Monday, 28 December 2020

Just because it's Twixmas...

... I have a little tale of Christmas magic for you...

In a place so very far north from here, you will find a vast house of ice and snow where Mr and
Mrs Claus and their many helpers live and work. One of those helpers is Esme. Now, there’s something very magical and very special about Mr and Mrs Claus. And there’s something a little bit magical about Esme, too.
One day, early in December Mrs Claus summoned Esme to her office at the head of the vast workshop. 
“Esme, I have a very important and special task for you this year. I am suspending you from all toy manufacturing duties—” 
“But I haven’t fin—” 
Mrs Claus held up her hand. “There will be no buts, and it was Mr Claus himself who suggested that you would be the right person for this particular assignment.” 
Esme didn’t like leaving her work half-done. But as it was Mr Claus who had suggested her for this task, whatever it was, then she would do it. And she would do it willingly. Esme sat up straight on the stool and waited to hear her fate. 
“Now let me see,” said Mrs Claus as she shuffled through Emse’s personnel file. “Last year you were at number 52. This year I’m sending you to number 79, and I want you to go today. 
“But it’s not yet Christmas Eve, Mrs C.” 
Mrs Claus peered over her spectacles and lowered her voice. “You have an especially difficult task this year, I’m afraid. Christmas has been kidnapped at number 79.” Mrs Claus pursed her lips. 
“Kidnapped,” Esme frowned. “How can Christmas be kidnapped?” 
Mrs Claus raised an eyebrow. “I can assure you we have a hostage situation at number 79. Now,” Mrs Claus rested her forearms on her vast desk. “I need you there within the hour Esme.” 
Esme slipped off the stool and straightened her green pinafore dress. 
“Leave it to me,” she said. Shoulders back Esme marched out of the office and along the workshop floor to her bench. She toed her rucksack out from under her stool and slung it over her shoulder. Her hat pulled down over her ears Esme made her way to the great ice door. A wish in her mind and the vast door opened. Esme stepped out into the snow and ice. Taking a deep breath of fresh air, she waited for a wind and stepped onto its tail. 
Moments later, Esme bumped to a hard landing. When she looked around, all she could see was blackness. Nothing but blackness on all sides of her. 
“Oh no, they haven’t, have they?” She reached out her hand to touch a wall. When she looked at her fingers, they were all covered in soot. 
“Damn it! They’ve blocked up the chimney.” Esme reached up to the sky and wished herself elsewhere. Perched on a branch of the ornamental cherry tree in the front garden Esme looked for an open window. She spotted one on the first floor. In an instant, she found herself standing on the edge of the washbasin. 
“Perfect. I can use that flannel to get rid of this awful black stuff.” Free of the soot she pulled herself up to her full two inches of height and wished herself to dust. She swirled through the house until she settled on the stone hearth. 
“Ah,” she said as her eyes played over the carefully arranged logs in the space that had once been a fireplace. “They’ve gone all Hygge. Must warn Mr C about that.” 
As she turned to move to another room, she heard the sound of crying from somewhere at the back. In the kitchen, she looked out of the window. By the shed at the bottom of the garden was a little boy. Esme made a circle in the air. Pictures flashed by. A birth. Happiness. Six Christmases and birthdays. An accident. Sadness and finally, a new home. 
Esme wiped a tear from her eye. She turned intending to go to the fireplace and call up the chimney but changed her mind. The messages would be too muffled. She closed her eyes and thought of Mrs C. 
“You must do whatever it takes, Esme,” came the reply. 
“Whatever it takes,” she said to herself. She clasped her hands together, a deep frown on her forehead. “It’s breaking the rules,” she whispered to herself. An echo of Mrs C’s voice came to her on a light breeze from the open back door. Esme took a breath, willed herself to dust and slipped under the front door and round to the quiet alley behind the house. There she willed herself to human. 
From the back wall of number 79, Esme could see the little boy. He was seven years old and still sobbing. 
“Hello, why are you crying?” 
“Go away,” said the boy. 
“No,” said Esme as she slipped off the wall and into the boy’s garden. “I want to know why you’re crying?” 
The boy looked up. “My auntie Jo has kidnapped my Christmas tree and locked it in the shed. I’ve been saving my pocket money for months so I could buy it.” 
Oh well that’s easy, thought Esme. I can magic… no I can’t I’m being human. She frowned at her stupidity. “I can pick locks,” she offered instead. 
“Won’t matter. Auntie Jo says Santa Claus is a judgemental old man. She even tweeted about it and got hundreds and hundreds of new followers.” 
The boy looked up, his face streaked with tears, his eyes red and swollen. 
Esme wanted to hug him, but she’d seen all the briefings from Mr C about the parlous state of affection in the UK because of some nasty virus. She knew it wouldn’t be acceptable. 
“Auntie Jo says it’s not appropriate for an old man to decide if children are naughty or nice and to reward only the nice ones. She says it’s… She says it’s, umm, oh, long division or something.” 
Esme thought for a moment. “I think what your Aunt might have said was that rewarding only nice children with presents was divisive.” 
The boy scraped his hands across his grubby face. “Yeah, something like that. I’m Matthew, what’s your name?” 
“Esme. Look, Matthew, I can help you bring Christmas to your house if you want?” 
“How? Do you do miracles or something?” He stood up, hands in his trouser pockets and stared at her. 
“No,” said Esme. “But I can do magic.” She wished herself back to her real self. 
“What?” Matthew spun around. “Where are you?” 
“I’m right here,” said Esme as she hovered in the air the appropriate distance from Matthew’s nose. “Now, do you want me to help you with Christmas or not?” 
The boy nodded. Esme swooped to the top of the wall and sat down. She pulled off her rucksack and began ferreting around inside. From her pack, she took a tiny little cotton bag. 
Into it she whispered a wish and quickly tied the strings. With the tiny bag between her hands, she made another wish. 
“Listen and listen very carefully. I will open my hands, and this little bag of wishes will float in the air. The minute I do that you must catch the bag in both hands and keep it safe. As soon as you can, put it under your Aunt’s pillow and leave it there. When she wakes up tomorrow morning, she will be thinking about Christmas. That’s when you must ask her about the tree and the presents. If you don’t ask, the idea will quickly fade away and be gone forever.” 
Matthew nodded. A bright smile spread across his face. 
“Are you ready?” 
“Yes and I’ll do it exactly as you said.” 
Esme smiled. “One last thing,” she said. “It’s not Santa Claus who is judgemental; it’s parents. Parents invented the naughty and nice lists as a means of controlling unruly children. SantaClaus doesn’t need a naughty or nice list. Santa is kind to everyone.” 
“Really. Now are you ready, Matthew?” 
Hands outstretched ready to take possession of the bag of wishes, Matthew nodded. Esme
opened her hands, and the tiny cotton bag dropped into Matthew’s waiting left hand. He instantly placed his right hand over it and ran into the house. 
Two weeks later, Esme took up her station at the top of Matthew and Auntie Jo’s tree. When Mr Claus appeared on Christmas Eve, he gave Esme a wink. 
As Mr C made his way back up the now cleared chimney and fireplace, Esme winced. She had completely forgotten to replace the large purple Lurex patch at the back of his trousers. 

If you would like to read more Christmas tales you can find them Here  Here and Here

Saturday, 26 December 2020

An offer you really can’t refuse…

… I hope!

Just because it is Twixmas, I’m offering e-copies of my book, Merle for FREE this weekend.

This is the second book in the Jacques Forêt Mystery series. In this story Jacques finds himself invovled in the murky world of commercial sabotage – a place where people lie and misrepresent, and where information is traded and used as a threat. 
The Vaux organisation is losing contracts and money, and Jacques is asked to undertake an internal investigation. As he works through the complexity of all the evidence, he finds more than he bargained for, and his own life is threatened. 
When the body of a woman is found, it appears to be suicide. But as the investigation takes another turn, Jacques suspects there is more to it. 
But who is behind it all…and why?

Here’s what the reviewers said...
Author, Pam C Golden labelled Merle ‘…an intriguing puzzle’ and ‘an excellent read’ that she ‘…would highly recommend.’

Crime writer, Nicola Slade thought that as ‘…the BBC has given us a wide selection of tv detective dramas… the career of Jacques Forêt would make a great addition to them. Producers please take note!’

United States reviewer, Pia, dubbed the book ‘amazing’adding that it’s ‘as good as the first and worth… the wait.’

You can get the book Here

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Merry Christmas...

That time of year has come around yet again.  It seems to come round more quickly these days.  As a child, I remember waiting interminably for Christmas to arrive.  Which makes no sense as time is a constant and a month, week or day back then still took just as long to pass as they do now!

It's been an unusual year - to say the least.  But, if my blog has entertained or informed or just plain chased the boredom away for a moment or two, then please accept my most sincere thanks for reading my words.  To readers of my books, I would like to convey my very grateful thanks.  Reviewers, thank you for reading my books and then taking some of your very precious time to let me know what you think.  Your comments and thoughts - positive or negative - are always read, considered and, if I can, are acted upon. Your input is greatly appreciated.

So, as I take a break over this festive season, I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, if you celebrate the season as such.  And to those who do not, may I offer my very best wishes to you and yours.

I will be back in the New Year with my first post for 2021 on January 12th, so watch this space...

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

I'm catching up with Jacques Forêt…

… today. I'd planned to meet Jacques in Place Urbain V right in the heart of the city of Mende.  But it's snowing today, so I'm on my way to his office…
AW Jacques hello, lovely to see you again.
JF   Take a seat and thanks for inviting me on to your blog.
AW So, Jacques, you've got a new case, and we would like to hear more about it.
JF  It's perplexing, and it is trying my patience.  I find one answer and then another piece of evidence turns up, and I have just as many questions as I had before.
AW  Not an easy case to solve then, Jacques?
JF   And without a body, it is very hard to know if a crime has really been committed or not. But there is malicious intent.  Of that, I am certain.
AW  Is that how Investigating Magistrate Pelletier sees it too?
JF   Not really.  Bruno is keeping an open mind.  But, like me, he is constantly asking himself what the actual intent might be.  What we found in the trees on Mont Mimat was most unusual, and that scene in the forest was created by a person or persons unknown.  But I can't work out why.  Both Didier and I have our theories, which keep changing as we discover more about—
AW   Ah, no spoilers please Jacques.
JF   Yes, of course. I'm sorry.
AW  And how is your business shaping up Jacques?  You're now JF Associates I believe.
JF   Yes, that's right and we're doing very well, thank you.  We're getting a lot of security work.  With the tightening up of the investigations of robberies on the Mediterranean coast and more convictions, the gangs that have plagued the south coast have moved north.  They are now striking wealthy properties in and around cities such as Le Puy, Mende, St Étienne, which is good for us.  People are very aware of the problem and are coming to us for advice and protection.
AW  I see and can you tell me if you're working for someone famous?  Someone we might know?
JF    If I could tell you, I wouldn't, anyway.  My client list is entirely confidential.
AW I guess I kind of knew that was what you would say.  And what about your team, Jacques?  Are they all well?
JF   Yes, everyone is well thank you.  Maxim's wife, Amélie is back with us for three days a week and she takes care of a lot of the admin for the office as a whole.  Didier and I still handle the investigation work.  We've also got Thibault Clergue, an ex-colleague from the gendarmerie, helping us out with the security work too.
AW  What about the village of Messandrierre?
JF    Things are changing.  The satellite gendarmerie there has closed now and there are some new people in the village.  But Gaston and Marianne are still at the restaurant and Monsieur Mancelle is still the Maire.  We still get plenty of walkers coming to the village and, of course hunting parties when the season starts.  Some things are the same.
  That's good to know.  I don't want to keep you from your work for too long.  So, I'll leave you and best of luck with the case...
You can read more about Jacques' next case Here  Here and Here
You can pre-order the book on Amazon

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Come stroll with me...

... through les Villages Morts...

As promised in my last post I'm back here on Mont Mimat, the mountain that overlooks the city of Mende from the south.  The view of the city from the Lot valley side of Mimat is quite spectacular.  The road winds towards Séjalan - an area of the city that I used as a location in my last story, Marseille.  But you can make out the basilica in the centre of the old heart of the city and the old bridge on the Lot.  There is also an abandoned village here, La Chaumette.
The name Chaumette has exisited as a family name from early times in the Languedoc.  But if you check a modern dictionary, you will find the noun chaume which means stubble or scrubland.  The word is also used to describe the thatch of a cottage.  The village is sited by a water source and is the remaining vestige of a hard caussenade life.  The lintel on one building has a date from the 17th century, so there have been people living here for at least 400 years, probably much longer than that.  The families that lived here would have tended sheep and sold the fleeces for wool. The area is harsh and at that time would have been mostly scrub land on limestone.  The houses are built of limestone blocks with thinner slabs to create stone floors inside and with smaller tiles crafted to create a solid roof.  In the mid-nineteenth century there were 26 inhabitants in the village.  By 1904 this had dwindled to a single family.
If we take a short climb and head a little further south on Mimat we can find the remains of the second village, Le Gerbal.  There is a second water source here, but this village is the less well preserved of the two.  The houses are of the same design and material as in La Chaumette.  There were around a dozen buildings in this village in the 1850s.  By 1905, the population had reduced to only one inhabitant.  The villages were abandoned and the slopes of Mont Mimat were later forested with Austrian pines.
Snow on the morning of September 27th
Life must have been desperately hard for those villagers.  Here in the
Cévennes, the summer months can be blisteringly hot, what little grass there is, can be bleached white and the winters can be freezing cold especially when the wind blows in from the north.  I've known it snow here at the end of September and I can recall Madame at my favourite camping spot telling me that the last fall of snow that year had been at the beginning of May.
The sense of isolation up here is something that you can't seem to escape.  It was that sense of isolation, the harsh landscape and the remains of les villages morts that convinced me that Mont Mimat would make an excellent location for a story.   My fictitious village of Mercœur, is modelled on the remains of the village of Le Gerbal and sits a couple of hundred metres further down the trail.

You can find out more about Mercœur Here and Here and I will be catching up with Jacques Forêt himself here on the blog next week.  Watch this space! 

The book is available for pre-order from Amazon