A Stately Soundtrack

tea-1090672_1920Sometimes, I surprise even myself at how many ways I find to procrastinate. When I’ve finished Googling pictures of gorgeous men (research), beautiful homes (research), smugglers (research), Catholic saints (research),  scenic Yorkshire coastal locations (research), 17th century artists (research), and what’s coming up on the next Outlander episode (re – nah, can’t even pretend), and when I’ve tweeted all the tweets I can possibly tweet, and when I’ve scrolled up and down Facebook in a  desperate attempt to find something new to read, even though I’ve already scrolled up and down my timeline twelve times already, and when I’ve pinned a few pictures to Pinterest, and when I’ve read my emails yet again, and when I’ve tidied my desk, and when I’ve drunk gallons of tea and then had to run to the loo several times, I’m almost out of options, and have no excuses not to write. Then I remember YouTube.

Ah, YouTube. What did we do in the days before this wonderful site? I remember frantically pressing the record and play buttons on my old cassette recorder, balancing the microphone gingerly announcer-315497_1280on the chest of drawers next to my radio, and praying that no one would barge into my bedroom to disturb my desperate attempt to tape my favourite songs from the American Top Forty, hosted by Paul Gambaccini. Those were the days. So many of my recordings were filled with various members of my family yelling at me to do something, and my increasingly exasperated hisses of “Shut up!” Then there was the horror of the tangled up tape! Aaarrgghh! All those brilliant songs, ruined. Lost forever! Well, until next Saturday afternoon when I’d have to go through the whole rigmarole yet again.

Now, with a click of a mouse, you can not only listen to music any time you want, but you can watch the accompanying video, too. Brilliant, and not too technical even for someone like me, who has no idea how an iPod works and wouldn’t have a clue about the mysterious ways today’s teenagers listen to music.

Anyway, I digress. Having been very good and written a whole scene, I decided that what I needed, more than anything, was a soundtrack to the story. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds. You try Googling “songs about unrequited love and falling for your best friend while living in a stately home and facing bankruptcy”. Surprisingly, Google seemed a bit perplexed about that one. Anyway, I went onto YouTube and decided to start with the title track, since that’s the obvious place to begin, and it is, after all, how they start films. So I added Paul McCartney’s Once Upon a Long Ago to my brand new channel, which is called, astonishingly, Once Upon a Long Ago. Because, in case you hadn’t realised, Once Upon a Long Ago is the title of Kearton Bay book three.

broken-heart-1127705_1280Then I tried to think of the most anguished song I could think of. You know, a song that showed a man really struggling with his feelings and not knowing what the hell to do with them. I came up with U2’s With or Without You, so I played that. Twice. Or it might have been three times. I really do love that song. Luckily, when you play one song, YouTube comes up with suggestions that you might also like. Some of them aren’t to my taste, but some are very appropriate, and before I knew it, I was adding song after song to my channel.

I have managed to spend about two hours doing this. How many words I could have written in that time, I have no idea, but I suspect that I would be a lot further on in the story than I am now. I have to confess, however, that I did also listen to the theme song from Outlander. Several times. Well, it’s good. If you don’t believe me, listen to it here.

The only thing is – and it is a teeny problem – I can’t listen to music while I’m writing. I don’t like any sort of noise really, and I prefer to work in silence, so that the only sound I hear is the frantic tapping of my fingers on the keyboard, *ahem*,  so I don’t know why I felt the sudden need to make a soundtrack. It’s hardly important, is it? And it’s not going to get those scenes written any faster, is it? On the other hand, it gave me something to talk to you all about, so that’s always nice. And it did make me feel all emotional and involved with Will, my lovely hero, so I think that always helps.

I’m off back to Kearton Hall now to get on with his story. If you want to know what sort of music I’ve been listening to, or if you’re looking for clues about poor Will’s state of mind (or Lexi’s come to that!) then you can find my playlist here.

Have a great week xx

Beauty and the Recluse by Ellie Gray

Kiya is still grieving for her father when she heads out into the Yorkshire countryside on her bicycle, and chances upon an advertisement in a post office window. A local man apparently needs a housekeeper, and Kiya is intrigued to find that the ladies in the shop are astonished that she seems interested in the job. She is told that the man is “strange”, but she decides that she has nothing to lose by applying. She has lost both her parents to cancer in the last few years, her home is up for sale, and she has little reason to ignore this chance of a fresh start.
She’s startled to be taken on as housekeeper, after only having an extremely brief telephone conversation with the reclusive stranger. It appears that the ladies in the post office were right. St John is a little strange, after all. In fact, when Kiya arrives at the house and discovers a note pinned to the door, advising her to stay out of his way and even avoid the kitchen at certain times, she begins to wonder what on earth she’s let herself in for.
Bumping into her elusive employer unexpectedly, she reacts with shock, and St John, already convinced that he is a monster, unfit to be seen by outsiders, determines to keep her even further at bay.
Kiya sets to work, bringing life back to a neglected house, restoring it to its former beauty. As she weaves her spell upon his home, St John finds that she has begun to work her magic on him, too, reminding him of happier times, when he knew how to laugh and how to enjoy someone else’s company. Bit by bit, Kiya repairs the damage to the house, and tries to repair the damage to its owner. But though St John’s physical scars may not be as bad as he fears, his emotional wounds will take a lot more tending. Can Kiya reach the lonely, tortured man behind the aloof facade, or will St John’s pain ensure he remains forever a sad recluse?
I absolutely loved this novel, reading it in one sitting. I found myself completely absorbed from the first page, and couldn’t put it down. Kiya is a lovely heroine, full of compassion and understanding, but with enough spirit to ensure St John’s defensive attitude doesn’t break her. Dominic – St John’s best friend, and the only person who really knows him – is an excellent character. He has empathy, humour, kindness, and a streak of mischief. As for St John himself – well, I couldn’t help but fall for him. I understood his behaviour, and longed for him to believe in himself enough to take a chance.
This is a gorgeous, unashamedly romantic tale of two people who have been through harrowing times, finding each other, and helping each other to heal. It’s the sort of book that leaves you feeling all contented and satisfied, and with a feeling that love really can conquer everything. A wonderful debut novel. 5/5

You can buy Beauty and the Recluse here.51Q6U-nq3VL._UY250_

Getting Over Gary by Jessica Redland

I greatly enjoyed Searching for Steven, Jessica Redland’s previous full-length novel in the Whitsborough Bay series, and I also loved her novella, Raving About Rhys, so I was wondering if she would be able to come up with something that I enjoyed as much. In the event, I discovered that Getting Over Gary is my favourite of her books, so far.
The story revolves around Elise, best friend of Sarah, who featured in Searching for Steven. Elise is a lovely heroine, and I really felt her shock and pain as she makes a discovery that will change the course of her life. Her grief is compounded by the events in her sister’s and Sarah’s lives. Surrounded by happy couples and expectant parents, Elise is struggling to cope with her pain. Everything in her world has changed. Everything she thought she knew has been proven to be a lie. How can she start to put her life back together again?
Elise goes on a journey of discovery. Having been half of a couple since she was a teenager, she now has to learn who she is, and what she wants from life, now that her husband is out of the equation. Sometimes, she makes mistakes. Her judgement is a little off-balance occasionally – but how can it not be? She’s lonely, sad, confused and angry. The future she had mapped out for herself no longer exists. She has to grieve not only for what she had and lost, but for what she might have had and never will. So, of course, she’s going to make mistakes and plot a haphazard course for a while.
The great thing about Elise is that she doesn’t give up. Even with her dreams in tatters, she picks herself up and tries to mend herself, her way. Trying to put a brave face on things for the sake of her friend and sister shows what a kind and caring person she is. I really felt for her when she confronted her own mother – an awful old bat of a woman who was enough to crush the confidence of anyone, let alone someone as vulnerable as Elise. As for her mother-in-law! Words fail me.
I loved following Elise’s journey as she battled to get over Gary. I was rooting for her all the way through the book, and I really hoped she would get her happy ending. I won’t say what happens, but suffice it to say I had a big smile on my face when I came to the end.
Lovely, warm writing, great setting, characters you can really relate to, and a satisfactory conclusion. I’m now looking forward to reading the last in the Whitsborough Bay series, although I will be very sad to say goodbye. 5/5
You can buy Getting Over Gary here.
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Shakespeare? He’s not so Bard. (Sorry!)

William_shakespeare_dmWilliam Shakespeare. You grow up knowing his name, don’t you? Even if you’ve never read a single play or sonnet. Even if you’ve never seen any performances of his work. Even if you’re not really sure who on earth he was, you know the name, even as a little child. He’s as English as fish and chips, Corrie and the Beatles. Even his birthday, April 23rd – which is also the date of his death – is our national day. The day we fly the flag bearing the cross of St George. Shakespeare is embedded in our culture.

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Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

How many schoolchildren are loaded onto buses and driven to theatres to watch his work performed? How many GCSEs depend on a basic understanding of at least one of his plays? How many coach holidays revolve around a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon? How many visitors traipse around Anne Hathaway’s cottage? But how many people really, really enjoy his work? How many people actually read it? How many people shake their heads, hold up their hands in dread, and declare they don’t understand his words, and aren’t particularly interested in learning them?

My first introduction to Shakespeare was at high school. As part of my English literature ‘O’ level studies – yes, I’m that old! – we had to read Julius Caesar. I hated it. We were also studying To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which I loved, and the works of RS Thomas, Ted Hughes, John Betjeman and Philip Larkin, as part of the syllabus. I enjoyed those. On the days that the teacher announced we were studying Julius Caesar, we all groaned, and I prepared for an hour of total boredom. The lines made no sense to me. The words were dry and dusty on the page. I can’t, in all honesty, remember any quotes from that play. I confess, though, that Julius Caesar, as played by Kenneth Williams, is vivid in my memory, as he wailed, “Infamy, Infamy, they’ve all got it in for me!” in Carry On, Cleo.

We were taken on the obligatory school trip to see the play performed. I think it might have been in York, or Leeds. Either way, seeing it come alive on stage made no difference. I think I actually fell asleep. Similarly, when we went to see Hamlet, in either York, or Leeds(!) I wasn’t interested. None of it made sense. I didn’t even know what was happening. I was more interested in the music of the Bee Gees, pouring from the coach radio. than in the lines of anguished dialogue being wrung from the lips of passionate actors on stage. More into Saturday Night Fever than the feverish outpourings of a distraught Prince of Denmark.

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An intimidating looking textbook…

So why did I decide to study Shakespeare as part of an Open University degree, in my forties? I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. I could have chosen other courses. Maybe it was that I thought I ought to. Maybe it was because it was a challenge, and one I was determined to accept. Maybe I thought that being older and wiser would help me understand the words. Maybe it was the hope that having guidance from expert tutors would open up all the beauty of his words that I had so far failed to grasp. All I know is that I’m very glad I went for it.

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I had to make lots of notes!

I’m not claiming to be an expert on Shakespeare or his works. I haven’t read all of them. I’ve only tackled the ones I needed for my course. I chose A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, Richard II, Hamlet, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Twelfth Night and Cymbeline. We also read various sonnets.  Did I understand them? Not all of them – at least, not at first. Having tuition to guide me through made them so much more enjoyable, and watching performances of the plays on DVD was a revelation. Shakespeare does come alive on stage. That’s what his plays were written for, after all. They weren’t novels. They were written to be performed, and once you start to understand them, and stop being afraid of them, they  are amazing. I laughed out loud at A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream and  I truly adored Macbeth.  The sonnets were a real revelation. They are beautiful. Honestly. Those poems actually moved me to tears.

Most people have heard at least the first line of Sonnet 18:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimmed;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,

Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,

When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.

So long as men can breathe, and eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

 

But there are other, beautiful sonnets that aren’t quite as well known. Heart-wrenching poems of love and longing, and fear and loss, and jealousy, pain, grief and acceptance. I began to understand why, four hundred years after his death, he is still the most famous and celebrated writer in history.

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Cymbeline starring Helen Mirren

I’m sure there will be lots of articles written, lots of programmes on television, lots of discussion on the radio, about this man who, in spite of his fame, remains surprisingly elusive. (Not much is known about him, though there is a great deal of speculation and theory.)  I hope that it’s not all overly-intellectual and dry. I hope it’s inclusive and encouraging and exciting. I hope it persuades more people to open their hearts and minds to his wonderful work. It’s a terrible shame that he is thought, by too many, to be for “academics” and the middle classes. I think he would be appalled and saddened by that.

I expect some of you reading this will be thinking, ‘Well, obviously! I love Shakespeare! She’s preaching to the converted here.’ But if there are some of you who are reluctant to give him a try, perhaps because you think his work is boring, or scary, or only for clever people (which is what I believed for years!) then why not give it a chance? This isn’t coming from someone who can quote vast chunks of Shakespearean lines off the top of my head. This isn’t coming from someone who can even say she understands every word he ever wrote. I don’t. But when you just relax and give it a chance, it’s astonishing what happens. Don’t believe me? Go for it. You just might be pleasantly surprised, and find a great deal of pleasure in something you’ve feared until now. As the great man himself said:

Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt
Measure for Measure

Here’s to you, Mr Shakespeare.  God bless you.

xxx

A Trip Into The Past

So, on Saturday I ventured out of the house for something other than work (I know!) and had a truly fabulous day 12966039_10154178518026424_951649257_nout with my brilliant daughter, Jemma, at a local stately home.

Burton Agnes Hall is an Elizabethan manor, not too far from Bridlington, and it’s truly beautiful. Unbelievably, I’d never been before, although of course, I knew about it. We’ve driven through the village of 12968706_10154178528346424_1935446030_nBurton Agnes loads of times, and you can’t fail to spot the brown tourist signs, or the glimpse of the imposing house on the hill as you follow the winding road, past the lovely village duck pond.

Jemma had arranged the trip as a treat. She drove me there, she paid the entrance fee, and she even paid for us a meal in the cafe. She’s a star! I knew there was a reason I had her. 🙂

She’d been before on a couple of occasions, but it was new to me, as I said earlier. I was expecting something lovely, as I’ve looked the place up plenty of times on the internet. Frankly, though, no image on the computer can do the place justice. It really is gorgeous.

We parked up and spent five minutes debating whether or not I’d need my coat. It was quite sunny, but it had been cloudy and drizzly earlier on, and I’m nothing if not cautious. Eventually, I decided against it, and we headed down the path, past the sweet little church, and into the courtyard, where plants for sale were on display, and which was enclosed by shops, and a cafe.

We paid admission in the shop, then headed out towards the Norman Manor House. This was the original hall, and 12969223_10154178527491424_2053667669_nwas actually built in the twelfth century. It was a bit church-like, and we realised we were whispering as we walked round, which made us giggle. There was a tiny twisting staircase in the corner, and Jemma persuaded (bullied!) me into climbing it. We found ourselves in a large room which, apparently, used to be the main room where the family slept and ate together. There used to be a doorway leading out, but that’s blocked up now. Presumably the room we’d entered was a sort of cellar.

12969347_10154178527301424_750190135_nHeading back to the lower level, with my daughter mocking my terror as I edged my way down the steps, we left the building and stepped out into the sunshine. It was time to enter the main hall.

The thing that struck me about Burton Agnes Hall was its informality. We were immediately greeted by a very friendly lady who told us cheerfully that we could sit on any furniture that wasn’t roped off and take as many photographs as we liked. I was quite astonished by that. I’ve been to stately homes before, where photos were not allowed and there was definitely no touching. I also liked the fact that there were family photographs dotted around in various rooms, which made it clear that this was still a family home.

In actual fact, about half of the Hall is still private and blocked off from the public, but it’s been very cleverly arranged, so that the rooms you can go in flow on directly, and you don’t see any signs or warnings to keep out, apart from on the second floor landing, where the stairs are roped off to the third floor. Other than that, you don’t realise, as you go round, that you’re not seeing the whole house.

There are some stunning rooms. The Red Drawing Room, The White Drawing Room, and the Great Hall are 12939699_10154178525831424_1477737850_n (1)amazing. Proper grand stately home rooms, if you know what I mean. There is a fantastic fireplace in the Great Hall. It really catches the eye and you can only marvel at the workmanship.

The King’s State Bedroom is slightly creepy. It seems to have got its name because of the rumour that James I slept there on the way to his 12968810_10154178522951424_533842496_ncoronation, although this is pretty doubtful, since the Hall wasn’t finished until after the coronation happened! Jemma and I both agreed that we wouldn’t much fancy sleeping in it, in the days before electricity. It has dark, wooden panelling on every wall, and with only candles to light your way, it must have been a bit scary sleeping in there. The bed was surprisingly small. We were thinking about how we always say people were shorter back then, but in the history books, kings are always portrayed as being tall. We wondered if the king slept with his feet dangling over the edge of the bed, or if he slept propped up on loads of pillows. Then we thought, didn’t they used to wear heels? So by the time they’d taken off the heels, then taken off their wigs, they were probably only five foot and a peanut.

The Queen’s State Bedroom was much more pleasing, and seemed, surprisingly, larger. She also had a little room 12966408_10154178522806424_1348886070_nattached to her bedroom. Either things have changed drastically over the last few centuries, or the queen had better sleeping quarters than the king. Quite right, too. I’m not sure why it’s called The Queen’s Bedroom. There appeared to be no legend about a visit to the room by a queen, although it’s possible I missed that. It is, however, supposed to be haunted by the ghost of a lady who died there in 1620. Yikes! I didn’t feel a presence there, thankfully. I actually rather liked the room, and it had an amazing Jacobean ceiling.

12966121_10154178522581424_649050828_nMy favourite rooms were the Reading Room, the Library and the Dining Room. These seemed to be lighter, more airy, and a bit more modern in feel. They were quite relaxing, and I could imagine them being proper family rooms. In the Long Gallery there was a tapestry, which was a depiction of the garden, with an image of the hall in the top left corner.  We only glanced at it, until a lady who was browsing nearby urged us to take a close look. When we did, we couldn’t believe the detail. It was incredible. Tiny, tiny little stitches, so neatly done, and so clever. You could easily make out the different flowers. I noticed the little white roses and was quite astounded how the effect had been achieved. That’s some talent.

All the way up the stairs and round the house, I’d been conscious of the creaking floorboards. I kept muttering to Jemma that, after all these centuries, if I was the one who proved too much for them, and the floor collapsed under my weight, I’d die of embarrassment. As we left the house, we noticed the creaking hadn’t stopped. It was my shoes! I was mortified, but Jemma found that very funny, obviously. They hadn’t creaked before we went in. I reckon they were joining in as a mark of respect to the house.

We headed to the cafe, as Jemma was on the point of collapse, and had delicious paninis, cups of Yorkshire tea, and a12966233_10154178529591424_2016131410_n glass of raspberry lemonade, before following the path back out to the church. Apparently, Charlotte Bronte visited Burton Agnes, and, given her connections to the clergy, it’s believed she visited that actual church. I would love to think I’d walked in Charlotte Bronte’s footsteps! The church grounds are quite dark as you walk through an archway of trees, and on either side you can see ancient gravestones. We both jumped as we heard cannon fire. Now, I will grant you that I do have an overactive imagination, but even Jemma said that it sounded like cannon fire. There was some shouting going on from somewhere. For one brief moment, I allowed myself to dream that we were stepping through a time portal, and were going to hurtle back two hundred years or so. Maybe I would meet my own Jamie Fraser? Sadly, I was brought back to earth when we noticed the very contemporary cables fastened to the side of the church, and then Jemma pointed out that the noise was probably some sporting event. So, no Outlander type timeslip event for me, then. Boo.

12939452_10154178516281424_1567285219_nWe visited the walled garden, where we posed for photographs and couldn’t stop laughing. It was a bit embarrassing when a couple of other visitors suddenly appeared beside us. They must have heard everything we’d said. We braved the maze. I told Jemma not to go in there. Hadn’t she seen Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? But she insisted, so in we went, without so much as a reel of cotton, a trail of breadcrumbs, or even a compass to keep us safe. Luckily, it was very straightforward, and we came out the other side pretty sharpish. Having dodged a few bumble bees, we decided to have a wander over to the east lawn’s ponds. This meant walking on the grass. I spent the whole time whispering, “Are you sure we’re allowed to walk on the grass?” and Jemma spent the whole time hissing back, “Yes!” I kept looking round nervously, expecting an angry bellow of, “Get orf my land, plebs!” but thankfully, all was calm. We had a look at the fish and the ducks, then flopped onto a bench where we discussed life, the universe and everything for ten minutes. Then, having solved all of the mysteries of the world, we had a walk through the woodland, then headed back to the car.

It was a truly fantastic day. I’d gone there to do research for Kearton Bay Book Three, which will be called Once Upon a 12980436_10154178523521424_1668910480_nLong Ago. It features Will and Lexi, and their lives at Kearton Hall, so I wanted to immerse myself in the atmosphere of a stately home. Burton Agnes Hall really did the job. I came home fired up with enthusiasm, and ready to commence writing. We’re going back to the Hall later in the year, and we definitely want to see it all decorated for Christmas. I can’t wait. Thank you, Jemma. xx

Have a great week xx

It’s Publication Day!

This Other Eden ebook cover V4 (1)Yes, it really is, and how am I celebrating? Well, in my usual glamorous fashion, I’m catching up with blogging, emails and (hopefully!) writing this morning, before heading off to the day job. No Champagne or celebration cakes for me. Oh, no. I like to keep things down-to-earth. Ha! Like I have a choice.

To be honest, I’ve been ill all weekend, so the shine has kind of been taken off the whole thing for me. I’ve honestly been too worn-out-headachey-aching-limbs-sore-throat-feeling-sorry-for-myself to think about publication day much. I’m hoping whatever nasty little virus has attacked me this time, clears off pretty sharpish. Mind you, the way this year has been going, it’s only a matter of time before it lets its mates know and the next horde of germs move in. I never seem to be free of them lately.

But enough of this tale of woe. It is publication day, and I’m delighted to say that This Other Eden is now available to buy for Kindle for the bargain price of just £1.99. Fingers crossed, it’s also available to buy in paperback for3773091618_64da64443e_b £9.99, but you’ll have to check that out for yourself. At the time of writing this blog, the paperback hadn’t yet appeared for sale on Amazon, but it shouldn’t be long.

So, if you fancy heading off to the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, to spend time with an ageing rock star, a double-crossing politician, a spoilt brat who is angling for her own reality show, an inept journalist, a confused young woman who’s really not herself, and a truly delectable sheep farmer with a more-than-passing resemblance to Aidan Turner, treat yourself to This Other Eden for less than the price of a cappuccino, and enjoy…

Have a great week xx