Now what…

Lucky Portbraddon is finished! It is done and it is published by KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) on Amazon. I’ve had five days of doing other writing, blogging mostly, but a few bits and pieces of other stuff too, while I consider what next. It’s a bit of a relief, to be honest, to launch this novel, which has been with me for nearly a dozen years, and as I wave it cheerio I remember some of the things I should have put in its luggage – or taken out, and realise that some of its clothes need a little more attention than I gave them… I guess it must always be the way – I’ve heard it said about painting that it’s important to know when to stop. There is the scene in the film ‘Mr Turner’ about the artist, when a work by him is hung in a gallery, and he strides through, between the crowd, paintbrush in hand, and adds a tiny dot of red to the picture – but Turner was a genius!

So what to do next… possible ideas…

  • despite what I just said, should I go back to Lucky Portbraddon and have one more last go at the manuscript while my thoughts of omissions and unnecessary additions are fresh in my head… I can upload the edited version very simply (the great thing about KDP)
  • complete my next Radwinter novel, ‘Earthquake’ which is about 4/5 finished
  • pull together some of the ideas and do some research for the Radwinter novel after that, maybe called ‘The Cunning Man’
  • work on a small book I’ve written called ‘So you want to write‘ – my ideas and observations on starting writing; I wrote this for my students when I was teaching, I’ve used it in my creative writing groups… should I pull it together and publish it?
  • finish the last few chapters of my old novel ‘The Story of Frederico Milan’ and get it off my virtual writing shelf? I began to write it about ten years ago, like Lucky Portbraddon… and it really does need finishing and publishing… it’s about a man whose wife vanished three years before the story starts and his father-in-law is convinced he murdered her…
  • begin to seriously think about how I could tell the story of my great-grandparents; he was a strict Jew from a very wealthy family, she was the daughter of a middle-class basket making factory owner – and not Jewish
  • I have an idea to write my own history – but not as a conventional biography, but through remembered items we had at home, items which no longer exist like the serrated tomato knife with the red handle… maybe I should start this as a series of blogs…
  • I’m not going to think about my ‘Dancing in the Road’ story which is only about 30,000 words so far, or my ‘Hamazasb and the Missing Shoe’ which only has a couple of chapters, or ‘A Strong Hand From Above’ which needs a complete rewrite – i.e. starting all over again and writing it from the beginning…

Hmmm… I’ll do a bit of mulling, and let you know!

In the meantime, if you haven’t read Lucky Portbraddon, here’s a link:

I could dwell among that silent people

A couple of days ago I shared a post from another blogger, titled Imagined Spaces, Forests and the Fairytale World which discussed the role of the forest in ‘fairy’ stories and other myths.

In my writing I have a fictional forest called Camel Wood, and several of my novels have been set there or have things happen there; in my children’s novel The Story of Rufus Redmayne, Camel Wood is a dangerous and frightening place, home to wild beasts and other beings, mythical creatures come alive in the modern world. However, in Night Vision, the forest is a benign place, offering safety and protection, dreams and visions; although still mysterious, it is a place where secrets are uncovered and truths revealed. In The Stalking of Rosa Czekov it is just a location, just a forest where various scenes take place.

Here is a short poem by Richard Monckton Milnes, born in 1809, the 1st Baron Houghton:

I love the Forest;–I could dwell among
That silent people, till my thoughts up–grew
In nobly–ordered form, as to my view
Rose the succession of that lofty throng:–
The mellow footstep on a ground of leaves
Formed by the slow decay of nume’rous years,–
The couch of moss, whose growth alone appears,
Beneath the fir’s inhospitable eaves,–
The chirp and flutter of some single bird,–
The rustle in the brake,–what precious store
Of joys have these on Poets’ hearts conferred?
And then at times to send one’s own voice out,
In the full frolic of one startling shout,
Only to feel the after–stillness more!

Here is a link to the Imagined Spaces post

… and if you haven’t read my novels and don’t yet know what happens in Camel Wood, here is a link:

Creating a sense of place

I have only once written a novel set in a real place as opposed to an imagined setting, and that was Flipside, which was set in Oldham. I worked really hard to makes sure that it was correct (I was living there when I wrote it) and I would time how long it took to get from place to place, describe actual buildings and pubs, make local references, as well as inventing some locations by extending already existing roads, squeezing imaginary pubs into actual streets, building a whole new fictional mill, and adding some new back streets to an area.

However, most of my novels are set in complete fictional location; the main city is Strand which has its own airport named after a Viking, Ingar Silverskin, who supposedly settled the area, a smaller coastle town, and Camel Wood, and ancient forest which once spread the length of the coast, but is now reduced to small pockets of woodland.

In one of my children’s books, The Story of Rufus Redmayne, ther is a guide book entry abotu the forest:

. . . Camel was once rich in minerals including lead, silver, zinc, tin, copper and lupusite[1] and there are many disused mines and shafts in the area. Lead, silver and lupusite were the main ores mined. There was, in earlier times, some zinc, tin and copper mining but the deposits of these metals were poor and not worth excavating. Some of these mines date back to Roman times although most of the older ones have long since collapsed or fallen in or been filled by spoil from other workings.

There was industrial scale quarrying and open cast mining as well as pits in the area, the remains of which can soon be detected once you have learned to read the landscape.

A warning! Although most shafts are capped there are many undiscovered in the area and when walking or exploring one must always be aware that there could be deep and very dangerous shafts uncapped and unmarked. Some of these shafts are many hundreds of feet deep, the deepest recorded one (now capped) is Old John (see map) This was named after John Copthorne who died after falling into the disused mine-shaft; he had worked there as a boy and in his old age returned and fell to his death. His ghost is said to cry for help from the bottom of the shaft.

Still visible are the remains of adits[2] if you know where to look or what to recognize. You may see hollows and depressions, which indicate where the mine shaft may have run-in or collapsed or bumps and uneven ground which may hint at collapsed walls from buildings at the workings.

Ponds and spoil heaps[3] are another good indication that mining was once the main source of local employment. Water was necessary in many industrial processes including washing the galena[4]

Names of geographical features are also a good clue to the historical detective in reading the evidence of the past. Horsetrough (see map), for example, is not named after a watering hole for horses but after the gin circle which was an important feature of shaft mining. It was a horse driven winding mechanism vital in the days before steam power.

Although there are traces of dangerous metals such as antimony[5], cadmium[6] and arsenic, their presence is at such a low level that for the casual rambler there is no danger. However it is not advisable to fill flasks or drink water from streams in the area.

There are, of course, a variety of different legends attached to this area, many much older and with less likelihood of being true than the sorry tale of Old John. There are many tales of hidden treasure; unlike the leprechauns[7] and their gold the local Camel trinxies[8] are said to guard crocks of silver. Romans are supposed to have buried a trove of denary[9] hidden as the barbarians overran Britain, or maybe it was early Christian monks hiding their crosses in the face of the Viking onslaught (823AD Ingar Silverskin[10]) or even the Vikings themselves storing their booty. A mythical warrior, possibly Ingar, or perhaps St Finbarr[11] is supposed to sleep with his silver sword awaiting a call to defend the weak. This however, may merely be a local version of the Arthurian legend.

To start your walk park your car at the Forestry Administration park by Fimbrook. . .

[1] Lupusite: extremely rare grey mineral, a metal only found in this area; said to deter evil spirits esp. werewolves, symbol Lp

[2] adit: opening or passage, esp. into a mine

[3] spoil heaps: waste from mining activities

[4] galena: lead ore, symbol LpS

[5] antimony: brittle bluish-white element, symbol Sb

[6] cadmium: a white metal, symbol Cd

[7] leprechaun: Irish pixie

[8] Trinxies: local name for pixie like beings who dwell only in Camel Wood

[9] denary: silver money used by Romans

[10] Ingar Silverskin: Viking warrior who raided along the coast from Castair to Westope, raising the small port or Easthope (Estop) to the ground in 823AD)

[11] St Finbarr: son of Irish silver smith, patron saint of Cork, said to have visited Strand and Easthope in AD 601, reputed to have expelled a sea monster from a lake near Killarney and a similar beast from Camel Wood

If you are interested in reading Flipside, then you will find a link to my e-book site on Amazon:

Ghostly beasts

I came across an article about travel and tourism which mentioned that an app has been developed by the Bram Stoker International Film Festival so visitors to Whitby can follow a trail which features places the Victorian author of Dracula visited which inspired him.
I used to be a great fan of the Dracula myth, and even for a time was a member of the Dracula society; I recently reread Stoker’s novel with my book club and was pleased that I still enjoyed it and thought it stood the test of time. There are many memorable scenes, of course, but one that I think of whenever I visit Whitby is when the ship The Demeter grounded on the beach and a black dog leapt off and disappeared, Dracula in disguise, of course! I didn’t realise that Stoker saw an actual ship called The Dmitri which had come ashore in a storm.

The article mentioned the word barghest, which is a mythical creature in the form of a big black dog-like animal, said to wander the streets of Whitby and York; although that word is given in Yorkshire to the apparition, ghostly black dogs appear all across Britain, and it is thought they originated way back in ancient pre-Roman times, ,maybe even pre-Celtic, who knows. A fear of big animals with sharp teeth and big claws, creeping invisibly in the darkness must resonate in our deepest folk memories.

I didn’t realise, although I come from East Anglia, that my family home ground also has legends of a black dog, the black shuck – sometimes the shuck only has one eye in the middle of his forehead, sometimes he has no head at all, but stories of his prowlings appear in Peterborough (where my grandparents lived for a while) and Littleport, (where a cousin’s family come from) in Cambridgeshire, Bungay and Blytheburgh in Suffolk, and Dereham in Norfolk.

The only time I have written about anything ghostly or spooky is in ‘The Story of Rufus Redmayne’, a story I wrote for disaffected young readers, those who can read but don’t want to. The beast I created was wolf-like, but walked and fought like a man… a sort of were-wolf. I don’t think the barghest or the black shuck have a were-nature, they seem to foretell doom and death, but the idea of a huge canine-type creature appears in myths across these islands, and in many other countries too.

wolves on the campus 3I used this photo of sculpted wolves on Surrey University campus to create a cover for my most recent novel…
DOUBLE COVER FINALIf you haven’t read it yet, here is a link:


If you want to know more about the Whitby app:

Finding out

When I first started writing, and I mean writing properly as opposed to writing childhood fantasies and adventure stories based on books and comics I’d read, all my work was based on personal experience and observation and imagination.

I used to write short stories and I actually had five of them published in a woman’s magazine called Honey, now defunct. One story was about a relationship between a young woman and the man she loved, who didn’t love her but relied on her in times of crisis… which gave her false hope of a future together; another was about a young couple who moved into a haunted house; a third was about a shy young woman who was asked out by the most popular boy in the school.

Another was based on holidays spent in Menton in the south of France, with that lovely town as the backdrop to the break-up of a relationship, and one story was about a cleaner who worked at an airport. Both of these were based on personal experiences – of being in Menton and of working in an airport – although I wasn’t a cleaner but was on the information desk.

I began to write novels and the first couple were pretty dire. One charted the complicated family relationships of a the step-children of a famous actor (embarrassingly awful!) and a second about a young man who goes back to the family farm of a girl he met in the South of France (Menton again) as the farm is engulfed by devastating floods. This one had a little more merit, but nothing salvageable! The next was set in Manchester where I had lived for a long time, and much of the action (and there was action in this one, rather than people talking and arguing with each other!) Finally… another better novel… one which I may rewrite but with a different and more dramatic and unexpected ending, about a young woman artist who returns to her family home having been estranged from them for many years, and tries to unpick the past relationships with her two step-brothers.

As I mentioned, these short stories and the four novels, were all based on personal experiences and imagination. When I was writing these it was before the internet was the wonderful gift we have since received. I have now written and published five novels which are still based  on my experiences and imagination, but have been enhanced by research I can do from home. (I have also published three children’s novels, based on my experiences teaching!)

Up until recently, while I was writing, I  worked full-time and had a young family; I was not financially free to travel  to research, or to visit archives in different towns and cities. On-line research has been the only possibility. With my three published Radwinter books, my genealogical mysteries, the internet has featured almost as a character, as the story revolves round research done to trace a family history. (I have three other finished but not edited novels, and two unfinished novels – so I have plenty of work to do!)

I am very careful with my research; I read, I think, I digest the information. I look at different resources, I check facts; I don’t copy, I don’t plagiarise, I don’t steal other people’s work. If for some unimaginable reason I no longer had access to the internet for whatever reason, I would still write – I can’t imagine ever not doing so, and once again, my stories would be based on what I remember, what I have experienced and what I can imagine

Here is a link to my published work:

Riding a different bike

I write every day, every single day, and now that I am no longer working in a ‘proper’ job, now I am actually a writer, I realise that I tend to write in the same sort of way. I write my novels, I edit my novels, I write my blog and I write emails. In my previous life I wrote for all different purposes, reports for different audiences, colleagues, students, parents, governors etc. and etc. and etc., magazine articles and editorials, letters, examinations and tests,  comprehension pieces for my students, oh the list goes on!

With my creative writing group I have been focussing on writing in different ways, challenging them to write differently from the way they have always written. It struck me it’s a little bit like suggesting someone who has ridden their good old faithful trusty bike is offered a different bike, a mountain bike, a racing bike, a Dutch bike – it’s not just riding across different terrain, it’s riding in a different way!

I wrote a book for my students, each chapter in a different way to encourage them to write in different ways as they were required to do for their exams. One chapter progressed the story by being a TV report. I had to try and adopt the style and tones of regional TV presenters, reporters and weather persons.

Here it is:

This is Coast TV’s local news report –

Scene: Camel Wood


DW – Dinah Weston ( newsdesk)

KK – Kenny Kenton     (special correspondent)

TW – Tracey Winters (education correspondent)

Mr Baird                     (head teacher St Finbarr’s High)

Stewart                       (weather forecaster)

DW:     Good evening and this is Dinah Weston bringing you this evening’s news on Coast TV. And our breaking news is that there has been another disappearance from Camel Wood. Police are still investigating the mystery of the whereabouts of 62 year-old grandma, Ruby Redmayne. They are now searching the wood and surrounding areas for 15-year-old schoolgirl, Naimh Locke.
Coast TV’s special correspondent, Kenny Kenton, now brings you this report. Kenny.

KK:      Dinah. Yes and as you can probably see behind me police are mounting a massive search for 15 year-old Naimh who hasn’t been seen since lunchtime today. It is unusual for this sort of response from the police so soon after someone is reported missing, but this comes in the light of the continuing mystery of the whereabouts of Ruby Redmayne, missing from her cottage in Camel Wood for over a week now. Dinah.

DW:     Kenny, yes and I believe the police are investigating a connecting between Ruby’s grandson and Naimh.

KK:      You’re right, Dinah. Rufus Redmayne, a schoolmate of Naimh’s was the last person to have seen her. He is at present in Strand Royal Hospital. He was found unconscious in the wood by Forest Agent Jack Green. As you probably remember, Dinah, Rufus reported his grandma missing. He claims he went to visit her and she was not in her cottage.

DW:     What do we know about Rufus, Kenny?

KK:      Not much Dinah. Apparently he and Naimh were both suspended from school for unrelated incidents.

DW:     Thank you Kenny. This is Coast TV bringing you the latest news from around the region. And following Kenny Kenton’s report on missing schoolgirl Naimh Locke we go to our education correspondent Tracey Winters who is at St Finbarr’s High, the school where both these young people were students. Tracey.

TW:     Dinah. Yes and I am here outside St Finbarr’s High where in the past few minutes headmaster Edward Baird has made the following statement.

(Cut to Mr Baird)

Mr Baird: First of all I would like to extend our sympathy to the parents of Naimh and the mother of Rufus at this difficult time. We will do all we can to aid the police in finding Naimh and we hope and pray she will be returned safe and unharmed to her family.

TW: Mr Baird, Tracey Winters, Coast TV. Mr Baird, is it true both students were suspended from school.

Mr Baird: Indeed. Following a serious incident in school today Rufus was sent home after we had contacted his mother. This is not a permanent exclusion. Naimh has not been in school for three days on a fixed term exclusion.

TW: Is it true Mr Baird that Naimh was suspended for vandalising your house?

Mr Baird: I cannot comment.

TW: Mr Baird can you comment on the fact that your son, Ed, had been bullying Naimh and she broke into your house with the intention of reclaiming some property she claims he had taken from her.

Mr Baird: No comment.

TW: Reports in the press have suggested she trashed your kitchen, broke furniture in Ed’s room.

Mr Baird: No comment. Thank you ladies and gentlemen.

(Cut back to Tracey)

TW: After that brief statement Mr Baird went back into the school. We are expecting a further update from the police. This is Tracey Winters, Coast TV, returning you to the studio.

(Cut back to Dinah)

DW:     Police spokesmen have refused to comment on the report of armed response officers on the scene. This is linked to the supposed sighting of a large wolf-like creature, and the attacks on farm stock in the area.

And now before the rest of today’s news from Coast TV we go to our weather-room where Stewart has an important severe weather warning for us. Stewart.

(Cut to Stewart in the weather room)

Stewart: Thank you, Dinah. Good evening and sorry folks, if you aren’t already experiencing torrential rain, high winds and a dramatic drop in temperature, you soon will. The police searching the Camel Wood area will be the first to bear the brunt of this mini weather system coming in from the east…

Hamazasb and the missing shoe

Ages ago, inspired by some beautiful carousel horses I saw, I began a story about one called Hamazasb and his friends. At night they leave the carousel and fly, but once a nail fell from Hamazasb’s shoe, and he lost his shoe and he too fell to earth. It was a whimsical story, I don’t quite know where it came from or where it was going, and it was quite unlike anything I normally write. I hadn’t written very much, Hamazasb had ended up on a carnival float, and his friends, the other carousel horses spent each night searching for him. I expect I will return to it and finish it one day.

I love carousel horses, I always have done from being a child when the fair came to town, it was always my favourite ride. I did learn to ride real horses, not very well, and somehow a real horse wasn’t as exciting or as magical as a carousel one,, gloriously painted and covered in little mirrors. The horse ride was always called Jollity Farm for some reason although the hoses and other splendid creatures weren’t much like farm animals! I am sure there are specific traditions attached to the decoration of these horses and other beasts, I guess the different patterns and designs have meaning – sometimes they seem like astrological signs or symbols, sometimes other and quite bizarre things… I must investigate… and I must also think again about Hamazasb and his missing shoe!