Drinking habits

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Driving through Masham earlier this summer, we made a side trip to the Black Sheep Brewery. This is one of my favourite real ales.

I used to drink real ale exclusively. Nowadays you’re more likely to see me swigging a bottle of Corona or Desperados. Thinking about this, I realise that the characters in my books tend to reflect my drinking habits.

A few examples:

Excerpt from Starting Over:

They crossed over the bridge to the large pub on the corner. Groups of smokers were gathered outside and they had to push their way through to get to the bar inside. Jo immediately saw someone she knew so Robin ordered the drinks. It was a struggle to fight her way back through the crowd to find Jo. The noise levels were already making it impossible to have a conversation without shouting. Handing Jo her bottle of Corona, Robin fought her way back outside. She hadn’t smoked for many years, but now she wished she had a cigarette. At least, as a prop. The first gulps of beer helped calm her nerves.

Excerpt from The Circle Dance:

It was after nine when Sasha got home, exhausted both physically and emotionally. Relaxing with a glass of chilled white wine and maybe a bath was what she really wanted. Instead she would be facing an irate Phoebe.

She made it as far as the kitchen before Phoebe appeared and started wanting answers. “Where the hell have you been? And I know it wasn’t talking to Felix bloody LeMar.”

Sasha opened the fridge and was dismayed to see there was no bottle of wine. She would have to settle for a beer. Luckily there was a Corona nestled between the pasta and the remnants of Sunday’s chicken that she had planned to eat before her evening was derailed by the insane desire to see Jamie.

Excerpt from Running From Love

The cupboard was bare, as was the fridge. Sam took out the lone bottle of Corona and popped the cap. Not even a lemon or lime lurking anywhere. She took a sip and wondered what she was missing. When she spoke to Beth the night before, giving her the flight arrival time, her wife had sounded a bit distant, but nothing that couldn’t be put down to Beth being tired after a full day’s teaching.

My next book, coming out in November, demonstrates the change in my drinking. I wrote the main part of this story in 1993. When I revisited it to see if it could be developed into a novel, I decided it should stay in that time period. So I was interested to note that my main character was necking back London Pride. For those not in the know, this is a real ale brewed at Fuller’s Griffin Brewery in Chiswick, west London.

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1992 was the year a friend and I embarked on a Fuller’s sponsored pub crawl. We obtained a passport from the brewery that had to be stamped in each of their pubs we bought a drink in. It took us several outings to realise we didn’t actually have to buy beer to get a stamp. A soft drink would suffice. The passport was divided into sections and after a haphazard start we figured out that by concentrating on one part we would be able to cover enough pubs to qualify for a prize. We completed Area 1, a total of 46 pubs (well, 45 – one was closed)…such dedication.

We did also visit about another 20 pubs in the other two areas but realised we weren’t going to manage the complete 180 in the timescale. Still, a pretty worthy effort, I feel.

The prize was a minipin of London Pride…18 pints. (That more than made up for the soft drinks we’d consumed in order to complete the Area 1 section of the passport.)

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I also don’t drink tea. And I’ve noticed that the majority of my characters don’t either. They drink coffee in the morning, preferably unsullied by either sugar or milk.

So although none of my characters are based on me, they do seem to have picked up some of my drinking habits.


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Buying Links:

Running From Love: Affinity Rainbow Publications / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Christmas at WinterbourneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK /Barnes & Noble /Bella Books / Smashwords /Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books /Smashwords Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes


 

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Getting Down and Dirty

In a week’s time I’m off to Vindolanda again. This will be my fourth year of digging there as part of their volunteer programme. And this is their final year of a five-year project called ‘Frontiers in Transition’.

It is two weeks of hard work, but the atmosphere and the enthusiasm of everyone there is what makes me keep going back. Other people have pictures of children or pets as screen wallpaper on their computer/tablet/phone. I have a photo I took of the Vindolanda site and surrounding countryside. Just can’t wait to see the real thing again!

vindolanda_2016

I’ve blogged about two of my previous digs and how I was inspired to go initially in the interests of research for my debut novel, Starting Over. (May 2015 / September 2016)

I learned a lot of things on my first visit, not all of which made it into the story. The detailed planning was one aspect that really impressed me. Each year the archaeologists on site have a plan specifying which areas can be uncovered. I thought that as the Vindolanda Trust owns the land they would be able to dig anywhere, but they have to apply each year to the SMC (Scheduled Monuments Consent) to outline which areas they want to explore and the related research objectives. This was evident on my second year when we were told to stop when we reached a certain point in one of the trenches. When we asked why we couldn’t keep digging there, we were told it wasn’t in that year’s plan to extend beyond that section.

(News from the first 4 weeks of digging this season.)


Book news

Aside from the digging, maybe I will have the energy to write while I’m away. I’ve started work on a Christmas story and have another novel at the 40,000-word stage.

And on June 1st, Affinity Rainbow Publications will be releasing my new novel, Running From Love. Look out for some excerpts on Facebook in the next few weeks.

This week I was thrilled to see a new review of The Circle Dance, published by Lynn Lawler. She has taken the time to analyse each of the six main characters, which I found fascinating (and informative).


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Buying options for ebooks:

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books /Smashwords Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Christmas at WinterbourneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK /Barnes & Noble /Bella Books / Smashwords /Apple iTunes

Christmas at Winterbourne is in print…available on Amazon: Amazon UK / Amazon US


 

Bicycle thoughts

It’s the anniversary of the release of my fourth novel on 14 March—The Circle Dance. So I started thinking about my relationship with bicycles.

The first bike I owned as an adult was a 3-speed Raleigh. After a few years I graduated to a 10-speed Apollo. This was at the time I had a part time job working in a bike shop. It was piecework; I got paid for each bike I assembled. I fell in love with the Apollo and it travelled with me when I left British Columbia for Ontario and then on to the UK. Cycling in London was an adventure and I feel fortunate not to have come to grief on more than one occasion. I don’t think I could do it now.

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A much younger me on the beloved Apollo

When I moved north, I thought I would enjoy riding along the canal towpaths, a tranquil alternative to the roads. This didn’t last long as the narrow tires on the Apollo weren’t well suited for the rougher terrain. So I traded it in for a mountain bike. My canal riding days didn’t last as I soon became involved in playing golf in my spare time. And in the last six years I’ve added archery to my outdoor activities. And, I guess, I just wasn’t in love with the mountain bike.

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Canal path near Hebden Bridge

Sometimes I think I shouldn’t have given up my bike-riding days. It’s very much the in sport around here. The coffee shops in Hebden Bridge are filled with cyclists on a Sunday morning, taking a break from their fifty-mile journeys—a little exercise for the day. The town is a good place to stop before tackling either the long climb up onto the moor above, or going the other way, taking on the Cragg Vale challenge—which holds the title of the longest continual ascent in England, climbing 968 feet in five and a half miles. Whenever I pass cyclists in the car, powering their way up, I admire their determination and tenacity. But I know it’s not something I want to attempt.

For the leisure cyclist, electric bikes are gaining popularity—so you don’t even have to exert yourself to get up the steep hills.

The Circle Dance

Jamie, a main character in The Circle Dance is a cyclist and I think the story possibly evolved from seeing the legions of lycra-clad enthusiasts pedalling through our village.

This is a scene from Chapter Two – when Jamie arrives home, having cycled the fourteen miles from where she works. She thought she was meeting Van at the local wine bar for their first date, but Van surprises her by appearing on her doorstep. This scene is from Van’s point of view.

Van followed, enjoying the view of Jamie’s well-toned lycra clad legs and butt as they climbed. Not many people could successfully carry off the lycra-look, but this woman rocked it. Out of breath by the time they reached the top, she promised herself she would start an exercise regime soon.

Once inside the room Jamie set her bike against one wall and unclipped the water bottle. She drank the remaining liquid and put the empty bottle on the floor.

“I’ll hit the shower. There’s a bottle opener on the bookcase.”

The bookcase was something Van hadn’t seen since her student days; two long roughhewn planks supported by bricks. She found the opener and popped the cap on both bottles. Looking around for a table, she was shocked to realise there wasn’t one. An upturned plastic crate and a legless armchair by the windows at the far end of the long room were the only other bits of furniture. Jamie had disappeared behind a screen, which she guessed was where there might be a bed, possibly just a mattress if the rest of the minimal decor was anything to go by.

She took a swig of beer and crouched down to look at the books. Some computer manuals she recognised and a meagre selection of paperbacks that looked like they’d come from charity shops. She picked one up that she thought she’d read before.

The chair, once she’d lowered herself into it, was surprisingly comfortable. She balanced the beer bottle on the crate and opened the book. It was one she’d read some time ago. One of Felicity Lemon’s early crime novels. She recalled that the clever twist at the end had left her feeling cheated. It was upsetting when the perpetrator turned out to be either a cop involved in the investigation or a character that only showed up in the last thirty pages.

Jamie appeared again looking stunning in a pair of loose fitting jeans and red polo shirt. She picked up the other bottle of beer and joined Van by the window.

Van put the book down, sensing the other woman’s discomfort. “Look, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have barged in on you like this.”

“It’s fine.” Jamie ran her fingers through her still damp hair. An endearing habit Van thought she would never tire of seeing.

Jamie drank some of the beer, tipping her head back, giving Van a view of her strong neck muscles. She sipped at her own beer to distract herself from the hormonal urges that were building.

“You still okay with going to the wine bar? The only beer they have is bottled.”

“Hey, your territory, your choice. I’m easy.” No doubt about that.

“Right, well I like the food there and it’ll be quiet at this time.” She finished her beer and gave Van that smile; the one that melted her already softened insides. “Good to go.”

Van struggled up from the chair, vowing once again that she would renew her gym membership.

If you would like to listen to me reading an excerpt, not very expertly, this is available here: Reading from Chapter One of The Circle Dance. This is the scene where Van and Jamie first meet at a friends’ house.


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Christmas at Winterbourne is in print…available on Amazon: Amazon UK / Amazon US

Buying options for ebooks:

Christmas at WinterbourneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK /Barnes & Noble /Bella Books / Smashwords /Apple iTunes

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books /Smashwords Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes



2016…what a year!

2016 is almost at an end – and I should think we’re all mostly pleased to see the back of it. However, I will concentrate on a number of positive things that have happened in my life this year.

In Roman history, 69 AD is known as the year of the four emperors. For me, as an author, 2016 will be known as the year of having three novels published.

This may never happen again.

So, I do have a lot to be thankful for this year. Carved in Stone, Book III of The Starling Hill Trilogy, came out in February. Having this published was a thrill because when I wrote the first book, Starting Over, I had no idea there would be a second, let alone a third

The Circle Dance followed quickly, in March, and is a standalone romance set in the same area of Yorkshire as the trilogy books. Writing this was another ‘starting over’ moment, if you like – new characters, different plot, and one very special black cat.

I signed the contract for Christmas at Winterbourne in November 2015 – so it was a yearlong wait for its release in November 2016. I’ve described the process of writing this book in a guest blog for the UK Lesfic website called Journey to Winterbourne…and in part of a guest blog for Women and Words called Five and Counting.

I also contributed a short story to Affinity’s Holiday anthology, It’s In Her Kiss. Affinity authors were invited to submit stories for whichever holiday event took their fancy and the collection includes a wide range – Christmas, New Year, St Patrick’s Day, Hallowe’en. My story is called ‘Beltane in Space’, so you can see where my mind was going – fertility rites and so on – with an all female crew on a spaceship! The proceeds for this book are going to the Montrose Center, which provides services to the LGBT community in Houston, Texas.

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Affinity’s 2016 team of authors: Ali Spooner, Jen Silver, Annette Mori, Renee MacKenzie (Annette’s looking nervous – this was before the ceremony – when she collected a Goldie for Locked Inside.)

In July I travelled to Washington DC for the annual bun fight known as the Golden Crown Literary Society Conference. This was my second time attending so it was good to meet up with friends made the previous year – and to meet new ones. Also wonderful to meet so many people I communicate with on Facebook. The conference offers plenty of opportunities to interact with authors and readers through discussion panels, readings, book signings…and book buying. (Lesson learned from the first year – take a bigger suitcase.) Years ago when I first started reading lesbian fiction, I could never have imagined meeting such iconic authors as Katherine V Forrest, Lee Lynch, Karin Kallmaker, Rita Mae Brown, Dorothy Allison, Jewelle Gomez…to name a few…plus the host of talented authors who have come along since then.

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Have I mentioned I’m a big fan of Lee Lynch?

A few weeks after getting back from GCLS, I discovered there was an event happening closer to home…the very first Happy Valley Pride, being held in Hebden Bridge…a whole week’s worth of activities. So, I immediately volunteered to help out, as well as taking the opportunity to do a reading at the poetry evening (the poets very graciously let me read prose), and sell some books. The whole range of events throughout the week was well supported by the community and the Happy Valley team is already preparing plans for August 2017. The Christmas Festive Fundraiser earlier this month was fantastic fun as well…with the lip-sync competition as a highlight. (If you want to see photos, visit the Happy Valley Pride page on Facebook.)

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Volunteering at the Happy Valley Pride Box Office

In September I took part in what has become a yearly pilgrimage for me…two weeks on my knees at Vindolanda, the large ongoing excavation of Roman forts near Hadrian’s Wall. It is voluntary and I do love scraping away with a small trowel unearthing pottery and cow bones. Other volunteers found coins, toga brooches, numerous shoes and evidence of child cremations – but I’m not suffering from find envy – not much. Again, it was a lovely group of people to be with and the two weeks passed all too quickly. (Note: I have booked to go again next year.)

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In the trenches!

In October I had a visit from my mother. She lives in Victoria on Vancouver Island, so we don’t see each other very often in person. We have weekly chats via Skype, but it was wonderful to have some quality time with her.

The annual Azincourt Longbow shoot also takes place in October – on the anniversary of the famous battle. Famous in England and celebrated for the last 600 years, because we won. Nothing against the French, of course, but I was pleased with my three arrows on this target – the ones with the red and black fletchings. (Oh, and we dress up in mediaeval type costumes – woolly hat optional.)

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November 1st saw the release of Christmas at Winterbourne …quickly followed by signing a contract with Affinity for another book, which is scheduled to be out in July. This one is a golf themed romance and the title is Running From Love.

And then it was Christmas! Where did this year go?

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So, politics aside, I feel I’ve had a pretty good year and I’m looking forward to 2017.


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Buying options for my books:

Christmas at WinterbourneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK /Barnes & Noble /Bella Books / Smashwords /Apple iTunes

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books /Smashwords Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes


 

GCLS firsts

In just over a week’s time I will be setting off to the GCLS Conference, held in Washington DC this year.

Last year, I attended the conference in New Orleans. I was a ‘Con Virgin’ at that event—so I can now say I lost my virginity in NOLA.

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Last year’s ‘Con Virgin’

GCLS 2015 saw many ‘firsts’ for me…first public reading, first signing of my books in public, first panel discussions, first time in New Orleans (and, of course, first hugs from Beth Burnett).

I expect I will feel just as nervous when it comes to doing the reading in the Author Spotlight session this year. I can only hope I remember to breath this time and don’t lose my voice part way through.

This year, sees another first—being asked to be a presenter at the Awards Ceremony. That sounds like fun as well as a tremendous honour. (Note to self: don’t trip on the way up to the podium)

My conference timetable:

Tuesday evening: check out the Affinity table in the Vendor Room

Wednesday morning: meet up with Affinity authors to set up the table with a wonderful array of books, t-shirts, bookmarks and other promo items.

Wednesday afternoon: Author Spotlight from 2:00 to 3:00, reading from The Circle Dance

Thursday evening: Helping to host the Affinity authors’ dinner

Friday afternoon: Author signing session

Saturday morning: Taking part in The Politics of Poetry Panel from 9:40 to 10:30

Saturday afternoon: Dry run for Awards Presenters from 3:30 to 3:45

Saturday evening: Attending the Awards Ceremony and probably avoiding dancing if at all possible.

I don’t know if it’s a first for my publisher, Affinity eBooks, but they have four finalists in this year’s award categories – listed here in no particular order:

Requiem for Vukovar by Angela Koenig in Dramatic/General Fiction

The Presence by Charlene Neil in Paranormal/Horror

Locked Inside by Annette Mori in Traditional Contemporary Romance

Locked Inside cover by Nancy Kaufman for the Tee Corinne Outstanding Cover Design Award

Keeping everything crossed for all our finalists – and congratulations whatever the outcome as there’s a lot of talent on show here.

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Aiming for ‘Affinity and beyond’ – with Annette Mori and Ali Spooner (sorry, no pic of Renee MacKenzie again – she wasn’t hiding – just seated at the other end of the table)

In between times I can likely be found at the Affinity Vendor table. Please stop by, even if you don’t want to buy any books. We’re a friendly bunch and love talking to people. As I think I’ve mentioned before, Affinity is being represented this year by Ali Spooner, Annette Mori, Renee MacKenzie and myself.

I also plan to take in a few other conference sessions when I can as well as trying to fit in some sightseeing, so these few days are going to pass very quickly, I feel. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone I met last year, plus others I didn’t. I’m not looking forward to Sunday when it’s time to say goodbye again.

The last item on my itinerary is for Sunday afternoon and beyond when the post-conference withdrawal symptoms start to surface. The best way to banish these feelings is to start planning to attend the 2017 conference in Chicago.


Another first closer to home is seeing my books on the ‘Books to buy’ shelf of one of the local cafés. The paperbacks are also available in the Book Case, the independent book store in Hebden Bridge.

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Lots of older lesfic books available at The Mooch Café in Hebden Bridge – and some newer Jen Silver books!

 

Also last week, not a first, but my second Book Clip appeared on The Lesbian Talk Show podcast site – a reading from the first book in The Starling Hill Trilogy, Starting Over. (All the LTS podcasts are available on Podbean, iTunes and Stitcher – and well worth a listen.)


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The Jen Silver Collection

Where to buy:

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/ Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

On Ilkley Moor…

This was a golfing week for me and my wife – playing four courses in six days. Three of the courses were in North Yorkshire: Rudding Park, Harrogate and Bracken Ghyll near Ilkley.

Bracken Ghyll has fantastic scenery all around with many of the views looking out towards Ilkley Moor.

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Just the name Ilkley brings to mind the well-known folk song, ‘On Ilkla Moor, bar tat’ – which translates from Yorkshire dialect into English as ‘On Ilkley Moor without a hat’. The song goes on to outline the dire consequences of being caught out on the moor without a hat.

I found a use for this song in my latest book, The Circle Dance. One of the characters gets stuck on the moorland above Hebden Bridge when a sudden mist comes down. Phoebe is a crime writer, but has recently branched out into sci-fi/fantasy. Her prospective publisher has suggested some outdoor research might help to inject more atmosphere into her story. Now, while Phoebe isn’t a particularly likeable character, I didn’t want her to die on the moor.

Excerpt from Chapter 8

The mist descended from nowhere. One minute it was a bright, sunny day, the next she couldn’t see past her outstretched hand. The words of the song came into her mind “On Ilkla Moor bar tat,” which ended badly for someone she recalled, dying and getting eaten by worms. And all because they were out on the moor without a hat. She had brought a hat.

Phoebe shrugged the backpack off her shoulders and felt around in the main pocket for the nice red woolly hat with a bobble on top. She’d bought it only the day before in one of the local shops, thinking it might come in handy. It wasn’t an item of headwear she would normally be seen about in. Hat on, she felt better. No point in dying for the lack of a hat. Now she just had to remember which way it was to the road…

…Phoebe leant back against the rock and wondered how long she could survive on the meagre ration of a single pack of Kendal Mint Cake. It tasted vile. Why hadn’t she brought a Mars bar? She struggled out of her boots and sighed with relief. She couldn’t have walked another step with her ankles protesting in agony. She tossed the offending items away. No point dying with her boots on. But she wasn’t going to die. She had a hat.

Bloody Philip Pearlman. “Bring it to life,” he had said. Ha. Find a stone circle, feel the power. What she needed was power all right. A powerful light.

Closing her eyes, she took several deep breaths. Stay calm. Stay in the zone. She’d read that somewhere. One of the self-help books she sometimes bought, thinking they would help. Help with what? Help being a better lover. Maybe that’s why Sasha was running after her ex. What did that computer nerd have that she didn’t?

Well, she wasn’t lost on top of a fucking moor for a start.

Maybe she could find some wood, start a fire. Oh yeah, she hadn’t made it through the first two Brownie sessions without wanting to nut Brown Owl. She was a little light on outdoor skills. She could write, however. Write a light, light a write. Shine a light, had she even remembered to bring a torch? A torch. A flaming piece of wood. With a torch she could set fire to the mist.

What was that bloody poem, one she had to learn in school? Oh yeah, that oft-quoted ode by Keats, “To Autumn.” She spoke the first two lines aloud, just wanting to hear her own voice, “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, close bosom-friend of the maturing sun…” All she could remember. That and giggling with her best friend over the word bosom. They thought mellow fruitfulness was pretty funny, too. How old were they? Thirteen.

Survival techniques, books she should have read. It wasn’t too late—she could Google it. She poked her phone and the screen lit up. Her connection with the world, the world of safety. No signal. Damn, damn, damn! She was going to die up here after all. Her epitaph could say—at least she wore a hat.

That girl from Game of Thrones, Arya. She comforted herself in dire situations by reciting the list of people she wanted to kill. Phoebe started with Philip Pearlman, Jamie Steele, the girl in Year 5 who pushed her over in the playground and stole her ice cream—hell, she’d forgotten her name. Her list of real people was too short. She’d have to resort to the fictional characters she killed off in her crime series.

Maybe it was the mint cake. She was starting to see shapes in the dark. Sheep? No, there it was again, just out of reach. Dancing giants, forming a ring of light.

One reviewer said “The strength of this (story) is that whilst there is romance, the whole story is infused with a strong dose of reality. You can believe that these characters could exist and that life rarely works out perfectly, but it can get pretty close for some.”

If you want to find out how things work out for Phoebe, just check out the book links here.


Where to buy my books:

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The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/ Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

A Dedication

As a reader I never used to pay much attention to dedications in books. It was likely to be the author’s wife, husband, children…maybe just a name, maybe a few words of appreciation.

Now, that I’m seeing my work in print, I do give these more consideration. With my first three published novels, I followed the usual pattern…Book 1, my wife, Book 2, my mother, Book 3, my best friend. Book 4, however, was different. It’s dedicated to a cat. I haven’t run out of close relatives or friends but there is a reason for this departure from the norm.

The Circle Dance is a lesbian romance but there is one very important male character, Stevie. He’s a black cat and very much loved by the couple he owns, Jamie and Sasha. However, when they split up, Sasha gets everything…new girlfriend, new house, and Stevie. Jamie has nothing and is attempting to rebuild her life in a different town living in rented accommodation, low-paid job, riding a bicycle to work (Sasha took the car as well).

As one of the other characters notes, Jamie would probably have coped better with the whole breakup trauma if she’d been able to keep Stevie. (SPOILER ALERT: Jamie and Stevie are reunited during the story.)

Anyway, back to the story behind the dedication for this book. I was standing in line at the GCLS 2015 conference waiting for the registration desk to open and someone said “Hello”. When I turned around I was face to face with Sandra Moran. I’d never met her before, only via Facebook, but there she was… the tallness, the hair, the smile…in person. Amazingly, she recognised me as well. After exchanging comments about the weather (she must have had some British genes), I offered my condolences for her cat Spencer who had died only a few weeks earlier. She was quite moved that a virtual stranger would have remembered Spencer but, like many other people, I was a “friend” of Spencer’s on Facebook and enjoyed the banter Sandra created between them.

What came out of my mouth next was a surprise to me as I hadn’t planned to say it. I told her that my latest novel, due to be published in early 2016, featured a black cat and that Spencer had been the inspiration for him. I went on to say that if she didn’t mind I would like to dedicate the book to Spencer.

Now, I’d only just met this woman and already caused emotional upset. Luckily, in a good way. Not only was she delighted with this idea, but she offered to let me use one of Spencer’s poems in the dedication.

When I talked to my publisher about this, they said that was fine as long as I obtained Sandra’s written permission to use the poem.

To make a long story longer, when I got back from New Orleans, I emailed Sandra to check she was still okay with this idea. She replied right away and sent me three poems so I could choose the one that I thought most suitable.

During our email correspondence I mentioned that the couple in the story had named their cat after Stevie Nicks, thinking he was female when they picked him up from the cat rescue place. She then told me that the same thing had happened with Spencer who spent the first month of his life with them being called Annie. (Another amazing connection – one of the characters in the book is called Annie.)

Anyway, I selected a poem and she duly sent me permission to “reprint Spencer’s truly awful poetry”.

This exchange of emails was in August 2015. Neither of us knew then that Sandra’s life would come to an abrupt end just over two months later. Whatever fates led me to that moment in New Orleans, I’m grateful that I had the chance to make that connection with Sandra, albeit briefly. The dedication in the book is as much for her as for Spencer. (And also for black cats everywhere.)

In doing some research for another book I read that in Norse mythology, Asgard, the home of the gods, is accessed by crossing the rainbow bridge. I like to think that both Sandra and Spencer made that crossing and are enjoying each other’s company again. Sandra will have introduced Thor and all the gods and goddesses to the art of moraning and Spencer will be free to continue writing “truly awful poetry”.


Note: My wife and I don’t have any pets as we’re both highly allergic. However, we have at times enjoyed the company of cats who have visited. As Sandra demonstrated with her photos of Spencer, black cats are quite difficult to photograph well. When we lived in London our neighbour’s cat, Sooty, was a regular visitor and I delved into our old photo albums to find these only two pictures we have of him.

sooty1

Sooty in the garden

sooty2

Sooty on the window ledge


Book links for The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks/Amazon US / Amazon UK / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Ebook links for The Starling Hill Trilogy (still available on Kindle Unlimited):

Starting Over: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Arc Over Time: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Carved in Stone: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Spring reading

After the depressing images from last week’s blog about the floods in our area, I’ve taken some spring-like ones to day. New growth everywhere and the sheep grazing peacefully in the fields.

canal_daffs

Daffodils planted along the canal

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Newly planted flowerbed in the park

Storm Katie moved through during Easter weekend and brought devastation to other parts of the country. Here in the north we escaped with just heavy winds, some rain, and on Tuesday it snowed…a light dusting for the tops of the hills that didn’t last long enough for me to take a photo.

sheep_grazing

Sheep in the fields

With the spring theme in mind, I’m attempting to spring into action in promoting my latest book. At one point last week, I was amazed to see The Circle Dance reach the #9 spot for lesbian romance on Amazon.com. Good going, I thought, for a book that was only released on 15 March. Plus, two reviews and both 5 star!

This is the one from Loek:

“Dealing with the pain, hurt by the betrayal, Jamie struggles to get her life back but loving again it’s not what she opted for. Getting over and moving on is not an easy thing to do. But with a little help from her friends, Jamie’s future does look promising. Yet there is an ex that could ruin everything. This is a sweet romance but not too sweet because there is enough drama, just like real life. The characters are realistic, the relationships have depth and complexity, the story keeps moving and there are several twists. It has all the ingredients for a great romance and it keeps you turning the pages. I didn’t even notice that I was already at the last page. It was sensitive, heartwarming. I would say, don’t miss this one.”

Thank you, Loek!

This reviewer has managed to put in a few sentences what I struggled with for several weeks when trying to come up with a succinct summary to submit to the publisher.

As part of the promotion process, I thought I would try recording a reading from the book. I selected a passage from Chapter One to read and only then discovered how hard it was for me to say the name Laurel without stumbling over it. Too late now to go back and change her name to Laura or Lauren. Anyway, I persevered, and this is the result. (Also haven’t mastered the art of turning pages quietly.)

Reading from Chapter One of The Circle Dance.

Should you not wish to listen to the not very professional recording, the whole of Chapter One is available to read on the Affinity website. The recording is of the seventh scene, which starts with the words: “The shower did its job, washing away the frustration of the last hour…”


 

Ebook links for The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks/Amazon US / Amazon UK / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

And don’t forget to take a look at The Starling Hill Trilogy – still available on Kindle Unlimited:

Ebook links for The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting Over: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Arc Over Time: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Carved in Stone: Amazon US / Amazon UK

 

Flood thoughts

I haven’t said much about the flooding that affected the whole of our valley and others. On Christmas Day 2015 the rain started to fall and it continued through the day into the evening, the night and the following day – and will now be forever remembered as ‘the Boxing Day floods’.

The village of Mytholmroyd, little known to the outside world, was suddenly headline news.

myth_flood

The water on the left is usually a small brook flowing peacefully a good ten feet below the level of the road, on the right is the road.

We were away at the time, ironically, in the ‘Lake District’. They’d already suffered from heavy flooding with ancient bridges being swept away; people having to make big detours for what had once been short journeys. Watching the waters rising on the news reports, we knew that our house would be safe, but so many just a few hundred yards away, were inundated with floodwaters of biblical proportions.

Mytholmroyd, the name – according to one of my sources – means ‘the meeting of the waters’. It is, in fact, where the Turvin River (now called Elphin or Calder Brook) meets the bigger Calder River that runs through the valley. Through the course of the valley there is also the canal that runs between Manchester and Sowerby Bridge. Too little, too late perhaps – dredging operations are now taking place in the canal. The river is also heavily silted up.

dredging

Some businesses have recovered well. The local independent bookstore in Hebden Bridge, The Bookcase, had their grand re-opening last week. They had no insurance, having been completely flooded out in the summer flood event of 2012. Through the help of their landlord, friends, the community, and generous book donations from well-known authors, they are now back in business. Others haven’t fared so well. There are many shop premises and houses still empty, stripped back to the brickwork, under floor cavities exposed.

 

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Time stands still

The church tower in Mytholmroyd is symbolic, I feel, of the extent of the catastrophe. The clock stopped at 11:30. And it hasn’t been fixed yet. The congregation of St Michael’s church has to meet in the local cricket club’s pavilion for their services.

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One of the public houses in the village, the Shoulder of Mutton, isn’t likely to re-open until the summer. The collapsed wall behind the car park has yet to be repaired.

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The main street through the town has a gap, like a missing front tooth, where one of the buildings fell into the river. Fortunately those premises had been vacant for some time.

The valley will recover. It will take time but the surrounding hills have a timeless quality that permeates not just the landscape but also the consciousness of the inhabitants. We will endure!

 


If you want a flavour of the area, before the floods, take a look at my latest romance, The Circle Dance – set very much in the heart of the Calder Valley in Hebden Bridge.

Ebook links for The Circle Dance:  Affinity eBooks/Amazon US / Amazon UK / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Chapter One of The Circle Dance is available to read on the Affinity eBook Press website.


Ebook links for The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting Over: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Arc Over Time: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Carved in Stone: Amazon US / Amazon UK

(All three books are available on Kindle Unlimited)

Finding the “loaded gun”

Navigating the mushy middle – I’ve always thought that would be a great title for a book. I’m at that stage with my latest work-in-progress and it seems to be the way my novel writing goes.

Other writers have a problem with deciding where to start the story. I’ve not encountered this particular sticking point yet. Starting is the easy bit. I will sit down to write once I’ve got a few characters in mind and know enough about them to set them off on their journey…which is my journey of discovering where they are going.

So where does the ‘loaded gun’ come into it. My mother reminded me of this piece of advice Chekhov gave to one of his writer friends: “One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of using it.” This theory was expanded to say that if the gun is there in the first act, it must be used by the third. Now story plotters are well aware of this device, commonly known as the Art of Foreshadowing. If they’ve placed a loaded gun on the mantelpiece in the first chapter, they know exactly when, how and why it will go off.

After talking with my mother I realised that the loaded gun theory could also be applied to my next published novel, The Circle Dance (being released on Tuesday 15 March). When I was writing this book and floundering about in the mushy middle wondering which direction the story was going, I realised I had a loaded gun, primed and ready to be used. Someone I thought was only ever going to be a minor character was waiting in the wings. She had a much bigger role to play in the story than I had envisaged when I first introduced her.

Once I’d had this revelation, everything started to fall into place. The mushy middle had been conquered. Other elements in the story came together which led to a surprising conclusion (well it certainly surprised me!).

circle_final

 

This no doubt seems a haphazard way of working to those who meticulously plot their novels ahead of time. I admire them, I really do. It would make my life so much easier if I could do it. I also admire, and envy, those who can write the synopsis before they start. This would also be a way not to get mired in the mushy middle and would save me several weeks of agony trying to write a decent summary to send off with my submission to the publisher.

So, back to my current WIP. I’m standing in the swamp, about to sink to my knees in the mushy middle. And I can’t find my loaded gun. I’ll need to go back to the beginning to find out where I left it. It will be there somewhere…in crime writers’ parlance…a vital clue or a red herring.

It would be good to find the gun before I end up fully submerged and abandon all hope of getting out of the bog…and being able to finish the story.

 

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Shooting arrows in the snow

I have to confess that I don’t own a gun, although I do have a recurve bow in the cupboard under the stairs and several longbows leaning against the wall in a corner of the kitchen. They don’t quite fit into the loaded gun analogy and only get taken out to shoot at targets.


Chapter One of The Circle Dance is available to read on the Affinity eBook Press website.

Ebook links for The Circle Dance:  Affinity eBooks/Amazon US / Amazon UK / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Ebook links for The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting Over: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Arc Over Time: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Carved in Stone: Amazon US / Amazon UK

(All three books are available on Kindle Unlimited for the next 2 months)