Coronavirus Autumn – “It all looks so normal…”

At eleven o’clock last Monday I was in our local medical centre, waiting for the lift after my appointment. It arrived and I stepped in, then noticed a tiny elderly lady – she must have been well over eighty, if not ninety – approaching.

I stopped the lift doors closing, and called to her. ‘Are you coming down?’
She hesitated visibly, then scurried in and squeezed into the far corner. I whacked the ground floor button with my jacket sleeve.

‘Isn’t it dreadful how we don’t know what’s safe now?’ she said.
‘I know,’ I said. ‘I guess we’re all right for the few seconds in here, though.’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I’m glad we have to wear masks.’

We arrived at the ground floor and walked towards the front door. I didn’t need to worry about social distancing because she was being super careful, and we emerged into a cold autumn morning.

She stared around. ‘It all looks so normal,’ she said, her voice trembling.
Her cab was waiting, and she got in without saying goodbye.

The taxi drove off, leaving me with a huge lump in my throat. I hope she hadn’t had bad news at the doctor’s. I hope she’s able to enjoy ‘normal’ again, one day. And I hope there was someone at home to give her the hug she needed.

I wandered towards the old town to take some photos. She was right – it did all look normal. Except for the last pic, but somehow, it didn’t feel funny that day…

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The ‘R’ books… #A-Z books 📚

This series is an adaptation of something I saw on Twitter – people were posting 26 books in 26 days, each title beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. However, I’m planning on taking around 26 months to get to Z. Each month I’ll post a newish book I’ve enjoyed, plus a children’s book and an older book.

This month, it’s the R books:

Manchester, 1989

A student, Rick, is found dead in halls of residence.
His friends get caught up in the aftermath: Dan, who was in love with Rick; and Becky, who is in love with Dan.

Their fraught emotions lead them into dark places – particularly a connection to a mysterious Kabbalistic sect.

Will Becky discover who killed Rick in time to save her best friend?

This is the first of Jo Fenton’s books I’ve read – I really enjoyed the university setting, and the way the students reacted to the death of their friend was very realistic. It’s the kind of book you don’t want to put down, because the characters are making rash decisions and you need to know it’s going to be all right!

In 1957, after travelling in southern Iraq, Gavin Maxwell returned to the West Highlands of Scotland with an otter cub called Mijbil. Written within the sound of the sea, in a remote cottage where they set up home together, this enduring story evokes the unspoilt seascape and wildlife of a place Maxwell called Camusfearna. Ring of Bright Water was hailed as a masterpiece when it was first published, sold over two million copies worldwide, and was later adapted into a successful film. Fifty years on it remains one of the most lyrical, moving descriptions of a man’s relationship with the natural world.

Ring of Bright Water was a home reader when I was at secondary school, and I absolutely loved it. There was a wonderful film, too. The book is the first of a trilogy, with The Rocks Remain, and Raven Seek Thy Brother continuing Gavin Maxwell’s story.

Working as a lady’s companion, the orphaned heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Life begins to look very bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she meets Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower whose sudden proposal of marriage takes her by surprise. Whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to his brooding estate, Manderley, on the Cornish Coast, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is forever kept alive by the forbidding Mrs Danvers . . .
Not since Jane Eyre has a heroine faced such difficulty with the Other Woman. An international bestseller that has never gone out of print, Rebecca is the haunting story of a young girl consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity.

This is one of those books I keep meaning to re-read – maybe I’ll manage it in the Christmas holidays. It’s another that grabs you and you can’t let it go. I haven’t seen the new film adaptation, but the older one is very atmospheric.

Look out for the ‘S’ books next month!

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New Book News – when fate lends a hand…

It was sheer coincidence. A few weeks ago, I sat down at my pc one evening and opened up Facebook to see what was happening in the world according to my FB friends. First thing I saw was a post by writer Alison Morgan – she was bubbling over with enthusiasm about being signed by Hobeck Books. I wasn’t aware of Hobeck Books, so I turned to Twitter, my usual go-to place for info about anything bookish. And there they were – “Hobeck Books. Trad Values, Indie Spirit. Family-run independent publisher of thrillers, crime, and suspense.”

Ooh. That looked good. Hobeck Books is run by Rebecca Collins and Adrian Hobart, who between them have very interesting and different book backgrounds and publishing skills – and you could tell by the tweets how enthusiastic they are. (And they have a very cute real-life cat, too.) Should I…?

Long story short, we signed the contracts last week, so here I am – the newest Hobeck Books writer. Cue a nice bottle of something fizzy in N.E. Switzerland. The new book will be out next spring/summer, and I can’t wait to get stuck into the next round of edits!

Why was it fate? Well, as most of you will know, Facebook doesn’t show you everything your Facebook friends post. They provide a selection they think you might find interesting. And while Alison Morgan and I are perfectly friendly – we’re both in a couple of FB groups – I don’t ever remember seeing any of her posts on my newsfeed. Until that night, and that post.

One of my first tasks as a Hobeck writer was to make a video of me answering some questions. At least, I provided the footage (you live and learn; I had no idea my laptop could do things like this) and they put it all together.

There’s also an introductory post on the Hobeck website which you can read HERE. (They’ve included a lovely pic of Arbon harbour with Austria in the background, too.)

So that’s my fateful book news – apologies for squeezing it in when I really should be posting about the ‘R’ books. We’ll have them next week.

I’ll finish off with a photo of the city where the new book’s set…

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Sweet ‘n’ Sour books from… the future

Each S&S post features one feel-good book and its blurb, and one in a crime fiction genre. Today’s books, for a change, are both – loosely-speaking – science fiction, one being a real chiller and the other definitely more feel-good. Set in the future? Read them and see…

Sweet: Chocky, by John Wyndham

Matthew’s parents are worried. At eleven, he’s much too old to have an imaginary friend, yet they find him talking to and arguing with a presence that even he admits is not physically there. This presence – Chocky – causes Matthew to ask difficult questions and say startling things: he speaks of complex mathematics and mocks human progress. Then, when Matthew does something incredible, it seems there is more than the imaginary about Chocky. Which is when others become interested and ask questions of their own: who is Chocky? And what could it want with an eleven-year-old boy?

I love this book – the way the fantastic events occur around normal, daily, family life makes you wonder if this really could happen – and maybe it could. But Chocky is a very benign being who only wants the best for Matthew. It’s an odd book to put a date on; you can tell by the technology that it was written and set in the past, but – Chocky? Aliens?? Let’s hope all that’s a long time in the future.
Right up there with the best John Wyndham books.

Sour: Tipping Point, by Terry Tyler

Year 2024. New social networking site Private Life bursts onto the scene. Across the world, a record number of users sign up.
A deadly virus is spreading—fast, and the UK announces a countrywide vaccination programme. Members of underground group Unicorn believe the disease to be man-made – and that Private Life might not be as private as it claims.
When the virus is detected in Vicky Keating’s home town of Shipden, the Norfolk town is placed under military controlled quarantine – but within days the virus is unstoppable.
As the country descends into chaos, there are scores to be settled further north….

News of an unstoppable virus is only too common nowadays, but this one is much, much deadlier than our corona. We can be glad. Tipping Point is the first of Terry Tyler’s Project Renova novels, which I race through as soon as they come out. Vicky and her family could be you or me and our kids. Would we find the same determination to survive as they do in the book? Maybe when the absolute worst happens, we find that grit from somewhere, because there’s no other choice. Something to think about…

This is the last of the Sweet ‘n’ Sour posts for the moment, though I may bring them back next year. Meantime, watch out for more bookish posts and author guest posts. With social life restricted as it is, we’ll all have plenty of time for reading this winter. Stay safe, everyone.

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Google searches this week…

The internet is a blessing when you’re writing a book. I often wonder how writers managed before the www was part of daily life. For your main research, it’s usually more helpful to go and look at whatever you need to know more about, or talk to an expert – I’m lucky to have a family full of teachers and police officers, and friends who are nurses and architects and business people. But for the small details, often unimportant to the actual story, there’s nothing to beat a quick dip into Google – here are a couple of my most recent searches:

When do hedgehogs give birth?
This is a tiny point in my unfinished wip. The main character goes into the local wildlife centre, and finds the person she’s looking for… wiping the table? Boring. Sterilising the equipment? Better, but not exactly fascinating. Feeding an orphaned baby hedgehog? MUCH better, but do hedgehogs have babies at the time of year in my book? A quick google, and yes, they do.

Onset rigor mortis.
I should really know this, but for some reason it never sticks in my mind. In most of my books it’s not an issue, as psychological suspense/domestic noir doesn’t necessarily mean dead bodies, and even when you have one, rigor doesn’t always play a role in the story. This time it would, though, so I had to make sure the body was transported and disposed of before rigor mortis would set in.

Flight time London Gatwick to New York.
Google maps is invaluable. If I put this search straight into Google, I’m bombarded with websites wanting to sell me airline tickets. In Google maps, though, it merely shows the route – you can even plot it from the character’s starting point at home, and you get the route and the time to travel to the airport by car or public transport, plus the flight times. For one book, I “drove” in street view from Dunvegan in the north of the Isle of Skye, all the way to Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland. It took nearly as long as the real journey would – an hour and seven minutes, according to Google, but it was a lovely trip. The only thing was, you go Over the Sea to Skye on a bridge now, and my flashback chapter took place in the pre-bridge ferry days. However, I’ve been on that ferry myself, so no problem.

Up the spout meaning
It happens quite a lot – a little phrase or saying pops into my head, and then I think – does that mean what I think it means? I’ve lived well over thirty years “in German” now, and some expressions exist in one language but not the other, and sometimes I mix the languages and end up with a similar but rather foreign-sounding phrase in English. This is where Google comes in – and if you search for ‘up the spout origin’, you learn when the expression came into the language. Some of them are older than you’d think. This one was first recorded early in the nineteenth century.

How to kayak in a two-seater.
This isn’t something I’ve ever done, but in my wip, I needed a couple of kids to kayak downriver (and find the body that didn’t have rigor mortis when it was disposed of…). And just like when you google “how to make soda bread”, you get instructions, videos, lists of equipment – much more than I needed for my chapter. But at least I have the right kid sitting in the front seat, and they have the right kind of paddles. Don’t think I’ll ever go kayaking, though.

So there you have it. As a general rule, if you need to know something and the internet is down – ask a writer. Chances are they’ll have googled it at some point.

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The ‘Q’ books… #A-Z books 📚

First of all, apologies for the somewhat homemade appearance of the blog this week; the new WordPress block editor has arrived and I can’t get the classic version back. (If anyone has an idiot’s guide to the new version, please send it to Switzerland)

This series is an adaptation of something I saw on Twitter – people were posting 26 books in 26 days, each title beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. However, I’m planning on taking around 26 months to get to Z. Each month I’ll post a newish book I’ve enjoyed, plus a children’s book and an older book.

This month, it’s the Q books, and the first of the potentially tricky letters. However, I found these three books in my own collection, although only the first is available as an ebook. Off we go:

Kajsa runs Sweden’s largest Health and Fitness blog. There’s only one small problem; it’s all a big lie. Between her blog entries on healthy nutritious porridge and flashy running shoes, she lies on the sofa watching TV and eating sweets. Her only exercise is using the remote control.

Kajsa’s life seems perfect: A beautiful house in an attractive suburb of Stockholm, three children, a loving husband and loads of money.

However, things start to crumble when she accidently writes on her blog that she is best friends with a famous Hollywood personal trainer. The problem is he’s never met her, let alone heard of her.

Then an ambitious journalist, who doesn’t believe Kajsa has been honest about her blog or her friendship with the personal trainer, sets out to destroy her…

The Queen of Blogging is a lovely, light-hearted, fun read – a perfect distraction, just what we need these days.

Quentin Kenihan’s bones are as fragile as eggshells. Born with severe osteogenesis imperfecta, he has experienced, in his ten short years, at least 160 fractures.

Until he was four, his parents accepted specialist’s opinions that Quentin would never walk – mere gravity would shatter his bones. It was claimed that nothing could be done for him. Four years later, not only had Quentin achieved mobility but had developed into an intelligent, wily and stubbornly independent boy.

Quentin’s story is inspiring for its courage and determination.

I read this book as a young physiotherapist in the 80s, when I was working with disabled children. I never treated a child with osteogenesis imperfecta, but I’ve known many Quentins with other conditions and many Quentin’s mums, too. The book isn’t as much for children as about a child, though older kids could certainly read it. Unfortunately, it seems largely unavailable now, so I’m very glad I have it.

In 1976 Joy Adamson was given a leaopard called Penny. Queen of Shaba is Joy’s record of Penny’s progress from tiny cub to full-grown female successfully rehabilitated in the bush of northern Africa.

Tragically, Joy Adamson died only days after visiting Penny’s newborn cubs and completing this book.

I’ve read several of Joy Adamson’s books – and who will ever forget the Born Free films. What an inspiring life she and her husband George led.

Watch out for the ‘R’ books next month!

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(Sort of) Silent Sunday…

This is the year of things we can’t do, places we can’t go. Some things you know you miss, others – like this – you only realise you miss them when you see them on a Facebook video and wonder, when will we see things like this in real life again?

I hope it plays everywhere – if it doesn’t in your country, it’s the L’Orchestre national d’Île-de-France à la gare Saint-Lazare, and it’s on YouTube. Enjoy!

 

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Sweet ‘n’ sour books from… Leicestershire

Each S&S post features one romance or feel-good book and its blurb, and one in a crime fiction genre. (Click the covers to see the books on Amazon.) Today’s books are two of my all-time favourites, though one’s been around for quite a lot longer than the other.

 

 

Sweet: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4, by Sue Townsend

Friday January 2nd
I felt rotten today. It’s my mother’s fault for singing ‘My Way’ at two o’clock in the morning at the top of the stairs. Just my luck to have a mother like her. There is a chance my parents could be alcoholics. Next year I could be in a children’s home.

Meet Adrian Mole, a hapless teenager providing an unabashed, pimples-and-all glimpse into adolescent life. Writing candidly about his parents’ marital troubles, the dog, his life as a tortured poet and ‘misunderstood intellectual’, Adrian’s painfully honest diary is still hilarious and compelling reading thirty years after it first appeared.

Adrian Mole needs no introduction – the books aren’t ‘sweet’ in the romantic sense, but they’re definitely feel-good, which is just what we need at the moment. This is the first book in the series, and I think it’s the best, too. 

 

Sour: The Lies Within, by Jane Isaac

Be under no illusions by her kind face and eloquent manner . . . This woman is guilty of murder . . .
 
Grace Daniels is distraught after her daughter’s body is found in a Leicestershire country lane. With her family falling apart and the investigation going nowhere, Grace’s only solace is the re-emergence of Faye, an old friend who seems to understand her loss. DI Will Jackman delves into the case, until a family tragedy and a figure from his past threaten to derail him.
 
When the police discover another victim, the spotlight falls on Grace. Can Jackman find the killer, before Grace is convicted of a crime she didn’t commit?

I’ve read all Jane Isaac’s books to date, and this one, largely set in Market Harborough in Leicestershire, is my favourite. The courtroom scenes are completely convincing and must have needed a tremendous amount of research. Very well done, a real page-turner!

 

 

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A visit to Tuscany…

Writer Helen Pryke and I ‘met’ on social media quite recently, and I was interested to see she lives in the north of Italy – not a million miles from N.E. Switzerland. For obvious reasons, we didn’t manage a visit this summer, but one day… Here she is to tell us about her (wonderful; I’ve read it) new book, The Healer’s Secret.

The Healer’s Secret is set in Gallicano, a small village in Tuscany. The protagonist, Jennifer, is a 31-year-old English woman who is going through a rough period in her life – her husband is about to divorce her and she loses her job due to her drinking problem. Taking her mum’s advice, she goes to Tuscany to stay in her great-grandmother’s cottage and meet the Italian side of her family. But events don’t go exactly as she planned, and instead of a relaxing holiday in the sun she finds herself in the middle of a family mystery. With her overwhelming Italian relatives, a half-crazy uncle, and an attractive Englishman to complicate matters, will Jennifer ever manage to sort her life out?

Three years ago, after finishing the first draft of The Healer’s Secret, my husband, youngest son, and I decided to go to Gallicano for a short trip. We had four days to explore the area and taste the local food, so we made the most of it!

Gallicano is a beautiful town, with hidden treasures around every corner and breathtaking views. The church of San Jacopo is mentioned in the book. We found it during a walk around Gallicano, at the top of a very steep hill, overlooking the town. The overgrown graveyard was closed, so we couldn’t go in, but I saw a statue of an angel hiding among the grass, which sparked my imagination, and I had to include it in the book. (It was also after the ‘Weeping Angels’ episode of Doctor Who, so it was pretty creepy!)

The trip I was looking most forward to during our long weekend in Gallicano was the guided tour around La Grotta del Vento (the Wind Cave). We had to drive up a narrow road that wound around the mountain, with huge rocks overhanging it occasionally! Just like Jennifer and Mark, we went up early to avoid the crowds, but unlike Jennifer, we didn’t get lost inside the caves!

I came across the caves when I was doing research for The Healer’s Secret. With help from the website, I wrote the scene where Mark takes Jennifer there for a guided tour. But there’s nothing like seeing it for yourself, so when we booked our trip, the caves were the first thing I wanted to see! It was as amazing as I’d hoped it would be, as you can see from the photos. And I even found some creepy steps leading down to who knows where, which I had to add to the scene! If you ever go to Gallicano, I highly recommend you visit the caves – but take a jumper, it was freezing inside, even at the height of summer!

After our guided tour around the caves, we stopped at a village on the way down to stretch our legs and take some photos. I found a stone-walled cottage that looked very similar to how I imagined Great-grandmother Luisa’s cottage to be. We walked around a curve in the road to take some more photos of the back of the cottage, and were amazed to see something in the back garden! I’m not going to say what we saw, but the spooky thing is, I’d already written the book, and Luisa’s cottage has something similar in its back garden! If you’ve already read The Healer’s Secret, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If not – you’ll have to read the book!

While driving around, we found a beautiful spot near a river. We spent a pleasant few hours soaking up the peace and quiet, it was lovely. I didn’t want to leave! The photo gives you some idea of how beautiful Tuscany is.

I’ve been living in Italy for the last 30 years, and I’ve come to know the people, the culture, and the country well. I love the Italian way of life, and I enjoy writing about it in my books!

Thank you, Helen!
I loved The Healer’s Secret – and it’s only 99p/c on kindle at the moment! Here’s a short extract:

The food was exquisite, spaghetti Bolognese with a home-made sauce, followed by tender roast pork drizzled with the cooking juices, and sautéed courgettes that, I was informed, had been freshly picked that morning. There was never a lull in the conversation, everyone chatted easily together while they ate. I watched as they broke every rule I’d ever been taught in England: talking with their mouths full, using their knives to scrape up sauce and then lick them, breaking a chunk of bread off the loaf and wiping it around their plates, leaning on their elbows, laughing and joking. Aunt Liliana prided herself as a wonderful cook, and told me every detail of the preparation process, while I copied my cousins and broke off a piece of home-made bread to mop up the delicious pasta sauce left on the plate.

Yum! You can see the book in your local Amazon Store by tapping the cover image, and you can find out more about Helen Pryke below, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Helen Pryke is a chocolate-addicted British author who has been living in the north of Italy for thirty years. She is now happily married to her second husband, who is a wonderful cook, and enjoying life with her two sons and a rescue cat, Pan.
   Fluent in Italian, she worked as a translator and taught English to Italian students for many years, before deciding to follow her dream and become an author.
   Helen has always loved reading, and started writing at an early age – her first article was published in a school magazine when she was ten. She got her passion for reading from her mum, who encouraged her to write, but sadly never got to see Helen’s dream come true.
   Helen has written several women’s fiction novels set in Italy, and two suspense novels set in the Portsmouth area she grew up in many years ago. She enjoys creating dark characters who send chills down your spine, which worries her husband somewhat.

 

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(Almost) Silent Sunday…

Autumn is inching ever closer here in N.E. Switzerland – but summer’s still putting up a fight.

And Death Wish is in the middle of a make-over, with a lovely new cover image. Big thanks to The Cover Collection, brilliant work as always.

The ebook is available now and the paperback will follow on in a few weeks. Bargain ebook price for the weekend: 99p/c.

Next week, we have a guest post with some lovely Italy photos and an amazing book – see you then!

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