Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Keyboard

This is my keyboard. Or rather, my ex-keyboard, as, after years of faithfully being bashed to within an inch of its life on almost a daily basis, it finally gave up the ghost. Well, at least the comma did, which, for a writer, is a state of terminal decline.

My room 2

So there was nothing for it, but to change it for a shiny new white keyboard to take over being-bashed-to-within-and-inch-of-its-life duties. I know it’s an inanimate object, but it was still quite sad removing it. This keyboard has seen numerous versions of three (and a bit) novels, and more tweets, Facebook postings and blog posts than I could possibly remember. It filled out my application form for my Literature Wales Writers’ Bursary (lots of them, in fact, before the successful one for ‘We That are Left’). It’s bashed its way through my day job as a freelance proofreader and enough emails to sink a battleship. And it was upon these stained-beyond-cleaning keys that I was scowling ferociously when my email pinged,and I looked up to learn that Honno Press were going to publish ‘Eden’s Garden’, and that my life had changed.

DSC_1458

 

And so farewell little keyboard. And I would have buried you under a rose bush with a tenderly inscribed headstone, if your demise hadn’t caused quite such an upheaval. I’m no Luddite, and I love my iMac, which, after my house and car, is my most expensive possession. But it is now classed as old. So fitting a new keyboard meant first upgrading to Snow Leopard, which then meant upgrading my browser, at which point Twitter had a nervous breakdown and Facebook lost the plot, and my old (but still perfectly functioning) laser printer (even after upgrading its software) has decided to print only every other page, and the scanner has gone terminally AWOL.

I know a writer will seize on any excuse to procrastinate, but this is ridiculous!

Dandelion

Hey ho. Everything will get slowly sorted out, and it has been a reminder of just what amazing, miraculous, mind-bendingly wonderful things computers are. Although I am frustrated at the built-in obsolescence when, for this particular machine at least, all I want is to type with as few interruptions as possible. Nothing fancy. Just bashing the keys and letting the imagination flow.

The new keyboard has been warned … :)

Read Full Post »

Garden 1

There’s a pond in there somewhere…

I’ve always been independent. I’m that sort of curmudgeonly so-and-so who will never ask for help.

Garden 2

Overgrown!

But last autumn I admitted defeat. Keeping together a large garden (technically two as my cottage is two cottages knocked into one) while promoting one book and writing the next, not to mention keeping up with the day job, and that thing called life, can leave a girl frazzled (and one dog seriously narked at the lack of collie-sized long walks in interesting places).

So I took a deep breath, lost my preciousness over my beloved garden being touched by any other hands than mine, and called in the gardeners. It was the best thing I’ve done. Some expertise, assisted by a bit of young muscle, and a miracle has happened.

Garden 3

Why I needed help to remove the stranglehold of montbretia!

Garden 4

The new lining for the overgrown pond goes in.

Because I work from home with my day job as a proofreader, as well as my real job as a writer, my garden is not just a luxury. It’s where I escape from my desk for a cup of tea and a lunch break, however huddled up I might be in the bit out of the wind that’s a suntrap. It’s where I catch up with my reading and any research that doesn’t need the Internet. It’s where I meet up with friends, and in the summer months it’s the most wonderful place to have laid-back parties, enjoying the evening light and the night-time darkness with very little light pollution and just my solar fairy lights. It’s the place to be when there’s a meteor shower expected. And it’s the place I can work out my plots without passersby worrying about me staring into space for apparently no reason at all, accompanied by occasional mutterings.

Spinach

Spinach flourishing in my polytunnel

With a bit of help with the bits that would have half-killed me, I’ve managed to do the rest. Well, not all of it. That’s been the other lesson. I can’t do it all in one go, and the rest will keep until next year. Meanwhile, I’ve got my spinach and lettuce and sweet peas in on time and I’m loving doing bits and pieces when the sun comes out.

I think a garden might just have to appear in the next book …..

New Garden 1

The garden today – waiting for the grass to grow.

New Garden 2

The new pond. Many a book will be read here!

Read Full Post »

Letters safe small

There are always two sides to a story. The arrival of Valentine’s Day reminded me of these love letters, sent between my parents when my mum was seventeen and my dad was in his early twenties.

sc000e004e

On the one hand they are wonderfully idealistic and romantic letters, sent between a couple who were to be together for over sixty years. They are also the story of two people born into utter poverty in the first decades of the twentieth century (my dad had to borrow his mother’s shoes for his first day at work at fourteen), who against all odds got themselves an education and made a good life for themselves, able to travel and do the things their own parents could not have dreamed of.

On the other hand, they are terrifying. Why? Look at the postmark. August 14th 1939.

Letters 2 small

Within weeks of these letters, my dad would be watching the barrage balloons go up over London, and know that war had been declared. Far away near Paris, a teenage girl would be setting off on her own in a desperate attempt to get to Calais and a boat to safety, waitisc000e0c54ng for trains carrying troops to pass, watching the families goodbye for the last time, as a country imploded into the inhuman horrors of war that the older generation remembered so well.

My mother made it safely back, but only just. I still have the postcard hastily written in pencil reassuring everyone that she was safe after a nightmare journey and her ship being stalked by a German submarine as it crossed the Channel.

It’s often the smallest things that tell the largest stories. I love these letters, but I still get the chills when I look at that postmark, not only for my own family, but for all those, in all countries, who were both with, or far away, from their loved ones that day.

Rose small

Read Full Post »

Christmas Blog Hop party

This Christmas party is one with a difference. It was held on Christmas Day 1914 for Belgium refugees living in England after their villages had been overrun by the invading German army.

Like many women of the time, Elen, the heroine of ‘We That are Left’ had watched the men march proudly away in the summer of 1914 to rescue gallant little Belgium. By Christmas 1914 it was beginning to sink in that this was not going to be so simple, and the world would never be the same again – not least for women like Elen, taking over work they had once been considered to frail to even attempt, and embarking on a journey of self-discovery from which there was no return….

So come and join the Belgium refugees, who have lost everything, being taken to the hearts of their hosts in an English moat house for a Christmas of joy and tears.

And if you want to join in their celebrations, there’s nothing better than the legendary WW1 Seed Cake from ‘We That are Left’ – delicious at all times of the year!
  You can find the recipe HERE

Seed cake

And I’m giving away a signed copy of ‘We That are Left’. Leave a comment on this post to be entered into the draw – winners to be announced on Monday 23rd.

A Christmas Day reunion at the Moat House for Belgium Refugees – Christmas 1914

By a happy inspiration it was decided to extend an invitation to Belgians resident in the Borough who have passed through the Moat House Reigate, to partake of dinner at the Moat House on Christmas Day. A happy party numbering about 24 were enabled to respond to the invitation so kindly given and no efforts were spared to give them a right good time. Their happiness was contributed to in every way and everything possible was done to obliterate the sorrows of the past in the kindly hospitality lavishly dispensed. The Moat House was appropriately decorated for the occasion and the reunion proved of a most happy character. A Christmas dinner of good old English fare was served about 5 o’clock.

 

 

 

 

 

You can find a copy of ‘We That are Left’  published by Honno Press here:

UK     US

We that are left

 

Thank you for joining our party
now follow on to the next enjoyable entertainment…

 

1. Helen Hollick : You are Cordially Invited to a Ball
http://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/you-are-invited-to-party_17.html?

2. Alison Morton : Saturnalia surprise – a winter party tale
http://alison-morton.com/2014/12/20/saturnalia-surprise-a-winter-party-tale-and-giveaway/

3. Andrea Zuvich : No Christmas For You! The Holiday Under Cromwell http://www.andreazuvich.com/history/no-christmas-for-you-the-holiday-under-cromwell/

4. Ann Swinfen : Christmas 1586 – Burbage’s Company of Players Celebrates http://annswinfen.com/2014/12/christmas-party/

5. Anna Belfrage : All I want for Christmas
https://annabelfrage.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/all-i-want-for-christmas-the-christmas-party-blog-hop/

6. Carol Cooper : How To Be A Party Animal http://pillsandpillowtalk.com/2014/12/19/how-to-be-a-party-animal/

7. Clare Flynn : A German American Christmas http://www.clareflynn.co.uk/blog/a-german-american-christmas

8. Debbie Young : Good Christmas Housekeeping http://authordebbieyoung.com/2014/12/20/christmas/

9. Derek Birks : The Lord of Misrule – A Medieval Christmas Recipe for Trouble https://dodgingarrows.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/christmas-blog-hop-the-lord-of-misrule-a-medieval-christmas-recipe-for-trouble/

10. Edward James : An Accidental Virgin and An Uninvited Guest https://busywords.wordpress.com/an-accidental-virgin/
and https://busywords.wordpress.com/the-birthday-party/

11. Fenella J. Miller : Christmas on the Home front http://fenellamiller.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/christmas-on-home-front-and-giveaway.html

12. J. L. Oakley : Christmas Time in the Mountains 1907 https://historyweaver.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/christmas-time-in-the-mountains-1907/

13. Jude Knight : Christmas at Avery Hall in the Year of Our Lord 1804
http://judeknightauthor.com/2014/12/20/christmas-at-avery-hall-in-the-year-of-our-lord-1804/

14. Julian Stockwin: Join the Party http://julianstockwin.com/christmas-bloghop-join-the-party/

15. Lauren Johnson : Farewell Advent, Christmas is come” – Early Tudor Festive Feasts http://laurenjohnson1.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/farewell-advent-christmas-is-come-early-tudor-festive-feasting-christmas-party-blog-hop/

16. Lucienne Boyce : A Victory Celebration – http://francesca-scriblerus.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/a-victory-celebration.html

17. Nancy Bilyeau : Christmas After the Priory http://nancybilyeau.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/blog-hop-christmas-after-priory.html

18. Nicola Moxey : The Feast of the Epiphany, 1182 http://nickymoxey.com/2014/12/19/the-feast-of-the-epiphany-1182/

19. Peter St John: Dummy’s Birthday http://jennospot.blogspot.fr/2014/12/dummys-party.html

20. Regina Jeffers : Celebrating a Regency Christmas http://reginajeffers.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/celebrating-a-regency-era-christmas/

21. Richard Abbott : The Hunt – Feasting at Ugarit http://richardabbott.authorsxpress.com/2014/12/19/the-hunt-feasting-at-ugarit/

22. Saralee Etter : Christmas Pudding — Part of the Christmas Feast http://saraleeetter.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/christmas-pudding-part-of-the-christmas-feast/

23. Stephen Oram : Living in your dystopia: you need a festival of enhancement… http://stephenoram.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/living-in-your-dystopia-13-you-need-a-festival-of-enhancement/

24. Suzanne Adair: The British Legion Parties Down for Yule 1780 http://www.suzanneadair.net/2014/12/19/the-british-legion-parties-down-for-yule-1780/

25. Lindsay Downs http://lindsaydowns-romanceauthor.weebly.com/lindsay-downs-romance-author/o-christmas-tree-o-christmas-tree

Thank you for joining us

Happy Christmas! Nadolig Llawen! 

Read Full Post »

Portmeirion Wilderness

The Wilderness in Portmeirion

 

And so the end of the year has arrived.

 

Dolbadarn Castle with Snowdon behind

Dolbadarn Castle beneath Snowdon

The end of the ancient Celtic year, that is. Samhain was the end of the agricultural year, when the harvest was in and secured for the winter ahead. A time to relax after months of hard physical work. A time to celebrate, but also to pause and reflect. To take stock and prepare for the new year ahead. It was also a time when the barrier between the living and the dead thinned, allowing the loved, who are always with us, creep in around the fire to join their families once more.

P1040484

An autumn walk in Snowdonia

 I love this time of year, with its soft light and vibrant colours, with its fragility and sense of urgency. With its call to enjoy every moment of warmth and sunshine before the dark cold of winter really sets in. And it’s still a lovely time to reflect and plan before the serious partying of Christmas and New Year begins. So I’ve been tidying up my garden, preparing it for next year, enjoying the sun and walks amongst the changing scenery.


P1040418

Portmeirion at night

It’s been quite a year, with the publication of ‘We That are Left’ and ‘Eden’s Garden’ becoming a finalist for ‘The People’s Book Prize’, followed by the excitement of the Kindle version of both novels reaching the top 5 in the Amazon Kindle store. I’ve celebrated with finally getting my poor neglected garden under control, and a visit to Portmeirion to spend time with my lovely American author friend, Nadine Feldman and her husband.

P1040417

Portmeirion at night

Portmeirion is always a magical place to stay, with its eccentricity and sheer love of life. I’ve come back refreshed, reinvigorated and ready to get back down to the next book – and the unknown adventure that awaits next year.

For Samhain and Halloween I shall light my candle in memory of all those who are still with me, and take a last look back over the fading year, and huddle round the fire to prepare for the unknown year ahead – undoubtedly with a dram or so of sloe gin once the Christmas season arrives!

Happy Halloween!

 

 

Pools of gold small





 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

P1030966

In the V&A

 

Downton small

Downton …..

I loved my time in London at the Historical Novelists Association Conference this summer. It was great meeting up with old friends and new, along with the inspiring talks and discussions to set the little grey cells racing. I arrived a day early, as I hadn’t been to London for a while and was looking forward doing a bit of research – not least in the V&A. Seeing costumes of a time is so different from a photograph, for one thing you see how tiny they were, and just how constricting some of the dresses. The transition from Victorian to Edwardian were my favourite exhibits, and especially this one. I had to suppress a giggle, though, when two Italian girls arrived behind me, took one glance and announced ‘Ah, Downton!”. And so it is.

It was also a visit to another past. The Conference and the accommodation were a few minutes from Regent’s Park, with Baker Street nearest tube station. Once, long ago, I used to trudge from Hammersmith to an office in Baker Street, escaping each lunchtime into Regent’s Park and my dream of becoming an author. It was very strange walking once again by the lake and between the flowerbeds, and retracing my steps from Baker Street tube up to the offices in Baker Street. After all this time, it looked very much the same. The tube station even smelt the same.

Regent's part small

The flowerbeds in Regent’s Park

IMG_0116

Walking among the swans and the moorhens (who also looked very much the same) I couldn’t help but wonder what I might have said to my 23 year-old self, if I had met her coming the other way.

So, with my hindsight of thirty-odd years, what would I have told her? Like most writers, I beat myself up quite enough, so I think I would be kind. I’d tell her not to worry that the manuscripts bashed out on a dusty old typewriter in every spare minute always came winging back. It takes years, and rewrite after rewrite, rejection after rejection, to make a writer. This was only the start. I’d tell her not to worry that she couldn’t quite find a career her heart could follow. She already had one. I’d tell her not to be frustrated by the slightly ramshackled variety of jobs. Each was a learning curve, each a learning experience being stashed away to be brought out later. And I’d tell her that twenty-five was not old. Nor thirty-five, forty-five, even fifty-five. Most of all, I’d tell her to live her life, work her socks off, and make her dream come true. Just dreaming never got anyone anywhere.

Cavalry small

Practice!

My 23 year-old self (being horribly lacking in confidence and filled with youthful angst, and taking herself so impossibly seriously, I’d probably have wanted to shake her) would not have believed me. Wouldn’t dared to have believed me, just in case. But hey, that’s youth.

Meanwhile, I wandered through old haunts, stumbling across cavalry practice (where else can you say that?), before heading back to meet up with my fellow authors.

My own revisiting of the past made me appreciate the present, big time. It’s been a long, hard journey, and it’s only just begun. I’m sure my 23 year-old self would never have believed me –  but now’s the time I’m having the time of my life!

 

Covent Garden Small

Buskers in Covent Garden

 

Read Full Post »

 

In A Foreign Country

Ghana in 1976 with a baby and a suitcase

An interview with Hilary Shepherd

Today I would like to welcome to the blog fellow Honno author, Hilary Shepherd, whose second novel ‘In a Foreign Country’, set in Ghana, was published in March, and is currently in the Amazon Kindle summer sale. 

Hilary 4

 

I was 23 when I went to Ghana with a baby and one suitcase in 1976. All these years later the experience remains vivid, for the simple reason that I’ve never been back, nor have I ever been anywhere else quite like it.

Hilary 3There is an upside for a writer, writing about distant places, as authors like Peter Ackroyd have observed. However exacting it is to re-immerse yourself in faraway sounds, smells and colours, you don’t have so many decisions to make about what to include and what to leave out because the setting has been pre-edited by the limits of your memory. All you have to do is bring remembered detail to life. And because you are revisiting a place in your head, the detail that does come back is exciting, heart-rending, revitalising. That’s a pretty useful starting place for telling any story!

 

Hilary 5

As for the plot, I had written already about the trials and tribulations of living in the Sudan with a young family in my first novel and I wanted to write about somebody who thoroughly enjoys Ghana, however challenging she finds it. My character, Anne, is just out of university, keen to put her anthropological studies to good use at the same time as getting to know the father she has hardly seen since she was small. He has been working in Tamale for many years. Like him, she loves the place at once and decides to stay. And like him, she then falls in love awkwardly, perhaps unforgivably, with someone she finds there.

I didn’t want to write about northern Ghana outside the rainy season I experienced because the dry season is so different, so something had to happen to Anne within the same short time-scale of seven months. Hospitals I knew a bit about, having spent an unscheduled day in one in Tamale. I threw in some of my maternal experience in scenes with a secondary character, and drew on a brief trip we made to Burkino Faso, and horse-riding in Kumasi. But schools and teaching, which is where Anne gets to know her priest – that bit I had to shamelessly invent. After all, we’ve all been there, at some stage. It just needs a bit of imagination to go back as a teacher and in a West African setting.

As for the priest himself, a friend once told me the merest outline of something experienced by someone she knew, which has fascinated me ever since. What happens to a charismatic man if his life outgrows the framework he imposed upon himself long ago? And if you find yourself emotionally implicated, should you keep away or should you stay?

Hilary 1

 I’m not living in Ghana inside my head anymore. The book I’m currently working on is set in Spain in the aftermath of the Civil War. Writing historical novels is another foreign country in itself.

9781906784621_bach

Currently just 99p in the Kindle Summer Sale, you can get your copy HERE

Even in your father’s house you can feel like an outsider…

Recently graduated, Anne is in Ghana for the first time. Her father, Dick, has been working up country for an NGO since his daughter was a small child. They no longer really know each other.

A few days into her six-month stay, the houseboy Moses returns
from a trip. As the weeks pass, Anne has a growing feeling that she’s surplus to requirements. Dick is grumpy and distant; Moses distinctly put out at her continued presence. She finds respite teaching eager young pupils at a local Catholic school. Then, out of the blue, a terrible accident changes everything.

In its aftermath, Anne’s closeness to a priest in trouble with his superiors at the Mission, reaches a tipping point that endangers them both.

Praise for In a Foreign Country

“intelligent, subtle and sensitive… I was conscious throughout of the author’s deft control and understatement. Less was definitely more, and what she chose to omit, as well as what she included, made it a much greater book… a thought-provoking, absorbing and rewarding read, which I highly recommended.”
Debbie Young (Debbie Young’s Writing Life)

“Will leave you thinking about the characters after you put it down, and wanting more as you read the last words…[Shepherd’s future as an author looks bright]”
Gwales

HILARY SHEPHERD

400377_108364785953495_941126112_n

 After a lifetime of organic farming, and more recently making windows and stairs in oak for a living – and kitchens in all sorts of woods – Hilary Shepherd published her first novel with Honno in 2012. ‘Animated Baggage’ is set in the Sudan, where she lived with her young family for two years during the 80s. It is a wasp-on-the-wall view of the world of international aid but sadly is no longer in print. Earlier this year Honno published her second book. ‘In A Foreign Country’ follows a young English woman as she arrives in Ghana, where nothing is quite as she expects it to be, including the hidden faces of love.

Hilary is married to Nick and they live on a wild Welsh hillside where they spend a lot of time pushing rocks about. They also spend time in Spain, in a remote mountain village in the Maestrazgo, where the book she is working on now is set.

You can follow Hilary on Facebook: 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,109 other followers