I think I’ve found a good book!

I think my book clubs despair of me because although I love reading, I don’t think I am any longer a good reader. When I was young, from being a small child I would read pretty much anything, in fact the only book I can remember not finishing was a Walter Scott novel – it may have been Rob Roy, or Ivanhoe but whichever it was, it was it was very thick and had tiny writing. Back to the present, and my book clubs… I’m always the one who rather apologetically says that I didn’t like it/didn’t finish it/thought it was awful or dull or badly written or clichéed. There have been exceptions, ‘English Passengers’ by Matthew Kneale, ‘The Red Tent’ by Anita Diamant,  ‘The Lifeboat’ by Charlotte Rogan and ‘The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared’ by Jonas Jonasson… oh and lots more, but there have been lots and lots more I didn’t like!

In the bookshop today I picked up ‘The Dry’ by Jane Harper which I have recommended as our September read (I hope it’s good!) and saw another book which I had vaguely glanced at. Graham Norton, who is Irish and openly gay and very camp,  is the sort of comedian/TV personality/actor/chat show host  people really like, or really dislike; he has a very particular style and sense of comedy, but he is an intelligent and interesting person. The other book I glanced at is by him, by Graham Norton, and I had looked at it before; it’s a novel called ‘Holding’,set in rural Ireland, and the blurb on the back says ”the little village of Duneen has always kept its scandals contained. But when a body found at Burke’s Farm, the past opens up like a pit.’ It so happened that both these books were on offer – buy one, get one half price, so I did just that and bought both.

I bought them and went and sat down for a cup of tea and dipped into ‘Holding’ and half an hour later I came up for air and had a slurp of tea. I can’t say whether I will continue to like it, be intrigued, be gripped, laugh out loud all the way through, but it was so nice for a change to find a book which from the first page drew me in!

I will let you know how my reading progresses, and whether I like ‘Holding’ to the end!

In the meantime, if you have read my novel Radwinter, which is now available as a paperback, I would be really pleased if you let me know what you think of it!


Self-publishing on Kindle… again… for anyone who missed it!

I had one of my writing groups this afternoon, and we rather went away from what I had planned and veered off into self-publish on Amazon for Kindle – KDP, Kindle Direct Publishing. I shared something I wrote a while back, and then thought I might share it again here:

I have always written, and before I could write I told little stories to my sister and I continued to write, first of all short stories, and then longer novellas and novels. My first three complete novels are embarrassing to look back on, apart from one where there is a enough to maybe use and rewrite… we shall see. I wrote a couple more novels which were okayish… and then I stepped up a gear and began to write properly. During this time I sent off my work to agents, publishers, entered it for competitions, and all without any success at all… I had many empty promises, I had my hopes raised so many times… but it came to nothing. It didn’t stop me writing.
In 2011 I was able to give up my day job, and what joy to be able to write full-time… and in a casual conversation, someone mentioned that it was possible to publish for Kindle through Amazon. What? Really? And How much does it cost? Nothing? Nothing??!!
I went on the site:


…and I found it very accessible and it seemed as if it would be easy to use. I decided I would try and see how I got on, and chose my shortest novel, Farholm, as it was my first venture into this new world, and I wanted a manageable book to work on.
Suddenly the editorial process became much more focused; there was no-one but me to check the story, to look for spelling mistakes, grammatical and punctuation errors, to spot inaccuracies and inconsistencies, continuity glitches… and boring bits!  Knowing I was going to have an audience (I hoped) I had to look at my novel in a whole new way. I worked really hard and spent hour after hour, day after day for a couple of months trying to make this, my first published novel the best I could make it.
Ready to rock, I went back to the site and signed up and began the process; it was all so easy I wondered if I had somehow made a dreadful mistake. There are a series of pieces of information you have to submit (but there is an easily understandable guide to everything you have to do, bit by bit, not all in one massive document)
You have to

  • submit the book name (title)
  • subtitle if there is one,
  • edition number if there is one (if it’s part of a series)
  • publisher (that’s you)
  • description (I’ll write more about this later)
  • contributors (you and anyone else such as illustrator)
  • language,
  • ISBN (there’s information on this)
  • publishing rights (whether it is in the public domain or not, and if not that you have the rights)
  • target audience for your book (a drop down list gives you suggestions)
  • age-range (optional)
  • key words (really important so people can find your sort of novel – for my Radwinter series I put in ‘genealogical mystery for example).
  • You can upload your own cover, or KDP will help you create one – I’ve never done this so I don’t know how the process works.

You can save all this at any time; you don’t need to do it all at once and then publish; in fact it’s better to spend a while doing it to make sure you have the right description and keywords. Finally, and this is the exciting bit, you upload your file and if you’re sure you can press publish, if not, press save and think about it!
Once you have done all that there is a more complicated page about rights, and price and various other things, but again there is very clear support through drop-down boxes. I will write about this next time.
Description: it is really, really, really important to get a description – a blurb, which will intrigue and interest people, it needs to be specific and despite feeling modest you have to get over it and blow your own trumpet, and really try and promote and sell your book. Look at other blurbs to get ideas if your brain is empty! You might like to quote some lines from your masterpiece just to give people a taste.
There is something called Author Central where you can write about yourself and your writing, with an inviting photo – this to my mind is quite important to, so your readers engage with you and then want to read more things by you.
My author central page
Lois Elsden was born and brought up in Cambridge, but spent most of her life in Manchester; she now lives in a small Somerset village by the sea.
Having worked at Manchester Airport, as a white-van woman, in a pickle onion factory and as a waitress, Lois taught English as a second language in Manchester and Oldham, before working with young people not in school.
Lois writes full time and has just published her twelfth novel through Kindle Direct Publishing. Her most recent novels have been in her Radwinter series; Thomas Radwinter not only unravels genealogical mysteries, but is commissioned to find missing people and investigate kidnappings and abduction, attempted murder and secret sects. In his latest adventures he investigates a supposedly haunted hotel and tries to discover the truth about the death of a schoolgirl… which happened in 1931.
Lois now leads two creative writing groups, travels round the country to live music events, and watches the world go by in her local pub

Here is a link to that first ever book I published, Farholm:


… and to all my other books:



Lingering in blossom summer

More from John Clare… it’s an important night tonight as the votes in the General Election are counted, but let’s take a break for the moment, taking a break with fingers crossed, and enjoy this catalogue of garden delights:


Some ancient customs mixd wi harmless fun
Crowns the swains merry toils-the timid maid
Pleasd to be praisd and yet of praise affraid
Seeks her best flowers not those of woods and fields
But such as every farmers garden yield
Fine cabbage roses painted like her face
And shining pansys trimmd in golden lace
And tall tuft larkheels featherd thick wi flowers
And woodbines climbing oer the door in bowers
And London tufts of many a mottld hue
And pale pink pea and monkshood darkly blue
And white and purple jiliflowers that stay
Lingering in blossom summer half away
And single blood walls of a lucious smell
Old fashiond flowers which huswives love so well
And columbines stone blue or deep night brown
Their honey-comb-like blossoms hanging down
Each cottage gardens fond adopted child
Tho heaths still claim them where they yet grow wild
Mong their old wild companions summer blooms
Furze brake and mozzling ling and golden broom
Snap dragons gaping like to sleeping clowns
And ‘clipping pinks’ (which maidens sunday gowns
Full often wear catcht at by tozing chaps)
Pink as the ribbons round their snowy caps
‘Bess in her bravery’ too of glowing dyes
As deep as sunsets crimson pillowd skyes
And majoram notts sweet briar and ribbon grass
And lavender the choice of every lass
And sprigs of lads love all familiar names
Which every garden thro the village claims
These the maid gathers wi a coy delight
And tyes them up in readiness for night

John Clare

Are books always best?

There are lots of answers, and different ways of answering the question of ‘are books always best’? And the answers to most of those various questions, would mostly be YES! However, what I’m pondering on is whether the original book is always better than the dramatic production – play, film, TV programme/series.

If I think of my favourite books, and compare them to a dramatised version, there are varied results:

  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – John le Carré; the TV series with Alex Guinness as George Smiley and an absolute stellar cast: stunning, stunning, stunning. The book is obviously ‘better’ because it is fuller and more complete – but there could not have been a better production… unlike the ghastly travesty of the 2011 film with Gary Oldman as Smiley. It had excellent reviews but I thought it was shocking, confusing, lacking tension, boring, dull, poorly acted (yes I know most critics would disagree with me) – I hated it
  • Pascoe and Dalziel books by Reginald Hill: there were two sets of series, one with  the comedians Hale and Pace, which was very disappointing, the second which ran for eleven series of forty-six episodes with Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan. Although I would rate the books over the Clarke/Buchanan series every time, the TV programmes were very good, and did capture something close to how I imagine the characters. The books to me are darker, funnier, more northern, and with great and unexpected endings (especially ‘On Beulah Heights’)
  • Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow – Peter Høeg: I enjoyed the film, I thought it was good, exciting, mysterious, strange – but it was nowhere near as good as the book. The book was not only a murder mystery but explored cultural aspects of Denmark, and the situation of Inuit people.
  • The Lady In The Van – Alan Bennett: the film and the book were both amazing. I have to say they were equally good, and if I had to choose, I would edge the film into first place!
  • Hercules Poirot novels and short stories by Agatha Christie: the books have to remain in pole position; of the many actors who played the part of the famous Belgian detective, only Davids Suchet properly fills the part – he was amazing…

I do just have to step out of my list, and share the number of actors who have also played the part:

Charles Laughton
Francis L. Sullivan
Austin Trevor
Orson Welles
Harold Huber
Richard Williams
José Ferrer
Martin Gabel
Tony Randall
Albert Finney
Peter Ustinov
Ian Holm
John Moffatt
Maurice Denham
Peter Sallis
Konstantin Raikin
Alfred Molina
Robert Powell
Jason Durr
Kenneth Branagh

  • Miss Marple novels by Agatha Christie: as with Poirot, the novels far outshine the film and TV versions – in my opinion, only Joan Hickson came anywhere near the old lady deiscribed by Christie

… and another little deviation for the actors who have played Miss Marple:

Gracie Fields
Margaret Rutherford
Angela Lansbury
Dulcie Gray
Helen Hayes
Ita Ever
Geraldine McEwan
June Whitfield
Julia McKenzie

Why am I thinking about this… well,, over the last couple of years I have watched and enjoyed the TV series called ‘Grantchester’ based on the novels by James Runcie. I enjoy them because the village of Grantchester is just outside my home town of Cambridge, so I know it well. Also the my beloved river Cam flows through the village and is much featured in the episodes. James Runcie is a well-respected writer of factual and fictional books, a film-maker  and TV producer, and I’ve heard him interviewed several times and he seems an interesting person. I decided I would read the books on which Grantchester is based… and I have been working my way through ‘Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death’ – which is actually a collection of short stories, most of which I know from the TV programmes… Oh dear… I am finding them rather heavy going, they seem rather ponderous and long-winded, I am not exactly gripped. I will persevere, and then I will get the second novel, ‘Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night’, and see how I like that…

So to sum up:

  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – yes, the book is better by a whisker, but the TV series is superb
  • Pascoe and Dalziel – yes the books are much better than the TV series, but I still quite enjoyed them
  • Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow – yes the book is much better
  • The Lady In The Van – no, the film pipped it
  • Hercules Poirot – yes the books are better
  • Miss Marple – yes the books are better
  • Grantchester – no, so far the TV series is better

In the summertime

The summer of 1970, and I just remember exams finishing, revision over, and we danced in the street in the rain – well, it was Manchester! The song I think of is ‘In the summertime’ by Mungo Jerry… I never once thought or connected it to T.S.Eliot…

Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer

Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer
were a very notorious couple of cats.
As knockabout clown, quick-change comedians,
tight-rope walkers and acrobats
They had extensive reputation.
They made their home in Victoria Grove–
That was merely their centre of operation,
for they were incurably given to rove.
They were very well know in Cornwall Gardens,
in Launceston Place and in Kensington Square.
They had really a little more reputation
than a couple of cats can very well bear.

If the area window was found ajar
And the basement looked like a field of war,
If a tile or two came loose on the roof,
Which presently ceased to be waterproof,
If the drawers were pulled out from the bedroom chests,
And you couldn’t find one of your winter vests,
Or after supper one of the girls
Suddenly missed her Woolworth pearls:

Then the family would say:  “It’s that horrible cat!
It was Mungojerrie–or Rumpelteazer!”
And most of the time they left it at that.

Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer had a very
unusual gift of the gab.
They were highly efficient cat-burglars as well,
and remarkably smart at smash-and-grab.
They made their home in Victoria Grove.
They had no regular occupation.
They were plausible fellows, and liked to
engage a friendly policeman in conversation.

When the family assembled for Sunday dinner,
With their minds made up that they wouldn’t get thinner
On Argentine joint, potatoes and greens,
And the cook would appear from behind the scenes
And say in a voice that was broken with sorrow:
“I’m afraid you must wait and have dinner tomorrow!
For the joint has gone from the oven-like that!”
Then the family would say:  “It’s that horrible cat!
It was Mungojerrie–or Rumpelteazer!”
And most of the time they left it at that.

Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer
had a wonderful way of working together.
And some of the time you would say it was luck,
and some of the time you would say it was weather.
They would go through the house like a hurricane,
and no sober person could take his oath
Was it Mungojerrie–or Rumpelteazer?
or could you have sworn that it mightn’t be both?

And when you heard a dining-room smash
Or up from the pantry there came a loud crash
Or down from the library came a loud ping
From a vase which was commonly said to be Ming–
Then the family would say:  “Now which was which cat?
It was Mungojerrie! AND Rumpelteazer!”
And there’s nothing at all to be done about that!


Not a Jellicle cat

We had the pleasure of the company of a charming house guest, our neighbour’s cat Smirnoff, who, after mysteriously vanishing for ten days returned; the neighbours were on holiday so he lodged with us.

He put me in mind of T.S.Eliot’s Old Possum… I wonder if Smirnoff knows any Jellicle Cats? He’s definitely not one himself, being a bit of a bruiser, and tabby and white…

The Song of the Jellicles

Jellicle Cats come out tonight,
Jellicle Cats come one come all:
The Jellicle Moon is shining bright–
Jellicles come to the Jellicle Ball.

Jellicle Cats are black and white,
Jellicle Cats are rather small;
Jellicle Cats are merry and bright,
And pleasant to hear when they caterwaul.
Jellicle Cats have cheerful faces,
Jellicle Cats have bright black eyes;
They like to practise their airs and graces
And wait for the Jellicle Moon to rise.

Jellicle Cats develop slowly,
Jellicle Cats are not too big;
Jellicle Cats are roly-poly,
They know how to dance a gavotte and a jig.
Until the Jellicle Moon appears
They make their toilette and take their repose:
Jellicles wash behind their ears,
Jellicles dry between their toes.

Jellicle Cats are white and black,
Jellicle Cats are of moderate size;
Jellicles jump like a jumping-jack,
Jellicle Cats have moonlit eyes.
They’re quiet enough in the morning hours,
They’re quiet enough in the afternoon,
Reserving their terpsichorean powers
To dance by the light of the Jellicle Moon.

Jellicle Cats are black and white,
Jellicle Cats (as I said) are small;
If it happens to be a stormy night
They will practise a caper or two in the hall.
If it happens the sun is shining bright
You would say they had nothing to do at all:
They are resting and saving themselves to be right
For the Jellicle Moon and the Jellicle Ball.


Cordials… invigorating effect on the heart…

I have most of my cookery books old and new beside me here while I’m writing… If I get stuck with my plot, or my characters, or just in general, I’ll spend a little time distracting myself with recipes and articles about food and drink. The other day I wrote about the curious ingredients Ambrose Heath used in his wine-making recipes, in his little pocket-sized book, unambiguously called, Homemade Wines and Liqueurs. it was published in 1956 – which seems to have been a very good year for recipe book publications!

The little book, and its companion books, were published by Herbert Jenkins Ltd, a successful company founded in 1912, which published among other book, many of P. G. Wodehouse’s novels.  Herbert George Jenkins the owner was born in 1876;  he was a British writer but died very young at the age of forty-seven. he wrote comic books about a Mr Joseph Bindle, and detective stories ‘starring’ Malcolm Sage. He also wrote non-fiction, including a biography of George Borrow and  William Blake.

Back to cordials, which Ambrose Heath supposed to be so invigorating for the heart… I guess we tend to think of cordials as fruit syrups which are diluted with water, lemonade or soda; for Mr Heath, they were a basic ingredient infused in brandy.

I expected them to be fruits, and indeed some were,

  • blackberry (sounds wonderful)
  • black currant (ditto)
  • cranberry (and I thought cranberries were recent arrivals from America)
  • damson (lovely!)
  • gooseberry (interesting)
  • plum
  • raspberry

There was Highland cordial –  whisky flavoured with white currants, lemon rind and ginger essence, and then a selection which sounded more like cough mixtures:

  • aniseed
  • caraway
  • cinnamon
  • clove
  • ginger

I don’t think I will be trying to make any of them… in my experience such things don’t taste nearly as nice as expected! I was intrigued though, that in this section was a recipe for Athol Brose, which I thought was a dessert:

  • 1 lb runny honey
  • 1½ pint whisky
  • 1 cup water
  1. mix the honey and water, stirring with a silver spoon (what else??!!)
  2. gradually stir in the whisky, stirring rapidly until a froth rises
  3. bottle and keep tightly corked