Tuesday, 19 January 2021

I'm celebrating...

... the life and work of one of my favourite authors, Patricia Highsmith...

One hundred years a go today, Mary Patricia Plangman was born in Fort Worth in Texas.  Her biological parents were both artists and they divorced just before Mary was born.  In 1924, Mary's mother married the artist Stanley Highsmith enabling Mary to become Mary Patricia Highsmith.  The family moved to New York but six years later Mary was sent back to Texas to live with her grandmother for a year.  This rift between mother and daughter never really healed and it was fictionalised in a short story called The Terrapin.
Writing as Patricia Highsmith, her first novel, Strangers on a Train, was published in 1950.  She received an award for the book from the Mystery Writers of America and, it was subsequently adapted for film to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock and released in 1951.  This story has also been adapted for stage and television.
Highsmith went on to write more than 20 novels and perhaps the most recognised are the Ripley books.  She wrote a total of five with the first one, The Talented Mr Ripley, being published in 1955 and the last one, Ripley Under Water, being published in 1991.  Three of the Ripley books were adapted for film but only one, the first one, was adapted for stage.  The Talented Mr Ripley is a script that I still have on my bookshelf.  I had a hankering to direct a production, but one of my colleagues put the play on stage instead.
Way back in 2009, all five of the Ripley books were dramatized and broadcast on BBC Radio Four.  Regrettably I missed that too!  However I do still have my copies of the novels and from time to time I find myself dipping into them to savour the fabulous prose.  I've read all five of the Ripley books more than once and I can't see me ever parting with them, as I still want to re-read them.  But then, I guess that's the magic of Highsmith's story-telling - even though I know the outcome, I'm still mesmerised by the journey through the story.
Novels were not her only contribution to the written word.  She wrote numerous short stories, essays and articles.  She also wrote some fiction for children along with a book about writing - Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction - which was published in 1966, revised in 1981 and is still available in paperback.
Her last novel, Small g: a Summer Idyll, was rejected by her usual American publishing house.  It was published in the UK shortly after her death in 1995 and it took a further nine years before the first American edition came onto the market.
In 1982 Highsmith relocated to a small village in Switzerland.  On February 4th, 1995 she died in a nearby hospital.  Her literary estate was left to the Swiss National Library in Bern.

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Long-time friend and author, Liz Reeves...

... joins me on the blog today.  Hello and thanks so much for being here.  It's been quite a while since we last chatted about writing and I know you've been very busy...

AW  So, tell me what is your current release?
LR  “Sprotbrough: An Historical Perspective including An Oral History: From Rural Estate to Real Estate 1925-1964”
This is basically the story of the village I was born and grew up in from pre-history to the end of the time period stated in the title.  In 1925, the Sprotbrough Estate, which is 3 miles outside Doncaster in South Yorkshire, covering 3,627 acres, was sold following the double deaths of Lord and Lady Copley and the fact that their heir, Lord Cromwell, didn’t feel able to pay the double death duties due and maintain the estate.  At that time there were only 343 residents living in the village, their homes and livelihoods being dependant on the estate.  During the sale, entrepreneurs purchased large tracts of land and building began.  By 1965 the population had risen to 1014 and, when farmers began to sell land for more residential building in the 1960s and 70s, several new housing estates sprang up within the village bringing many more residents.
It therefore seemed important to capture the stories of those who were still alive, or who had family memories of that time, for future generations and newer residents who knew very little, if anything, about ‘their’ village.  After over a year of meetings, interviews and writing, the 186 page book has just been launched.
AW  What first got you into writing?
LR  I never set out to be a writer or gave it any thought whatsoever.  Though I disliked making up stories for essays, English was perhaps one of my better subjects at school so I decided to train as a Secretary. I had several long-term jobs, during which I gained lots of background information regarding medicine, education, psychology and theology.  I had also started a community project and struggled with my son’s new-age traveller lifestyle, resulting in his leaving home at 16, going missing for several years, being homeless, dependent on drugs and death at 47. 
However, at 50, having been reunited with my son in Gibraltar, I felt compelled to write something for the family and “Two Lives” was eventually brought to life in 2010.  Several other personal memoirs followed, all of which were published on Amazon.  My real concern in writing has been to come to terms with the happenings in my own life, by recording actual events, which I hoped might inform, interest or be of help to others.
After returning home to Lower Sprotbrough from Derbyshire in December 2002, I involved myself in local issues and became secretary to the Don Gorge Community Group.  Some years later, I was asked by Amberley Publishing to write “River Don: from Source to Sea”, which was published in 2014.
AW  Famous authors, such as Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas, had a special space for writing.  Do you have a writing ‘shed’ of your own.
LR  No, I don’t.  I don’t have any particular method of writing either.  I have an idea of what I want to write about and usually start with the Preface, setting out what I expect to cover.
As everything I write is from experience, the ideas will have been going round in my head for a long time anyway, so I just begin.  I edit as I go along, but once a book is ’finished’ I will read it through and note any inconsistences or things to re-check.  Rarely do I ask anyone else to read through for me, I just trust my own judgement.  My Sprotbrough book was slightly different because I was representing the lives of so many others, so each person was asked to read their part and two other people read the whole thing before it was published.  I self-published and just employed a printing company to print 300 copies.
AW  Finally, what would your eight-year-old self think of, and say about, you today?
LR  I don’t think she would have thought or said anything very much about her future.  I think she was a very quiet and naïve child who had a wonderful childhood, roaming the woods and playing on the farm with the many children and young people who lived alongside in the tiny hamlet of Lower Sprotbrough on the side of the River Don.  Her father was killed in a road accident at Christmas time when she was ten and her grandfather who lived with the family died on bonfire night when she was twelve, so I think life was more about getting through rather than having any idealistic notions of her future.  Now that she has grown into me, she is absolutely amazed at the wonderful things she has done and the life she has lived for nearly 77 years, despite all its tragedies and disappointments.
 
You can follow Liz on Amazon
You can get the book by contacting Liz at  soh.lizreeve@gmail.com

Sunday, 10 January 2021

Another year and...

 ... another lockdown.  But at least we can  be a bit more optimistic, I think, as a number of vaccines are available to us.  Despite the current confinement, I can see a light at the end of the tunnel and I'm going to focus on that...


This year we are beginning with a visit to the blog from a long-time friend and fellow author - Liz Reeves.  She's been writing for many years and has a number of books under her belt.  I feel very priviliged that she will be with us on Tuesday.  Liz will be the first of a number of visiting authors.

I will be continuing with book reviews every so often on here and will be starting with a book about Paris - a little gem that I happened upon by accident.  Watch this space!

There will be news about my own book, which will be published in March along with articles about the story, the location and the new characters.  

I will be taking trips along the canals of France and letting you know about little pieces of history and interesting facts as I trundle around the country.  And I will be taking you on strolls through favourite towns and villages - I have no doubt that pâtisserie will feature along the way!

There will be appropriate literary celebrations too.  For instance, in September it will be the 700th anniversary of  the death of the Italian poet, Dante.  I have a special post for that event.  In the not so distant future, I will be celebrating the work of Patricia Highsmith. Highsmith is a favourite author of mine and I hope you will be able to join me on January 19th for that little shindig!

... keep safe and well everyone and let's continue to look forward...

Monday, 28 December 2020

Just because it's Twixmas...

... I have a little tale of Christmas magic for you...

In a place so very far north from here, you will find a vast house of ice and snow where Mr and
Mrs Claus and their many helpers live and work. One of those helpers is Esme. Now, there’s something very magical and very special about Mr and Mrs Claus. And there’s something a little bit magical about Esme, too.
One day, early in December Mrs Claus summoned Esme to her office at the head of the vast workshop. 
“Esme, I have a very important and special task for you this year. I am suspending you from all toy manufacturing duties—” 
“But I haven’t fin—” 
Mrs Claus held up her hand. “There will be no buts, and it was Mr Claus himself who suggested that you would be the right person for this particular assignment.” 
Esme didn’t like leaving her work half-done. But as it was Mr Claus who had suggested her for this task, whatever it was, then she would do it. And she would do it willingly. Esme sat up straight on the stool and waited to hear her fate. 
“Now let me see,” said Mrs Claus as she shuffled through Emse’s personnel file. “Last year you were at number 52. This year I’m sending you to number 79, and I want you to go today. 
“But it’s not yet Christmas Eve, Mrs C.” 
Mrs Claus peered over her spectacles and lowered her voice. “You have an especially difficult task this year, I’m afraid. Christmas has been kidnapped at number 79.” Mrs Claus pursed her lips. 
“Kidnapped,” Esme frowned. “How can Christmas be kidnapped?” 
Mrs Claus raised an eyebrow. “I can assure you we have a hostage situation at number 79. Now,” Mrs Claus rested her forearms on her vast desk. “I need you there within the hour Esme.” 
Esme slipped off the stool and straightened her green pinafore dress. 
“Leave it to me,” she said. Shoulders back Esme marched out of the office and along the workshop floor to her bench. She toed her rucksack out from under her stool and slung it over her shoulder. Her hat pulled down over her ears Esme made her way to the great ice door. A wish in her mind and the vast door opened. Esme stepped out into the snow and ice. Taking a deep breath of fresh air, she waited for a wind and stepped onto its tail. 
Moments later, Esme bumped to a hard landing. When she looked around, all she could see was blackness. Nothing but blackness on all sides of her. 
“Oh no, they haven’t, have they?” She reached out her hand to touch a wall. When she looked at her fingers, they were all covered in soot. 
“Damn it! They’ve blocked up the chimney.” Esme reached up to the sky and wished herself elsewhere. Perched on a branch of the ornamental cherry tree in the front garden Esme looked for an open window. She spotted one on the first floor. In an instant, she found herself standing on the edge of the washbasin. 
“Perfect. I can use that flannel to get rid of this awful black stuff.” Free of the soot she pulled herself up to her full two inches of height and wished herself to dust. She swirled through the house until she settled on the stone hearth. 
“Ah,” she said as her eyes played over the carefully arranged logs in the space that had once been a fireplace. “They’ve gone all Hygge. Must warn Mr C about that.” 
As she turned to move to another room, she heard the sound of crying from somewhere at the back. In the kitchen, she looked out of the window. By the shed at the bottom of the garden was a little boy. Esme made a circle in the air. Pictures flashed by. A birth. Happiness. Six Christmases and birthdays. An accident. Sadness and finally, a new home. 
Esme wiped a tear from her eye. She turned intending to go to the fireplace and call up the chimney but changed her mind. The messages would be too muffled. She closed her eyes and thought of Mrs C. 
“You must do whatever it takes, Esme,” came the reply. 
“Whatever it takes,” she said to herself. She clasped her hands together, a deep frown on her forehead. “It’s breaking the rules,” she whispered to herself. An echo of Mrs C’s voice came to her on a light breeze from the open back door. Esme took a breath, willed herself to dust and slipped under the front door and round to the quiet alley behind the house. There she willed herself to human. 
From the back wall of number 79, Esme could see the little boy. He was seven years old and still sobbing. 
“Hello, why are you crying?” 
“Go away,” said the boy. 
“No,” said Esme as she slipped off the wall and into the boy’s garden. “I want to know why you’re crying?” 
The boy looked up. “My auntie Jo has kidnapped my Christmas tree and locked it in the shed. I’ve been saving my pocket money for months so I could buy it.” 
Oh well that’s easy, thought Esme. I can magic… no I can’t I’m being human. She frowned at her stupidity. “I can pick locks,” she offered instead. 
“Won’t matter. Auntie Jo says Santa Claus is a judgemental old man. She even tweeted about it and got hundreds and hundreds of new followers.” 
“Judgemental?” 
The boy looked up, his face streaked with tears, his eyes red and swollen. 
Esme wanted to hug him, but she’d seen all the briefings from Mr C about the parlous state of affection in the UK because of some nasty virus. She knew it wouldn’t be acceptable. 
“Auntie Jo says it’s not appropriate for an old man to decide if children are naughty or nice and to reward only the nice ones. She says it’s… She says it’s, umm, oh, long division or something.” 
Esme thought for a moment. “I think what your Aunt might have said was that rewarding only nice children with presents was divisive.” 
The boy scraped his hands across his grubby face. “Yeah, something like that. I’m Matthew, what’s your name?” 
“Esme. Look, Matthew, I can help you bring Christmas to your house if you want?” 
“How? Do you do miracles or something?” He stood up, hands in his trouser pockets and stared at her. 
“No,” said Esme. “But I can do magic.” She wished herself back to her real self. 
“What?” Matthew spun around. “Where are you?” 
“I’m right here,” said Esme as she hovered in the air the appropriate distance from Matthew’s nose. “Now, do you want me to help you with Christmas or not?” 
The boy nodded. Esme swooped to the top of the wall and sat down. She pulled off her rucksack and began ferreting around inside. From her pack, she took a tiny little cotton bag. 
Into it she whispered a wish and quickly tied the strings. With the tiny bag between her hands, she made another wish. 
“Listen and listen very carefully. I will open my hands, and this little bag of wishes will float in the air. The minute I do that you must catch the bag in both hands and keep it safe. As soon as you can, put it under your Aunt’s pillow and leave it there. When she wakes up tomorrow morning, she will be thinking about Christmas. That’s when you must ask her about the tree and the presents. If you don’t ask, the idea will quickly fade away and be gone forever.” 
Matthew nodded. A bright smile spread across his face. 
“Are you ready?” 
“Yes and I’ll do it exactly as you said.” 
Esme smiled. “One last thing,” she said. “It’s not Santa Claus who is judgemental; it’s parents. Parents invented the naughty and nice lists as a means of controlling unruly children. SantaClaus doesn’t need a naughty or nice list. Santa is kind to everyone.” 
“Really?” 
“Really. Now are you ready, Matthew?” 
Hands outstretched ready to take possession of the bag of wishes, Matthew nodded. Esme
opened her hands, and the tiny cotton bag dropped into Matthew’s waiting left hand. He instantly placed his right hand over it and ran into the house. 
Two weeks later, Esme took up her station at the top of Matthew and Auntie Jo’s tree. When Mr Claus appeared on Christmas Eve, he gave Esme a wink. 
As Mr C made his way back up the now cleared chimney and fireplace, Esme winced. She had completely forgotten to replace the large purple Lurex patch at the back of his trousers. 

If you would like to read more Christmas tales you can find them Here  Here and Here

Saturday, 26 December 2020

An offer you really can’t refuse…

… I hope!

Just because it is Twixmas, I’m offering e-copies of my book, Merle for FREE this weekend.

This is the second book in the Jacques Forêt Mystery series. In this story Jacques finds himself invovled in 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 the 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. 
But who is behind it all…and why?

Here’s what the reviewers said...
 
Author, Pam C Golden labelled Merle ‘…an intriguing puzzle’ and ‘an excellent read’ that she ‘…would highly recommend.’

Crime writer, Nicola Slade thought that as ‘…the BBC has given us a wide selection of tv detective dramas… the career of Jacques Forêt would make a great addition to them. Producers please take note!’

United States reviewer, Pia, dubbed the book ‘amazing’adding that it’s ‘as good as the first and worth… the wait.’

You can get the book Here

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Merry Christmas...




That time of year has come around yet again.  It seems to come round more quickly these days.  As a child, I remember waiting interminably for Christmas to arrive.  Which makes no sense as time is a constant and a month, week or day back then still took just as long to pass as they do now!

It's been an unusual year - to say the least.  But, if my blog has entertained or informed or just plain chased the boredom away for a moment or two, then please accept my most sincere thanks for reading my words.  To readers of my books, I would like to convey my very grateful thanks.  Reviewers, thank you for reading my books and then taking some of your very precious time to let me know what you think.  Your comments and thoughts - positive or negative - are always read, considered and, if I can, are acted upon. Your input is greatly appreciated.

So, as I take a break over this festive season, I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, if you celebrate the season as such.  And to those who do not, may I offer my very best wishes to you and yours.



I will be back in the New Year with my first post for 2021 on January 12th, so watch this space...