Saturday, 20 July 2019

Come stroll with me...

...through the city of Marseille.  Last month I took you on a visit to the Vieux Port, today we're strolling through the first...

Canebière and the bourse
Canebière is a wide thoroughfare that leads from the Vieux Port straight into the heart of the city of Marseille.  Lined with beautiful and tall Napoleonic buildings, you find shops and hotels at street level and apartments on the floors above.  The street furniture - street lamps, etc. - are equally as striking as the buildings.
As we leave the port, on the left, you will find the bourse.  Built between 1852 and 1860, it is now the home of the naval museum and is the headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the city.  The building overlooks a large square on the opposite side of Canebière.  And do check out the boulangerie/pâtisserie in the square, you can get a rather lovely tarte-au-citron here.
Canebière runs straight and true for about a kilometre and if you want to shop then by all means continue.  But, I'm taking a left onto Cours Belsunce because I know, about halfway along, there's something I particularly want to see.
On the right is what now remains of the old music hall.  Built in 1857 and decorated in a Moorish style, the theatre thrived.  As I stand here looking at the portico, I can imagine the noise, the laughter, the music, the jostling of the 2000 strong audience and I can almost smell the wine and the beer.  Given the opportunity I would have taken to the stage and silently replayed a snippet of one my previous roles, glancing up at the galleries or across the stalls area as I run through the speech in my head.  I've always thought it a great privilege to be able to recreate a character and make that person live on the stage for the audience.  As an actor, I can be in two places, centuries, personalities at once.  Today, alas, that opportunity is not available.  On March 30th, 2004, following extensive remodelling, the theatre opened as one of 12 municipal libraries created by statute in cities across the whole country.
The remains of the Alcazar-Lyrique
Originally called Alcazar-Lyrique, the theatre first opened on October 10th, 1857.  In its early days, and under the direction of Etienne Demoulins, the Alcazar built its reputation with summer shows in the gardens, and by welcoming to its stage celebrities from the surrounding area and from Paris.  In the 1860s and 1870s, the theatre became renowned for pantomime.  And yes, I know we Brits think that pantomime is something that is very peculiarly English, but its early origins were European.  Here at the Alcazar, fabulous and world-renowned mime artists such as Charles Deburau, Louis Rouffe and Séverin, have trodden the boards of the stage that was once here.  So, perhaps you can understand my disappointment at not being able to follow in their footsteps just for a moment or two.
Between its heyday and conversion to a library, the theatre had an interesting history.  In 1873 a fire destroyed the interior, but only four months later the building re-opened.  In 1889 it was refurbished, and the portico that we are standing in front of was added.  In the 1930s the venue became a cinema, and during the 1939-45 conflict, it remained closed until the Free French forces liberated the city in 1944.  Post-war, the theatre continued to provide entertainment right up until the 1960s when it went dark for the very last time on August 9th, 1966.  As I remain standing here, I have to mourn the loss of such a magnificent edifice to architecture and stagecraft.

You can read more about Marseille here and further information about the next Jacques Forêt mystery is here

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

An offer you can't refuse from...

...the Authors on the Edge.  Read on...

Over the last few months, I have been hosting my fellow writers' posts here on the blog.  Each of the Authors on the Edge contributed to the anthology, Miss Moonshine's Emporium of Happy Endings.  A series of heartwarming-stories that was first published in May last year.  Having my writing colleagues visit the blog seemed, to me, to be a good way of introducing you to their books.  It also provided an opportunity for each of them to give a little bit of insight about their own particular story in the anthology.  You can revisit to each of those posts using the links below if you wish.

This month, I have something a little different.  The anthology is currently reduced in price and, up to and including Friday, July 19th, you can download the e-book for as little as 99p/c or international equivalent.  If you're still looking for that something special to read on the plane, the train, the beach or beside the pool, then check out Miss MoonshineYou won't be disappointed!

about the book... Sometimes what you need is right there waiting for you...
Miss Moonshine's Wonderful Emporium has stood in the pretty Yorkshire town of Haven Bridge for as long as anyone can remember.  With her ever-changing stock, Miss Moonshine has a rare gift for providing exactly what her customers need: a fire opal necklace that provides a glimpse of a different life; a novel whose phantom doodler casts a spell over the reader; a music box whose song links love affairs across the generations. One thing is for certain: after visiting Miss Moonshine's quirky shop, life is never the same again...
Nine romantic novelists from Yorkshire and Lancashire, including best-selling and award-winning authors, have joined together to create this collection of uplifting stories guaranteed to warm your heart. This intriguing mix of historical and contemporary romances will make you laugh, cry, and believe in the happy-ever-after.

Another fellow Author on the Edge will be visiting the blog next month, so watch this space...

Kate Field  Melinda Hammond  My Own Post  Helen Pollard  Jacqui Cooper   

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

I am very pleased to announce...

...that Marseille, Book 4 in my Jacques Forêt series of mystery stories will be published on October 15th...

I'm not running with my usual blog post today as I have something much more exciting to talk and write about.  The fourth Jacques Forêt story will be published on October 15th, this year.  And I cannot begin to tell you how pleased I am about this. Dancing on the ceiling might come close!
Way back in September 2007, when I woke up to snow and first conceived the idea of mystery stories set in the Cévennes, I knew there would be four and I knew what the crime would be in each one.  At that point, whilst I knew the title of the first and third books (Messandrierre and Montbel, respectively), I hadn't a clue about the title for Book 2 and I was convinced that the title for Marseille would be a completely different one!
Here we are, 12 years later, and the story has developed considerably from the original outline that I had set for myself all that time ago. Didier Duclos, a secondary character who is first introduced in Montbel, takes a much greater role in this story and he lets us into one or two secrets of his own.  Richard Laurent Delacroix also features in this story and he's not exactly working for the general good of the community, either.
Jacques, of course, is leading the investigation which takes him out of his home city of Mende and into the vast city of Marseille.  A city that is the second most populous in France and that has its own problems. As with all vast conurbations, there are the wonderful and interesting places that tourists like to visit, and then there are the areas where crime is prevalent, poverty is widespread and criminal gangs can control the streets.  All cities have a dark side, somewhere.
So, does Jacques achieve the conclusion to this investigation that he's hoping for?  Sorry not answering that question, yet!  But, what I will tell you is that as well as some new characters, there are familiar ones too and life in the tiny village of Messandrierre meanders along as it always has done.

Marseille will be available for pre-order soon

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

I'm reviewing The Strawberry Thief...

...Joanne Harris.

This is the fourth book in the series that begins with Chocolat and, I have to say, I awaited the publication of this story eagerly.  As soon as my copy arrived I was tempted to forget everything else I was required to do and sit down and read it.  But I waited until I was in France and then, in the shade of a large tree, began reading.
Vianne Rocher has returned to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes.  This is the fictional town in Chocolat that is apparently inspired by the real town of Nérac in the département of Lot-et-Garonne.  Despite her difficulties with the local priest, Reynaud, in the earlier story, Vianne has settled into village life.  She has her chocolate shop on one side of the central square, from where she supplies her friends and neighbours with exactly the right sweetmeat or blend of coffee or hot chocolate as they require it.
But time has moved on for everyone.  Vianne’s eldest daughter, Anouk, is now 21 and living in Paris.  Her second daughter, her special child, Rosette, is 16 and becoming independent in her own special way.  For Vianne, the passing of time and the changes within her family are something she knows she has to accept.
The story primarily unfolds through the eyes of Vianne, Rosette and Reynaud.  Each has their own distinctive voice and it was pleasure to get to know the character, Rosette and to re-acquaint myself with the characters of Vianne and Reynaud after such a long time - the last book, Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé was published in April 2012, so it has been a long wait for this one.
The story begins in March, it is the beginning of Lent and Vianne senses change.  Against the back-drop of the sleepy French town, Narcisse the florist dies. A new trader moves into the village, a will creates a stir and a lot of antagonism and a letter, a very important letter sets the local community one against the other.
I really, really enjoyed this book.  The various plot lines are intriguingly and carefully woven together.  The characters live on the page as you read and, from first picking it up, I could not put it down.  I most sincerely hope I will not have to wait quite so long for the next story about Lansquenet and Vianne.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Come stroll with me...

... around the Vieux Port (the old harbour) in Marseille...

Quai de la Fraternité & Saint-Ferréol

A vast sprawling conurbation, Marseille, is the second city of France.  With a population of just under 900,000, it outstrips Lyons, the 3rd most populous city, easily.  It also has a fascinating history, is renowned for its independence and can claim to be the oldest city in France.  So, people were living here long before the Romans arrived!
This city is also one of the most multi-cultural that I have ever come across in France.  As you meander through the streets, for every five people you pass speaking French there are another five following speaking an entirely different tongue.  You can eat in any one of a hundred different languages - from the parlances of Northern Europe to the Mexican and All-American English of the west, to the numerous tongues of Africa in the south, extending eastwards to Arabic, to Turkish and stretching all the way to Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Japan with just about everything in between.
Fort St-Jean & the marina entrance
The very first settlers here were the Phocaeans (ancient Greeks), arriving around 600BC and travelling from one of the most northern Ionian cities on the west coast of Asia Minor.  They settled on one side of what is now the Vieux Port, the sound being then little more than a creek.  But it was an essential supply of water and an opportunity for trade - something the ancient Greeks were very good at.  Of course, those first settlers weren't allowed to keep everything to themselves, and about 60 years later the Persians arrived.  The original settlement expanded as trade and ancient commerce grew, and the reach inland expanded to the sites of modern cities such as Arles, Nice, Avignon and elsewhere.  The Romans turned up around 125BC, and after years of war, established transalpine Gaul.  The port of Marseille (then referred to as Massalia) became an independent republic allied to Rome.  Maybe that's why it has a reputation for independence and a very distinctive local character, not to mention it's own very particular local dialect.
The first port has changed much over the centuries.  Now, it is mostly a marina for pleasure boats and excursions across to the Hyères islands.  The islands are the site for the Château d'If that Alexandre Dumas used as a location in his books, The Man in the Iron Mask and
Château d'If
The Count of Monte Cristo.  The château was quickly built to protect the port in the early 16th century and was further fortified some decades later by a bastioned wall.  As well as a location for fictional heroes the castle was used as a state prison for the Huguenots and various political prisoners.  Now it's just a tourist destination.
However, like Dumas, I'm using this fantastic city as a location, too although I'm not imprisoning any of my characters in the château!  But my investigator, Jacques Forêt, finds himself here in Marseille in search of answers and a resolution for his next case.  Book 4 will be out towards the end of the year, and I will keep you updated over the coming months.

I will be taking you to another area of the city next month... so watch this space!

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Please welcome, friend and author, Debbie Ioanna...

Debbie in the recording studio the blog today.  Hello Debbie and thanks for taking some time out to be here.

AW  What is your current release?
DI   My latest release was Blind Date, published in August 2018.  It is a comedy romance set in the wonderful Yorkshire town of Halifax.  It follows thirty-year-old Jenny who is single and not ready to mingle.  She is set up on some rather questionable blind dates and put in unimaginable and awkward situations whilst drooling over the hunky eye candy at work who she thinks is completely out of her league.
AW   What first got you into writing and why?
DI   Growing up, I loved reading.  Every Saturday, my mum would take me shopping and we’d end up in Waterstones or WHSmiths where I would always find a new book I wanted.  But the idea of writing my own book seemed like a pipe dream.  Only the Harry Potters and Frodo Baggins got published.  I had no idea about being an Indie author.  ‘What the heck is an indie author???’  Well, I found out in 2016 and a book I had held on to for 10 years was finally released and then two books followed after including radio interviews and book festival appearances.  It is a dream come true to type my name on Amazon and have three books that I wrote available to buy. Sometimes it seems bonkers but if I am ever feeling down I have to remind myself… I have written three books and that is quite an achievement!
AW  You write fiction of a variety of genres.  Is it all imagination or do you also undertake research?
DI   Its mostly imagination or based on personal events.  In particular, Blind Date contains a few (horror) stories of my own!  I research when needed but my imagination can take me anywhere at times.
AW  And what about other types of writing?  Have you ever dabbled with short stories, for instance, or other genres?
DI   Two of my novels actually started as short stories.  My imagination then took over and they advanced in to full on books.  All three of my books are different genres; ‘Abberton House’ is paranormal, ‘The Runaway Girl’ is contemporary fiction and ‘Blind Date’ is romantic comedy.  I also have two websites, one where I post short stories, poems and blogs, and my second one is very new.  I have decided to review all the books I read from now on so my second site is where I publish those.
Debbie's writing companion!
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?
DI    I wish I had a writing shed!  Anywhere that I can sit in silence with no distractions would be a dream!  My current writing location is at my computer in my bedroom however I have an attention seeking cat that has claimed my desk chair… so there is always a mission of firstly evicting her and then keeping her off my lap.  Cats can be stubborn.  But my husband is great when I need to get some work done so the bedroom becomes my office.  Books and paperwork seem to take over every surface and all kinds of notes are stuck to the notice board.
AW  Finally, if you had a whole afternoon to yourself and could choose to spend it with any one individual, living or dead or a character from a book, who would it be, and what would you want to discuss?
DI   This is a tough question.  I feel like I should pick someone famous but a few years ago I did my family history.  I spent about a year and a lot of money researching and tracking down records.  There are so many unanswered questions from all sides of the family but I would love to meet my Great Great Grandmother, Mary Ellen Horsfield.  I would want to know what happened in the 1890s to make her suddenly end up in London (she was from Halifax), give birth out of wedlock to then marry someone a couple of months later.  Was she disowned by her family?  Did she run away?  Did she elope?  Who was the father of my Great Granddad?  So many questions, I would need more than an afternoon.

...about the book  Thirty year old Jenny has her own house, a good job, friends, a psycho cat and a Mother who is willing to sell her off to the highest bidder. What more could she want from life? Oh yes, a man. In particular, the handsome hunk she works with. The dangerously good looking eye candy makes regular appearances to her office and she must do all in her power not to combust in her seat when he says her name…
Some people were destined to have all the luck, whereas others, like Jenny, were destined to embarrass themselves at every awkward opportunity. After giving up hopes of landing her dream man, Jenny gives in to her best friend’s requests and agrees to go on some blind dates and signs up to a dating app. She discovers some interesting characters whilst having some no-strings fun with her reliable man friend. What’s the worst that could happen?
Follow Jenny’s journey through the Yorkshire town of Halifax filled with disastrous dates and embarrassing sexual encounters in this romantic comedy of modern dating. Will she ever get what she’s looking for? Or is she destined to remain in singledom forever with her crazed cat?

...about the author  I am a Bradford born girl with a huge passion for writing. I cover all genres, I don’t really write to a specific audience. I have written novels, short stories, blogs, poetry and book reviews. Basically, if something comes to mind then I have to write about it.
I have just turned 30 and life is beginning to get very exciting. I am starting a lot of different journeys which I am sure I will find time to write about in one of my very random blogs. As well as writing when I can, I manage to work part time and study part time towards a degree. Not forgetting my most important (and favourite) job of all… raising my beautiful baby daughter.

Warning: This book contains details of embarrassingly awkward sexual encounters and is not for the cringe-hearted.

You can buy Debbie's books on Amazon

You can follow Debbie on her Author Blog her Book Blog  on Facebook  Twitter and on Instagram

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Writer and friend, Jacqui Cooper... visiting my blog today.  Hello Jacquie and thanks for giving up some of your valuable time to be here today...

JC   Hi Angela.
AW  You're a writer of short stories and also a contributor to the anthology Miss Moonshine's Emporium of Happy Endings.  What sort of stories do you regularly write and where can we find you?
JC  I mainly write short stories for women’s magazines including Woman’s Weekly, The People’s Friend, My Weekly and Take A Break in the UK, plus a couple of overseas magazines.  The story subject matters are wide-ranging but cover universal issues that affect women e.g. relationships, motherhood, loss, temptation, etc.  Short ‘twist in the tale’ stories are always popular and humour goes down well too.  The stories have to be tailored to the readership of each of the magazines so if anyone fancies having a go, my number one piece of advice would be to read the magazines and get a feel for what they want.  Word counts and current submission requirements can be found on the excellent Womagwriter’s blog:
AW  Thanks for the tip.  So tell me, what's it really like being a professional short story writer?
JC   It’s The Best Job Ever.  I work in my pyjamas or in my garden.  Sometimes both.  I can spend hours watching TV, reading a book or staring into space and call it research.  I can legitimately eavesdrop on any conversation.  Some stories take ages to write but some I can’t type fast enough.  Unlike writing a tightly plotted novel, if a short story isn’t going well I can introduce a ghost, a dog, or a murder without worrying about repercussions further down the line.
AW   What first got you into writing and why?
JC  In my day job I often worked with people with mental health issues and I tried to encourage them to use journaling as a way of relieving stress and anxiety.  One day it occurred to me that I was stressed and anxious too!  Soon the stream of consciousness stuff fell by the wayside and I was plotting and planning longer pieces and novels.
AW   The word 'story' implies a fiction.  Is it all imagination or do you also undertake research for your stories?
JC   Considering how many people I have killed over the years, I would like to state categorically that imagination plays a huge part!  Like most writers I often wonder how much trouble I’d be in if someone were to check my browser history.  I’m thinking particularly of the various poisonings…
On a trip to Orkney I had the pleasure of visiting the chapel built by the Italian POW’s who were held there during the war.  Seeing the chapel and the beautiful setting got me thinking about how very different those men’s experience of a POW camp would be from, say, prisoners building the railway in Burma and an idea emerged for a story.  Last year I wrote a story about the suffragettes and I really enjoyed the research.  I love that I get to research a wide variety of subjects without having to know my subject inside out the way a novelist does.
AW  Have you never been tempted to write that novel that they say is in all of us?
JC   My first attempts at writing for publication were novels.  I even finished one or two but usually I got bored with the story long before the end and wanted to run with my next ‘brilliant idea’ instead.  I don’t have that problem with short stories.  I can be writing about evil dolls, a contemporary romance and a historical all at the same time.
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?
JC   I write in a corner of my bedroom.  Now, with my kids grown up and gone, I suppose I
could claim a room as an office but I’m a creature of habit and find it very difficult to write
anywhere new.  Writing in my bedroom has a hidden advantage.  At any time I can retire to bed, snuggle under the duvet with my wireless keyboard and as I type, the words magically appear on the screen across the room.  More IT literate people may take that in their stride but to me it smacks of witchcraft.
AW  Finally, what would your eight-year old self think of, and say about, you today?
JC   My eight year old self always had her nose in a book so she would be delighted to learn that despite everything she was told, writing stories is actually a proper job. She has starred in many of my tales, including the first story I ever sold to Woman’s Weekly.  She would, however, be very disappointed by the lack of dragons in my stories.

You can find The Miss Moonshine anthology here 

Thank you Jacqui, and another fellow Author on the Edge will be visiting the blog next month, so watch this space...

Kate Field  Melinda Hammond  My Own Post  Helen Pollard

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Jottings from the journals...Natzwiller

I read a lot when I'm in France, as I don't have much opportunity to read when I'm at home. 
In addition, as a member of my local Book Club, I'm reading books chosen principally by others.  So, to be able to choose all of my reading material for myself is a guilty pleasure that I relish greatly.  Until I was searching through my journals the other day, I hadn't quite realised to what extent my reading had driven my choices of locations when in France…

Tuesday, 19th

Camped at Saverne.  Large site and busy but have found a great spot by the perimeter overlooking an equestrian school.  I have a view of beautiful horses and the Vosges Mountains in the distance…

…To Natzwiller today and the struthof and before I left this morning I knew it would be a difficult place to visit.  Last year I read Sarah Helm's 'A Life in Secrets' (The Story of Vera Atkins and the lost Agents of SOE).  It was a difficult and harrowing read at times, but fascinating and a testament to one individual's choice to never give-up.
Vera Atkins (1908 - 2000) was an intelligence officer in the French section (F Section) of the SOE from 1941 to the end of the war.  During her time in SOE she recruited and prepared agents to work in occupied France alongside the Maquis and whilst they were active she was a key contact point back home.  Following the liberation of France and the allied victory she began working for MI6 in 1946 and was stationed in Germany.  She began the second phase of her life's work - tracing the 118 missing and presumed dead F Section agents.  She found 117.
SOE Agents Andrée Borrel, Vera Leigh, Sonia Olschanezky, and Diana Rowden were brought here to Natzwiller from Karlsruhe and imprisoned in the crematorium barracks.  On June 6th, 1944, on the pretext of vaccinating the women against typhus to enable them to be healthy to work in the sturthof, they were injected with a poison and, although one of them was still barely alive, they were placed in the crematorium oven.
The original work camp and crematorium is now a museum and monument to all those, SOE or not, who gave their lives for freedom.  There is a special room dedicated to the 4
From Top left A Borrel, V Leigh,
S Olschanesky, D Rowden
women from Section F who died here.  It is unbelievably shocking to understand the privations and the treatment the prisoners endured.  As I make my way back to the visitor's centre I encounter a coach-load of foreign teenagers, papers in their hands racing around trying to find answers to the questions their teachers have set them.  Their conduct is such that I have to wonder if they realsie they are actually visiting a graveyard and a place of remembrance.
In the visitor's centre I'm greeted by a museum official who picks me out as English and decides to let me know what there is to see.  In amongst all of this he announces that there is an original working gas oven on site.  The way he conveys this fact stops me short: as though he is announcing the first prize in a raffle.  I'm appalled and it clearly shows in my face as he suddenly pauses and changes tack. I thank him and walk away

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Writer and friend, Helen Pollard...

... joins me on the blog today. Hi Helen, and thanks for being here today.  So, let me have your point of view on being a contributor to an anthology.  It can't be that easy, can it?

When I was first invited to join a group of northern writers for lunch in Hebden Bridge four years ago, I had no idea where that would lead!  Initially, it was just wonderful to chat with like-minded people, tagged onto a day out enjoying coffee and a potter around the eclectic shops in such a lovely place.  Then, a couple of summers ago, Helena Fairfax suggested that we all do an anthology together.  The idea appealed to everyone.  We have a fantastic group of authors, so I knew the anthology would be a good one.
As you can imagine, the project took quite a bit of coordination with nine authors involved!  We had to decide on a location (the fictional town of Haven Bridge) and a central character who would appear in each story (the mysterious Miss Moonshine).  So, lots of emails and some fun lunches where we discussed ideas and consistencies and inconsistencies and titles and covers.  We needn't have worried that we might clash with each other’s story ideas – each turned out to be unique.
The Heart Gallery, Hebden Bridge
For me, more came out of the anthology than those very readable stories and a book we could be proud of.  I had already found this writerly group invaluable for mutual support, advice and laughs, but I believe that working together has made us much closer as a group – I feel that we are now good friends rather than writerly acquaintances.
The icing on the cake was that Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings was well received by readers and bloggers – most gratifying, especially when many of the reviews begged for more of Miss Moonshine.  And we are happy to oblige!  We’re all enthusiastic about bringing back the enigmatic Miss M for another helping, this time setting our stories around Christmastime in a festive Haven Bridge.  And so I’ve been working hard on my story, thoroughly enjoying having a second shot at spending time with Miss Moonshine in a brand new tale.
For both my Miss Moonshine stories, the biggest challenge for me has been the length.  Each of the books in my Little French Guesthouse trilogy were around the 100,000 word mark, so concocting a story with a beginning, middle and end in just a tenth of that, when I’m someone who loves really developing my characters, hasn’t been easy!  But in the end, I enjoyed working with the differences – in length, in location (Yorkshire versus France), and in time - my new Christmas Miss Moonshine is set in 1982, which has been great fun.
I’ve already heard some of the other authors’ ideas for their stories, and they sound fantastic.  I can’t wait to read them!

about the author… As a child, Helen had a vivid imagination fuelled by her love of reading, so she started to create her own stories in a notebook. She still prefers fictional worlds to real life, believes characterisation is the key to a successful book, and enjoys infusing her writing with humour and heart. Helen is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association and The Society of Authors.

You can follow Helen on Amazon and you can get her books Here

Another fellow Author on the Edge will be visiting the blog next month, so watch this space...
You can read previous posts from Authors on the Edge 

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

I'm reviewing The Muse... Jesse Burton

As soon as I knew that Jessie Burton had a new book out I wanted to read it.  I'd enjoyed her first book, The Miniaturist and the TV adaptation so much that I was determined that I would not miss out on her second.  Cut to my local reading group, and I find the book is on the list for us all to read and discuss.  What great luck, I thought.
Beginning in June 1967 we meet the central character, Odelle Bastien who is currently working in a shoe shop.  Having come to the UK from Trinidad with her friend Cynth, Odelle, finds herself living in a vibrant and changing London of the now called 'swinging sixties'.  But Odelle has ambitions and passions.  She's a writer at heart, and she has been well educated at home.  Working in a shoe shop was not exactly what Odelle saw as her future.
A month later, on a hot July day, Odelle visits the Skelton Art Gallery in search of a new job.  She meets Marjorie Quick, tall, slim and enigmatic, and Odelle is employed as a typist.  As she settles into her new role, she realises there is more to running an art gallery than she envisaged.  When a lost masterpiece turns up, Marjorie Quick's behaviour changes dramatically and unexpectedly. Odelle is determined to find out why.  From this point, the story begins to move forward in parallel in two separate time frames.
As with The Miniaturist, the attention to historical detail for both timeframes - the sixties and the latter half of the thirties - is exemplary.  I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the life and times of London in the sixties through the eyes of Odelle and Cynth.  I very quickly warmed to both of the characters and their shared wit frequently brought a smile to my face.
As the story unfolds, hidden secrets arise, not just about the missing masterpiece but about the artist and other works by the same artist too.  I loved the way the plot of this novel was carefully and teasingly pieced together.  It made me question the place and the truth of art in society.  It kept me reading and kept me guessing right to the very end.
I found this book a delightful and entertaining read with an easy flowing narrative and I'm already looking forward to whatever will be the next book from this author.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Jottings from the Journals... Nîmes

Tuesday 13th

...L'Arène, the Roman amphitheatre that sits in the heart of the city of Nîmes.  To one side is the Palais de Justice, on the other a newly built museum.  Boulevard Victor Hugo, with all its city traffic, is a few feet away and elsewhere this fantastic structure is faced by hotels, restaurants and shops.  Everything you would need in a city.

The amphitheatre is almost 2000 years old and was probably built around the same time as its twin in Arles, around the 1st/2nd centuries AD.  Used in Roman times to entertain the people, gladiators fought here until 404 when these contests were forbidden.  Oh, and when you next watch the film, Spartacus, don't believe everything you see.  That thumbs down sign to signify the kill – not totally accurate, apparently.  Gladiators were skilled fighters.  They were highly trained and prized men.  They were the property of whoever owned the training school.  So, if one of your gladiators received the sign for the kill, his 'owner' could claim compensation to cover his loss.  Mostly, when combat was clearly at its limit, the sign to sheath weapons – with the hand palm upwards, the thumb across the palm and the fingers wrapped over it - would be given.  But, I suppose as far as the director of Spartacus was concerned, that just doesn't have the same dramatic impact, does it?

Despite its great age, this fabulous monument is still used today for fairs, rock and pop concerts and bullfighting.  There are three ferias a year, February, Witsun is the longest and most well known, and the last is in September.  The city, at these times, is full to overflowing.  Nîmes is one of the few places outside of Spain to hold formal authorisation for Spanish bullfights.  But there two sides to every story.  There is a statue that stands outside the amphitheatre.  Christian Montcouquiol (1954–1991), born in Germany, was a French Matador known as Nimeño II as a result of a contest in Nîmes in 1989.  In a subsequent fight, in the bullring in Arles, he received severe injuries from which he never fully recovered and, in 1991, Christian committed suicide.

From the amphitheatre, it is a short walk along Boulevard Victor Hugo to Café Napoleon... Well, when in Nîmes…

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Please welcome, friend and author, Alice Castle... the blog this week.  You're on your 6th book, Alice - I am so in awe of the speed at which you write - can you tell us what it's all about?

Those who know Dulwich might well think that Beth Haldane, the single mum amateur sleuth star of my London Murder Mysteries series, must be running out of places to find bodies in SE21.  Not a bit of it.  Dulwich may be small but there are still plenty of handy corners where a fictional corpse or two can be stashed, and Belair Park is a perfect example.
The park is nestled around, and used to be the very grand garden of, Belair House, which is without doubt one of the finest mansions in this pocket of south east London.  Belair House is a beautiful Georgian slab of white stucco, dating from 1785, which some say was designed by Robert Adam.  In a Jane Austen novel, the house would be the seat of the local eligible bachelor, who’d sweep Beth away to dance in the candlelit ballroom.  In real life, it was built by a maize farmer by the name of John Willes, who’d made his fortune in Whitechapel.  Nowadays, the place is a Grade II listed events venue.  For the purposes of my whodunit, it has been taken over by the imaginary Dulwich Bridge Club, a collection of sharp-elbowed, competitive retired folk who used to have top jobs and still want to trump the opposition wherever possible.  Beth’s difficult mother, Wendy, likes to think she’s a leading light of the club.  Tragedy strikes when her long term bridge partner, Alfie, dies suddenly.  Wendy is convinced it’s murder, and Beth finds herself reluctantly dragged into the mystery.
While Beth rushes around investigating, Belair House stands tall and aloof, as it has done for more than two centuries now.  It still has its own lawn, but most of its grounds, which are said to have been landscaped by the famous Capability Brown himself, are now open to the public and owned by Southwark Council.  It is here, on a park bench, that the body of Alfie Pole is found.  The park features a pond, which was rather cheekily formed by damming the ancient river Effra.  It now also has a new skatepark, which no doubt Capability Brown, Robert Adam and John Willes too would have been astonished at.
It was such a joy to set my book in this corner of Dulwich which feels like a well-kept secret. 
I’d like it to have a much wider audience.  Belair House would be a gorgeous backdrop to
any story but it really lent itself to a cozy crime.  Although in the past it’s been open as a restaurant and bar, for the moment you can only book it for larger events.  Could it be the perfect spot for Beth’s own wedding to irascible Metropolitan Police Detective Inspector Harry York?  I’m laughing even as I type that – and Beth is blushing furiously behind her fringe ;)

...about the book Beth Haldane is on the verge of having everything she’s ever wanted.  Her son is starting secondary school, her personal life seems to have settled down – even her pets are getting on better.  But then the phone rings.
It’s Beth’s high maintenance mother, Wendy, with terrible news.  Her bridge partner, Alfie Pole, has died suddenly.  While Beth, and most of Dulwich, is convinced that Alfie has pegged out from exhaustion, thanks to playing with Wendy for years, Beth’s mother is certain that there is foul play afoot.
Before she knows it, Beth is plunged into her most complicated mystery yet, involving the Dulwich Bridge Club, allotment holders, the Dulwich Open Garden set and, of course, her long-suffering boyfriend, Metropolitan Police Detective Inspector Harry York.  The case stirs up old wounds which are much closer to home than Beth would like.  Can she come up trumps in time to stop the murderer striking again, or does the murderer hold the winning hand this time? 

...about the author Before turning to crime, Alice Castle was a UK newspaper journalist for The Daily Express, The Times and The Daily Telegraph.  Her first book, Hot Chocolate, set in Brussels and London, was a European hit and sold out in two weeks.
Death in Dulwich was published in September 2017 and has been a number one best-seller in the UK, US, France, Spain and Germany.  A sequel, The Girl in the Gallery was published in December 2017 to critical acclaim and also hit the number one spot.  Calamity in Camberwell, the third book in the London Murder Mystery series, was published in August 2018, with Homicide in Herne Hill following in October 2018. Revenge on the Rye came out in December 2018.  Alice is currently working on the seventh London Murder Mystery adventure, The Slaying in Sydenham.  Once again, it will feature Beth Haldane and DI Harry York. 

The Body in Belair Park will be published on 25th June by Crooked Cat and you can get a copy Here and Death in Dulwich is available as an Audio Book

You can follow Alice on her Website on Facebook and on  Twitter 

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Please welcome, friend and author, Grahame Peace... the blog this week.  Hi, Grahame, and thanks for taking some time out to be here.  Tell me, what is your current work in progress?
GP  I’m currently working on my seventh book, which is the fifth book in my Ghost from the Molly House Series, which I hope to bring out later this year.  In March I published my latest book ‘A Journey into Fashion (The Dressing Room)’.  It’s fictional and is an amusing, coming of age story about the power of love and friendship, and of course, it’s about fashion.
AW  What first got you into writing and why?
GP   I retired nearly five years ago from the NHS, and I’d always enjoyed writing, but most of it had been work reports and academic assignments.  I like writing about my home town of Huddersfield and thought I had a story to tell; my writing grew from there.  I think it takes a lot of bravery to write and put your work out there; it’s very exposing, so it took a lot of courage; I’m still learning.
When I published my first book in 2014 (no longer in print) I had one scathing review, it was done with real venom, it was a real rant, and although some of the comments were justified, a lot of the things that were said were incorrect and untrue, it almost felt like a personal attack.  So, I lost confidence for a while, but slowly I picked writing back up again, and the scathing review taught me a valuable lesson.  But as I say, I’m still learning and probably will never stop, like it or not; everyone has an opinion.
AW  You write ghost stories and novels set in the world of fashion.  They are such diverse subjects; how did that happen?
GP   Good question!  I’ve always been interested in high-fashion, I’ve no idea where it came from, but it’s always been my absolute passion.  I wanted it to be my career, but young working-class men from the North of England, did not do fashion in the early 1970s, it’s all in the new book.  A Journey into Fashion is fiction, but I’ve tried to tell what I hope is a touching, honest, yet humorous coming of age story.  It starts in 1956 and covers a 40-year period, and although the book is aimed at people who are interested in and enjoy fashion and fashion history, there’s far more to it than that.  I’ve tried to tell a fashion story from a totally different perspective, my story isn’t based in Paris, London, New York, or Milan, but in the Northern textile town of Huddersfield!  Yet it’s full of the big historic fashion names, I think I’ve made it work, but the only way you’ll know is by reading the book!
In terms of my ghost stories, I like history, and I’d read a book by Rictor Norton called Mother Clap’s Molly-House, which is fascinating.  It’s a well-researched book about the ‘Gay’ community in London of the 18th century.  I’d wanted to create a ghost story, and it gave me the idea for a ghost who had experienced a lot of hardship and witnessed terrible cruelty and awful injustice in his life.  I wanted him to be sympathetic and accept people for their kindness and good nature, not their wealth, position, gender, the colour of their skin, their religion, nationality, or their sexual persuasion.
I wanted a character who looked for the goodness in people, but who understood there was also evil and badness in the world.  So, I created a sympathetic time-travelling ghost called Jasper Claxton, with super-powers and a wicked sense of humour.  He’s not gay by the way, not that it matters, and he has all sorts of adventures all over the world in different time periods.  I developed a different set of characters depending on which period he’s in, and I keep returning to them.  I love them all; somehow they have become part of me.  Jasper is great fun; he’ll run and run, because he can go anywhere in any period, past, present, or future, giving me endless story opportunities.  I just have to come up with the ideas!
AW  Ghosts and fashion, how much is solid research and how much is imagination?
GP  I do a lot of research for my books, I have an almost encyclopedic knowledge where fashion is concerned, particularly for the ‘Golden Age’ of haute couture from the early 1930s to the early 1960s and the great haute couture houses like Patou, Balenciaga, Vionnet, Lanvin, Gres, Poiret, Schiaparelli, Chanel, Dior, Balmain, Givenchy, Fath, Valentino, and YSL.  Then there were all the Hollywood costume designers.  I still follow today’s designers, but for me, they don’t have the magic or allure of the ‘Golden Age’.  People’s lives are so different today, let alone the huge cost of the clothes.  However, fashion has a way of creeping into all my books.
In terms of my ghost stories, it’s often real history that leads, drives or inspires the story, I do a lot of research, and then I add fantasy.  My ghost Jasper can do anything with his super-powers, but I try to make him as real as I can, I want the reader to feel he still has limitations, it helps to add a bit of drama to the story.  I worry what someone might think if they looked at my internet search history, what with the devil, black magic, the occult, demons, voodoo, witches, werewolves, wars, torture, cults, and spells to name only a few!
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?
GP  I have a special chair in our garden room.  I sit there with my laptop on my knee, and off I go.  We do have an office at home, but I don’t use it very often, I like my chair.
AW  Finally, if you had a whole afternoon to yourself and could choose to spend it with any one individual, living or dead or a character from a book, who would it be, and what would you want to discuss?
GP   For me it would have to be the late Cristóbal Balenciaga, the most celebrated haute couturier who ever lived, he was known as the couturier’s couturier, Dior called him ‘the master of us all’.  I’ve visited the Balenciaga museum in Getaria in Spain; I was allowed to have the whole museum to myself after it had closed, it was a 60th birthday present from my family.  It was eerie but amazing.  I would want to know everything about his early life in Getaria, what had inspired him and how he developed his many couture innovations and fabrics.
I do know a lot about him, but it would be good to hear it from the man himself, although he was quite a reclusive character, he rarely gave interviews.  Of course, there are many others.

...about the book  A Journey into Fashion (The Dressing Room), is a story about the healing power of love and friendship, it’s also a celebration of the high-end fashion world.  It’s a touching, amusing, coming of age story, set in the North of England.  It starts in the late 1950s and describes one man’s 40-year journey from humble, unhappy beginnings to find himself and build a future while striving to make his dreams come true.  His is an unusual story driven by self-doubt, dogged determination, and hope to enter the world of fashion; it’s a journey full of diversions.  The story covers a number of significant events and is told with honesty, and humour and takes you on his voyage of self-discovery and into fashion.
...about the author  Grahame Peace was born in Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, England, where he still lives.  He writes humorous, paranormal-historical-fantasy, mystery, and fashion fiction.  Grahame has several nursing qualifications and a degree in Health & Social Care, and a master’s degree in Innovation and Leadership.  He worked for many years for the National Health Service in Mental Health Services, before becoming a full-time writer.  So, he knows about ‘life’ and the many challenges, and ups and downs it can throw at people.
He’s always had a fascination with the history of fashion, especially the high-end fashion industry, which is evident in several of his books.  His other interests in no particular order are: keeping fit, fighting off the ravages of time, theatre-going, music, history, the cinema, good coffee, travelling, reading, cooking, oh and the odd glass of white wine or anything that sparkles!

You can find Grahame on his Website  on Facebook  Twitter and Goodreads

You can get Grahame's boooks from Amazon