Robert Reynolds and Aunty Audrey

Today is Robert Earl Reynolds birthday, and I wish him very many happy returns. Robert is a musician, singer and song writer, member of the Mavericks and has toured countless times with Kevin Montgomery and the Roadtrippers. Robert has released two CDs, “Wintersky Works” and “Audrey in a Dream”.

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My Aunty Audrey was mum mum’s eldest sister. She was born in 1920 in Willesden,  London, the second in a family of four children. She lived in many places but settled in Cambridge and lived in Grayling Close Chesterton from 1961 until her death six years ago. She was my god-mother and a wonderful aunty to me, my sister and all my cousins. When I was about four or five she had a Christmas tea party for me and my cousin Diana. She continued to do this year after year as the family grew and now we still continue to have our annual family Christmas party each year… but more of that in another post.

Robert’s CD “Audrey in a Dream” contained a song of that name and I always thought of my Aunty Audrey when I listened to it. She had been ill for several years before she died and when eventually she left us in April 2006, we wanted to mark her passing with a celebration of her life. At her funeral, her husband, my uncle, asked me to say a few words. It was so hard, how could I express all that we felt about her? I was wondering about what to write when a poem came to me, inspired partly by Robert’s song. From writing that poem I was then able to write something for the service and I wrote a letter to her which I read out at the funeral.

I will share the poem another time because this is Robert’s day; thank you, Robert, for the title; I hope you don’t mind me using it. If you had known Aunty Audrey I am sure you would have loved her.

The people in my head

My head is full of people… the people I’m writing about, the people I’ve written about, odd people who are just wandering around looking for their story to be told, by me!

Where do my people come from. Let me give you an example; many years ago when we lived in Oldham I went to collect our car which had been serviced in a local garage. I went to the office to do the paper work and the man who dealt with me attracted my attention. He was pleasant and polite but rather restrained. I’m always quite chatty, and this man, although he responded briefly, did not make any effort to engage me in conversation, which I didn’t mind.

I had to wait for a few minutes while the car was finished so I sat and leafed through a magazine but I couldn’t help but glance at the man behind the counter. He was about well-built, about six foot tall, handsome in an ordinary not startling way, slightly receding thinning hair and a full moustache. What struck me about him, though, was an incredible air of sadness. He was staring out of the window across the Pennine Hills and he looked almost bereft; a mixture of yearning, loss, and quiet despair… or so my fanciful imagination decided. He was quite unaware of me looking at him, he seemed lost in a sort of reverie.

The door from the workshop banged open and another man came in. Shorter, wiry, very dark almost blue-black hair, a lively and amused face, full of life and laughter. He and the quiet man were obviously friends as well as colleagues; just the way they chatted seemed to show that they were good mates and the sad man cheered up in his friend’s company. I collected my keys, collected my car and went home, but the sad faced man remained in my thoughts. Why was he sad? The way the other had behaved was quite normal, not as if his friend had been recently bereaved or was suffering some present trauma… it was as if the quiet man, in times of repose, went somewhere else in his mind, to some other place and some other time which had not been a good experience for him.

Some months later this man had became David Sullivan in my head and his story is revealed in ‘Flipside’, another of my novels!

Sausages 2

I have a most wonderful and remarkable family who I love dearly. We live in the West of England and most of them live in the East so we have to make an effort to remain close and see each other frequently. We phone, we email, we send cards… but we also do things together, even if we have to travel hundreds of miles to do so!

My mum Monica, was particularly close to her sister, and I am very close to her children, my cousins. Every year we meet the first Saturday of December for our Christmas party… but that’s another story! We also go away on holiday together every Easter, usually about twenty of us, and that too is another story.

On our Easter holiday it is tradition that we should have sausages for breakfast for the first couple of days. Not just any sausages, but Powter’s!

My cousin Simon is the breakfast chef; he and I are usually the first to rise and we drink tea and chat while he sorts out the sausages.

We bring pounds and pounds of Powter’s chipolatas from Newmarket to wherever we go on holiday. The first year we went to Milford in Derbyshire, the following two years we went to the beautiful Hopton House near Carsington Water, also in Derbyshire. For family reasons we had to miss the next year but then we went to the Forest of Dean, to Shropshire twice, to Cumbria twice and to Kettlewell in Yorkshire this year.

Dale House, Kettlewell, our holiday home this year 2012

There were twenty of us this year, I was the eldest and little Izaak aged nearly three was the youngest. Everyone of us sat down at some point in the morning and had our sausages for breakfast, cooked by Simon. There are no sausages to match Powter’s, it’s that peppery flavour, the texture of the sausage meat, not too chunky, not too finely minced; it’s the right amount of rusk so the sausage is soft and not chewy, but not too much to make it pappy and soft; it’s the seasoning, enough salt to bring out the flavour but not so much you’re dehydrated for the rest of the day; it’s the way they cook, splendid in their shiny skins which don’t burst open and are not chewy and tough; it’s the fact that they are as good cold as they are hot, they compliment any other breakfast item or are perfect for a sandwich or roll… I could write more but where would I stop?!

Powter’s chipolatas!

DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY… AND HOW!!

Isn’t it strange how something as little as liking a certain song can change your life completely? My husband Bari  is a rock drummer and he used to be in a fabulous band called Driving Force. They played many great songs but a couple I really liked were by a band I didn’t know called The Mavericks. For some reason I though they were Welsh and when I borrowed a CD from the library I was surprised to find they were American.

This CD was ‘The Mavericks Collection,’ and I stared at the front cover and four confident men stared back at me, very cool guys indeed. I looked at their names, trying to work out which was which, Paul Deakin, Nick Kane, Robert Reynolds and Raul Malo. I figured that maybe the one with the Spanish name was the guy on the left with the beard, or the dark guy standing at the back… I got to know them very well since then, since 2002.

I listened to the CD and was totally hooked, the music, the voice, the way they played their instruments, the driving drums and bass beat, the lyrics… the sheer exuberance and sexiness… I was in love!

from left to right: Robert Reynolds, Raul Malo, Nick Kane, Paul Deakin

I soon discovered that the man with the sensational voice was Raul, lead guitar was Nick, bass and vocals Robert, and on the drums Paul. When I leant that most of their music was original, much of it written by Raul I was even more impressed and in awe of their talent. I began to buy every CD of theirs I could find and also discovered a great on-line community at the Mavhouse, a fan site which sadly no longer exists.

The Mavs were having a bit of an intermission but Robert and Paul were touring Britain with Kevin Montgomery and the Raodtrippers. It was a truly miserable night when I first went to see them at the fantastic Polish Club in Bristol and I was completely blown away. The music was so loud it made my fillings ache, I danced non-stop and had the first of many amazing nights in their company. Raul came to Britain on a solo tour and I saw him in Birmingham; it was a dreadful venue and I was stuck right at the back  but he was just fantastic, truly a star.

The Mavericks returned to Britain with Eddie Perez on lead and I saw them at the Liverpool Summer Pops in 2003 and then at Warwick University, in Oxford, in Cardiff, several times in Bristol… and each time I was just stunned at their talent virtuosity… not to mention their charm and wit! A night with them was full of laughter as well as music!

Through that site and others I began to make real friends, Hannah from Coventry who I met at the Liverpool gig, and Carol Lee from Pennsylvania who came over to visit me and my family in about 2005.

For various reasons the band split up but Raul continued to tour solo and I saw him in Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Belfast, and Robert and Paul visited a couple of times a year with Kevin Montgomery and I followed them to Bristol, Cardiff and Devon… and now they are reunited and will hopefully come back across the Atlantic to wow their European fans!

This is not all, however. I have already mentioned Hannah and Carol Lee. Through Raul’s web-site I have made some wonderful friends on his forum and had some amazing adventures and fun!

Elly from Holland  is a great Mavericks and Malo fan and we meet a couple of times a year, either at her home in the Netherlands, or here in England.

We always have a wonderful time staying with Elly and her family in the Netherlands

I love to get together with Mona from Belgium and Willem and Marianne from the Netherlands. I always enjoy meeting up with Susie from the Midlands who is a great cook and lives in the most idyllic cottage.

At gigs I look froward to meeting Mand and Carolyn and Fiona, Maureen and so many other really great people.

Susie, Maureen, Mand, Raul, Carolyn, Elly, Fiona, Lois

I have yet to meet my forum friends from the USA but I have had such kindness, generosity and support from them over the years in so many ways. When we do get together one day,  it really will be fabulous!

And this is all thanks to the Mavericks… they truly have changed my life, and inspired my writing too!

A favourite picture of the boys when young: –

Paul Deakin, David Lee Holt, Raul Malo, Robert Reynolds

Just a little footnote, remember I mentioned my husband’s band was Driving Force? Looking on Wikipedia I noticed this comment: Writing much of the material, and being a versatile singer, Raul Malo was a driving force behind the band.

Beginnings…

Endings are vital… satisfactory endings are compulsory but beginnings have to leap off the page and grab your reader. The words have to mesmerise them and pull them in under your spell.

My favourite book:

“The truth is, if old Major Dover hadn’t dropped dead at Taunton races Jim would never have come to Thursgood’s at all.”

The book I’m reading at the moment:

“I came into aviation the hard way.”

A favourite book by a favourite author:

“The day they drowned Dendale I were seven years old.”

My favourite children’s book:

“The Old Sea-dog at the Admiral Benbow,  Squire Trelawney, Dr Livesey, and the rest of the gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure island from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is treasure still not lifted, I take my pen in the year of grace 17_ and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn and the brown old seaman with the sabre cut first took up his lodgings under our roof.”

John le Carré, Neville Shute, Reginald Hill, Robert Louis Stevenson

There must be a difference between being an established author with a following who will read the latest book and may be willing to give a dull beginning a bit of a chance, to being a complete new comer to the world of books who has to do everything possible to lasso the reader.

John le Carré  wrote “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” my all time favourite book and it was published in 1974, his seventh novel since 1961 so I guess he already had quite a following and his hero George Smiley had already featured in his other novels. Five years later it was made into an acclaimed TV series.

I am reading Neville Shute at the moment. “Round the Bend” was published over sixty years ago in 1951 and he was already a well established author.

Reginald Hill wrote many books under a variety of names; “On Beulah Heights” is one of my favourite of his Pascoe and Dalziel novels and no doubt many people did as I did when it was first published, dash straight to the bookshop to get a copy!

Robert Louis Stevenson’s children’s story of “Treasure Island” was his first major success as a writer; it is now a classic.

As a newly published author with none of the support or resources or promotion from a publishing house, an editor or an agent, I really do try to make my first lines count. I write and rewrite the opening paragraphs and even when I think I’m finished I still worry about those valuable few sentences. In FARHOLM, the story first began with Deke on the ferry looking across to the island and trying not to be sick. However, I wanted to draw my readers in and hint at something which would be a major part of the plot so this is what the beginning is now

FARHOLM:  “She was beneath the water looking up and there was someone between her and the sun, holding her down, holding her down.”

I am editing my next novel now, THE STALKING OF ROSA CZEKOV

ROSA: The first person to arrive at the cemetery stepped cautiously through the gates just after five in the morning. 

Here are the unedited beginnings of my other novels (a sneak preview just for you!!)

THE DOUBLE ACT: She gazed unbelieving at the naked man lying on her kitchen floor. 

NIGHT VISION: When something terrible has happened, childhood seems safe, and to reclaim a happy childhood it sometimes seems a good idea to do childish things, innocent childish things… So Beulah climbed a tree.

LOVING JUDAH: They sat at the kitchen table, the flame from the candle flickering slightly in the draught; it was a round, fat creamy coloured candle set in a saucer between them. 

FLIPSIDE: I woke and he was sitting upright in bed and I could see in the light from the street lamp that his eyes were wide open and that his face was shiny with sweat; he was terrified

I am currently working on two unfinished novels… so their beginnings are almost as I first wrote them and no doubt will be dramatically changed! (dramatically… I mean that literally!)

THE STORY OF FREDERICO MILAN: “This is Jerome,” said the nurse. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like someone else – he’s not much more than a carrot, are you darling?” A carrot, did the nurse mean a cabbage?

PORTBRADDEN: There was a severed dog’s head stuck on the gatepost – there had been a few seconds pause in the driving snow and in those few seconds Ismène glimpsed the bloodied, wolf-like creature, maw gaping, tongue lolling, teeth bared in one final gory snarl… then the blizzard obliterated everything in a seething maelstrom.

You can find my novels here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

 

Marmalade… it’s an Elsden thing

Only Seville oranges should be used, knobbly, firm, misshapen, the unique bitter orange scent on their skins promising gold.  Lemons (not limes except in an emergency) add to the piquancy and as well as sugar, black treacle is the telling ingredient.

The method

It is such a chore cutting, slicing, squeezing, preparing the oranges… do it the Donald way, put all the fruit in a pan, cover with enough water and boil until soft.

Cut the cooked fruit in half when cool and scoop the soft flesh out of the shells of the skin. Easy.

Then slice the peel as finely or as chunkily as you prefer; we like a good slice, my mum’s sister Beryl liked a very fine thin slice which almost vanished in the next cooking.

The right sized slice of peel

Put all the flesh into a muslin (or an old clean nylon stocking) and squeeze all the lovely pectin-y juices from it.

 

 

Then comes the boiling with the sugar and black treacle and that’s when the first marmaladey aromas as opposed to fruity smells, begin to drift through the house.

Bottle when ready, admire your work, sample and store.

 

 

Favoured friends may be lucky to receive a sample!

 

Marmalade…Parmalade… Barmalade….

Some of the earliest of my childhood memories comes from the dark nights of late January when each year, my dad would make marmalade. My sister and I would lie in our beds in our bedroom at the front of the flat where we lived in Cambridge and the delicious warm smells of Seville oranges and black treacle would drift through… and in the morning there would be a shelf full of gleaming pots of gold, Dad’s marmalade. Dad would make a special pot of shred free marmalade for  my sister who only liked the jelly. The first taste of new marmalade was wonderful, it had a fresh fruity flavour which over the months would develop and mature as the new batch developed and matured in its dark cupboard, darkening and deepening as it aged. This marmalade would keep for years… although it didn’t; we had it every morning with breakfast and only the occasional pot would still be in the cupboard or on the breakfast table the following January when the new batch was made.

 

 

I am sure that my grandmother  made marmalade, I am sure it was a family thing in my Dad’s childhood just as it was in mine but I don’t think his recipe was from his mother. I think, although I am not sure, that he found the recipe he used in the Daily Telegraph. Over the forty or so years he made marmalade he developed his own recipe, adapting the method rather than changing the product.

There would be a difference in the taste in different years because of the differences in the Seville oranges, some more sweet, some more juicy, some with some tiny difference in flavour which changed the marmalade. All his marmalade was good but some years were definitely above average. As with all food in our household, the new batch was discussed and debated… flavour, texture, sweetness, bitterness.. because bitter is a good thing in marmalade, it has to be tangy and sharp, it is not a jam, it is… marmalade.