A moving story

So, I’ve neglected my writing for months…lost my mojo with it, so to speak. It happens sometimes – often for no good reason – but in this instance it’s because I’ve just gone through a difficult relocation.

Anyone who knows me is probably aware that I have moved around.  A lot. Gypsy blood, itchy-feet, wanderlust, stupidity – call it what you will but this latest move, from West Malling, Kent to Chichester, West Sussex adds up to my sixth move in the last dozen years – and all bought and sold, none of your footloose rentals for the boyf and I; oh no – that would be far too easy. I can’t understand why the Chancellor hasn’t sent us birthday or Christmas cards recently – you’d think we’d be his best friends with all the stamp duty we’ve paid. Oh god, I feel sick now. But I digress…

So. Moving then. Why do we do it? Good question. And one I have asked myself a thousand times since we left Kings Hill six weeks ago. The warm, comforting, slouchy familiarity; the ease of communication with good neighbours – many of whom became sincere friends – has been replaced by a hyper-attentive, watchful hope, as I search nameless faces with one thought – could you be a friend?

Thing is, wherever you go, most people are decent enough.  Open, kind, receptive. I mean, not everyone – I didn’t move to Disneyland or anything…although come to think of it, Disneyland has some pretty rotten apples so scratch that comparison, but you get my drift.

Being a serial mover, this is all familiar territory to me – that ‘ick feeling in the pit of my stomach as I walk around the local park with Brodie, hoping that people will think we’re worthy of a wave and a hello and eventually maybe a coffee, or a glass of wine.  It’s early days, but the signs are good. I’m a friendly person, which surely must count for something, no?

As sad as we were to leave behind our friends in Kings Hill (understatement of the year, I wept buckets in my last week there), we came to the cathedral City of Chichester because we liked the buzz and the giddying array of shops, cafes, bars and restaurants, as well as the galleries, and the fabulous theatre (which I’m told acts as a crash-test for many West End shows).  It’s close to the majestic South Downs national park and the sunny South Coast is nearby.  I’ll probably swerve Bogner because it’s busy and commercial, but I’ve already fallen for Selsey East Beach (a rustic, quirky version of the Hamptons), posh West Wittering, and lovely Pagham.  The former has been a source of joy and happiness as all three of us have swum in the sea there; Brodie’s little paws scooping like billy-o when I thought he was afraid of water brought tears to my eyes.

The house we’ve bought is a whole other subject. It’s big, detached, and surprisingly dated and rundown for its tender teenage years.  But like people, houses respond to love and attention, and Mark and I intend to lavish both upon it.

On that note, I’ll close on a story that a lovely friend whom I don’t see anymore (because I moved away) told me (Nigel: I’ve always remembered this tale, as I remember you – with affection).

Two travellers arrived in a new town…

…and came upon a local farmer. The first said, ‘I’ve come a long way, tell me, what are the people like here?’

‘What were they like in the place you’ve come from?’ the farmer said, answering a question with a question.

‘Oh, they were a bad lot. Mean, rude and selfish – lazy too. I was glad to leave them behind.’

‘Interesting,’ replied the farmer, ‘I’m afraid you’ll find them just the same here.’

Gutted, the traveller trudged on his way, and the farmer returned to his work.

A while later, the second traveller came along, and waylaid the farmer;

‘What are the people like here?’ he asked.

‘What were they like where you’ve travelled from?’ replied the farmer once more.

‘Oh, they were lovely; kind, honest and friendly. I was sad to leave them behind.’

‘Well, fear not,’ the farmer said, ‘you’ll find they’re just the same here.’

Wishing you all an awesome August – wherever you are in the world.

 

 

Book Review : The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Cherry Radford

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter is the third novel by Sussex writer Cherry Radford but an enjoyable first for me. I did not know what to expect but was initially attracted by the excellent reviews. The title may have a ring of historical romance to it, but I’m delighted to say that LHKD is a contemporary tale set against a backdrop of social media, long-distance love and secrets from the past.

Set in East Sussex and Madrid, the story centres on Imogen, who is exiled in a relative’s lighthouse, where she’s gone to lick her wounds after a painful divorce – and Santi, a beautiful and talented Flamenco guitarist, soap-star and would-be serious actor whom she meets online. We see their relationship develop, from it’s tentative, spiky inception on Twitter to it’s moving conclusion almost a year later. The two initially develop an online friendship, but things move up a gear when Santi finds himself in the running for the lead role in a high-profile movie – and needs to improve his English, fast. Enter Imogen, who with the benefit of good, general Spanish becomes Santi’s teacher.

Early on, much is made of the language barrier – and some oops moments guaranteed to make readers smile. But there’s more to LHKD than international romance and the well-drawn, authentic landscapes of Beachy Head and Madrid, and mystery lovers will appreciate the beautifully dovetailed second tier of the novel: the disappearance of Imogen’s father, the lighthouse keeper, who drowned when she was a child. Presented with a drip-feed of her father’s diaries by her aunt, Imogen finally unveils the shocking truth about his disappearance.

LHKD is engrossing and elegantly written. I preferred the chapters set in Madrid and particularly loved the character of Santi (and having lived in Spain for a year in my youth, I could hear his voice perfectly). There were times when I questioned why such a fabulous stallion of a man, with his pick of Spanish MAWs would be interested in the fragile, ‘melocoton-haired’ English mare; but it is Imogen’s very novelty that initially attracts, and eventually mellows and matures Santi.

Readers who like a quirky, romantic thriller will not be disappointed.

 

Rolling Stones No Filter, London Stadium, 22nd May 2018

Last night, I looked into Mick Jagger’s eyes and saw fire. No, I wasn’t dreaming (although I have dreamt about most members of the Rolling Stones, and even all at once, but I digress). In the real world, I was privileged to see the Stones play the London Stadium and it was quite a homecoming.

Last September, I caught the Italian leg of the Stones’ No Filter Tour in Lucca and was euphoric to get a second bite of this luscious cherry at the start of their UK tour. So I thought I knew what I was getting. Well I did, and I didn’t. One thing evident from the opening chords of Street Fighting Man was that the Rolling Stones are fresher, rested and rearing to go. Their playing was tighter, their energy higher and the happy vibes on stage were off the hook.

The set list has the same components, but in a different running order (which confused the faithful as we stood hooting in the fading light in anticipation of Sympathy for the Devil) and as with the 2017 European dates, each city gets its own track, voted for on social media some 48 before. In the case of The London Stadium, this was Under my Thumb.

Thanks to superior (read more expensive) tickets we had a much better view and were closer to the stage in London than in Lucca and despite the capacity crowd of around 80,000 there was an intimacy which is hard to describe….I dunno, maybe the people at the back and up in the gods would disagree; there was also a poignancy about seeing the boys in their home town.

So, to the music: Street Fighting Man was swiftly followed by It’s Only Rock & Roll (which naturally sparked a mass singalong) then into Tumbling Dice and Paint it Black before entering the Blues zone with Ride em on Down. Under My Thumb followed before a change of tempo with Fool to Cry.

Without naming the whole set list, I’ll just say that no Stones fan would have been disappointed. It was all there – including a grandiose ten-minute version of Midnight Rambler when the lid blew off and stayed off – through Start Me Up, Jumping Jack Flash and Brown Sugar, ending in the ultimate encore with Gimme Shelter and Satisfaction.

I defy any Stones fan present to be disappointed; the love in the room could have powered the national grid.

And that’s the thing about the Stones. The fire still burns; I saw it raging in the eyes of Mick Jagger, less than ten metres away. These guys love what they do more than life itself – and we love them for it. When it comes to performing live, nobody can touch the Stones and every gig is a life affirming celebration. Mick, Keith, Charlie, Ronnie and their extended musical family are a total inspiration – and long may that continue.

*Photographic images my own

Book Review: Her Secret by Kelly Florentia

Her Secret is Kelly Florentia’s second novel featuring the life and times of Louboutin-loving 40-something girl about town, Audrey Fox.

Having enormously enjoyed my first encounter with Audrey in No Way Back, I was excited to hear of the sequel and it did not disappoint.

We return to North London to find Audrey newly married and looking forward to moving into a fabulous new des-res in swanky Highgate Village. But all in the garden is not rosy and from the get go, we have an uncomfortable sense that something is amiss with the dashing Daniel.
As with the first book, Her Secret is bursting with lively characters in the shape of Audrey’s wonderful friends; Tina, Rowan and Louise, colleague and confidante, Fearne, and sister-in-law (and harassed mum) Vicky, all keep us intrigued and entertained.  But there are villains, too, upping the suspense quota and enriching this multi-layered plot.  You’ll get no spoilers from me, but the last third of the book sees a quickening of pace that makes it unputdownable.

I should point out that whilst Her Secret is a great standalone novel, I highly recommend reading No Way Back first to fully appreciate the twists and turns of the plot and the depth and complexity of some of the relationships. Tip : Remember that Daniel was not Audrey’s first big love…

I loved Her Secret and am hoping there’ll be a third novel in the series so it’s a no-brainer 5-Stars from me.

 

 

No Likey, No Writey?

Fiction writing is a funny pastime. You invent a load of imaginary friends, living pretend lives in made up circumstances. That alone is counter intuitive because all our lives we’re told to TELL THE TRUTH. “Did you break your brother’s toy, hmm? Mummy won’t be cross, because it’s more important to be honest”, is a lesson that stays with most of us for life (politicians, actors and psychopaths notwithstanding).

Then one day, you start writing a novel, and this comes with a different kind of truth. The truth of integrity and authenticity; realism = good, phoniness = bad, and readers can smell the difference a mile away.

Not surprising then that when it comes to writing fiction, most authors’ main characters are shot-through with a big dollop of themselves. Seeking Eden, my debut novel published by Urbane, was told from the viewpoint of four different characters and there’s a part of me in all of them– not least the two men.  In the case of Seeking Eden, I genuinely liked all my characters, even bad-boy Ben Wilde, because despite his ego being the size of Pluto, there’s an honesty and a sweetness that appeals. He’s sexy too – and without wanting to give too much away, love makes him a better person by the end of the book.

In the sequel, Eden Interrupted, I am facing a fresh challenge. In true sequel-style, the familiar meets the brand new, with old characters rubbing up against new, and this time there’s a snake in paradise; someone not wired like the rest of us whom we recognise as a villain at an early stage.

In movies, TV soaps and dramas, we love to hate the baddie; in literature too – who could fail to be transfixed by Amy in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl? Personally, I was mesmerised by her every ghastly move.

As for the creation of someone utterly unlikeable…well it’s a new one on me. I’m currently at the editing and fine-tuning stage (I hope – my publisher may tell me otherwise!) and I am being careful not to make him into a pantomime villain, because I, and more importantly, future readers still need to connect with him and understand why he is as he is and does what he does – which is not to excuse some of his chilling and wholly unpalatable actions.

So there’s no ‘No Likey, No Writey’ for me – it’s more a case of ‘Nasty Man, Reveal Yourself’.

Seeking Eden is available now on Amazon, Book Etc and in many bookshops. The sequel, Eden Interrupted is due for publication in Spring 2019 by Urbane Publications.

 

 

Book Review : Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech

Maria in the Moon is like one of those magic eye pictures popular in the 90s: It takes a while to see what you are looking at, but once you do, you’ll never see just a row of dots again.  It’s a clumsy analogy and I’m certain that Louise Beech, the eminently gifted author of this dark tale, could conjure a far better one.

I was attracted to this novel by its excellent reviews (many of them detailed) and I’d read the blurb so I sort of knew what I was getting and was excited by it.  I also figured out the theme and where it was all heading at an early stage, but as Maria in the Moon is not a whodunit, for me at least, this did not spoil the journey.

The premise of the book is that thirty-something Catherine Hope spends her time helping others to forget her own problems; if only she could remember what they are.  Because Catherine cannot recall the year she was nine years old.  Soon after volunteering at a Flood Crisis centre, she begins to experience broken sleep, night terrors and visions.  The book is a slow reveal of what happened to her that year and it is hard-hitting stuff.

The characterisation is brilliant – I felt I knew this woman; a misfit given to mood swings and self-sabotage, the reader feels keenly that Catherine is hanging on to sanity by her fingernails.  Other characters provide light relief, like flatmate ‘fluffy’ Fern – femme fatale and rookie columnist for a national newspaper, the vacuous and petulant Celine, Catherine’s step sister, and kind, caring Christopher, mentor, colleague and potential love-interest at the crisis centre.  Catherine’s cold and critical mother made my blood boil and her eternal grieving for her dead father made me weep.

Louise Beech’s writing style reminded me of Kate Atkinson’s in that she evokes a tide of emotion without mawkishness or cliché, and her prose is modern and fluid.

Maria in the Moon is moving and thought provoking throughout.  It’s an excellent, if uncomfortable read, and I highly recommend it.

 

Guard your writing time with your life

If you’re reading this in January, Happy New Year to you – I hope 2018 is the year your wishes come true. If you’re reading this retrospectively, you’ve probably already broken most of your resolutions and have slipped seamlessly back into normality.

In our house, on January 1st, no sooner had we vacuumed up the pine needles and put the fairy lights back in the loft (which is always a huge relief), Mark and I sat down with a (soft) drink to talk about the coming year and our hopes for it. Neither of us go in for the ‘give up smoking/drinking/ sugar’ style resolution, although we do practise dry January, and a short-term embargo on cake and chocolate to off-set the Christmas binge that inevitably takes place every year – oh, and we don’t smoke anyway. Nevertheless, there are things we both want to do differently in 2018 – subtle things, which will be life enhancing IF we manage to stick to them. I won’t bore you with our domestic Wishlist; like everyone, we have our hopes and dreams, but for me, one very important resolution is to PROTECT MY WRITING TIME, which frequently gets sabotaged. And the worse thing is – I let this happen. Because something always seems to get in the way of me dashing out that sparkling new chapter and instead, I’m lucky if I can eek out 500 words in one hit. I am a slave to distractions.

For example, we want to sell our house – so guess who gets to facilitate most of the various upgrades and improvements to make it more marketable – not to mention the frenzy of cleaning every time a potential buyer wants to look around. And yes, I willingly do all the cooking, food shopping, laundry and dog walking – because that is my role as I no longer work outside the house.

And do I decline when lovely friends invite me out for coffee/lunch/walks? I do not. Why? Because I am genetically incapable of saying NO THANK YOU – I MUST FINISH CHAPTER FORTY. Or, NO THANKS, I’M STRUGGLING WITH THE ACTIONS OF XYZ CHARACTER. And so off I go, to while away another hour or three, on another day when my novel does not progress.
So why do I find it so hard to focus on my second novel? My Debut, Seeking Eden, took a year to write, then a further six months to edit and polish. Number Two has already taken fifteen months to come up with a not-yet completed first draft.

My supportive and very patient publisher, Matthew at Urbane, may well be reading this. Sorry, boss. I am on it. So, the only New Year’s resolution that counts this year is to PROTECT MY WRITING TIME. There, I’ve said it. Again, and on record. Pass me another slice of chocolate cake, someone…

 

Happy Advent to all

For Christians Advent is a significant time of anticipation and preparation as we draw close to the birthday of Jesus Christ.

For the rest of us, it can mean panic stations as we realise just how close Christmas (and all the madness it entails) really is.  I wish I could say I was one of those clever people who have bought and wrapped all their presents, written and posted cards and ordered in an array of delicious Christmas food by December 1st.  Personally, I’m a ‘leave it all to the last minute’ kinda gal.  I’m not proud of it, just disorganised.

And as for decorations, I love them, but a beautiful real tree usually goes up in our house about a week before Christmas Day.  Not so the goodly people of the new town in Kent where I live.  I am astonished by the number of houses that have been sporting full Christmas regalia since mid-November.

I’ve lived in this area for almost ten years and I cannot remember Christmas ever starting so early.  Is it because it has been a truly dreadful year in terms of loss of life due to acts of terrorism in the UK?  Has the misery of Brexit played a part in wishful escapism?  Are we all totally Trumped-out?

Perhaps many of us simply long for some magic and sparkle (in addition to the Markle variety) to help cheer us up after such a difficult year.  Personally, I think putting a Christmas tree up so early is daft.  I say this mainly from a practical point of view.  Surely any real tree (with the exception of eco-friendly potted and still-growing ones) would be bald and listing by Christmas Day.  Just sayin’.

I smiled to myself when I spotted neighbouring houses all festively lit up two weeks ago.  It’s a poorly kept secret that my novel Seeking Eden was inspired by the community I live in and I was reminded of these two short passages, about two very different Christmases…

Novel Extract

Martin

Christmas came early in Eden Hill.  By the first week in December at least one house in every street was bedecked with fairy lights; it was fast gaining a reputation as ‘nappy valley’ and pester-power had a lot to answer for.

Any evidence of festive spirit only depressed Martin as he contemplated Christmas alone.  It was incredible the speed with which his life had derailed.  Jan showed no sign of returning, preferring (absurdly, in his view) to stay with her brother at his bleak seaside bunker.

Hayley and Simon had patched things up (to a degree, there was still no evidence of a ring on her finger) and they’d mooted going to Tenerife for the holidays.

Martin shook his head; focus.  Melancholy was slowing him down and he was already running late for his meeting at the Farleigh house.  Parking directly outside, he walked up the path and rang the bell.  A dog barked.  Perhaps he should get a pet – at least a dog wouldn’t up and leave on a whim…

*

Lisa

On Saturday afternoon, Ben had taken Lisa to a reindeer farm.  It was for kids, but she’d been ridiculously excited, rubbing the animals’ fuzzy noses and feeding them carrot sticks from her pockets.  Ben had feigned cynicism, but she saw through it; he was even more of a big-kid than she was.

The next day, they’d gone in search of a Christmas tree and after ten minutes in the car, they’d pulled into a layby off the A20, where a twenty stone man dressed as an elf was selling a selection of beautiful pines ranging from deepest bottle green to a dusty blue.

Picking a six-footer, it was a miracle they managed to get the tree home without being stopped by the Police as it skewered the length of Ben’s car, its spiny tip bent out of the passenger window.   Lisa howled with laughter all the way home, imagining the spectacle.

Then they’d put on Christmas Carols and decorated the scented pine, drinking mulled wine and eating nuts and Twiglets.

‘Pinch me,’ Lisa said puckering up for a kiss.

‘Are you happy, baby?’ Ben said, with that languid sexy smile of his that reliably turned her spine to jelly.

‘More than I thought possible,’ Lisa said…

*

Seeking Eden is published by Urbane and is available on Amazon and in many good book shops

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Seeking-Eden-Beverley-Harvey/dp/1911331892/

 

 

Like it or not you can’t ignore Halloween

Like it or loath it, you can’t miss Halloween. From early September, the supermarkets are full of creepy snacks and itchy kids’ costumes. I live in a community which is very child centric and families go to incredible lengths to decorate their homes. I’m not talking Jack O’Lanterns in the window, or spray cobwebs on the porch here, but sometimes whole graveyards in the front garden, complete with stray bloodied body parts and hammer horror organ music that trips on as you walk by.

One nearby street, which has a great many children of school age living in it, becomes a veritable Halloween theme park for the best part of a week and come the big night, children queue in the most genteel and orderly fashion to collect their Trick or Treat sweets. Weeelll… it’s only a bit of fun!

Here’s what happened to Kate, one of the main characters in my debut novel, Seeking Eden.  Sound familiar…?

Novel Extract from Seeking Eden, published by Urbane

High on sugar, three little spooks jostled at the door, out-creeping each other in their lurid nylon costumes and masks.
‘Trick or treat!’ they yelled in unison.
‘Treat!’ Kate said, holding out a tray of home-baked spooky-iced biscuits she’d copied from a TV show that morning.
‘Haven’t you got any proper sweets?’ said a tiny ghost who could have been either boy or girl.
‘These are proper…have one, they’re delicious.’
‘Are they gluten free?’ said the tallest of the trio.
‘What? Er, no…I’m afraid they aren’t.’
For god’s sake! She hadn’t expected to negotiate with a bunch of pre-schoolers about the quality or allergen risks of her Halloween snacks.
In another hour, Neil would be home for their mid-week meal together, at which point, they’d hide out in the back of the house and stop answering the door; a relief no doubt, to poor Ludo, who was exhausted from running up and down the hallway to guard against ghouls and evil spirits every ten minutes or so.
Arriving right on schedule, Neil looked tired.
‘Hello, sweetheart – what smells so good?’ He said, draping his jacket over the stair banisters. Sighing, Kate hung it in the hall closet.
‘Well not my Halloween biscuits, apparently. Next year, I’ll just get a bag of chocolate mini-bars like everyone else. I’ve made shepherd’s pie. You look shattered darling; are you okay?’ Kate said, removing a piping hot dish from the oven…

 

You can read more at : https://www.amazon.co.uk/Seeking-Eden-Beverley-Harvey/dp/1911331892/

Happy Halloween!

Review: Rolling Stones ‘No Filter’ Tour

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Lucca, Italy, 23rd September 2017: The Struts, fronted by Luke Spillers who is surely the love child of Freddie Mercury and Ian Astbury, have done an excellent job of keeping us entertained for thirty minutes and have just left the stage.  And then it begins; Woo-woo…woo-woo…woo-woo…woo-woo. A whisper that soon becomes a roar.

Like 55,000 owls, we hoot in the dark, feathers quivering with anticipation. At 21.12 we are rewarded as Mick Jagger takes the stage.  Woo-woo…woo-woo; now our nocturnal call is mixed with thunderous applause and euphoric screaming that could wake Lucifer himself as the Stones unleash Sympathy for the Devil. We are hypnotised by Jagger’s performance, which is everything it should be; dark, dangerous, flawless.

Rubber lipped and limbed, Mick Jagger struts the stuff of legend and at 74 there is no sign of his energy diminishing. It’s Only Rock n Roll (But I Like It), swiftly follows and becomes a mass singalong. There are whoops of joy for Tumbling Dice, then there’s a change of tempo as things get distinctly Bluesy for Just Your Fool; this comes with the joy of Mick Jagger’s very fine harmonica playing.

Ride ‘Em Down (another cover) and Let’s Spend the Night together are perfectly executed but not personal favourites so I can breathe again.

Touchingly, when we get to As Tears Go By, an unbeknownst talent emerges as Mick sings in Italian to the delight of our host country, although it seems that the distraction of performing in a foreign language leads to some timing issues…more about that later.

Then we rip through You Can’t Always Get What you Want, Paint it Black and Honky Tonk Woman – all faithfully reproduced just as we know and love them.  Afterwards Mick introduces the rest of the band, including backing vocalists, sax, base and keyboard players, before getting Ronnie, Charlie and Keith to reluctantly take a bow.  At this point, I should say that they all look incredible.

The subject of Ronnie Wood’s health has been hogging the headlines for months and despite his public battle with cancer, he looks well, energised and very lovely indeed. Keith is still the adorable rapscallion of old, and Charlie looks…well…exactly like Charlie – which is just how we like him. I’ve no idea what these guys are on, but if it could be bottled we’d all be queuing round the block for it.

Jagger then disappears for ten minutes or so (for a cuppa tea, lie-down, vitamin shot – who knows) while we are treated to Keith Richards on vocals for Happy and a poignant version of Slipping Away; during the latter, he struggles a bit at each end of the register. Nobody cares – Keith is utterly loved, embraced, forgiven.

When Mick bursts back onto the stage, it is for Miss You and he’s got his guitar in tow. We are invited to sing along and we do. Later, Start Me Up, Brown Sugar and Satisfaction all ramp up the energy again before a brief blackout leaves us shouting for Gimme Shelter.  Our wishes are granted with a rousing encore consisting of exactly that and finally Jumping Jack Flash – the end chords of which literally explode through the night sky in a shower of glittering stardust and firecrackers.

And then it is all over and it hurts. Because here’s the thing. The affection that wraps Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts like a cashmere blanket is tangible. Tonight’s capacity crowd of 55,000 people from all over the world, aged eighteen to eighty proves that.

For balance, I should say that there were minor issues with timing; occasions where Keith and Ronnie’s guitars and Mick’s vocals did not marry up.  But this is not The X-Factor, where hopefuls who’ll be forgotten this time next year must prove accuracy – and it couldn’t matter less.  Because the Rolling Stones are still the best rock and roll band in the world.  End of.