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!
How fast the months fly by! When I look back and think, what have I done this month that might be of interest, it is hard to remember.
I gave a talk to the Ellesmere Port ladies luncheon club on Sept 9th about the inspiration behind my WWl novels and as usual it was very well received. I also spoke to the Manorgate society in Burton on the same topic. People are fascinated by the stories of Grace Ashley Smith, the commandant of the FANY, and Mabel Stobart, founder of the Women’s Sick and Wounded Convoy, and the exploits of Flora Sands. They should all be better known.
Work continues on preparation for the publication of TWICE ROYAL LADY in May. I have been sent a picture of the front cover and it is absolutely gorgeous! As the book is being published under the new Hale Broken River imprint I think it is getting special attention. I can’t wait to see the finished product.
Another topic that has been in my mind, with the commemorations for the outbreak of WWl, has been the fate of my paternal grandfather. He was killed during the retreat from Cambrai within days of the end of the war. He has no known grave but my sister has recently been to France with her husband Lyndon and found his name recorded on the great memorial in Arras. I copy her account of her visit here:
‘I have been researching my family tree. My grandfather Alfred William Gladdon born 1881 died in March 1918. He was originally in the Royal Flying Corp and enlisted in 1916 in the 10th battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment . In World War 1 he saw action at Albert, Vimmy Ridge, Beaucourt, Arras, Messines and Passchendaele, and qualified for the Victory and British War Medals. He was killed during the retreat from Cambrai in March 1918 and has no known grave. In September Lyndon and I visited the Arras Memorial in northern France and miraculously amongst 20,000 names found his name carved on one of the walls. We laid a bouquet of poppies beside the official Lincolnshire Regiment wreath. We also went to the Menin Gate in Ypres for the very moving Last Post ceremony performed every evening by four buglers from the local fire brigade. A representative of the Last Post Society recited the famous “Ode of Rememberance” by Laurence Binyon with the line “At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them” repeated by the hundreds of people who had gathered. An excellent visiting UK choir sang Herbert Howells edgy setting of the prayer which ends “God be at my end and at my departing”, and the Kernow Pipes and Drums paraded in full Scottish regalia. We also visited the “In Flanders Fields” museum where we were given bracelets so that we became participants in World War 1. I was a nurse at the Front and Lyndon was a French soldier. When we returned to our B&B we discovered that the owner`s grandfather was a stonemason who worked for five years on the building of the Gate. He showed us unique photographs of various stages in its construction.’
One project I have been busy on is some research into which libraries stock my novels. I’m glad to say all of them do, to a greater or lesser extent, but some had never heard of THE LAST HERO, so I took the opportunity to bring it to their attention and I am please to report that a good many of them have now ordered copies.
I have been asked to judge a short story competition run by the village of Curry Mallet in Somerset. They have an annual history festival and this year the theme is WWl. More details can be found at
www.currymallet.org . It is quite a big commitment but I think it is right to encourage other would-be writers.
On Saturday I shall be at the Society of Authors meeting in Manchester and at the end of October I am going to be at the Harrogate History festival. This is a really vibrant event and thoroughly recommended for all you history buffs out there. Go http://harrogateinternationalfestivals.com/history/ for details.
All this has rather interrupted my research for the next book, but I shall get back to it eventually!
I hope all is well with all of you.
I have been invited to speak at the Penistone Literary festival on Saturday July 19th. It is a new venture, so I wish the organisers all the best and I hope lots of people will support it. The link to view the programme and book tickets www.penlit.co.uk.
I read in the paper over the weekend that there is going to be a memorial to Archibald McIndoe, the plastic surgeon who rebuilt the faces of young airmen terribly burned when their aircraft caught fire in WWll. It is not before time! He was a great man, who not only repaired their faces but rebuilt their confidence, encouraging them to go out into the world instead of hiding away. He worked at the hospital in East Grinstead and persuaded the people of the town to accept these disfigured young men as the heroes they were. East Grinstead became known as ‘the town that didn’t stare’.
I feel strongly about this as I researched his work for my novels NOW IS THE HOUR and THEY ALSO SERVE. Anyone who is interested in this remarkable man and his achievements might find those two books illuminating.
APHRODITE’S ISLAND has just been published by Robert Hale Ltd. Please go to the BOOKS page for details.
February has been a quiet month on the whole. Here on the Wirral we have not had the terrible weather that other parts of the country have experienced – although West Kirby and Hoylake got a battering from the sea before Christmas. I’ve just got back from a week’s holiday on the island of Madeira, with friends from the Bridge Club. It is a beautiful place and the weather was lovely. I wish we had stayed longer. We only managed to fit in one levada walk, though we planned to do several more.
Invitations to speak are still coming in. I shall be speaking to the Mid Wirral WI on May 28th and at the Penistone Festival on either Saturday, July 19th or Sunday July 20th.
Rather amusingly, I applied to the Lancashire Federation of WI’s to be on their list of speakers and they require me to do an audition! I’ve pointed out that I’ve spoken to a number of Cheshire WI’s and suggested that they might ask them how the talk went down – but no, they don’t trust anyone else’s judgement. I suppose I’ll have to go through with it.
Meanwhile, I am still working on my Matilda story. (For those who have just joined the newsletter list and don’t know what I am talking about, you can read my last newsletter on my website; www.hilarygreen.co.uk) I’m finding it fascinating to reconstruct the real person behind the various accounts left by contemporary writers; but it requires a lot of research.
APHRODITE’S ISLAND should be out any day now, so watch out for it in your local library.
Thanks to all of you who have written in with appreciation of my books.
Great news! Operation Kingfisher has been selected as one of Amazon’s top 100 e-books below £2.99. The promotion runs till the end of the month, so if you haven’t already read it, go for it!
THE GREATEST KNIGHT
In her author’s note at the end of the book Chadwick comments that the life of William Marshall was so full of incident that to recount it in full detail would require thousands of pages. She adds that it has been necessary, therefore, to sketch some of it fairly briefly. This, I think, encapsulates the main weakness of the novel. A great deal happens, but it was not until halfway through that I began to feel a real connection with the hero.
The early chapters describe William’s rise from the position of a penniless knight, dependant on the patronage of wealthy relatives, to that of tutor and later principal adviser to the son of Henry ll, heir to the throne and crowned in his father’s lifetime as Young King Henry. This is achieved largely through William’s success at the tourney, the dangerous jousting through which knights displayed their prowess with lance and sword. We see him develop from a lad known to his companions as ‘slugabed’ and ‘guzzleguts’ to a man respected for his martial skills and his unswerving loyalty to his lord. It is this loyalty and devotion to his conception of honour that chiefly characterise him, but apart from that I felt that the picture I was given lacked depth. He seems to have no close friends and his relationships with women are casual. Even when he takes a mistress she is marginal to his interest in fighting.
As the young King’s behaviour becomes more erratic and his enmity with his father more bitter, William’s character comes into greater focus. He is torn between his loyalty, indeed his love, for the young man and his horror at the depravity of his actions and I began to feel more involved with him. His devotion when Henry is dying and his grief at his death are genuinely moving.
It is when William decides to set out on pilgrimage to Jerusalem that the problem of fitting so much into one book becomes most acute. Chadwick points out that little is known about this chapter in his life and she therefore dismisses it in one chapter. Such an expedition would warrant a whole book in other hands and I felt slightly cheated by the lack of detail.
The turning point in the story for me came when William marries Isabelle de Clare. She is portrayed as a fully rounded and deeply sympathetic character and as William learns to love her and respect her judgement I found myself warming towards him. But there are still significant lacunae in the story. Frequently we are brought to a point where fates hang in the balance, only to find that in the next chapter the problem has been resolved ‘off-stage’ and the story moves on.
I think this is in part a problem for those writers who set out to fictionalise the lives of known historical personages. There are either too many facts, or too few; and the author has to choose between embroidering some and skating over others. In this case, I think Chadwick might have done better to begin her story later in William’s life, with flashbacks to earlier days, rather than taking us through a succession of tourneys, which have little to distinguish one from the other.
At the end of the book William is only halfway through his eventful life and, in spite of these criticisms, I shall look forward to reading the next episode.