Monday, March 29, 2021

Back to basics. Books. Books. Books

 My blog has been kicked into the grass, forgotten, ignored and left to stagnate for far too long.

Now in Spring 2021, it is high time to let it bloom again. 

I have been reading many books, mainly novels through the lockdowns of 2020 and as I emerge, blinking, into the daylight here is a snapshot of the many books I have read and enjoyed. This is not the time to dwell on the many I have not enjoyed or failed to move me.  So here follows a few of the books I have enjoyed.

This week I shall merely show you the covers of 10 books in 5 of the main categories of book I have read and enjoyed over the past few months. If I have missed any out, I hope to include them in the future.

 Today, in no particular order, here are 10 HISTORICAL NOVELS I have enjoyed recently. Apologies for the way they appear. Blogger has changed things since I last used it and I have not got used to the new format. Why do these techie companies keep updating things, seemingly, just for the sake of it?

I have not written comments on any of them but if you have read them and enjoyed them, please let me know. Again, apologies for the messy line layout. It wasn't there before.  

Next - contemporary novels. Following that, crime novels.

Now let's get this show on the road and hopefully eventually you might read it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

My writing blog is now a Book Blog.

Because some of us un-essential folk have times on our hand, I decided it was time I totally re-thought my blog. Recently I published my novel THE LARK ASCENDING.

I was so lucky to have Anne Cater on board to organise a blog tour for me because I am unable to organise my own bookshelves or even my sock drawer. Not only have Anne and I become virtual friends, but I have also met some wonderful people online who, like me, are book mad. Many are book bloggers. I want to have a go. But I'm wearing L plates and haven't even mastered parallel parking.
Added for non-UK readers

... So don't ask me to read and review your book. Not now. I'm not even walking yet and it will take a while change this random blog where I talk about my life in general. (No wonder everybody stopped reading it.)

I will start with a few brief words about three novels I have recently read that have stayed with me for more than a nanosecond.

 Although I knew a small amount about the voluntary evacuation of this remote archipelago 100 miles off the western coast of Scotland as it was no longer sustainable, I knew nothing of the conditions of some Scottish regiments during WWII. In this atmospheric historical novel, the two are combined. I loved it.

I have loved all of Louise Beech's novels. All are so different but all contain elements of the supernatural and strange.   which concerns murder surrounding a hit stage musical entwined with a threesome who communicate with the spirit of a murdered actress with an Ouija Board. I found it creepy, frightening - even though I don't believe in the supernatural. Even so, I could not put it done. because it's so cleverly structural. Is I am Dust, a hit musical or is the way the dust and ashes we see floating around us when the sun shines actually what ghosts are? This is her best novel yet.

Don't be put off by the cover of this novel. This is not straight-forward clogs and shawl romantic novel although it is about a mill worker who works on a Spinning Mule in a typical Visrtoerin mill, its cruel supervisors and child workers,  factory and the man she loves. It's full of tension as we all know the Peterloo Massacre is on its way and we are right in the middle of it and all its horror and miserable aftermath. All the historical facts are true and unromanticized. The heroine's small son is autistic and described in an absolutely accurate way with his mannerisms and fears with total accuracy but the word is never used as it was unknown at the time. The ending isn't necessarily happy either. I cried buckets, something I really do when reading historical novels.

As you can tell I read a great deal of fiction. I am a historical novelist so  - mainly historical fiction but not exclusively.

You may also want to know I have been a member of The Historical Novel Society (HNS) from almost its beginning and very much involved with its quarterly magazine, The Historical Novels Review on its editing side. Although I do far less these days, I still review for them.

I am also a member of the Historical Writers Association. (HWA) and the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA).

Finally, finally. I have never ever and will never review for payment.

Friday, January 3, 2020

New Year, New Novel

Far be it from me to boast but here goes ...


I made the decision - some will call it crazy - not to publish a hard copy. I suppose it is an experiment of sorts to see how many people refuse to buy e-books because they either refuse to go anywhere near Amazon or would rather by a book from a bookshop. (More of the great e-book v proper books controversy in a later blog.)

I may sell no copies - in which case, more fool me. Next time, I'll do things the way all other authors do and join the real world again.

It's time to stop moaning about my age and my body's various infirmities and on to THE LARK ASCENDING, my latest historical romance.

Can Politics and Love ever live together? Set in Leeds and also in Knaresborough, Harrogate and

Whitby between 1919 and 1926, THE LARK ASCENDING introduces you to Alice Fields who hates her job in an old-fashioned women's clothing store in Queen's Arcade, which if you know Leeds, still connects The Headrow and Lands Lane.


Constructed in 1889, it was the second of the city's many arcades but, as far as I know never contained Cissie Gipton's shop or its replacement, The Pink Flamingo night-club that served its pink cocktails!

Here's a brief introduction to whet an appetite or two.

Leeds. January 1919. On a cold and snowy afternoon in a drab ladieswear shop, Alice, alone behind the counter, has nothing to look forward to. Little does she know it but her life is about to change when a distracted wealthy lady leaves behind an expensive mink stole and Alice decides to return it. And so, she sets in motion a life of riches, dark secrets and lies as well as warm friendships, new horizons and love. As the decade develops, short-skirted flappers contrast with an oppressed working-class who class in The General Strike of 1926.

Meanwhile, the bloody battlefields of Flanders the poppies bloom as the lark rises and sings.


Sunday, December 22, 2019

My 2019

This is the time when we look back as well as forward. 

2019 was not my best year - but by no means my worst. The worst thing was in March when a bit of spring sunshine beckoned me into the garden where I fell and broke my wrist. Okay, it was my left wrist and because I am right-handed, I was not too incapacitated. But what a palaver. An operation, one night in hospital and a plaster cast for what seemed like forever followed by weeks of physiotherapy. Not fun for me apart from the kindness, friendliness and expertise of all the doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, radiologists et al in our beleaguered NHS. 

What were the good things? My family comes first. I do not like to plaster my public blog with photos of my two grandchildren but just to say both are the best, of course. Both attend a lovely school that reminds of the one I went to school. Isaac is doing brilliantly in his number-work (well, he would be as both parents are maths graduates, his father employed in digital technology and his mum a secondary school maths teacher!) They all put me to shame. I realise now, after many years, that I have some sort of dyscalculia. It is said that the condition goes together with dyslexia but in my case, I, fortunately, have no problem with letters although both were helped in my 1950s primary school days when we have daily times-table learning, a weekly mental arithmetics test ("mental arithmetic weak" - as wrote my first maths teacher at secondary school in a report) and a weekly spelling test, plus a poem to learn and recite in front of the class. How awful it seems now but that's what school was back then. He is also a good runner and usually does well in his regular Junior Park Runs. I had a detailed discussion with him about the reasons the dinosaurs might have died out in a science-fiction context. He's 6 years old. Amazing. 

Athena is 3 and loving the nursery class at the same school. She is fearless, bright and bubbly and I'm sure will excel as a runner and gymnast - so different from me! She also has inherited the Zigmond hair - which is curly and being a girl, her mum makes the most of it, fortunately, me. It thrills me every time I see it.

Onto my writing. As everyone who writes knows, it's a roller-coaster ride of rejections and acceptances. In 2019, several of my short stories published and some have won prizes. 

To my delight, my novella, Chasing Angels, about a real pioneering female mountain climber, first published in paperback by the excellent Biscuit Publishing, now no longer available, was published this year digitally by Endeavour Media.

Even more excitingly, The Conrad Press will publish my novel The Lark Ascending in February 2020. I am mainly a historical novelist but have no particular period I stick to, although I am an expert on the history and development of the 19th-century bustle! My new novel is set between 1919 and 1926 and The General Strike which divided a country that was even more divided politically than today. You're fed up with politics? I don't blame you but this novel is a love story, as well as about female empowerment.

Leeds 1919. The war is over but young Alice Fields, who hates her job in an old-fashioned shop, isn’t celebrating. However, her life is about to change when a rich customer leaves behind an expensive fur stole and Alice makes great efforts to return it. Dark secrets bring not only money but misery, too. During the contrasting worlds of the roaring twenties and the General Strike, love and deep friendships bloom like poppies on the devastated battlefields over which the lark rises again.

I'll do a cover-reveal soon but this is where I leave my blog until 2020. I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a healthy and happy new year. See you soon and I shall leave you with a traditional Christmas scene. 


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

If you think Britain is divided this year. how about in 1926?

Then, we, Europe, every continent, had emerged from a brutal and devastating war. Here, we had to make sense of the hollow promise of Homes Fit for Heroes, and the bright young rich kids had Daddy's money to forget the past and spend it on fripperies. Such were the Roaring Twenties. But was that roar, a cry of angry people more than jazz or the Charleston?

In Britain, 1926 brought - but not quite - a civil war. The General Strike. It only lasted 9 days.

As the strap-line of my historical novel, THE LARK ASCENDING,  to be published early next year asks - Politics and Love. Can they live together? This novel will show you how.

In the 1920s, Leeds was a city of contrasts. A hub of shops, businesses and booming industry under a pall of thick black smoke (not now, of course!) within the jewel that is Yorkshire. And then there's Roundhay Park, the largest municipal park in Europe. Even today it is a must-visit beauty, both a place for fun and the contemplation of nature.

The Lark Ascending likewise, is a parcel of all-sorts. Violence, but not graphic, two sex scenes but, nothing pornographic, love and hate, seriousness and humour, action and reflection. Did I mention humour? There is a friendly dog plus two cats, all loved. (No animals were hurt in this novel.)

Two women feature prominently. The main character is Alice Fields. To start with she is a wimpish doormat. This novel is her coming of age. A lark is a small drab brown bird that nests on the ground, easy pickings for prey but in the air. it soars above us, singing gloriously. You may think of The Lark Ascending, that beautiful violin piece by Vaughan Williams. The title of my novel actually refers to the poem by Geoge Meredith in 1881. The music was not published until 1921. What would this poem mean to you if you first read it in prison?

Then there is Lenny (Eleanor) who has renounced her rich heritage. At first, she and Alice don't like each other at all. They're chalk and cheese.

But why the pink flamingoes and saddleback pigs?  Read my novel! Only you'll have to wait until February 2020. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

On A Roll

The Cambridge online dictionary defines it as "to be having a successful or lucky period." Well, that's me at present. How long it will last, I can't tell but I'm not complaining as I've not had one of those for well over ten years.

Being a dictionary - and now a Google nerd, I couldn't help looking up when exactly it became common parlance.

A brief Google came up with the fact that anything that is rolling is likely to keep rolling (although there is no such thing as perpetual motion and what about gravity?) Anyway, according to what I have found some variation of the concent has been in use since the 12th century.

So I'm on a roll. How exactly, you ask. Recent blog posts have mentioned the republication (as an e-book of my novella, CHASING ANGELS. For those who haven't yet read it, here's the link -

CafeLit is a great support to writers looking for publicity and exposure. Admittedly, they don't pay - and we writers should not seek publicity or publication without payment, should they? (Another topic I will blog about in due course.) If you look at their blog - - you'll find a huge collection of stories, both long and short, funny, tragic and thoughtful - to suit all tastes.

Before we leave 2019, I will have some more great writing news to announce. However, my lips are sealed for now which as a chatterbox - I'm finding it difficult to sustain. I still have school reports from my primary school which some choice comments two of which I remember by heart. One says "mental arithmetic weak" and the other, "Sally talks too much. Can disturb others." I've not changed! 

What I have learned from my rise in writing successes and my increased happiness, is that it's all about self-confidence or sense of worth. You may scoff because I shall never be a household name or an author whose name everyone knows, appearing on TV and radio with a thousand Twitter followers whose photograph appears in every newspaper throughout the world. As if. Nor would I want it.

To me, the most important things in life are family, good friends, health and happiness. Oh, and reading books! What more does anyone need?

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Hooray - My novella - Chasing Angels - is being republished as an e-book

Good news! Endeavour Media will publish an e-book edition of my novella Chasing Angels which was published in 2006.

Here's the new cover -  I love it!

A completely new e-book will be available to download on Friday 6th September 2019! PS It's now available for only £2,99. Bear with me, I could share the link two hours ago. I can't now! Is it me or does the internet like playing silly bu**ers just for the hell of it?) I'll try again soon.

I am very fond of this novella. Until then, I had only ever had success with my short stories. When I won first prize for my short story, "Sailing to Byzantium" in the annual short story competition organised by the late lamented publisher, Biscuit Publishing, the prize - as well as a welcome sum of money, gave me the opportunity to publish a novella of my choice.

The book's launch was huge fun. It was held in Newcastle's amazing library - known affectionately as the Lit and PhilIt was a freezing December evening shortly before Christmas and the streets were full of the well-known Newcastle youth; the men in sleeveless vests and the girls in vertiginous heels, micro party dresses and bare arms. After the launch, we all ended up in a Chinese restaurant. It was the weirdest, most fun-filled evening I had ever spent. Lovely, supportive Brian Lister with his white beard was more than Father Christmas with a sack of goodies. I will never forget it and that wonderful day.

But I'm jumping ahead of myself.  How and why did I write about Henriette?

My husband began his sporting activities by first walking in hills and mountains and then climbing them with ropes and all the correct gear and techniques. He began on the famous Almscliffe Crag in Yorkshire.

Almscliffe Crag

He then travelled to the Andes and Nepal with friends and professional guides. He climatised well to extreme altitude and when his idea of a pleasant holiday was trotting up Mont Blanc at a ridiculous speed, I accompanied him. I didn't climb, of course. Those who know me can guess I was far more interested in the history and culture of Chamonix where we were based.

While he was off in his boots, helmet, axe, ropes etc, I soaked up the atmosphere of the beautiful town in summer.  I shopped until I dropped, drank cup after cup of delicious coffee in one of the street cafes or lingered over breakfast in the hotel. I soaked up the atmosphere, wandered in the alpine meadows, took cable cars and the little train up to the famous Mer de Glace*, I came home brimming with notes and ideas for short stories, some of which were later published or won competitions. I was on a roll.

My Ascent of Mont Blanc by Henriette A'Angeville

One of my haunts while in stunning Chamonix, dominated by the Mont Blanc Massif was the museum where much was dedicated to pioneering climbers -- including the amazing Henriette D'Angeville, eccentric spinster, daughter of an aristocratic family whose decision to climb to the summit of Mont Blanc, against all advice and warnings of death is all written in her account which I have in French. As my French is not what it was, I bought and devoured the English edition translated by Jennifer Barnes and with a preface by Dervla Murphy -  "My Ascent of Mont Blanc" published by Harper Collins in 1992 and now out of print. The good news, you can still buy it second-hand. It's a cracking read.


I took this book as the ground base of Chasing Angels which is total fiction. I also read local guides and notes taken in the museum and online. Any errors are mine and mine alone. I hope I did justice to this remarkable lady who will always remain close to my heart.

Endeavour Media have designed a fabulous cover which sums up the whole endeavour with wit and amazing artistry. Although Biscuit reproduced a stunning photograph of Mont Blanc, I do think my new cover is a huge improvement.

 (*As a bonus extra to this post is my  short story based on the train ride France entered World War One.)


Stella watched the young man lead the girl through the dining room to the table by the window. ‘I haven’t seen them before. You see, people aren’t all going home.’ Henry, immersed in his newspaper, did not reply.
She ordered more coffee. As the waiter moved away, the young man caught her eye and smiled. She should have looked away but she liked his grey eyes too much for that, although she was a married woman and married women had reputations to preserve. But the rules were being rewritten. She could feel the scratch of the moving pen on her skin.
The young man turned to the window and the misted rooftops. The girl chewed her plait amiably.
Stella stirred her coffee. ‘They look friendly. We could do with the company.’
Henry turned a page as, beyond the windows, another Alpine August day was easing itself into brilliance. ‘Please, dear. I'm trying to read a complex article about the Austro-Hungarian position.’
She bit her lip. When she first met Henry she had fallen in love with his calm reason. The youngest of eight girls, nobody had ever paid her much attention or if they did, laughed at her, so it wasn’t surprising she’d been charmed. Now she had learned not to make a noise when she cried.
The waiter placed a boiled egg on the table. Henry folded his newspaper and picked up a spoon. ‘Your eyes are very bright today, Stella. The doctor was right. The mountain air suits you.’ He dug into his egg and grimaced. ‘I ask for lightly-boiled. This is concrete. But that’s the French for you.’
Stella poured more coffee from the pot and, inhaling its dark bitterness, resumed her observations. The girl was toying with the crumbs left on her plate and her companion was watching her and jotting notes in his book. ‘I know who they are,’ she said. ‘Hansel and Gretel. He has worked out a plan so they won't get lost in the forest. He will drop the crumbs behind them to make a trail. But it won't work. The birds will eat the crumbs and the dark forest will close over them.’
Henry threw his newspaper across the table. ‘This is such an old edition. We could already be at war.’
The couple rose from their table. ‘I think they're German,’ said Stella
‘Hansel and Gretel.’
‘Are you sure you're not feverish? Besides, there won't be any Germans here now. They'll all be at home preparing for war.’
Stella laughed. Henry's features sharpened. ‘I fail to see any humour in the situation. I sometimes think your misfortune has affected your mind.’
‘You are right. Nothing’s funny any more.’ She forced herself to her feet. ‘I'm tired. I'm going to lie down.’
Henry's manner changed on the instant. ‘You should have said before. Let me take your arm. You know, I can scarcely believe that the Kaiser and our King are cousins.’
It was a lie. She wasn't weary, at least not in her body - it fizzled and spat like fat in a pan. As soon as Henry left her to return to his breakfast she flung open the shutters and leaned over the balcony. The town was going about its business. Carts thronged the streets. Women on balconies shook blankets and called across the river to friends. A boy was sweeping the flags of the hotel terrace, dragging out tables and chairs, brushing fallen leaves from the canopied swing-seat. Behind him, the river tumbled over heaps of smoothed boulders. The colour and texture of onyx, it rushed on, never changing, ever moving. How long would it take before the water she could see poured into the Rhone to disgorge later into the dazzling blue of the Mediterranean? When a fisherman dragged his nets ashore in Corsica, when his gasping, silver treasure slithered across the quay, would he see that same water? And if some of that same water glistening on one fish's back later splashed on the market floor, how long would it be before the sun reclaimed it, sucked it up, to fall as snow on the peaks that now shimmered through the mist? For the journey did not begin here. It had started up there in the ice that had creaked and cracked high above her centuries before man was born.
What did a war mean to rivers, glaciers and mountains? And what importance was the loss of one child, a child who had never breathed air nor drank water? A drop, as they say, in the ocean.
Threads of mist lay in loose skeins across the valley and shawled the white Massif, but as she watched, the threads unravelled and the peaks revealed themselves to her. They didn't roar or splash like the river; they didn't chatter and clatter like people, but they spoke. Only she couldn’t understand.
The effort exhausted her. The moment slipped from her grasp. The mist closed in again. She shivered, closed the shutters and lay down on the bed.
She must have slept. Sunlight striped the wall and Henry was leaning over her. ‘I think I’ll go for a hike. You don't mind, do you? I’ll be back before dinner.’
She closed her eyes. ‘Not at all.’
As soon as he’d gone, she went out onto the balcony. Below her Hansel was seated at a table reading a book. He was then joined by Gretel who waved her straw hat at her. Stella waved back.
‘Eva and I are about to have lunch,’ the young man called up. ‘Join us.’
‘I can't.’
‘Are you a prisoner?’ said Eva.
‘No, but I have. . .’ She chose her words with care. ‘I have been ill. I need to rest.’
‘You can rest here,’ said Eva.
‘Indeed you can,’ said the young man. ‘It is most pleasant in the shade.’

After introductions had been made, Stella found herself seated at a small table beneath a birch tree with a glass of wine before her and a cushion at her back.
Over lunch, Theo – not Hansel, after all - explained that he was taking Eva, his sister, on a European tour to complete her education. ‘But she refuses to learn anything. She is hopeless.’ Eva pulled a face. She began to strip lengths of straw from her hat and drop them to the ground.
Theo ignored her and fixed his attention to Stella. She could feel his intensity weighing on her fragile body. ‘Such a pretty name. It sparkles.’
Like champagne? Sunlight? Ice?
‘Tell me all about yourself.’
‘I'm very ordinary.’
‘Oh you are not ordinary at all,’ exclaimed Eva, throwing down her hat. ‘You are quite beautiful.’

When the meal was over, Stella and Eva moved to the swing-seat. The shadows of the birches crept inch by inch across the terrace. A soft breeze rolled down from the mountains, rustling the dry leaves. Chaffinches pecked for crumbs at their feet. Two doves were calling to each other and bees lumbered through the heavy afternoon air. The seat creaked as it swung. Its fringe rippled and Eva snored gently, her arm thrown across Stella's lap. Theo remained at the table, reading. Absorbed and without self-regard, he melted into the scenery. Stella looked past him to the mountains, their whiteness merging with the pale sky behind a veil of shimmering light. She fanned herself with Eva's flattened hat. 'I feel like a Lotos Eater. Do you know Tennyson's poetry?'
Theo closed his book. ‘Of course. “On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind.” Shall I order tea?’
‘No need. I am sipping nectar.’
‘Very good,’ he said crisply as if he was a schoolmaster.
‘Where will you go when you leave France?’
‘We had planned to tour England. But that is now out of the question.’
‘The war,’ she said watching a line of schoolboys march past.
‘If war comes . . . .’
‘It will come.’
‘Will you fight?’ She had a sudden image of Henry and Theo rushing towards each other, sabres aloft.
He laughed. ‘Why should I? I shall take Eva to Zurich. Switzerland will remain neutral. And you? What are your plans?’
She shook her head. She couldn't think ahead nor imagine anything other than leaning back, suspended in the air, beneath the glittering mountains. She wanted to catch the butterfly moment in her hand and hold it captive, feel it fluttering until she chose to let it go.
‘When I first came here,’ she said. ‘The mountains seemed too large. Unbalanced. I was terrified they would crash down on me.’
‘And now?’ asked Theo batting a fly from his face.
‘Like they want to embrace me and keep me safe. Like a mother folds herself over her child when he is hurt.’ Her sob caught her by surprise. Theo leaned forward in his chair, not questioning but making her feel she owed him an explanation. Before she was aware she was doing it, before she had time to regret her indiscretion, she was telling him about her still-born son and the doctor's fear that she would never have another child.
‘I detect your loss has left a shard of ice in your heart,’ he said
Perhaps he was right in his precise account. She felt cold towards him as if he were a knife and she an oyster. She didn’t reply.
A sudden cold wind swooped down like a crow, rattled the trees and lifted the leaves from the ground. The birds had stopped chirping but the river tumbled down to the Rhone, to the sea, to the sky to fall as rain, to trickle, splash, rush, pour and tumble again and again and again. And here she was.
And there was Henry. He took her arm and with a cold nod to Theo, pulled her from the seat and propelled her into the hotel, up the stairs and into their room. ‘Have you taken leave of your senses? Here we are on the very precipice of war and I find you chatting with Germans.’
Stella gripped the bedstead, steadying herself against the rage boiling inside her. She felt both very small and as mighty and implacable as the mountains over whose heads, inky rags of cloud were now pouring. If she chose to she could rip the paper from the walls, claw the paint from the wardrobe, shatter the windows and leap to the ground and run through the streets, a screaming harpy. Instead, she had to pull each frozen word from her mouth, one by one.
‘I - hate - you.’
He turned and left the room.

The rain fell all night and on and off for the next three days. Bloated clouds filled the valley, blotting out the crags and peaks. The river rose and spilt into cellars and kitchens, but Stella, curled up in her bed, knew nothing of this or the day the rain stopped and an invalid sun limped into view.
There was a knock on the door and Eva entered. She flumped down at the foot of the bed, chewing her plait.
‘Theo and I have been worried.’
‘There was no need.’
‘Theo says you have an illness of the heart.’
‘Did he? Then he is wrong. There is nothing wrong with my heart. It's more simple than that. My husband says I must not speak to Germans.’
Eva opened the shutters. ‘Theo thought as much,’ she said. ‘Tell me. If your husband knew I was here, would he kill us?’
‘Henry?’ The very idea of her husband, of all people, bursting into the room armed with a gun, sword or even his alpenstock was so ridiculous that she giggled. Eva joined in, and the more they did so the more ridiculous her prolonged sulk seemed.
Stella joined Henry for dinner that night and neither mentioned their argument. When Henry suggested that a train journey to see the famous Mer de Glace would ‘blow away the cobwebs,’ Stella saw no reason to say no.
The carriages soon filled. Stella sat glumly, wedged between Henry and a Belgian woman who, clearly expecting hard times to come, was distributing lumps of bacon and bread amongst her offspring.
The little engine nosed the carriages up the steep, winding track. One moment she had a fleeting view of the valley and the next the train plunged her into dank blue forest and dripping tunnels before once more bursting out into the light. The air grew increasingly more chill and she felt thin and stretched, distanced from reality.
And yet, even here, the talk was of war. ‘La Guerre, La Guerre.’ It scuttled up and down the carriage like a rat. The train lurched ever upwards. Women crossed themselves, silent lips moving; children screamed and gasped as the incline steepened or the track seemed to cling to the very edge of the mountain. The train slowed to negotiate a viaduct before levelling out alongside a hotel. Its terrace was already dotted with fashionable hats, their brims rivalling the table parasols. The engine chugged into the station and wheezed to a halt. Passengers stumbled out onto the platform, huddling into their coats and blowing on their hands, exclaiming at the sharpness of the thin, icy air, hovering, uncertain what to do.
Henry took her arm and led her to the viewing platform overhanging the glacier. ‘I shall climb down to the surface, but I think it would be best if you waited here,’ he said banging his hands together, his breath clouding around his face. ‘The crevasses are very deep. Retire to the ladies' waiting-room if you get too cold. I’ll meet you at the hotel for lunch. Shall we say in half an hour?’
Stella felt light-headed, like a kite tugging on its string. Perhaps it was the altitude. It certainly wasn't the sight of the glacier. She had expected a river of diamonds but it was a dirty, grey blanket of grit. Tourists were moving aimlessly on its surface. With their ladders and lengths of rope, it looked like a game of snakes and ladders for ants. Behind her, the train driver and his companions were passing around a bottle of beer and exchanging jokes as they stoked, watered and polished the engine. Wafts of sulphurous smoke drifted down and melted in the milky blueness of the mountains that guarded the head of the glacier. She checked the guidebook Henry had left behind. They were called, 'Les Grandes Jorasses.' She didn't know what the name meant but it sounded suitably lofty.
‘What a pleasant surprise.’ Without waiting to be invited, Theo sat down beside her and slipped his haversack off his back. She wasn’t sure whether she was pleased or not.
‘Where is your husband?’
‘Playing snakes and ladders.’
‘I see,’ he said but clearly didn't.
‘What does 'Grandes Jorasses' mean?’
‘I don't know. Does it matter?’
They both pretended to admire the view; she looked left; he right.
‘Where's Eva?’
He pointed to where she was crouched on the snow, plait in her mouth, pencil and sketchbook in her hand.
‘Stella,’ he began, then stopped. He reached out his hand. Instantly she was both elated and deflated by the inevitability of the gesture. Was this what she had come here for? To replace one dead flame with a new spark? How banal. She waited for their hands to touch, ready for what? To sink into his embrace? How would that feel?
But their hands didn't touch. Instead, agitated voices broke out around them. One of the railway workers had left his fellows and was pushing his way towards the hotel. Another began to slide and slither down the steps towards the glacier, shouting and gesticulating. Soon the whole mountainside was stirred up as if an ant's nest had been poked by a giant stick.
‘What is it? What's happening?’ she cried. Theo was now on his feet, struggling with his haversack, calling to Eva.
Henry returned. She held her breath, bracing herself for his anger but he merely bowed to Theo. ‘It would seem that your country has declared war on France. It will not be long before our countries are at war.’ He held out his hand.
‘Indeed so.’ Theo did not take it. He turned to Stella and bowed. ‘Goodbye, Mrs Thompson. My sister and I must leave for Switzerland immediately.’ Helping Eva to her feet, he guided her steps over the ice towards the track that led back down to the valley.
She took a step forward. She could go with them to Zurich. She could start a new life. ‘Wait for me!’ she called but her voice was lost in the vastness around her. Eva turned her head briefly but Theo showed no sign
‘It's time we went home, Stella,’ said Henry softly. He paused, then whispered. ‘You are so, so lovely.’ He took her hand and folded it in his.
The platform was already crowded with ashen, silent faces peering at the sky in the expectation of thunderbolts crashing down from the blue or at least something more significant than a little toy engine with its comical funnel and scarlet carriages.
Theo had gone and she was glad. Like raindrops on the ocean, nothing left a mark on people like him. But what of Henry? And the moment she posed the question, the mountains and the ice melted away, and she saw him in a ditch, splattered with blood-streaked mud, his eyes wide and staring, seeing nothing. She clutched her fur collar and stumbled.
‘Are you all right,’ he said.
‘Absolutely fine,’ she lied. The mountains had lied. Their eternity was a lie. ‘Let's not take the train,’ she said
The snow kicked up by their boots circled them in a glittering luminescence until they entered the purple shade of the pines and where the snow was too thin to leave any sign that they had passed through


Sunday, September 1, 2019

Another new beginning - and some good news.

It's been in intensive care for far too long while I think why I write and what I want to write and who's going to publish it and read it.

I've been reasonably successful with short stories lately but am still struggling with flash stories. I enjoy writing them but I can't seem to factor that succinct poetic frisson into them. I end up with something too ordinary. Too many flash stories that win competitions feature domestic violence, child cruelty and neglect. Most people's lives are not like that so why create the myth that it is normal? They make me feel it and I think...I can't do this. I've not lived which isn't true. Rant over!

Stepping aside from my flash angst,  I recently read a fascinating article in of all places, the free magazine I receive as someone who buys a certain brand of vitamin and mineral tablets and all things healthy.  This is not a promotion for HealthSpan. I do know there are plenty more such companies selling them. However, I do like their free magazine. Yes, it tempts me to believe I should be taking far more supplements than I do but I know what they're doing and stick to the small number of supplements I have taken for years and suit me well.

There are many articles about well-being in general, nothing to do with supplements. So I was gripped by a feature in the latest issue,  entitled "The Reading Cure" , a great article by Madeleine Bailey  (Incidentally, I have scoured the magazine and the author for fear of violating copyright but can't find anything. So if I have trodden on delicate toes, I apologize will remove this post immediately. I can't do more than that.)

The pice is full of insightful comments about the mental health benefits of reading books. I could quote paragraph after paragraph but I'll just quote this one:

"According to research from Emory University in the US, reading novels helps increase our brain's neural connections. These links between our nerve cells are important for memory and cognitive reserve -- the brain's capacity to fiction efficiently despite age-related changes, Meanwhile, research from the University of Pittsburgh showed that reading for at least an hour a day can help reduce the risk of developing dementia in later life."

We readers and writers don't need to be told the benefits. We know!

This brings me - seamlessly, to tell you to await some good writing/publishing news from me very soon. Watch this space.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Settled at last

We now feel at home in our new (old) house. Not that it's totally free of builders of various description. There's an awful lot of metalwork outside that needs painting plus all the snagging in most areas. Fortunately, the current heatwave helps although the garden is still awaiting relandscaping and planting which is currently impossible. So we're holding tight and, like everyone else, praying for rain. The new conservatory awaits its tiled floor while we wait for the concrete floor is not yet ready - apparently. Even facing due south and the sun blazing for weeks, it could take another month.

Despite the usual niggles as we make this strange house how we want it, I love it here. It is on the very southern edge of Middlesbrough but with great access to country and town. Although the frontage looks very ordinary and so close to the road, at the back it is a totally different story with a skylark filled hay meadow and views over the Cleveland Hills which mark the northerly edge of our beloved North York Moors.

Many people have no concept of North East England unless it's Newcastle. But there's an awful lot of beautiful countryside around once-heavily industrialised Middlesbrough with its ship-building, steel and chemical works. Much of it is currently undergoing regeneration. Wildflowers, butterflies and clean water are now common-place. So here are maps and photos which may help you orienteer yourself.

Look for Coulby Newham - middle bottom. That's our nearest shopping centre and other amenities. South of that, where the blue shading stops is where we now are. Although convenient shopping is five minutes away, we prefer the traditional high street of the delightful Georgian town of Stokesley, North Yorkshire which is only ten minutes. (A bit about the location. The bottom of our garden is in North Yorkshire, whereas the house itself is in a suburb of Middlesbrough. According to Royal Mail, the postal address is Nunthorpe, Middlesbrough. But that's not as near as Coulby Newham or Newby. Because it has a long drive, the house next door is in Yorkshire!)

Stokesley High Street
River Leven in Stokesley

I don't want to be too precise about our house because this is a public blog. But I can show you some views of our back elevation which is not visible from the road.

Drone's eye view.

And an early photo of new unfurnished conservatory although we now have the outside flagstone path laid and flowers planted plus inside unpacked boxes and furniture from our previous house crammed at one end as it all awaits the floor tiles.

Roseberry Topping

I will update soon with the stunning view of the views south to the Cleveland hills that fill us with joy every day. Unfortunately, we cannot see Rosedale Topping itself from our house due to a small wood further east (not ours) which blocks our view but we can see the rest of the Cleveland Hills chain.

What about your writing, I hear you ask. (Well, I imagine I do!) I am still editing my much interrupted medieval novel with a view to submitting it to agents in 2019 but, in the meantime, I am cracking on with flash fiction,  my latest venture. It's a challenge I am loving. Various competitions nowentered, I'll have to wait and see...

Saturday, May 12, 2018


As you've probably realised, my blog has been dormant for far too long - well, it's been a long winter. 

Although this blog has been in hibernation, a heck of a lot has been happening behind the scenes. 

Not my writing - alas. That also has been dormant although I haven't abandoned it. No way. That's something I could never do. I'm still submitting. I am writing flash fiction which I do as a break from editing and re-drafting my current novel. I have been writing said novel for ages but am determined to get it done.  

Now to real life. We have been thinking of moving for quite some time. We absolutely love where we live and it is with a heavy heart that we're upping sticks within the next few weeks. This is for purely personal reasons and we hope it will make our lives less stressful. 

As a result, my blog will go quiet once more until we have fully settled in our new house. Only then will I blog in more detail about the area we are moving to.

I say 'new house' but it is in fact the oldest we have ever owned. You could say my life has been a long migration into the past - hence my fondness for historical fiction. Our first married house was built in the 1960s. Our second, where we lived for over 30 years and brought up our children who flew the nest some time ago, was build in the 1920s. Our current dwelling was built in the 1856 as a Wesleyan chapel. In a few weeks time we will live in what was originally 3 cottages for farm workers on a large farm that no longer exists but lives on in the bucolic name of the house. And the date? 1709.

What was happening then?  Queen Anne was on the English throne. 

The War of The Spanish Succession (1701-1714) was in full swing.

 The earliest known county cricket match was played between Kent and Sussex.  Samuel Johnson was born.  

So there's much historical background to a century of which I am pretty ignorant. It is, as you might expect, a quirky house and not attractive from the front elevation. However, when you see what's at the back you might begin to understand what attracted us in the first place: far-ranging south-facing views; large garden and paddock

Why on earth Middlesbrough? Once rated by Kirstie and Phil of Location. Location. Location fame  as the worst place to live in England,this is grossly unfair to my eyes. Like many areas in the North East the proud industrial heritage has been obliteration, creating awful deprivation. However, it is situated in a beautiful part of the world and its industrial past has given it a certain ironic character. Remember that Get Carter and Boys from the Black Stuff?  

Middlesbrough did not exist at all until a farm was bought in 1829 on the south bank of the river Tees by a group of Quaker business men who planned to name it 'Port Darlington.'  As the Tees estuary once divided the counties of Durham and Yorkshire and is situated roughly halfway  between the estuaries of the Tyne and the Humber it gained a variation on the name of the middle's borough.  Once cruelly dubbed a "Megalopolis" for its rapid expansion into a port and major ship building area and its major chemical works (mainly ICI) in Billingham,  it was not a good place to live. 

But all that, for good and for bad, is gone now, the once polluted air and water, it is rapidly reclaiming its former beauty with nature reserves and parklands.

There is a lot of history to explore and novels ahead for me. 

Captain James Cook is the most famous son of the area. Born in Marton (now a suburb of south Middlesbrough), his name appears locally in  an excellent hospital, a school and various museums and heritage centres along the coast from the town to Whitby and many places in-between.

Much more of him later on this blog. There there is also Robert the Bruce, believe it or not!  Then there's the River Tees, Roseberry Topping. You name it, I'll write about it ... 

Roseberry Topping