Tuesday, 21 March 2023

I'm reviewing The Light of Days...

...by Judy Batalion. Read on...

This substantial tome is subtitled to indicate that it is the untold story of the women fighters of the Jewish resistance. I had to pick it off the shelf in the bookshop as I had always associated the term 'resistance' with France and the struggles that country underwent during les années noir. This book provided a very different picture.
Beginning in Będzin in Poland this is the story of a number of women and their families who lived through the rise of Nazism, the invasion of their country and the terrible and constant tightening of restrictions that were instituted by the Third Reich during the thirties and forties.
The pace and timbre of the story are quite sedate at the outset.  Despite the difficulties encountered and the enclosure of a nation of people in ghettos, still, the tone is positive and there seemed to me to be an overwhelming sense of optimism that everything would be alright in the end.  As the individual stories of the women are told, the encroaching danger and the insidiousness of their fate begins to filter through.  The tone of the story changes and the narrative becomes more urgent and more demanding.
I found this book to be a fascinating exposé of life in the ghettos.  The build-up to the insurrection that has become known as the Warsaw rebellion is an incredible piece of writing. It is clear from the seventy-odd pages of supporting notes and bibliography that the subject has been very widely researched.
As a reader, there were times when I had to put the book down – the subject matter needed time to be assimilated.  At other times, there were points where I was thrown out of the narrative for various different reasons - some as mundane as typos some in disbelief at the scene described.  There were times when I found the narrative voice to be so harsh and shouty that I desperately needed to walk away from the book.  By the time I got to the last page, I felt mentally weary.  Perhaps that was the author’s conscious and deliberate intention.  I don’t know. But, however you look at that, I would have thought it was better to keep the reader’s eyes on the page and their interest engaged.
Overall, it is a story that had to be told and I am grateful for the opportunity to increase my knowledge.

You may wish to read reviews of other stories that also needed to be told. Just click the following links The Volunteer  The Infiltrators  The Passenger 

Tuesday, 14 March 2023

Promoting Yorkshire Authors Book Fair ...

I’m very pleased to be able to tell you that I will be at the Promoting Yorkshire Authors Book Fair on April 1st …

As part of the Huddersfield Literature Festival, which runs from March 23rd right through to April 2nd, PYA will be running a Book Fair on Saturday, April 1st.

There will be lots of Yorkshire authors there with loads of books.  You will be able to browse our books and chat with the writers – me included!

There will be a broad spectrum of books to choose from, including mystery, adventure, cosy crime, historical romance, and plenty more besides.

Entry to the Book Fair is absolutely free, and you can stay as long as you like between 10.30 am and 4 pm.

You can find the Book Fair at :

Lawrence Batley Theatre,

Queen Street,

Huddersfield HD1 2SP

It will be really great to see you there ...

You can find out more about Huddersfield Literature Festival Here

If you are an aspiring writer, or a published one, and you would like to know more about Promoting Yorkshire Authors, check out our website Here

Tuesday, 7 March 2023

Come stroll with me …

… through some more history from château Chenonceau.  Last month I left you in the fabulous gallery that stretched across the river, Cher.  Follow me …

Leaving the gallery behind I want to take you down into the heart of this house – the kitchens.  Here banquets would be prepared for kings and nobles and for those attending the many parties that Catherine de Medici enjoyed.  But at this level of the building, you are just above the water line of the river and there is provision for goods to be delivered straight to the kitchens by boat.  And, under cover of darkness, it is also possible that people might have been whisked away by similar transport.  And yes that possibility of a plot surrounding a quirk of history is still running around at the back of my head!
Coming back up into the main body of the
château we can see the magnificence of some of the rooms.  Like this one said to be used by Diane de Poitiers.  The fireplace surround is ostentatious in its symbolism.  The lettering of H and C refers to Henri 2 and Catherine.  She clearly wanted no references to her husband’s other woman!
There are numerous rooms all in the gothic style and as beautifully decorated as this one.  The walls are full of tapestries and paintings.  One room, funereal in appearance, is a re-creation of the actual décor that covered the walls of the chamber of Louise of Lorraine, the wife of Henri 3.  It was originally created for the then-royal widow of the king.
We will leave these fabulous rooms and head outside.  The gardens were the brainchild of Diane de Poitiers before she was ousted by Catherine de Medici and relegated to the château in Chaumont.  Diane engaged the services of a garden designer – but who that was, I don’t know.  The time for my research whilst I was there was short and I never came across that little detail.  But, looking outward towards other residences in the area such as Amboise and Blois, the influence of Pacello da Mercogliano (1455 – 1534) can be seen.  Of course, by the time Diane de Poitiers was thinking about her gardens, Mercogliano was long dead.  But it was not unusual at that time for the king to move his court every so often.  I suppose the old maxim of keeping one's friend's close but enemies closer still was perhaps more pertinent back then!   
However, the carefully planned and planted parterres are excellent examples of what was considered then to be the French formal garden, for which Mercogliano is said to be one of the earliest founding fathers.
The gardens stretch out on both sides of the residence.  And if you choose your timing carefully you can wander in the shade for a good deal of the time.  You also need to choose your season carefully, too.  It’s late September and I’m seeing a mature garden in its final throw of colour before dying back for winter.  I’m just really glad I don’t have to prune all that topiary!

You can read my previous post from château Chenonceau Here. If you enjoyed those two posts, you might also enjoy reading about my visits to the châteaux in Blois  Ancy-le-Franc or Tanlay

Tuesday, 28 February 2023

I'm Off My Beaten Track in Tell el-Amarna...

 ... I'm resuming the jottings from my Egyptian Journal today.  Come and join me as I experience yet another novel form of local transport and visit more tombs and ancient palaces...


Early start today.  We upped anchor before breakfast.  There had been a lot of noise from the other boats moored near us, and I had not slept well.  The Panda-eyes were getting darker and bigger.  We docked at a village just below the tombs of Tell el-Amarna.
Our transport is a sand tractor.  This comprises a tractor - working state not necessarily guaranteed - onto which is attached a covered trailer resembling an open-sided cattle truck.  There were long benches down each side with the minimum amount of padding and a third long bench down the middle.  As with all other forms of Egyptian transport, once full inside, it is perfectly acceptable to hang on at the back or stand on the tow bar, and for a privileged minority, take a seat up front next to the driver.
It is still quite early.  The haze hovering over the escarpment in the distance gives the landscape an ethereal and mysterious look.  I'm very much afraid that today might be dull, which is a disaster for the camera, but a welcome relief from the fierceness of the sun for my skin.
Our little convoy progressed through the village, passing tiny tumble-down houses along known but apparently unmarked sand tracks, carefully negotiating children and animals.  At the edge of the village was a vast expanse of desert, and we head straight out into it.  The village stopped rather than gradually fizzling out.  The greenery stopped with equal abruptness.
Tell el-Amarna was the site to which the 18th dynasty Pharaoh, Akhenaten, moved when he decided to reject the numerous gods of Thebes and to worship only the sun god, Aten.  As well as changing his people's religion, he also changed his own name from Amenhotep IV to Akhenaten.  He began constructing a city and a palace for himself and took up residence with his family in the eighth year of his reign.  Eventually, his wife, Nefertiti, returned to her northern palace.  Akhenaten appointed his half-brother Smenkhkare as his co-regent.  Unfortunately, Akhenaten died shortly afterwards.  On his death, his city was raised to the ground, his religion obliterated from existing records, and the high priests were restored to Thebes.
Our first destination was the excavation of the ancient mud-brick palace.  To protect the site - which still had to be fully dug out - a wire fence had been erected all the way around.  This was to keep out the villagers rather than the tourists.
The palace had its own household water system and an indoor pool.  The various rooms could be distinguished and along one side were the areas where the animals would have been kept.
Back to the cattle truck and we continued into the desert to the foot of the escarpment.  It was quite a climb up to the tombs and some of the elderly fellow travellers were showing signs of fatigue.  Again these tombs are hewn out of the solid rock and once belonged to the wealthy citizens of Akhenaten's city.  These tombs are not as spectacular as those at Beni Hasan.  However, the best one is that of a high priest called Meri Re.  In the reliefs, the Pharaoh is presented as a generous man.  He is depicted giving gifts to the dead man and honouring him.  There is greater realism in the artwork with the Pharaoh being presented in human form and as the same size as his people rather than towering above them.  There is a considerable amount of damage and pieces of the reliefs have been taken from the walls.  These tombs too, have been defaced by the early Christians.  They used them to practice their religion in secret and to hide from the oppression of the majority faith.
By the time we had left the final tomb the sun was scorching the sand, the wind was hot and burning and the view across the valley was stunning.  We climbed down the rock face and waited at the bottom for our transport.  I overheard two women talking and discovered they were French.  We exchanged pleasantries and details of our respective travel plans.  We both commented on the prevalence of the poverty all around us in Egypt.
Another adventurous trip across the desert and we were back at the docks.  
Back on board ship and I can relax in the shade as we spend the rest of the day sailing.  The scenery changes south of Tell el-Amarna.  The green fertile belt on the eastern bank lessens until it disappears beneath a high sandstone cliff.  Weathering shows the numerous bedding planes and the symmetry is broken from time to time by a limestone intrusion or a fault.  Eventually, the river turns west slightly and another narrow fertile plain begins to develop.  Upstream there are clusters of mud brick houses at the water's edge.  They have circles of animal dung on them drying in the sun.  The 'cowpats' are the household fuel for cooking and for heating in the winter evenings.  Our armed guard is still with us...

There will be more from my Egyptian journal in April.  If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy my earlier posts about Cairo Giza Solar Sailing and Egypt generally - just click the links

Tuesday, 21 February 2023

Please welcome, friend and author, Val Penny...

... to the blog today.  Thanks for visiting, Val, and it’s great to have you back.  You write the DI Hunter Wilson stories, and you also have the Jane Renwick series, which has just one book at the moment, but I know there are more to follow and a ‘How To’ book about getting published.  Is there any stopping you, Val?

VP You are very kind, Angela.  Yes, when I was being treated for breast cancer and was unable to do many of the things that I enjoy doing, my husband laid down a challenge asking me if I thought I could write a book.  I discovered that I love writing novels, and my DI Hunter Wilson Crime Thrillers are set in Edinburgh.  This desire to tell stories and help others to get their work into the world has driven me.  To this end, I now run a writing group in the village where I live.
AW  What is it that you’re working on at the moment?
VP  I am writing the next book in the Jane Renwick Thriller series, set in Scotland, as well as working on a series of short stories for an anthology to come out next year.  My writing group is also working on an anthology to be sold in aid of humanitarian aid in Ukraine.
AW  A few months ago, you changed publisher.  That must be as stressful as moving house - new colleagues, now editor, new company policies - how was it for you?
VP  My previous publishers, Darkstroke, were extremely nurturing and took a chance to publish my novels when I was an unknown author.  For that, I will always be grateful. However, I decided to make a change because that company was taking on a large number of first-time authors whose needs were different to mine, as I had been writing for seven years and had several works in print.
I moved to SpellBound, a boutique publisher based in London.  It was extremely stressful, but my new publishers have been most supportive, and I am happy that the move I made was the right one for me.  I am quite enjoying having second editions of my books too.
AW  And what’s coming up for you and your work in the next six to twelve months?
VP  SpellBound are presently publishing my back catalogue and have accepted the next four synopses that I have sent to them.  That will keep me busy.  I will be completing the second book in my series of Jane Renwick Thrillers in a few months.  The other new books I will be working on are a book of short stories, a novella that forms a prequel to the Hunter series and a new Hunter novel, as well as that new Jane book I mentioned earlier.
AW  Last question, Val.  You’ve been abandoned on a remote island, and you have just enough battery power in your mobile phone to make one call.  Who are you going to call, and why?
VP   My publishers to ask them to feed my cat and explain why I might miss my deadline!
AW  Ha!  Good answer!

about the author... Val Penny has an Llb degree from the University of Edinburgh and her MSc from Napier University.  She has had many jobs, including hairdresser, waitress, banker, azalea farmer and lecturer but has not yet achieved either of her childhood dreams of being a ballerina or owning a candy store.
Until those dreams come true, she has turned her hand to writing poetry, short stories, nonfiction books, and novels.  Her novels are published by SpellBound Books Ltd.
Val is an American author living in SW Scotland.  She has two adult daughters, of whom she is justly proud and lives with her husband and their cat.

about the book... Can DI Hunter Wilson keep Edinburgh safe when he is the hunted?
Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson is woken in the early hours of the morning by a call from his son. Cameron’s flatmate was murdered. Why would anybody want to kill a young woman recently arrived in the city?
Hunter must call in the new Major Incident Team (MIT) to lead the investigation due to the reorganisation of police services. Hunter's ability to be involved, however, is put in severe doubt when someone from his past decides to take revenge on him. He goes missing, and his team have no idea where to look for him. Who would want to stop Hunter in his tracks?
Meanwhile, Hunter's team must work closely with the MIT and, with or without him, solve the murder in this taut crime thriller.

You can get the book Here
You can follow Val on Amazon  Facebook  Instagram and on  Twitter

Tuesday, 14 February 2023

A poem for Valentine's Day ...

                    LOVE'S PHILOSOPHY

The fountains mingle with the river
    And the rivers with the ocean,
The winds of heaven mix forever
    With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
    All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
    Why not I with thine?

See the mountain kiss high heaven
    And the waves clasp one another;
No sister flower would be forgiven
    If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth
    And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
What is all this work worth
    If thou kiss not me?

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Tuesday, 7 February 2023

Come stroll with me ...

... through the house and grounds of château Chenonceau …

I’m camped just up the road from Chenonceaux, which sits on the north bank of the river Cher.  It’s a few kilometres west of Montrichard. Despite the prettiness of the village, it’s not the focus of my visit today. But, château Chenonceau is.  Note the lack of the x at the end of the name.  You can blame that on one of the revolutionaries, apparently.  No x meant that the connection with royalty was severed! Just seems like bad spelling to me, and I suppose it’s better than severing heads.
The château is situated just outside the village and straddles the river.  But it didn’t always look as it does now.  Follow me, and I’ll show you what I mean as we walk through some more French history.
The entrance to the house takes you past the Marques tower.  This is a remnant from the original fort that was built here in 1432 for Jean Marques 2. He was allied to King Charles 7. The Marques family had actually held the fief of Chenonceaux (must include the x this time because this is pre-revolution and we are talking about the estate) since the 13th century.  The fief was the right to raise revenue on land granted by the king for services rendered, mostly in the form of manpower as soldiers in wars to keep said estates and agricultural labourers to tend said land.
The tower we see today was actually preserved by one Thomas Bohier.  He purchased the old medieval fort in 1513 from Pierre Marques, who was in debt to the state.  Bohier demolished the original building, all but the solitary tower.  Between 1515 and 1521, Bohier built an entirely new mansion out on the river using the foundations of an old mill connected by the bridge in front of us and flanked by turrets.  Bohier was Chamberllan (the equivalent of the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer) to King Charles 8.  He had married very well.  His wife was Catherine de Briçonnet, the daughter of a powerful Touraine family of financiers.  It was Catherine who oversaw the building work in her husband’s absence.  As we leave the bridge and enter through the main door, we are presented with a wide corridor that stretches the full length of the ground floor to, what would have been at that time, a view overlooking the river and the opposite bank.
Bohier died in 1524, his wife two years later, and the château came into the possession of their son, Antoine.  The history now becomes a little murky.  It seems that the Bohier family were somehow connected with Jacques de Beaune-Samblançay, an extremely wealthy and powerful man who bank-rolled kings and nobles and was subsequently executed for extortion … possibly.  My brief research hasn’t provided any definite links, but what is clear is that in 1535, Antoine was in debt to the crown, and the property was seized by Francis 1.
When Francis died in 1547, Henri 2 offered the house to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers.  She took up residence and became so besotted with the location that she employed architect Philibert de l’Orme in 1555 to build the arched bridge across to the other side of the river. Once complete, Diane oversaw the planting of the gardens and the improvement of the grounds.
Henri 2 died in 1559, and his widow, Catherine de Medici, forced Diane out and into the château at Chaumont.  Catherine then moved in and greatly improved the interior so that she could properly indulge her party habit.
Moving along the central corridor of the original house, we come to the first level of the gallery on the bridge constructed by de l’Orme.  It is a light and airy space with a large fireplace at the far end, and I can imagine some of those parties that Catherine de Medici loved happening here.
But, taking a giant leap across history from the 16th century to the 20th and 1940, there’s a fascinating piece of info that I want to bring to your attention.  When France was occupied in 1940, the demarcation line ran along the centre of the river Cher and, therefore, under this fabulous gallery.  The north bank was in occupied France, but the south bank was in Vichy.  As I stand here and look down on the river below, I have to wonder if, and to what extent, that actuality was exploited before the occupiers took the property for themselves.  If the opportunity was never utilised, then some writer, somewhere, might want to consider using this quirk of history as part of a plot!

There will be more from château Chenonceau next month. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy reading about my visits to the châteaux in Blois  Ancy-le-Franc or Tanlay