On holiday as the moment – posting my review for this hugely enjoyable read this coming weekend
This country never ceases to amaze me – one day grey skies and pouring rain and today the most amazing cloudless blue sky and brilliant sunshine. So on a gloriously sunny afternoon what better an activity than to walk off Sunday lunch? As usual I took my camera with me, it’s always an opportunity to take shots and we do live in a most wonderful part of the country. It’s recently been included as part of the Cotswolds and is also in an area of outstanding natural beauty. I do bang on about this I know, but growing up in a small village on the edge of Salisbury Plain I have always been in awe of not only the countryside around me but how, if you walk and then look at it again, the aspect of it all is subtly changed. Yesterday was a good time for a walk as the trees are now the most glorious shades of yellow, red and orange. In a month’s time they will be totally bare and we will really feel winter has arrived. But yesterday in sheltered spots it was really warm. Certainly I found my quilted jacket quite hot; however as soon as we were back in shade is struck not only cold but damp as well. I didn’t realise how much rain we’d had, it was only when we reached a spot in the lane where water was pouring off the fields that it was apparent. I’ve included some of my shots with this blog.
Moving on, I’m beginning to wonder about our annual celebration of Guy Fawkes night. When I was young it used to be one night of bonfires and fireworks and we either had a family event in the garden or went to a public display. This year, however, the whole event appears to have lasted all of a fortnight! The fifth was a Tuesday and locally public parties on Bath Rec and the University took place the weekend before, so it was always going to be a protracted event – but I heard my first fireworks even before November had arrived and last night the bangs and crashes were still in evidence. I am hoping it will have run its course by this evening – whoever is letting them off may be having fun but I do have concerns for those poor animals who must be hiding somewhere, paws over their head thinking ‘Oh no not again!’
Now onto writing. Firstly I’d like to take a moment to congratulate the lovely Linn B Halton on her Innovation Award at last weekend’s Festival of Romance. Here’s a lady who truly lives life in the fast lane! If I was her I would need to clone myself to cope with all she does – and she still finds time to write great books! Well done Linn – very much deserved!
Since my last post my newest project has moved on some. It all started out as a single ‘what if?..would that work…?’ thought and now it’s progressed a little farther down the track. There are some ideas I’ve had in the past which I realise after a while simply aren’t going to work. This isn’t one of them thankfully, although at the moment I’m running some ideas through my head in order to expand the story. My books start with a beginning and an end and the rest tends to come as the writing begins. It’s a bit like making a sandwich and not yet deciding what the filling will be. This book is set in a village as my others have been but don’t be fooled into thinking I write cosy country-based stories, far from it! This time unlike my previous Little Court novels which have worked from the mid-sixties to the mid-nineties this book is bang up-to-date in its timing. So this project will be completely new territory for me. The last books have been easier due to the fact that I’ve been working in a familiar environment, adding new characters to existing ones as we move on in time. On this occasion, however, I’m starting from scratch – scary or challenging? Well a little of both but one thing is certain it’s definitely going to be a voyage of discovery: a journey I don’t have a map for. Hopefully once I’ve written several chapters and the book begins to bed in it will seem like I’ve known them for ages!
Apologies if you’ve read this post before but according to my WordPress account it has never been published and is still in draft form. Therefore am re-issuing.
This time last year I was working and most of the men in the office were growing moustaches – yes it was Movember, or rather November. And now I’m six months into a new life without the daily 9 -5 and there are some aspects which I miss but others I do not. One of the things I most hated working during the winter months was when the clocks changed and returning home from work meant walking home in darkness. By the time we got to December it was going to work in the dark as well. I almost felt I should be hibernating somewhere buried in straw or under some garden bonfire like a hedgehog. I suppose the only comforting thing was drawing the curtains and curling up in an armchair for the evening with a book or a good TV programme. I always knew, however, that by the last week in January it would be twilight as I was coming home and from there things got better.
This year has gone so quickly. It seems like only yesterday we were in Oxford in February celebrating my OH’s birthday. We had a wonderful hotel and I absolutely loved the city but boy was it cold! In early April we spent a break in Chester. The cold continued and I remember walking the city wall and wondering if it was ever going to get warmer as currently there had not appeared to be any increase in temperature since February!
In early May a big group of us had a long weekend in Lynmouth. Four of us arrived on Friday and we took the cliff railway up to Lynton on the Saturday morning and walked to the Valley of the Rocks. It was FREEZING! Luckily we stopped for hot chocolate at Mother Meldrum’s Tea Rooms just before continuing along the cliff pathway back to Lynmouth with a force ten gale helping us on our way! I remember sitting in the B & B breakfast room on the Monday morning just before we were due to return home, looking out at the trees across the valley and wondering whether they would ever come into full leaf. Of course they did, and we were treated to some really good weather later on in the year. That, unfortunately did not include the week in Kingsbridge, Devon in late June – more rain than sun but we still had a great time, meeting family and running into friends and work colleagues who had all headed to South Hams at the same time we had.
I think the jewel in the crown for me as far as holidays were concerned was Lake Garda. We’d been there in 2001 and loved it and decided to go back again. Now this can be dangerous; you are setting yourself up for disappointment – but we weren’t, it was even more magical. I absolutely Italy and its people and it has become my number one destination in Europe. I think if was asked what I remembered most about Garda it was the cleanliness of the place – they seem to take pride in their environment. Then there were the flowers – even in September such a lot of glorious colours. Italian food, of course, rated highly and then there was the easy pace of life there even though it was a big magnet for tourists. We visited Riva Del Garda at the top of the lake and the heat haze which rises out of the water in the early afternoon looked quite magical.
Last month we were off again. Early October saw us in Bruges, another great place to stay and I’d highly recommend the Hotel Pand – wonderful champagne breakfasts and amazing service. We ended our year’s travel in the UK with a stay in York. Here I went on an ancestor hunt. John Hewetson was made Freeman of the City of York in 1537 and I knew he was buried somewhere. Certainly not in the Minster, where most memorials date from the 1600s. As it was, tucked between the sightseeing and retail therapy, the search did not unearth anything positive. It was only on my return home that I discovered by searching on line that he was in fact buried in All Saints Church. I will, therefore, be checking it when I return to York again.
So here we are on the evening of the 6th November, by Sunday we’ll be in double figures and then it’s the gradual slide down to Christmas with all its associated expended energy – what to get people, who to invite to what and how much food to buy. And then when it’s all over, the New Year and then the reality check. How much money did I spend over the festive season? Is there enough left for that dress in the sales? Am I really that heavy? Cue fitness regime and financial tightening of belt then out with the brochures again to plan Holiday 2014. Oh yes and I’ve a book coming out too! Ah the cycle of life, never a dull moment!
Can I start our chat by asking you a little about yourself? Yes, by all means.
What made you want to become an author?
I’m not sure I ever sat down and consciously thought, ‘I want to be an author.’ I don’t know if many writers do. I think writers just write. It’s a compulsion. For me it began with an idea about a subject in which I have always been deeply fascinated – the prospect of life after death. Why people choose to believe and why they don’t. From there, I found my subject: Borley Rectory – the most haunted house in England.
Can you tell us a little about your debut novel Ghost Hunters? What influenced you to write this?
The Borley Rectory haunting has it all. “The Most Haunted House in England?” A house so haunted that objects frequently fly through the air unbidden, and locals avoid the grounds for fear of facing the spectral nun that walks there… It’s the perfect ghost story: a cast of complex, competing characters and a dark, terrifying legend. And amazingly, no one has ever dramatised the tale! I wanted to change that. Harry Price was the nation’s first paranormal investigator, a professional ghost hunter. He dedicated his life to investigating unusual phenomena, and lengthy investigation of Borley rectory seemed a logical way in to the story. I soon realised that he, perhaps more than Borley, was the most interesting aspect of the case: the more I discovered about Price’s private life and his curious, contradictory beliefs, which oscillated between scepticism and belief, the more I was fascinated by this historical character and its dramatic potential. I wanted to know what set Price on his path of investigation into the unknown? And, perhaps more intriguingly, why did other intelligent people – many of them academics and scientists – follow him on that path?
The problem was the many phenomena reported at Borley down the years: so many fantastic events, spanning a period in excess of twenty years, with no connecting thread… I struggled, at first, to see how any coherent and consistent tale could be woven around the subject. But I did my research and discovered that Harry Price had employed a young secretary with whom he was very close. That was it! The inspiration for my narrator, Sarah Grey. In The Ghost Hunters, we see the investigation of Borley Rectory through her eyes, as it might have happened.
How long did it take and what sort of research was involved?
A visit to the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature at Senate House, Bloomsbury, became a source of inspiration for me to dig deeper into the history of the Borley Rectory. In fact, this is where the novel begins, in 1977, and it is from here that readers enter into the pasT. The characters at Borley, the people who interacted with Harry Price at his Laboratory were part of a grieving nation, a nation that needed something to believe in after the atrocities of the First World War. It was an era choked with grief and longing for hope. I came to the material gradually, over the course of many months, reading all of Price’s personal letters, and articles written by people who worked with him. Exhausting! It took me three to four years of research, four drafts and a rewriting of the last chapter twelve times to come up with the final result. I hope it was worth it.
Are you planning to stay with ghosts and ghost hunters or will your next book be different?
I’m halfway through writing the first draft of my second novel now, actually. I can’t say what it’s about yet, but it is again based on a true story and if you read The Ghost Hunters, there are more than a few clues about what the second novel will deal with. Ghosts? No. But dark forces that threaten the innocence of youth? Very much so. This time I am looking at what happens to a remote community when it is threatened with the unknown.
Have you any particular authors who have influenced you?
Oh, so many! But M.R. James and Lovecraft come top of the list. Lovecraft in particular is a master of the genre, whose Shadow Over Insmouth remains, in my view, one of the best stories ever written. The story describes a young man’s discovery of a strange race, that dwell in a remote coastal town.
When not writing what do you like to read?
I love reading philosophy and books on the unexplained. I’m a sucker for newspapers, too, particularly the property sections in the Sundays, where I marvel at the houses I’d love to own but will never afford!
Now for the more frivolous questions:
If you were inviting four famous people to dinner, who would they be and why would you invite them?
The Secretary of State for Defence, so I could quiz him about the Government’s rather dubious policy on UFO sightings; Russell T Davis, because I think he is one of the most influential writers of our generation; the actor Tom Baker, because he was the best Dr Who; And if he was still alive, Harry Price, so I could watch his face as I present him with the book he inspired!
If you were marooned on a desert island name three essential things you would want to have with you.
I couldn’t be without my I-pad, to download books. The very best of Andrew Lloyd Webber. And a nesspresso coffee machine. I LOVE coffee.
Many thanks Neil and all good wishes for your launch.
For more information about Neil and his work check out the social networking links below.
Right then, just our mini break to Bruges is fading into the distance so four nights in York looms ahead next week.
The journey to Bruges from home took all day. We managed to get an earlier train than planned to Paddington and then a taxi across to St Pancreas which is a most amazing building. We had an hour’s wait at the Eurostar terminal and then we were boarding. For me there was no sense of the fact that we’d gone into a tunnel under the English Channel, only that there was darkness outside for around twenty minutes. Then the first stop, Lille and from there onto Brussels. Brussels station was a surprise. I suppose I had expected some sort of grand station building much like those in London, but that it was not. We had a fifty minute wait and then were on the last leg of our journey to Bruges, arriving at 18.30.
Bruges was brilliant; I’d been there on a coach stopover on my way to Lido Di Jesolo many years before and had absolutely no memory of the place. Hotel Pand, tucked away in a leafy side street was the most brilliant place. A small boutique hotel only offering breakfast and light snacks in the bar, I was totally amazed to come down the first morning and find a table laid with croissants, bread, pain au chocolat, pastries and several offerings of jam. The service in the breakfast room was exceptional, the choice of coffee or tea and the fruit juice arriving with an accompanying small jug to top up and all food cooked at one end of the room on the Aga. And to crown it all champagne! We were so spoilt!
The city of Bruges looks absolutely fabulous at night with all the main buildings lit in a dark golden glow. We were obviously there out of season but there were still plenty of people about and a great atmosphere. Food in the restaurants we ate in seems to come with salad rather than the usual UK veg selection but took nothing away from the excellent quality. Restaurant De Koeise, where we ate on our last night, did the most amazing steaks! We also found very little choice in wine other than the house variety. As this city abounds with breweries beer was the preferred.
The return journey felt a lot easier; there was less waiting and we arrived in St Pancreas around 14.00. The taxi to Paddington took quite a time as traffic was very heavy. It made me reflect on the fact that London, although an amazing city, is somewhere I could never live. Having been raised in green and pleasant rural Wiltshire and having the benefit of living in a house which backs onto open fields, the thought of city dwelling is quite claustrophobic. As well as the traffic there are so many people rushing to be somewhere. Ah no, I’m definitely a country girl, although I do love the best of both worlds, having the beautiful city of Bath within a short drive of home. Of course Bath has massive traffic problems and during summer months it is busy with tourists, but it still has a gentler feel than our capital city.
And so to York next week. I have a tenuous family connection with the city in that my ancestors lived there in the sixteenth century – yes we have a family tree on my Dad’s side which goes back that far! I’ve only been there once on a football weekend (no I did not go to watch the game). Bath City were playing York and four of us went up by car. While the two OHs went to the match, us girls went shopping and visited the Yorvik Centre. It was a good weekend not only to visit the city but because Bath won. This time my OH (who had visited the city many years ago) wants to pay a return visit to the National Railway Museum and I feel more retail therapy coming on. Again we are making the long journey by train but with the batteries charged for my iPod and Kindle plus a window seat I should survive.
And now a change of subject: TV Drama. Going away for a week meant loads of recorded stuff to catch up on when we returned. I have to say what is on offer this autumn has either totally grabbed my imagination or left me a little disappointed.
First BBC2s Peaky Blinders – such a watchable series about gangsters in post WW1 Birmingham. Cillian Murphy is great in the lead character of Tommy Shelby. The man has such amazing eyes – in one close up scene they were almost pale turquoise. He also has a look of innocence that in a split second can turn to menace – amazing acting. I do love period drama and this is a fantastic example, but what really interests me is the way they have blended a modern-sounding sound track into this drama and it works really well!
Next Atlantis. I absolutely love fantasy, anything from Game of Thrones to Lord of the Rings. I was one of many who mourned the passing of Merlin, such a good series. From the first episode Colin and Bradley had me glued to the screen. I think the series had such a good balance of comedy, glamour, emotion, suspense and, of course, a screen full of good looking knights. So how to replace this? Impossible, of course, but looking at the trailers for Atlantis I was quite hopeful something good was coming. However, after three episodes the jury is still out. Mark Addy totally irritates me as Hercules. If he was going to be cast in that role why has he not at least got the strength his character was renowned for to help get them out of the situations caused mostly by his stupidity? Instead he is cast as a lazy, boastful, crafty, boozy and cowardly character without any redeeming features. It just doesn’t cut it with me I’m afraid. Also, all three episodes so far seem to have very little depth to them. They seem very lightweight; the one saving grace is that Jack Donnelly is very watchable!
What about Whitechapel ? I loved the early series but this latest one sees me having to suspend belief, so ridiculous at times. Viewing audiences for the most part like to feel what they are watching is credible. Much prefer the less gory Ripper Street and love American Adam Rothenberg’s unconventional Captain Jackson character. It’s coming back on 28th October – can’t wait!
And last of all the Grand Dame of TV drama – Downton. Still very much loved and watched – wonderful Maggie Smith’s expressions do as much for her character as her lines do. I was so hoping Lady Mary and Lord Gillingham would get together and sad they didn’t but then it’s far too early in the series and I’ve a feeling he may come back (crossing fingers as he is so lovely). And as for Tom’s night of illicit passion with Edna the maid something tells me although she’s been dismissed those events will come back to bite him, although knowing Edna it will probably be part of a very devious plot. No doubt that’s a storyline in waiting and maybe not until the next series?
So that’s it for a while no more to say but much to do. Will blog again once back from northern climes but until then I have back page book blurb and information for the promotional video to organise. Why does there never seem to be enough time?
It’s two weeks since our return from a fabulous week in Garda and I’m still missing that lovely stroll to Bardolino along the lakeside. For me the August Bank Holiday is the final doorway to summer. No I’m not being depressing, just realistic. We flew out to Italy on the 31st August and when we returned (and yes I know we were arriving back in a country fifteen degrees colder) England just felt completely different. Although after Midsummer’s Day the nights start to pull in it’s not really noticeable until September. Leaves were now discolouring and beginning to fall and from where I live, looking across to the main part of our village, there was mist hovering in the valley above the river. All signs that the door has closed and summer is behind us. Of course September is a very unpredictable month. At one stage we have even reluctantly resorted to putting on the heating. That now, thankfully, is not happening – to me that really is a sign that we’ve moved on into colder times. This coming week we are promised a return to warmer weather so I’m guessing (hopefully) that September will go out with one mad blast of heat!
I went to London last week where Harrods’s Christmas Hall is fully functional with its cards, tree decorations and other assorted stuff – plus the cheerful sound of festive music. At this present moment in time I do have difficulty in getting my head around the purchase of Christmas cards and other associated paraphernalia. It’s just not going to happen until at least November.
Coming back from holiday is a bit of a fall to earth. As I said before no more leisurely walks to Bardolino, no more bus travel to Riva and Malcesine and no ferry trips out to Sirmione. And, of course, no warm evening sitting at lakeside bars watching the world go by. I now hold that firmly in my memory, together with all the photographs I took (246 of them!); a lovely warm celebration of Summer 2013 to take me through the colder months.
And yet here where I live on the outskirts of Bath there is beauty too; autumn will soon have taken over and the woods above the village will be a riot of reds, yellows and oranges. If you travel east over the border into Wiltshire on the A36 to the town of Bradford-on-Avon, you can’t fail on your journey there to see the beauty of the Limpley Stoke Valley which looks fabulous at this time of year.
Now back home I have been concentrating my efforts on the completion of my fifth novel, The Other Side of Morning. It’s not been the journey I envisaged; there have been a few pit stops and wrong turns on the way but I’m nearly there with a book I feel both comfortable and pleased with. It’s always the same; at the end of each book although I have got an idea for the plot of the next I’m not sure whether I can take it the whole course and produce a full novel. I was feeling this way last year when The Other Side of Morning was merely the germ of an idea but I need not have worried because I’ve arrived at my destination once again. I guess in the end it’s all about self-belief and a determination to finish what I have started.
Right now we’re settled and waiting for refreshments to arrive my first question as always is to ask a bit about you. Where you live, your family, your work…oh and also any pets?
Hi! Thank you so much for inviting me! I’m thrilled to be here. So, you want to know a bit about me? Well, I’m very dull lol. I live in sunny Northern Ireland in a seaside town called Bangor (yes I know there’s one in Wales). I’ve lived here all my life. My husband is desperately keen for us to move away and for me to broaden my horizons! I’ve told him I’ll only go if we move to New Zealand!
I am very happily married for the second time and we will have been married for 6 years in August. I have two children – a son aged 20 and a daughter aged 15 who are affectionately known as Afro Boy and the Fashion Diva. My daughter has special needs so she keeps me pretty busy. I also have a step daughter aged 18 and a step son who is 12. Life can get a little crazy at times when we are all together. And, last but not least we have a crazy dog called Floyd who provides hours of entertainment with his antics.
Work-wise, I am a social worker and have just recently left my job in child protection to move onto a new area of social work – inspecting nursery schools, playgroups and child-minders. It’s a far cry from the nitty-gritty field of taking kids into care but after 5 years of some pretty intensive work I found the hours and stress were just a bit too difficult with a family at home, especially as my daughter’s needs are changing as she is getting older. I am hoping to return to more therapeutic social work in the future, but for now I will content myself with a much better work / life balance and a huge reduction in stress. I’m also hoping to go back to University part-time and study something like family therapy.
What drew you to reviewing books and how long have you been doing this?
I began to review books in 2011 I think it was. I won a copy of Kathryn Brown’s book Discovery at Rosehill through a competition at loveahappyending.com and wrote a review for the site. Since then, in addiction to blogging I have continued to write reviews for not only loveahappyending.com but also for famousfiveplus.com and lovereading.co.uk. I have contributed to two anthologies with Plumtree Books also. I have always adored books and part of me holds a secret dream to write something half decent myself someday. Last year I realised that requests for book reviews were getting to the point where my personal blog could not accommodate them. That blog very much was a place for me to discuss family life and educate about special needs and I didn’t want that getting lost amongst the book reviews. So, Brook Cottage Books was born and launched in December 2012 and now I run two blogs!
Are there any favourite genres or do you have a pretty broad taste in books?
Before I began reviewing books I used to be pretty stuck in my ways with regards genres. I never took a chance and tried new genres or even indie authors. I would have only read books by well-known authors and pretty much stuck to the Classics, horrors and thrillers. Now, I will pretty much read anything and I am amazed by what I find enjoyable now. I’d encourage anyone to try a new genre or read a book written by an indie author. I have discovered some wonderfully talented authors.
Have you any favourite books and why?
Oh that is a difficult question as there are so many books I adore. Some of my favourites would have to be a couple of the classics – Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice. I also adore Rebecca. As for modern writing I’m not sure I could answer that question because every time I try to think of a favourite book I end up with a huge list, but books such as The Passage series, Me Before You and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society would be among my favourites. One of my favourite books that I discovered through reviewing has got to be Somebody to Love by Sheryl Browne. I love Sheryl’s writing and we have become online friends through my love of her books. I’m looking forward to meeting her at the Festival of Romance in November.
You started a website, Brook Cottage Books, can you tell us something about that?
As I’ve previously said, Brook Cottage Books was started to meet the demand for reviews that I was receiving. I didn’t want the message of my personal blog to get lost amongst all the booky stuff. Brook Cottage Books attempts to be a source of information for those who adore books as much as I do. You can find author interviews, book reviews, book news, cover reveals and a whole host of other posts related to books. I regularly take part in blog tours to promote books and authors and as a result I’ve managed to get myself a little bit of paid work now doing a little bit of proofreading and final read-throughs. I’ve also recently edited a book (under my real name) Little White Lies and Butterflies by Suzie Tullett. It’s a fab read! Safkhet Publishing has been kind enough to take me on as an intern and let me gain more experience. I hope one day to make a bit of a living through the blog.
What is a ‘normal’ day for you?
Oh my goodness, there is no such thing as a normal day for me but I’ll attempt to describe my schedule. I usually wake anytime between 4.30am and 6am and sort some blog posts before getting my daughter ready for school. Once she goes to school I normally send a couple of emails, check the blog diary, clean the kitchen and then head to work. Throughout the day in work I try to check in with what’s happening on the blog, Facebook and Twitter and answer some more emails during any break I get in work. After work its household chores, attending to my daughter, walking the dog, going to the gym, reading, writing some more blog posts and answering emails. In between all that I do managed to squeeze in some time with my husband and son and my step children if they are staying with us. By that time its bedtime and I usually read in bed until about midnight. If I am lucky, my daughter will sleep for a few hours and I get some rest then. Sometimes however she is up most of the night so I read some more! No point in wasting good reading time!
Have you one great indulgence or passion?
One of my greatest passions in life is of course books. I love to be surrounded by them. I love the feel and smell of them and I am addicted to buying them! I am a total author groupie and nothing makes me happier than receiving books signed by the author. Books are actually taking over my life and it makes me so happy. I adore having the house to myself and lying on the sofa reading. I love it when the house is nice and quiet as this doesn’t happen very often. A nice glass of wine also helps me relax.
If you had three wishes to do anything you wanted what would they be?
1. Be instrumental in educating the world about special needs and actually make a difference.
2. Give up social work and have a career in the book world.
3. Write a good book.
If you could invite four guests to dinner who would they be and why would you choose them?
Oh that’s another difficult question but I’ll give it a go!
1. Temple Grandin – a major voice in the autism world and a lady of extreme courage.
2. Stephen King – I adore his books
3. Daphne Du Maurier
4. Alfred Hitchcock – you’ve gotta love his movies. Plus, he would get on so well with Daphne!
Thanks Jonty for a brilliant and very interesting interview, I know so much more about you now! I also love Daphne Du Maurier – I’ve read all her novels and Frenchman’s Creek is my favourite.
If you are interested in learning more about Jonty simply click on any of her social network links below.