Tuesday, 21 November 2017

I'm reviewing The Last Dance...

... and other stories by Victoria Hislop


Whilst I write short stories myself and enjoy the discipline, I don't usually read anthologies. That being said, this my third colection of stories in almost as many weeks!   As a reader I often find that a short story is just too short and I'm at the end almost before I've started.  And, unfortunately, there are a lot of short stories out there that have no substance at all.

But that is not the case with this selection of ten tales.  All set in Greece, the stories revolve around the people and the place.  Hislop's novels - The Thread and The Island - demonstrate her understanding of the country, its history and the people.  Her stunning prose does not hinder the pace of the stories nor does it impede the readers ability to see her characters and their locations clearly as she spins her tales.  From Stavros, the priest in the first story right through to Theodoris, the groom in the final story, each of the central protagonists is clearly and carefully drawn.  Establishing a character so clearly when the word count is automatically limited is difficult, but this author has mastered that skill.

Similarly with the setting for each story.  You can feel the wind and see the darkness in the corners of the streets.  You can feel the tension between battling brothers and enjoy the openness of the airy village squares shaded in summer by the trees.  These fabulous bitter-sweet tales focus on love, separation and loss, friendship and confusion and missed chances along with choices that are not always desired.  Each is a perfect and complete little nugget of emotion and it is this quality that makes this particular collection of stories one to treasure and return to again and again.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Kermesse, Creepy Crawlies and Camping Companions...

Montbazon from the bridge over the Indre
In Montbazon in September I had the great pleasure of visiting the Kermesse (village fair), an event that lasted the whole weekend.  It was fascinating, and wonderful, to see a whole community working together towards a common goal.  The principle celebrations were for the Sapeurs-Pompiers, the local fire and rescue service.

Saturday was all about demonstrating the value that these essential services bring to the area.  There were any number of tents filled with all sorts of exhibits about the history of the service, the work undertaken and the lives saved.  There was also a tent that had a vast collection of fire service memorabilia from across the world, including a UK fire service Chief's helmet!  In addition, there was a display of fire trucks - both old and in current use - from across the region.  And... there was the compulsory fireman's lift reaching up above the tree-tops.  I left that to the professionals!

As I wandered around the various tents I came across one that had glass cases on a table.  Curious, I moved a few steps closer and beat hasty a retreat within seconds, much to the amusement of the fireman who was manning that piece of the exhibition.  He tried to entice me in - but I was having
Some of the old vehicles
nothing to do with the occupants of those glass cases!  You see, I have a very precise and exact definition of creepy crawlies and I exercise a 5 kilometre exclusion zone for them all.  Anything, absolutely anything that has more than 4 legs, does not live in the sea, or slithers along the ground qualifies for the title of creepy crawly.  Naturally, as with all rules, there are exceptions - butterflies who are too pretty to be included, honey bees who are too industrious to be included and ladybirds who are to be rescued at all times whenever out of their natural habitat.  As for the occupants of those glass cases - all living snakes - I quickly moved on to the next tent!

Sunday was all about celebrating the bravery of the people in the service and remembering lost colleagues.  There were medals to be awarded, wreaths to be laid, speeches and there was a fantastic procession through the town accompanied by a marching band.  The Gendarmes, some local, some from Tour and further a-field, directed the traffic onto alternative routes whilst the whole centre of the town was given over to the event.

Blanc and Gris, my camping companions
The afternoon and evening was about eating, dancing and music.  I retired to my quieter spot by the river Indre with a book and glass of wine and the last of the sunshine.  I was visited by my camping companions, Blanc et Gris.  Thus far, they had both steadfastly ignored me, only stopping mid-river to look me over and then swimming on.  That afternoon I had clearly passed muster and they decided to investigate.  Keeping absolutely still, I let them come so close they could have nibbled my toes.  Luckily for me, they didn't.  And most evenings after that, at around 6.00ish, they paid me a visit.  Not that they had much to say, but they were beautiful to watch and observe.


If anyone can identify what kind of swan these two are, I'd love to hear from you.  Just leave a message at the bottom of this post.  Thanks.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Happy Birthday Robert Louis Stevenson…

On this day in 1850, one of our greatest writers, Robert Louis Stevenson, was born at 8 Howard Place, Edinburgh.  The address still exists and, if you’re a RLS-groupie, like me, you can walk down the street and gaze in wonder at the house!
Today, up in his home-city, there are all kinds of events happening to celebrate what would have been his 167th birthday.  Regrettably I can’t be there, so I thought I’d have my own little celebration here on my blog.
Stevenson is most famous for his children’s books, Treasure Island and Kidnapped.  But he wrote much more than that.  He was also a poet, an essayist, and a travel-writer.  Regular readers of this blog will already know that I followed in his footsteps through the Cévennes in a series of posts last year, supplemented with photos of the places I visited as they are now.
Today, in honour of his birth, I wanted to introduce you to a couple of my favourite pieces of poetry from his book 'A Child's Garden of Verses'.  First published 1895, my copy was printed in 1934 and originally belonged to my dad, who was also a browser in second-hand bookshops!

The Gardener

The gardener does not love to talk,
He makes me keep to the gravel walk;
And when he puts his tools away,
He locks the door and takes the key.

Away behind the currant row

Where no-one else but cook may go,
Far in the plots, I see him dig,
Old and serious, brown and big.

He digs the flowers, green, red and blue,
Nor wishes to be spoken to.
He digs the flowers and cuts the hay,
And never seems to want to play.

Silly gardener!  Summer goes,
And winter comes with pinching toes,
When in the garden bare and brown
You must lay your barrow down.

Well now, and while the summer stays,
To profit by these garden days,
O how much wiser you would be
To play at Indian wars with me!

At the very end of the book is a little known piece, that I have always loved, addressed...

To Any Reader

As from the house your mother sees
You playing round the garden trees,
So you may see, if you will look
Through the windows of this book,
Another child, far, far away,
And in another garden, play.
But do not think you can at all,
By knocking on the window, call
That child to hear you.  He intent
Is all on his play-business bent.
He does not hear; he will not look,
Nor yet be lured out of this book.
For, long ago, the truth to say,
He has grown up and gone away,
And it is but a child of air
That lingers in the garden there.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Friend and author, Vanessa Couchman returns...

... to tell me all about her latest venture...
AW  I understand you have a new anthology that is to be published this week, Vanessa.  Can you tell me a little about it?
VC  First, thank you very much for hosting me on your blog again, Angela.
French Collection: Twelve Short Stories will be published on Thursday, 9th November.  The stories are all set in France.  My husband and I moved to southwest France 20 years ago.  When I took up writing fiction, it seemed natural to set many of my short stories here.  French history, culture and art have provided a lot of inspiration.
AW  I know exactly what you mean.  For me it was the fabulous scenery that I could not leave out my own books.
VC  Most of the stories are historical fiction.  So, for example, one is about a 17th-century pedlar who is chased out of an Aveyron village for greatly inflating the death toll from the plague in the town of Villefranche-de-Rouergue.  Another concerns a young woman near Cahors who finds herself pregnant by her lover who is fighting in the WWI trenches.   

Market day in Villefranche
AW  Villefranche... a fabulous old bastide town that is a favourite of mine!  But back to the book.  Hardy, Dickens, Joyce, Dahl and M R James are just a few of my favourite short story writers, which means that this type of writing has a long and well established history.  With the advent of e-books, novels seem to me to be getting longer rather than shorter.  Is short-story writing for adults a bit old hat now, do you think?
VC  To paraphrase Mark Twain, “Reports of the short story’s death are premature.”  I don’t think it’s an advantage that novels are getting longer.  At the risk of being unpopular, I have found some recently-published novels in need of an additional pruning.
However, I think publishers generally find novels more commercially attractive than short story collections.  That said, many modern novelists come to mind who have published anthologies.  Also, last year I was involved in a collection of short stories set around the time of Pearl Harbour in December 1941.  That has been very successful, especially in the States. 
The advantage of shorts is that they are complete stories that can be read at one sitting.  So if you don’t feel like getting immersed in a much longer work, or don’t have the time, short stories provide a satisfying alternative.  They also give you a chance to enjoy new genres that you might not otherwise read.

Belcastel
AW  Easier or more difficult?  You have a number of full-length books to your name, so how do the two very different forms compare?
VC  I cut my writing teeth on short stories but I think they are more difficult to write well than novels.  In a novel you have some leeway for additional description or to elaborate on a scene.  In a short story, every single word has to count.  There is no room at all for extraneous material.  You need to grip the reader’s attention immediately.  And you have to get the main character from A to Z (problem to resolution) in a very short space.  That said, I enjoy writing short stories and use them to hone my writing skills.

AW   Lastly, Vanessa, with yet another book about to hit the streets, what would your eight-year-old self, make of you today?
VC  When I was eight, I enjoyed writing stories.  You think you can do anything at that age, so I would have felt it a natural progression to become a published author later.  In reality, education and a career stifled my creativity and I didn’t take up writing fiction again until 10 years ago.  I would have been disappointed if I had known that at eight years old.  But I am trying to make up for lost time!


...about the author  Vanessa Couchman is a British novelist and short story writer who has lived in southwest France since 1997. She has written two novels, The House at Zaronza and The Corsican Widow, and is working on a third. Her short stories have been placed in competitions and published in anthologies.

You can fiollow Vanessa on her  Website  FacebookPage   French Life Blog  or on Twitter

French Collection: Twelve Short Stories is available in paperback and e-book formats from Amazon. http://mybook.to/FrenchCollection 

Thank you Vanessa and there will be more about Villefranche from yours truly in the next few weeks... watch this space!

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Please welcome friend and author...

Nicola Slade to my blog today.  Thanks for being here, Nicola and I know how busy you are so tell me a bit about your latest book...
NS It's a contemporary romantic novel interspersed with historical interludes so that the reader, though not the protagonist, learns the story of the ancient house and the family.  It’s not exactly dual timeline because there are glimpses of several eras, and true to my mystery writing career, murder does raise its ugly head, though only in the historical past – no need for detective work!  Here's the blurb...

A hare carved in stone and the scent of flowers in a house full of echoes – can Freya’s inheritance help her to leave the past behind?
Had I gone completely crazy that first day? To open the door, take one astonished look round, and decide on the spot that I would live there?
To fall in love with a house?’
When Freya Gibson inherits an old, run-down property she has no idea she is the last in a long line of redoubtable women, including the Tudor nun who built the house.  Unknown to Freya these women, over centuries, fought with whatever weapons came to hand – deception, endurance, even murder – to preserve their home and family.
Freya falls in love with the house but her inheritance includes an enigmatic letter telling her to ‘restore the balance’ of the Lady’s Well.  Besides this, the house seems to be haunted by the scent of flowers.
In the past the Lady’s Well was a place of healing and Freya soon feels safe and at home, but she has demons of her own to conquer before she can accept the happiness that beckons.

AW  Hmm, that sounds most interesting.  And I believe you have brought with you one of your characters.  So let's hear what Mary Draper, a secondary but important person who befriends Freya,  has to say.  Over to you Nicola...


NS  Good morning, Mrs Draper. You’ve probably had more to do with Freya than most since she arrived in Hampshire. Do tell us how you come to know her?
MD  Call me Mary, dear. Freya’s cousin, Violet Wellman, the one who left her the house, was a friend of mine and when she died her solicitor asked me to keep an eye on the house and maybe drop in to see if Freya was all right.


NS  What did you think of her when you first met?
MD  She’s lovely, dear, kind, friendly girl, I wish her cousin could have met her. She said she spent some time in America and she looks fragile sometimes, so I expect there was a man at the root of the trouble. Still, she’s been back in the UK for a couple of years now and she’s PA to that Patrick Underwood, who writes those best-sellers. I’m hoping he’ll come down to Hampshire to visit her.


NS  Freya’s house is very old, isn’t it?
MD  It’s Tudor, dear, with some very unusual features but nobody knows who built it. Mind you, the family were there long before the house; Violet said there were family stories but they’ve been lost over the years.


'A hare carved in stone...'
NS  How do you think she’ll settle to life in a market town in Hampshire? And I believe the house is said to be haunted?
MD  People say they can smell flowers  even when there’s not a petal in the house. So yes, if the scent of invisible flowers means the place is haunted… Still, Ladywell once had a reputation as a place of healing so I think Freya will find it comforting. There’s a few family secrets to uncover before that happens though – and one of them will be shattering but it’s not my secret to tell – though I might give her a hint later. You know, Violet said the house was out of tune and she left Freya a letter telling her to ‘restore the balance’. Heaven knows how she’ll do that!

NS  I gather you’re embarking on an adventure of your own soon? Is Freya helping you with that?
MD  How do you know that? It’s a secret and yes, I’ll need Freya’s help but I haven’t told her yet. Adventures aren’t just for the young, you know.

NS  Thank you for talking to us, Mary. It will be interesting to see how Freya copes with this shattering secret. Can you give us a hint?
MD  My friend Violet always said that the house keeps its secrets, some old and some new, but I do know that Violet’s grandmother hinted about royalty in the family – way back in the past!



about the author... While her three children were growing up, Nicola wrote children’s stories and short stories for women’s magazines before her first novel, Scuba Dancing, a romantic comedy, was published.  Following this she turned to humorous cosy crime with two series, one Victorian, featuring a young Victorian widow, Charlotte Richmond, and a contemporary series about recently retired headmistress, Harriet Quigley and her sidekick and cousin, the Reverend Sam Hathaway.  All her books are set in and around Winchester, in Hampshire, not far from where she lives with her husband.


You can  follow Nicola on  Facebook  Twitter   Website  Blog
and Pinterest

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

I'm reviewing 'The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra'...


I picked this book up as a result of a recommendation from a friend and I was so glad I did.

Set in Mumbai, on Inspector Chopra's last day in the city police force, the story follows the central character through the trials and tribulations of investigating a death.  For his boss, the death is inconsequential.  For Chopra, it is not that simple and, despite being retired he continues to follow the case and ask questions, some of which get him into difficult spots.  What, at first, appears to be a straight forward case becomes complex with multiple twists and turns which reach a thrilling conclusion.

The location is colourfully drawn and provides a perfect backdrop for the numerous characters in the story.  Chopra, himself, is an upright, considerate and intelligent man and his character glides across the pages, but he knows when and how to be tough if he has to be.  His wife, Poppy, is demanding and something of a whirlwind as she pursues her various causes.  Both of these characters are very well drawn and it is easy to understand why they work so well together on the page.  Chopra's mother-in-law, on the other hand, is a thorn in his side as he is the son-in-law who was not, and still isn't, good enough for her daughter.  Within the household the dynamics between these three create some wonderfully comic moments which arise throughout the whole narrative and the wit is deliciously conveyed.

As for Chopra's inheritance... well, you will just have to read the book for yourself and, believe me, it is well worth it.  There are more in the series and they are equally as good and just as amusing!

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

An Afternoon with Three Authors

I am very pleased to be able to tell you that on Sunday October 29th, from 2pm until 4pm, I have been invited to take part in an event with two other authors at The Gallery in Slaithwaite.  So let me introduce them to you...


Tim Taylor, fellow Crooked Cat author and creator of Zeus of Ithome, will be talking about the inspiration behind, and reading from, his latest political thriller, Revolution Day.  Not that long ago, Tim was subjected to my detailed questioning about his writing as he very kindly agreed to appear on my blog as a guest.  You can read the interview here.  It will be great to finally meet him in person and if you want to know more about his book, then checkout Tim's  webpage.





Christina Longden, author of Mind Games and Ministers, is a member of the Holmfirth Writers' Group.  Chris will talking about her writing and reading from her recently published second book, A Cuckoo in the Chocolate.  Chris writes romantic comedies that have a political and satirical edge.  Hmm - sounds interesting doesn't it?  One thing I'm sure of though, no dratted cuckoo is going to get anywhere near my chocolate!  You can find out more about Chris on her Facebook Page.

And then there will be me trying my best to keep up with this auspicious company!  I will be introducing my recently published second novel, Merle, which follows on from Messandrierre and begins a few months after the end of book 1.  featuring my detective, Jacques Forêt, I will be talking a little about the location and my inspiration for the novels and reading a couple of short extracts.  But I won't be giving away the solutions to the crimes!  You can  find out more about Merle here.

It will an enthralling afternoon of politics, intrigue, crime, comedy and romance.  And to further enhance your enjoyment will be the wonderful surroundings of The Gallery, run by furniture maker, Wendy Beattie.  It is an incredible space!  Check out the website here.  Admission to the event is free and there is a café, so you can enjoy the readings with a favourite piece of cake and a cuppa.

If you are in the area, please stop by and say hello.  The Gallery is on Britannia Road, Slaithwaite, HD7 5HE - go through the Emporium to the door beyond and you'll find us.

Hope to see you there...