11.12.15

Inspiration for Post War sagas

I’m always on the look out for ideas, finding inspiration from many sources: family memories, history of the places I’ve lived in such as the beautiful English Lake District and Cornwall. I’ve dipped into the more interesting parts of my own life, such as when we had a smallholding and tried the ‘good life’. Having fully exploited those ideas, I moved on to interviewing people for other fascinating stories.

 I begin by talking to people who either can recall such times themselves, or retell that of their own parents or siblings. I’ve met some fascinating people over the years, and what a joy it is to listen to these stories, so real and personal, vividly recalled and rarely recorded anywhere. Memories are fallible, of course, and facts need to be checked against whatever documentary evidence I can find such as newspaper reports, letters, diaries, biographies, as well as history books. The walls of my office are packed with books covering all the topics I love.

Writing sagas also demands a need to investigate natural history, geography, geology and topography. My farm or village might be fictional but the mountains, forests and lakes have to be entirely accurate; the walks my heroine takes actually trodden by me. The flowers must be in season, the birds on their migratory flights south from Scandinavia, carefully checked. The agricultural law of the period must be studied as well as weather reports. I cannot say 1945 was a beautiful summer if it rained all through July and the harvest was ruined. Nothing can be fudged, because unlike Medieval times, someone will remember.

Blackburn Road, Accrington


The gritty northern street saga has its own requirements, format and boundaries and usually concerns a strong woman fighting against the poverty of her surroundings, as well as the trials and tribulations of the times in which she lives. My family have been weavers (or websters as they were once called) for generations on both sides of the Pennines. My mother wove parachutes during the war, and lived with her widowed mother while her husband was away fighting. I have vivid memories of my grandmother black-leading her range and donkey-stoning her doorstep. You could have eaten your dinner off her stone flag floors for although she was poor, she was clean. Therein lay her dignity.

When the war ended, new problems arose. Some men were less than impressed with their welcome home in a society gone to pieces. Relationships had changed, jobs and homes hard to find, shortages and austerity still prevalent. Mothers often still treated their sons as boys, instead of grown men. Husbands were unprepared for a more tough and independent wife, or could be suffering injuries, nightmares or depression. The effects of war are extremely traumatic and it’s fascinating to learn how such problems were dealt with.

1945: Christmas is approaching and Cathie Morgan is awaiting the return of her beloved fiancé, Alexander Ramsay. But she has a secret that she’s anxious to share with him. One that could change everything between them. Her sister has died and she wants to adopt her son. When the truth is finally revealed, Alex immediately calls off the wedding, claiming that the baby is actually Cathie’s, causing all of Cathie’s fears to be realised. As Cathie battles to reassure Alex of her fidelity, she must also juggle the care of the baby and their home. 

But then Alex crosses the line with a deceit that is unforgivable, leaving Cathie to muster the courage to forge a life for her and her nephew alone. Will Cathie ever be able to trust another man again and as peace begins to settle will she ever be able to call a house a home… 



Available from W H Smiths and all good bookshops.



12.11.15

The Black Market in Wartime Britain

The black market became very much a part of wartime life. With rationing, and rising prices, it held a certain appeal. This was even the case by the end of the war when people were sick of austerity and shortages. ‘Wide boys’, ‘Spivs’, or ‘Wheelers and Dealers’, as they were known, were very clever at flaunting authority and ignored the fact what they were involved in was illegal. They were making money, so why would they not be prepared to take the risk? These fellows had a certain style about them, often quite flashily dressed in a wide-lapelled suit and brightly coloured tie, sporting a trilby hat tilted rakishly over his forehead.

Surplus goods would fall into their hands out of clever conniving and trickery, which they’d sell on at a price. One of the characters in this book: Home is Where the Heart Is gets involved. On one occasion he arranges for a driver to leave his cab door open so that he can help himself to some goods left on the passenger seat. Did he get away with it? You’ll have to read the book to find out more.

Shopkeepers would hide stuff under the counter for registered customers who were special to them. Salmon and peaches were often supplied in that way. Where they got these products from was never asked about. This was considered to be a good way of holding on to their best customers.

Black market goods were often more expensive, although their quality not always reliable. As well as food these might include petrol, spare parts for a car, cigarettes and alcohol. Cosmetics, perfume and nylons were also hard to come by during the war, even though women were encouraged to look their best for purposes of morale. This created sales of the kind of cosmetics that were not necessarily safe.

The Ministry of Food would investigate any complaints brought by the public of those suspected of being black marketers. They could be fined, or even imprisoned. But more often than not they got away with it because people would avoid informing the authorities. The believed it was not their concern and they’d lose out if the black market disappeared. The government fought something of a losing battle with those involved in the black market, despite employing hundreds of inspectors to enforce the law.

But how would you feel if the man you loved got himself involved in this crime?

1945
Christmas is approaching and Cathie Morgan is awaiting the return of her beloved fiancé, Alexander Ramsay. But she has a secret that she’s anxious to share with him. One that could change everything between them. Her sister has died and she wants to adopt her son. When the truth is finally revealed, Alex immediately calls off the wedding, claiming that the baby is actually Cathie’s, causing all of Cathie’s fears to be realised. As Cathie battles to reassure Alex of her fidelity, she must also juggle the care of the baby and their home. 

But then Alex crosses the line with a deceit that is unforgivable, leaving Cathie to muster the courage to forge a life for her and her nephew alone. Will Cathie ever be able to trust another man again and as peace begins to settle will she ever be able to call a house a home…

Published by Mira Books 17 November.

Buy from your local bookshop, Smiths, or Amazon.

 

Home Is Where The Heart Is by Freda Lightfoot

Home Is Where The Heart Is

by Freda Lightfoot

Giveaway ends November 29, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

5.11.15

Women suffered many Post-War Issues

When World War II ended there was a feeling of anti-climax, as if the bright blue, sun-filled sky had clouded over, leaving a feeling of uncertainty about the future. A grey chill seemed to hang over everything. But then the country was in a mess, near bankrupt. There were bombed areas and rubble everywhere, homes lost or wrecked, many empty shops and huge bomb craters everywhere.

Women had become much more hardened and independent, having worked hard jobs usually occupied by men, spending endless sleepless nights in shelters fearing they could be killed. And had suffered years of anguish worrying over the fate of their loved ones in the war.

When the fighting men returned, these problems were not always taken into account, the husband too beset by his own problems. Women lost their jobs, expected to concentrate on being a wife and mother again by creating a family and home. Housework did take much more time in those days, of course. Even so, many of them resented this change in their lives. They were also urged to no longer wear plain looking suits, trousers or overalls, but to be bright and pretty females again.

She might also have to cope with a shell-shocked or injured husband, outbursts of violence, depression or infidelity. A soldier, having been trained to kill, was not always the same civilised a person he’d once been. He could be far too accustomed to giving orders and inflicting punishment in order to achieve his aim, for him to show much patience for her. Or he might feel in desperate need for peace and quiet and hardly move or speak.

Many men suffered from sleepwalking, nightmares, or shouting in their sleep. Settling back into Civvy street was not easy, nor was finding a home and employment. He might be missing his pals, decide she’s grown old and become bored with her. Lives had changed and relationships were often badly affected, not least because couples had seen little of each other as leave generally were quite short, and many men had gone overseas. Even letters were often late and much of them blacked out. Whatever his reaction to the traumas he’d suffered, she would largely be the one left to cope. There was little in the way of counselling or assistance.

Cathie is remarkably patient with her fiancé, perhaps a little too kind and vulnerable. She does her best to help by listening to the advice given out over the radio and from the WVS. But then finds there is a price to pay.

1945: 
Christmas is approaching and Cathie Morgan is awaiting the return of her beloved fiancé, Alexander Ramsay. But she has a secret that she’s anxious to share with him. One that could change everything between them. Her sister has died and she wants to adopt her son. 

When the truth is finally revealed, Alex immediately calls off the wedding, claiming that the baby is actually Cathie’s, causing all of Cathie’s fears to be realised. As Cathie battles to reassure Alex of her fidelity, she must also juggle the care of the baby and their home. 

But then Alex crosses the line with a deceit that is unforgivable, leaving Cathie to muster the courage to forge a life for her and her nephew alone. Will Cathie ever be able to trust another man again and as peace begins to settle will she ever be able to call a house a home… 


Published by Mira books.

Read an extract:

Buy from your local bookshop or at:

Amazon


18.9.15

The Glamour of Being a Writer

It always defeats me how anyone can imagine writing to be a glamorous profession. I spend six to eight hours a day at the computer, sometimes longer when a deadline looms, five or even six days a week. I take far too little exercise and miss out on sunny days, even when in Spain. And generally wear my scruffiest, most comfortable clothes while working, so don’t look in the least bit glamoroous.


When called upon to do a talk I get to put on a business suit. Could that be considered glamorous? The event is often somewhere difficult to park and I struggle with my box of books, and I end up looking slightly harassed by the time I arrive. Or else it’s out on some distant hillside miles from the village it’s supposed to serve and my shoes are muddied by the time I get there. However, it’s always pleasing if the audience enjoy the talk and laugh at my anecdotes. Can that lady on the back row hear? Oh, she’s asleep, so that’s all right.

Is there glamour perhaps in playing at being a media star? In this, one is either interviewed live on the telephone, which is daunting but at least the interviewer doesn’t realise you’re wearing your slippers. Or else you get to go into a studio which is generally over-stuffy and rather shabby and you’ve got ten minutes at most in which to tell your life story, say what the book is about, why you wrote it and one or two funny anecdotes to fix it in the listener’s mind between the weather and the travel news.

Television is worse. The crew, usually one interviewer and a cameraman, spend hours in your house, filming you turning the pages of your book, or have you walking into your study again and again so they can film you from every possible angle, or up and down the street outside, or standing in a gale of wind to answer their questions. This endless toil results in a thirty second slot, mainly comprising a close up of your hands on the keyboard and a voice-over which might be yours, saying something inane about how important it is for you to write. At least they panned in on the row of books on the shelf, or added a bit of film connected to the period of the story.

In-depth interviews with newspaper journalists allows more time, but they often probe into the darker corners of your private life which you’d much rather keep closed. On occasions they start telling me about the novel they’re working on. I’ve even been asked if I mind being classed as a writer of romance, as if that were in some way demeaning. Next comes the photographer to take scintillating pics of you - and where does he choose? In your garden beside the pretty roses? Curled up in your cosy chair reading a book? Nope, at your computer, of course, where else? Not glam at all.

Real celebrities are generally leggy, blonde and beautiful, and sit in smart restaurants in dark glasses ordering lemon tea. So maybe that’s what I’m doing wrong, since I’m none of those things, can’t stand lemon tea and never even reached five foot. 

But who needs glamour anyway, or fame and fortune? I love to write, so nothing else really matters. I’m cosy in my bunker, eyes glued to the screen, engrossed in my make believe world. And no one has come to take me away in a little yellow van yet. I chat with friends and readers on Facebook and Twitter, and I’m always humbled and thrilled when people email or message me to say how much they enjoy what I write, or tell me how a story has cheered or deeply moved them while they’ve been coping with difficult times. What more can I ask for than that? 

11.9.15

Girl Bands in World War II


Girl Bands are not a new phenomena. Long before Girls Aloud, The Spice Girls, or even The Supremes there were girl bands of quite a different sort. During World War II Girl Bands took over and became increasingly popular once the boys joined up. But it was a time when prejudice against women performing was still strong. Female singers such as Vera Lynn was quite acceptable, but many people thought it wasn’t quite proper for women to blow into a trumpet or make a sax sing. 

Ivy Benson was a highly skilled clarinetist and saxophonist who formed her All Girls Band in 1939 playing throughout the war. It is said that she was inspired by listening to the recordings of Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman. They became one of the top bands of the era, although not without some resentment from male band leaders, and the worry that some of her prized musicians would sometimes leave to marry.

There was a wonderful movie called The Last of the Blond Bombshells, featuring Judy Dench. It’s the story of a widow who was obliged to confine her sax playing to the attic while her husband was alive, but on his death decides to follow her passion and start her own band. I loved this film, and the idea inspired me to write my own story about a girl band, set in Manchester during the war.
 
Dancing on Deansgate is about Jess Delaney, a young girl who loves music and discovers she has a talent, thanks to a Salvation Army sergeant who teaches her to play the trumpet. Despite an abusive uncle and a feckless mother, and with her beloved father away fighting in the war, she decides to make something of her life. But Jess doesn’t find it easy to get the band underway. Band leaders and ballroom managers frequently accuse them of not being able to withstand the physical hardships of long hours of playing.

Extract:
‘Women don’t have the stamina that men have,’ said one.
‘Limited scope,’ said another.
‘Women are long on looks but short on talent.’
‘We aren’t in the business of employing young ladies who think it might be fun to show off on stage, however charming and genteel they might be.’
This attitude incensed Jess and she would tell them in no uncertain terms that her girls could play In the Mood every bit as well as they could play Greensleeves.
One manager had the gall to say that women had no real sense of rhythm in a jam session, as they were hopeless at improvising.
Another, trying to be conciliatory, remarked, ‘I see why you ladies are offering to step in, with all the men having been conscripted for service and bands desperate for decent musicians. But we’re looking for professionals, not amateurs. We need the best.’
Outraged, Jess’s response was sharp. ‘We are the best, and how can we ever get to be professional if we’re never given the chance.’
A shake of the head. ‘Women aren’t made to sit on a stage and blow their brains out.’
‘We could blow the men right off it.’

As well as proving they were skilled musicians, they were also expected to look feminine, but finding the right clothes to wear wasn’t easy either, as fabric for dresses was in short supply. Faulty parachute silk was often used instead, and a glamorous look brought its own problems. Slinky gowns, together with sexy swing music, could bring about unwelcome invitations, as if fraternising with the men rather than a passion for music, was their main purpose in life.











30.8.15

Poverty During the War and Depression years

Little remains of the original Ancoats save for a handful of decaying factories and the dark red brick edifice of the old hospital. But this was once an area of row upon row of back to back houses, where Irish and Italian immigrants jostled side by side with fiercely proud Lancastrians; a tight knit community where folk had a loyalty to their particular street and a dread of being accused of ‘getting above themselves,’ or ‘mekkin’ out they were summat.’ For a man to lose his job in the late 1920s was bad, though sadly quite common, but to lose his dignity and pride as well was unthinkable.

In a world with little or no interest in women’s rights over their own children, no free medical assistance or welfare benefits, workers’ long hours and low pay, life was tough during the depression and war years. The laws of renting property, wills and insolvency, the means test, the dole, rationing, being bombed out or evacuated, would all create problems. Even a middle class family could fall into difficulties. If the father lost his job, as frequently happened, or he died leaving a young family, who would support his wife and children? The family might be split up and farmed out to reluctant relatives, put in an orphanage, or find themselves facing the workhouse.

And what if someone in the household was sick, or giving birth? How could they afford a doctor when only the man as the wage earner of the family could be insured? Unmarried mothers suffered the asylum, institutions and reformatories of various kinds, or simply had their children taken away.

Social issues are a vital ingredient of the saga. Readers love to discover how women coped. Even domestic life was hard, doing the washing with a mangle and dolly tub, no central heating, vacuum cleaner, fridge or similar household gadget, and a privy down the yard. Perhaps some look back on hard times with a rose-tinted view, remembering when a community pulled together, didn’t need to lock their doors as they’d nothing worth stealing.

I try to lighten the tragic nature of the tale with a little humour, because that’s what helped people to cope. The Lancashire sense of humour was rarely lost, women stood ‘camping’ on their donkey-stoned doorsteps, arms folded over their apron-fronted bosoms, and there were many such as Old Flo with her own set of morals, as if she’d personally been handed the tablet of stone by Moses himself. Yet despite the hardships, or perhaps because of it, neighbours stood by you, giving you a pinch of sugar or cup of milk because it might be them needing it next week, and when poverty yawned and hungry stomachs ached, even children must learn to live by their wits as Polly’s son Benny learns to his cost.

My family were weavers for generations on both sides of the Pennines. I have vivid memories of my grandmother black-leading her range and donkey-stoning her doorstep. You could have eaten your dinner off her stone flag floors for although she was poor, she was scrupulously clean. Therein lay her dignity. She would tell of how my grandfather, confined to a wheelchair, couldn’t work so in addition to caring for her children, one of whom was scalded to death while in the care of a child minder, she minded her six looms throughout a long working week, sang "I Shall not Want" three times every Sunday in chapel while worrying about what to find to eat for their tea.

The gritty northern saga usually concerns a strong woman fighting against the poverty of her surroundings, as well as the trials and tribulations of the times in which she lives. Disasters abound, but the heroine must win through against all odds, stronger in spirit than before. I seek out stories of the social under-classes in towns and rural backwaters. I’ve interviewed so many old folk with fascinating and deeply disturbing stories. That, to my mind, is what history is all about. People.


Living in the deprived area of Ancoats, Manchester, Polly Pride feels luckier than most … until her husband, Matthew, loses his job and her life is thrown into turmoil. In a desperate act to save her family from starvation, Polly sells all the family goods and buys a handcart from which she sells second-hand rugs and carpets. But struggling to deal with poverty and her husband’s hurt pride are only the start of her problems. For when tragedy strikes, Polly must summon all her courage to keep herself and her family from falling apart.

Amazon

Winners will be announced here on Sunday 6th September.

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

13.7.15

RNA Conference-2015

Just enjoyed the latest RNA Conference held at Queen Mary University, London. Inspiring, as always. I even found time to do a little research of my own for my latest WIP. It began with an industry panel about agents on Friday, then an excellent talk by Matt Bates from W H Smith travel. He’s a really sharp and very helpful guy, full of interesting information on how to choose a good cover for your book, and sell it. The next talk I went to was by Sarah Broadhurst who took us through the changes in the book trade. As an ex-bookseller myself in the 70s and 80s, I could relate to much of what she said, and remember reading her articles and reviews in The Bookseller at the time.

This was followed by an editor’s panel, of which I couldn’t hear much of what they said as the lecture theatre was huge and I was near the back. Or maybe I’m going a bit deaf. Later in the day was an excellent Skype talk from Jim Azevedo from Smashwords who took us through the process of setting up pre-orders. Brilliant and most useful as that seems to be an excellent way of raising your ranking. All about discoverability.

On Saturday I enjoyed an excellent talk by the Harlequin team. It was good to meet them since I’m currently writing for Mira Books, and enjoying working with them. They told us how they were looking out for page turners rather than brilliant prose, and how they channel them into the retail market either by ebooks, Indie stores or supermarkets, if you’re lucky.

Hazel Gaynor, author of A Memory of Violets, gave an excellent talk on promotion. I've read this book and loved it. A great read I can highly recommend. She writes about 30 articles for each book, in addition to loads of signing sessions and interviews, on top of a huge amount of social networking. There seemed to be so much involved that I almost considered retiring. I needed to remind myself that your best promotion is writing your next book. She gave us loads of useful advice but made it clear you do what suits you and what you have time for.

 
Took a siesta in the afternoon before listening to a fascinating talk by Jenny Barden and Joanna Hickson on historical research. Brilliant. Then spent a wonderful evening at the Gala Dinner. Great to meet up with old friends and chat, chat, chat about writing and books.

Sunday morning I gained some useful tips from Rhoda Baxter on Blog Tours, and then thoroughly enjoyed Jean Fullerton’s talk on the perils and pitfalls of writing 20th century fiction, which was great fun and so true. Finding the right details, dates and attitudes is not easy, but always fascinating. I’ve interviewed some amazing people in my time. I left to catch my train after that but the conference continued for the rest of that day. Anyone, who missed it look out for the next one at Lancaster University on 8 – 10 July 2016.

27.6.15

Inspiration for Luckpenny Land

Inspired by my own efforts at living the ‘good life’ on the Lakeland Fells, Luckpenny Land was the first saga I ever wrote. We were living on a small-holding, out on Shap Fell in Cumbria. And as I trekked up the fellside in the dark of a freezing night to check if our sheep were about to lamb, or to feed a pet lamb, I’d be thinking: ‘There must be a book in this. But who would want to read about a middle-aged mum, with arthritis, being so stupid as to choose to live in a place where the pantry was colder than her wonderful Zanussi fridge? Where the winter snows freeze the mains water supply in the field below the house every winter, as well as the battery in her car as it stands buried in snow in the yard.

So I used those wonderful two words that writers love: What if? What if I wrote about a girl who wanted to be a sheep farmer. It was World War II and her very Victorian father thought that it wasn’t women’s work. I could then use many of the amusing incidents and anecdotes my family had experienced living this life, but write it as fiction.

Running a smallholding with a few sheep and a couple of dozen hens didn’t qualify me to write knowledgeably about running a proper sheep farm, let alone during WWII. I would need to do considerable research. When writing about a time within living memory it’s essential to get it right, and that includes the weather and state of the harvest.

I began by interviewing Cumbrian farmers, who are stoic, strong, taciturn, and a tad distrustful of
strangers, particularly of people who have not lived in the Lake District for three generations. It’s not that they are unfriendly, only that they’re more used to the company of themselves and their animals rather than a nosy, would-be author. At this point in my career having published only short stories, articles, and 5 Mills & Boon historical romances, the prospect of a full-length saga was daunting. And I’d never done an interview in my life.

When I rang the first name on my list, a farmer out in the Langdales, I spoke first to his wife to ask if he would see me. ‘Happen’, she said, which I took as a yes. To be on the safe side I took my husband with me. As a local solicitor he was used to dealing with Lakeland farmers, and it worked like a charm. I asked the farmer a question, and he told David the answer. I was so nervous I didn’t even dare to switch on the brand new recording device I’d taken with me. I scribbled notes like mad, and even more later.

But he was marvellous. He took me through his farming year, explaining everything most carefully, and showed me pictures of his dogs. Not his family, his dogs. All the farmers I interviewed did that. It’s a nonsense to say that farmers don’t care about their working dogs. Mr G’s dog appeared in the book, much to his delight, although the accident the fictional dog suffered was far more dramatic to that of the real dog, even if it had the same outcome. And no, I can’t say anymore without spoiling it.

Some of the farmers I spoke to were women. Although farming was a reserved occupation during the war, many men opted to join up and leave their wives to run the family farm. I learned from them how to kill and scald a pig, how to wring a chicken’s neck and pluck it. (my hens all lived to a ripe old age) Plus all the various wangles they got up to during the war, such as dressing up a pig as a person in the car so they wouldn’t be caught out selling one. This was at a time when such things were strictly rationed and controlled. Talking to these women inspired many plot incidents and ideas, some based on real life, including the most dramatic and painful which takes place in Luckpenny Land. And I won’t spoil it by telling you that either. Armed with the research, I started to weave a love story and plan the lives of my characters.

I also spent ages reading the newspapers of the period, finding out what was on people’s mind and how they coped. But then I love research, and talking to the people who actually remember what it was like back then is what inspires me the most.

I was fortunate enough to meet an agent at a weekend conference and told him all about my idea. He asked to see the book when it was finished, which took nine months, just like a baby. Just a few weeks after I’d delivered it, I was so excited to get The Call. There were offers from three publishers and I went with Hodder & Stoughton, now part of the Hatchette group.

 Amazon


Luckpenny Land turned into a mini-series and it has been an absolute delight to be able to revisit these stories. When I gave them a new life as ebooks I split the book into two as the print edition was far too long for an ebook, the second part becoming Storm Clouds over Broombank. Followed by Wishing Water and Larkrigg Fell.





14.6.15

Rome

Just returned from a wonderful holiday in Rome. What a fantastic city it is. Very noisy and busy but filled with amazing Roman relics around every corner. We stayed at the hotel Capo d’Africa near the Colosseum. Very friendly and excellent service. There were also a number of good restaurants close by.


We visited all the important places, including the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel and Vatican museums and St Peter's, the Pantheon, Castel Sant Angelo, and much more. A 3 day ticket from Omnia bought online covered the cost of entrance to the most important places, which included an hop-on-and-off bus. There was still some queuing involved but not as much as buying one ticket at a time.

We thoroughly enjoyed a guided tour of the Colosseum, hearing all about the horrendous games and spectacles that went on there, amounting to something like 700,000 human deaths, plus hundreds of lions, tiger, bears etc killed every day. It was damaged by an earthquake many years ago, but is still amazingly strong and absolutely huge, built to hold about 80,000 people, the aristocrats on the lower sections and the poor on the highest level. A portion of floor has been built in to show how it looked at the time, with a morass of channels and rooms beneath where slaves, animals and gladiators were held and trained. It is believed that around a third of gladiators survived, looked upon as celebrities because of their skills and bravery.

Arco di Constantino                                  The Forum                                                            The Pantheon

We also strolled around the Forum, facing the Colosseum, which is equally fascinating with its temples, basilicas, arches and pillars, the centre from which Rome was once ruled. My imagination told me that it must have looked both regal and beautiful in its prime. Sadly, it suffered considerable damage from an earthquake in the ninth century and eventually fell into decline as did Rome itself. The next day we visited the Vatican.

The Vatican


Swiss guards

A walk through the Vatican museums to see the Sistine chapel at the end takes about an hour and a half, but it is worth it. The art work of Raphael, Michelangelo and others, and ceiling and wall decorations are superb.


There is so much to see so it’s important to concentrate on the essential places, and accept the fact there are crowds of people sharing this experience with you. We planned each day with care, taking into account the stops for the hop-on-and-off bus to help us along our way.

The wonderful thing about the city is that you can come across Roman remains or interesting buildings, around any corner. Quite by chance we found the Palazzo Doria Pamphili, a glorious palace situated on the Via del Corso. It cost only 8 euros to visit which included an audio guide in English telling the history of the building and the family who still occupy it. Absolutely beautiful, it’s one of the finest palaces in Rome.


It seemed to us a fairly safe city, although a bum bag or money belt is safer than a handbag. And do take a hat against the sun, as it is very hot. Street vendors sell bottles of near-frozen water for 1 or 2 euros, as well as hats and parasols, ice cream etc.

The only disappointment was that the Trevi fountain is currently being restored but we did drop in a coin so that one day we hope to go again.


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 Questions for a Readers Book Club - have fun.

1 - 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?

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

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

4 - 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 was her attitude symptomatic of what was happening in Russia?

5 - 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?

6 - 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?

7 - Which character do you like the most or least, and why?

8 - What emotion did the story evoke in you as a reader?

9 – Did you find the historical setting engaging, revealing something you didn’t know?

10 - If you could change the ending, what would it be and why?

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.

 









These wild red legged partridge are the latest guests to visit us in our garden. They are so beautiful and happily feasted on the olives that had dropped on the ground.

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. He has a friend we call Winnie.
 


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.