Tuesday, 31 May 2022

Jottings from the journals...

...I've been trawling through my journals again and it would appear there are some surprises still to be found, especially in Lapalisse...

The département of Allier sits in the centre of France and covers the area from just below the RN7 in the north, to Digoin in the east, Gannat in the south and just a little past Montluçon in the west.  The river after which it is named rises in the Cévennes, north east of Mende and flows north, splicing the département in half until it joins the Loire just west of Nevers.  Allier, 03 if you see it on a French number plate, is one of the four départements that make up the region of the Auvergne.  A wonderfully rugged and scenic part of the country with towns and villages of timbered houses, dense forests and its fair share of chateaux.  I'm telling you all this so that you will understand that it is not the sort of place one would expect to see an elephant.  But I did.  In fact I was so amazed by the sight that I nearly fell off my bike!
As unusual as the sighting of the elephant was - I christened her Nellie - I have to confess that, despite my long and enduring relationship with France, it never ceases to amaze me.  Crossing the Puy de Dome one Sunday and needing somewhere to eat I happened on an old farmhouse with numerous cars outside - all with French plates.  Curious, I stopped and discovered a handwritten menu pinned to the doorpost and inside half a dozen long trestle tables full of people having lunch.  And they made room for me.  The food was fabulous, the wine came by the pitcher and about three hours later I left feeling replete.
Food, of course, is central to the French psyche, which is one of the reasons why market day is important.  Despite the supermarkets, tiny villages and towns of any respectable size still have their markets.  Not so very far away in St-Pourcain you can buy anything from eggs, meat, fish, cheese etc, to clothes and hardware and you can even be introduced to the livestock, as I was.  Meet Juilliette.
But a French street market isn't just about the products for sale.
  It's a place to see and be seen.  A place to meet up with friends and stand and chat about politics or the weather, once all the friendly formalities, the family pleasantries and the cheek kissing thing are all done.  The noise levels are high, the pace is very slow, but the experience incredible if you only want to sit at a table in a pavement café to people-watch and to feast your eyes on the rainbow of colour, breathe in the aromas from the fresh vegetables, the fruit, the smokiness of the hams and sausage.  Nothing smells as appetising as a typical French market.
All of which, brings me back to my original point.  With so much that is French to be surprised and fascinated by, you would have thought that, by now, I would have discovered just about everything and that the frisson of excitement on happening on something new and unusual would have long gone.  But no.  After three days of constant rain, I was out cycling the lanes of Allier and found Nellie, at lunch, by the river!

There will be more about Lapalisse in a couple of months time, so watch this space!

If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy a visit to Briare  Falaise or Montélimar

Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Please welcome writer, John Hynes...

...to my blog this week.  Hello John, thanks for making time to be here.  You write the Johnny Blake series of crime stories and I'm curious to know what got you into writing and why?

JH Back in 1994, I was waiting in the doctors' office.  I started to read a crime story and I took it home to finish reading.  When I finished reading, I thought I can write a story like that, and I did.  I read it over and put it away and forgot about it.
Now retried, I found the episode Murder in Bay City and rewrote it for today's time and continue to write eleven more episodes.  I have three episodes available now on Amazon Kindle and (Google Play e-book only).

AW  Please tell me more about the individual stories themselves, John?
JH  This series is a modern-day, romantic-murder-mystery-suspense thriller, with an old-time feel.
Murder in Bay City (#1) - a wealthy man is found murdered in his bedroom.  His wife is missing and is the prime suspect.  Did she murder her husband?  Was she framed? And who is this other...?
Bay City Murder on the East Side (#2) - in this episode someone is murdering young small short-haired blonde girls.  A suspect is a young man all dressed in black complete with a hoodie and dark glasses and able to blend in with the people on the street.  In other words non-descript.
Kidnapping in Bay City (#3) - in this episode, a young boy from Bay City has been kidnapped.  After many failed attempts to bring her eight-year old son home, by Bay City Police Department, Janet Harrington, Liz Harrington's sister-in-law, hires Johnny Blake to bring her boy home on the QT.  John sends young Jimmy McNiel and Paula Peters undercover to the All-Boys in upstate Maine.
My writing has been compared to authors Mark Twain and Mickey Spillane, American crime novelist of the Mike Hammer book series, and then a TV series.  Some of your readers may remember the show.  I do and I like it
AW  Interesting John, thanks. I'm not sure that the Mike Hammer crime series was shown on UK TV, but I do know that author's work and have read some of his stories.  And what are you working on at the moment?
JH Vanish! (#4) - in this episode, when available, the series turns to the darker side of crime.  What is the connection between a transplant doctor, a scrap yardman, and a troll tucker driver?

You can get all of John's books on Amazon and you can use this Link for a fabulous box set of the first three episodes

You can follow John on Facebook on LinkedIn and on Twitter

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Walking in Agatha's footsteps...

…I'm not running with my planned post today, as I have something far more interesting to talk about…

At the end of last month I was able to pay a visit to Greenway, in Devon.  This is the location of the fabulous house and gardens owned by Dame Agatha Christie.  If you follow this blog regularly you will undoubtedly have gathered that Agatha is one of my favourite writers.  You might also have picked up, if you've attended one of my occasional talks, that I first discovered Agatha's books at the age of about 11, and having read the first book went on to read all the rest.  So, I can honestly say that Agatha and her characters have been with me most of my life.  I still re-read her stories and, if pressed, I would have to admit that it was Agatha that got me into this crime-writing thing.
My trip to Greenway was done in a style that fully befitted the books and their author - check out the bus that my fellow travellers and I used to get there!  The house sits in the centre of beautifully planted gardens, which you can meander around.  I wanted to see the house first.
There's been a property of one sort or another on this land since the early 16th century.  Back then it was a Tudor mansion.  The house that sits here today was built in the 18th century and has since been expanded and added to over the years.  Agatha and her second husband, Max Mallowen, bought the place in 1938 to use as a holiday home.  During the 1939/45 conflict the house was taken over and used by the US Coastguard.  It became the family's again in the second half of the 1940's.
Greenway, gifted to the nation by the family, is now looked after by the National Trust and is kept in wonderful condition.  As I moved from room to room, it felt as though Agatha had just left, or was about to appear around the next corner or at the top of the stairs.  The chair and table in her spacious bedroom are there, just as she left them.  It was here that she would write when in Devon.  The library is full of her books and as I scanned the shelves I saw a complete set of what may have been arcs for her romantic suspense stories written under the name of Mary Westmacott.  I was itching to take those books off the shelf and look inside. And, if I'm totally honest, what I really wanted to do was to take all of those books and run off with them!  But I didn't.
As you move through the house there are small radios set on tables or shelves and you can hear Christie's voice as she talks about her life and her work.  It's as though you are listening to a current radio program on which she is being interviewed live.  It also makes you believe that if you walk into the next room, she will be there waiting for you.
I spent more than an hour meandering through the house, standing at the windows looking out at the garden, just as she must have done.  The rest of the afternoon was spent sauntering through the gardens, looking at the plants and flowers; the air scented with wild garlic here, the fabulous colours of the camellia borders there and the blue and yellow of the banks of bluebells and primroses. There's no wonder she believed Greenway to be 'the loveliest place in the world'…

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Off my Beaten Track in Sao Vicente…

North coast, looking towards Sao Vicente
…today and I'm taking a bus ride along the coast road.  Come and join me…

I was up early and breakfast at the hotel in Ponta Delgada was peaceful and quiet.  But, as I can't afford to miss the bus, I didn't linger, as much as I would have liked to have done.
The stop is right outside the hotel.  As I get there I see a little girl dressed from head to foot in pink with a matching rucksack and purse. The latter adorned with sequins.  She's about 6 or 7 years-old, I think, and at first I wonder where her parents are and why they are not here with her.  It becomes quite clear that she knows the crack and I suppose that on an island as small as this, out of the city she's very probably quite safe.  It also transpires that being early for the local transport is the right thing to do.
The bus, an aging volvo that looks as though its best years were more than 2 decades ago, arrives with a cloud of exhaust fumes.  Miss gets on and greets the driver and flashes some sort of card.  Me next and I buy my ticket.  A whole €1.95 for the trip.  Seated and the bus sets off at warp speed.  Round the tight bends along what tiny bit of straight there is available and up hill and down dale, gear lever crunching through the box determinedly.  I have to hang onto the seat in front.  The journey might only be fifteen minutes but it's a quarter of an hour of a stomach-churning fright-fest.  I was pleased when we arrived and I could set my feet on solid ground.
In Sao Vicente just about everyone gets off at the stop in the town's central parking area.  The sun is bright and the blast of heat that hits you as you step off the bus is tempered by the cooler air blowing on-shore from the Atlantic.
The town is tiny (population around 3,000) and as I meander through the shady cobbled streets there seems to be no-one here.  The earliest habitation here dates from the middle of the 15th century.  On the north coast of Madeira, the river valleys are deep with steep escarpments on either side, making living, building and farming more difficult.  The land is rugged and the earth a dark grey.
I take a stroll along the very short esplanade, which could be anywhere.  At one side is the sea, the other a small line of a couple of restaurants, a bar or two, an ice cream parlour, and a churros & pizza place.  The beach is nothing but pebbles of all sizes in a myriad shades of grey.  The sea lashes at the protecting walls and rolls the pebbles back and forth on a palette of charcoal, the rocks and stones gradually worn into tiny particles of black sand.  It's the sheer, and enormous, rock wall on the inner side of the esplanade that reminds you that this is Madeira and nowhere else.  I think the tide is permanently in - no gradual drift back and forth across the long, soft, golden sand of a gently inclined beach.
Back into town and the  cemetery is across a narrow alleyway from the church.  Inside the stations of the cross are paintings, the walls and ceiling are decorated with murals and painted patterns, the retable is as ornate as the one in Ponta Delgada and I'm in awe of the sheer opulence of the place in such a tiny village.
Leaving the cool of the church behind, I step out into the sun and wander through the town centre.  I wish some of my usual haunts at home were as peaceful and as quiet as this place. 
As I meander back towards the bus stop, I see my bus screeching around the corner and out onto the bridge across the estuary.  When I check my watch I realise the bus is 15 minutes early, according to my timetable. I check the time of the next one - it's a two hour wait.  When I compare the timetable, with the info I picked up at the hotel, there seems to be very little correlation.  Not that the driver seems to pay much attention to any of the timetables either!
At the bus stop I'm joined by two other travellers (one Dutch and one Polish) and a local.  We debate the expected arrival of the next bus and the local man gets out his phone and calls the bus company.  There's a fast and furious conversation in Portugese. I haven't a clue of what's being said.  Finally, the man ends his call.
'No bus', he says. 'Only at four'.
I ask about the bus for Ponte Delgada. 'At one', he says and holds up a finger to make sure I understand.  I thank him and decide to go for a beer.  There's a bar with tables and chairs outside just across from the stop.  Ideal, I think, just in case the bus turns up unexpectedly early!
Twenty minutes later and a yellow taxi pulls up.  'Ponte Delgada', the driver shouts. 'You want to come, it's 12 euros'. He already has one passenger and I gulp down the remains of my beer.  As my fare would be the second for the same journey,  I say '10 euros' and hold up the relevant note.  He nods and I accept his offer of a lift.  The journey back is even more of a stomach-churning fright-fest - this driver knows all the short-cuts along the narrowest of streets.  Don't you just love little adventures like these…

If you enjoyed this post, you might also find my little adventure in Ponta Delgada interesting.

You can also find me #OffMyBeatenTrack in Verona and on the island of Sicily

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Please welcome, friend and author, Johannah Spero...

...to the blog this week.  Hello Johannah and thanks for being here today.  Tell me about your new thriller, The Secret Cure.  I believe it's a departure from your most recent mystery/thriller Boy series...

JS  My Boy series, while definitely including mystery elements, is a gut-wrenching emotional read, which is unusual for traditional thrillers.  The Secret Cure has that gritty, dark undercurrent with a definite twist, which fits the thriller trope.  Both are definitely character-driven as opposed to plot-driven, which is the only way I know how to build a story.
AW  When plotting a thriller, do you complete a full outline beforehand or do you let your characters take you on a surprise journey?
JS  I know plotting an outline is a safer way to go, but I’ve never been a plotter.  Once I grab a hold of a high concept for a novel, I brainstorm characters and scenes in my journal…and then I go for it.  Unfortunately, this usually leads to some heavy revisions.  I changed the ending of The Secret Cure maybe 3 or 4 times and killed some darlings (literally!) in the process.  But I’m psyched at how it turned out.
AW  You mention high-concept ideas.  What was the inspiration for the book?
  When my husband and I were at a resort in Sicily five years ago, we witnessed a man toggle between his foxy mistress on the beach and his handicapped wife at the pool.  The story idea came to me in a lightning bolt moment: The wife secretly gets better in order to get revenge on her two-timing husband.
AW  What other genres do you write besides thriller?
JS   I aim to write the type of book I like to read.  Thrillers are appealing because, if done well, are addictive page-turners.  Who doesn’t like to read those?  But I also like sinking my teeth into thought-provoking issues, which I try to sneak into my stories.  I have written in other genres (urban fantasy, for instance), but I’d like to think they all have a compelling element that keeps you turning the pages, dying to see what happens next.
AW  What was your first job and what other jobs have you held?
JS  My first job, believe it or not, was as a professional actress at a local Equity theatre.  At 13, I was cast as Laurie in Brighton Beach Memoirs.  The show ran for 4 months, 6 days a week.  It was a life-shaping experience, for sure.  After college, I put my English degree to work (ha,ha) at a website design company through the 90s, riding the dot-com wave.  At the turn of the century, I went back for my Masters and then taught high school English for about a decade.  After my third son was born, I began writing full time.  I love it.

about the author… Johannah’s writing career took off when her
first release, Catcher’sKeeper, was a finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in 2013.  Her small town mystery series has won similar acclaim.  Boy on Hold won 2020 IPPY Gold for Best Mystery/Thriller ebook and Boy Released was a 2021 Indies Today Finalist.  Her YA fantasy series, Forte, is also a multiple award winner, and is the topic of classroom visits in schools across the country. Having lived in various cities from St. Petersburg (Russia) to Boston, she now lives with her family in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York, where she was born and raised.
about the book…She’s getting better. He has no clue. That’s exactly the way she wants it.  To pull off the perfect revenge, her cure has to remain a secret…
In her mid-30s, Rosalie Giordano is in the prime of her life.  Long saved from the manipulative hands of her mother, she’s been married to her fairy tale hero for ten blissful years.  Vincent is sweet and strong, and stunning as hell—and completely enamored of her.
Just as they begin to plan for a family, Rosalie is diagnosed with a mysterious virus that renders her temporarily paralyzed.  As days stretch to weeks, then months, she learns not only is her condition chronic, but the love of her life is having an affair.
As her health improves, a slow burn of vengeance simmers in her heart.  With the help of her homecare nurse, she regains full mobility.  While hiding the truth from her husband, she uncovers the extent of his betrayal…and learns he is not at all who he seems.  Their planned anniversary trip overseas gives her the perfect occasion for revenge.
But at the fancy Sicilian resort, Rosalie is not the only one with a score to settle with Vincent.  And in the end, she’s not the only one with blood on her hands…
The book is available NOW for pre-order on Amazon
You can follow Johannah on her Amazon page and on her Website Facebook Twitter and Instagram