Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Bard's Birthday...

... is always celebrated on April 23rd, and today, it is also World Book Night.  Naturally, I had to join in and I have some of my favourite speeches along with some beautiful engravings to illustrate...



O, what a deal of scorn looks beautiful   
In the contempt and anger of his lip!
A murderous guilt shows not itself more soon
Than love that would seem hid: love's night is noon.
Cesario, by the roses of the spring,
By maidhood, honour, truth and every thing,
I love thee so, that, maugre all thy pride, 
Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide.
Do not extort thy reasons from this clause,
For that I woo, thou therefore hast no cause,
But rather reason thus with reason fetter,
Love sought is good, but given unsought better.
Twelfth Night - Olivia





     If we shadows have offended, 
     Think but this, and all is mended,
     That you have but slumber'd here
     While these visions did appear.
     And this weak and idle theme,
     No more yielding but a dream,
     Gentles, do not reprehend:
     if you pardon, we will mend:
     And, as I am an honest Puck,
     If we have unearned luck
     Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
     We will make amends ere long;
     Else the Puck a liar call;
     So, good night unto you all.
     Give me your hands, if we be friends,
     And Robin shall restore amends.
     A Midsummer Night's Dream - Puck




It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue; but it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord the prologue. If it be true that good wine needs no bush, 'tis true that a good play needs no epilogue; yet to good wine they do use good bushes, and good plays prove the better by the help of good epilogues. What a case am I in then, that am neither a good epilogue, nor cannot insinuate with you in the behalf of a good play! I am not furnished like a beggar, therefore to beg will not become me: my way is, to conjure you; and I'll begin with the women. I charge you, O women! for the love you bear to men, to like as much of this play as please you: and I charge you, O men! for the love you bear to women,'as I perceive by your simpering none of you hate them,'that between you and the women, the play may please. If I were a woman I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me, complexions that liked me, and breaths that I defied not; and, I am sure, as many as have good beards, or good faces, or sweet breaths, will, for my kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell.
As You Like It - Rosalind

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Please welcome friend and author...

...Christine Hornsby who is here today to interview her character, Bethany, from her wonderful story Kindred Spirits

CH  Bethany, I followed your teenage love affair with interest but, from an early age,  you clearly loathed, Daniel with a vengeance.
Bethany I did.  I thought he was arrogant and patronising.  In short, a schmuck!  To my shame, I remember referring to him as having been spawned by something that crawled out of a swamp.  A spawned geek with half a brain.

CH  So why a complete change of heart?  Was there a seismic, earth shattering moment when you saw him in a different light or did he grow on you?
Bethany  The former.  It was when the whale beached.  We met purely by chance.  I think.  We both stood there feeling something akin to grief.  It was heart-wrenching seeing the whale dying and then there was nothing we could do about it.  Daniel was looking out to sea. I pretended it was the cold wind that made my eyes water, but I knew he was hurting too.  In a strange way, we connected.  His good looks, his physique and all that has always made him popular with the girls but, call me weird, I’d never been particularly impressed with those.  His arrogance had always put me off but, at that moment, I realised that was a sort of mask.  I suppose I saw his sensitivity and vulnerability.  I liked that.  Suddenly he seemed human.

CH  You come across as being a sporty type, not interested in girly things – and, I might add – too straight talking for your own good.  Would that be a fair assessment of your character?
Bethany  Absolutely!  I suppose I had to learn, didn’t I?  And my poor mother bore the brunt of it really.  Our relationship was fraught to say the least.  Still, many teenage girls don’t get on with their mothers.  It’s normal.  I used to think we could do with a psychiatrist, a counsellor or someone to unravel the problems, though.

CH  Hmm.  But you could just as easily have fallen out with Veronica!  Now there was a feisty character if ever there was one!  Your tantrums didn’t wash with her, did they?
Bethany  You can say that again!  She always told me top wake up and smell the coffee, as they say!  And I did!

CH  And what about, Daniel?  I felt for him when you ‘went off on one’ after you told him about your ghost!  I mean, how did you expect him to react?  If you’ll excuse the pun, you didn’t give him a ghost of a chance!
Bethany  Ah yes, my ghost.  Wasn’t that something?  And yes, like I said, ‘I had a lot to learn.’  It was difficult. I was obsessed, I suppose.  It was a lonely journey.  There was a kind of force working in and outside of me if you know what I mean?  Something or someone else was in the driving seat.  I was left wondering about the possibility of an alternative world only seen and understood by a select few – and I was one of them. I had no choice but to go along with it.

CH  Deceiving your mother in the bargain!
Bethany  Yes, especially my mother.  And that taught me how important it is for people to feel they can talk to one another openly without stress.  I could never talk to her, so guilt came into it, big time, and I hated that.

CH  Yes, I remember when you came downstairs to put the barrel back in the cabinet, hoping your mother wouldn’t notice that you had taken it.
Bethany  I do.  It was the cauliflower that got me.  I saw it out of the corner of my eye.  Its shape took on the image of a face.  Sitting there on the kitchen table with its high cheek bones, it was sort of accusing me.  I had never felt so guilty.

CH  Yes, and I think that guilt came out in your   writing.  At least you could be honest with yourself there.
Bethany  That’s true.  Especially when I tried to express my romantic and sexual feelings towards. Daniel.  I felt son confused, so alone.  I wanted to shout my love from the rooftops and yet, like the old song says, ‘they try to tell you you’re too young, too young to really be in love.’  I suppose you think that sounds cheesy, but it’s true.  Well, it was my reality.

The east coast, where Kindred Spirits is set
CH  And how about fear?  Did you ever have an adrenalin rush when you were scared?
Bethany  You bet I did.  On the headland in the make-shift lean to.  Daniel told me about the Alphonse wandering about the moors with his eyes torn out by the hawks and the sockets full of maggots.  And then in the real world, two legs emerged out of the sea fret and a bunch of dead rabbits were dumped in my lap.  Oh yes, I was scared all right!

CH  Finally, Bethany, was there ever a moment, a poignant moment, that spoke to you in a very special way?

Bethany  There was.  My mother had been so worried and I knew she was concerned about me and Daniel spending the night on the moors together.  I knew I would have some explaining to do.  For most of the journey home neither of us had spoken.  Even so, I was sitting in the backseat of the car with my ankle resting across her knee.  She suddenly started fingering the travel rug.  The years melted away.  Mum was tucking me in just as I remembered her doing when I was a little girl.  I seemed to have a Eureka moment.  Suddenly, I understood the real meaning of unconditional love and I knew everything was going to be OK. 

You can follow Christine on her website  and on Facebook

Friday, 14 April 2017

Happy Easter...

... everyone and there are some bargain books around because...


Crooked Cat Easter Sale is now on...






All Crooked Cat E-Books are available for the amazing price of 99p or the appropriate international equivalent...


Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Come stroll with me...

... through Argentat today...

Bridge across the Dordogne, Argentat
Situated on the river Dordogne in the département of Corrèze (19), there has been a settlement at Argentat since Gallic times, which is roughly from the 5th century BC.  I’m camped right beside the river in the shade of some well-established trees and it’s a comfortable kilometre and a half bike ride into town along the virtually single track rue St Etienne d’Obazine.  The road takes you past low farm houses with their distinctive roof tiles and along the river to bring you out on the D2120 and across the Dordogne and into town on Avenue Henry IV.  Follow the road through to avenue Pasteur and the heart of the town.
I lead my bike through the streets of half-timbered houses with their red and grey hued stone walls, traditional stone rooves and jutting balconies until I reach the main shopping area and bump into a wedding party.  The Hotel de Ville, dating from the 19th century, is resplendent as the back drop for the photos.  The bride and groom and guests then make their way along the avenue and down rue Château Nouvelle to the church of St-Pierre for the blessing.  A little further on and I pass a restaurant with tables all set waiting, trays full with empty champagne glasses anticipating being filled and a bevy of waiters, all smart, in matching shirts and trousers and all very neatly pressed!  I can‘t help but smile and I wish the happy couple well.
The Tourist office is my next stop for a 15-minute fix of free wifi.  As I sit in the shade and download my emails, I notice a gendarme standing on the corner of avenue du Jardin Public and talking into his phone.  I also see that a number of other locals are hanging around and looking down the street.  In the distance, I can hear the unmistakable sound of an unmuffled
piston engine, followed by an unbaffled exhaust discharge and then that weird smell of oil hits my nose.  The gendarme stretches out his arm and waves on the vehicle and around the corner comes a silver coloured, Bugatti Brescia wearing a red and white rally plate.  The
Bugatti Brescia
car rolls down the street to quai Lestrougie.
  Then another, a red one this time, then a third and I’m hooked.  Stuffing my phone in my pocket I get back on the bike and follow the cars.  I talk to an American lady driver.  It’s a club rally and all the vehicles are making their way to Angoulême for the Circuit des Remparts.  Another half an hour the quay is full of magnificent shining machines all lined up so that their owners can take lunch.  It’s amazing little discoveries like this that make this country so fascinating.
Car envy done with, I take some time to investigate the courpet that sits a little further down the quay.  Flat-bottomed boats (courpets), have been used on this river for centuries.  At first, just to carry livestock, goods and passengers across the river and to nearby towns and hamlets, but later, in the 18th and 19th centuries, these boats were used to transport wood for use in the vineyards of Bordeaux.  Then, this area was heavily forested and the wood was cut and fashioned into staves for barrels and stakes (carassones) to support the vines. 
The boats were built, as and when required, of 15-metre long planks set side by side and connected together.  Using heat from burning coals, and steam to make the wood pliable, the stern would be fashioned and the sides raised.  With one very long stern oar (aviron en
A Courpet
godille)
and a couple of pairs of sculls (rames), the boat would be managed, full of wood for sale, down the river.  In Bordeaux, the cargo sold, the boat would be split up and also sold and the men, pockets full of cash and bags full of provisions required at home, would take the long walk back to their families.  The arrival of the railways eventually killed this source of revenue and work.
Curiosity satisfied I make my way through the remainder of the narrow streets and go into the church.  Its small and mostly 18th century with some interesting carvings.  There is a 13th century processional cross of note, some plate and a painting of Calvary but little else.  It’s time to head back and, as I cross the bridge, I cannot stop myself from taking one last look at the cars on the quay below.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

I'm reviewing 'The Soldier's Wife'...

... by Joanne Trollope


Published in 2012, I expected that this book would give me insights into army families and army life in general, both on the frontline and away from it.  Because I was expecting so much, I was disappointed.  However, that does not mean that the book completely failed to deliver nor that the story was not worth reading.  It is, on some levels.
The story focusses on Alexa Riley, an army wife married to Major Dan Riley, who is about to return from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, and their children.  Instantly you know that this book will be about family dynamics and relationships.  That was the first issue that made me wonder if I should continue reading, but I did.
As the story progresses you hit on the problem of a battle-hardened man being back in a domestic situation and not able to share in detail what he had been doing whilst away.  Both Dan and Alexa are not sure how to relate to each other, how to slip back into those once, well-known routines and become a cohesive family again.  I thought this particular aspect of the story was handled really well and was clearly well-researched.  For some families in real life it must be very difficult when mum or dad comes back after a tour.  I was able to empathise with the situation, two people in a difficult place and not able to communicate effectively.  Tough.  But I found the character of Alexa very difficult to like.
When the extended family started to get involved in Dan and Alexa’s relationship, I became more and more annoyed that neither the husband nor wife would stand up and tell them to butt out.  I became less and less sympathetic to Alexa.  And when she turns down a job that she wanted because she is not only married to Dan, but the army as well, I wanted to scream because I saw her as being very weak.
Isabel, Alexa’s daughter from her first marriage, starts to take charge of her own life and runs away from boarding school and I hope that, in response, these two parents will stop, listen and work out what is best for them as individuals and as a family.  But there was more disappointment for me.
Overall, I found the prose to beautifully written, the story to be over long and the characters to be mostly tiresome.  But I did come to an understanding of what being an army wife means.  I can honestly say that it made me realise that I have been very lucky in my own personal life.  Whilst I would not have chosen to read this book for myself, I am pleased that I persevered with it.  It has provided me with an interesting insight into life in the army.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

A Spring Wedding in...

 …Moscow.  The spring flowers are in full bloom and showing off their brightly coloured petals in the rockery and across my garden and I am always reminded of Moscow...


Basilica, Red Square, Moscow
I was there at the beginning of March for a wedding and I remember there being daffoldil yellow and crocus mauve flags hanging from every available lampost throughout the city to acknowledge the first day of Spring.

The day of the wedding was cold, there was snow on the ground and the heavy morning clouds threatened yet more.  But, at the home of the bride, the groom had to pay a ransom otherwise there would be no ceremony.  To my modern and highly independent mind such an act seemed wrong, but it’s hard to argue with an amusing tradition.  Armed with flowers and gifts the groom arrived and when the ransom was satisfactorily paid, the couple were given a blessing by the bride’s father and the whole wedding party removed to the appropriate municipal building for the civil ceremony.

It was what happened next that mesmerised me.  The whole wedding party took to the streets of Moscow to have photographs taken at historic or meaningful locations.  I was lucky enough to be driven around the city in a Zil, a large square of a car in black and I remember thinking that it was an unusual choice.  One of the stops for photos had to be Red Square. The colours of St Basil’s Cathedral stood out like beams of light against the dull sky.  Built and added to between the 12th and 16th centuries, it’s properly called Intercession Cathedral and was erected to commemorate the Russian conquest of the Khanate of Kazan.  Standing in its wake, I was introduced to small bread rolls filled with something akin to mortadella and a sweet but piquant pickle sauce that set my taste buds zinging.  Alas, I never did get that recipe!

One of the many churches around Red Square
It was whilst we were all waiting for the photographs to be taken that I was approached by a man selling tickets for the Bolshoi.  I’d tried to get a ticket before leaving the UK, but every performance for months was fully booked.  I was suspicious at first, but the more the man kept talking and telling me about the theatre, the more I had to have that ticket.  So, I handed over the roubles.  ‘No, no American dollars,’ he said. ‘American dollars are good.’  The following evening, still wondering whether I might have broken the law or not, I sat in the Gods at the Bolshoi and watched a performance of Eugene Onegin.  The opulence, the artistry of the ceiling above my head and the vastness of the auditorium, have to be witnessed to be believed.

Around Red Square there are a number of churches.  All stunning with their traditionally shaped gold cupolas and magnificent murals and decoration inside.  I can understand why any bride would want a photograph with such a building as the backdrop.


The wedding party moved on and I had the chance to see the vastness of the river Moskva, the wide streets, the GUM department store, the English book shop and much more besides.  But it was the reception next and I remember the table groaning under the weight of food and vodka.

And there was another little tradition to be witnessed.  The bride and groom are presented with bread and salt.  The bread is a beautifully decorated circular loaf into which a small dish is placed and filled with salt.  The two are placed on an embroidered cloth and then given to the bride and groom to taste.  You break a piece of bread and dip it in the salt and eat.  This signifies a long and happy life together.  

Then there are the toasts.  I have only one tiny drop of vodka in the bottom of a shot glass just to be polite.  The rest of the evening is spent eating, drinking, singing Russian folk songs and dancing as course after course is brought and empty plates are taken away again.  An incredible experience that has remained with me.  And the bride and groom... just in case you were wondering, they lived happily ever after!

I will be taking you on some strolls through fascinating places in France over the next few months, so watch this space.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Please welcome, friend and author...

... Stephanie Cage, who is returning to my page to talk about the serialisation of her latest story on her own blog...
AW  You say The Crash is going to be a difficult fit for a standard publisher - is that your only reason for serialising this story on your blog?
SC  It’s the reason I haven’t tried to publish The Crash sooner.  I couldn’t work out how to pitch a book which one friend describes as belonging to the category of “novels about bosses you love to hate”.  That’s a pretty narrow category!
I tend to think of The Crash as belonging to the category of ‘didactic novels’, which get a bad press nowadays, but which I’m quite fond of reading. Apart from being partly inspired by Dickens, it also came out of my experience in business. I’d helped to write some books and reports about Internal Communications, and around that time I also read Eliyahu Goldratt’s The Goal, which tries to teach business theory through a story, and I thought it would be fun to dramatise some of the lessons I’d learned during my research.
AW  Goldratt’s The Goal, great book and I’ve used the principles in there many times, myself.  But, I’m interrupting…
SC  I wrote the novel quite quickly as a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge, and then I put it away because I couldn’t imagine what I’d do with it.  But friends who’d read snippets kept asking me about the rest of Jason’s story, so in the end I decided I needed to put it out there, one way or another.  Blogging it seems like a good way of doing that, as it means I can keep making changes as I go, and test out readers’ reactions.  It’s all a bit of an experiment really, but at the end I do plan to turn it into a book and e-book as well – if only so I can give my Mum a copy as she’s a bit of a Jason fan!  I’ve got as far as having a cover designed now, so keep reading to get a sneak preview of what the finished book will look like.

AW  Dickens did it, Collins did it, as have many other authors, so serialising a book has a long and well established history.  Is it now a bit old hat, do you think?
SC  I have to admit that Dickens was part of the inspiration for this story, but of course the tradition of serialising stories goes back a lot further.  In particular, Scheherazade comes to mind.  She certainly grasped the power of suspense and the need to keep an audience hanging so that they’ll come back.  Writers of soap operas and other TV dramas continue to use the same techniques today and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  As long as people value stories and want answers to the question ‘what happens next?’ then the serial will continue to thrive – what changes is not the structure but the content and the presentation of the stories.
Scheherazade, from my C19th
edition of The Arabian Nights 
For example, in the time I’ve been writing, e-books have gone from a puzzling novelty to part of the mainstream, a change which has affected readers and writers in all kinds of ways.  One effect I’ve noticed is that electronic publishing has removed the economic and practical restrictions on the sizes of books so it’s now easy to get hold of anything from short stories and novellas that can be read in a single sitting to vast tomes (often, but not always, in the sci-fi and fantasy arena) that would have been unpublishable a few years ago.  I think e-books make experimentation a lot easier, but ultimately, it’s hard to come up with anything entirely new when it comes to stories, because they’re so much a part of human nature and so ingrained in us.

AW  You introduced your central character to us here on my blog in September last year and I re-ran the post, how has he developed and/or changed since then?
SC  That’s an interesting question as character development is a major theme of the story, but actually Jason arrived in my head pretty much fully formed and has changed very little.  The changes I want to make to the story are less about him, and more about the detail of the events that occur later on in the story.  I haven’t made many changes to the chapters I’ve published so far, but as the story goes on I’m aware that there are things I want to tweak, so it’s likely that towards the end I’ll have to do some work to stay ahead of my weekly publishing schedule.  It’s a good thing I enjoy a challenge almost as much as Jason does!

AW  Can you share a little outline of the whole story with us or are you going to keep us all on tenterhooks from week to week?
SC  Well, I’ve already mentioned that the story was partly inspired by Dickens’ Christmas Carol so I don’t suppose it will surprise you to hear that some events will take place which cause Jason to rethink his attitudes.  He doesn’t get any visits from the ghosts of business past, present or future, though – Jason’s comeuppance is much more of his own making.  As far as the details go, you’ll have to wait and see.  

AW  Lastly, Stephanie, with your romances in e-form and print, I know you've dabbled with Sci Fi, you like Fantasy and you are starting to look at crime as a genre in which to write.  What would your eight-year-old self, make of you today?
SC  I guess my eight-year-old self might have been a little disappointed – I think I was about eight when I decided that my life’s ambition was to win the Booker prize, and I certainly haven’t done that!  In some ways, my aims have changed a lot, in other ways not so much.  At eight I knew I wanted to write good books, but I hadn’t yet given a lot of thought to what that might look like, so I seized on something that sounded impressive, and involved going to a televised awards dinner and wearing a pretty frock.
Although I loved studying literary fiction (I have a degree in English Literature from Trinity College, Oxford), after a few years in the working world I realised that I wanted to write books that more people would read, and that wouldn’t be too taxing to settle down with after a hard day at the office, so I switched to writing romance. 
I’ve been lucky enough to be published by two fantastic companies, The Wild Rose Press (who published Desperate Bid, The Santa Next Door and Djinn and Tonic) and Crimson Romance (who published Perfect Partners and the fairy tale anthology Modern Magic, in which my Goldilocks retelling appears).  I’ve also made some great friends through the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA), which hosts excellent awards dinners – posh frocks and all – but I’ve always read widely and ultimately, I didn’t want to be tied to just one genre, so I’ve been experimenting with others. 
You could say that with crime I’ve come full circle, as another of my passions aged about eight was Enid Blyton’s stories, particularly the Famous Five and the Castle of Adventure series.  I’ve also always been a sucker for moral tales (What Katy Did, Little Women and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series all made strong impressions on me, and I feel that each of those is very much a story with a message) so in a sense The Crash also has its roots in my eight-year-old interests too.


And now here’s the cover I promised to show you as a reward for reading this far.  If you have a moment, I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below! 



You can catch up on The Crash on Stephanie's Blog