I shall be having a launch party at Linghams Bookshop in Heswall on Tuesday September 12th, 6.30 for 7pm. Tickets £5.00 to include a glass of wine.
PLEASE COME AND SUPPORT ME IF YOU ARE IN THE AREA.
Well, it’s that time of year again. Picking and freezing I lay waste my powers – to misquote Wordsworth. There are strawberries and raspberries from the local PYO farm to make into ice cream and summer puddings; French beans and mange tout peas and tons of courgettes to be frozen somehow, or turned into something else. To say nothing of keeping on top of the weeds!
But it doesn’t matter. For once I am well ahead with my writing. WORKHOUSE ORPHANS, my first Holly Green book, will be out in paperback on August 24th. The sequel, WORKHOUSE ANGEL, is finished and at the copy-editing stage. It should be in the libraries before the end of the year and out in paperback next summer. And I hope to finish the third book in the quartet by next spring. So for once I am free to enjoy the summer without feeling I should be at my desk.
I have found the research for these books really interesting. I knew very little about workhouses and the people who had to live in them but I soon had to expand my field of enquiry to take in Victorian society in general, and Liverpool in that period in particular. As always, I found the story taking me off in unexpected directions. Who could have guessed that it would lead me to the American Civil War and the blockade running ships built for the south in the dockyards of Liverpool and Birkenhead? Did you know that the final act of that conflict took place in the Mersey estuary? Or that Birkenhead Park was the first civic park designed for public use, and was the pattern for Central Park in New York? Book Two has taken me to Ireland, to look into the aftermath of the famine and convent education for girls, and the lives of Irish tinkers. And I found myself reverting to more familiar territory when the story led me to a travelling company of variety artistes.
Book Three will require research into nursing in the mid-Victorian era and the work of Florence Nightingale.
One good thing has come out of all this. I have found myself reading or re-reading Victorian authors – Dickens and the Brontes in particular. Nicholas Nickleby and Jane Eyre were potent sources of inspiration.
We have had two holidays this year. The first was a cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest with Viking and I must say we were very well looked after. It was a fascinating journey, with so many beautiful and interesting cities and landscapes on the way. I should have liked to spend longer in Vienna, but Budapest was definitely the highlight. Then, at the beginning of this month, we went with our son and his wife to the Verdon Gorges in the Alpes Maritimes, north of Nice. It is a spectacularly beautiful area and we had glorious weather. The only bad things were the journeys out and back. We flew into Nice quite late in the evening and had to queue for a long time to pick up our hire car. Then the sat-nav went mad and took us on a scenic tour of the area – which might have been nice if it had not been pitch dark! We finally reached our rented villa at 3am! Then, coming back, our flight was cancelled. After a long wait in another queue we were sent to a hotel for the night and told we could fly back the next day to Gatwick. Considering the fact that our car was at Liverpool airport, this was less than convenient. However, it turned out that there were seven of us in the same boat and easyjet sent us back by taxi. The other five were really lively companions and we passed the time chatting and telling travellers’ tales. I think I may also have sold a few books!
I hope you are all enjoying the summer and finding time to do some reading.
With best wishes
I am delighted to tell you that my new novel, WORKHOUSE ORPHANS, which is published under my new pen name of Holly Green, will be in the libraries from March 3rd. Please put in a request for it straight away, so you will be at the head of the queue when it arrives.
I am already half way through the second book in the series, hoping to get it finished before the summer comes, so I will have a bit more time for the garden. This book takes on the story of May and Gus, but the main focus is on Angelina, the little girl to whom May became devoted in the workhouse but who was then adopted. This has led into new areas of research, including the beginnings of the Fenian movement in Ireland and the lifestyle of Irish tinkers. I have also been looking into convent schools in nineteenth century Ireland and have found a very interesting novel called ‘Land of Spices’ by Kate O’Brian, set in the convent of the Faithful Companions Of Jesus near Limerick. Well worth a read on its own account and invaluable for research. The next step is to investigate the role of children on the Victorian stage. I hope this is enough to pique your curiosity without giving away too much of the plot!
After a long period of drought I am delighted to tell you that there are four new books to look forward to. I have been commissioned by Ebury Press, part of the Penguin/Random House group, to write four novels set in nineteenth century Liverpool and centring on the inhabitants of the huge workhouse/orphanage which once stood on the site now occupied by the Roman Catholic cathedral. The reasons for how they came to be there, and their ultimate fate, offer many narrative possibilities and I have found the initial research fascinating. Book 1 will focus on a sister and brother sent to the orphanage after their father was ‘lost at sea’ and their mother died. The story of how they transcend their difficulty beginnings and find new lives will take in the foundation of Liverpool’s first department store, blockade running in the American Civil War and the Australian Gold Rush, to give you just a flavour of what to expect.
Hopefully, Book 1 will be in the libraries next summer and the book stores in the autumn, but that depends on me getting it finished by the end of this year. It’s a tall order as so far I have only written one chapter, so I’m going to have to work hard but it’s great to know that there is still a market for my work. The commission came about because the publishing director’s mother read We’ll Meet Again and raved about it. I shall be eternally grateful to that lady!
A BRIGHT PARTICULAR STAR
The year is 2005. Britain has left the EU and has been subjected to a terrorist attack similar to that of 9/11. As a result, the country is now governed by an extreme right-wing party, kept in power by nationalist thugs. The Prince of Wales in assassinated and the Queen dies, leaving twenty-three year old Prince William to accede to the throne. He refuses to act as a figurehead for a regime he abhors, but what is the alternative? Into this situation comes a beautiful young American starlet, in Britain to make a film about Bonnie Prince Charlie. What follows is a series of exciting events which will change the history of the country. Romance, conspiracy, kidnapping, plot and counter plot create a fast moving thriller which will keep the reader on the edge of the seat to the last page.
Out on Kindle on June 23rd. Available for pre-order now.
I went to see the Scottish Ballet’s new production of Swan Lake at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool last Thursday. I have to admit I was disappointed.
The objective, obviously, was to produce an updated version, freed of the clutter of the traditional staging. So, out went the beautiful scenery and the lovely costumes. No opulent court, no mysterious, magical forest, no lake – and no swans. The corps de ballet wore leotards, colour shaded to give each of them a very unflattering white bum. Out went all the conventional choreography,; no dance of the little swans, no variations for the attendants of the potential brides. Out, too, went most of the story. No pushy queen mother desperate to get her son married off, replaced by a friend of the prince’s own age who seemed unnaturally concerned that he should find a girl friend. More importantly, no wicked wizard Rothbart, thus removing the mainspring of the plot. Just who Odette was, and what her problem was, was never made clear. We had Odile, and her seduction of the prince was the liveliest section of the ballet; but no mutual suicide after his betrayal, no apotheosis for the lovers; instead a fourth act which largely consisted of an overlong pas de deux for the prince and Odette, who should have been swept out of his reach as soon as he proposed to her double.
So what are we left with? A group of talented young people dancing their socks off in a grey box. Call me old fashioned, but I’ll take the conventional production any day.
Oh dear! Is it really that long since my last letter? Time just seems to disappear these days.
So, what news is there? At the end of September I was in Whitley Bay again, at the studios of Soundings, to record the audio version of TWICE ROYAL LADY. It’s a pretty intensive exercise, two six hour days plus another couple of hours on the last morning. We work in sessions of one and a half to two hours, and reading aloud for that length of time, trying not to fluff and to bring out the characters and the changes of pace and mood in the story, is quite hard work. But the producers, who sit at the recording desk in the next studio and keep a check on everything, are very helpful and understanding. In spite of the effort of concentration, I really enjoy doing it because it seems to bring the characters to life in a way that reading the text doesn’t – even when it is something that has lived in your imagination for months. I hope that it does the same for people who listen to the books. If any of you have listened to one of my recordings, I’d love to hear from you.
If you remember, I told you that sales of the printed text of ‘Lady’ were disappointing, particularly to the libraries. So I spent a long time checking the on-line catalogues of as many libraries as I could contact to see if they had a copy. To my surprise, I found that several of them had the audio version and not the book. I emailed all those who did not have it, and found that quite a few did not even know it had been published and said they would order a copy at once. It seems that in many cases some unknown person at some central point decides which books get sent to the libraries, instead of the librarians being able to choose. So it would be very helpful if you could check your own library’s catalogue to see if they have it.
In October I went down to London again to teach the Brick Lane group, as mentioned in my last letter. It was an very interesting weekend. There was a wide variation among the members of the group, in age and background. Many of them were of Asian origin, some born in the UK, others recent immigrants, but there were also ethnic Brits, so we had a variety of cultural perspectives. They were all lively, intelligent people, well educated and well read, so they were a pleasure to work with. I hope that as a result of the classes they will be able to come up with some really interesting stories.
As it happened, I already had tickets for the Cumberbatch Hamlet on the Friday night, so that worked out very well. I thought the production was excellent and I admired Cumberbatch’s interpretation very much. It was the first time I’ve seen a Hamlet with a sense of humour! He really enjoyed pretending to be mad and the audience laughed more often than at any other production I’ve seen; but that did not distract from the inherent pathos of the play.
We also managed to get tickets for ‘Farinelli and the King’, with Mark Rylance, another actor I admire very much. It’s an ingenious story about a king of Spain who suffers from some kind of mental instability and can only be calmed by the voice of the castrato, Farinelli. It was staged as if we were back in the C18, with candlelight as the only illumination, and the part of Farinelli was doubled, shared between an actor for the speaking part and a counter tenor for the singing. Rylance is brilliant, as always.
As far as the writing goes, I am at a bit of a standstill. It’s hard to motivate myself when there is no assurance that the work will get published. I’m hoping that I might find an agent who will take IRONHAND on and find a publisher; meanwhile I’m working on the sequel, GOD’S WARRIOR. If the worst comes to the worst I can always self-publish, as I did with THE LAST HERO.
Speaking of which, I was excited a week or so back to hear on the radio that a group of archaeologists from the University of Cincinnatti had made a fabulous discovery while excavating near Pylos. They have found the tomb of a Bronze Age warrior, complete with a wonderful collection of treasure in bronze and silver. Pylos, is, as those of you who have read the book will know, the setting for THE LAST HERO, and much of my research was based on the earlier work of Professor Carl Blegen of that university, in excavating the palace of King Nestor. The warrior whose grave they have discovered lived earlier than that, but he must have been an ancestor of my hero, Alkmaion, and the discovery is further evidence of what a brilliant and sophisticated society existed there. I managed to find the name of one of the leaders of the current excavations and sent her an email, telling her about the book. I’m delighted to say that she is a fan of historical fiction and asked for a copy. I’ve sent it and shall wait with bated breath for her reaction.
So, it’s been a busy month, as usual. On December 4th I am talking about my books at Darwen library, near Blackburn, so if any of you live near there and would like to come along I’ll be delighted to meet you.
I was asked to talk to the Little Bollington WI – subject Women At War. Looked up the venue on the net and it seemed fairly straightforward – basically straight up the M56 and then a short diversion. However, decided I’d better take the Sat Nav just in case. Big mistake! Instead of sticking to the M-Way she (my Sat Nav’s name is Jemima by the way) decided we should take the scenic route. After about half an hour of wandering through the country lanes she told me to turn right, down a road that was clearly marked as a dead end. I ignored her and hoped she would find another way round. After a long diversion she brought me back to the same point. ‘Turn right!’ she ordered. I was in the middle of nowhere, with no identifiable landmarks. Beginning to panic by this time, I telephoned the number of the lady who had asked me to speak. She had left, but her husband eventually managed to work out where I was. ‘Oh, you’re almost there.’ he said. ‘Keep on along the main road and take the first turning on the left.’ Reassured, I set off again. None of the roads to the left seemed to be what I wanted and I found myself at a busy and complicated roundabout system. Jemima had completely lost the plot by now and wanted to take me back across the M-Way, which I knew must be wrong. I consigned her to the glove box and phoned again. No answer! I headed back the way I had come. Now half an hour late and reduced to a gibbering wreck I rang the lady’s mobile. ‘I’m completely lost! I’m sitting outside a pub called the Swan with Two Nicks.’ ‘Oh, you’re nearly here. Wait and I’ll send someone to find you.’ This she duly did and it turned out I was withing half a mile and had already driven past the place once! So, instead of arriving in good time, cool, calm and collected, I arrived hot, bothered and teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Luckily, the members were still dealing with the business of the meeting so I had time to draw breath. In the end, the talk went very well and I sold a lot of books – and afterwards I was given a guide to get me back to the motorway. So it was worth it in the end – but boy! was I glad to get home!
NEWSLETTER FOR MAY 2015.
I apologise for the gap in sending out my usual monthly letter. As I think you know, I have been working as drama coach on the cruise ship Balmoral. I started to compose a letter at the end of March and then found I had not copied the group address onto my tablet, so I was unable to send it.
I have mixed feelings about the experience, coloured largely by the fact that David and I both picked up a bug that had us coughing and wheezing and which we never managed to throw off completely. Being asthmatic it hit me particularly hard. I even had to spend a night in hospital in Singapore. Wonderful service, but the cost!! I hope the insurance company will pay up. Well, we’re home safe and sound but still coughing. Now on our third course of antibiotics. Now comes the struggle to catch up on the admin and battle the weeds which have taken over the garden.
Anyway, here’s a summary of my conclusions.
Cruising is an unhealthy occupation.
It’s not a good way to see the world. Most of the far east ports were miles from anywhere you would really want to see and people were doing two and three hour coach journeys to spend an hour or so in Beijing or Bankok or at the pyramids. It didn’t worry us, because we’ve already been to all those places, but if you didn’t go on an excursion of some sort there was nothing to look at. I’ve seen enough ugly container ports to last me a life time!
On the plus side: It’s nice to be pampered and have your food cooked and your cabin cleaned etc – and the food wad very good. Also the entertainment. The resident company were all very young but extremely talented and we had a succession of visiting acts which came on a different ports, most of which were well worth watching or listening to, including some very good musicians. I particularly liked Matthew McCombie, a very talented pianist.
My work as drama coach was challenging, to say the least. People in the age range for a cruise like that, ie retired and mostly elderly, either can’t or don’t want to learn lines. However, I did find some talent and we put on two very successful productions. This, in spite of the unhelpful attitude of the deputy cruise director, who was supposed to facilitate with finding props etc. His first reaction to any request was to say ‘Oh, no that won’t be possible.’ In the end I found it easier to cut him out of the loop and go direct to potential providers – the restaurant for china and cutlery, for example. Basically, I don’t think anyone had attempted to put on a properly staged production on the ship before. But even allowing for all the hard work, I should have gone mad if I wasn’t there to do a job. The idea of lying around for months sunbathing and passing the time with various talks and classes and silly games just does not appeal! Would I do it again? It would have to be a very tempting itinerary, and I would far rather stick to teaching creative writing. At least then people are not required to learn lines.
As far as the writing goes I have had to put a hold on the new novel for the duration of the cruise. I simply didn’t have the time or the spare energy to write. However, I shall get down to it now. Meantime TWICE ROYAL LADY will be out this month. I do hope you will read it. I know the period is far from what you are used to in my other books, but I found Matilda a fascinating character. She was proud and sometimes arrogant and short tempered, but she was also intelligent and well educated and deeply religious. Betrothed at the age of eight to the German Emperor, married at twelve, widowed at twenty three and then forced into a second marriage with a boy of sixteen. After her brother was drowned she was her father Henry 1’s only heir; but when he died her cousin Stephen seized the throne. She had to choose between her husband and her three sons and her duty, as she saw it, to the people of England. Her husband, Geoffrey of Anjou, refused to support her claim and in the end she was forced to sail from France with a small band of supporters. Many rallied to her cause, but she had to battle it out with Stephen for ten long years. Meanwhile, her position prevented her from finding happiness with the only man she ever really loved. So it is a story of love and war, just like the other books. Do give it a try!
I’ve been ‘networking’ this month. I attended the Authors North meeting run by the Society of Authors in Manchester, where I heard a very comprehensive lecture from Stephanie Hale about marketing your books. It was so comprehensive, in fact, that I have filed it away for future consideration when I have more time! If one did all the things the marketing experts saw you should do, no books would ever get written in the first place.
I also managed to catch the last event in the History Writers Festival at Harrogate. This is much more interesting, to my way of thinking. The festival is modelled on the very well established Crime Writers Festival which has been held in Harrogate for several years now. The History equivalent is fairly new but looks set fair to be as popular as the older one. It was crammed with talks and discussions from writers of both fiction and non-fiction, with some very big names attending, and I just wish I had been able to go to all of it. I am hoping that next year I may be able to take part, to promote TWICE ROYAL LADY; but the organisers do require the publishers to come up with some sponsorship and I am not sure whether Hale will oblige. Their initial reaction was that the money involved rarely pays off in terms of book sales; but I’m still hoping to persuade them. It is a matter of prestige as well as cold cash.
We stayed on for a few days in Harrogate and caught up with friends and also explored some of the lovely countryside of the Dales. A nice break.
I have been lucky enough to get the offer of another cruise, teaching creative writing. This one is with Cruise and Maritime, on board the Marco Polo In Search of the Northern Lights. We leave at the beginning of March and I am really looking forward to it. At the same time, I have had to turn down what sounded at first hearing like a fabulous opportunity. I was asked to be a drama coach on a cruise to the Far East. It would have involved putting on a play with the passengers for each leg of the voyage, which would have been hard work but exciting, and the destinations would be marvellous. Unfortunately, the cruise leaves on Jan 2nd and doesn’t get back until May 4th. So I was already committed to the Marco Polo in March and we have a holiday to Teneriffe booked for February; besides which neither David nor I really fancied being away from home for four months, especially during the spring. It would have meant nothing getting planted in the garden, for one thing. All the same, I have lingering regrets and if I wasn’t already committed elsewhere I would be tempted.
Right now, I have the copy edited text of LADY to go through. I keep trying to get on with work on the new book, but there always seems to be something more urgent to do. But I’ll get there one day!