Book review- A Murder of Magpies

51J7-R4ItJLSo you  know those days when you’ve read all your favourite authors’ latest books and their back lists and you really want to crack the whip at them and shout come on, write another one, on social media but you don’t because they are human beings not machines and they are entitled to a life regardless about how desperate you are for their next book?   So you start looking for new super good authors and looking… and looking and out of the blue someone says why not try this? And you do and it’s always a gamble because they might be the next candidate for your keeper shelf, or they may be a DNF (did not finish), or they may simply be enjoyable but forgettable but you’re always looking and you enjoy reading so you go for it.

Well I did. I tried A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders and it was flippin brilliant. So brilliant I went straight out and bought the others in the series. Ms Flanders didn’t just hook me from the start, she made me fall in love with heroine Sam Clair and her policeman love interest. BUT here’s the thing. The affection that the author, through Sam who is a really nice, sharp, intelligent, person, has for her secondary characters shines through and I loved them all as a result. Sam’s mother is just a star- super competent and non judgemental and the neighbours, well they are so excellently drawn and enhance the book so much that they are jewels in their own right. Ms Flanders just does everything well.

As to the mystery- well I didn’t guess the perpetrator in any of the three Sam Clair books I read. To be honest I was so caught up in the joy of the story that I didn’t have the time or inclination to try working out who dunnit.

 

The author has a wry, dry, sly sense of humour throughout and the writing is very clever and kept me, as a reader, on my toes. She obviously knows her stuff.  This is fresh, tightly written cozy crime with lovable characters.

Go on, what are you waiting for? Go and buy it now!

 

 

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Agent one-to-ones

I was super pleased recently when my friend Sasha Greene (2016 winner of Kosta’s Olive Tree short story competition ) got a well-deserved 10 minute pitch with an agent. I’ve invited her on to my blog to talk about what she learned from the pitch. 

Meeting with, and pitching to an agent is the holy grail for most authors but also terrifying. You were recently lucky enough to attend a pitching event run by a well known agent so tell us, how did you feel when you secured the appointment?

I was both excited and and also a little bit scared! I’m never very good at selling things as I generally think people should be allowed to make decisions for themselves without things being pushed in their faces, but what really helped me is that I genuinely believe that the manuscript I was pitching is a really good story that deserves to be published.

Did you do any research/preparation prior to the appointment?

I didn’t do muchIMG_20160614_174037 (2) research prior to the appointment, but I did do a lot before sending in my submission. I took a good look at the agency website and made sure that the agent I was pitching to would be interested in the genre that I was submitting. Once I had decided on the agent I thought would be the best then I had a look at the authors that person represented and even bought a couple of those authors’ books to see what their writin
g was like. I was also very fortunate to get some really valuable input from another lovely RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) member on things that had worked for her in cover letters to agents. Then I carefully crafted my cover letter, making sure that I also adhered to the agency guidelines about what they wanted me to mention. When preparing for the pitch session I had a good think about what messages I wanted to put across and how I could best convey them in a simple way.

What sort of things did the agent expect from you during the pitch?

I think every agent will be very different in this, but I have the feeling they always ask some variant of the question “What is your book about?” It’s always good if you can describe it succinctly. I was helped by the fact that I had answered a lot of the basic questions in my cover letter so we could really make the most of the time I had. The agent was also really nice so that was a real bonus that I was very happy about!

What did you learn from the experience?

It wasn’t my first pitching session; I was lucky enough to have three sessions last year at the RNA conference so that helped a lot in knowing what to expect. Evenscripture-960538_1920 (2) if it’s not ultimately successful, any practice at these sort of things is great. However I realised specifically this time around that it’s essential to prepare, but in the end I just had to play it by ear as I couldn’t really tell in advance exactly what they might say or what
questions they might ask. We did also discuss my current work in progress and I also feel that helped as it showed that I am serious about writing.

What would you do differently?

I think I would be less nervous next time. it’s a bit like job interviews; they get easier the more practice you get!

Any hints for anyone facing a pitch?

I think probably the following:
– Do your research. Most agents have a list of what they are looking for and provide lots of useful information on their websites and twitter feeds.
– Know your work. Be prepared to answer in-depth questions about it.
– Be confident in the quality of what you are offering. If you don’t think your work is good then it’s going to be much harder to sell it to anyone else.
– Be concise. Ten minutes just flies by.
– Ask for feedback if they don’t offer it willingly. It’s free advice from someone in the industry so why wouldn’t you?

I think most importantly though be yourself. OK, so you probably want to put your best side forward, but if you don’t get on at the start it’s going to be more of a challenge to end up with a solid working relationship!

And also remember that if you get to the pitch stage they have already seen your writing and you wouldn’t be there if they didn’t like it, or at least think it has potential, so take courage and go in with your head held high.

Wonderful advice Sasha, thank you for sharing! Best of luck with your WIP.

You can find out more about Sasha at http://sashagreene.wordpress.com/

and follow her at @SashaGreeneAuth

Author interview- John Jackson

 

 

John it’s great to hear that your book  “A Heart of Stone” is to be published by Crooked Cat Books, in Oct/Nov this year. Thanks for coming on my blog to talk about it.

What was the inspiration behind the book?www.PicturesbyRob.co.uk York Photographer Rob Cook FBIPP FMPA QEP covers weddings portraits and commercial assignments across Yorkshire and the North East in Leeds Harrogate Selby Malton Tadcaster

PicturesbyRob.co.uk

plus.google.com/10681431368529952538

Some years ago, I came across an amazing story about my great-great-great-great-great parents. He was a young Irish peer, and he married the daughter of another Irish peer. After several years, their story took a tragic turn. While the story was fascinating, I could see that the real events were too tragic to make a book as it was. NOBODY ended up with a happy ending from this one!

That being said, the story provided a series of hooks that couldn’t be ignored. What I hope I have written is the story of “what should have happened.” The hero and heroine deserve it, after all these years.

How did you come to write your genre of choice? 

I have always been a fan of historic fiction and historical romances. My father used to get each new Georgette Heyer novel as she wrote them, and he passed his love of them on to me. Once I started to write, I never thought of writing in any other genre.

How does it feel to one of the few males in the predominantly female world of romance writing?

Absolutely great! I have been astounded by the support and goodwill I have received from my writing friends, and members of the RNA. It’s thanks to them that I am writing at all. They gave me the confidence to try and write.

Have you experienced any difficulties breaking into this world?

I have come into the industry at a time of great change. As I found, most agents are extremely risk-averse. Unless you have Cornwall, Café, or Cupcakes in your title you are really going to struggle (and I did). Being a man in a mainly female genre, probably also told against me.

What has been especially good about your journey to publication in this genre?

Self-publication is ridiculously easy in this day and age. It would have been far simpler for me to publish on Kindle or Smashwords, but, by getting the MS taken by a publisher, this represents “Peer Approval”. Someone else, apart from family and friends, thinks it worthy of publication. Being taken on by Crooked Cat was massively encouraging.

When did you start writing and why?

I started writing stories for our daughters when I was away from home on long sea voyages. Simple animal tales, and unfortunately, now lost.

I eventually moved into the world of documentation for ships, covering laws, compliance and safety, etc. This has been handy, at least in making me familiar with the process of writing and producing documents. Of course, these were all non-fiction, but I had the job of trying to explain policy and procedures, in English, to non-native English speakers, mostly from Eastern Europe and the Philippines. I soon learned, clarity was everything.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to become an author in this genre?

Read, read, read, and then write, write and write again. Recognise your limitations, and learn that the people you meet have been doing it longer and generally better than you, so learn from them.

About ‘A Heart of Stone.’ 

A Heart of Stone, a tale of love, power, jealousy, starvation and prison, set in 1740s Ireland.

What happens when a young, beautiful girl is made to marry the worst man in Ireland?

But he has a brother, and they will risk everything to be together. Her husband doesn’t take this well.

Thank you John, it’s been great talking to you. Thanks for coming on my blog today. Tell us a little bit about yourself before you go.

Author bio: 

After a lifetime in shipping, I am now retired and living in York. An avid genealogist, I found a rich vein of ancestors going back many generations. My forebears included Irish peers, country parsons, and both naval and military men.

A chance meeting with some authors both historical and contemporary, led me to try my hand at writing. I am a keen member of both the Romantic Novelists Association and the Historic Novel Association.

I was brought up on Georgette Heyer from an early age, and, like many of my age devoured R L Stevenson, Jane Austen, R M Ballantyne, and the like. Favorite modern authors include Bernard Cornwell, Simon Scarrow, Liz Fenwick, Jenny Barden, Carol McGrath, Lindsey Davis and Kate Mosse.

“A Heart of Stone”, to be published by Crooked Cat  in October / November 2017

Contact John:

Twitter @jjackson42

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/johnjacksonauthor/ 

Blog: john42hhh.blogspot.co.uk

 

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Author interview- Angela Wren

With summer coming (yes I know, it does still feel a long way off but it is on its way, I promise) I thought we might turn out eyes to a somewhat warmer place. Today Angela Wren is here to talk about France and what it is that inspired her to write her French set crime novel Messandrierre.

Q: I know you spend a lot of time in France – what is it that is so attractive to you about the country?

Angela: That’s a big question, Viki and I’m not sure I can answer it in anything less than a rather large book!  So, France is 6 times the size of GB but only has about the same population size.  That means there are vast tracts of land that are open and genuinely wild.

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Lac de St Croix, Provence

And when you think about the green and rolling countryside of the Limousin, the ruggedness of the coast of Normandie, the vast forests of Aquitaine and the mountains of Rhône-Alpes and Pyrénées, you quickly realise that it is a country of contrasts and extremes.  As I travel around it seems as if there’s a whole world of scenery within its borders.

Add to that the sunshine, the pace of life – I swear rural French clocks run more slowly than English ones – that quintessentially French attitude to everything and the culture and you have, what is to me, a fascinating and intriguing place to be.  I feel very relaxed and very much at home there.  In addition, the place never fails to amaze me, because there is always something new around the corner:  a different nuance to a word or phrase to remember, a missed bit of history to discover, a new village or town to visit and explore properly.  I don’t think I will ever be bored with France.

Q: I see why France is the influence for your books, but why the Cévennes and where exactly is this?

Angela: The Cévennes is a mountainous area that centres around Monts Aigoual and Lozère in central southern France and sits on the south-eastern flank of the Massif Central.  It’s part of the Languedoc-Rousillon region, to be precise.  It’s a vast untamed area with tiny hamlets and rugged, wild uplands in between.

It was whilst I was there in 2007 that I had the idea for using the area as a backdrop to my novel Messandrierre.  I’d been following Robert Louis Stevenson’s trail through the area and I had his book, Travels with a Donkey, with me as my guide.

It was September, and overnight the weather changed dramatically, and I awoke to find snow on the ground.  What had been a sparse, richly coloured autumnal expanse interrupted by the dark green inkiness of the dense pines was suddenly a wide and bright white vista that seemed to stretch on forever.  As I took a few moments to watch the snow and gaze at the mountain tops, the thought that misdeeds could be so easily hidden here floated across my mind and the first few lines of the book were born.

‘I died beneath a clear autumn sky in September, late in September when warm cévenol afternoons drift into cooler than usual evenings before winter steals down from the summit of Mont Aigoual.

My shallow grave lies in a field behind an old farmhouse. There was no ceremony to mark my death and no mourners, just a stranger in the darkness spading soil over my body. Only the midnight clouds cried for me as they brought their first sprinkling of snow to the tiny village of Messandrierre.’

Q: Does that mean there are real places in your books?

MendeJewishQuarter (2)

Old City of Mendes

Angela: My village is fictional, as are all the characters with which it is populated, but it is modelled in size and detail on the real village where I always stay.  For the book, I had to move the chateau and turn it into ruins, fell a few trees and build some hunting chalets so that Messandrierre would properly support the story I wanted to tell.

Mende, the principle city of the département of Lozère, is referenced in the book several times and a specific incident occurred there that relates to the disappearances that my hero, Jacques Forêt, investigates.  It also features in the second book in the series which is called, Merle.  That is the name I’ve given to a fictitious suburb in Mende where a murder takes place.  Mende, in reality, is a fascinating place with a rich and varied history, and during the 1939/45 war, it was part of Vichy France.  It is well worth a visit for anyone in the area.

Q: Using a 19th century journal as a travel guide rather than a modern guide is different… But why? Very little can be the same surely?

Angela: Stevenson, like me had a great interest in history and as he moves from place to place he comments on what he finds there and how that matches with, or not, his expectations as a result of the history.  He also dismisses some places and items of interest unfairly, in my view.  He travelled through the Cévennes in late September and into October, but I think the best time to be there is in June and July.  For me, the book was like having an old and trusted friend with me.  As I visited Luc, or crossed the bridge into Langogne, or sat eating my lunch by the bridge in Pont de Montvert, I could debate with, or challenge, RLS in my thoughts.  For example, the bridge across the Tarn at Montvert dates from the 17th century.  Just think about that for a minute.  Not only did Stevenson cross that single bridge, so did any number of others, a knight perhaps, merchants and drovers, maybe a troubadour or two, who knows, but it’s sometimes good to just speculate about history.

Road to Langogne02 (2)

The colours of Cevennes

Of course, the best part of making such journeys is to write about them afterwards and my last trip to the Cévennes provided enough material for a series of blogposts about the area. Following Stevenson

 

 

Q:  What are your plans for your next book and your next trip to France?

Angela: The second book, Merle, is with the publisher for editing and should be out later this year.  The third book, Montbel, is my current work in progress and is at an early stage but hopefully will be available sometime next year.

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Bridge across the tarn at Pont-de-Montvert

As for France, I’ve been poring over my maps and I will be heading out there pretty soon.  I’m planning on meandering across the Vivarais plateau in search of WWII history and I will have a very interesting book with me as my guide too!

Thank you Angela! That’s been a fascinating chat. Tell us a bit more about you and your latest release.

My first novel, Messandrierre, is set in France, where I like to spend as much time as possible each year and was published in December 2015.  The follow-up, Merle, is with the publisher for editing and will be available later in the year. I am also working on an anthology of alternative fairy tales which I intend to self-publish.

About the Book… Sacrificing his job in investigation following an incident in Paris, Jacques Forêt has only a matter of weeks to solve a series of mysterious disappearances as a Gendarme in the rural French village of Messandrierre.

But, as the number of missing persons rises, his difficult and hectoring boss puts obstacles in his way. Steely and determined, Jacques won’t give up and, when a new Investigating Magistrate is appointed, he becomes the go-to local policeman. Will he find the perpetrators before his lover, Beth, becomes a victim?

Amazon

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Blog : www.jamesetmoi.blogspot.com

Facebook : Angela Wren

Goodreads : Angela Wren

Contact an author : Angela Wren

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halloween story-The Dare

 

The Dare

By Vasiliki Scurfield

Graveyard‘Are you dissing me? Are you saying I’m a coward?’

‘Hey, try ‘n’ chill out man.’ Chunk inserted himself deftly into the potential conflict. ‘No-one’s calling you anything.’

‘I ain’t said nofink,’ Jek answered ‘cept, ah bet ya couldn’t spend all night in’t cemet’ry next to Mad Mary’s grave wiv out soilin’ yasen. Could ya?’

‘Hell, yeh I could,’ Deza said his anger having subsided a little.  ‘But you ’n’ Chunk gotta do it too. You an’ all Bucky. One of us each night, all night.’

‘Fine, so who’s starting tonight?’

‘I will.’ Chunk volunteered. ‘I need to get it over with ‘coz I’ve got a test next week. I need to revise.’

‘Loser,’ Jek said scornfully.

‘Ef off,’ Chunk answered back. ‘Just ‘coz I don’t want results that can spell FUDGE don’t make me a loser.’

‘Sick.’ Bucky’s admiration shone through. ‘FUDGE? How d’ya manage that?’

Jek just grinned. ‘What can I say? ‘T ain’t everyone ‘oo can do that. I’m special.’

‘So, it’s Chunk first then who’s on tomoz?’

‘I’ll do it.’

‘OK, so it’s Chunk, then Bucky, then me, then you Deza.’

‘Fine, we go down together, leave when it gets dark, come back the next morning ‘n’ check yer still all of a piece.’

‘Right, well I’m for home. See ya later.’

***

‘What the heck’s all that?’ Jek demanded later when they all sat in a semi circle round the foot of Mad Mary’s grave.

 ‘This?’ Chunk opened a carrier. ‘Cider, chocolate. Have some.’ He tossed them each a can.

  ‘And this?’

He looked up from where he was rooting in the bag.

‘It’s a washing machine! That’s my sleeping bag and a pillow. What the ‘eck does it look like?’

His sarcasm was lost on them. ‘Yer meant to be roughin’ it, not camping, you soft git. Pass us another cider then.’

They guzzled in companionable silence then took off leaving Chunk stretched out comfortably in his sleeping bag.

‘Remember you gotta spend all night there.’ Jek’s parting shot reached him on the breeze.

Did they really think it would be hard to doss here for a night? Not for a scientific mind like his. ‘Whatever!’ Chunk’s answer was muffled as he snuggled down and was soon asleep.

***

How to say that he slept like a log all through the night? They were expecting something more so Chunk drew on all his amateur dramatics experience, particularly from his part as Scrooge in the school production and produced his best ‘I’m terrified’ expression for them.

‘God,’ he grabbed Deza’s arm, ‘Get me out of here. I swear there’s something after me.’

Deza started to look a bit stressed. ‘Whadya mean?’

‘It was awful. I could feel fingers sliding over my skin, cold, damp fingers, moist rotting fingers!’ he said demonstrating an ability for adjectives that had him predicted an ‘A’. ‘I heard clicking and clacking, like bones coming out for me.’ He managed a shudder for effect. ‘I’m never stopping here again.’

Bucky looked concerned. ‘If it were that bad, I’m bringing me dad’s gun wi’ me.’

‘Stoopid, what’re ya gonna do? Shoot the ghosts? They’re already dead, aren’t they?’

There were hoots of laughter at this witty rejoinder and Bucky, embarrassed, shoved Deza who was closest. ‘Gi’ up.’

***

Bucky was scared.

As the others had said, bringing the gun was stupid. It wasn’t any good if you couldn’t see what to shoot at and one shot would have the whole world and his brother come running. Never mind the coppers- his dad was likely to kill him with the belt.

He huddled, shivering, behind Mary’s headstone, curling up as tight as he could. The warm September breeze ruffled over his arms like the brush of spirit fingers. Clouds Spooky old cemetery on a foggy daycovered the moon and he strained to see in the sudden black. A dog howled and the hairs on the back of his neck rippled to attention. His breathing grew shallow and rapid, his heart thundering in his ears. Something rustled to his left and he held his breath and strained to hear. What was it? Nothing- silence. He expelled his breath in a whoosh and took a deep gulp of air.

A tickle on his ankle and he froze. Oh, God, oh God. How had Chunk stood it? What if it was worse tonight because Chunk had woken them all up last night? He slid his finger through the trigger of the 6 bore. Sweat dripped into his eyes and he was too scared to move his hand and wipe them. Then the most unearthly sounds started. There was a series of ratchet calls, then a cross between a yell and a whine. Bucky knew that he couldn’t stay where he was any longer without disgracing himself. He had to escape. Raising his gun with slippery, shaking hands he pointed randomly and fired. In the sudden silence he leapt to his feet and bolted for the exit. Scaling the gate one-handed he took off up the road and didn’t stop until he reached the safety of his home.

***

 ‘He’s not here.’

‘We can all see that.’

‘Well, where is he?’

‘How the ‘eck should I know? For all I know he’s been swallowed up by Mary’s grave.’

Jek paled. ‘Don’t say things like that.’

‘Over here!’ Deza pointed to a tree full of shot. ‘Looks like he used the gun after all. Managed to hit the only tree in the whole bloomin’ place, ‘n’ all.’

‘Probably in the nick then.’ Chunk put in his tuppence worth.

‘D’you think he’s spragged on us?’

‘Na. But let’s go round his ‘ouse and ask ‘im. Just to mek sure.’ Jek man of action as usual.

‘Not a good idea.’

‘Why not?’ Jek didn’t like it when he was contradicted. It didn’t go with his hard image.

‘Because, you prat, if he’s in trouble and we all walk up we’re likely to get a bit of it too. D’you fancy facing his old man?’

Even Jek wasn’t hard enough for that. ‘What do we do then?’

‘Nowt. You go to college, we go to school and you doss tonight like we planned.’

***

They were buzzing that night when they dropped into place around Mad Mary’s grave.

‘Anyone heard from him then?’

‘Yeh, he text me.’ If Jek seemed a little pale no-one commented on it. ‘He said lots of stuff, rubbish most of it. He went on about ghosts and things out to get him but whatever; he didn’t stop the night so he’s not got the balls. If the rest of us do it he’s out of our gang.’

That seemed a little extreme since this was the first any of them had heard about being in a gang, but no-one bothered contradicting him. It wasn’t worth the hassle. Not right now at any rate. They’d rather tuck into Carling and chips.

They all fell silent when they saw what Jek pulled out of his bag.

‘Jeez, that’s sick. Where d’you get it from?’

‘Twas me granpa’s from the war.’

They looked at the lethal blade with awe.

‘Did he ever kill anyone with it?’

‘Course he did. He were in a bloody war, weren’t he?’

‘Let me hold it,’ Deza demanded. He practiced sliding it in and out of the leather sheath, loving the sigh it made.

They spent a good few minutes enthralled by the knife before they asked to see what else he brought.

‘Od on a minute. Close yer eyes and dun’t look.’

There was a lot of scuffling and the rustling of the bag then he said, ‘Ya can look na.’

There was a moment of stunned silence. Then where before there had been awe now there was hilarity.

‘Whad ya wearin’. You look like a fag.’ More gales of laughter.

‘You don’ know nofink. Ah’ve watched Van Helsing ev’n if you ‘an’t. It’s what all the ghostbusters ‘n’ vampire ‘unters wear. An’ Neo on the Matrix too.’

They eyed the long black leather duster dubiously. ‘Yeh? Where’d yer get it? The local Goth convention?’

‘Ah lent it off me cousin. An’ it’ll keep me warm and ah’ll not be taking any more shit off you lot either.’

‘I bet you just wanna hide better in it. Good camouflage.’ Deza showed unusual astuteness. As Jek turned to give him some attention he stood up quickly. ‘Best be off, eh? See yas tomoz then.’ They left Jek alone in the deepening night, an inky silhouette against a starless horizon.

For long moments Jek tracked his friends until they’d passed out of sight through the cemetery gates. Now what to do? There was no way he was chickening out like Bucky- he was better than that. He amused himself trying to make out the shape of the tree that Bucky had hit then the vague shapes of the headstones. It wasn’t too bad. Nothing scary so far.

But as the sounds of people making their way home from the pub faded away and lights blinked out in windows anxiety wound tighter in his chest. Glad he’d brought a torch he flicked it on, but all it achieved was to illuminate a very small, close space while killing his night vision and making the darkness beyond the small circle of light several degrees thicker. After a few minutes the light died anyway. With a curse of disgust he over-armed it at Mad Mary’s headstone.

In the distance something shrieked and he stilled. For long moments there was nothing but the sound of his breathing then he heard it again. It sounded unearthly. He imagined someone was being killed and froze listening. There it was again. This time it ended in a long drawn out moan. Was it someone trying to frighten him? If it was, it was working. His stomach clenched and his whole body tensed ready to run but he fought to stay right where he was.

A dog began to howl, setting others off in a chain reaction. Close to him an animal squeak was abruptly cut off and then a black shadow flew past his head.

Christ, this i’n’t funny, he thought, instinct making him crouch abruptly, the edges of his duster swirling out and settling like a crinoline on either side of him. The weight of the knife bumped his thigh and he grabbed it with a small sound of relief. The soft, reluctant sough it made as it came out of its sheath sounded loud in the silence and he stabbed it as hard as he could into the earth next to him. There, that gave him some confidence. Now it was ready and near his hand.

Something skittered past him, touching yet not touching, ghostly fingers trailing over a hand. A tap, tap, tap came from somewhere close by, blind bones feeling their way towards him. His courage broke. He didn’t care if everyone called him a chicken for the rest of his life- he wanted out. Forcing cold, cramped muscles to work he tried to get to his feet.

Something held him down.

A moan of terror escaped his lips as he tried again and whatever it was tugged at his duster keeping him pinned.

Breathing was suddenly difficult. A stake of pain driven through his heart brought gray creeping into the edge of his vision…pressure built.

***

His mates found him the next morning, cold and lifeless, still in a frozen crouch, his granpa’s knife pinning him to the ground through his duster.

Happy Halloween

On meeting old friends and how it isn’t always good to go back!

I’m trying to commit to writing a post a fortnight. This one is now a day overdue but hey! Life happens I guess. On the plus side I have been making good progress with my latest WIP. (‘Work in progress’ for those who aren’t blessed with automatic understanding of writerly shortcuts)

Anyway to get to the point I was in York the other day and had time to kill so I dropped into Oxfam book shop to browse.

York minster, England, UK

York minster, England, UK

The very first bookcase I looked at held ‘vintage’ books. Aside from feeling a bit put out that books from my childhood should now be vintage those packed shelves brought back the memory of my own collection with the intensity of a gut punch. I was instantly full of excitement and anticipation at seeing those rows of brightly coloured, hardback spines but also a feeling of sadness.

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There’s something about rows of hardbacks like this that really presses my buttons. What about you?

 

I’ve always collected books and I started when I was four when my mum took me to buy my first ‘grown-up’ book which was The Wishing Chair, by Enid Blyton.

My books were kept on a bookcase in my bedroom (which I shared) and I used to regularly take them all off the shelves to count them, like a miser counting his hoard. I wrote the number of each book in the top right hand corner of the front page and declared my ownership by writing my name in each one too. Sacrilege I know but at the time they were my property and I wanted that ownership marked so that it was beyond contention.

I loved that collection. In a constantly growing family those books were some of the rare things that were solely mine  and, as none of my siblings liked to read as much as I did, I had no competition when it came to books and I didn’t have to share them.

Shortly after I turned eleven and when my collection was about 18 books short of reaching 200, we were forced to emigrate and I had to leave most of them behind. As any bibliophile can understand, it broke my heart. I loved those books. They weren’t just my possessions, and my escape but they were part of me. Part of who I was.

So when I saw the bookshelf in Oxfam I experienced a kaleidoscope of feelings: coming home, finding a part of myself, being reunited with old friends.

I bought two books, Mr Pinkwhistle by E. Blyton and Adventure Stories also by Ms Blyton.

 

And I sat down and skim read them.

Adventure stories was still a great book. Cousins uncovering spies and doing their heroic bit was wonderful. Sadly though Mr Pinkwhistle was no longer the same seen through the eyes of the adult me. Society has moved on so much, I have moved on20160810_134210 and I have to say I found it downright sinister. Totally icky in fact.

The only things that brought back some of the childish joy for me were the wonderful illustrations. So simple and gentle and full of movement, there’s a wonderful freshness and innocence to them that still resonates with me. I remember what a temptation they were for us and how many of them were coloured in with crayons.

So those books were rather like being at a party and bumping into old, old friends. Some you still have much in common with and you pick up where you left off but others…it can only be a joy when you can say goodbye.

Nowadays I have a new bookcase, several in fact, choc full of books that give me just as much joy and that are mine, all mine but I’ll still go into that Oxfam and browse those ‘vintage’ books. You never know, among those old, old friends I might  chance on the odd, consistent diamond.

What about you? Do you have memories of old books? What did your childhood books mean to you? Did you have favourites?

The Butterfly

Last weekend I was at the RNA Conference and I was privileged to attend a talk by Catherine Fox. She has a wonderful wry humour and held us all spellbound. But what really inspired me about her is that she’s putting her writing out there free on her blog in  weekly installments. You can see her blog here: Catherine’s blog

Now I don’t have her talent, discipline or ability to write every week without serious preparation and editing and I don’t currently have a story that I could do that with- or the inspiration for one as I’m a bit emotionally depleted. I’m also a slow writer so I’m not even going to go there.

However I am inspired by the idea of putting my writing out there and not being miserly with it. I have some of it sitting round in files in virtual space and I don’t have the time or energy to try placing it in competitions etc. So I’m going to dust off stuff that I’m happy with but that doesn’t have a home and I’m going to put it out there. Some of it will be romance. Some of it won’t be.

Whatever it is I hope you get some pleasure out of it.

So here is a piece of flash fiction please remember that copyright is mine.

The Butterfly Monarch Butterflies flying in Michoacan, Mexico

He traced the path it took, as it fluttered and wavered, its yellow and brown wings gilded in the harsh sunlight that streaked across the floor of his cell. A bible fell unnoticed to the floor, its delicate, unread pages creasing in the dust as he rose to his feet.

The butterfly danced and danced, just beyond his reach as he leapt clumsily about the tiny space, his child mind unable to coordinate his adult body. The butterfly evaded his fingers, remaining just beyond his grasp and he laughed at the game.

‘Jim boy,’ the sheriff’s voice was gruff but not unkind. ‘Come on son, it’s time.’

Jim watched the butterfly meander through the bars as they bound his hands behind his back.

‘Murderer!’

‘Devil’s spawn.’

The words passed over him their concepts too much for him to understand and he lost interest, unaware he approached the scaffold, his eyes searching the sky above their heads.

The noose around his neck and still he searched the sky his eyes finally focusing on a growing glimmer of gold.

The door opened and, in the sudden rush and snap, the sky filled with butterflies.