Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Walking in Agatha's footsteps...

…I'm not running with my planned post today, as I have something far more interesting to talk about…

At the end of last month I was able to pay a visit to Greenway, in Devon.  This is the location of the fabulous house and gardens owned by Dame Agatha Christie.  If you follow this blog regularly you will undoubtedly have gathered that Agatha is one of my favourite writers.  You might also have picked up, if you've attended one of my occasional talks, that I first discovered Agatha's books at the age of about 11, and having read the first book went on to read all the rest.  So, I can honestly say that Agatha and her characters have been with me most of my life.  I still re-read her stories and, if pressed, I would have to admit that it was Agatha that got me into this crime-writing thing.
My trip to Greenway was done in a style that fully befitted the books and their author - check out the bus that my fellow travellers and I used to get there!  The house sits in the centre of beautifully planted gardens, which you can meander around.  I wanted to see the house first.
There's been a property of one sort or another on this land since the early 16th century.  Back then it was a Tudor mansion.  The house that sits here today was built in the 18th century and has since been expanded and added to over the years.  Agatha and her second husband, Max Mallowen, bought the place in 1938 to use as a holiday home.  During the 1939/45 conflict the house was taken over and used by the US Coastguard.  It became the family's again in the second half of the 1940's.
Greenway, gifted to the nation by the family, is now looked after by the National Trust and is kept in wonderful condition.  As I moved from room to room, it felt as though Agatha had just left, or was about to appear around the next corner or at the top of the stairs.  The chair and table in her spacious bedroom are there, just as she left them.  It was here that she would write when in Devon.  The library is full of her books and as I scanned the shelves I saw a complete set of what may have been arcs for her romantic suspense stories written under the name of Mary Westmacott.  I was itching to take those books off the shelf and look inside. And, if I'm totally honest, what I really wanted to do was to take all of those books and run off with them!  But I didn't.
As you move through the house there are small radios set on tables or shelves and you can hear Christie's voice as she talks about her life and her work.  It's as though you are listening to a current radio program on which she is being interviewed live.  It also makes you believe that if you walk into the next room, she will be there waiting for you.
I spent more than an hour meandering through the house, standing at the windows looking out at the garden, just as she must have done.  The rest of the afternoon was spent sauntering through the gardens, looking at the plants and flowers; the air scented with wild garlic here, the fabulous colours of the camellia borders there and the blue and yellow of the banks of bluebells and primroses. There's no wonder she believed Greenway to be 'the loveliest place in the world'…

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Off my Beaten Track in Sao Vicente…

North coast, looking towards Sao Vicente
…today and I'm taking a bus ride along the coast road.  Come and join me…

I was up early and breakfast at the hotel in Ponta Delgada was peaceful and quiet.  But, as I can't afford to miss the bus, I didn't linger, as much as I would have liked to have done.
The stop is right outside the hotel.  As I get there I see a little girl dressed from head to foot in pink with a matching rucksack and purse. The latter adorned with sequins.  She's about 6 or 7 years-old, I think, and at first I wonder where her parents are and why they are not here with her.  It becomes quite clear that she knows the crack and I suppose that on an island as small as this, out of the city she's very probably quite safe.  It also transpires that being early for the local transport is the right thing to do.
The bus, an aging volvo that looks as though its best years were more than 2 decades ago, arrives with a cloud of exhaust fumes.  Miss gets on and greets the driver and flashes some sort of card.  Me next and I buy my ticket.  A whole €1.95 for the trip.  Seated and the bus sets off at warp speed.  Round the tight bends along what tiny bit of straight there is available and up hill and down dale, gear lever crunching through the box determinedly.  I have to hang onto the seat in front.  The journey might only be fifteen minutes but it's a quarter of an hour of a stomach-churning fright-fest.  I was pleased when we arrived and I could set my feet on solid ground.
In Sao Vicente just about everyone gets off at the stop in the town's central parking area.  The sun is bright and the blast of heat that hits you as you step off the bus is tempered by the cooler air blowing on-shore from the Atlantic.
The town is tiny (population around 3,000) and as I meander through the shady cobbled streets there seems to be no-one here.  The earliest habitation here dates from the middle of the 15th century.  On the north coast of Madeira, the river valleys are deep with steep escarpments on either side, making living, building and farming more difficult.  The land is rugged and the earth a dark grey.
I take a stroll along the very short esplanade, which could be anywhere.  At one side is the sea, the other a small line of a couple of restaurants, a bar or two, an ice cream parlour, and a churros & pizza place.  The beach is nothing but pebbles of all sizes in a myriad shades of grey.  The sea lashes at the protecting walls and rolls the pebbles back and forth on a palette of charcoal, the rocks and stones gradually worn into tiny particles of black sand.  It's the sheer, and enormous, rock wall on the inner side of the esplanade that reminds you that this is Madeira and nowhere else.  I think the tide is permanently in - no gradual drift back and forth across the long, soft, golden sand of a gently inclined beach.
Back into town and the  cemetery is across a narrow alleyway from the church.  Inside the stations of the cross are paintings, the walls and ceiling are decorated with murals and painted patterns, the retable is as ornate as the one in Ponta Delgada and I'm in awe of the sheer opulence of the place in such a tiny village.
Leaving the cool of the church behind, I step out into the sun and wander through the town centre.  I wish some of my usual haunts at home were as peaceful and as quiet as this place. 
As I meander back towards the bus stop, I see my bus screeching around the corner and out onto the bridge across the estuary.  When I check my watch I realise the bus is 15 minutes early, according to my timetable. I check the time of the next one - it's a two hour wait.  When I compare the timetable, with the info I picked up at the hotel, there seems to be very little correlation.  Not that the driver seems to pay much attention to any of the timetables either!
At the bus stop I'm joined by two other travellers (one Dutch and one Polish) and a local.  We debate the expected arrival of the next bus and the local man gets out his phone and calls the bus company.  There's a fast and furious conversation in Portugese. I haven't a clue of what's being said.  Finally, the man ends his call.
'No bus', he says. 'Only at four'.
I ask about the bus for Ponte Delgada. 'At one', he says and holds up a finger to make sure I understand.  I thank him and decide to go for a beer.  There's a bar with tables and chairs outside just across from the stop.  Ideal, I think, just in case the bus turns up unexpectedly early!
Twenty minutes later and a yellow taxi pulls up.  'Ponte Delgada', the driver shouts. 'You want to come, it's 12 euros'. He already has one passenger and I gulp down the remains of my beer.  As my fare would be the second for the same journey,  I say '10 euros' and hold up the relevant note.  He nods and I accept his offer of a lift.  The journey back is even more of a stomach-churning fright-fest - this driver knows all the short-cuts along the narrowest of streets.  Don't you just love little adventures like these…

If you enjoyed this post, you might also find my little adventure in Ponta Delgada interesting.

You can also find me #OffMyBeatenTrack in Verona and on the island of Sicily


Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Please welcome, friend and author, Johannah Spero...

...to the blog this week.  Hello Johannah and thanks for being here today.  Tell me about your new thriller, The Secret Cure.  I believe it's a departure from your most recent mystery/thriller Boy series...

JS  My Boy series, while definitely including mystery elements, is a gut-wrenching emotional read, which is unusual for traditional thrillers.  The Secret Cure has that gritty, dark undercurrent with a definite twist, which fits the thriller trope.  Both are definitely character-driven as opposed to plot-driven, which is the only way I know how to build a story.
AW  When plotting a thriller, do you complete a full outline beforehand or do you let your characters take you on a surprise journey?
JS  I know plotting an outline is a safer way to go, but I’ve never been a plotter.  Once I grab a hold of a high concept for a novel, I brainstorm characters and scenes in my journal…and then I go for it.  Unfortunately, this usually leads to some heavy revisions.  I changed the ending of The Secret Cure maybe 3 or 4 times and killed some darlings (literally!) in the process.  But I’m psyched at how it turned out.
AW  You mention high-concept ideas.  What was the inspiration for the book?
JS
  When my husband and I were at a resort in Sicily five years ago, we witnessed a man toggle between his foxy mistress on the beach and his handicapped wife at the pool.  The story idea came to me in a lightning bolt moment: The wife secretly gets better in order to get revenge on her two-timing husband.
AW  What other genres do you write besides thriller?
JS   I aim to write the type of book I like to read.  Thrillers are appealing because, if done well, are addictive page-turners.  Who doesn’t like to read those?  But I also like sinking my teeth into thought-provoking issues, which I try to sneak into my stories.  I have written in other genres (urban fantasy, for instance), but I’d like to think they all have a compelling element that keeps you turning the pages, dying to see what happens next.
AW  What was your first job and what other jobs have you held?
JS  My first job, believe it or not, was as a professional actress at a local Equity theatre.  At 13, I was cast as Laurie in Brighton Beach Memoirs.  The show ran for 4 months, 6 days a week.  It was a life-shaping experience, for sure.  After college, I put my English degree to work (ha,ha) at a website design company through the 90s, riding the dot-com wave.  At the turn of the century, I went back for my Masters and then taught high school English for about a decade.  After my third son was born, I began writing full time.  I love it.

about the author… Johannah’s writing career took off when her
first release, Catcher’sKeeper, was a finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in 2013.  Her small town mystery series has won similar acclaim.  Boy on Hold won 2020 IPPY Gold for Best Mystery/Thriller ebook and Boy Released was a 2021 Indies Today Finalist.  Her YA fantasy series, Forte, is also a multiple award winner, and is the topic of classroom visits in schools across the country. Having lived in various cities from St. Petersburg (Russia) to Boston, she now lives with her family in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York, where she was born and raised.
about the book…She’s getting better. He has no clue. That’s exactly the way she wants it.  To pull off the perfect revenge, her cure has to remain a secret…
In her mid-30s, Rosalie Giordano is in the prime of her life.  Long saved from the manipulative hands of her mother, she’s been married to her fairy tale hero for ten blissful years.  Vincent is sweet and strong, and stunning as hell—and completely enamored of her.
Just as they begin to plan for a family, Rosalie is diagnosed with a mysterious virus that renders her temporarily paralyzed.  As days stretch to weeks, then months, she learns not only is her condition chronic, but the love of her life is having an affair.
As her health improves, a slow burn of vengeance simmers in her heart.  With the help of her homecare nurse, she regains full mobility.  While hiding the truth from her husband, she uncovers the extent of his betrayal…and learns he is not at all who he seems.  Their planned anniversary trip overseas gives her the perfect occasion for revenge.
But at the fancy Sicilian resort, Rosalie is not the only one with a score to settle with Vincent.  And in the end, she’s not the only one with blood on her hands…
 
The book is available NOW for pre-order on Amazon
 
You can follow Johannah on her Amazon page and on her Website Facebook Twitter and Instagram

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

Friend and author, Morwenna Blackwood...

...makes a very welcome return to the blog this week.  Hi, Morwenna, thanks for being here and lovely to see you again.  You're latest book was published in February, so tell me more...

MB  Underrated is the third novel in the Glasshouse series.  The novels stand alone as stories, but they are interconnected.  In Underrated, we get Will’s version of events and find out why you should never underestimate a friend...
AW  Thanks Morwenna and here is the opening of the story…

UNDERRATED

It’s like tinnitus.
The silence with Mum and Dad in the front room is deafening and all-encompassing. Dad’s pretending to read the Sunday paper, and Mum’s pretending to read the magazine that came with it. I’m scanning the free paper for cheap, second-hand cars, but the pressure in the room renders me incapable of it, so instead I stare out of the patio doors at a load of crows that are hopping about on the lawn. There’s that phrase – you could have cut the tension with a knife. In all honesty, I wish one of them would cut the other with a knife – or me, or, better still, darling Dominic – because then it would be over with. The atmosphere in here is so tense that it’s given me a blinding headache. I stand, deciding to retreat up to my cave, and the sudden movement makes the crows take flight. I wish I could just fly away. Why the f do we all go on with this charade?! I can feel myself going mental; at some point I’ll crack and then I’ll take things into my own hands and force a change. Because this is absurd. It’s pathetic. It’s f killing me!
My bedroom – I think of it as my cave – is small; a dark box with a north-facing window. Even though I’m the oldest, I got last pick – or rather no pick – of the bedrooms, but mine does have a built-in wardrobe, so that, apparently, makes everything all right. Anyway, this room is all I’ve got, so it’s my refuge.
Though I want to slam it, I close my door quietly. It doesn’t matter how loud I am – no one notices me, so I don’t bother any more. I stare out of my bedroom window onto what is probably the most uninspiring view known to man: the length of our parquet-paved cul-de-sac, with its widely spaced four-bedroom houses and their uniform lawns that run flat from the house to the kerb. All the front gardens sport the designer slash that the housing developers refer to as ‘landscaping’, which is basically a strip of clay soil planted with hardy shrubs and a rowan sapling that wears a wire mesh dress. Outside every door are the generic pansies and lobelia in pots, in varying states of health. And then there’s the big, posh house – the former show home – at the open end of the cul-de-sac, blocking out the rolling hills and anything else that might be behind it, except the main road that connects our estate to everything and everywhere else in this shitty little town, which is basically nothing and nowhere.
I can hear my younger sister, Sally, in the kitchen; her overbright voice chirping on about biscuits and essays, while she makes another f cup of tea. I want to scream at her to stop it! I grab the nearest sheet of plain A3 to me – I draw a lot, there’s stuff everywhere – and shove it up against the window...

about the book...
 I stand as close as I can to the Liver Building without looking proper weird and tip my head back. My eyes can’t focus properly, but I can make out a turquoise shape right at the top, soI mouth ’iya to Bella. I’m a bit soft on the Liver Birds. They’re 300-odd feet up in the air, so they should be able to see everything, but they’re chained down...
A story of the far-reaching effects of unrequited love and drug (ab)use, Underrated follows five lads who are just trying to make things better for themselves. In Liverpool and on the south Devon coast, their lives entangle as they turn to cocaine.
While some people take drugs to escape their circumstances, others deal drugs to escape theirs. But is escape ever really an option?

about the author... When she was six years old, Morwenna wrote an endless story about a frog, and hasn’t stopped writing since.
She is the author of bestselling noir psychological thrillers, The (D)Evolution of Us and Glasshouse, has an MA in Creative Writing, and can usually be found down by the sea. She often thinks about that frog.

You can get all of Morwenna's books on Amazon

You can follow Morwenna on her Website on Facebook  Twitter and on Instagram

Tuesday, 19 April 2022

Come stroll with me…

…across the river Loire…

I bet that's got you thinking!  I'm not going to attempt to walk on water, I'll just get wet!  But I am going to take you to the lovely town of Briare in central France in the département of Loiret.  With a population of around 6,000 it is a small town with a long history.  It was called Brivodorum when those pesky Romans were here.  As much as I would like to treat you to some of the interesting places in town, what I'm actually here for is an amazing piece of engineering.
Briare sits on the east bank of the Loire which is one of the 5 great fleuves of France, the other four being the Rhine, Rhône, Seine and the Garonne.  It's a pleasant stroll from the centre of town, along rue de St-Firmin to the river and the harbour with moorings for pleasure craft.  If you prefer to ride to the harbour, there is a petit train during the tourist season that will bring you to the same spot.
Once here you cannot escape the spectacle that is the aqueduct that carries the canal latéral à la Loire over the river.
The viaduct was completed in 1896 and replaced an earlier river crossing that could be dangerous during times of flooding.  Made of steel set above masonry abutments and piers, it was formally opened on September 16th, 1896.  At 662 meters - that's 2,172 feet in length if you prefer - it was, until 2003, the longest navigable aqueduct in the world.  At least that's what my guidebook tells me.  Standing here and watching the boats come and go you have to admire the achievement.  And, if there are a few things about the bridge that seem a little familiar, that may be because one of the great and the good who created this piece of engineering was Gustave Eiffel.  Yep, that's him, the man who built the Eiffel tower and quite a few other bits of metal in and around France before he died in 1923 at the age of 91.  Eiffel founded his construction company 1866, which still exists today and has been involved in massive projects such as the Millau viaduct (2002) and the Normandy Bridge (1995).  And what is it that might seem so familiar?  The ornamental columns that mark each end of the crossing echo the pillars of the Pont Alexandre III in Paris.
To give you some idea of the enormity of the task to create the aqueduct, the channel is 2.2 meters deep, that's just over 7 feet.  It carries about 13,000 tonnes of water and has 8 sluices which means it can be completely emptied if necessary - not sure I'd want to be here when they did that!.  Now, I'm one of those people who is not that good with numbers or abstract measurements of space.  So, a metric tonne, kind of means nothing to me.  I need to drill it down to something I can visualise.  If all that 13,000 metric tonnes of water water were converted into bottles of wine, it would come to 17,334… And, when you come to think about it, that's one seriously large shed-load of wine!

If you want to read about more about my travels in France, you may wish to join me in Falaise   Bar-sur-Seine  or in the  Cévennes 
 

Tuesday, 12 April 2022

Off my Beaten Track in Reiver country…

…again.  In February I took you to Brampton, so join me today as I take a stroll along Hadrian's Wall and visit Vindolanda.  I'm doing all things Roman for a change…


Friday, 17th


From my base at Clarks Hill Farm it's a short drive to the Wall.  No, not the Wall of George R R Martin's imagination, but the real stone wall of Emperor Hadrian.  Born in Spain in 76AD, he became Emperor at the age of 41 in 117 and he remained in power until his death at the age of 62 in July 138.  He was responsible for a number of building projects and various military victories during his lifetime, but the one thing I want to see today is his wall.

Stretching 73 miles, from coast to coast, it was built to keep out the marauding barbarians from the north and to protect the most northern frontier of the Roman Empire.  The wall took about six years to build and is thought to have been constructed between 122 and 128.  Built of stone and wood it was constructed by skilled Roman soldiers and local auxiliaries recruited along the way.  It was common in the Roman army to use men who had a secondary skill, and when you consider that being in the army got you regular pay and vittles, it's not so surprising that the Roman army was probably one of the very first ethnically diverse organisations.  I have to wonder if they had HR targets to meet or had to complete ethnicity questionnaires every so often…
There is a footpath that follows the route of the wall and as you follow it you see that there are regular forts every mile or so.  This was a vast project undertaken at a time when there was only man-, horse- and oxen-power available.  I guess you have to give the army something to do once it's done all its conquering!
Lunch today is beside the wall.  If you read my last post (check it out Here) you'll remember I found a fabulous shop in Brampton.  Yep, I couldn't resist going back and today the food on the hoof is another slice of Ullswater pie.  Scrumptious!
Lunch over and it's a short trip down the road to Vindolanda.  This is a working archaeological site.  It was originally an auxiliary fort and excavations thus far indicate that it was under Roman occupation from 85 AD until 370 AD and during that time it was subject to various changes, rebuilds and new additions.  I have a guided tour booked and for an hour I find myself subsumed into a life of roman work, rest and play.  As I follow my guide I'm very much aware that the feet of Roman legionaries have traversed the paths I'm following.
The site has been under excavation since the 1930's and there's a vast quantity of artefacts that have been uncovered - from tiny shards of pottery to complete pieces of footware, jewellery and much, much more.  My guide tells me about the excavation of the ancient local rubbish dump.  It was here that in the 1970's one of the most valuable finds was made - vast quantities of the remnants of wafer thin wooden tablets that had been inscribed with carbon-based inks.  They all date to the 1st and 2nd centuries and record the communications of those living at the fort.  You read about someone being invited to a party or a soldier's request for more supplies.  There are military matters discussed on some of the tablets and there are just the general day-to-day notes passed between friends, family, employees and others.  I guess when you can't text or email, you just have to write, don't you?  The tablets are housed at the British Museum in London, but there is a fascinating selection here at Vindolanda.
After a long day, I make my way back to my campsite.  I know there is something just as interesting waiting for me there.  In life, there are some things that are completely free; you just have to be there to see them.  I know that there will be another fabulous sunset this evening and I will be out there with my camera to capture it.

If you enjoyed this little jaunt, you might also like other #OffMyBeatenTrack posts.
You can find me in Sicily  and  Verona 

Tuesday, 5 April 2022

Please welcome, friend and author, Katie Loveley...

...to the blog this week.  Hello Katie, (real name, Alyson), and thanks for making time to be here today.  So, tell me all about your latest book?
KLL  My current release is another social drama which raises awareness of current issues within our society.  I am very excited about this, my third contemporary fiction novel and sincerely hope that the readers enjoy this story of Willow and Gabriel, a young couple whose lives take a very different path from what the reader might expect.  The book will be published on April 29th and is available for pre-order Here
AW   What first got you into writing and why?
KLL  Writing is in my blood.  It is in my DNA.  I have always felt driven to put pen to paper on a daily basis since I learned to write.  I clearly remember my early days in infant school when I was taught the magic of putting my thoughts into words.  As I got older, I progressed from writing in my diary to writing in a journal, to date I have diaries and journals spanning sixty-one years.
As I left childhood behind, my love of reading and writing did not wane.  My work as an NHS nurse in primary care put me in close contact with the public and the many health and social problems encountered.  Many of these issues I felt could be fictionalized and written in a way that could reflect how life can sometimes run out of control even for people who could be considered strong minded and in control of their lives.
AW   You write issue-driven contemporary fiction.  Is it all imagination or do you also do research?
KLL  I was in a good position to research public health statistics and outcomes which helped me to decide the social and medical issues I wished to fictionalize, in addition I met many patients who led very interesting lives and shared their stories with me.  The characters in my social drama series are all from my imagination and from my observation of other people.
I’m often asked ‘how much of the stories came from my own life?’  The answer is thankfully, not much, but that does not mean that I have not used and exaggerated some of my own experiences and observations.
AW  And what about other types of writing?  Have you dabbled with other genres, short stories or poetry?
Yes is the answer to all three genres.  I truly enjoy writing poetry and do so on a regular basis.  I find that writing poetry gives me an emotional release.  I have written many poems, a few of which are published in my collection of illustrated poetry titled Chameleon Days.  This is also available as audio, which was quite an experience I can tell you.
I have written short stories for the occasional competition and magazine but prefer novels.
Under a different pen-name I have written a collection of illustrated children’s books based on the amusing antics of my hens.  Titled ‘Morning Mystery’ from the Coop Chaos series, this is aimed at the age range two to six years.
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?
KLL  My special place for writing is on our wonderful narrowboat that is moored in Mercia Marina South Derbyshire.
AW    And finally, what do you think your eight-year-old self would think and say about you and what you have achieved today?
KLL
  A very good question Angela, one that I have recently considered during my voluntary work as a school reader at the very same primary school that I attended as an eight-year-old.
While helping the teachers with literacy lessons (which have become so important since lockdown created a huge drop-in writing and reading competencies) I have reflected on myself at their age.
I clearly remember how much I enjoyed primary school.  My favourite place was the library which to me was the most magical of places.  The year I turned eight was 1961.  The swinging sixties around the corner and the year that the farthing coin was removed from circulation.
More importantly, it was the year that the first man went into space.  This was a hot topic at school for me and for my imagination.
Coming from a working class background the very idea that one day I would become a published author would have been beyond my wildest dreams, despite the fact that I was already writing on a daily basis in my treasured lock up diary and writing short stories.
Back then authors were put on a pedestal by me, I would have considered them like a celebrity, or someone to be revered.
If I was to turn back the hands of time and tell little Alyson that one day, she would be an author, I guess she would smile and say ‘well I was named after a children’s author called Alison Uttley.  Although my father decided to spell it with a Y.

about the book…
Nature lover, Willow embraces life to its 
fullest potential.  After all, she is living her life as two people.  When her identical twin sister, Molly, sadly dies a short time after birth, Willow carries with her the memory of sharing the same beginnings of life.
When Willow becomes a mother, the voice of Molly begins to drown out all sense of reality, as post-natal depression takes over her every thought.
Gabriel is a third-year medical student when he begins a relationship with Willow. Coming from a very different background of pious parents, he hides his own secret.  This is a secret that eventually has far-reaching consequences.
Gabriel is not the only one with a long-hidden secret.  His parents have a lot to answer for and are the driving force behind the events that unfold in his life.

Union Blues is available for pre-order Here

You can get all of Katie's books, in print or e-format, on Amazon and you can follow her on Facebook and on Twitter