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Magpies took off a Month ago

So my book, my new novel, my fourth book, Dear Magpies, has been out for a month. It was published as a paperback by SilverWood Books on 18th November – and, it seems, people are reading it. Amazing!  I’ve been running around Dorset having book launches, doing some signings in bookshops and other places, and giving a few talks too.  It is humbling and, I have to admit, very gratifying that people are buying it – and reading it. And I’m getting back some very positive comments about the book.  Not many yet – but then it has been for sale only for a month, and I never expect those who buy it to read it immediately.  Like me, readers often have a pile of books and work their way through.  There can be nothing more annoying than buying a book, and then being asked by an impatient author to give an opinion about it, well before there has been a chance to open it!  So I never ask and I wait for people to volunteer their feedback or tell me what they think of it in their own time.  Though of course I’m dying to know!  The book is in stock in some bookshops and available to order from any booksellers, and from the publisher SilverWood, and also of course from Amazon. It costs £9.99, but there is an e-book too for £3.99.  Here is a copy of the front and back cover of my book:

 

The cover has been much admired but it has puzzled a few people.  To explain:  Josie, a woman who has been searching for her grandchildren for over 10 years, is writing letters to them, which she cannot post or email, as a way to try and connect with them. She used to call them her ‘magpies’.  This nickname arose because, when they were small children, their father had given them some black and white towels which they used at bath-time, and the boy had scampered about in his towel, flapping his arms.  When Josie writes to them, she begins her letters with Dear Magpies.  The cover, brilliantly designed by my publishers, shows the heads of the teenage boy and girl in silhouette, because Josie does not really know them after such a long estrangement and is in the dark about what they are like. The magpies flying upwards are a visual image of their nickname, but they are also soaring up into the ‘pale blue yonder’ which underlines her dilemma, which is that she has no idea where they are in the world. She aches to see them again, and misses them enormously.  The quest for her magpies has truly stolen her peace of mind. But I’m not going to give any hint about what happens – you must read the book to find out.

Book Launch in Sherborne

Two weeks tomorrow, on Thursday 21st November at 6.30pm for 7pm, I am having a Book Launch for my new book Dear Magpies, at Winstones Books in Cheap Street, Sherborne, DT9 3PX.  I will be giving a talk about my book, answering questions and signing books.  Refreshments will be provided and anyone interested in coming along will be welcome.

I am delighted to be having this launch at Winstones, which is a fabulously light and well laid out independent bookshop based in the beautiful historic town of Sherborne, Dorset.  Winstone’s has won the British Book Awards South West Bookseller of the Year four times and was winner of the Independent Bookseller of the Year nationwide award in 2016.

Dear Magpies is my fourth book and the first one in which the main character lives in Dorset. It tells the story of Josie Cuff who has been trying for ten years to trace her young grandchildren, the only members of her family still alive, who have disappeared on the other side of the world. She now lives in a small rented cottage in England after a turbulent life in South America. She writes her grandchildren lively letters which may never be sent, telling them about her past and about the eccentric inhabitants of the Dorset village where she is seeking to make a new life and new friends. Threatened by a sinister intruder who invades her home and privacy, Josie fights to cling on to hope.

Come along to Winstones on 21st and find out more. You might even like to buy the book! (£9.99)

Homeless not Hopeless

World Homeless Day Logo 2015 size 125 square        On the 10th October 2016 people around the world will mark World Homeless Day in many varied ways and try to change the lives of homeless people in their local community. Since its founding in 2010, World Homeless Day has been observed on every continent except Antarctica, in several dozen countries. The purpose of World Homeless Day is to draw attention to homeless people’s needs locally and provide opportunities for the community to get involved in responding to homelessness, while taking advantage of the stage an ‘international day’ provides.

Since 1985, I have been committed to helping the homeless and from time to time I have worked for charities and campaigned for further efforts to assist the homeless in our own country and overseas.  I was for two years the full time UK Campaign Organiser for the United Nation 1987 International Year of Shelter for the Homeless. Since then, I have done voluntary work for and supported other homeless charities. In 2007 I began helping out at the HUB in Dorchester, a day centre for rough sleepers and the homeless, and remained there for a few years. More recently I have been involved in ‘ICare’: an initiative to meet and help homeless people on the streets in Dorchester.

Homelessness is a problem that is not going away.  It urgently needs to be addressed at every level – international, governmental, regional and local.  We cannot ignore it.  We need more housing, more temporary accommodation, more overnight shelters and we need to change people’s perception of homelessness. It is NOT a lifestyle choice, but a miserable condition that is usually (but not always) inflicted on the unfortunate person by circumstances beyond their control (eg war), or loss of job, breakup of family, ill health, psychological problems, or poverty, poor decisions and lack of advice.

The situation is NOT hopeless but it needs to be addressed. Charities and organisations working and campaigning on behalf of homeless people throughout the world need to be supported. Huge funds are required from corporate and governmental sources, but small individual donations from large numbers of people can make a real difference. You don’t need to do what Richard Gere did in 2015 – see below – but you can stop and talk to homeless people that you see on the streets.  I always do this, realising they often need a chat and a recognition that they exist, far more than they need sandwiches.  Don’t walk by on the other side!  Homelessness should be everyone’s concern.

Richard Gere

Shakespeare and an Encounter with Death

William Shakespeare died 400 years ago today on 23rd April 1616. He was probably 52 years old at his untimely death. By strange coincidence 52 years ago last November at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, I had an encounter with another death which was also entirely unexpected.

In 1963 I was at school in Worcestershire and one Friday evening in November during my final year we were taken on a school trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to watch the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Richard III. I think there were about 20 of us schoolgirls and, having arrived by bus, we took our seats in the theatre alongside many Americans and other visitors who flocked to watch Shakespeare’s plays in his home town. I remember so well my excitement at the start of this magnificent play with Ian Holm playing Richard III and Dame Peggy Ashcroft playing Margaret.

However something rather strange began to happen during the first half of the play. We became aware of a lot of whispering along the rows of seated audience.  This was unusual. We had been to the theatre before and I had been fortunate enough to see Paul Scofield playing King Lear and Vanessa Redgrave as Rosalind in As You Like It, and I did not recall any distracting noise from the audience at these performances. So I concentrated on Peggy Ashcroft stalking around the stage uttering curses.

When the interval began, I and my friends filed out to get ourselves fizzy drinks and sweets. It was clear that many of the Americans present had very worried expressions on their faces and there was obviously some bad news in the United States which was being transmitted across the Atlantic.  The date was 22 November. I heard the words ‘President’ and ‘Dallas’ and it seemed that the iconic John F. Kennedy had been shot in a car and was wounded. No one was sure of what had happened. The bells rang and we were all ushered back to our seats for the second part of the play, to continue the gory saga of Richard III and the grisly murders he was perpetrating.

Perhaps I am imagining things, but it seemed to me that the actors were a little distracted too, although I was still electrified by the drama and the way that Margaret’s dire predictions were coming true. The performance of Ian Holm as the deformed king was magnificent. Here is a black and white photograph of him in the role in that 1963 production. ian-holm-as-richard-iii in 1963

Although I was focusing on the play, it seemed that many of the people in the theatre could not. As the news spread like a forest fire around the auditorium, it became clear that John Kennedy was dead. He had been assassinated!  Some stunned and distraught Americans got their feet and stumbled out in the midst of the play. Others sat there with shocked pale faces and openly wept. I felt rather sorry for the actors as they continued to perform and tried to ignore the fact that they had lost the attention of their audience.

The play came to an end and our teacher herded us all together to walk back to the bus.  We were still unaware that the events of that day would shock the world. It was something that people would never forget and, like me, the date 22 November 1963 and where we had been at the time we heard the news of Kennedy’s death would remain etched in our memories forever. How strange that one of the most significant and visual assassinations in history since that of President Lincoln (which happened in a theatre) should be inextricably entangled in my memory with the history play by William Shakespeare on the subject of political assassination, about ‘crook-back Dick’,  the murderous and violent king, Richard III.

Fishes and Fools

poisson-d-avrilWe lived in Brittany for 14 years and our children went to school to the local primary school there. We discovered that on 1st April each year, the local children played ‘Poissons d’Avril’. They used to play it on us too. It involved cutting out lots of little paper fish from a sheet of paper and colouring them. Then the children tried to stick them on each other’s clothes, preferably on the back so they were undetected and the recipients did not know they had a fish hanging off their backs and looked ridiculous. Our two little monsters added to the fun by putting paper fish in satchels, desks, drawers and food, under the plates and on pillows. Then the children would shriek delightedly ‘Poissons d’Avril!’ because they had fooled their parents or friends or siblings. We would be eating lunch and suddenly a fish would appear on the mashed potato. Or I would pick up my glass of wine and find a fish swimming around in it! Or as one got into the bath there would be fish floating on the surface. They were put in our beds, in the pages of our books, in our shoes – anywhere. Such a great game! Such a good idea!  But only on 1st April. It was the French – or perhaps Breton – way of playing April Fool. I remember those days with huge delight. All that fishy humour! So many paper triumphs and willing fools. Of such things are memories made.

 

Festivals should pay Authors

Soap box 1I applaud Philip Pullman in his decision to resign as patron of the Oxford Literary Festival because it refuses to pay authors to attend and speak.  He was right to say that writers should be paid.  They are not on salaries and are not paid for work away from their desks (and often not then).  Pullman protested that “Everyone at a festival is paid – the electricians, the people who put up the marquees and the people who sell food – except the writers, which seems ridiculous.”

Publishers do put pressure of their authors to attend so that they can sell copies of their books and raise their profile.  Fair enough, but why should not writers be paid by festival organisers for their time and effort in preparing and giving talks or lectures?  Some festivals, usually the smaller ones, are exemplary in insisting that all their speakers be paid – festivals such as the Sherborne Literary Festival and the new Dorchester Literary Festival, both down in my neck of the woods.  They look after their speakers and treat them right. Bravo for them.

But it is shameful that the country’s big four literary festivals: Oxford, Cheltenham, Hay and Edinburgh, have erratic or stingy policies about payment of their speakers, without whom there would be no festival. Some writers receive nothing and others get bottles of wine.  A very few receive top fees. These four festivals charge a lot for their tickets and should be able to afford payment to the creative people who write the books.  It is a well-known fact that the vast majority of full-time writers can scarcely make a living from their words.

I think writers should boycott festivals that don’t play fair and don’t pay their speakers. Perhaps, if we all make enough fuss, some of the public who buy tickets might decide not to go to festivals where writers are treated so shabbily. I have always enjoyed the Oxford Literary Festival where I once had the privilege to hear Seamus Heaney speak and to meet him afterwards.  However, in the future, I shall find out the policy of the festival directors regarding payment of their speakers before I buy tickets for events.

Talking to Professionals

It’s always a challenge to give a informative entertaining talk to a group of people who have come to an event and are gathered to listen to what I say. Recently I was the Guest Speaker at the Autumn Lunch of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists held in the National Liberal Club, Whitehall, London. I felt very honoured to have been asked and also somewhat daunted. Usually with talks to book clubs and libraries and literary events, I am talking to enthusiastic readers and people interested in books, in fiction and more specifically in what I write and why and how.  But in London my audience would be  professional writers and journalists many of whom are hugely experienced, have been writing far longer than me and have had much more published. There was nothing I could tell them about the craft of writing and the creation of characters and plots.  So I decided to tell them about the way I came into writing and how I weave into my fiction characteristics of people I’ve encountered, places I’ve seen and emotions I’ve felt.  Writers use what they have learned about the human condition and they allow their imagination to put their own spin on that. Truth should be found in the characterisation, the particularity and the words used to tell the tale.

My new book published 3 months ago, “The Lost Journey Homeward”, is a contemporary take on the parable of the Prodigal Son.  In my book, the prodigal is a daughter who has hit rock-bottom overseas, and her elder brother runs a country house hotel with problems. The father tries lovingly to get them back on track. If obligated to classify my book, I’d say it was a family saga about stormy relationships, the search for love and meaning in the wrong places and about the hard road home. It’s about guilt, hope, intolerance and forgiveness. It demonstrates that you can mess up your life big time but there’s always another chance to turn things around and find yourself.

I’ve been blessed with a life full of love and adventure. I grabbed the chance to do wild and wacky things but, along the way, managed to learn the importance of communicating and connecting with others, – and of taking every opportunity to show compassion and promote peace and love.  I travelled far, and made some bad mistakes and unwise choices, but then I came home from the sea and from overseas. I write in the hope that my own story and my written stories will entertain and empower people who need to change direction. My novel is about the lost who journey homeward.

Independent Bookshops are great!

All bookshops are marvellous places but a good independent bookshop is really worth supporting. I’m lucky enough to have a book signing next weekend on Saturday 19th September at Winstone’s Book Shop in Cheap Street, Sherborne in Dorset. Winstone’s is a treasure-house.  It’s a light and well laid out independent bookshop based in the beautiful historic town of Sherborne. Wayne and his team are passionate about books and reading – and the shop is stuffed to the gills with books, stocking over 9,000 titles.

Sherborne Flyer 19.9.15

 

I’ll be there from 1 pm onwards signing copies of my latest novel: “The Lost Journey Homeward“, so, if you are in the vicinity, do come along. There’s a great little coffee shop too.  I hope you can make it.

Sunday Tea and Talk

My next Event coming up is on Sunday 2nd August at 4pm  – Tea and Talk at Beatons Tearooms in Blandford Forum, Dorset.  Here is further information: Blandford Tea & Talk Flyer.

 

FLASH FICTION:  If you want to read my micro-fiction – stories in under 500 words – these are now to be found on the Flash Fiction page of my website.  Just select a photograph icon and the story flashes up!

Paintings and Books

I love painting watercolours as well as writing fiction, and I’ve done both for some years.  I belong to the Milton Abbas Art Group and every summer we hold a group exhibition when, along with the other members,  I exhibit a number of paintings.  This year the opening day of our 10 day Exhibition co-incided with the famous Milton Abbas Street Fair – on Saturday 25th July.  The sunny warm day brought out crowds of people, and many visitors walked through the exhibition.  I was ‘on duty’ during the afternoon and also held a book signing for my new novel: THE LOST JOURNEY HOMEWARD which was on sale along with all the paintings. I donated 25% of my book sales to the Art Group – and I sold quite a few.  I also sold one of my paintings but not my favourite – which is entitled ‘Charlie Hebdo’ – here is a photograph.  I think people found it a bit too edgy!Book tower portrait