Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Friend and author, Sue Barnard...

 ...makes a very welcome return to the blog this week.  Hi Sue, thanks so much for taking time out from your very busy schedule to be here today.  Tell me, what are you working on at the moment...

SB  I’m currently putting the finishing touches to a French edition of my paranormal romance novella Never on Saturday.  It’s set partly in medieval France and partly in present-day North Wales, and is based on an old French legend.  The French edition will be called Jamais le Samedi, and will be released in paperback and Kindle versions this summer.
AW   How interesting.  I will look out for that.  So, what first got you into writing and why?
SB   If you include those compulsory “Composition” exercises at primary school, I guess I’ve been writing, on and off, for most of my life.  But it was only after a life-changing event nearly twenty years ago, when I realised I had a story to tell, that I started taking it more seriously.
AW   You write romance, historical, paranormal and cross-genre fiction.  Is it all imagination or do you do research?
SB   Both.  The stories might come from imagination, but the settings and the facts need to be authentic – so research is essential.  I really enjoy it, but it often leads me down all sorts of internet rabbit-holes.  It’s not unknown for me to suddenly realise that two hours have passed and I haven’t written a word!
AW  And what about other types of writing?  Have you dabbled with other genres or short stories perhaps?  And what about poetry or scripts for stage, film or TV?
SB    Following the aforementioned life-changing event I did several short courses in Creative Writing in its various forms: Fiction, Poetry, Plays, and Creative Non-Fiction.  Since then I’ve written various short stories and poems (one of which, to my eternal surprise, won a major award) and non-fiction articles.  Whilst I’ve never made any further attempts at playwriting, that particular course has proved very useful in creating realistic-sounding dialogue, and also helping me to adhere to the all-important principle of Show Don’t Tell.  As a result, much of my work is dialogue-driven.  As Alice in Wonderland so rightly observed: What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?
AW  Well Said Alice!  Famous authors such as Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas had a special space for writing.  Do you have a writing shed of your own?
SB   Not a shed as such, but I do have my own writing spaces.  In the summer it’s a corner of the conservatory with a lovely view of the garden, and in the winter it’s a corner of the front room.  Having said that, as long as I have my trusty laptop I can write almost anywhere, so long as it isn’t the Muse’s day off.
   And 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 discuss?
SB    I think it would have to be Shakespeare, who has been the inspiration for so much of my own writing.  I would ask him how he managed to be so prolific, if he ever suffered from the dreaded Writer’s Block, and also what really happened during his so-called “lost years”.

about the book... Two stories, two heartbreaks: one past, one present...
Leaving her native France and arriving in North Wales as a postgraduate student of History and Folklore, Mel is cautiouly optimistic that she can escape from her troubled past and begin a new and happier life.
She settles into her student accomodation and begins work on her thesis, concentrating particularly on one facsinating manuscript: a compelling and tragic tale of a cursed medieval princess.
Then she meets Ray - charming, down-to-earth and devastatingly handsome.  Within days, Mel's entire world has transformed from lonely and frustrated to loving and fulfilled.
Despite her failure with previous relationships, she allows herself to hope that this time, at last, she can make it work.
But Mel's dreams of happiness are under constant threat.  She is hiding a dark and terrible secret, which Ray - or indeed anybody else - must never discover.

about the author... Sue is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet who believes that an immaculate house is a sign of a wasted life.  Thus, her house is chaotic but her life is anything but dull.
Her mind is so warped that she has appeared on BBC TV's Only Connect quiz show, and she also compiles questions for BBC Radio 4's fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz.  This once caused one of her sons to describe her as "professionally weird".  The label has stuck.
She speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad.  She is also very interested in family history.  Her own family background is far stranger than any work of fiction.  She would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.
Sue lives in Cheshire, UK, with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.

Sue also works as an Author and Editor at Darkstroke and Ocelot Press 

You can follow Sue on her Blog and on Facebook Twitter  Instagram  Goodreads  RNA

You can get all her books, including the audio book, The Ghostly Father, on  Amazon

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

I'm reviewing A Narrow Door...

 ... by Joanne Harris on my blog today.  And what a read it is, too...

This is the third book in which we pay a visit to St Oswald’s school in Malbry.  And again Roy Straitley is the Latin Master at the centre of the story.  The other two books, A Different Class and Gentlemen and Players, don’t need to be read before this one as each story is a stand-alone novel in their own rights.  However, it is helpful if you have the background knowledge of Straitley’s character.
For me, this book was an eagerly awaited read and I was not disappointed.  The time frame is now 2006 and things have changed at St Oswald’s.  The previously male dominated society of the school and the staffroom has been invaded by females and the new head is also a woman.
Told from two points of view – something that Harris is an absolute master of – it is quite clear from the outset that Straitley and ‘La Buckfast’ as he refers to his new superior are going to lock horns.  Roy makes it quite clear that he is resentful of the new regime and the planned changes to the curriculum.  He clearly plans to carry on in exactly the same way as he has always done.
The New Headmistrees – whom Roy deliberately addresses as Headmaster whenever he speaks to her – has other ideas.  She fully intends to leave her mark on the school and no-one, not even Straitley, is going to get in her way  But ‘La Buckfast’ has a past, a past that she doesn’t want to reveal and when the body of a boy is discovered during the course of excavations for the building of a new swimming pool, that past begins to invade her every day life.  Old memories are disturbed, uncertainties raised and a secret she has kept hidden for decades begins to surface.
Although set in 2006, the story moves backwards and forwards in time as the details of Buckfast’s past are slowly and tantalisingly revealed.
The story is really well plotted and the dynamics between the two central characters are played out brilliantly throughout the novel  Roy’s grudging acceptance of La Buckfast is gradual but he knows there’s something she is hiding and he is determined to find out what it is.  With the detemination of a dog with a bone, Straitley gradually collects the tiny pieces of information together and the story reaches a unexpected ending.

A brilliant read and I thoroughly enjoyed being back at the school with Mr Straitley.

Tuesday, 14 June 2022

A Fair Division of Labour…

...after a two year absence, that intrepid traveller, James, and his sister are back.  The pandemic has caused them to make, some changes, but they are finally planning a trip to France...

My brother James has gone all posh.  He's actually sold our large frame tent and bought a caravan.  I can't quite recall the lengthy discussion where I agreed to this proposition, but he's done it anyway.  So here I am, the reluctant part-owner of a bright and shiny caravan.  Not that it is new, of course.  No.  James never buys anything new, well apart from his underpants, which he insists must come from that clothing shop on every High Street.  It's something to do with the fit apparently.
Anyway, we now have this house on wheels, which he says I will have to look after and maintain just like I do our shared house.  So, I thought I ought to have a look at the thing.  Just as I was about get inside he presented me with a substantial manual.
'Read that,' he said.  'You'll find everything you need to know in there'.
I wasn't impressed.  In fact, I thought how odd it was that everyone needs a manual to do the washing up and ironing these days.  Well, I had a look inside the caravan and didn't see anything in there for which a guidebook was required.  I tried the seating and it was quite comfy although the particular shade of purple used for the upholstery was not really to my taste.  But there we are.  Whilst I was sitting there I opened the book and started working through it.  I was even less impressed when I got to the last page.  I wandered back to the house.
'James,' I said.  'I think you are under a misnomer about your shed on wheels.'
'How so?'  He asked as he gazed at me over the top of his spectacles.
'There is nothing in this guide that even remotely resembles what I do here at home,' I said.  I started at page one and gradually worked my through.
'Hitching up, towing, arriving, pitching, fetching water, cleaning and emptying the toilet, erecting the awning. No.'  I said.  'That's all Outside Technical.  That's your domain.'
'I see,' said James.  He opened his mouth to say something else but I didn't stop to breathe.
'Barbecuing, un-hitching, taking the awning down, clearing the pitch ready to leave and packing all external items.  Outside Technical.'
I paused expecting some sort of a response.  As nothing was forthcoming I continued.
'The water heating system, the heater, the appliances inside and so on all fall under the heading of Inside Technical.  Also your domain.'
Having made my views clear about the stuff in the book, I thought I also ought to remind James of some of the other duties that fall into his domain regardless of where we are.
'Washing up after meals, drying the pots and putting them away, rubbish collection and disposal.  Inside Domestic,' I said.  'Your domain just as it always has been,' I said.
'So, are you planning on doing anything whilst we're in France?'
'Of course, James,' I said.  'I will still cook, but I will also take on the new, and dual roles of Inside and Outside Management now we have the caravan,' I said.
A fair division of labour, I think...

Tuesday, 7 June 2022

I'm Off My Beaten Track in Cairo...

Cairo skyline
...today.  I've always had an interest in ancient Egyptian culture and history and it had been my ambition to visit the many ancient sites since I'd been about nine or ten.  Eventually, I did make it there for a month and, of course, I kept a journal...
Getting here has been… tiring, worrying and quite stressful.  I had become convinced that I would just never make it as nothing in relation to this planned holiday seemed to run smoothly.  The necessary injections took three months to organise because of difficulties getting the vaccines, the dates of travel were changed which left me with a problem for the care of my parents dog which took ten days to sort out and then, there was my trip on the back doorstep which has left me with a seriously bruised bum and back ache, a taxi for the station that didn't arrive and a traveller at Heathrowe who had a whole half a holds-worth of luggage to check in.  I mean, who really has that many clothes?  Well, she did, obviously!  Anyway I'm finally here, but I'm still very tired from all the travelling and the late arrival yesterday.
As I attempted to look in the mirror this morning I noticed that the portmanteaux under my eyes looked as though they were full of bricks.  Breakfast was terribly polite.  As a bunch of travellers, none of us really know each other, having met for the first time late yesterday when we were corralled by the travel company onto the bus waiting at the airport.  Still, breakfast was an opportunity to put my Fellow Travellers under scrutiny.
The Cairo musuem was todays must see - a short coach ride away and an opportunity to have a look at this sprawling city.  Cairo is an ancient place and it became the capital of the country in 970AD.  So, I guess that makes it a relatively recent change when you consider that there was a civilisation living here five thousand years ago!  As we drove through the city I became a bit disappointed.  I had expected something tidier and more in keeping with the aestheticism of ancient times.  What I actually saw were tumbling down buildings still being lived in, enormous concrete edifices rivalling the distant pyramids at Giza that were just visible in the haze.  Some roads that intersected with the major thoroughfare were little more than rubble tracks.  But there is clearly a program of substantial investment here as there are new buildings that were complete but complimented by a pile of builder's rubble that had never been cleared away.  Other buildings, yet to be completed, looked bereft of any care or attention with the statutory pile of builder's rubble yet to be finally added to.  The still existing old colonial buildings were dwarfed by modernism.  It was kind of sad to realise that a modern country such as this, with its foundations in such an unprecedented and advanced older civilisation should demonstrate such a lack of aesthetic realisation.
The museum was fascinating, both as a building per se and as a storehouse for wonderful things.  I wandered from room to room in absolute awe of the various treasures recovered from tombs and temples from all over the country.  There were complete sections of highly decorated plaster work along with beautiful alabaster ewers, jugs and statues carved from granite.  There were even ancient versions of snakes and ladders and a small toy that resembled the early hand held moving picture scopes.  On the first floor were the treasures from the tomb of Tut Ankh Amun.  This wasn't my first sight of the stunning death mask - I had seen it once before amidst the incredible security required for the exhibition at the British museum.  I remember pestering my parents until they finally gave in.  Second time around and I still marvelled at the splendour of Tut's funereal treasure in its rightful place.
View from MS Nefertari, moored at Ma'adi, Cairo
So, here I am, back on board the river cruiser MS Nefertari, sitting in a shady spot at the stern of the boat, watching the river.  
As Egypt is a 'No Alcohol' place I could only bring my duty free allowance with me.  In celebration of my arrival I have allowed myself one small glass of white wine.  It may not be quite as chilled as I would like, but it is most certainly savoured.  It also means that I can sit here, in quiet contemplation of my fellow travellers, marvel at the amazing day I've had and watch the setting sun gradually turn the water of the Nile to gold…

You can read more from my Egyptian Journal Here when I make a visit to the pyramids at Giza.