with the car parked in it. CF13 MFU – all my personal things there for me to see, but not to touch. I can hardly bear it. I zoom on to the front of the house. It’s white and lime washed and perfectly symmetrical. Surrounded by newly ploughed brown-earthed fields it looks like it’s growing there, like it belongs there, like it’s been there for all time.

         It looks sad without us there. The windows at the front look as though they are crying. The wooden loungers are in place on the patio, perfectly positioned to take in the views of the ocean and the full sun. But they are empty. The stone pots of lavender are in full bloom but there is no one to smell them or water them. The seeds I must have planted back then are sprouting in the raised beds and the olive trees standing tall in the terracotta pots on the plum stoned driveway. They say all roads lead home at Christmas, I tell my husband. But he doesn’t reply.

About Jane:


Jane Fraser is an award-winning fiction writer, based in the Gower peninsula, south Wales. Her debut novel, Advent, was published by Honno, the UK’s longest-standing, independent women’s press, in January 2021. It was Book of the Month at Books Council of Wales in February 2021 and in June 2022 was announced as winner of the Society of Authors’ Awards – The Paul Torday Memorial Prize for a debut novel in English. Her first collection of short fiction, The South Westerlies, was published by Salt, the UK’s foremost independent publisher of literary fiction, in 2019 and her second short fiction collection, Connective Tissue, in October 2022, and also published by Salt.

She has been widely published in anthologies and reviews including New Welsh Review, The Lonely Crowd, Fish Publishing, TSS and The London Magazine. Her fiction has figured highly in major international competitions: in 2017 she was a finalist in the Manchester Fiction Prize (and has also been highly commended eight times), and in 2018 was a prize winner in the Fish Memoir Prize. She has also long and shortlisted in the Cambridge Short Story Prize, the ABR Elizabeth Jolley Prize, the Rhys Davies Short Story Competition and Retreat West Short Story Competition. She is winner of both the British Haiku Society and Genjuan International Prize for haibun. Her work has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as part of its ‘Short Works’ series.

She is a Hay Festival Writer at Work, a prestigious creative development award for emerging writers. She has a B.Ed as a first degree, and an MA (distinction 2013) and PhD in Creative Writing from Swansea University.

Jane Fraser is proud to be represented by Gaia Banks, Literary Agent at Sheil Land Associates Ltd. http://www.sheilland.com

When she is not writing, Jane Fraser is Co-Director of NB:Design a brand and digital agency along with her husband Philip Griffiths, a designer and photographer. When she is not working or writing, she walks her home patch of Gower and tries to be a good grandmother to Megan (13), Florence (11) and Alice (8).

Find Jane on:

Twitter @jfraserwriter

Instagram @janefraserwriter

@jfraserwriter@mastodonapp.uk 

Website www.janefraserwriter.com

Email: jane@nb-design.com

My Review of The Bubble Reputation by Alex Craigie #socialmedia #TuesdayBookBlog #Review

Book Description:

If you want to destroy someone’s reputation, social media provides the perfect tool.

Emmie Hobson, children’s author and TV presenter, is riding high on a wave of popularity when an unscrupulous newspaper editor, desperate for a scoop, brings Emmie’s world crashing down.

Social media picks up the baton and a terrifying backlash of hate and abuse is unleashed. Threats are made and there are those, inflamed by the rhetoric, prepared to take the law into their own hands.

My Review:

I’ve read previous books by Alex Craigie and thoroughly enjoyed them all, my latest review, that of Means to Deceive, is here: https://tinyurl.com/5y98ak9e

The Bubble Reputation is a story with a chilling message, but it’s not overtly didactic; as usual with this author’s work, this is a steady unveiling of the plot; the revelation of how evil social media can become when driven with the intent of ruining someone’s life.

The character of the protagonist, Emmie Hobson, is well rounded and it’s easy to emphasise with her. And when her optimism and confidence, the enjoyment in her life, is gradually reduced to despair and uncertainty, it’s heartbreaking. This is a book where the reader can see what is happening and wonder how far her jealous antagonist will go, and what Emma can do to stop the malice.

And with a cast of realistic and credible minor characters, some of whom are spreading the spite and others who seem incapable of stopping it, it becomes frustratingly impossible to see who will finally win in this struggle.

The dialogue carries every character’s personality, leaving no doubt who is speaking. But, sometimes, that spoken dialogue becomes unreliable, and leaves the reader to question the words when they don’t match the inner dialogue and actions of of a particular character. The narrative is often the only disclosure of the reasons behind the actions. It’s a clever ploy by the author.

And, as I’ve said in the past, Alex Craigie has a talent for writing descriptions which give a great sense of place. So it is with The Bubble Reputation. But, equally fascinating for me, is the way she has brought the world of social media to life with all the possibility of the inherently manipulative and dangerous behaviour within it. Social media becomes a character in its own right and intrinsically carries the warning that is the main theme threaded throughout the story.

Above all else, this is a tale that is well written, with strong narrative, convincing characters and a plot that progressively moves onwards, taking the reader with it towards an accomplished ending.

I enjoyed The Bubble Reputation and have no hesitation in recommending Alex Craigie’s latest offering to anyone who enjoys a slow-burning psychological drama.

About Alex Craigie

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

Places in our Memories: With Darlene Foster #MondayBlogs #Memories

There are places that remain in our memories, the details may become slightly blurred, nostalgia may colour our thoughts, but they don’t fade. And how those places made us feel at the time is the one thing that remains.

Today I’m welcoming Darlene Foster, a friend I’ve known online for quite a while, and had the great pleasure in meeting and getting to know her in real life at Barb Taub’s writing retreat on Arran, a few weeks ago.

Darlene is here to tell us about the time her baby brother was born during the blizzards at her near Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada.

I remember when my brother, Timothy, was born. It had been a typical cold and snowy prairie winter. Blizzards created impassable road conditions. Mom expected the third member of our family to arrive in early February. Dad was concerned that when the time came, the inclement weather might stop him from getting her to the hospital some sixty miles away. Well before her due date, he took mom and my younger brother, Lorne, to stay with our grandparents in the city. Since I had school, I stayed with my great-aunt and great-uncle in the small town near our farm.

Baby Timmy With his Aunties

I was excited about this as I loved Aunt Elsie and Uncle Ed. They treated me well. Aunt Elsie was a great cook, and I could walk to school with my older, and therefore much cooler, second cousins.

In their living room stood a cabinet full of amazing books. I would sit in front of it and stare at the titles: Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, A Tale of Two Cities, Robinson Crusoe and other classics. I so wanted to read those books behind the glass doors. I still remember the day when Aunt Elsie said that if I was very careful, I could read one of them. Believe me, I was extremely careful. Eventually over the years, I read every one of those books in that cabinet.

The baby took longer to come than Mom thought. Finally, on February 10th, she delivered a chubby little boy. Dad drove into the city to see her and reported back that mommy and baby were doing great. She even wrote me a letter and sent it back with Dad. Apparently, my other brother was being spoiled by Grandma and Grandpa. We expected Mom, my brother and the new baby to be home in a week.

Darlene and her two brothers on her12th birthday. 

But, as luck would have it, the day she was released from the hospital, another terrible blizzard blew up. The road to the city was closed to traffic. Grandpa picked Mom and baby Timmy up from the hospital and took them back to their place. I was disappointed because Lorne got to see the new baby before I did.

The weather stayed nasty for another week and vehicles were not getting through. Mom had been gone for a month now and I missed her. Even though I enjoyed staying in town with my aunt, uncle and cousins. In the city, Mom grew homesick, missing me and Dad.

When I returned from school one cold but sunny day, Aunt Elsie told me to keep my coat on and watch for a surprise. Not much later, an old-fashioned, covered sleigh pulled by two large draft horses that plodded down the road through the glistening snow.

Dad shouted, “Whoa!”

The horses stopped in front of my aunt and uncle’s house. Dad let go of the reins, jumped down from the seat in front, and with a wide grin, opened the door to the sleigh. Inside sat my mother in a hooded red woollen coat, trimmed in white rabbit fur, smiling from ear to ear.  In her arms, she held a baby bundled up in many blankets.

“In you get,” said Dad. “We’re all going home.”

Dad had borrowed the sleigh from a neighbour in order to get his wife back home.

It was a magical moment for a little girl to see her mom and baby brother delivered in a horse-drawn sleigh. Straight from a storybook. It’s one of my fondest memories. 

Timmy

About Darlene:

Growing up on a ranch near Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, Darlene Foster dreamt of writing, traveling the world, and meeting interesting people. She also believed in making her dreams come true. It’s no surprise she’s now the award-winning author of Amanda Travels, a children’s adventure series featuring a spunky twelve-year-old who loves to travel to unique places. Readers of all ages enjoy following Amanda as she unravels one mystery after another. When not traveling herself, Darlene divides her time between the west coast of Canada and the Costa Blanca, Spain with her husband and entertaining rescue dogs, Dot and Lia.

website www.darlenefoster.ca

blog https://darlenefoster.wordpress.com/

twitter https://twitter.com/supermegawoman

Amazon author page  https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/1771682744/

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3156908.Darlene_Foster

Places in our Memories with Alex Craigie #Mondayblogs #Memories

There are places that remain in our memories, the details may become slightly blurred, nostalgia may colour our thoughts, but they don’t fade. And how those places made us feel at the time is the one thing that remains.

Today’s memories are from Alex Craigie, a dear friend I’ve known both in ‘real’ life and online for many years. 

So many thanks to Judith for inviting me to take part in this series. Everyone has had a different take on the prompt and I’ve loved the diverse and fascinating contributions.

My first memories are of this house that was my home until I was ten.

Kingston Lodge, 7 Westminster Road, Eccles, Lancashire.

Here’s Google’s recent picture:

And here’s a couple of what it looked like then:

This one is of me and my brother at Easter. We’re with my mother, rolling hardboiled eggs on the driveway.

It’s a large house. Those pictures are of the side; the front is broader and stretches deep into the photograph.

My mother, a nurse, met my father, a doctor, in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. When the window cleaner crashed through the glass-topped verandah he was fortunate (!) to have people on hand equipped to deal with a medical emergency. (I see it’s been removed now.)

The entrance hall was a cavernous space bordered by a beautiful fireplace on the left and a staircase on the right. A long and creepy cloakroom dwelt under the staircase, dwindling to dark nothingness as it followed the line above it. The ceiling of the hall soared two staircases to the landing of the first floor bedrooms and the hard, smooth flooring was a great surface for playing jacks. One Christmas, I tottered around for ages on that floor in a pair of sparkly Cinderella shoes, aping the sound that my mother made in her stilettos.

Nowadays, I struggle to remember what I had to eat for lunch, but I can still recall the number of the phone on the camphor chest by the stairs: ECC (Eccles) 2048.

There were four rooms off the hall. The drawing room (with the French doors under the verandah) was light and sunny. I wrote my first story there at the bureau when I was six. When my mother read the bit where one of the characters was dismissed, she laughed at my use of the term “you’re fired”. It stung.

One evening I was sent to the drawing room to fetch something. A man with straggly hair was at the French doors, his face pressed up grotesquely against the full-length window. He started shouting and screaming and banging on the glass. I was terrified. My father explained later that the man wasn’t well. Since then, I close the curtains before it’s properly dark.

The other rooms off the hall comprised a lounge, dining room and breakfast room. The breakfast room led to the kitchen and pantry and there was also a door to the expansive cellars where things like coal were kept. For a timid child, the cellars held all the charm of Madame Tussaud’s dungeons. (I was that timid child.)

I have fond memories of Rory, our dog, stealing the brass hearthbrush, racing to the top of the hall staircase, releasing it and then chasing after it. I dropped a glass down them in similar vein –minus the intent– tumbling after it. Again, it was good to have a health professional on hand. A puckered scar is my memento.

These stairs led up to a landing. A corridor to the left, with built-in cupboards, ended in another cloakroom. In the middle was a minstrel gallery backed by a block of tall windows. At night, they threw menacing shadows of trees, and during thunderstorms these windows terrified me almost as much as the incident in the drawing room.

To the right of the gallery was a flight of stairs up to four of the bedrooms. I slept in the third room for a while, but there was a patch of wallpaper opposite the bed in which I could see a clown’s face. When I looked at it, the smile on the face seemed to grow in a sinister way that led to nightmares. I was relocated to the fourth room.

My brother’s cot was moved into this room with me and one morning, returning from the loo, I found him leaning over the bars and staring at his teddy bear melting on the small electric bar heater. There were full-length net curtains at the window. I can still picture the tiny felt circles that were dotted over them. As I took in the scene, the curtain nearest the cot flared up. I yelled for help, dragged Ian over the bars and hauled him onto the landing. When all the excitement was over, all that remained to show for it was an acrid smell, a blackened wall and ceiling, and a large tarry patch on the linoleum. My parents’ appreciation extended to a trip to Woolworths to buy a treat; well worth the momentary panic.

Up another small staircase was the family bathroom –an unlovely room in monochrome with a bath that had a green stain under one of the taps, a discoloured plastic beaker that held our toothbrushes, and greying towels that made great exfoliators. It was a cold room even in the summer.

One final staircase led to the last three bedrooms. The first of these was for the Au Pair girls who stayed with us to learn English and earned their keep by helping out. The second was sometimes occupied by Anne, a live-in servant who came and went according to her tempestuous lovelife.

The third room became my playroom. It’s that window in the pictures at the very top of the house. I could only see out of it if I stacked up my toys and balanced on them. After a visit to the circus, I taught myself to stand on my head in there. I was expected to stay in this room, out of the way. I resented, later, being cooped in there with my brothers, but it was an escape from my parents’ disintegrating marriage. And I had my books.

My free time was mainly spent in the playroom, garden, or with my friend Jane.

Here I am in the back garden with my grandfather. Rory is in the foreground.

Looking back, I realise that I had no concept of my privileged existence. My life seemed very ordinary compared with my immediate surroundings. Jane’s house, round the corner from us, was much grander than ours. It had two impressive staircases and several live-in servants. Backing on to our garden was another palatial house used by the family of someone high up in the USAF. Cheryl was my age and had a massive, carpeted bedroom and exquisite princess and fairy costumes. In the winter, her father sprayed water over the lawn for her to skate on.

My parents divorced when I was ten. My father got the house; my mother got us. We moved to a basement maisonette in Bramhall, Cheshire. I’m in front of it here, on the right, next to my mother, two brothers and a (solemn) friend:

Behind the two windows at the bottom left, were a spacious kitchen and cramped bathroom. Those windows were beyond our reach and daylight was filtered out by the overhanging greenery and architecture. The two rooms above were, in contrast, full of light, but half the size because of the maisonette abutting them. A bijou sitting room and main bedroom were separated by a glass partition. I slept in the remaining tiny room with the older of my brothers. My mother and I repeatedly asserted how cosy it was. We knew we were lying.

Itchy bites turned out to be bedbugs and we had to leave temporarily whilst the place was fumigated. A lecherous landlord proved to be another problem (a divorced woman was often seen as desperate for attention and fair game), and noise seeped freely into the flat from the surrounding ones. We did have a phone, though. BRA (Bramhall) 3969…

That winter, 1962/1963, was one of the coldest on record in the UK. We returned one day to discover the water tank in the flat above us had burst and there were magnificently long icicles adorning our staircase. In the kitchen, I had a skating rink to rival Cheryl’s.

There were financial constraints in this new life, but I had a freedom that I’d lacked before. At the local school, I made friends and played outside with them. I taught the whole class how to stand on their heads. I left before the end of the year but was given a handmade book of poems put together by the teacher and signed by my classmates – most of them ‘with love’. It mattered. I still have it.

The loss of status had a traumatic effect on my mother who spent the rest of her days trying to fashion a residence as impressive as Kingston Lodge. She was a genuinely talented pianist and had a comfortable life but her appreciation for what she did have was overshadowed by what she’d lost.

I loved the old house, but there were other things I loved more.

Her loss was, sadly, my gain.

About Alex:

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.

Find Alex on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/ytnc6xxs

On Facebook: https://tinyurl.com/4dh2sz9x

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

Places in our Memories with Terry Tyler #Mondayblogs #Memories

There are places that remain in our memories, the details may become slightly blurred, nostalgia may colour our thoughts, but they don’t fade. And how those places made us feel at the time is the one thing that remains.

Today I’m welcoming Terry Tyler, a friend I’ve known online for many years, and had the great pleasure in meeting and getting to know her in real life at Barb Taub’s writing retreat on Arran, a few weeks ago

First, thank you to Judith for inviting me to this nostalgia-fest on her blog!

When told about the feature, I immediately wanted to write about the place we used to go on holiday when I was a child.  It was a holiday rental bungalow called Barn Piece in Eccles-on-Sea, Norfolk, complete with a genuine gypsy caravan in the garden, which we loved.  We went there from about 1966 to 1976.

Behind us are you can see the dunes, leading to the beach.

The ancient village of Eccles-juxta-Mare, as it was once called, vanished into the sea over a hundred years ago, and by the time we started going on holiday there, in the late 1960s, the only indication of its existence on the map was the location of Eccles beach.  In the 1960s it consisted of a few private houses down overgrown lanes; they fascinated me, and I loved to peer through the untended foliage and wonder who lived in them.  The Pyghtle and Smee Cottage; they were the two I remember. 

Then there was a sandy track past shabby chalets to a grocery shop where Julia, Eddie and I would go to buy sweets, buckets and spades, postcards and other stuff that children used to spend their holiday money on in those days; I always spent all mine within a couple of days, whereas Julia made hers last. 

The bungalow had such a ‘we’re on holiday’ feeling about it, a home from home as we went there for many years.  By the beginning of the second week, I always felt as though my real life was there, not back at home.  Barn Piece was large and light and shabby and a bit musty-smelling, and we loved it.  This photo was taken by Dad back then; the gypsy caravan was just to the right of the washing line

Our dog was called Susie; she was with us for ten years and remembered the place whenever we arrived there, too.  She would hurtle up the sandy slope to the beach without being told where to go. 

Eddie said to me the other day that he can still remember how the gypsy caravan smelled—I can, as well. 

Here’s a picture of Julia and me cleaning it out!  Why we chose to do this on such a brilliant, sunny afternoon, I have no idea!

The last time I went there on holiday was in 1976, when I was nearly seventeen, and my best friend Ruth was invited to come with us so that I didn’t kick up about going on holiday with my parents and twelve-year-old brother!   The one of me (right) is two photos exposed together, but I’ve always liked its ghostly feel …

… which brings me to the eerie bells of the lost church, a victim of the coastal erosion so prevalent in that area.  I’ve found a couple of articles about it, which give more information than I can put here, or this post would be far too long!

Weird Norfolk: The lost village of Eccles which sometimes appears after storms and the graveyard where the dead cannot rest

The ‘lonely sentinel’ of Eccles-juxta-Mare is finally lost to the sea

Now and again we’ve gone back there to take a look—my parents went there in the winter of 1990, when the ruins of the church had become visible once more.

This photo on the dunes (that’s Mum in the grass! – Barn Piece down to the left), taken the same day, shows how wild the place feels—and you can see Happisburgh (pronounced Hays-borough) lighthouse in the distance. Happisburgh is fast becoming a lost village, too.  In 2005 I spent a weekend at a beer festival there—just a few years later, the field in which we camped had crumbled into the sea.

From 2000-2009 I lived in Cromer, further up the coast; around 2001, when my parents visited, we made the pilgrimage to Barn Piece.

I went back in 2007, too, but it had changed so much.  Smart holiday cottages and chalets were everywhere, and the new sea defences meant that I didn’t recognise the beach.  The sandy slope up the dunes that we used to run up as children, excited about our first glimpse of the sea, has gone; the dunes themselves had flattened into little more than a small hump.  Barn Piece, though, was still there.  Fifteen years on, I don’t know whether it is or not; I’ve googled it, but have come up with no results.  I’ve googled Eccles-on-Sea, too, and all those empty fields appear to have been built on.

Happy days.  Mostly, I’m so glad that my mother was like me, forever taking photographs—thank you, Mum, for all these memories!

The Author:

Terry Tyler writes post-apocalyptic, dystopian and dark psychological fiction, available on Amazon.  She loves quiet, wild places, and still gets as excited about going to the seaside as she did when she was a child.  Aside from writing, she enjoys reading, telly binges, long walks, and wasting time on Twitter.  She lives with her husband in North East England.

Places in our Memories: With Sally Cronin #MondayBlogs #Memories

There are places that remain in our memories, the details may become slightly blurred, nostalgia may colour our thoughts, but they don’t fade. And how those places made us feel at the time is the one thing that remains.

Today I’m so pleased to welcome Sally Cronin, who has agreed to share her memories with us.

Sally

Thank you Judith for inviting me to take part in this lovely series and I decided to go back as far as I could with my memories.

Scientists have more or less established humans can remember back to at least 3 years old, but it can be 6 months earlier for many.

I know I have very strong memories of Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, where we lived from 1954 to 1956. I was 18 months old when we arrived, and the memories of those two years are a little bit like a kaleidoscope, creating colourful if slightly distorted patterns. They are also enhanced by the particular aromas, and the sounds associated with living in a land of spices, and on the edge of a jungle.

My father had been in based there in late 1944. Initially he was in a holding camp called Mayina in the jungle, until being transferred to HMS Woolwich in Trincomalee.

He had been based in Scotland prior to this so it must have been quite a change. There he had been part of repair team getting submarines back to sea following damage in the Atlantic. Now he was working on destroyers from the Pacific fleet using Sri Lanka as their home base.

The war in the Far East continued through 1945. Following VJ Day, my father continued working on destroyers needing to be refitted before sailing back to the UK.  He was in Trincomalee until June 1946 and then returned home to the family in Hampshire

He was honoured to receive a “Card for Good Service” presented by Lord Mountbatten the Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command in November 1945, in recognition of his valuable service keeping his destroyers at sea.

Earl Mountbatten inspects my father’s base in Sri Lanka @Eric Coleman

Our return to Sri Lanka

My father was posted back to Trincomalee as base radio officer in 1954. After a few weeks he was ordered to take over the RN Transmitting Station Kotogoda, fifteen miles outside of Colombo on a temporary basis. There was a lovely house for the station commander so my father arranged for my mother and the three of us to join him from England.

After a few months my father was then transferred back to Trincomalee. Having been entertained frequently at my parent’s renowned curry lunches, useful contacts had been made amongst the RAF officers at the nearby air base. A DC- 3 was appropriated and they kindly flew the family, all our worldly goods, and wonderful family cook who insisted on coming with us, back to Trincomalee. It must have been so thrilling and I do wish I had been a little bit older to be able to recall the experience.

Photograph

The Coleman family 1955

We settled in a house my father rented near the base. In addition to our cook, we had a house boy to work in the garden and an amah was employed to look after me. I was clearly getting to the active toddler stage and needed watching all the time. Being on the edge of a jungle meant that there was plenty of slithering and snarling wildlife that was fascinating for a child…she had her work cut out for her I am afraid! 

We moved a couple of times more until we eventually occupied the lower half of a large house which had been the WRNS Officers mess during the war. The garden was on the edge of the water this time and it is where my first memories really kick in.

Three sisters Sonia, Diana and Sally

I have two older sisters and whilst during the day I was in the constant care of my amah, when my sisters came home from school, I followed them everywhere, and this included into the water. They were already amazing swimmers and divers and I would be in my rubber ring desperately trying to keep up.

Things I remember vividly.

Our house came with trees and monkeys, small ones who were fascinated by glittering things and food. Their constant chittering filled the days and if a door was left open, they were in the house in a flash. Food was clearly the first priority, especially with our cook’s curries filling the air with tantalising aromas.

However, they discovered a treasure in my parent’s bedroom where the dressing table was adorned with beads, earrings and other trinkets. One night my parents came home from a party to find a troop of small thieves dressing up and admiring themselves in the mirror.

Sonia, Sally and her amah

On the subject of monkeys, a very large one found its way on to our wrap around balcony and discovered a cigarette box. He was not in a great mood and ate all the cigarettes, threatening anyone who approached. They are very dangerous, and I do remember clearly being dragged upstairs to our neighbours by my amah out of harm’s way. Probably wise as I had a tendency to be consider creatures great and small as potential pets.   

I remember getting measles when I was 3years old. I had been too young to be vaccinated before we left the UK and a wave of measles hit the island and I caught it.  The only treatment was to be kept isolated in a darkened room to prevent eye damage and kept cool and hydrated. I remember being in my cot with a fan above me in the dark for what seemed endless days, with my mother and amah applying cool flannels and chamomile lotion.

Sally aged 3 years old in smocked dress

I was soon back to mischief and particularly at my parent’s weekly Sunday Curry parties. It was open house for fellow officers and their wives, and also those on ships in the harbour at the time.

 I do recall the laughter and the attention I used to get as I was passed from guest to guest. My eldest sister was, and still is an accomplished needlewoman, and made me smocked dresses which were always much admired. She also made me underpinnings from the same material. I developed the rather indelicate habit when complimented on the dress, of lifting it waist high and announcing ‘and I have knickers to match’.  Thankfully something I grew out of sometime in my 30s.

I was rarely out of the water, but the one activity I couldn’t share with my sisters was their high board diving. One day my eldest sister was competing in a school event and completed a stunning manoeuvre off the highest board. She surfaced to what she hoped was a good score and lots of applause. Instead there was silence except from an audible gasp from the crowd.

I had followed her up the ladder and toddled down the diving board and jumped in after her. Apparently I bobbed up and shouted ‘Again’.

We were due to return to the UK in July 1956 and were leaving on a troop ship on the 30th. However on the 23rd of July, during my parent’s farewell party, his Captain arrived with the news that my grandmother and aunt had been tragically killed in a car crash in England.

My father was flown home immediately whilst my mother and the three of us left by ship on the 30th as planned. I was too young to understand the enormity of this family loss, and being one of the few children on board, was spoilt rotten. I do remember one instance in particular during a fancy dress party organised to keep us amused.

My sister Sonia made me a beautiful Little Po Peep outfit from crepe paper in lovely colours. I am sure there were knickers to match, but unfortunately it became rather too exciting and things got a little damp… Let’s just say crepe paper is rather unforgiving and absorbent….

The voyage was even longer than anticipated, as two days out of Colombo, it was announced the ship would be going via the Cape as the Suez was closed due to the war in the Middle East. This added another week to the passage and my mother became unwell.

Nothing serious as we were to discover after a couple of months as it turned out she was pregnant with my younger brother at the age of nearly 40. The village doctor initially put her symptoms down to dyspepsia but on a follow up visit she informed him that dyspepsia had just kicked her!

Today the smell of a spicy homemade curry, chamomile lotion, reminiscing with my sisters and spending time with these photographs brings back those long lost memories. We would live in Malta and South Africa over the next ten years, and those memories are obviously more clearly defined, but those earlier years are the most precious to me.

About Sally Cronin

Sally Cronin is the author of fifteen books including her memoir Size Matters: Especially when you weigh 330lb first published in 2001. This has been followed by another fourteen books both fiction and non-fiction including multi-genre collections of short stories and poetry.

Her latest release, Life is Like a Mosaic: Random fragments in harmony is a collection of 50 + images and poems on life, nature, love and a touch of humour.

As an author she understands how important it is to have support in marketing books and offers a number of FREE promotional opportunities in the Café and Bookstore on her blog and across her social media.

Her podcast shares book reviews and short stories Soundcloud Sally Cronin

After leading a nomadic existence exploring the world, she now lives with her husband on the coast of Southern Ireland enjoying the seasonal fluctuations in the temperature of the rain.

Links

Blog: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Sally-Cronin/e/B0096REZM2

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7979187.Sally_Cronin

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sgc58

Places in our Memories: With Thorne Moore #MondayBlogs #Memories #SlightHumour

There are places that remain in our memories, the details may become slightly blurred, nostalgia may colour our thoughts, but they don’t fade. And how those places made us feel at the time is the one thing that remains.

Today I’m pleased to hand over to Thorne Moore. These are Thorne’s memories. Well, they will be, once she’s got the following out of her system!

So, a rabbit walks into a pub and orders a pint of beer.

‘Anything else?’ asks the barman.

The rabbit checks the menu and says ‘Yes, I’ll have a toasted cheese and pickle sandwich please.’

Coming up,’ says the barman.

Next day the rabbit is back. He orders a pint of beer, peruses the menu again and chooses a toasted ham and tomato sandwich.

Third day, ‘What can I get you?’ asks the barman, presenting the rabbit with his pint.

‘A toasted beef and onion sandwich, please.’

Next day, no sign of the rabbit, nor the day after. Finally he reappears, looking very limp and wan.

‘You look rough,’ says the barman. ‘What’s up with you.’

The rabbit wipes his eyes. ‘I’ve had a bad case of mixing my toasties.’

What has this extremely awful joke got to do with anything? Nothing really, except that I was born in 1954, and when I looked up records to discover what important events happened to commemorate my birth, I discovered that it was the year that myxomatosis was introduced into Britain to control the rabbit population. Actually, it now seem to be recorded as 1953, so I can’t even claim that milestone.

I wasn’t actually aware of myxomatosis at the time. I wasn’t entirely aware of anything much for several months, if not years, but when I was, I assumed, as children do, that all around me was permanent. The world was there purely for my benefit so how it was must have been how it always had been. There was a thing called The Past, but it wasn’t real. There had been a war, but it was something black and white, literally and figuratively, that happened in films on our television. It was a fable that had nothing to do with the present that I inhabited.

I was ten when it suddenly struck me that the period between the end of the war and my arrival was actually less than the length of time I had been alive. It had been lurking all the time just behind me, almost within reach. My first real grasp of history. The past was just under my feet and nothing was permanent after all. My parents had not, as I always assumed, sprung fully formed from the earth for the sole purpose of being my parents. They had, in fact, once been ten-year-olds like me, living through a war that must have been terrifying rather than exciting.I became conscious at that time that the physical world I occupied, a housing estate on the outskirts of Luton, was not a permanent fixture on Planet Earth either. Most of the streets I walked along on my way to school, the houses I passed and even the school itself had only been built a year or two before my birth. What had existed there before was farmland, and its ghost still lingered. The huge wild cherry tree breaking through the pavement opposite our house (responsible for all the pretty but inedible cherry tree saplings in our garden), must have been growing in the hedgerow of a field even before my parents were born.

The lane, generally known as The Lane, that offered me a delightfully dirty alternative route to school, was not just a muddy connection between my road and the houses of Ackworth Crescent, but an old farm track, leading presumably to a farm house that had disappeared long ago. The very dark brooding little house near the top of the lane, in an overgrown garden full of bluebells, was probably as old, but to us it was just self-evidently a witch’s cottage. Some of us claimed to have seen the witch.

The lane was dark and unfrequented, overhung with trees and with no houses in sight, the sort of ominous place that no child would be allowed to walk alone along today. But them was innocent days and no one bothered. The lane crossed a brook on a rotting plank bridge, wide enough to have once supported a horse and cart. Beside the bridge ran a huge pitted iron pipe. I imagine the pipe was fairly recent, the sewer for the growing housing estate, but for us children, of course, it was the only possible means to cross the brook. Who would use a boring bridge when you could balance precariously on a curving pipe?

The brook wove through the estate, in several branches, channelled under new roads in culverts that you could walk through if you didn’t mind falling victim to killer leeches that were in there, just waiting to suck your blood. I don’t remember anyone actually coming across a leech, killer or otherwise, but only a few boys ever attempted it. There was a perpetual mystery about the way streams would emerge from such dark culverts, run in deep gullies between houses and then inexplicably disappear again.

Elsewhere, alleys between the new houses crossed the brooks on footbridges, which you had to run across because Coal Black Charlie lurked beneath them and would grab you if you dawdled. I have no idea who Coal Black Charlie was supposed to be, but I am sure every childhood map has a hiding place for such a character. It remained a mystery what he would do to us if he ever caught us – which he never did.

Eventually the brook disappeared into the most sinister culvert of all, round and pitch black, under the railway, to join the “River” Lea, which at that point was a marshy rivulet seeping out from the ugliest possible grating in the middle of a Neolithic campsite. No one ever ventured into the culvert under the railway.

Any illusion of the permanence of my housing estate was swept away in my last years at junior school, when the prefabs at the centre, including the one where my grandparents had lived, were demolished, the land turned into a massive building site.

There is always something sad, insulting, about the demolition of houses, even prefabs, their inner privacy and wallpaper stripped bare briefly, before being reduced to rubble. It wasn’t just structural entities that were being rubbed out, but homes, people’s pasts. The future, as it was then predicted, rose in their place. Walking to school, my sister and I laid bets on which huge tower block of flats would be finished first. They weren’t complete until I was at High School far away (well, a couple of miles anyway). One was called Hooker’s Court. For some reason the name was later changed.

If I needed a reminder that time moves on, leaving an imprint, but also forever morphing into something new, I visited the scene of my childhood many years later, long after moving to Wales, and found everything both the same and changed, the estate no longer on the very brink of town but engulfed in it, so many new roads and houses that I had trouble identifying my old school route at all. The lane is miraculously still there, surrounded by flats amidst the trees and shockingly gentrified with a pretty lamppost and a new footbridge. No one would think now that it had once been a farm track. The pipe is still there, unchanged. Do children still walk across it?

I found myself realising how differently children and adults see everything – people, places, time itself. To us children, the estate was full of secrets, possibilities, opportunities for play and sources of potential nightmare. We saw the brook and its culverts with unfettered imagination, conjuring up mysteries and monsters. Adults saw a logical scheme of town planning and drainage systems. It was that contrast that first inspired me to write The Unravelling, which is largely set in my old estate, though elements have been moved around a little and names altered.

To the best of my knowledge, no murder ever happened while I lived there, so I invented the plot, and my characters are purely fictional, but the place, through a child’s eyes, with all its sinister potential was real enough.

Thorne can be found at…

Website: https://thornemoore.com/

Twitter: @ThorneMoore

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thorne.moore.7

My Review of Her Nanny’s Secret: A compelling story of love, loss and self-discovery by Jan Baynham #familystory #romance #WW2 #RNA

I gave

Book Description:

How far would you go to save the person you loved the most?
It’s 1941, and Annie Beynon has just become the first stable girl for the most powerful family in her Welsh village. Whilst her gift for working with horses is clear, there are some who are willing to make her life very difficult on the Pryce estate, simply for being a girl.
There are other – secret – ways Annie is defying conventions, too. As the war rages, and when Edmund, the heir to the Pryce fortune, leaves to join the RAF, it seems that it’s only a matter of time before Annie’s secret is exposed. That is, until she makes a shocking decision.
It’s 1963 before Annie is able to face up to the secret she chose to keep over twenty years before. Justifying that decision takes her to Normandy in France, and an outcome she could never have expected …

My Review:

Having already read and reviewed Jan Baynham’s Her Mother’s Secret, I looked forward to reading Her Nanny’s Secret. I wasn’t disappointed

My Review:

Having already read and reviewed Jan Baynham’s Her Mother’s Secret, I looked forward to reading Her Nanny’s Secret. I wasn’t disappointed

I really like this author’s writing style, easy to read yet with a depth of narrative that draws the reader immediately into the lives of the characters and their story.

All the characters are rounded and multi-layered, and add much to the plot, but this is definitely the protagonist, Annie Beynon’s story. She is portrayed as a strong-willed and determined young woman, unconventional for her time, yet, like many during those years, she falls prey to her emotions and needs to live with the consequences. Her journey through life from the Second World War and into the 1960s is consistent with her character throughout every circumstance, every decision made.

The  privations of the era, the social divisions of the time are shown through each character’s dialogue which strengthens their personalities. I particularly liked the differences in the syntax of sentences and shown accents that highlights their social and class standing.

This is also portrayed through the evocative descriptions of the various settings and lifestyles. There is no doubt that the author has thoroughly researched the decades that Her Nanny’s Secret is set against.

There are various themes that run throughout the book: The main theme of secrets is threaded around strong elements of romance and familial love, and, crafted around those, are themes of life’s hardships, loyalty, duty, jealousy and  rivalry.

I try not to give spoilers in my reviews, but I hope the above gives a flavour of Her Nanny’s Secret. This is a well-balanced, evenly paced and well written novel and one I have no hesitation in recommending to any reader who loves romance, but also enjoys a family story.

Jan’s other book:Her Sister’s Secret: The Summer of ’66, is patiently waiting on my TBR pile

The Author:

Originally from mid-Wales, Jan lives in Cardiff with her husband.

After retiring from a career in teaching and advisory education, Jan joined a small writing group in a local library where she wrote her first piece of fiction. From then on, she was hooked! Fascinated by family secrets and ‘skeletons lurking in cupboards’, Jan’s dual narrative novels explore how decisions and actions made by family members from one generation impact on the lives of the next. Setting plays an important part in Jan’s stories and as well as her native mid-Wales, there is always a contrasting location – Greece, Sicily and northern France

To find out more about Jan, she may be contacted on:

Twitter – @JanBaynham https://twitter.com/JanBaynham

Facebook – Jan Baynham Writer https://www.facebook.com/JanBayLit

Blog – https://janbaynham.blogspot.com

My Review of Only May, by Honno Author, Carol Lovekin #Honno #familystory #secrets #magic

Book Description:

A young woman haunted by ghosts, magic and long-kept family secrets in a new novel from the author of the Wales Book of the Year 2021 shortlisted, WILD SPINNING GIRLS.

I give you fair warning, if you’re planning on lying to me, don’t look me in the eye.

It’s May’s 17th birthday – making the air tingle with a tension she doesn’t fully understand. But she knows her mother and her aunt are being evasive; secrets are being kept.Like her grandmother before her, May has her own magic: the bees whisper to her as they hover in the garden… the ghosts chatter in the graveyard. And she can’t be fooled by a lie. She becomes determined to find out what is being kept from her. But when May starts to uncover her own story, she threatens to bring her mother and aunt’s carefully constructed family to the edge of destruction..

My Review:.

Only May is a story that could only have been written by Carol Lovekin. Her writing style is unique, filled with poetic prose that evokes layer upon layer of wonderful imagery, juxtaposed with stories that gradually emerge to reveal fascinating plots, strong characters and atmospheric  settings.

Set in Wales in the nineteen fifties, the narrative portrays seventeen-year-old May as a young woman who has been gifted the power to recognise lies. Even so, she  becomes increasingly and uneasily aware that her family hold a secret about her past that shocks and distresses her.

Throughout the book there is a sense that the freedom that May cherishes in the natural world vies with the restriction of her home life.

The main characters are multi layered: May’s protective but hard-working mother, Esme, who, although she loves her, sometimes irritates May, Billy, her father, a man suffering from both physical and mental disability, but with whom May has a close and loving relationship. And then there is Esme’s sister, May’s unconventional aunt, who encourages her to explore the magic of folklore and the mystery of nature. All ably supported by a community of well-drawn minor characters, each with their own foibles, each adding to the revelation of the central theme – the truth of May’s life. A truth that could mean the destruction of the family. And of her trust in them.

Only May is what I always call a slow burner of a story, with a steady exposé of the plot through a narrative that is Insightful and philosophical. Therefore, this complex and spellbinding novel is one to savour. As such I thoroughly recommend it.

About Carol Lovekin:

Carol is a writer, feminist & flâneuse based in west Wales. She writes contemporary fiction exploring family relationships & secrets, the whole threaded with myth, fairytale, ghosts, Welsh Gothic mystery & slivers of magic.

Buying Links:

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

Carol’s Links:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/carollovekin

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

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 Liz Jones

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 Liz Jones

Hello and welcome, Liz. Good to have you with us here today.

Glad to be here, Judith.

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

The Queen of Romance is my one and only (so far…)

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

Through a long and tortuous process… My original title, The Many Lives of Marguerite was okay, but didn’t really tell the reader anything. Eventually, I came up with The Forgotten Queen of Romance. The ‘forgotten’ was later dropped… 

What inspired the idea for your book?

It all began when I visited what I thought was just her husband’s grave (that of the controversial Welsh author Caradoc Evans). Then I discovered Marguerite, this incredible woman who had been a bestselling romance author, whose book The Pleasure Garden was became Alfred Hitchcock’s first film, who had appeared in a film alongside the legendary Gloria Swanson, and had run a thriving repertory theatre company in my home town of Aberystwyth. Yet now she lay forgotten alongside her husband, without even her name on the gravestone. I had to find out more…

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

The scenes about Marguerite’s childhood in India, during the days of the Raj. I have never been to India and knew little about the Raj, so I had to draw heavily on a combination of research and imagination. But I found this research fascinating. The mindset of the British in India was astonishingly racist and elitist. They were also making huge sacrifices for the sake of the British Empire, which they genuinely believed to be a noble project.

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

I enjoy visiting places and getting and writing about them in situ. Visiting Broadstairs, where Marguerite lived and ran a theatre company just before the war, was great fun, as was visiting the site of another of her homes, near Aberdyfi, high above the Dyfi estuary.   

Which of the characters do you relate to the most and why.

Marguerite as a biographical character was eccentric, endlessly fascinating and also infuriating! The men in her life were (with one exception) pretty awful to here. The character I felt by far the most empathy for was Pauline Bloch, the German Jewish refugee who was Marguerite and Caradoc’s live-in maid during the war. The poor woman was traumatised and not receiving the help and support she needed – least of all from Marguerite who was too wrapped up in her own marriage and money problems to care.  

I was privileged to read some of Pauline’s letters, written some thirty years later, where she reflected on her time with Marguerite and Caradoc. She was a strong, determined and remarkably fair-minded woman who had overcome so much.

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

Pauline, without a doubt.

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?

All I can say is I’m researching another biography. It’s far too soon to reveal any more!

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

I don’t think you can really call yourself a writer after just one book. Although now I do write most days – features for magazines, mostly.

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

With a name like Liz Jones? Of course I have! If ever I write a book that’s completely different (a novel, for instance), I might just dream up a far more exotic name for myself!

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

Writer’s block is something I experience every day. Sometimes I can overcome it. Other times, I suddenly find that cleaning the sink or organising my bookshelf is suddenly far more pressing than writing… Yet once I’m really in the writing zone, I find it difficult to stop. If only I found it easier to get there in the first place – I’m still working on that!   

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

Peace, quiet, not too much clutter and, above all, a room of my own. (Virginia Woolf said it all really…)

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

As a writer of non-fiction, I’m afraid I can’t really answer this!

 What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

Beginning.

What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing?

That’s a very big question! There are so many different kinds of good writing. If I had to say, I think it’s honestly – writing where the author strips away any ‘show-offy’ bits and tells the story with sincerity and integrity, rather than indulging in writing that draws attention to itself. Having said that, I can’t resist the odd flourish or purple passage, although I try not to overdo it! 

What comes first for you — the plot or the characters — and why? 

As a biographer it has to be character! I have to feel fascinated by a character to want to write about them.

 How do you use social media as an author?

I’m on Twitter, which I’ve found pretty useful, in a low-key sort of way. I know Twitter has a bit of a toxic reputation, but it’s great for connecting with other authors and keeping in touch with Honno and the wider world of books. What I also like about Twitter is that it’s okay to promote your own work there – unlike facebook, where too much self-promotion tends to be frowned upon! 

 Why did you [choose? Honno as a publisher?

The honest answer is because Honno is based in my home town of Aberystwyth. When my idea was still embarrassingly sketchy, I contacted the lovely Janet Thomas (a member of the Honno committee and hugely experienced editor). Thanks to Janet’s unstinting encouragement, I began to feel that my idea really could work as a book. Later, as a first-time Honno writer, I felt supported by the team throughout the whole process – from the initial edits to the marketing. Becoming a Honno author is like joining a very special women’s club! 

Author Bio:

Dr Liz Jones is a prize winning writer of creative non-fiction and journalism, and a creative writing tutor at Aberystwyth University. Her book, The Queen of Romance (Honno), a biography of Marguerite Jervis (aka Oliver Sandys and Countess Barcynska), ‘the most successful author and theatre entrepreneur you’ve never heard of’, was selected for The Independent‘s book choices for May, 2021.

Twitter: @LizJonesAber