Tuesday, 30 May 2023

I'm Off My Beaten Track ...

... taking a leisurely sail along the Nile.  According to my journal, even ordinary sailing days had a fair share of excitement ... 


As we are sailing all day I made my way to the sun deck to sit in the shade and read.  My interest in the book soon waned.  The passing scenery was not to be missed.  Blot out the noise of the ship's engine and erase the odd tractor, Peugeot or lorry from the landscape, and I was sure nothing had changed for 4000 years.
The hot afternoon sun was on the point of driving me to my bed for a siesta when there was a thud.  The ship's engine stopped and our bow began to drift towards the bank.  Next, the sun deck was awash with men in crew uniforms all frantically pulling up the floorboards.  At least eight of these sailors I had never seen before - where did they all come from? - more to the point, with all the cabins occupied, where did they all sleep and eat?
Furniture was piled high and moved around and we passengers found ourselves in the way.  Not that we were told we were an obstacle - the Egyptians were far too polite.
The chain that linked the rudder to the helm had broken - that was the thud.  With the full chain and cable exposed, it was a simple matter of loosening the double screws to provide some slack, re-arranging the chain and then tightening the screws.  A fellow traveller, who insisted on introducing himself as I— (I'm in civil engineering, you know), took great pains to explain the technicalities to me in minute detail.  All I really wanted to know was whether the problem could be fixed or not.  As far as I could see, the sailors were only doing what I do to the washing line when it gets worn in one particular spot!
I— (I'm in civil engineering, you know), droned on and on.  I nodded and smiled in what I thought were all the right places.  Meanwhile, the crew busied themselves, replaced the floorboards and then returned from whence they had come.
Despite that piece of excitement, I have to report that the sick list had grown considerably and now included the boat.  I counted that, excluding myself, there were only five other passengers who were still healthy.  Well, they did all partake of the street food the other day.  I stuck with Moz's Maxim - if the food is not cooked and you can't wash it yourself, don't eat it.  As Moz had worked and travelled all over the Middle East and North Africa, I set great store by his advice.
Needing some quiet, I returned to the cabin and sat outside undisturbed.  It was very nice of the few Fellow Travellers to speak to me as they passed on a tour of the deck.  But, I don't mind being by myself.  I was perfectly content floating upriver, quietly taking in everything I possibly could.  I sat and watched the clumps of lotus flowers floating on the eddies and contemplated the very blue and completely cloudless sky.
On a sandbank was a dead water buffalo, rotting in the heat and being pecked at by the birds. Wealth, to a certain extent, can be measured in terms of animals.  A donkey is low on the scale, with oxen or water buffalo about the middle, and a camel the most valuable.  That rotting animal probably represented a family's life savings.
Our next obstacle was a swing bridge.  We moored on the northern side to wait for it to open along with 2 other Nile boats.  The appointed time was 6.00 pm.  And at a few minutes past six, the bridge duly swung open and caused the maximum amount of confusion in the surrounding town, bringing it to a complete standstill for almost an hour.
Our Captain decided to continue sailing as he had been warned that the water level in the river was to be lowered at midnight on the thirtieth.  We still have to negotiate the most difficult lock at Abydos.  It seems we will be sailing for most of the night, eventually docking at about 3.00 am...

There will be more from my Egyptian journal over the coming weeks. If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy my earlier posts about Cairo Giza Solar Sailing Tell-el-Amarna Assiut and Egypt generally - just click the links.






Tuesday, 23 May 2023

Friend and author, Miriam Drori...

Hengistbury Head, photo by Lee Sherred
... makes a very welcome return to the blog this week.  Hello Miriam, thanks very much 
for being here.  Tell me about the locations in your latest book ...

Cultivating a Fuji (latest edition: January 2023) is the story of a loner and his struggles and successes in life.  It’s set mostly in Bournemouth, a picturesque seaside town on the south coast of England, and partly in London and Japan.
The main character, Martin, grew up in a London suburb and loves living in Bournemouth.  He takes long walks along the coast and regards the sea as a friend – the only one he has.  When he reaches crisis point and considers putting an end to it all, he climbs to the very top of the cliff at Hengistbury Head, having walked all the way there, and gazes down at the sea, way below.
Also in the story, Martin is sent to represent his company in Japan.  He’s supposed to sell their software project and is ill-equipped to do so.  But Japan is poles apart from the West, with features that help him.  The strange and wonderful traditions he witnesses, the inherent shyness of the people he meets, and the fuji apple are some of those.  When he gives his talk to the company, he has to pause after each sentence so that it can be translated and discussed.  This gives him time to recover his wits before he has to deliver the next sentence. Later, he gets drunk on saké, which is more potent than he realises, but the drink helps him to overcome his fears when he’s forced to take part in karaoke.  On a second trip to the country, he visits a deer park and sees, for the first time, that deer are not always timid creatures.
For Martin, London represents an unwanted return to the past.  His memories of the capital, whether from home or from school, are generally unhappy.  On two occasions, at Waterloo Station, he meets up with the past in the form of a particularly nasty former schoolboy.  Martin isn’t one to gloat with schadenfreude, but readers might smile at the turn of events.  The first of the two meetings is coincidental.  The two young men drink coffee in the station and the scene reveals the changes that each has undergone since their school days, one for the better, the other for the worse.  At the second meeting, the two now-middle-aged men venture outside the station, where they stop by the river to watch a street performance that must be a hoax.  The other man, reflecting his own experiences, says, “Everyone plays tricks in some way.”
I’m lucky to have visited many places in the world, including those I’ve mentioned here.  I grew up in London and have paid numerous visits to the city since moving away.  I never lived in Bournemouth, but my parents moved there after I left home and I loved visiting them there.  In 2013, we toured Japan as part of a group.  The wonderful, exciting, packed trip left a lasting impression on me.
about the book … 
Convinced that his imperfect, solitary existence is the best it will ever be, Martin unexpectedly finds himself being sent to represent his company in Japan.  His colleagues think it’s a joke; his bosses are certain he will fail.  What does Martin think?  He simply does what he’s told.  That’s how he’s survived up to now – by hiding his feelings.
Amazingly, in the land of strange rituals, sweet and juicy apples, and too much saké, Martin flourishes and achieves the impossible.  But that’s only the beginning. Keeping up the momentum for change proves futile.  So, too, is a return to what he had before.  Is there a way forward, or should he put an end to the search now?
Gradually, as you’ll see when Martin looks back from near the end of his journey, life improves.  There’s even a woman, Fiona, who brings her own baggage to the relationship, but brightens Martin’s days.  And just when you think there can be no more surprises, another one pops up.
Throughout his life, people have laughed at ‘weirdo’ Martin; and you, as you read, will have plenty of opportunity to laugh, too.  Go ahead, laugh away, but you’ll find that there’s also a serious side to all this…
about the author … Miriam Drori was born and brought up in London and now lives with her husband and one of three grown-up children in Jerusalem.
With a degree in Maths and following careers in computer programming and technical writing, Miriam has been writing creatively since 2004.  After some success with short stories, Miriam turned her hand to longer fictional works, publishing Neither Here Nor There and The Women Friends: Selina, co-written with Emma Rose Millar.
Social anxiety features in Miriam's latest publications.  Social Anxiety Revealed is a non-fiction guide that explores this common but little-known disorder from multiple points of view.  The book has been highly recommended by ‘sufferers’ as well as professionals in this field.  Cultivating a Fuji is the story of a fictional character who battles against social anxiety before learning to make friends with it.  Style and the Solitary, a crime novel, asks an important question: what happens when a suspect can't stick up for himself?
When not writing, Miriam enjoys reading, hiking, dancing and touring.

You can follow Miriam on her Website and on Facebook  Twitter and Insta   

You can get her books from Amazon

Tuesday, 16 May 2023

Meet some of the writers ...

 ... who will be joining me at the Shetland Noir literary festival in June ...

My post on April 18th announced the lit fest in Lerwick.  I was stoked to have been invited, and I still am.  If you missed that particular post, you can read it by clicking the link Here
The festival runs from June 15th to 18th and begins with a reception on Thursday evening at the Mareel in Lerwick.  There will be a welcome by Ann Cleeves, and following that, there will be music, too.
Friday - the first full day of the festival -  is brimming with all kinds of events and kicks off with Speed Dating Crime Writer Style!  This is a chance for you to briefly meet attending writers.  There will be conversations with Martin Edwards, Val McDermid and Carole Johnstone, along with a writing workshop, a talk and two author panels.  Saturday follows in the same vane with conversations with Elly Griffiths and Richard Osman, interspersed by workshops and panels.
But Sunday is the day I want to feature.  Following a conversation with Dr James Greive, a forensic pathologist, comes a panel entitled 'Not So Noir.'  Today, I am pleased to be able to introduce you to my fellow panellists.  Read on ...

Merrilee Robson’s short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, the People’s Friend, Mystery Magazine, and many other magazines and anthologies.  Her traditional mystery, 
Murder is Uncooperative, is set in a non-profit housing co-op.  Merrilee is a former vice president of Sisters in Crime – Canada West and a former director of Crime Writers of Canada.  She has served three years on the Vancouver Police Board, which provides civilian oversight to the Vancouver Police Department.  She lives in Vancouver and spends a lot of time with at least one cat on her lap.

You can follow Merrilee on her Website on Twitter and you can get her books on Amazon

I'm Jonathan Whitelaw and I write cosy crime novels set in the Lake District.  I started my career as a media officer in the Scottish Parliament before becoming a full-time journalist.  For 12 years I covered everything from breaking news, sports, music, the arts and culture and even the Olympics of Radioactive Waste (it's a long story).  My debut novel was released in 2015 and I"ve not looked back since.  My family and I moved to Alberta in 2022 but I'm still back and forth across The Pond.  My latest novel - The Village Hall Vendetta - is the follow-up to The Bingo Hall Detectives. It follows a mother and son-in-law amateur detective duo who solve scurrilous murders and mayhem in and around Penrith. 

You can follow Jonathan on Facebook Twitter and on Instagram and you can get his books on Amazon

The 'Not So Noir' panel will be managed by Dr Jacky Collins (Dr Noir), who describes herself as a film-loving, crime-reading adventurer.  It will be Jacky who makes sure our discussion keeps on subject.  
The rest of the day will include a conversation with Shona Maclean, workshops and more author panels.  I am so looking forward to being a minuscule part of this awfully big adventure!

Full details and tickets are available Here

Tuesday, 9 May 2023

I'm reviewing Clouds over Paris...

... by Felix Hartlaub.

Felix Hartlaub was born in 1913 in the city of Bremen. His father, Gustav, was a museum director and art historian who was the son of a merchant family. Gustav studied with Franz Wickhoff in Vienna, Heinrich Wölfflin, a Swiss art historian, in Berlin and worked with Fritz Wichert, a German art historian and principal director at the Mannhiem Art Gallery.  Wichert encouraged Gustav to move his family to Mannheim in 1914.
In 1923 Gustav became director of the Mannheim Gallery/Museum and took a particular interest in Expressionism as a school of art.  Felix was educated and grew up in the city and remained there until, at the age of 15, he began to study at Odenwald, a privately funded boarding school in Heppenheim.
At the age of 19, in 1932, Felix returned to his home town of Mannheim to study at the commercial college and then followed this with a period of study in Romance languages and history at Heidelberg University.
In 1933, his father was dismissed from his post at the gallery as part of the spread of Nationalist Socialist policies within Germany at that time.  Effectively, this made the family pariahs within their community, his father being labelled a ‘cultural Bolshevik.’
Felix went on to study in Berlin and received his doctorate in philosophy in 1939 – a most significant year in Europe for anyone alive at the time.  Within weeks of completing his studies, Felix was drafted into the Wehrmacht and from September 1939 to November 1940, he was part of a barrage balloon unit.
Perhaps in December 1940, his skills were recognised because he was assigned to the Historical Archives Commission on secondment.  This unit examined files looted in Paris.  He did serve again for a short time as a soldier, but the bulk of his time between 1940 to 1945 was spent working as a historical clerk at the Wehrmacht High Command, editing War Diaries and at the Führer’s headquarters in Winniza, Rastenberg and Berchtesgaden along with a period spent in occupied Paris.  This period of Hartlaub’s life is captured in Clouds Over Paris. It is not a narrative nor a day-by-day memoir, but it is a set of observations and notes about what Hartlaub witnessed, talked about and understood from his time in the city.
The language of his writings is lyrical and brings to life the city’s colour, sights and sounds in its darkest period in modern history.  There’s an initial naivety about his role and presence that comes across clearly, and I was left wondering to what extent – if any at all – he openly questioned the occupation.  What is abundantly obvious is that the naivety soon dissipated. Towards the end of the war, his notes become darker and more heavily tainted with despair and disbelief.
In April 1945 – just weeks before the armistice – Hartlaub was posted to an Infantry Unit on the front near Berlin.   He was listed as missing in May 1945, and from then on, nothing is known about his whereabouts.  He was formally declared dead in 1955, with the date of his death being accepted as December 31st, 1945.
He published little within his lifetime, but the scraps of notes and observations that still exist are a testament to a writer who might have achieved much had he survived.  His keen insights and eye for detail might have given us, here in the 21st century, a compellingly different story of the 1939/45 conflict.

Tuesday, 2 May 2023

Come stroll with me …

… through the old town of Cordes-sur-Ciel. It has a fascinating history and a scrumptious place to visit …

I’m camped in Villefranche-de-Rouergue and taking the D922 out of town and south to Cordes.  As I pass Najac and Languépie, I have to stop to snatch a pic or two of the ruins of the old fortifications on each promontory.  And there will be more from those locations in later posts.

The road sits in the valley bottom, so as you draw closer to Cordes, the old fortified town seems to rise out of the ground.  The place seems to float on the clouds when there’s an early morning mist in the valley.  Hence the name, which translates literally as ‘ropes in the sky’.  The town’s original name was just Cordes, derived from the ancient word ‘corte’, meaning rocky heights.  In 1993 the name was officially changed, and sur-Ciel was added.  As you drive towards the location, you can see instantly how well the revised name fits.

Built as a bastide in the thirteenth century, the town received its charter in 1222 from the then Count of Toulouse.  It is widely believed to be one of the oldest bastides in southwest France.  It was also part of a regeneration project following the Albigensian Crusade.  The Crusade, instigated by Pope Innocent 3, was an attempt to annihilate the Cathars, a religious community that had broken away from Catholicism and considered to be heretic.  As a period of French history, the rise and fall of the Cathars is a massive subject and far too big to include here fully.  But I can recommend The Yellow Cross by René Weis if you want to read more.  Perhaps it is a subject that I will return to in future posts.

The gates of the old town are a climb from the surrounding modern suburbs.  But well worth the effort for the views across the valley.  The town took seven years to build and was populated by people displaced by the destruction wreaked by the Cathar Crusades.  The new town replaced the village of Saint-Marcel, which was raised to the ground by the troops of Simon de Montfort.

Cordes prospered until the fifteenth century when it was pillaged during the Hundred Year’s War – a long-lasting series of skirmishes – and escaped damage during the religious wars at the end of the sixteenth century. This little town survived, and today, you can find some marvellous examples of properties from the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries. Check out the La Maison Prunet with its arched gothic windows.
Grand Rue Raimond 7 takes you right through the ancient heart of the place from Porte de Rous to Porte des Ormeaux.  This road will take you past one side of the old market place - see pic to the left - which still hosts a substantial market at the weekend. The street will also take you to the Musée des Arts du Sucre et du Chocolat.  A whole museum dedicated to chocolate and sugar work!!!!  What is there not to like about that?  And yes, I did visit.  How could I not?

If you enjoyed this post you might also be interested in my meanders through Chenonceaux  Blois  Ancy-le-Franc Tanlay and Lapalisse

Tuesday, 25 April 2023

I'm very pleased to welcome, friend and author, Gary Kruse ...

...to the blog today.  Hi, Gary and thanks for making time in your busy schedule to be here.  So, tell me, w
hat is your current release?

GK  My new release is a supernatural mystery called Bleak Waters.
When the story opens, we meet Lily West, a young woman who is grieving her father’s suicide the previous summer.  Plagued by questions over why her seemingly happy, loving father took his own life, and by dark fears about how well she really knew her father, Lily finds a distraction in the arrival of Theo Sinclair.
Theo has come to Lily’s village on the Norfolk Broads searching for answers to an older mystery; the disappearance of Claire Baldwin twenty-five years earlier. Theo’s arrival stirs Lily’s long-buried ability to see the dead, and the deeper Theo and Lily dig, the stronger the visions get.
But it’s not just the dead that are awakening as hidden secrets are revealed and lies uncovered.  As the warnings of the villagers turn to threats, and then to violence, Lily is forced to choose what’s more important; protecting the father she loves, or finding the truth?
It’s out on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited now, with a paperback release due for summer 2023.
Plus, for keen-eyed readers, there’s also a Badlands easter egg hidden in the story.
AW   What first got you into writing and why?
GK  I’d always dabbled in writing stories since I was a child, but I started writing seriously after I saw the teen-horror film The Craft in the cinema when I was seventeen.  I’d seen the vampire film The Lost Boys a few weeks earlier, and when I came out of the cinema I started thinking about what would happen if the witches from The Craft met the Lost Boys and from there I started writing the stories that would make up my first novel, Blessed Be.
Funnily enough, my writing career has pretty much come full circle at this point because Trinity, my current work-in-progress is essentially a witches vs vampires tale, albeit a lot darker than Blessed Be ever was.
AW  You write dark thriller and horror stories.  Is it all imagination or do you do research?
It’s a mix of everything.  I’m very inspired by place; Badlands was inspired by the coastline around St. Agnes in North Cornwall while Bleak Waters was inspired by the area around Hickling and Potter Heigham on the Norfolk Broads.
With place, I tend to ask who might live in these places and what the existing conflicts may be.  But I also like the idea of strangers arriving in these places, so then I have to figure out the stranger’s motivation and who would have the most to lose from their arrival and the stories develop from there.
Then, if I come across interesting bits of folk lore (for example wrecker’s tunnels in Cornwall for Badlands, ghosts in the Norfolk Broads for Bleak Waters, Eastern European vampire mythology and witchcraft for Trinity, I try to weave those into the story too.
 What about other types of writing?  Have you dabbled with other genres of other forms of media - short stories/film/theatre/radio?
GK I’ve written flash fiction and short stories, and was fortunate enough to win the November 2021 edition of the Writer’s Forum magazine short story competition with my short story, Hope in the Dark.
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?
GK  I’ve got a corner in my loft that is technically a writing area, but I hardly ever write there because most of my writing is done in local libraries, coffee shops and even the café in the local theatre during the lunch break from my day job.  I used to write on my commute on my mobile phone, but I work more locally these days so it’s all done on the laptop.
AW   And finally, what would your eight-year-old self think, and say about you and your achievements today?
GK  I think they’d be thrilled to see not one but TWO books out with their (my) name on them! When I was at primary school, we did a project where we had to write our own book and design a cover.  It had to be three chapters long, have a beginning, middle and end and was bound in card with treasury tags, with a cover image stuck on the front and a blurb on the back.  Best school project ever! Mine was a mystery about a yellow caravan.  I can’t remember the details, but I was reading a lot of Secret Seven books at that point so it would’ve had kids saving the day.
about the author … Gary Kruse is a writer of thriller and horror fiction about people on the edge of society struggling to find who they are, where they come from and where they’re going.  He has won and been shortlisted for several short story competitions and his debut dark thriller novel, Badlands, is an Amazon bestseller.
about the book … In the depths of winter, Theo Sinclair arrives in the Norfolk Broads
searching for answers to a twenty-five-year mystery; the disappearance of Claire Baldwin.

For Lily West, Theo’s arrival is a welcome distraction from her grief and the questions she still has over her father’s suicide the previous summer.
For others in her village, Theo’s arrival is a threat.
As lies are uncovered and long buried secrets dragged back into the light, Lily, now haunted by ghostly visions, starts to realise that Claire’s disappearance might be linked to her father’s suicide.
When the warnings and threats of the villagers turn to attempted murder, Lily has to decide what’s more important; protecting the people she loves…
…or uncovering the truth.
You can get the book Amazon and you can follow Gary on his page on Link Tree

Tuesday, 18 April 2023

I am honoured to be able to announce ...

… that I am one of the authors taking part in the Shetland Noir 2023 literary festival.  Read on for more info …

A brief conversation with a fellow writer whilst in Torquay last year included some scant details about a literary festival in Scotland.  It sounded intriguing and I said I was interested.  And now, almost 12 months later, I am very pleased to be able to say that, not only will I be there, but, I am part of a panel of authors discussing and answering questions about cosy crime.
It is an outcome I never really expected to come to fruition.  As the names of the headline authors who are attending were gradually released, I became convinced that my name – well, it does begin with W – had dropped off the end of the list.  And that is not so unusual.  I’ve dropped off the end of lists of students at school, employees at work and bookings for restaurants.  Dropping off pages or lists is something that comes with the territory of having a name that tentatively clings to the very end of the alphabet.  So, having the great honour of being included in this event is very much a first for me.
The location is also an unknown.  Whilst I’m well-travelled in Europe, France in particular, and one or two other more southerly locations, Shetland is new territory.  As one of the many Scottish islands, Shetland is a first.
Geographically it sits on a northing of 60.15 degrees.  That’s a whole 6.41 lines of latitude further north of my home in Yorkshire.  Whilst I have been to Aberdeen and the northeastern coast of Scotland in the past, this adventure will take me closer to the North Pole than I have ever travelled before.  Yet another first.
My usual attire for June is shorts, tee shirts, and flip flops with a cagoule thrown in for sudden downpours and those odd thunderstorms that can ruin the vines in France.  This year, I will be packing jumpers, jeans and walking boots.  That’s a very definite first for June!
My fellow panellists – Merrilee Robson, Jonathan Whitelaw and Dr Jacky Collins are all writers/people I have never met before.  Hmm, when I actually meet up with them, will that count as one composite first or three more individual firsts?
As for the whole event, well, everything happens between June 15th and 18th in Lerwick in the Mareel Arts Centre in the heart of town.  You can buy tickets for any number of events, author panels, workshops, talks, and author interviews throughout the four days.  The event for myself, Jacky, Jonathan and Merrilee is at 11.30 on Sunday June 18th.  We will be chatting and answering questions about all things 'Not quite so Noir'.  Check out the links below.
And if you’re counting firsts on my behalf, it’s either 4 or 7.  I prefer 7!

You can get tickets over the phone on 01595 745500 or online at www.shetlandarts.org

You can check out and download the programme for the whole weekend Here

You can read more about Merrilee, Jonathan and Jacky Here.

Tuesday, 11 April 2023

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

... today. I've been thumbing through my Egypt journal and found some worrying notes about our travels.  Read on...


... a meeting on board and I can't help but wonder what there is to meet about. However, the meeting is compulsory.  The dangerous area of Assiut is our destination for today - but, there is a problem. The water in the lock at Assiut may not be sufficient for us to negotiate it, similarly for the second lock further upstream.  The ship's manager has decided to make as much headway as possible and, contrary to our original itinerary, we are to dock at Assiut at about 7.00 pm and then navigate the lock immediately.
We're now about 250 miles south of Cairo and the dam we're heading towards is one of the oldest on the river.  Essentially it is a large barrage that stretches the full width of the Nile and construction began in 1898.  The dam was designed by William Willcocks (1852-1932) a civil engineer who also built the Aswan Dam, and was constructed by John Aird and Company.  The project was completed in 1903.  Kind of says something that the dam is still in service even now.
Most of my fellow Travellers and me are on deck to watch as we make our attempt to navigate the lock.  As this is Assiut, we are guarded and a number of boat personnel are also on deck, including S—, the assistant manager.  S— takes the opportunity to ask me why tourists will not come to Egypt any more.
"They are afraid", I say.
"But you are here" he retorts.
So, I explain that I'm no ordinary tourist and that I'm here because I had always wanted to see his country.  I point out that I will probably never come back, not because I don't like Egypt nor because I'm not happy to be here, but simply because, when I return home I will have achieved what I set out to achieve.  As we talked I realise that he thinks we Westerners are all very wealthy.  I point out that for me, this holiday is extra special and that it is very costly even for us.  Our chat drifts into the damage done to the tourist trade by Islamic fundamentalists.  S— is vociferous in his response and points out that Assiut is an unusual place.
"Assiut is different from all Egypt", he says.  "Here there are places the police cannot go - it is not like this anywhere I know in Egypt except here."  He glances across at our armed guards.
I think about home about riots in Toxteth, Brixton, unrest in Northern Ireland, and the dark sides of some of our cities.  In the end, we agree that perhaps there is no lasting solution.
As we move into the lock the guards take up their positions on either side, their rifles in their hands as though expecting an assault.  I'm on the sun deck and suddenly I feel very vulnerable. My heart is my mouth...

On the other side of the lock, we have to double park next to the Ra II.  We are not allowed to go ashore by ourselves but the local authorities had arranged some special entertainment for us and we are escorted as a group - armed guards in tow.  Our special entertainment is a film about Egypt, the river and the building of the Dam.  Once finished, we are escorted back to the boat...

Sleep eludes me.  I'm not sure if it's anxiety about being here in this place or just the noise.  There's a constant hum and thrum from the wharf and other passing boats.  I may not understand the language but the vehemence and anger in tone can not be mistaken.  It appears the crew and our armed guards are on constant watch for as long as we were docked...

There will be more from my Egyptian journal over the coming weeks.  If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy my earlier posts about Cairo Giza Solar Sailing Tell-el-Amarna and Egypt generally - just click the links.

Tuesday, 4 April 2023

Come stroll with me …

… through the town of Lapalisse.  It might be small, but it has a great history.


Lapalisse sits on the banks of the river Besbre in the département of Allier in the Auvergne.  At 106 kilometres in length (66 miles), Palisse sits at the middle point, with the river meandering some 50 or so kilometres north to join the Loire just above Dompierre-sur-Besbre.  With just over 3,000 inhabitants, Lapalisse is not an especially large town by English standards.  Still, it is important, as was the man who lived in the château that dominates the area and is clearly visible from the road as you cross the bridge into the centre of town.

Born in 1470, Jacques de la Palice (or de la Palisse) was a nobleman and military officer who became the Grand Maître de France (Grand Master of France), that’s the equivalent of The Lord Steward of England.  At that time, this was one of the most politically important roles in each respective Kingdom.  Beginning his career at age 15 in service to Charles 8 and then his successors, Jacques was soon fighting battles and wars in support of the expansionist ideas of whichever King of France happened to be his master.  Between 1494 and his death, his military career was constantly furthered during the Italian Wars waged between the Habsburgs and the house of Valois.

Involved in campaigns in Abruzzi, Puglia, Genoa, the Republic of Venice, Treviglio and Padua – to name but a few – that eventually caused the death of Charles d’Amboise in 1511, Jacques was made commander of the French Army in Italy.  He was given the title of Grand Maître de France.  But the fighting didn’t stop, and it would appear he was afforded no leave as he went on to squash the Spanish siege in Bologna and participate in the battle of Ravenna.

He eventually returned home to France when he retired to his lands in 1514, aged 34.  Having discovered this little fact, I can’t help but wonder how the current protesters in France might feel about this apparent precedent!  Whilst at home, he married Marie de Melun and eventually had four children.

However, Jacques’ peaceful home life was not on the cards for long.  In 1515 he was named Maréchal de France and was sent to fight in battles in Piedmont, Calais, Marseille and Avignon. In October 1524, Jacques and the King of France began the siege of Pavia.  The fight for Pavia started in February of the following year when the Imperial Spanish army arrived to free the city.  During this battle, La Palice was captured and subsequently executed.

But that’s not quite the end of his story.  Such an honourable man had to be honoured in death, too, and his epitaph reads as follows-


‘Ci-gît le Seigneur de la Palice: s’il n’était pas mort, il ferait encore envie’.


This translates as ‘here lies the Lord of la Palice: if he were not dead, he would still be envied.’  However, at some point in the 16th century, the second phrase was misread – deliberately or accidentally, I can’t say – as ‘il serait encore en vie’ which means ‘he would still be alive’.  If you now reach for your English/French dictionary and look up the word lapalissade, you will see it means ‘truism’.  So, here we are some 498 years later, and Jacques de la Palice is still with us!

There is a fabulous portrait of Jacques de la Palice in the main gallery of the Château Beauregard which sits just south of Blois in the Loire valley.

If you enjoyed this post you might also be interested in my exploratory meanders through Chenonceaux  Blois  Ancy-le-Franc or Tanlay

Tuesday, 28 March 2023

Please welcome, friend and author, GJ Scobie...

... to the blog this week. Hi, Gary, and thanks very much for making time in your busy schedule to be here today. Now, tell me all about your latest book ...

GJS The Kill Chain is a cybercrime thriller set in the present day and was published by Darkstroke in July 2022.  It was inspired by news reports of black hat hackers, nation state sanctioned cybercrime and the debate over privacy in a connected world.  The Kill Chain (the term given to the stages of a cyber-attack) is set in the present day, the story taking off from what should have been a private moment years before; a long game played by threat actors determined to take control for political and economic gain, while their victim struggles doing what they believe is right based on a code of ethics versus his need to keep his marriage, friendships and reputation intact.
AW What first got you into writing and why?
GJS I was brought up with books and had always planned to write a novel.  In 2010 I responded to a tweet by author Elizabeth Buchan who asked Twitter for background information for a novel she was writing.  We exchanged emails and I sent over some observations I had.  She thanked me and asked, “Are you a writer? You should be.”  That got me thinking and gave me the push to finally finish a novel and submit it.  I have written one a year ever since, but it was my eleventh novel, The Kill Chain, that was finally published.  The book Elizabeth Buchan published was called Daughters and I ended up in the acknowledgments which was really nice to see.
AW You write fast-paced cyber crime stories.  Is it all imagination or do you do research?
GJS I work in cyber security and give regular talks on the subject, so I do a great deal of research and keeping myself up to date in what is a fast-moving environment.
The idea for The Kill Chain, came to me, while at work in 2019.  I was in conversation with a student intern who had been invited to take part in a computer hacking competition abroad.  I asked what country it was taking place in and when they told me I said, you have to expect to be compromised when there, so if you are going to attend, we will need to have a plan for the devices you take with you and for how we handle them and your log on credentials when you arrive back.
As I spoke, the idea for The Kill Chain came into my head.  A cybercrime thriller, triggered by a decision to take part in a competition, being compromised by unknown threat actors when there, and then years later, when in a responsible security role, falling victim to an extortion attempt.  I typed a couple of lines to this effect into a Microsoft notepad and named it ‘Hackstory.txt’ and left it there for around a year while I finished another novel I was working on, before opening up the file and recalling the conversation.  So yes, imagination played its part, but the novel is backed up by real experience and research in the field.
AW And what about other types of writing?  Have you dabbled with other genres or other forms of media, short stories, film, theatre or radio?
GJS My science fiction short stories are published under the title of Small Print and are my take on different aspects of a dystopian future.  These tend to imagine technology much as it is today; imperfect and doesn’t always work the way you would like it to.  I have stacks of poetry and song lyrics which I suspect will not see the light of day.  I wrote my first novella last year and hope to work more in this format with some of the ideas I have.
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?
GJS I have a study which is filled with books, CD’s, guitars and synths and that is where I do most of my writing since the pandemic.  Prior to that I wrote ten novels while commuting by train as it was the only protected time I had.  I found I could shut the world out and be completely alone surrounded by strangers.  The Kill Chain was my first novel written at a desk in silence and it took a bit of getting used to.  I only commute a day or two a week now, so the bulk of my writing is done in my study and that works fine for me.  I do enjoy writing on trains though.
AW 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
GJS Robert Langdon from the Dan Brown novels.  We both work in a University, we both swim, we know about codes and cryptography, we have both visited Rosslyn Chapel, the Louvre, the Vatican, and every other major city and venue featured in the novels, so we would have plenty to discuss around art and architecture.  The only difference I think there is between us is, I have a Mickey Mouse Clock while he has a Mickey Mouse watch!
about the author … GJ Scobie works in cyber security, is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional and has a particular interest in how technology impacts on our everyday lives.  As a public speaker, he regularly presents on various aspects of computer security.  He is a member of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with his cyber-themed show, highlighting the dangers of internet-connected devices in the home.  In his writing, he deals with the dark side of technology and how it affects society reliant on computers.  He self-published his debut future cyber thriller in February 2022, The Copernicus Coercion, the first in a series featuring body hackers, the manipulation of computer networks via internet-connected implants and rogue Artificial Intelligence.  His novel, The Kill Chain, a bestselling cybercrime thriller set in the present day, was published by Darkstroke in July 2022.
about the book … Computer hacker, Jacob Anderson, accepts a job in a cyber defence firm, which is due to sign a high-profile government contract.  Eager to impress his new employers, he takes on Dark Light, a company that offers a free trial of their anti-threat system.  But in his haste, he fails to check their credentials thoroughly…
When he realises Dark Light intend to steal government data, he tries to back out of the deal. But a film from a hotel bedroom during a student hacking competition seven years earlier triggers a sextortion attempt, putting pressure on him to pass control of the network to his adversaries.
Backed into a corner, Jacob reunites the old hacking team from his university days with the intention of taking the Dark Light computers down.
As a target on the Kill Chain, can Jacob maintain his code of ethics while knowingly breaking the law?  Or will one last hack allow him to regain control of the security his employers, the government, and his family have entrusted him to protect?

You can get the book on Amazon and you can follow Gary on Facebook Twitter  and on Instagram


Tuesday, 21 March 2023

I'm reviewing The Light of Days...

...by Judy Batalion. Read on...

This substantial tome is subtitled to indicate that it is the untold story of the women fighters of the Jewish resistance. I had to pick it off the shelf in the bookshop as I had always associated the term 'resistance' with France and the struggles that country underwent during les années noir. This book provided a very different picture.
Beginning in Będzin in Poland this is the story of a number of women and their families who lived through the rise of Nazism, the invasion of their country and the terrible and constant tightening of restrictions that were instituted by the Third Reich during the thirties and forties.
The pace and timbre of the story are quite sedate at the outset.  Despite the difficulties encountered and the enclosure of a nation of people in ghettos, still, the tone is positive and there seemed to me to be an overwhelming sense of optimism that everything would be alright in the end.  As the individual stories of the women are told, the encroaching danger and the insidiousness of their fate begins to filter through.  The tone of the story changes and the narrative becomes more urgent and more demanding.
I found this book to be a fascinating exposé of life in the ghettos.  The build-up to the insurrection that has become known as the Warsaw rebellion is an incredible piece of writing. It is clear from the seventy-odd pages of supporting notes and bibliography that the subject has been very widely researched.
As a reader, there were times when I had to put the book down – the subject matter needed time to be assimilated.  At other times, there were points where I was thrown out of the narrative for various different reasons - some as mundane as typos some in disbelief at the scene described.  There were times when I found the narrative voice to be so harsh and shouty that I desperately needed to walk away from the book.  By the time I got to the last page, I felt mentally weary.  Perhaps that was the author’s conscious and deliberate intention.  I don’t know. But, however you look at that, I would have thought it was better to keep the reader’s eyes on the page and their interest engaged.
Overall, it is a story that had to be told and I am grateful for the opportunity to increase my knowledge.

You may wish to read reviews of other stories that also needed to be told. Just click the following links The Volunteer  The Infiltrators  The Passenger 

Tuesday, 14 March 2023

Promoting Yorkshire Authors Book Fair ...

I’m very pleased to be able to tell you that I will be at the Promoting Yorkshire Authors Book Fair on April 1st …

As part of the Huddersfield Literature Festival, which runs from March 23rd right through to April 2nd, PYA will be running a Book Fair on Saturday, April 1st.

There will be lots of Yorkshire authors there with loads of books.  You will be able to browse our books and chat with the writers – me included!

There will be a broad spectrum of books to choose from, including mystery, adventure, cosy crime, historical romance, and plenty more besides.

Entry to the Book Fair is absolutely free, and you can stay as long as you like between 10.30 am and 4 pm.

You can find the Book Fair at :

Lawrence Batley Theatre,

Queen Street,

Huddersfield HD1 2SP

It will be really great to see you there ...

You can find out more about Huddersfield Literature Festival Here

If you are an aspiring writer, or a published one, and you would like to know more about Promoting Yorkshire Authors, check out our website Here

Tuesday, 7 March 2023

Come stroll with me …

… through some more history from château Chenonceau.  Last month I left you in the fabulous gallery that stretched across the river, Cher.  Follow me …

Leaving the gallery behind I want to take you down into the heart of this house – the kitchens.  Here banquets would be prepared for kings and nobles and for those attending the many parties that Catherine de Medici enjoyed.  But at this level of the building, you are just above the water line of the river and there is provision for goods to be delivered straight to the kitchens by boat.  And, under cover of darkness, it is also possible that people might have been whisked away by similar transport.  And yes that possibility of a plot surrounding a quirk of history is still running around at the back of my head!
Coming back up into the main body of the
château we can see the magnificence of some of the rooms.  Like this one said to be used by Diane de Poitiers.  The fireplace surround is ostentatious in its symbolism.  The lettering of H and C refers to Henri 2 and Catherine.  She clearly wanted no references to her husband’s other woman!
There are numerous rooms all in the gothic style and as beautifully decorated as this one.  The walls are full of tapestries and paintings.  One room, funereal in appearance, is a re-creation of the actual décor that covered the walls of the chamber of Louise of Lorraine, the wife of Henri 3.  It was originally created for the then-royal widow of the king.
We will leave these fabulous rooms and head outside.  The gardens were the brainchild of Diane de Poitiers before she was ousted by Catherine de Medici and relegated to the château in Chaumont.  Diane engaged the services of a garden designer – but who that was, I don’t know.  The time for my research whilst I was there was short and I never came across that little detail.  But, looking outward towards other residences in the area such as Amboise and Blois, the influence of Pacello da Mercogliano (1455 – 1534) can be seen.  Of course, by the time Diane de Poitiers was thinking about her gardens, Mercogliano was long dead.  But it was not unusual at that time for the king to move his court every so often.  I suppose the old maxim of keeping one's friend's close but enemies closer still was perhaps more pertinent back then!   
However, the carefully planned and planted parterres are excellent examples of what was considered then to be the French formal garden, for which Mercogliano is said to be one of the earliest founding fathers.
The gardens stretch out on both sides of the residence.  And if you choose your timing carefully you can wander in the shade for a good deal of the time.  You also need to choose your season carefully, too.  It’s late September and I’m seeing a mature garden in its final throw of colour before dying back for winter.  I’m just really glad I don’t have to prune all that topiary!

You can read my previous post from château Chenonceau Here. If you enjoyed those two posts, you might also enjoy reading about my visits to the châteaux in Blois  Ancy-le-Franc or Tanlay