Tuesday 31 December 2019

Just because it's Twixmas...

...Part 2 of the Tale of Santa's Trousers follows and you can find Part 1 here ...

...Lifting her head Esme sniffed the air and stepped onto the tail of a wind.  Moments later her tiny form hovered above the hearth of number 52.
“Hmm, it's very quiet here,” murmured Esme as she let herself drift gently onto the brass fire surround.  She glanced around the room.  In the large bay window was an empty pot, but no tree or lights.  The boxes of decorations were stacked unopened on the floor around it.  Raising herself and hovering above the coffee table she saw some cards haphazardly discarded.  She turned and looked up, the corners of the room held no decorations.  The only display of Christmas was the red and white shine of the foil uniforms of a few of the chocolate soldiers that had spilled from the open box on the windowsill.  Esme frowned and decided to investigate further.
Wishing herself dust she disappeared under the door and into the hallway.  There were no signs of Christmas there either, just the sobbing of the mother in the kitchen and disregarded mail on the doormat.  Esme caught a draught of air from the front door that took her upstairs.  Crouched outside the child's bedroom door was the fully-grown Labrador.  The dog opened one eye and stared.  Esme retreated to the room downstairs.
“Mrs Claus,” she whispered up the chimney.  “Mrs Claus, there's something so very wrong here.”
“Look to the future, Esme,” came the echo of the reply.
Esme circled her finger in the air and watched as images moved across the space.  At the final picture tears welled in her eyes and she batted the circle away.  As dust she willed herself out of the room, the house and on to the forests of Norway.
“I need one of you to sacrifice yourselves for a little girl who is very ill.”  On again to a goose farm.  “I need your feathers,” she said.  “For a very good cause.”  On and on she travelled until she arrived safely at number 52 and slipped down the chimney again.
Exhausted, Esme rested for a few moments on the cold marble of the hearth.  The clock on the mantelpiece struck four.  Esme started at the sound.
“Oh no!”  She jumped up.  “There's so little time!”  She upended her rucksack and emptied the contents.  A wave of her finger and the Norwegian spruce settled itself in the container in the centre of the bay window.
“Lieutenant Sweeting,” she shouted.  “Get all of your men out of that box and get that tree decorated.  I've got Santa's trousers to mend.”  A rustle of card and a soldier hopped down.
Raising his hand to his forehead, “Yes Ma’m,” he said.  “Platoon, arise!”  The small army of red and white clad soldiers marched out of the box, down the wall and across to the pile of decorations.  Esme smiled.  They'll be done in no time, she thought.
With a sigh she pulled out Santa's trousers and looked at the damage.  “If it was just the seam, this would be easy.”  Her brow furrowed as she examined the extent of the damage to the torn material.  “I’m going to need a rather large patch to cover that!”  A wave of her finger and her workbox slid across the marble to her side and opened.  Esme searched through the contents.  Sequins were chucked onto the hearth, red material, green ribbons, white lace, pink chiffon… soon the white marble hearth was a rainbow of colour and Esme was intent on her task to repair Santa's trousers.
“Excuse me Ma’m,” said Lieutenant Sweeting as he saluted and presented the fairy for Esme to see.  “I think this is a problem that needs your expertise.”
Esme took the doll from him.  “Oh yes,” she said as she fingered the clumsily attached crepe paper that had been used as a replacement skirt the year before.  “That will never do.”  Esme ripped the crumpled paper from the fairy's body and threw it into the cold and lifeless fireplace.
“And that's something else we need, Lieutenant Sweeting,” she nodded at the empty grate.  “Wood and a warm fire.”  The soldier saluted, turned and marshalled his men.
Alone with her task Esme cut away great swathes of red cloth, fixed the patch and, completed the repair.  Satisfied with her handiwork she then began sorting through the pile of fabrics and haberdashery on the hearth.
“Perfect!  That is absolutely perfect,” she said handling a piece of white satin which she set against some gold coloured lace and the red cloth cut from Santa’s trousers.  Grabbing some white netting she laid everything out on the floor.  A wave of her finger and the scissors began cutting and shaping as Esme threaded her needle with gold coloured cotton and started to sew.
In the twinkle of the lights on the tree and the warm orange glow of the last embers of the fire Esme heard the rustle of a fall of soot onto the hearth.  A moment later a large red sack landed followed by Santa still sporting his hairy legs.  Esme let the wings she had made from the goose feathers carry her from the top of the tree to the hearth.
“My trousers, are they ready?”
“Yes,” said Esme pulling the garment from behind the fire irons where she had hidden it from human view.
“Marvellous!” Santa grabbed the trousers and turned them round.  His face fell as he saw the repair.  “What is the meaning of this?”
Esme hung her head.  At that moment, her newly stitched white satin slippers peeping out from under the gold lace edge of her newly created fairy dress were of more interest.
“Esme,” bellowed Santa.
Esme straightened her shoulders and ran her hands down the soft bright red overdress she had made.  “I’m sorry Santa,” she said.  “But making Christmas the best ever here at number 52 was my only thought,” she blurted out the flurry of words.  “And the gash in your trousers was so big and ragged I had to cut away more to make a patch possible and it seemed such a shame not to use the extra material and the fairy for the tree was in such a state and—”
“Enough,” said Santa.  The old man pulled at his beard as he cast his eyes over the patch.  “The stitching is of your finest, Esme.  As I would expect, but Lurex?  Did you really have to use purple Lurex for the patch?”
“It was the only piece I had that was big enough.”
Santa, hands behind his back, paced the hearth.  “I see,” he said.  “Misappropriating company property for your own personal use is a very serious matter, Esme.  I shall have to consult Mrs C about this.”
“But the little girl—”
Santa held up his hand.  “I know you did this with the best of intentions, but misappropriation is still misappropriation.  I cannot ignore it.  As for the little girl, she needs a miracle of medical science.  We can’t help with that, so you must make sure tomorrow is a very special time for this family.”
“Yes, Mr C.”
Santa nodded and stacked the presents under the tree.  Still in his shorts, but wearing his displeasure on his face, the old man disappeared up the chimney.  Esme smiled and took her place at the top of the tree with her heart torn and a tear in her eye.

Monday 30 December 2019

Just because it's Twixmas...

... I have a little story for you.  This first appeared on the Facebook page of the UK Crime Book Club on December 21st.  Read on...

The Tale of Santa's Trousers

Once upon a time, in a place so very far north from here, there was a large house made of ice that was owned by Mr and Mrs Claus.  The house had stables, a workshop and acres and acres of rooms.  Many people, throughout the whole of history, have tried to find the Claus’ house and workshop, but have failed.  Even great explorers like Ross, Scott and Shackleton failed in their quests to find the Claus' address.  And, to cover their own embarrassment, said they were looking for the North Pole instead.  Of course, I can’t let you know where the Claus’ live... that would be telling.  But I can say that there is something a little magical about Mr and Mrs Claus and their army of helpers.  Just like there is something a bit magical about their house.
Recently, when Mr and Mrs Claus were preparing for the culmination of the year’s work on Christmas Eve, one particular helper called Esme decided she needed a change.  Threading her needle, Esme applied the last of the sequins to the dress and carefully stitched it in place.  Tying off the golden coloured cotton, she smoothed out the full-length copy of a Givenchy gown and reached for the doll.  Pulling the dress over the inanimate body, Esme tugged at the tiny zip and then placed the toy on the stand in the box and sealed it.
“Wish I could have a dress like that,” she said to no one in particular.  Her co-helpers were equally busy with the rest of the wardrobe for the very last doll required for the night’s delivery.  Esme stretched and then rubbed her aching back. Getting up from her workbench, she waved her forefinger in a circle.  Her scissors, needles, and pins danced across to her workbox and settled into their appropriate trays.  The remnants of cotton, material, and sequins tidied themselves away, and, with a final flourish of red ribbon, the workbox lid slowly closed and the bow at the front tied itself.
Esme grinned, smoothed down her green pinafore dress, rolled down the sleeves of her white blouse, and collected her little red pompom hat.  It would never do to be improperly dressed when reporting to Mrs Claus.  As she walked the length of the workshop she glanced left and right, her fellow helpers were all busily working at their allotted tasks.  Esme tapped on the door of the office and waited.
“Come in dear,” said a voice from inside the room.  As Esme entered, Mrs Claus removed her spectacles to reveal bright blue eyes that were overshadowed by an unruly shock of thick white hair around a kind face.  Mrs Claus peered over her desk.  “Esme, well done.  Yet again you are one of the first to complete your—”
“Mrs C!”  Came a loud and frantic cry from the room next door.  Recognising the voice, Esme wondered if she should leave.  Just as she was about to step towards the open door, Mr Claus appeared, his broad shoulders and wide girth completely filling the doorway.
“Mrs C,” he whined.  “Look!  Look at my trousers!  They have split,” he said thrusting the offending garment at his wife, and, in his haste, almost knocking Esme to the ground.“My trousers! What about my trousers?”
His bleating temporarily abated, Mr Claus slumped on to an inadequately small stool in front of his wife's desk.  Esme turned away and covered her eyes.  Santa Claus in his bright red boxer shorts, his hairy white legs beneath, was not a sight often seen in the very far north.  Mrs Claus, lips pursed, stared at her husband.
“Shorts,” she intoned with an edge to her voice as she pulled the pile of red cloth towards her.  “Wear your shorts,” she said, her annoyance rising.  “And do not come into my office inappropriately dressed again.”
Santa frowned.  “Shorts... do I still have some of those?”
“Yes, you do.  Bottom drawer on the right.”  Mrs Claus donned her spectacles and began to examine the tear in the trousers.
“Oh, right.”  Santa paused in thought.  “But will they still fit?”
Mrs Claus sighed.  “Unlikely,” she said.  “Highly unlikely considering your year on year expanding waistline.  But it’s all you’ve got.”
“Oh.” At the door he turned.  “And my trousers will be ready for the evening deliveries won’t they, my dear?”
“We’ll do our best.”
Esme remained quite still close to the wall with her hands across her face.
“He's gone, my dear.  Now, where were we?”
When Esme stepped towards the desk Mrs Claus was examining her papers.
“Ah, yes,” she said.  “Your family are going to be the same as last year.”
“What?”  Esme flounced down on the stool.  “But last year you promised me a new family.”
Mrs Claus consulted her list.  “Hmm, yes I'm aware of that.  But, when they took down their tree last year, although they decided to buy a new fairy and some new decorations they haven't done so.  Number 52, it is for you.”
Esme crossed her arms and glared.  “Have they still got that damn puppy?”
“Yes dear, but it won't be quite as boisterous as last year, though.”
“Good.  That tree and me were crashed onto that cold hardwood floor three times on Christmas day alone.  My imitation fairy wings were all bent out of shape, my fairy crown fell into the fire and was thrown out, and my dress was chewed beyond recognition.  It was bloody cold at the top of that tree for half of Christmas last year.”
Mrs Claus nodded.  “I know dear, but you are just what this family needs and you can mend Mr C's trousers whilst you are there.”
The piercing stare that Esme felt running through her was enough.  There would be no point in presenting any further arguments for change.  She jumped off the stool, grabbed the clothes, collected a bale of hay from the pile in the corner and a bag of carrots and left the room.  Head bowed she trudged through the workroom until she reached her workspace.
“I’m heading back to number 52,” she said to her colleague across the bench.
“Have fun,” came the half-hearted reply.  Esme sighed and toed her battered rucksack out from under the bench.  A wave of her finger and the carrots and hay concertina'd themselves into the small space inside the backpack with Santa's trousers following neatly behind.  Hat firmly pulled over her ears Esme made her way through the workshop, down the stairs and out into the northern ice and snow.  The large ice door slipped shut behind her.  
Lifting her head Esme sniffed the air and stepped onto the tail of a wind...

...you can read the final part of the story here ...

Friday 27 December 2019

It's Twixmas and it's...

... the great Crooked Cat/Darkstroke Sale

From today all Crooked Cat and Darkstroke ebooks will be priced at 99p/c or international equivalent - including all 4 of my Jacques Forêt Mystery Stories.  Go on, spoil yourself and grab a bargain here ...

Tuesday 10 December 2019

Merry Christmas...

My blog has reached a special anniversary today.  This is the 250th post.  So, it seems quite fitting, to me, that this is also my Christmas post this year...

This is the time of year when I take a break from writing, reviewing and blogging.  I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all readers for visiting the blog and reading the books.  Your support is treasured.  I also want to thank reviewers for sparing their valuable time to comment.  Your thoughts are always read, considered and greatly appreciated.

Merry Christmas

Tuesday 3 December 2019


... the end of the year is approaching and I often find myself thinking back...

This year has been a very busy one. There has been the publication of the fourth book in my Jacques Forêt mystery series. Released on October 15th, it has already received some fabulous reviews and it marks the end of this particular set of stories. Way back in September 2007, as I watched the snow falling from the warm comfort of my favourite little place in the Cévennes, I knew there was a story to be told. The more I thought about it during the course of that day and the ensuing week, I realised that there were going to be four stories... and, the rest is history! But that not is the end of Jacques and the villagers of Messandrierre. There are some more stories, I'm just not able to write them quite yet.

There has also been the publication of a second anthology of stories that include the character Miss Moonshine. I'd had the bones of my story in my head for over 6 months before we all started to put together the second anthology. I also knew that there was something missing from the story too. May, a trip to France and a happenstance... As I was cycling along the path that skirts the river Yonne from Vincelles to Auxerre I happened upon a large house. From an unshuttered window, I could see curtains and a shaft of sunlight on the glass as the clouds cleared momentarily. A snippet of conversation came into my mind and my planned story suddenly took an unexpected turn and became 'A Raven's Gift'. Not quite the original title I had had in mind.

Through talks, visits to libraries and community centres, craft, harvest, and Christmas fayres, I've had numerous opportunities to talk to readers and to meet other people. It's amazing what you can learn from others. Just recently, on a very cold and frosty Saturday morning at a market in Kirkstall Abbey, I was chatting to a Texan - about the weather, of course, we English are obsessed with it - who pointed out that there are only two seasons
each year in Texas; January and Summer! I must also mention the fabulous welcome I received from the community in Parisot (Tarn et Garonne) in September who listened
appreciatively, joined in my writing exercise and shared their experiences of France with me.  It was great to meet everyone and make new friends.   Naturally, whilst in the area, I had to indulge my sweet tooth and take a short trip to the market in Villefranche-de-Rouergue to find the nougat seller.  Yes, he was still there and I bought a chunk of the forest berries nougat.  Absolutely scrumptious!

I suppose a review of the year wouldn't be complete without some statistics. This blog was born on August 11th, 2015. This post is the 249th. Since beginning in 2015, I've had 4 books published, stories included in two anthologies, two other stories included on the Facebook page for the UK Crime Book Club, and a third one coming up very soon. I've surpassed my Goodreads reading challenge for the year already and still have another couple of books to add along with reviews. Just recently, I've been reviewing and picking up the threads of an old-about-to-become a new project... but more of that in the New Year.

It really has been quite a year...