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Sunday, 31 January 2016

Flash fiction in the fish and chip shop

I wonder if they sell Baggy Pants?

If you've ever waited in a long queue willing the time to pass you're sure to like an idea  French bureaucrats  have introduced for their customers -  free short stories. The Alpine city of Grenoble have, it seems, installed vending machines with printed stories for anyone visiting their municipal offices. What a very good idea.

So how does it work? After  taking a number in the queue at the town hall, customers push a button to receive up to three minutes fiction on scrolled paper  similar to supermarket receipts.

According to The Times newspaper this week the initial 600 stories were drawn from the best on Short-Edition, a Grenoble-based publishing application with 10,000 writers and 141,000 subscribers.

Short-Edition  came up with the idea after watching people enjoy the 'feel-good' factor of buying chocolate from a vending machine.  A short story, they reckoned, could have the same effect.

The machine, which has no screen and just three buttons, has gone down well with French writers who welcome their new (if fleeting)  readership. Nicholas Juliam, a civil servant who contributes to the site says. 'As an author, it's very gratifying to be read, whatever the place.' And who an I to disagree?

Imagine the possibilities - children's books for bored families on airports, flash fiction in the fish and chip shop, horror in the hairdressers and Victorian drama at the dentist's, not to mention that very long queue in the supermarket... Picture the scene when you get to the front of the queue. 'Hold on a sec, will you? I'm on the last page.'

I've just one suggestion. Add a free bar of chocolate too.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Looking forward to living in the past.

Not a smartphone in sight

I'm often accused of living in the past but reading through today's newspapers it's clear I'm not on my own. The Times runs a heart-warming story of  wartime romance rekindled after seventy years, while  the Guardian takes a look at  Jimmy Hendrix' lifestyle -  'art nouveau,  Ena Sharples and John Lewis curtains.'

Even the Daily Mail is feeling nostalgic: 1970s - The Best Year of our Lives, shouts a headline.The full-page piece previews Back In Time for the Weekend, a six part series  beginning on BBC2 next month. The  programme makers asked one family to try living in five different decades, starting in 1950. And which did they like best? The 1970s.

The Ashby-Hawkins family - child minder Rob, IT consultant Steph and children  Daisy, 16 and Seth, 12, agreed: 'It gave us a real insight. We've done things we never thought we'd do.We've done things as a  family together which has been brilliant. The Seventies,  they added 'had the perfect balance of convenience and family values before households were splintered by technology.'

The Mail gives us some fun facts about each decade. Did 1950s women  really do housework for eleven hours a day, seven days a week?  Not my mum, that's for sure.

By the 1960s, teenagers had arrived  and bingo became popular with housewives. The TV had made its mark and one in three households had a vehicle 'making day trips possible.'

Home brewing became popular in the 1970s  and by the mid 1980s around three million British households had a home computer.Ten years later Sunday trading was legalised and ten times more people shopped on a Sunday than went to church.

Which brings me back to today. According to the Mail the average adult spends more than eight hours a day on media devices. In fact  people can now sit in the same room but not interact because they are using games consoles, smartphones or tablets.

In last weeks Times Magazine food critic Giles Coren  spent two thirds of his column discussing social media. Dining at the upmarket Sartoria in London's Savile Row he  counted 40 diners, 33 of whom were tapping away on their phones.  'I was so angry,' he wrote 'I got up to glare.'

The party of a dozen Italians, who didn't speak to each other, upset him the most. They were, he says,  'presumably forking out for this £1,000 meal nobody was paying any attention to.'

So what's the answer? Maybe we should all try a week without our smart phones and laptops and  try a spot of talking for a change. Let me know what you think.

Monday, 18 January 2016

The 1960s scandal that still lives on....

Photo courtesy of thalidomide uk
Kim Fenton

Campaigner Kim Fenton was born with no legs and deformed hands  - none of which has prevented her from living a successful  life. But this weekend Kim was one of the first to congratulate The BBC for highlighting possibly the worst medical scandal in history through it's popular series Call the Midwife.
Though not based on Kim's life, the programme spoke for all the  children  maimed by thalidomide  - an innocuous-looking pill their mothers took in pregnancy to cure morning sickness in the late nineteen fifties and early sixties.

'I'm delighted that this part of history has been remembered and that a younger generation will know our story,' Kim, a former mayor of Castlereagh  Borough  Council told BBC Radio Ulster's The Sunday News. She and other survivors want the German government to properly compensate survivors who are now suffering even greater  complications as they live through middle age.

Thalidomide  was  developed   by German pharmaceutical company Grunethal in the 1950s and withdrawn three years later after it was found to disrupt foetal development.

As a writer I've always believed in the power of tackling real-life problems through  fiction  but this drama was  more poignant - and more pointed - than anything I've  seen before.

In the well-researched storyline a baby girl is born, without arms or legs, to a happy working class family. Her father, however, rejects her as a monster.  Not even the medical profession at that time understood what had caused the tragedy.

Today I visited thalidomide uk's website to vote for the setting up of an enquiry into thalidomide, something that still, after all these years, has never taken place.

I hope you will too.

You can Find out more about thalidomide here

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

ONLY THE 'LONEY' - debut author hits the big time

Photo courtesy of Lancashire Writing Hub 2010

A modest and extremely likeable  librarian who writes in his spare time has won the Costa First Novel Award 2015 with a  book described by  Stephen King as 'an amazing piece of fiction.'

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley had previously received praise from a host of national newspapers including this from the Sunday Times: Dankly atmospheric his eerie narrative is packed with the palpable and pungent..'  Meanwhile the Daily Mail called it 'an eerie disturbing read that doesn't let up until its surprise ending.'

Interviewed on BBC Television North West Today this former schoolteacher who has been writing for 'ten to fifteen years,' seemed as surprised by his success as anyone else.

'I can't quite believe that Stephen King has read my book, let alone given it such praise,' he said modestly  adding  'It's taken me a long time to get here. I'm anything but an overnight success.'

Andrew, who has lived in Manchester and London but is now based in Lancashire, has used a stretch of waste ground in Preston that runs, he says,  'from the back of the council estate to the River Ribble' as the background for his spooky novel. 'Locally the area is called The Loney and I realised straight away that this would be a great title for my novel.'

The Loney was first published by  Tarturus Press, a small independent publishing company in Yorkshire  who agreed a first print run of 300 hardback copies in October 2014. It was some time later that Mark Richards of John Murray realised the book's true potential. Little did the author know that this would take him on a journey leading straight into the arms of the Hachette Group, a name synonymous with global publishing.

Now part of the Hachette Group the John Murray publishing house, founded in 1768, prides itself,  on the 'ability to foster genius.'

So here's to the genius of Andrew Michael Hurley. In a world full of so called celebrities who constantly sing their own praises I can honestly say that this great accolade couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy.

You can find out more about The Loney here

Perfect if you like the macabre, gothic and odd (Melissa Cox

Thursday, 31 December 2015


A very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one without any fear...

HAPPY CHRISTMAS, WAR IS OVER sang John Lennon whose lyrics echo down the years.  I wonder what the great singer/songwriter would have thought of the world as we head into 2016?

Celebrating the end of any war is a time of both sorrow and joy so I've chosen to repeat a popular poem from May 2015 for my final post of the year.  The poem was written by Gill Cullen, a Guernsey girl now living in Vancouver, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of the
Channel Island of Guernsey.  This, my favourite line, will stay with me always: So many of our loved ones gone, yet still present in the cry of the seagulls or the rise and fall of the tide...
Thanks again, Gill.

Dear Guernsey

How I wish I could be with you this year. This 70th celebration of the end of the Occupation.

How many years I have sat and listened to stories of your Occupation, from my father ... stories of trepidation and daring , Of victory signs , Of tea dances, of curfews (often missed - with bad recompense ) Of hunger .. Of seaweed bread ... Of cabbage soup , Of Crystal sets , Of prisoners of war .....

My childhood was during a time of recovery for you, dear Guernsey ... And I embraced your lovely beaches , your windswept shores , your crashing waves ...
Ferry rides ...watching every wave as it broke on the bow of the "Martha Gun " or the " Capstan" or the " Lady Dorothy. "
Other Liberation days when a trip to Herm was often in order to help celebrate ..and to walk through the fair on the way back ....
My life has taken me away from your beautiful shores , but my heart remains a Guernsey Girl, an islander through and through ...
I would love to stand with everyone this year, on this anniversary .. So many of our loved ones gone .. Yet I am sure still present .. In the cry of the seagulls or in the rise and fall of the tide ...
I miss you always more on days like this ..
Yet you always welcome me back with open arms and a warm hug
 Enjoy your day, dear Guernsey ........
You will always be my first love ...
My Sarnia Cherie ....


Peace in our World

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Happy Christmas to you all

Thanks to everyone who has supported my blog this year. Wishing you all a peaceful Christmas and a very happy New Year

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Walking Back to Happiness

I made a Christmas Wish today for a woman I've never met. Melanie Reid, a successful Times journalist is tetraplegic after breaking her neck and back in a riding accident in April 2010.

And though her life was shattered that day,  she has shared her high and lows ever since in her  weekly Spinal Column, laudable for its wit and  unremitting honesty. Her words have made me smile, weep, groan, commiserate, coil back in horror or hit the air with my fists... and yet I  have never experienced pity.

Although she is officially paralysed she still has a degree of function. 'It takes 200 muscles to walk properly,' she says. 'I may have, oh, 50 in my legs and torso that, although they are rigid, unco-operative and sore, combine enough power to allow me to bear my own weight.'

The news recently hadn't been good - her desire to walk  superseded  by the reality of crippled hands, paralysed bowel and bladder, worn out shoulder joints and constant neuropathic pain. So earlier this year she gave up trying. 'Attempting to walk just caused me more heartache,' she recalled. 'It was a waste of other people's time; it served purely to remind me that I would never recover ; it exposed my past foolish bravado.'

That 'foolish bravado' can now be described as optimism. For the past month Melanie has been commandeering unsuspecting visitors to help her husband guide her along on the frame. In the beginning it was three steps before her leg buckled. Then, gradually, she made it further. This week, with the aid of her husband and brother, Melanie walked. 'I walked the  length of the living room, ' she says, 'not once, not twice but three times.'

Which brings me back to my Christmas wish. Melanie now has hope for the future. Please, Santa, make that hope a reality.

Saturday, 5 December 2015


I was thrilled recently when local authors Helena Fairfax and Marie Laval asked  if I would join them for a Coffee and Romance book-signing at the Old Gate, Hebden Bridge, one of Yorkshire's prettiest towns. We arrived on a dull but dry day and set up our stall.

The slow trickle of customers soon turned into a stream on  what everyone agreed was the wettest day of the year.  And that was when the camaraderie kicked in.  No amount of rain could daunt the late arrivals who, despite being  soaked to the skin, added to the party atmosphere.

'Which book should I buy for my girlfriend?' asked one man who soon came back with his mates to look at the historical and contemporary  novels on display.  They generously chose books for their wives and girlfriends - their their mums and sisters too.

Which brings me to the purpose of this short post: thanks guys. It was a pleasure  to meet you all. Romantic Englishmen are very much alive and living in Yorkshire.

Marie, Marilyn and Helena - photo taken by a customer

Fame at last in the Ladies!
A man braves the rain.

Monday, 23 November 2015


My second historical novel Occupying Love, due out next year, is set in the German Occupation of the Channel Islands during World War Two. In this excerpt heroine Lydia Page returns to Guernsey on a sunny day in June 1940 unaware that her life is about to change forever.

Chapter One 
June 1940

The shock of that day never left her; it invaded her dreams and shadowed her waking moments. She could see herself now, carrying an old brown suitcase down the ship’s gangplank, her chocolate brown hair tousled by the fresh Guernsey breeze. In the year since she’d left the island nothing had changed. Fishing boats rocked from side to side, slapping waves against the harbour walls, yacht sails shimmered in the early evening sun, fine wisps of cloud skittering across the skies like pockets of hand-stitched lace.

 Up ahead, the old tomato lorries wound their way like a wooden snake towards the cargo ships bound for England. Her papa had grown tomatoes in the greenhouses behind their home for as long as she could remember. Nowadays he didn’t need the income, but the twelve-pound fruit baskets – or ‘chips’ as the locals called them –  were his pride and joy. Feeling exhilarated at the thought of seeing her parents again, Lydia headed for the bus terminus, stopping to rest on a bench by the harbour wall.

It started as a low rumble, growing steadily louder till it turned into a roar. Startled, she shaded her eyes from the sun and stared up into the sky. Three planes came into view, bright lights shining from their wings like the eyes of a giant eagle. A wave of raw fear rose up from her stomach. Someone shouted, ‘Enemy aircraft’ and her limbs froze. Lydia dropped to the ground, her face hitting the dirt as she landed. Bullets ricocheted over her head as she cowered in terror while the bombs plunged with sickening accuracy on to the harbour.

 A piercing scream brought Lydia back to reality – it had come from her own lips. All around her people were crying or standing motionless in shock as blood dripped on to the pavements while air raid sirens, woken from their reverie, shrieked in protest. Coughing, she gasped for air, dense now with smoke, and tried to roll over.

‘You OK, Miss?’ A policeman loomed overhead.
 She fingered a cut on her face. ‘I think so. What happened?’

‘The Jerries have bombed the tomato lorries. Must ’ave mistaken them for tanks.’ He gripped her arm. ‘Can you get up?’

 Nodding, she let him pull her off the ground.

‘I’d get out of here, if I were you. Fast as you can. It’s not safe.’

‘But Papa, what about Papa?’ A vision of her father lying dead in the rubble flashed in front of her eyes. ‘He’ll be in one of those lorries…’

‘If he’s out there now, Miss, there’s nothing you can do for him. You’d best find shelter in case the Jerries come again.’

 Her suitcase long forgotten, Lydia headed for the dockside where a lone mother sat in the debris, cradling her daughter in the shelter of the harbour wall. The child was silent but the woman sobbed as smoke rose into the sky like a giant funeral pyre.

 Lydia stumbled on, ignoring the shouts of well-meaning people; ‘come, shelter with us, Miss,’ the roar of fire engines and the sickening smell of burnt flesh. Where was her father…?

A familiar face appeared through the smoke. ‘Tom –Tommy!’ She’d known his family for years. ‘Have you seen Papa?’ She gestured towards the smouldering lorries.

‘The Jerries got their target, alright, but there’s plenty of folk sheltered under the pier. No-one can get through.’ Tommy Tostevin scratched his head. ‘What on earth are you doing here?’

‘It doesn’t matter now. I’m here and that’s the end of it. What can I do?’

‘Go home, my girl. Go to your mother. It’s going to be a long night.’

Lydia nodded, too numb to cry. She stumbled on down the esplanade towards the Weighbridge, the familiar granite tower now oozing smoke. Next to it stood a burnt out car with one headlight clearly visible amongst the wreckage. Staring up at the clock face, she saw that the hands had stuck at two minutes to seven.

Just then an ambulance came to a halt, its rear doors opened towards St Julian’s Avenue. With a burst of adrenalin she headed towards it and jumped inside.

‘You injured, Miss?’ The white-coated doctor looked up as she landed beside him.

‘No, I’m fine. It’s just that I know a bit about, well, medicine, and I wondered if I could help?’

‘There’s lots of injured people down there. It’s not a pretty sight. We could do with another pair of hands, though.’ He glanced at her. ‘Are you sure you’re up to it?’

She nodded. ‘Just tell me what you want me to do.’

‘Patch up your face first.’ He handed her a box of dressings. ‘Then follow me.’

They edged their way back to the burning lorries, the roar of engines filling the air: the enemy planes had returned. Lydia ducked and covered her head with the palms of her hands, her heart pounding louder than the shells that shook the ground beneath them.

She shut her eyes but the sight of blood mingling in the gutter with the juice of crushed tomatoes would stay with her forever.