In The Plotting Shed

In The Plotting Shed
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Thursday, 14 December 2017

Dreams realised #amwriting

I fulfilled a lifelong ambition on Tuesday.  I went back to Devizes where I used to live and took my books into the bookshop there. The Rose Trail is set in Devizes and the historical section is based on the battle of Roundway Down an iconic range of hills above the town. Oliver's Castle - which is not named after Oliver Cromwell, who joined the English Civil War after this Royalist triumph - looked even more magnificent than ever, laced with frost. The ground underneath my feet was still frozen and the tiny segments where it had thawed were lethally slippery. I went to the very spot where the Roundheads fell to their deaths and shivered - and it wasn't from the bitter wind.

The Katherine Wheel series is also set nearby. We used to live in Erlestoke, just outside Devizes, and the village above its steep valley is called Great Cheverell. These are the two villages that I've named Upper and Lower Cheadle. Cheadle Manor itself is entirely fictional but there was a big estate between the villages. It burned down in World War Two and has now a much more prosaic and sombre role as one of Her Majesty's Prisons.
However some of the minor details of the stories do come from real anecdotes from our time there. The book is dedicated to Old Harry for a good reason. A raconteur who mined a rich seam of a life of nearly a hundred years, Harry could tell a yarn  like no other. He had a wooden leg, lost - not in the war as you might suspect - but through scything it through while working on the railway sidings and cutting the grass. It was Harry who told me about the village pump being the only water supply - the one that had such a devastating effect on little Florence in Daffodils. He told me how the row of cottage in which we both had little 2 up, 2 down homes shared a tap at the end of the row at first, then one between two - which were still there - and then the great day dawned when they had sinks installed in lean-to kitchens at the back of the cottages. A sink of their own; he still remembered the joy of it.
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We (and Harry) lived in the row of cottages to the left.

He'd lived through it all. As a boy he'd worked in the walled garden above our cottages. Like everything else it belonged to the estate, and provided it with fruit and vegetables. It must have been glorious in its day, as the beautiful warm red brick walls curved around the southerly slope to catch all the rays. Not easy in such a steep valley. It was a work of art. Harry remembered those walls covered in apricot and peach trees, espalliered against the terracotta clay bricks. As a boy he was a runner, carrying fruit and vegetables up to the big house, across a bridge that had been demolished after the fire in World War Two.
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It was Harry who was really the boy who ate half the strawberries by the time he reached the cook at the big house. And it was because of Harry that scales were introduced into the garden so that cook's scales matched the weight of the produce before and after it was ferried across!
I look back with great fondness on that time living in that historic village, and not just because both my children were born there. It is a wonderful feeling to know that the story that grew out of that time is now sitting on a shelf in the local market town's bookshop.
A heartfelt ambition achieved.

Monday, 4 December 2017

The Women's Land Army in #WW2

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Today my research focus has shifted to the Women's Land Army (WLA). Woodbine and Ivy has three characters' points of view. One is in France, another in the WLA and a  third has yet to be decided.
I've seen lots of posters for the WLA with young women looking radiantly healthy and full of vim and vigour, pitchfork in hand, the sun shining on their smiling faces.
I've discovered, as did many of them, that the reality was a little more gritty. Unfortunate for many of those ladies, but great inspiration for a story!
I had assumed, incorrectly, that food on a farm would still be abundant during the second World War but the Ministry of Food and Agriculture placed strict restrictions even on farmers. Livestock was drastically reduced, which surprised me, in favour of arable production. A great many wildflower meadows were ploughed up to grow crops like barley and wheat. Hundreds of years of evolution gone.
The land girls worked long hours - 48 per week in the winter and 50 in the summer. They seemed to be a cheerful lot, despite the sceptism they were greeted with on arrival and the physical toll of the work. I read of one woman who had to weed an entire field of thistles - without gloves! Being a gardener myself, I can only imagine the blisters by the end of the day.
Beetroot sandwiches seem to be a staple diet with cheese only eaten once a week. Bread wasn't rationed during the war and neither were potatoes so these women ate lots of carbohydrates and little protein - the opposite of health advice today - but they must have burned all of it off doing jobs like mucking out pigsties, heaving wheat sheaves and carrying water. It's both inspiring and humbling to see what they went through, far from home, in pretty poor conditions.
Often they slept in barns or outhouses on rough beds made from wood nailed together in a hurry and some dubious mattresses. One woman said she had to shower after a bath as the bath water, never very warm or deep, would be full of hay lice after a day on the threshing machine during harvest. Ugh!
The uniforms seem to have met with general approval; however I was shocked to learn they had to be handed back - even darned socks - at the end of the war. The only item they were allowed to keep was the much-loved overcoat. They were issued with 10 clothing coupons as compensation.
Above is a picture of one Land Army girl in full regalia in one of those seductive posters with a picture of some women doing real work below!

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Friday, 1 December 2017

Antidotes

I'm researching Paris in 1939 during the 'drole de la guerre' or the phoney war at the moment. War is a grim subject to dwell on but a necessary part of exploring how people responded to it. I've found it fascinating to discover how my characters react under these sorts of pressures but after several hours of that I need to get out and see a distant view. I'm so lucky to live where I do on the Gower peninsula and the distant perspective of the sea relaxes my mind and rests my eyes after hours of staring at the computer screen. The days are short but although bitterly cold, they have been sunny this week. Here are a couple of pictures taken just before the sun slips behind the horizon.



Monday, 20 November 2017

Award for The Rose Trail!

I'm genuinely thrilled to announce that The Rose Trail  has won another award!

You can read about this excellent website at www.bragmedallion.com where they promote and encourage indie published books that have passed their stringent quality control panel. What an honour to be on that list. Feeling stunned!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Daffodils #FREE for Remembrance Sunday

Daffodils will be #FREE today to honour all those who sacrified their lives for their country.



Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Woodbine and Ivy Rewrite 4

Talking about my current work in progress (WIP)  to a good friend last night, I realised what I had been denying all along. It's not working. I'm 27000 words in and I'm going to have to ditch them and start draft number 4. It's a big book, spanning the whole of World War Two in 2 countries and the research is daunting enough but the story isn't pulling together. I've been working against the grain for months trying to get the momentum going and my epiphany last night showed me why it isn't.
But that's okay!
This is what writing is like. It's a journey.
I start today's session with a blank page.
I think this is the hardest book I have ever attempted.
Here goes - got to get my head back in the shed.
And this is how the shed started - on solid foundations!

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Friday, 3 November 2017

The Rose Trail only 99p for a limited time! http://mybook.to/TheRoseTrail

Following on from my last post I'm continuing the seasonal theme of ghosts. We might have shorter days but those long evenings by the fire are just perfect for curling up and losing yourself in a story. 
Instead of dreading the coming winter let's celebrate the extra reading time autumn can provide.

The Rose Trail is on offer at 99p/99cents for a limited time. 

(click the title above to go straight to the Amazon page where you live)

It's a scary read, rich in historical detail and set between the present day and the turbulent time of the English Civil War. 
I invite you get warm and comfortable and settle in for a spooky read.


Can a golden pomander contain the power of the past through the scent of roses it carries? 

Fay, lost and lonely, feels trapped and unable to move on from tragedy. Haunted by restless spirits her life is not her own. When she meets an old rival she is drawn into a chain of events that both terrifies and fascinates her. 
Meadowsweet Manor is also unable to escape its own tragic history from the English Civil War. Only when Fay follows a trail of roses back through hundreds of years can she unlock its secrets and redeem her own.
WINNER OF 'CHILL WITH A BOOK AWARD' June 2017
Is it chance that brings Fay and Persephone together?
Or is it the restless and malevolent spirit who stalks them both?
Once rivals, they must now unite if they are to survive the mysterious trail of roses they are forced to follow into a dangerous, war torn past.

Monday, 30 October 2017

#Halloween - time for a ghost story - with Thorne Moore


Pumpkin lanterns, pies and soups, autumn leaves and mists, it's a melancholic season and we need our creature comforts to set us up for the winter ahead. At such a time of year when the nights stretch out into long, dark hours and the sun fades from view, our thoughts turn to those who have passed over but yet not passed on - don't they? Don't you just love curling up on the sofa, with the fire blazing away, knowing you are safe and yet wanting to be a little bit scared? Tales of the paranormal are popular for a reason. I felt drawn to writing a book, The Rose Trail, with this theme and this is why:
I can't prove it, but sometimes I can see into the past. Every time it happens, and that is all too rarely, I have a physical sensation of cold - enough to make me shiver. And I see things. Images so crystal clear they create an indelible memory in my brain and can be remembered with clarity years later. Sharper than real life, as good as a film, these pictures are fleeting but all-encompassing and very vivid. They always take me back in time, sometimes hundreds of years.
The first time it happened I was four years old. We were on a family holiday in Wales, I'm not sure exactly where. Apparently I said, as we arrived on a deserted hill top, "I know this place, I've been here before with the Black Prince." Made Prince of Wales at the age of 12 in 1343, the Black Prince, eldest son of King Edward III, spent most of his life in France warmongering but took many Welshmen with him on an early campaign so presumably visited his principality at least once. My announcement that I knew him has gone down in personal family legend amidst much derision. Although that is an old memory, I can easily recall the moment and my confident certainty of recognising the place, although I had never visited it before - in this lifetime.

It happened again in Wales, when I was older with children of my own. We were on holiday in Snowdonia, which I love, and were visiting Caernarfon for the first time. I looked across the Menai Straits and that frisson of cold crept up my spine. I heard and saw the Druids desperately crying for help as the Romans approached before they slaughtered them. I felt their acute distress and their fierce anger. I knew nothing of their history but subsequently learned of the Roman's conquest of Mona, as Anglesey was called then, in around 57AD. My flesh crawled as I learned that the line of women and men keening and shrieking that I'd seen in my mind's eye had really stood on those shores as the Roman soldiers swam and waded across to wreak havoc in their spiritual haven. Reading about that diabolical massacre explained the horror of their distress as conveyed to me that day as I stood, ice-cream in hand, in the warm sunshine of an ordinary 20th century day.


In my work as an aromatherapist and Reiki practitioner I have received pictures second-hand on behalf of my clients. Unbidden, these images were also tremendously clear and crisp. Often I would not understand their meaning but would recount them in detail to my client. Without fail, they would have profound importance for them and help them make decisions or resolve personal issues.
I wanted to explore this interweaving between past and present time in my most recent book. I used a spooky experience in Wiltshire, where I lived for many years, to provide the inspiration for The Rose Trailwhen I was working as a secretary in a legal firm and had to deliver a will to a house on the Wiltshire downs. With the errand achieved, I looked around the tiny village and felt drawn to one particular dwelling. It was a beautiful old house, larger than a cottage, but nothing grand. It stood, square and sturdy, basking in the sunshine and smiling across to the other houses skirting the village green. 
The story of The Rose Trail is fictional (although the historical sections are based on a real battle that took place on Roundway Hill in Devizes) but the seed was sown.
As I approached its whitewashed walls, I noticed it was empty. I peered in through the warped glass windows, tucked deep under the thatched roof. Inside, a large room with a massive fireplace at one end had an uneven floor made of wide limestone flagstones, glossy from the hundreds of feet that had worn them smooth over time. I could see straight through into the walled garden through the window opposite. 
Although the house was much humbler than the Meadowsweet Manor featured in The Rose Trail, it spoke to me of the era in which half the book is set, the English Civil War in the seventeenth century. I sensed a family at war with each other; conflicted and arguing, heard the clash of swords and the clang of armour. I remember vividly the chilling sensation that crept up my arms, making them spring goosepumps all the way up to my thumping heart. It took many years for the seed to germinate into The Rose Trail. The story took root as I delved into the past from where three ghosts emerged, one particularly vicious one bent on revenge. Fay Armstrong, the troubled narrator, is loosely based on my experiences.
With any historical novel much research needs to be done but for me that initial spark comes out of nowhere - or at least nowhere tangible. But that's where the fascination lies. How can the spirits of those long past communicate through time?
All I know is I love uncovering these ancient mysteries and weaving them into stories and so does fellow author, Thorne Moore. Thorne tells us what intrigued her enough to write about the paranormal. Links to her work are listed below.
"In the house where I was born, on what was then the rural fringe of Luton, we had gas brackets for lamps in the bedrooms. They were no longer connected to any gas supply (which didn’t stop me bunging mine up with plasticine, just in case), but I liked them being there, because they were a sign of the extreme old age of my house. I eventually discovered that it wasn’t particularly old after all, (built 1928) and it only had gas lamps because electricity didn’t reach the outer limits of the town until after World War II, but I still liked the illusion of a Victorian past. I lived in a town where, despite a history dating back at least to 1086, everything seemed to be depressingly new and anything with a bit of antiquity was being knocked down to make way for the modern age.
I liked age from the cradle and still do (I was evidently born with historian genes). It isn’t that I have any fantasies about a past golden age when everything was wonderful. Far from it. There have been moments of wonderful excitement and exploration in history as well as moments of misery and tedium, but I am happy to look back on it all from the present day. As a woman, I shiver at the notion of living in any era or place other than this one. But signs of age in things and in places is a tangible connection with all those people, famous and utterly forgotten, who lived in the past and who, brick by brick and atom by atom, brought us to where we are now. We live on foundations that go back to the dawn of Homo Sapiens, and everywhere around us are hints, little footprints, that let us touch what went before.
It’s houses that I find especially fascinating. A brand new house would certainly have its appeal to me, especially if I could design it myself, but any house, whether twenty years old or two hundred, that has been lived in before, by someone else, must surely carry in its fabric an imprint of their existence. A whisper of all the emotions, hopes, arguments, griefs, shrieks of joy and gasps of passion that happened there.
Houses do enshrine mysteries. When I moved to Pembrokeshire, I lived in an old house – at least Victorian – which had once been a shoe-maker’s shop. When rummaging among the cobwebs of the loft, I was thrilled to discover a tiny child’s shoe, evidently at least a hundred years old. An old man in the village told me it would have been placed there as a charm and I should leave it in place if I didn’t want bad luck. I did leave it there (I imagine it’s there still) and I thought fondly of what seemed like a very sweet little superstition, until, years later, I learned that child’s shoes, hidden in the roof, were mementoes of a child who had died in the building.
I don’t know what child died, a century ago, in that house, but it is pretty obvious that any old house, dating back to pre NHS days, would have witnessed births and deaths, and everything in between. Someone will probably have died in the room I am sitting in to write this.
Not all those deaths will have been quiet ones. Do their ghosts linger? Sometimes, even their bodies do. Murderers seem to like burying bodies in cellars – whether Fred West or Dr Crippen. Ightam Mote in Kent is a house that dates back to the fourteenth century, and must have witnessed scores of deaths, timely and untimely. In the 1870s, the then owners were annoyed by a chill draught that emanated from a corner of one room, so they called in workmen, who discovered a hidden space behind panelling, in which the skeleton of a woman was found, sitting in a chair. Theories have abounded. One is that she was Dame Dorothy Selby, a catholic who inadvertently gave away the gunpowder plot and was walled up by her family as punishment – delightfully gruesome but untrue, since Dame Dorothy died peacefully in her bed and her grave is marked at the church. Another theory is that the skeleton belonged to a servant girl, seduced by the local priest, and walled up to prevent scandal. The truth is, no one knows, but it’s all very chilling and creepy. The other truth, unfortunately, is that there is no actual evidence of a skeleton being found, so the whole thing might just be a juicy myth. But if you ever visit Ightam Mote, it’s easy to believe it should be true.
Mummified cats are apparently quite common, entombed in old masonry, along with occasional mummified babies. And bottles of urine, hair and nail-clippings, presumably to ward off witches.
There is a legend, which has been the subject of ballads and poems for at least 200 years, sometimes known as the mistletoe bride, of a young bride who vanishes on her wedding day, usually during a game of hide-and-seek. Her skeleton is only discovered, long after, when someone opens an ancient chest, up in the attic, that had fatally slammed shut on her. Not the faintest evidence anywhere for this story, but it is claimed, as gospel, by Minster Lovell Hall, Marwell Hall, Bramshill House, Tiverton Castle and Exton Hall, amongst many others. It’s one of those stories that ought to be true, even if it isn’t.
If you accept that houses can hold physical evidence of past tragedies, how easy is it to believe that they can also hold less tangible relics, whether memories, vibrations, chill draughts or actual ghosts? After all, how could the most intense human feelings and experiences, the most burning desire for justice or revenge, simply vanish? They must still be there in the old bricks, the stained stone, the creaking timbers. That was my premise when writing Shadows, which is a domestic noir mystery like my other novels, but with the slight paranormal twist of an old house that harbours all manner of ancient secrets. Secrets just waiting to be uncovered. It didn’t seem a massive leap, to me, to move from writing about the detection of the truth about murders to the detection of the emotions that accompanied them."


Amazon author page http://amzn.to/1Ruu9m1

A Time For Silence:  getBook.at/TimeForSilence

Motherlove: getBook.at/motherlove

The Unravelling: getBook.at/unravelling

Shadows: getBook.at/ShadowsTMoore




Monday, 9 October 2017

getting excited

I love researching for a new story. Woodbine and Ivy is a challenge, that's for sure. Because of the global politics of world war two, I'm having to start my research at the end of the story and work my way back. I have a complete arc written out - I know the ending I'm aiming for - but it has to match up with reality. So for things to work out correctly I must begin at the very end.
It's like a rubic cube and when you find that the picture you're building for your characters can actually be backed up by real events and key points slot into place, it's incredibly exciting and satisfying. Gives me the motivation to carry on!

Soon the trilogy will be a quadrilogy. The quest continues....

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Woodbine and Ivy research

Whilst researching Paris in 1939 for Woodbine and Ivy I came across 3 films in black and white - ironically filmed by a German with the explanations in his native language. The images show coal-grimed houses which at first I thought might be because of the grainy film. Then I found another film in colour, by an American 'doing' Europe. The colours of the cars and stripy awnings are vibrant but the buildings, though elegant, remained grey and you can actually see the clouds of smoke above the buildings in one frame.
Both film-makers seemed fascinated by the traffic, especially around the Arc de Triomphe, as well they might. There were no white lines in those days and drivers had to take their chances in turning off from the mainstream while pedestrians literally took their life in their hands crossing the road. Despite that, and the impending cataclysm Hitler was about to invoke, the mood in all the scenes looks calm and tranquil. I doubt either cameraman went to any of the poorer districts and Paris he captured looks prosperous and charming.
The American tourist's holiday took in Berlin after Paris. I was shocked to see the huge red flags with their black swastikas hanging from parapet to pavement on the civic buildings there. Talk about flagging up what's to come - as I have done, rather rashly, for my story!

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Here's the link to the third and most animated black and white film on Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjAcO7_sy-A
for those of you who'd like to see for yourselves.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

New look for #The Rose Trail

I am thrilled with this revamp of my latest book, The Rose Trail. 
I discovered that my radical new design meant that readers didn't connect it with my other books! That defeated the whole object of course. So, helped as ever by the gifted #Jane Dixon-Smith of http://www.jdsmith-design.com/, here is the new cover of The Rose Trail. I'm delighted with the results.
The picture of the mullioned window against the mellow old bricks exactly portrays the beauty of Meadowsweet Manor in the story, where most of the scenes are set, both in the present day and during the English Civil War. I think the pomander is gorgeous and does justice to the passionate tale of revenge woven around its mysterious power.


I would love feedback from readers on which cover you prefer!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

http://www.narberthbookfair.co.uk/ This Saturday 23rd September 2017!

Roll up, Roll up! Calling all bookworms!  Authors and readers unite!
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This Saturday, 23rd September 2017 between 10 am and 4pm (with #FREE entry) treat yourself to a thoroughly bookish day at the Narberth Book Fair, previously known as the Tenby Book Fair and now relocated to a bigger, brighter venue in south Wales.

Over 40 authors will be there, talking about their books and offering the opportunity both to buy them and to find out why and how they were written. They can sign copies and discuss the motivation for writing in their genres.

I was involved in organising the Tenby Book Fair for the last couple of years but have now moved on to a different exciting project in France. However my colleagues, both brilliant writers and inspirational women, Judith Barrow and Thorne Moore, have put together a wonderful book fair in a new and beautiful venue in Narberth, Pembrokeshire, very near to the original setting in Tenby. Tenby itself makes for a great day or weekend destination with lots to do, cafes, restaurants, shops and the magnficent beaches that surround it and the local countryside. Dylan Thomas's refuge at Laugharne is a short drive away and altogether this area is outstandingly scenic and affords the sensitive book lover the perfect getaway.

Here's the link to the book fair: http://www.narberthbookfair.co.uk/
where you can get directions and more information. An umissable event for all book loves within reach of stunning Pembrokeshire. I only wish I could be there!

Thursday, 3 August 2017

😍 WIN a the Ultimate #Reader Gift Basket. Click here to enter~> https://wp.me/P2H01p-ad7

😍 WIN a the Ultimate #Reader Gift Basket. Click here to enter~> https://wp.me/P2H01p-ad7
Click on the link to win! And find #DAFFODILS #FREE! through August!

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Thrilled with this!

How could I be anything but thrilled with this review for The Rose Trail?

on July 27, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase