Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Interview with an Artist...

Just recently, I had the very great pleasure of spending the day with a long-time friend of mine.  As we were travelling by train to our destination, and a leisurely lunch followed by a play, we discussed a number of issues ranging from art to honesty.  But it was the debate about art that has kept creeping back into my mind.

My friend, who knows I’m writing this post but wishes to remain anonymous, so we’ll call her C for ease of reference, is an artist.  She produces lovely scenic views in watercolour but also likes to work with acrillic paints.  I happen to be the very proud owner of one of her watercolours of a village in France and it hangs in my lounge.

But – the conversation! It has stayed with me because I have realised that her talent for drawing and painting is not so very different from my own capability to spin words.  You see, we’d got to the nitty gritty of how she put what she could see in front of her onto a piece of paper.  ‘There’s a spontaneity about watercolour,’ she said. ‘You have to work quite fast.’  And later she said, ‘Washes are good for sky and the changes in the density of the colour can suggest the clouds, for instance.’

As the discussion progressed I was reminded of a time some years ago when we sat in balcony area of The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond and I made a comment about how to reproduce on paper the people opposite. ‘I would look at the light and the dark,’ she said.  ‘And the shades in between.’  On the train, she talked about recreating the colours on the paper which helped her to suggest shadow and light, depth and detail.

She then looked out of the train window at the houses we were passing and talked about finding a small detail of particular interest, an arrangement of brickwork, a lintel across a window or door, perhaps a fracture in the stone, anything of interest.  ‘I focus on that and draw it,’ she said.  ‘Once I’ve got that small detail I can add in the surrounding features and expand the picture.’

It was at this point I realised that, although C is a gifted artist and I’m only a spinner of words, we are not so very different after all.  As a reader, I never look at blurbs on the backs of books to help me decide if I want to read them.  I always turn to the first page and start reading and if I can’t see the colours in the writing after the first couple of paragraphs, the book goes back on the shelf.  And it’s the same when I’m sat in front of my computer screen.  If I can’t see the scene in my mind’s eye in full and glorious technicolour, then the words won’t be there.

I guess C and I just use our ability to see colour in different ways.  I did suggest to C that she become one of my interviewees for this blog – but she said no.  Asked would she consider making some of her pictures available for my blog.  And you guessed it, she said no.  So, to illustrate this particular post, I’m afraid you will have to put up with a couple of pieces of art that hang on my walls.  I hope yoiu like them.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Introducing Merle, the next Jacques Forêt mystery story...

... Over the last 18 months or so I’ve been busily writing book 2 in my Jacques Forêt series of stories.  The book is complete and is in the final stages of editing and I thought you might want to know a little more about it.

The old town of Mende
Merle, like its predecessor, Messandrierre, is set in the Cévennes in the south of France.  The title of this story is a real French word, unlike Messandrierre, which is a corruption of the name of a real place.  It means blackbird, but it is also used as a girl’s Christian name and as a surname. Capitaine Mathieu Merle, being one famous, or perhaps more accurately, infamous holder of the surname.  Mathieu Merle (1548-1587) was a Huguenot captain who was feared during the religious wars in France.  But he spent some time in Mende, the préfecture city of the département of Lozère.  A city that features in this story and where my fictitious suburb of Merle is located.

In Messandrierre, the story followed Jacques as he unravelled a police investigation into the mysterious disappearances of travellers to the tiny village of Messandrierre.  At the end of that story, Jacques had a decision to make and his love interest, Beth Samuels, had some serious thinking of her own to do.

Merle begins a few months after the end of the first book and...

Jacques Forêt, a former gendarme turned investigator, delves into the murky world of commercial sabotage – a place where people lie and misrepresent, and where information is traded and used as a threat.

The Vaux organisation is losing contracts and money, and Jacques is asked to undertake an internal investigation. As he works through the complexity of all the evidence, he finds more than he bargained for, and his own life is threatened.

When a body of a woman is found, it appears to be suicide. But as the investigation takes another turn, Jacques suspects there is more to it. 

Who is behind it all…and why? Will Jacques find the answer before another person ends up dead?

And here is a little taster from the very beginning of the story.

la fête des morts

   It was the tightly scrunched ball of paper that captured the attention of Magistrate Bruno Pelletier. His trained eyes swept around the room, only glancing at the naked body in the bath, and came to rest once more on the small, ivory-white mass, challenging and silent against the solid plain porcelain of the tiles. He stepped over the large pool of dried blood, iron red against the white of the floor, and, with gloved hands, he retrieved the object. Carefully prising the paper back into its customary rectangular shape, he stared at the contents and frowned as he read and re-read the single six-word sentence printed there.
    “Je sais ce que tu fais”
    After a moment, he dropped it into an evidence bag being held open for him by the pathologist.
    all hallows’ eve, 2009

Merle is published on July 5th and is available for pre-order  Merle

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Please welcome friend and author…

… Joanne Mallory.  Great to see you Joanne and thanks for finding time in your busy schedule to be here.

JM  Many thanks to you for inviting me over.
AW  I’m intrigued, Joanne.  You’ve got a new book coming out soon.  What’s that all about?
JM   I’d like to chat with you today about writerly things…
AW  OK.  You’ve got my attention!
JM   I’m a fiction writer – a romance, fiction writer no less.   Now this has been known (from time to time) to give a writer a bad name.  You see romance writers tend to get labelled for writing fluffy, chic lit, formula fiction or, my personal favourite; bodice rippers, and we get, well, written off, as not being able to do anything else.  Which kind’a narks me, because writing is hard, in all it’s forms, and all its genres.  I recently read a post (on Instagram) that said “Non-fiction writers have it easy…”
And I just want to clear up a myth here; No writer has it easy.  We just write what works best for us, as best we can.
AW  I couldn’t agree more!  I’ve tried writing romance myself and I found it especially difficult, for many different reasons, so I turned to crime, my current genre of novels.
JM   I write romance because I love the happy ending, life is confusing and sometimes cruel, hence I like my fiction to be of the warm and fuzzy kind – sue me.
But I’ve taken on a non-fiction project this year, I mentioned to my publisher that I could put lots of marketing tips in one place, and design the book around ‘cheap as possible ways to help writers organically grow their audience.’
And let me tell you, it was TOUGH.  I’m used to being able to switch up the plot and lead my heroine on a merry dance, but non-fiction is a whole different animal.  I checked and double checked my facts, putting as much information down on the page as possible, covering as many platforms as I could, and do you know what I was left with?
AW  I can guess, but tell me anyway.
JM  A dry text -- dry like the Sahara, with reams and reams of instructive, yawn inducing information. Now, stay with me here, because I’m going to tell you how I made it better in the hope that you might like to buy a copy…
AW  OK, let us in on the secret then…
JM  Saving this book-baby was going to take more than a little jiggery-pokery – It needed a full-on Frankenstein!   So, I went back to methods I hadn’t used since Uni; I printed the whole lot off, took a black Sharpie and a red pen and attacked it.
The manuscript looked like the remains of a horror victim by the time I’d finished with it.  All that was left was a few chapter headings and some ideas, and thus started the beginning of what is now the finished project.  It took lots (and lots) of runs to get the content to a place where the text, (hopefully) has a humorous tone, so that the reader (hopefully) feels like they are having a personal chat about their on-line self, and how they can make it work better for them.
I wrote Building An Author Platform and filled it with all the simple things I wished I’d have known when I first started, it would have saved me so much time.
AW  Thinking back to my first book… the number of times I said to myself, ‘I wish I had known that sooner’… So, I get that!  And what’s happening next?
JM  If you’re interested in finding out more, I’m having an on-line launch on Facebook on the 19th of
May, where I’ll be giving lots of tips and tricks on author marketing. Just click Joanne's Launch Event  to 
come along.

AW  Thanks Joanne, I will be at the theatre on the 19th, but I will certainly drop in at some point during the day.  I hope it goes well and thanks for being here today.

Joanne’s book Building an Author Platform is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Edinburgh, Robert Louis Stevenson and Me...

... Last weekend I was in Edinburgh for the Crime Writers' Association Conference - and what a fantastic event that was too!

Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities and whilst I was there I could not help but take advantage of any spare time to go and visit the Writers Museum which is located in a small secluded close just off the Royal Mile.  Lady Stair's House, as the museum is known, is worth a look before you go in.  The small door, the round turret above that houses the spiral staircase, the blonde stone of the lintels and windows against the darker and more varied  stone of the walls.  It's an  amazing piece of 17th century architecture.

Built in 1622 for Sir William Gray of Pittendrum it was a family home for many generations.  Lady Stair, Elizabeth Dundas, was the grand daughter of Sir William Gray, who married John Dalrymple, the first Earl of Stair.  She purchased the house in 1719 and lived there all her life.  By the end of the 19th century, the house had fallen into disrepair and was due for demolition.  However, the Earl of Rosebery, a descendant of the Lady Stair's first husband, bought the property, restored, renovated and gifted it to the city in 1907.  It first opened as a museum in 1913 and became the Writers' Museum in the 1960's.

Some of my Stevenson
The Writers celebrated by the museum are Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.  As much as I like the work of Burns and Scott, it's Stevenson that really brought me to the museum.  The rooms dedicated to Burns are interesting, if you want to see his sword-stick or a plaster cast of his skull. OK.  I'm more interested in the three pictures on the wall on the left as you enter the room.  A small, but colourful, scene from Tam O'Shanter, an engraving that depicts a scene from 'Tea a Moose' (To a Mouse of 'tim'rous beastie' fame) and a coloured engraving entitled 'Death and Dr Hornbeam'.  The rooms dedicated to Burns have equally interesting bits and pieces in them.

Downstairs are the Stevenson rooms.  The toy theatre, similar to one he would have played with as a child immediately captured my attention.  Considering my background in real theatre, I suppose that's not so surprising is it?  But its his wardrobe that is the most fascinating item to me.  It was built by a man called Deacon Brodie (1741-1788), a cabinet-maker, respectable tradesman and city councillor by day and a gambler, womaniser and thief by night.  Following a robbery from the Excise Office and Deacon's double-dealing, his thieving companions turned him in to the authorities.  He was tried and sentenced to hang.  But, Brodie would have no truck with that and he supposedly struck a deal with the hangman, to use a short rope, to leave him hanging for as short a time as possible and, to protect his neck he wore a metal collar under his shirt.  Did he get away or not was the question that seemed to attract everyone else's attention.

Not me!  I was left wondering if, little Robbie, alone in his room in the dark, thought about the maker of that wardrobe and perhaps 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' was born.  But then there's that scene in 'The Master of Ballantrae' where one of the brothers, thought long dead is resurrected from his grave only to apparently die again.  I was intrigued.  But then I remembered something from my own childhood, being awoken and frightened in the middle of the night by the door of my wardrobe
Edinburgh Skyline
suddenly swinging open.  Robbie's wardrobe in the museum was firmly locked.  But, perhaps one dark, damp Edinburgh night it too had swung open and maybe provided the inspiration for the tale 'The Sire Maletroit's Door.'  As I moved round the display cases and looked at the objects, other stories popped into my head - 'The Rajah's Diamond', 'The Wrong box', The Body Snatchers'.  There seemed to me to be something in the items on display that connected with each of these fantastic tales.  
Hmm... I guess I now know what I will be reading over the summer!

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

I'm reviewing 'The Snowman'...

... by Jo Nesbo

This in one of the Detective Harry Hole stories and a first for me.  So, as usual, I’m reading the series from the middle rather than from the beginning.

The narrative moves about in time, which I found a little tiresome as I did have to flick back to previous chapters from time to time.  The story begins in November 1980 and specific snippets of information are held in this scene, but their importance does not become apparent until much later in the story.

The plotting is incredible with twists and turns in the police investigation that kept me on the edge of my seat right the way through to the very end of its 550 pages.  However, despite the excellent plotting, I found the pace a bit pedestrian.  Even the chase and the final capture scenes, seemed to me, to be less than break-neck speed.

I liked all of the characters, even the baddy!  They were all very well drawn with their own individual idiosyncrasies, strengths and weaknesses.  It was easy to identify with them and understand their choices.  The central character, Harry Hole, I found particularly interesting.  He carries emotional scars, he has a history and he’s a brilliant policeman, all of which adds up to an engaging lead character.  So engaging, that you can forgive him his failings.

As this is book 7 in a series of 11 novels, there are references to past cases and previous incidents involving Harry and a couple of the other characters.  Whilst the connections were made clear, I still felt as though I had not fully understood the real significance of the referrals to the other stories.  But then, I will insist on starting a series of books in the middle, won’t I?

An absolutely brilliant read and I will be reading all the rest of these books, but in the right order!

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
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

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Friend and author, Ailsa Abraham, requires...

… your attention, please...

AW  Thanks for dropping by, Ailsa, it’s nice to catch up with you again.  I believe you have a new book out, actually released on Friday.  Tell me more.
AA  Thank you for inviting me.  My new book is a departure from my previous series in magical realism.  Here I take off on a murder mystery.
AW  Mmm, that is different. Can you tell me why?
AA   Erm... limited attention span?  Love of variety?  But as you said ‘Attention to Death’ was released on 10th March and you can find it here on Amazon using this universal link  http://mybook.to/AttentionDeath  I’m also very pleased to say that it has received some fabulous comment already :

"In Attention to Death, Ailsa Abraham pulls off something I wouldn't have thought possible - a steamy romance with a twist of murder and a splash of social conscience. A remarkable book that will have you turning pages as quickly as you can to find out what happens next."
~ India Drummond, author of the Caledonia Fae series

AW  Praise indeed, well done.  Can you give us some idea of what the story is about?
AA   Here’s the blurb.

Finding a murderer among a group of killers is not going to be easy for two Royal Army Military Police investigators, Captain Angus Simpson and Staff-Sergeant Rafael ‘Raff’ Landen, whose Christmas leave is cancelled for an investigation into a suspicious death on a base in Germany.
The case is further complicated by unhelpful senior officers who make pre-judgements on colour, creed, race and sexuality. Yet the insight of the investigators helps them uncover a sinister plot, although they too have something to hide: their own fledgling relationship.
Will Angus and Raff be able to solve the murder without giving away their secret?
The best and worst of human nature is represented in this story, which is why it is suggested for over 18s only.

AW  That must have taken a lot of research.
AA  I delved into my past life as an officer in the Royal Air Force and my lifelong friendships with gay men to research this book.  Coming right after LGBT History Month in February, it highlights the problems that men who have to be “in the closet” and the sort of bigotry that causes people to refuse to read a book just because there are gay characters in it, although this doesn't stop them leaving reviews.  Me? I've never been too sure.  I'm gender-neutral which is why the first thing I wonder on meeting new people isn't “What do they do in their bedrooms?”
Read it for yourself and decide.  Is it an honest portrayal of two men doing their job who just happen to have started an affair?

About the author… Ailsa Abraham is the author of six novels.  Alchemy is the prequel to Shaman's Drum, published by Crooked Cat in January 2014.  Both are best-sellers in their genres on Amazon.  She also writes mystery romance.
She has lived in France since 1990 and is now naturalized French.  She enjoys knitting and crochet and until recently was the oldest Hell's Angel in town.  Her interests include campaigning for animal rights, experimenting with different genres of writing and trips back to the UK to visit friends and family.  She is also addicted to dressing up, saying that she is old enough to know better but too wise to care and pirate gear is her favourite!

You can follow Ailsa on Twitter  Facebook  Website  and  LinkedIn