27.4.15

Big Flo’s Favourite Sayings

Big Flo is loosely inspired by my grandmother, who was very much a strict Methodist and a stoic. She would stand in her pew at chapel every Sunday reciting: The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want, while her belly growled with hunger and she wondered what they could possibly find to eat for their tea.

They were poor because she was the bread winner as her husband had MS. She also lost her baby son while he was being minded by a friend. He was scalded to death with boiling hot water as he grabbed a pan from the stove. Her hardships of life created a woman of strength but with a lovely dry Lancashire sense of humour, and a most tolerant lady. Her second husband was a Catholic, quite a daring thing to do in her day.


Polly’s problems are very different from those suffered by my gran, and in the sequel, the war is as much a family one as attempting to recover from the actual hostilities.

Here is a picture of Clara as a young woman, (on the left) with her sister Sarah, and her daughter, (my mum).

These are some of her favourite sayings:

Stand on yer own two feet.
Be clean in mind, tongue and body.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be.
Idleness addles the brain.
Be stoic - no complaints.
Look the next chap in the eye.

And some others with origins:
Don’t throw the baby away with the bath water. 
Back in the day when the bath was a tin one in front of the fire, the man of the house had the privilege of the first bathing in nice clean water, followed by his sons and other working men in the household. Finally the women and children. The baby was last, and as it was pretty dirty by then, you had to be careful not to lose sight of it and throw it away with the bath water.

Raining Cats and Dogs.
The thatch on houses was a favourite place for animals to sleep and keep warm, so cats, dogs, mice, bugs often lived on the roof. But when it rained it became slippery, the straw might split and they could fall through, thus raining cats and dogs.

Dirt Poor 
The floor of a worker’s house was generally comprised of dirt. Only the wealthy had flagged floors.

Bring home the bacon
Most people lived on vegetable stew from the stock pot kept going over the fire, but sometimes they might be lucky and be able to afford pork which was a treat. It was a sign of god fortune if the man of the house could “bring home the bacon” and they would hang it over the fire to show off.

Upper crust
Bread was divided according to status. The peasants got the burnt bit at the bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and the lord got the top or the “upper crust”.

A wake
It was alarmingly common for someone to be believed to be dead when they were no more than dead drunk. With medical expertise unaffordable they would be laid out for a couple of days so that family and friends could gather round and see if they would wake. Hence the custom of holding a “wake”.

Saved by the bell 
When graveyards began to get full and money was tight, coffins would be dug up and re-used. On reopening scratch marks were sometimes found inside, indicating that the incumbent had been buried alive. So a string would be tied to the wrist of the corpse, fed through the coffin and up through the ground and tied to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the “graveyard shift”) to listen for the bell, just in case. Thus, someone could be “saved by the bell” or was considered a “dead ringer”.

Make do and mend
From a pamphlet issued by the British Ministry of Information during WWII intended to give advice to housewives on how to cope with rationing. But it became a way of life for my Big Flo, and many others in real life, including my gran.

The Polly Books now republished by Harlequin Mira Books.

Polly's Pride
Amazon

Polly's War
Amazon


21.4.15

London Book Fair-2015

Thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the London Book Fair, held this year at Olympia instead of Earl’s Court. It seemed to be twice as big and even more hectic. I love walking around the various exhibits, although you do need a map and directory as it's so huge you can easily get lost.

View of small section of LBF from the Author's HQ


Up in the Author’s HQ, which also allowed a little more space this year, talks were held on all aspects of publishing. In the past authors were not particularly welcomed at the LBF but that changed a few years ago.  Now there are plenty of talks given on self-publishing as well as traditional from Kindle Direct Publishing, Kobo and Smashwords. Panels of authors relate their own experiences, giving tips on how to find an agent or promote your book.

Anyone new to the industry can learn a great deal from these. Even though I’m an oldie having been published for at least twenty-five years, I always find these talks useful too. There are talks and videos held in other places too.

The LBF also allows me the opportunity to meet up with my publisher, and/or agent. I also met up with many old friends, including Alison Morton, Sue Moorcroft and others, and enjoyed a lovely cup of tea and a chat with Elizabeth Jennings. She’s an American author who lives in Italy, whereas I live in Spain. But we’ve met up at conferences in the US, as well as her Women’s Fiction Festival in Italy. It just goes to show how the author community is global and supportive.


I also met up with Victoria Connelly, and took this picture of her in the booksellers area as we found one of her books for sale – Wish You Were Here. Her next book is The Rose Girls, coming soon.


On the Tuesday evening I was delighted to be invited to a cocktail party held by Amazon Publishing. They have been good to work with, and of course are excellent at promotion, making The Amber Keeper, my first book with them, a bestseller. On Wednesday morning I chatted with Adrienne Vaughan, editor of Romance Matters for the Romantic Novelist Association, telling her what I enjoy about the LBF. I find it both inspiring and a good way to keep abreast of what is happening in the industry.
 

20.4.15

Inspiration for the story For All Our Tomorrows

Why did the Yanks come? The river valley and creeks of Fowey were well defended, as they provided a relatively secure place to hide munitions which the enemy would more likely expect to find in Plymouth, surely never thinking to look in this secret, wooded hideaway.

The docks, from where the ammunition was shipped and the china clay dispatched, were guarded around the clock, with nobody allowed in without a pass. There were guards stationed in the Pillbox at Whitehouse, and Albert Quay had tank traps across the centre with barbed wire along the seaward edge, as did many of the beaches. In addition, at St. Catherine’s, closer to the mouth of the river, there was a gun point, and one on the opposite side at Polruan.

The navy came first with their minesweepers and Z boats, armed trawlers and motor gunboats, swiftly followed by the RAF, the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, plus many units doing jobs nobody quite understood or dared question. Situated as the town was, relatively close to the Channel Islands and to France, the movement of the French fishing fleet within these waters was common place, and who knew what they were up to half the time? Hush-hush boats, they called them.

All my interviewees remembered the American soldiers with great affection, how they were great at throwing a party for the children, and Santa Claus would arrive in an army truck loaded with sacks full of presents, one for each child. The local girls clamoured to get to know them, as do the two sisters in my story. For fun, they went dancing to the Armoury, up near the doctor’s surgery, or to the flicks, which was near Berrill’s yard. So many lovely memories were told to me.


Sara is asked if she would help organise the school children into collecting bagfuls of seaweed. This was a special commodity which the coastal towns of Cornwall could provide, being a variety known as gonothyraea, used in the making of penicillin. Janet, one of my interviewees remembers doing this as a girl – I think she quite enjoyed the excuse to miss school.

By December Sara has been co-opted onto the War Weapons Week committee where plans are in progress for a major fund-raising event the following year. They also had something called Salute the Soldier Week. In reality the town raised tens of thousands of pounds to buy boats and equipment although they had no real idea what operation was being carried out in Cornwall before their very eyes. They collected vast amounts of salvage, old magazines, letters, books and paper of every sort. Tin and other scrap metal, rags and bones. Jam jars, bottle tops and old iron bedsteads. Apparently the pavements were piled high with the stuff. The council paid 10 shillings a ton to the St John Ambulance for each ton of salvage they received. And all this from a population of no more than 2,000 living in 600 houses.

They put up a sign outside the Council offices as the salvage collected increased: ‘Hitler sank into a barrel.’ Even the children were involved, saving for Tommy Guns. What would our education officials think of that today?

So what was all in aid of? Operation Overlord. This was to be the master plan for an Allied invasion of Europe. Everyone knew that something was going on, but nobody dared speak of what they saw or knew. Edna, another of my interviewees, remembers being brought from her bed as a young girl, and told this was a moment in history that she must see.

Excerpt:

‘Ships filled the River Fowey, so many that you could have walked from one shore to the other without getting your feet wet. A living mass of men and machines, seething with activity and noise: a throbbing, whining, whirring and rattling; a clattering of gas masks, canteens and weapons, and the endless chatter of hundreds, packed tightly into every corner, waiting for the order to leave. 

Hour upon hour they waited, cold and damp, sick to their stomachs with apprehension and fear, in full combat gear, weighed down with equipment. 

The loading had been done chiefly at night, scores of vehicles driving straight onto the LSTs; thousands of foot soldiers directed up the gangway and counted on board. 

It was June 4 and they left later that night but by the following day were driven back by the weather to spend yet another night in harbour. After all these months of preparation, all the careful planning and organising, the fate of Operation Overlord appeared to be at the mercy of the elements. There was a storm brewing and if the weather did not improve, there would be further delays. 

Twenty-four hours later the decision finally came. This time for real. On the night of June 5 they left the safe waters of Fowey, Falmouth and the Helford River, and all the other ports along the south coast for the last time and headed out to sea. Operation Overlord was underway at last.’ 

We all know the heavy toll of their victory in reality. What it brings to the lives of my characters I’ll leave you to discover for yourselves.

So many memories, of rationing and making do; colour prejudice, fights and love affairs; Fowey Home Guard who once sank the boat they were towing upstream; French Fishing boats and Secret Operations; the huge camp up at Windmill; the wounded being brought home on soiled and stinking mattresses and nursed back to health in lovely quiet Fowey; school children competing to collect the most salvage and being told off for straying under the coils of barbed wire.

There were tragedies, of course, much pain and suffering, fear and trauma, and no one will ever forget those brave men. But most of all we like to remember the good times, and the spirit that is forever Fowey.


Now been reissued by Harlequin Mira Books.


Amazon

13.4.15

Inspiration for the Polly books

The idea for the Polly books came from the story of Great Aunt Hannah who, back in the thirties in order to survive through difficult times, sold off all the furniture save for an earthenware bread bin and their bed. The bread bin thereafter held their food, and acted as a table or stool. With the money and her husband bought second hand carpets from auctions and better class homes, which Aunt Hannah cut up to sell on the local market. They also bought any other items offered, such as small pictures, clocks, jugs and vases, even chamber pots, anything saleable was grist to the mill for them to survive. Everything would be loaded on to a two-wheeled hand cart and transported home to their rented terraced house.

Carpets in those days were a luxury, most houses in working class areas covering their floors with lino, although kitchens were generally just scrubbed flags, perhaps with a rag rug made from scraps of old clothes. But when they first went into business they did not have the space or the facilities to properly clean the carpets before putting them up for sale. On one occasion Aunt Hannah was showing a carpet to a prospective buyer when a huge cockroach ran across it. Fortunately he didn’t see it as she quickly grabbed the horrible thing in her hand and held it until the customer had paid for the carpet and left. She must have been a tough lady.

They also bought the entire set of carpets from the German ship SS Leviathan which was being scrapped. In order to do that, and having refurnished from the profit made, they sold everything all over again, repeating this process several times. They then expanded, renting the shop next door, employing many women to sew and bind the carpets, and later bought property where they began to sell new carpets, as Polly does in the books. Aunt Hannah still had the bread bin when she died in the fifties.

Aunt Hannah was such a kind lady that when my parents, who had married early in the war, finally set up home together in 1945 in rented premises as a shoe repairer, living behind the shop, she gave them a brand new carpet as a gift. They treasured this for much of their married life, as they only had Dad’s demob money at the time, and otherwise would have been on bare boards.

I often use family stories, suitably adapted and fictionalised. In this case my aunt had a very happy marriage, not suffering the traumas that Polly was forced to endure.

These books have now been republished by Mira Books. I hope you enjoy them both. And as soon as I can find the time I may well write a third to find out what happens to Benny and Lucy.

Polly's Pride
Amazon

Polly's War
Amazon



6.4.15

Living in Two Countries as a Writer

I live on the edge of a quiet, typically Spanish white village high in the mountains of Almeria in South-East Spain. We already knew the area as we had a holiday home there for a few years. Then we bought an olive grove and built a house in it. The best advantage I have found from living in Spain is an improvement in my health. Since I suffered badly from arthritis in the UK I was in much less pain and therefore able to pursue my writing, and my life, with fresh vigour. I’ve also found peace and tranquillity, of mind as well as body, all essentials for a writer.

When I write my family sagas about England, I find that writing from a distance gives me a rosier view, which seems to work well in fiction. Of course I have countless books on the area of the Lakes, where I used to live, and videos and recorded interview that I’ve taken when visiting. The downside is that the story can sometimes make me feel quite homesick. But then I have many readers in such places as Australia, New Zealand and Canada who love that sense of nostalgia, and reading about places they remember from their own youth back in the mother country.

I also write historical fiction and love researching the history of Russia, France, Spain or wherever, for these books. I do feel very European living in Spain, and have friends of all nationalities, which I think widens my perspective on life.

An advantage is my lovely Spanish garden, which I love, and is a wonderful place to relax in and let the creative juices flow.

The major disadvantage is in marketing and promotion. I used to do regular talks for libraries, the WI and other women’s organisations, but all of that has had to be greatly reduced, which is a shame. We now spend several months each summer in our holiday lodge in the UK, so I’m able to fit in some talks and events during those periods.

Fortunately, interviews can now be conducted online, as can blogs, chatting to my readers on Facebook, and other aspects of social networking. That in itself is demanding, but at least it doesn’t matter where I live. A writer is no longer dependent upon such events as talks, although I still love doing them, and always attempt to make them entertaining.

As well as Facebook, Twitter, a website and blog, I send out a regular newsletter to my readers, hold contests, prize draws and the occasional giveaway, and take part in many forums and loops. All part of being a writer. Wherever writers live they still have the problem of balancing time needed for writing with that spent on promotion. There’s no perfect solution.

On a more practical working level, as all contact with publishers is also available online, not only with emails but for copy-editing and proofs, it’s much simpler to work at a distance now than it used to be when I first moved out to Spain. Then I’d be waiting for parcels for editing or proof reading that never did arrive on time. The world is growing smaller and I have no regrets.

There is a certain myth that the weather is always hot in Spain. Brits have this vision of swimming in the pool in February. Well, let me explode that one. It ain’t gonna happen. True, it’s not as cold on the Iberian peninsula as it is back in the UK, and certainly warmer than Shap Fell where we used to live back in the 80s, but winters can be cold, windy and wet, which on really bad days can result in power cuts. Not good for a writer dependant on her computer but really quite romantic in a way. We light our candles and sit by our blazing log fire and read our books. What could be better than that? I feel I have the best of both worlds.

23.3.15

The Amber Keeper - Readers Book Club Questions

The Amber Keeper 

After her mother’s suicide, Abbie Myers returns home to the Lake District with her young child—and no wedding ring. Estranged from her turbulent family for many years, Abbie is heartbroken when she hears that they blame her for this tragedy.

Determined to uncover her mother’s past, Abbie approaches her beloved grandmother, Millie, in search of answers. The old woman reveals the story of how she travelled to Russia in 1911 as a young governess and became caught up in the revolution.

As Abbie struggles to reconcile with her family, and to support herself and her child, she realizes that those long-ago events created aftershocks that threaten to upset the fragile peace she longs to create.

Set against the backdrops of the English Lake District in the 1960s and the upheavals of revolutionary Russia, The Amber Keeper is a sweeping tale of jealousy and revenge, reconciliation and forgiveness.

 

Here are the Readers Book Club – Questions - have fun.

It felt to Abbie that a mistake she’d made in her past as a teenager, had ruined her life by damaging her relationship with her family. Is this something we all suffer from on occasion, and how can it be resolved?

Did Millie make the mistake of being too outspoken with the Countess from the start, or was she right to stand up for herself?

Could Stefan have done anything to prevent the Countess from pursuing him, and do you think he encouraged her in any way?

Was it sensible of Millie to take part in the demonstration which ultimately sparked off the rumblings of revolution? And was the Countess right to sack her for having done so, or her attitude symptomatic of what was happening in Russia?

Would you describe Millie as naïve or courageous in the way she handled the problem of being handed a child at the cost of her reputation? What would you have done?

Is it right to keep a secret which involves others, or should we reveal all to our offspring no matter what the consequences? Do you think there are any lurking within your own family?

Buy here:

Amazon

20.3.15

Birds in our Spanish garden


I thought you might like to know a little more about the kind of birds we have here in Spain.

The Black Redstart male looks a little like a wagtail with a black chest and face. The female is grey but both have a flash of red under their tails. Their call is a distinctive tseep tseep tseep followed by tak tak tak.  They're very fond of insects and larvae so useful to have around. They are more often seen in northern Spain but we have quite a few pairs in our neighbourhood.

Our favourite bird is the Black Wheatear. It is quite rare and the only all dark wheatear in Europe with a white flash under its tail. It has a hard scratchy call with coarse rolling sounds like schrl rl rl rl and thin shee or stee noises. It's very tame and rather cheeky, like the robin who also comes to stay with us for the winter. One we call Willy, spends most his nights nestling in our space heater on the back terrace.
 


The Crested Lark is rather stately in appearance and very common in the Mediterranean. They like to sing on our electricity lines and feed on insects and seeds.
 


We also have the Hoopoe with its far carrying poo poo poo call. Looks quite spectacular in flight with its black and white wings and orange body but can often be quite difficult to see on the ground. It has an orange crest with black and white tips.
 



 

Bee Eaters visit us in quite large flocks in the early summer. They make a lot of noise when a flock settles in a tree or on overhead wires. The mature bird is very colourful in blue, yellow and reddy brown. They feed on insects on the wing.

 

There are various warblers including the Orphean Warbler, Pied Wagtails, Yellowhammers, Robins, Swallows and House Martins, and Kestrels and Buzzards of course. Sometimes we're fortunate enough to see a Bonelli’s eagle. The adult is black and white with a five foot wingspan. It happily feeds on all these small birds and small mammals. Oh dear! It is more usually seen in the larger mountain ranges nearby but comes visiting occasionally.