Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Jottings from the Journals...

... I read Lawrence Durrell's book, Caesar's Vast Ghost, some years ago and, as is often the case with books about France, I felt compelled to see what the writer had seen.   As I was leafing through my journals recently I came across this…

Wednesday, 19th

… in Gard this time around. My purpose is to visit the Pont du Gard, a vast piece of Roman architecture that Durrell dubbed to be 'so huge in conception' that it ranked along side Westminster Abbey.  Having seen it, I know exactly what he means.
The Pont du Gard sits across the valley of the river Gardon, which rises in the mountains of the Cévennes close to St-Martin-de-Lansuscle (48).  The river runs for about 127 kilometres (just short of 80 miles) until it joins the Rhone just north of Beaucaire.  The bridge, is not a route across the valley as I had originally thought before I read my Durrell, is an aqueduct.  It was built solely to bring water to the Roman settlement of Nemausus - that's our modern city of Nîmes.  At the time, Nemausus was a vast city of some 60,000 inhabitants and a regional capital.  The modern city has a population only 3 times the size of the ancient one.  But the roman legacy is very much in existance.
The aqueduct, which once carried water along its 50K (about 30 miles) length, was built under the auspices of emperor Augustus in the 1st century AD by his son-in-law, Marcus Visanius Agrippa. I guess that means even the ancient Romans kept it all in the family!
As I stood looking at the monument, I had to marvel at the sheer scale. But, when you take into account that it is only a little short of 2,000 years old, that it stands 49 metres (161 feet) above the water, that there is no mortar holding the vast blocks of limestone together, you
L'Arene, Nîmes
surely have to admit that the Romans must have known what they were doing. You also, surely have to admit that when they invaded this area of France, they very definitely came with the intention of staying. But, then my thoughts turned to how? There were no mechanical diggers back then. And what about the vast amount of human effort involved in the day-to-day work of construction…

… When I got back home after that trip I clearly did some more research as I've added some notes at the side of the original entry.  Apparently the edifice took between 15 and 20 years to build and used up to 1,000 workers at any one time.  When I visited Nîmes three years ago, I was able to see the other end of the aqueduct.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Introducing Kathleen Swan...

...poetess, mum, step-mum and nurse.  Hi Kathleen, thanks very much for taking some time out of your busy schedule to be here today.  So, tell me more...

Becoming a stepmother is a challenge, undertaking it in my twenties was perhaps lunacy but that is what I did.  I took on my husband’s four children, three girls and one boy, a large town house and a husband with a busy career.  I think I spent the first five years permanently tired and never quite seemed to finish the list of jobs in a month never mind a day.  However, there was tremendous satisfaction in being part of their lives as they grew into young adults.  But if you want to complicate the situation further have a baby of your own why don’t you!  Well that’s just what we did and of course there was no shortage of attention and people willing to wheel the baby round the park.
I had been an only child until I was nine and being part of a busy family was a new experience.  I didn’t drive so walked miles to brownies, guides, school events and when I got a bike with a baby seat on the back I found freedom.  I could fit in even more in a day!  Of course there were days when I could have given it all up and run away but I started to write down some of the frustrations and turn them into magazine pieces.  I began to look back on my upbringing and the lives of my parents during the 1950s when money was tight and we had to make do and mend.  I gained a greater understanding of myself and what I wanted to do when I finally had the time. 
Coniston from Brantwood
After the children had grown up I had a busy working life in the NHS for 26 years and looked after my parents in their later years.  However, when my husband asked me once what I was going to do with my retirement,  I answered very firmly that I was going to write and in particular I was going to write poetry.  So I started to pick up my habit of scribbling in a notebook and signed up for courses to help me understand more about how to write well.  I found that my instinct was to write about the people and places I knew best so that is what I have been doing for the last eight years.  I have gone back to my emotional roots in the Lake District and written about characters from my childhood and places which left a lasting impression on me.  I think being a step-mother taught me tolerance, perseverance, which battles to fight and how to time things to my advantage.  All valuable in writing and getting work published.
In 2019 I was selected to work with a young composer to produce a song which was performed at the  International Leeds Lieder Festival.  I firmly believe that poetry is at its best when it is performed and through belonging to Yorkshire Authors I had the opportunity to take part in The Ilkley Literature Festival last Autumn.  Having had poems published in books and magazines, I finally got round to gathering my work together and Ripples Beyond the Pool was published by Coverstory books  last summer.

about the author and the book… Kathleen was brought up in rural Cumbria and now lives in North Yorkshire.  She spent her working life in the NHS and, since her retirement, is able to concentrate on family, gardening and studying and writing poetry.   Her poetry embraces relationships with family and friends and reflects a love of rural life and characters.  It also takes us on visits to other countries and cultures.  Her poems are published on-line, in anthologies, magazines and her first collection is “Ripples Beyond the Pool.  

You can get the book on Amazon

Look out for more Yorkshire authors in the coming weeks...

And if you are an author, with a connection to Yorkshire and wish to know more about us or to join us then check out our Website

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Please welcome friend and author, Allan Hudson...

...to the blog today.  Hi Allan, and thanks very much for taking time out from your busy schedule to be here today.  So, tell me, what is your current release?

AH  Titled The Alexanders Vol. 1 1911 - 1920, it is my first attempt at historical fiction.  It begins in Scotland in 1911 when my main character – Dominic Alexander – must go live with his bachelor uncle.  Due to unfortunate circumstances in his family’s life, he and his siblings are divided up amongst relatives.  Good fortune and misfortune follow the young man as he tries to fit in until he must make a decision that will change his life forever.
AW   What first got you into writing and why?
AH   Having always enjoyed reading since I was quite young, I always wanted to write a story or stories.  I took a creative writing course when I was in my early forties and the instructor often commented that my writing showed promise but it was only after I discovered the writing of Bryce Courtenay – my favorite author – that I was inspired to begin.  He started writing after he retired in his mid-fifties and went on to pen many best sellers.  I realized then; it was never too late to start.
AW  You write action-packed adventure novels - I really enjoyed Wall of War.  Is it all imagination or do you also undertake research?
AH  Thank you for those kind words Angela.  I read many types of stories but I must admit action novels hold my attention best.  Leon Uris and Robert Ludlum, do it so well, as does Harlan Coben.  These were the stories I wanted to tell.  Not so much a mystery but the thrill of the chase.  The danger involved.  And thanks to you, I’ve been introduced to cozy mysteries and I love your Jacques Forêt character and I’m considering something similar.
As most authors, I’ve taken some literary license in embellishing scenes and places but a lot of research went into Wall of War.  I’ve always been intrigued by the Inca and their clever masonry talents as well as their love and craftsmanship of gold adornments.  The unique geography of Peru.  The Amazon.  The Spanish destruction of this exceptional civilization.  The Sacred valley of Cuzco, etc.  So much to learn and bring to my readers.
I also love historical fiction as well.
AW  You also write short stories and some of those fit other genres - In A Box of Memories we have some historical fiction and a bit of sci-fi in The Far Out Mall.  Is there any particular genre that you prefer over others?
AH  Short stories have always appealed to me and I’ve read several collections. While my novels are more action/adventure, short stories let me explore other genres.  It’s quite fun to dabble with history or outer space or fantasy to see how it works in a shorter format.  I would be hard put to pick one genre as a favorite but I enjoy a story that makes me feel good at the end.  Love and family.  Older people relating to younger folks appeals to me as in One Bedroom Ark and Lloyd and the Baby.  Those were the most fun to write.
Short stories are often a good way to set up a novel perhaps, as in Shattered Figurine.  It started out as a short story.  I’m hoping to do the same with The Honey Trap.
Nice!  I guess the car drew the short straw!
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?
AH  Yes, I do.  I remodeled my garage to be a lounge and writing spot.  I have a desk set up in front of a window that faces the east and I like to write in the early mornings.  I can watch the sun rise over the bay.  I work with a laptop, notepad and total silence.  Works great for me.
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?
AH   I would most definitely want to spend the time with my favourite musician, JJ Cale.  Knowing what I know now, I would offer to write his memoir.  A very humble man.
In 1978, due to the oddest circumstances, I was introduced to his music and have been a devoted fan since.  JJ’s music is difficult to categorize as he writes and perform many types of music; rock, blues, country and is credited with creating the Oklahoma Sound.  Cale’s music was never chart topping but he is perhaps one of the most influential musicians of the past generations.  He is commonly referred to as a musician’s musician.  His songs made Eric Clapton famous when he recorded After Midnight and Cocaine, two of Cale’s most popular tunes.  Cale has been covered by many individuals and bands.  Unfortunately, he passed away in 2013.

about the book… In the turbulent waters off Saltcoats, Scotland, Danny Alexander dies in a boating accident.  He leaves behind a wife, seven children and no hope. Dominic is the middle child.  With a broken heart, his mother is forced to leave him with his bachelor uncle, Duff.  None of them are happy with the decision.
Eleven-year-old Dominic Alexander must earn his keep. There are no free rides.  Yet despite the difficulties, he finds his place in the structured world of his uncle and overcomes his loneliness.
Fortune and misfortune follow the young man until adversity forces him to make a decision that will affect the rest of his life.  Is emigrating to Canada the answer?

You can get the book on Amazon

You can follow Allan on his Website  on Facebook   Twitter  and on LinkedIn

You can read more about Allan, his writing and his guests on his blog The South Branch Scribbler 

You can read my review of A Box of Memories here on the blog on November 3rd.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

It's Bonkers on the bookshelves...

... I'm very pleased to host author and friend, Morwenna Blackwood on the blog today.  Hi Morwenna, thanks for making time to be here and tell me a bit more about yourself and your book... 

When I was in my late teens, I fell in love for the first time.  It was with a guy who was a bit older than me, had his own flat and his own car (he didn’t just borrow his mum’s), had a job as a designer, was a bit ‘weird’, and loved music in a way no one else I knew did.  His flat was basically a sea of CDs and tapes, with a bed, a window seat and a cooking area braking the surface, like islands.
The CD he was most into at the time was one by Crowded House.  I’d never heard of them before, but now, whenever I hear Neil Flynn’s voice, I am transported back to that time.  Anyway, one of the tracks on the album was called Together Alone.  In my opinion, it was the second worst track musically, and had the worst title – it didn’t even make sense!
Ironically, during the course of the relationship, I learned that it did, in fact, make a great deal of sense.
At the time, I was in recovery from many years of severe mental illness via medication and the mental health services, and I was sure that soon I would be ‘cured’.  Once I was cured, I would move to America and become a writer.  Simples.
No one I knew of had experienced, or was experiencing, any of the things I had (apart from Richey from the Manic Street Preachers), and now that I was feeling better and had a diagnosis, I kind of enjoyed being called ‘weird’ and all those other things.  It had given me an identity.  I was unaware that other people close to me were feeling their own brand of existential dread, and were struggling inside their own heads, and that this didn’t necessarily show on their faces, or manifest in a way that necessitated intervention.  I also thought that mental illness (which wasn’t a term that was familiar to anyone I knew – and certainly wasn’t a social dialogue) was like chicken pox – once you’d had it, and had been treated, you were cured and could never get it again.  I expected to become a confident, happy, successful person, like everyone else, once I’d been Abracadabraed.
While I was waiting for the Abracadabra to take place, I drank lots of alcohol like everyone else did.  I had no idea it would react with my tablets.  I had no idea that the poor lad I loved had his own problems, and needed some alone time for his own sanity– in my eyes, being ‘together’ meant being together all the time.  I thought he drove around all night because he was cool.  We were, indeed, together, alone.  Perception, as lots of people have said lots of times, is everything.
The relationship ended.  I found solace in reading and writing – as I always have – you can lose your mind, but also find yourself in a book.  Eventually, I wrote The (D)Evolution of Us (TDofU).
One of the readers who very kindly left me a 5-star review, commented that they could tell that the novel had been cathartic in its writing.  They were quite right.
TDofU explores what it feels like to live with a mental illness; how it affects and combines with your personality, your perspective, your friendships, relationships, every aspect of your life – your Reality.  I wanted to do this to be part of - and add to - the #MentalHeathAwareness dialogue.  I wanted to help, indirectly, via a chilling story that gives you something to think about.
Everything is connected – consider the push for a greener environment; the spread of Covid-19; the way events of hundreds of years ago have left deep scars in our collective psyches, culture and society.
In TDofU, Richard’s and Kayleigh’s pasts affect Catherine in profound ways, and on it goes. 
So, what to do to lessen having a potentially negative unintended impact on others?  Try to make the best of each day, try to be the best people we can be, - and hope!  We are together, alone; unique but inextricable from each other; we are different things to different people at any given moment both in our actions and according to the perceptions of others.
But don’t dwell on it – escape into someone else’s world for moment – read a book.  You might lose your mind – but you might find yourself.  After all, isn’t that the beauty of reading – that it’s bonkers on the bookshelves?

about the book… the water was red and translucent, like when you rinse a paint brush in a jam jar.  The deeper into the water, the darker the red got.  No, the thicker it got.  It wasn’t water, it was human.  It was Cath.

Cath is dead, but why and how isn’t clear cut to her best friend, Kayleigh.  As Kayleigh searches for answers, she is drawn deeper into Cath’s hidden world.  The (D)Evolution of Us questions where a story really begins, and whether the world in our heads is more real than reality.

You can get the book on Amazon

You can follow Morwenna on Facebook  Twitter  and on Instagram

Morwenna's email : blackwoodmorwenna@gmail.com

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Off my beaten track...

… in the fabulous city of Verona...

Ponte delle Navi, Verona
Some years ago a friend of mine - we'll call her C - suggested that we might make a trip to Italy and take in the opera festival.  I willingly agreed as it seemed like a great adventure and I knew I would enjoy the spectacle of a different kind of theatre in ancient surroundings.  I had no idea that I would be waiting more than a year for such an event to come off.  Apparently tickets for the festival are booked a year in advance - it was the only way we could get the seats that we really wanted - and we decided that for such a once-in-a lifetime event we were going to spoil ourselves.  And we did!
My journey overland was a very long and difficult drive.  A stop in Fusson to camp because it was the only site that could be found that took credit card payments - had no cash - and an evening's entertainment of Abba songs to the instruments and tempo of an 'Oompah' band was a distraction I didn't really need, but it was a happenstance I have never been able to forget!
Once we had met up in Verona C and I just had to explore.  Never mind the packed posh frock that I'd dragged halfway across Europe, or my champagne glasses that I hadn't checked to make sure they had survived the journey, our goal - well maybe mine more than C's - was to see the city.
The Arena and Juliet's balcony were a must.  There was no way that I was coming to Verona, a city that Shakespeare used for Romeo and Juliet - in my view the greatest romantic tragedy ever written - and Two Gentlemen of Verona without seeing the place through Shakespeare's eyes.
The modern city comprises about 260,000 inhabitants, but its ancient Roman military heart, which dates from around 500BC, is still intact.  The arena was completed about 30AD and, although now not totally complete in its original form, is still impressive.  Originally it would have held some 25,000 spectators on 40 or more tiers of seating.  The original Roman foundations in the area of the city surrounding the arena are the foundations that we 21st century people are walking on about 6 meters beneath our feet.  The more modern buildings having maintained the original footings and cellars.
The square that houses Juliet's balcony was teaming with people when C and I got there.  Supposedly, the old house on the right was that belonging to the Capulet family of Shakespeare's play.  It's much smaller that I imagined, and the climb to the balcony for Romeo, not as death defying as I had believed when first read the play as a teenager.  As we wandered the streets I wondered if Shakespeare ever actually visited the city.  Probably not, but he must have known people who had, as the sense of the place is very evident in both plays, be it only briefly for Two Gentlemen.
At the arena we found a mish-mash of stage props and scenery encroaching onto the street.  I couldn't stop myself from having a closer look.  The colours were vibrant - as expected, stage lights bleach everything they touch - and the bits of scenery that created the pyramids may have been hollow but rough peppered paint on the surface meant that they would look solid and substantial under the lights.

... And the opera?  Aida, an utterly amazing experience.  And yes, I did wear the posh frock, and we did drink the champagne I'd carried all the way from France and my beautiful crystal flutes did survive the round trip!

I have also been #OffMyBeatenTrack in Sicily