Into the freezing night

We had a brief glimpse of a few snow flakes, they settled  for a few minutes and then slipped away leaving everything wet… and now it’s raining. It really isn’t very wintry from a snow point of view! In my first Radwinter novel, the season changes from late a summer, through autumn, into a harsh and very snowy winter. Thomas has met his friends in the Lark for quiz night, and now they are about to get into a taxi to take them home through a raging blizzard.

There was a blast of a car horn and we stumbled out of the pub, into the freezing night to find our transport to take us home.

Out of the whirling blizzard a figure jumped at me; it was Kylie, grabbing my arm and pulling at me, shouting that I had to help. I tried to ask her what the matter was as the taxi driver honked his horn, Leo and John were already inside.

“Please Thomas, I’m begging you!” she shouted. “There’s an old man, I can’t help him!”

I waved at the taxi to drive on but John bobbed out asking if I was OK. I told him to go, I’d get another taxi, and they zoomed off into the night as Kylie pulled me along.

She was saying something about a tramp and as we turned off the High Street and went over the bridge towards Mill Lane she shouted above the wind that there was an old tramp, collapsed in the snow. I would have gone straight past him; he was huddled against the curving wall of the bridge where it went down to the River Hope. He was just a snow-covered lump; I squatted down beside him and was enveloped in the stink of urine, cheap booze and old clothes, and considering how cold he was, he must be powerfully filthy.

“Hey, old chap, what are you doing here?” I asked, shining the light from my phone on him.

Kylie crouched beside him and wiped his face with her bare hand and that simple gesture made me suddenly feel a huge lurch of affection for her. She had so little herself and yet she had so much compassion.

“Are you ill? Do you feel alright?”

He opened an eye and squinted at me from under his snow encrusted brows. He mumbled that he was going home but just needed a little rest.

“Where are you going?” I asked. He couldn’t stay here. “Come on, old man, tell us where you live and we’ll get you home.”

He began to sing ‘I was born under a wandering star’, in a quavery drunken voice.

“Let’s get you onto your feet and we’ll see what we can do,” I took his arm and Kylie took the other and we managed, with much slipping and nearly falling over, to get him upright. He was a little fellow and must be wearing a bundle of clothes because although he was very stout he didn’t weigh much.

He lurched against me and despite the reek of him I held on to keep him upright. He was very cold and was shaking but he began to sing again. I tried to ask him where he lived or where he was going, but he was obviously just a tramp or street person. Kylie was clutching the other side of him to keep him from falling over and for once she had nothing to say.

“Ring the police,” I told her and gave her my phone; we couldn’t stay here and however charitable Kylie was making me feel I wasn’t going to take this old fellow home with me. “I’m going to take him over there,” and I indicated the doorway of the empty shop on the corner of the street, one more little business which had folded.

I tried to get him to move, but his legs kept buckling so in the end I had to wrap his stinking arm round me neck, put an arm round his back and virtually carry him over to the doorway where I let him subside into a heap.

“Got a couple o’ coppers for an old man?” he wheezed and then started coughing. With any luck a couple of coppers would arrive in a police van and take him off to a nice comfy police cell for the night.

Kylie hurried over to us; her face a pale blob. The police weren’t interested if he wasn’t doing any harm to anyone; they’d said their cells were full, that if we thought he was ill or hurt, we should ring an ambulance and get him taken to hospital but otherwise there was a night shelter in Strand for rough sleepers.

“What are we going to do, Thomas?” she asked, not sounding like herself at all.

If you want to find out what happens to the old tramp, to Thomas and to Kylie, you can find out in my paperback, Radwinter, or in the Kindle version… here is a link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-Lois-Elsden-ebook/dp/B00IFG1SNO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1513203593&sr=8-2&keywords=lois+elsden

 

Salt pans…

My character Thomas Radwinter is investigating salt production in the small seaside town where he lives… he goes to the local museum –

I realised that salt was important for preserving food, and cooking, and wasn’t surprised that it was import for medical purposes, but I didn’t realise it was used in industrial processes such as tanning. I did remember from the dim and distant history lessons at school that Roman soldiers were paid in salt and that was the origin of the word salary.

There was a 1930’s article which was easy to read which I fastened on as I wouldn’t have time to do more than skim the main points.

In the summer of 1934, my colleague Elijah Handcome and I explored the remains of the early seventeenth century salt works in Easthope Bay; we knew the approximate site having identified a bucket pot, but the exact location proved elusive. We revealed some ancient walls which we uncovered when the tide allowed, and found evidence of some industrial burning; however we could uncover no exact evidence of salt production here on this site.

Maybe place names are not evidence, but we felt sure that these offered us a clue, and the local public house the Saltern Inn was a key, and a splendid place to retire to for a luncheon of home cooked ham and pickled onions as big as your fist.

The following year we explored the old salt working site in Strand; the Boroughlee site was in use from probably the 1720’s until the 1850’s and gave its name to Salty Wharf and the Saltmills Tannery.

We found records of the iron pans still complete until the turn of the century; winter storms had undermined the area and the pans had split and partially collapsed during the inundation four years previously. The Town Council had the remains removed as part of the promenade improvements scheme.

Hmmm, so from this Elijah and… I looked for the name of the author – Benjamin Magick (must be a relative, my grandmother’s maternal line were Magicks – John is actually John Magick Radwinter!) didn’t find much about Easthope, and not much more about Strand.

I would have to investigate further, if I ever had the time… I  quickly read another old crinkly record about the pans… I imagined them to be like a large tub, say washing basket size, but no, good grief, they are five meters by five meters – that’s over sixteen foot! I had also imagined them to be round, but no, they were rectangular, plates of iron riveted together. As far as I can understand it without any pictures, there were four separate quarter pieces, with extra plating across the centre.

Gosh it was a huge thing! All gone now, all but disappeared after the promenade improvements in Strand  in the 1930’s, then subsequent work and a sea wall and road widening etc…

There was also a map, not drawn to scale and apparently a copy of another one, which showed that there was like a yard, with buildings of some sort around it right by the sea and this was where the salt works were. Some jottings on the side explained (as I interpreted the squiggles) that the sea water was pumped through a pipe to the pan sheds and then fires were lit underneath the pans to evaporate the water – well of course they had fires! In hot countries they might be able to make salt by evaporation using the sun, but not in jolly old England!

© Lois Elsden

I hope this, the sixth book in my Radwinter series will be published in the spring of 2018… if you want to read the other Radwinter books, or my other paperbacks and ebooks, here is a link:

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

Because we are, aren’t we, human?

There are some songs which for no definable reason – not the lyric, not the melody, not the performer – strike such a chord and seem so meaningful. One such is ‘Human’ by the Killers… I just love it, and can’t really explain why.

In my first Radwinter novel, Thomas obviously feels the same… he ha just been to a party with his wife and is realising that his life is falling to pieces, and maybe he is too…

In this extract, he is coming home from his brother’s party… Kylie is someone he works with who has become a true friend to him. His wife Rebecca is becoming more distant

I gave Kylie a big hug, wishing I could kiss her; she looked very fierce, but she was just emotional… I didn’t know when or how I would see her again, but I would… She thrust something into my jacket pocket, a Christmas present she said… not much but it was all she could afford.
Sitting in the taxi I felt it, a book… I’d look at it later.
I began to sing… I sang about the platform of surrender… I sang that I was kind
Rebecca poked my arm. “Stop it!” she said crossly.
“It’s the Killers,” I said, “it’s called ‘Human’…. Because we are, aren’t we, human? Only human?”
“You’re drunk!”
I started singing again… singing that I was nervous of an open door, I sang… I sang that I should shut my eyes, and empty my heart and cut the ties… the ties that bind…
“Shut up, Thomas!”
Luckily we arrived at the flat and she got out and slammed the door leaving me to pay the taxi-driver. I apologised for my singing, and he said he didn’t mind, it was a favourite song of his and at least I had a decent voice. I thanked him and he wished me good luck… I’m not sure what he meant by that… but I rather thought I needed some good luck.
Maybe I should shut my eyes, and empty my heart and cut the ties…

If you want to find out what led Thomas to this situation… and what happened, then here is a ink to my book:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-Lois-Elsden-ebook/dp/B00IFG1SNO/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1512949363&sr=8-3&keywords=lois+elsden

The handsome vicar and the runaway child

I didn’t realise four years ago when I took on the National Novel Writing Challenge that the 50,000 words i was attempting to write would become the start of the next six books… I began to tell the story of Thomas Radwinter and his three brothers, Marcus, Paul and John, of the ups and the down of their lives and their families. As well as their own lives, the stories also include ‘investigations’ which Thomas undertakes, seemingly harmless research into genealogical mysteries which lead him into all sorts of difficulties.

This is the beginning of the third novel, and here it seems as i the family are united and happy and all will go well for them… However, Thomas’s investigations into his own history cause upset, and his investigations into a woman who just disappeared from a busy street lead him into danger…

But this is the start – a very happy day for Thomas:

I looked up at the vicar standing on the steps of the nave, and he smiled down at me. He’s very handsome this vicar, and in fact he’s my brother. All my brothers are handsome men, and Marcus, the Reverend Marcus Edward Radwinter, is no exception; he has a strong angular face, and today his wild eyebrows and bushy beard and flowing grey mane of hair have been neatly trimmed. The most arresting thing about him is his eyes, his piercing blue Radwinter eyes, and as I looked up at him, they crinkled in a smile.

He glanced down the aisle and I looked at my other brother John, standing beside me; he was beaming too, and well he might. He is engaged to the most beautiful woman, Justyna, and they were expecting their baby in three weeks’ time. We’d had a few jokes about maybe it would come early and arrive today, and then there could be a christening as well as a wedding here in my brother’s church.

As well as a wedding… not John’s wedding, but mine. Yes, today I was marrying Kylie…

A little brown face peeped at me round John’s shoulder, my little man Kenneil. He was very excited, I can tell you, but being very good… so far. He looked so cute in his little kilt; my nephew Tom was holding him in his arms. John was my best man and Tom and Kenneil were my groomsmen…

“Ahem,” Marcus nodded towards the church doors and I realised that my other nephew, Django, was playing the bridal march; he and his band had been vamping some incidental music while we waited.

“Can I look?” I whispered.

“Of course you can,” Marcus replied, he looked so happy.

I turned and there, there was my beautiful bride.

Kylie was wearing a white and gold dress and she looked like an Aztec goddess… well, actually I don’t know if the Aztecs had goddesses, but she looked exotic and wonderful and she shimmered as she walked towards me, her arm resting lightly on that of my brother Paul who was escorting her. He looked very handsome, I thought once that he looks like a silver lion; he has that strength, that confidence and pride in his family.

Kylie’s hair was drawn back from her face and had been woven into plaits with golden ribbons and jewelled beads threaded through… She had feathers in her hair, gold feathers, and her veil came down just to her nose, and there were little sparkly stars on it. Behind her I could see her three bridesmaids, my nieces Paula and Sarah, and Kylie’s sister Reneasha.

Kylie’s dress was short at the front, not too short, and her long elegant legs strode out… in a way she looked quite fearsome… but these days I think she looks magnificent with that determined expression, not terrifying as I used to think…

There was fumble beside me, and I heard Tom say, “Kenneil, come back! Oh, sorry Thomas!”

Kenneil had somehow escaped and was running down the aisle to his Mama. We‘d gone to the suit shop to hire suits for John and Tom and he‘d spotted a kilt and although he has no known connection to anything Scottish, he is in fact three-quarters Tobagoan, he insisted…and he is so adorable, I just gave way. I could hear the congregation all go ‘aah’ as he sped towards Kylie.

Her face broke into the widest smile and she bent to him, and Paul leant over and picked him up and carried him on his arm as they continued to process down the aisle, Kylie and me grinning at each other…

I had never felt so confident and sure of myself in all my life; this really was the start of a new and wonderful adventure with my family beside me!

Here is a link so you can find out more, what family secrets Thomas uncovered and whether he found teh vanished woman:

http://amzn.eu/dgMp8bx

Starting with the village of Radwinter…

It’s exactly a week since I galloped my way towards and finally over the finish line of the National Novel Writing Month challenge. I have to admit that the week before I was looking at the possibility of not making it… I’d written every day but just not enough and I was very behind… however, I managed it, and completed it with an hour to spare and 53 words over the fifty thousand.

The story I was writing this time was about a mystery woman with a concealed past who starts living in shared accommodation in a small seaside town. This was my fifth year of taking up the challenge, and thank goodness, the fifth year of completing it… and as I finished I thought back to the other challenges.

The first year I did NaNo, 2013, I began a story which had been swirling round in my head for some time about a family of four brothers; I had a name for them, Radwinter, but little more. The story almost wrote itself, and I passed the 50,000 word eleven days early and went on to write over 73,000 words!

It wasn’t just my NaNo success with Radwinter, there was something about the characters, the situations, their dilemmas and difficulties reaching back into the past which intrigued me and if I had known on 30th November 2013 that I would write another five stories about them I would have been amazed, and no t a little disbelieving… Believe it or not, although Book VI is not quite finished yet, I began the opening scene for Book VII last night!

Radwinter is the story of a couple and their marriage, and a man and his family, and the history of that family explored through genealogical research…

Here is an excerpt from that first novel when Thomas Radwinter is finding out the origins of his family name:

I thought I’d start with Radwinter village… yes, I know, there are no Radwinter connections, but it just seems odd that our unique name is the same as a place… or maybe it is just a coincidence, or maybe Radwinter is a corruption of something else…

In Radwinter there is the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin and on the history site there are some wonderful photos of the reredos within the church, but it was bought and put there in the 1880’s; the church itself is over seven hundred years old. I’d like to go and visit and see it for myself; I’m not religious but I do like visiting churches… I wonder if Marcus would be interested as he’s a vicar? As well as the church it mentions chapels… are they different? I don’t know much about religion, despite Marcus… Primitive Methodists… what are they? Baptists… I really don’t know.

Looking at the history of the village it seems as if it was a busy place at one time; I really would like to go and see what is there now. According to the website there were blacksmiths, and many different shops including two butchers and two bakers (no mention of candlestick makers… stop it Thomas, don’t be silly… Rebecca is always telling me off for my childish sense of humour) there were sweetie shops, a fish mongers, general stores and even a tobacconist, and many different craftsmen such as cobblers and tailors and lots of other businesses.

No surprise that there are pubs, including the Plough and the Red Lion, and windmills… I guess it’s a farming area… Essex, that’s a farming county, isn’t it, and isn’t it by the sea too? I don’t know anything about Essex, apart from it being an overspill area for London, but it can’t all be like that. I’ve never been there… maybe I should look at a map… There were four windmills, it says… definitely a farming community, and a prosperous one too. Didn’t Constable paint pictures in Essex, or have I imagined that?

I’m onto the history page… Neolithic skeleton, bronze Celtic warrior, Roman roads and coins… medieval tile kiln and fishponds…  once it was Great Radwinter and Little Radwinter, perhaps that’s me, little Radwinter… 1066, Doomsday, a lord of the manor named Frodo… what? Really?

This page also tells me the village is near Saffron Walden and on the road to Haverhill, and on the River Pant… I must look at a map.

Onto the Radwinter Records page… a war memorial with no Radwinters on it, but how sad to see the same names cropping up, three men called Andrews, five men named Halls,  two Potts, two Ruses, three Swans and two Thakes… so sad… I don’t think I’m old but I bet they were younger than me… maybe some of them as young as my nephew Django… it doesn’t bear thinking about.

Radwinter seems an interesting place… I really want to visit… I wonder if Rebecca would like to go for a weekend there… probably not, she likes shopping and going on holiday to somewhere sunny.

© Lois Elsden 2017

Here is a link to my Radwinter stories:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-5-Book-Series/dp/B072HTG366/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1512639951&sr=8-6&keywords=lois+elsden

Thomas’s cup of tea – an interview

As part of the ’73 challenge’ my fellow blogger on our Moving Dragons blog has set us, we have conducting an interview on the list; I decided that I would really challenge myself by doing an actual spoken interview, recording it, and sharing it here… Well, technical problems have arisen and so although it will be attempted, for the moment I am going to do a written interview. Just to make it a bit different, and maybe it will seem a bit strange, I am going to interview a character I have written about.

I don’t know if it is the same for other writers, but some characters I write about almost seem to become separate from my imagination, and when I am writing they do unpredictable and sometimes foolish things. This doesn’t mean that when I am editing and working on my complete novels I don’t try to eliminate inconsistencies and things done and said which don’t seem true to the imaginary individual I have created. Nor do I have any illusion that they are actually real and living in a different dimension!!

The ideas for the questions I’m posing are taken from a food magazine but with a lot of tweaking…

So here is Thomas Radwinter explaining what is ‘his cup of tea‘:

My Cup of Tea

Q: What dish reminds you of your childhood?

Thomas: Um… well… I actually didn’t have an exactly brilliant childhood… things all went a bit wrong… but I do remember one happy time… which will probably seem a bit strange… anyway… I remember once it was at night and we were in the kitchen and it was dark and the oven was on and John my brother and I were sitting in front of the open oven and it was really warm, and we were eating baked beans out of bowls with a spoon.  John was telling me a story – we were cowboys out on the lonesome range and we were sitting round our campfire…
Whenever we have baked beans, I always think of that, and think of how we were lovely and warm and John was making me laugh with his story

Q: Do you cook any of the things you ate as a child?

Thomas: I have had a go at making baked beans myself… My boy liked them, but none of the rest of the family did, so I guess I won’t be doing that again! These days what I cook depends on what  is in season on my brother’s allotment, what is going cheap at the veg shop, and any offers on at the butcher’s or supermarkets! I guess this means we eat quite healthily – and it also means I do cook some strange stuff according to what I’ve bought! I’m not bad at cakes, the kids’ favourite is my orange surprise cake – it was supposed to be lemon drizzle but we didn’t have any lemons so it was a surprise because it was oranges! (They were going cheap at Val’s,  the veg shop)

Q: What’s for breakfast?

Thomas: Breakfast is supposed to be really important isn’t it? My wife likes a cooked breakfast and because I’m a bit more flexible in my work (being a stay-at-home dad and part-time solicitor) I make sure she has something cooked – even if it’s only beans on toast (beans again!) or a scrambled egg before she flies out of the door. The two oldest are at school so they usually have porridge and then maybe an egg (we eat a lot of eggs but we get most of them from the old bloke who has an allotment next to my brother’s) The three littlies (yes we have five children) have porridge or cereal and fruit or toast, or an egg… kids’ breakfast stuff…  I know it’s bad for me but quite often I sort of forget breakfast for me – and then have elevenses later when everyone is where they should be!

Q: What food do you never run out of?

Thomas: um… well, veg – because of the allotment! And there’s usually cake.

Q: Which chef would you love to have cook for you?

Thomas: Crikey! That’s a tricky question!! We love going to my friend Leo’s Italian restaurant; his family come from Apulia so most of what he cooks  is traditional from there… I have another friend who is Armenian and we love going to his restaurant too! So I guess Leo or Vekan…. as for a famous chef… um… I’m a bit out of touch these days… I do use Claudia Roden’s recipes a lot so that would be amazing if she cooked a meal for us!!!

Q: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Thomas: This probably isn’t very strange in the top ten of really weird and peculiar things that people eat like unusual parts of an animal or insects or bird spit… but when I found a recipe which involved frying sprouts with black pudding, that actually did seem might odd… especially as you make a sort of sauce with blue cheese… Actually it tasted jolly good, and everyone who said sprouts were disgusting tucked into it and I had to make some more… so that was jolly strange… except it isn’t any more as we quite often have it when we get given sprouts by Val from the veg shop.

Q: where in the world would you like to go and try the local food?

Thomas: Anywhere!!!! I just love food!!! I guess I would like to go to Apulia and Armenia, but most I would like to go to Tobago. My wife’s father is from Tobago, and two of my children are… so a family holiday to Tobago would be great!

Q: best biscuits for dunking?

Thomas: I don’t dunk! I think it’s horrible!

Q: how do you take your tea?

Thomas: usually as quickly as possible because I’m always in a tearing hurry! Actually I like it strong with not too much milk – and just ordinary, I’m not keen on fancy stuff like Earl Gray or fruit teas…

If you want to find out more about Thomas, you can read his stories here:

 

Sitting in the cold

For various reasons that were no-one’s fault, I was left waiting outside a garden centre, sitting on a low wall in the shade of two Torbay pines. As it as just on four o’clock today, an early November afternoon slipping into evening, I was actually not in the shade of the Torbay pines at all. They cost £200 each, which seemed quite expensive; they were in big glazed ceramic pots, about two foot tall, and the palms were about four-foot each; they grow to three metres so their label said… so I’ve mixed imperial and metric measurement (or sensible and Napoleon as my husband would say.)

I was waiting for a lift, which I knew would come – I just had to wait and be patient as traffic was building up and there were various potential bottlenecks on the way. It was quite chilly but I was well wrapped up and just sat patiently waiting. My nose was getting colder and colder and the low stone wall was extremely hard and also slightly damp.

I was facing north, a hill rising behind me and trees to the left and the garden centre in front of me and to the right. Beyond the garden centre I could see lorries passing on the main road, and beyond that roofs and then in the very distance, hills. The garden centre buildings were in what must have been an old stone-built farm, a low structure, snug to the ground to avoid the elements i guess; there were three large baskets of winter flowers, mostly pansies on the wall – maybe the baskets which were wrought iron had originally been for animals to feed from, I could imagine them full of hay.

There was a largish parking area covered in gravel, and a few cars parked, not doubt at this hour the garden centre workers. Over the fenced entrance to the actual garden was a tall wrought iron arch, suspended from which were old metal watering cans. At the top of the arch was a weather vane, with another watering can aslant on top at a jaunty angle. Through the arch I could see a gorgeous beech tree, turned from green to gold.

As daylight died and dusk fell, I could hear a blackbird on either side of me, calling, maybe to each other, maybe to anyone who listened, challenging rivals maybe. There were other birds doing call and response, smaller twittering birds by the sound of it. An invisible crow gave a couple of loud caws and then I heard no more from him.

I wasn’t exactly bored as I waited, but it was getting a bit tiresome, just sitting as it got colder and the air became damper.  I entertained myself by thinking about various problems in my latest Radwinter book which I’m writing as well as trying the National Novel Writing Month challenge…

  • what illegal enterprise is Professor Cameron undertaking?
  • who killed Fergs?
  • what does Shelly do on her mornings off?
  • can I somehow realistically connect Fergs and Shelly?
  • how did Anthony Finch and the two sisters come to Easthope in 1923?
  • who is Mrs Cameron’s friend?

… and many more puzzles which I’m struggling to solve.

Eventually a car pulled into the car park, and I stood up and gathered the two cyclamen I had bought at the garden centre, my bag, my laptop, myself and climbed in. I was jolly chilly but the car was lovely and warm

Here is a link to the Radwinter books I have written so far:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-5-Book-Series/dp/B072HTG366/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1510171439&sr=8-3&keywords=lois+elsden