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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.

 

Book Review: The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances

I’ve just read and thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Girlfriend’ by Michelle Frances, published by Pan Macmillan.

It’s a psychological thriller with the ‘thriller’ aspect ramping right up in the last third of this uncomfortable yarn.

The premise is simple.  Ambitious working class gold digger sets out to ensnare a wealthy husband.  This seems eminently possible when Cherry, who is amply endowed with both a high functioning brain and a beautiful face, meets Trustafarian Daniel, a young Doctor in waiting whom she encounters while working in a Kensington estate agency.

Blown away by his new girlfriend’s good looks and air of mystery (Cherry is frugal with information about her background), Daniel takes her home to meet his high net worth parents. Almost immediately, Cherry locks antlers with Laura, Daniel’s sleek and urbane mother.

There’s nothing new about the rivalry that exists between mothers and potential daughters in-law, but what is so gripping about Michelle Frances’ debut novel is just how ruthless both women are prepared to be.

In terms of characterisation this is a double edged sword; on one hand, it certainly ups the ante as seeing each woman’s perspective is equally tense.  But on the other, the reader doesn’t know who to root for.

There are some gob-smacking plot surprises. The story takes a dramatic turn at the halfway mark and this is where readers could find their empathy switching at regular intervals.

There are inconsistencies; I was frustrated by Daniel, who is presumably intelligent as he’s a newly qualified Doctor, and yet he isn’t savvy enough to see the skulduggery going on around him.

Overall, all the characters are well drawn and the descriptions of affluent West London are authentic.  I also enjoyed the subplots concerning Laura’s grisly dead-in-the-water marriage to Howard, and Cherry’s devoted and well-meaning mum Wendy.

To say anything further about this book would be plot-spoiling, so that’s it from me. I give The Girlfriend Five Stars.

 

 

 

 

Do not mourn the end of summer; autumn has its own precious gifts

Extract from Seeking Eden

Chapter 8 : Regrets

Image result for the scent of autumnAfter breakfasting on eggs Benedict in the hotel’s elegant atrium, Kate and Neil pulled on walking boots and set out for the forest.

‘I think autumn will come early this year, don’t you?’ Kate said.

‘Maybe it just feels that way because we don’t want summer to end,’ Neil said.

A sharp nip had crept into the air and the trees were beginning to yellow.  The forest had taken on a musty scent as clusters of pungent mushrooms pushed through the earth.  Neil put out his arm, stopping Kate in her tracks, and pointed to a sturdy bird barely visible in the foliage.

‘That,’ he whispered, ‘is a Green Woodpecker; isn’t he a beauty?’

*

I was reminded of this short passage from Seeking Eden on my walk with Brodie this morning.  Chatting to other dog walkers, the consensus seemed to be a sadness that summer is nearing its end; apparent not only by the date, but by the darkening sky, and falling temperatures.

But autumn has a glory all of its own, particularly September when nature’s bounty goes into overdrive and the heady scents of wild berries in the hedgerows compete with myriad fungi that burst through the soil so fast – stand still long enough and you can almost see them growing at your feet.

Oh, and the shrubs! I defy anyone not to smile as they are enveloped by the scent of Elaeagnus, which thrives from the end of August right through to October when it’s unassuming Bay-style foliage sprouts tiny white bells heady with the perfume of nutmeg and orange blossom.

Even the dry, pungent smell of rotting fallen fruit in the orchards and fields has its own allure – a sense of nature’s goodness returning to the earth in its rightful and endless cycle.

But not all the joys of autumn are to be found outside.  It’s a wonderful time of year to cosy up at home; to cook simple, hearty food for family and friends; to curl up in a favourite armchair and get lost in a wonderful book, or to enjoy the best season for drama on television (the networks know a thing or two about keeping us entertained as the nights draw in).

So if you’re feeling sad as summer draws to a close – just look around you; at what autumn has to offer, all too briefly, before being snatched away and replaced by its darker half-sibling, winter, which for me is the most unwelcome season of all.

 

 

A published author at last

July 6th dawned much like any other in our house.  By 5.00am my workaholic partner Mark was bound for the red-eye to Glasgow, leaving me and our terrier Brodie to doze for another hour or so.

My waking thought was ‘Whoopee!  Today’s publication day for Seeking Eden!’  But it’s hard to get excited on your own.

So, after walking Brodie, in an act of shameless self-promotion, I posted ‘Happy Publication Day to Me’ on Facebook and Twitter.  This sparked a flurry of congratulations, likes, loves, and kind comments and I waited to feel different in some way.  Two-and-a-bit weeks later, I am still waiting.  Or rather I’m not, because I soon realised that there will be no epiphany – no thunderbolt, just a mild sense of personal achievement.

A week later, my launch party was a success – and quite wonderful.  I felt blessed to be surrounded by forty-odd friends, family and neighbours, every one of them there to wish me well and congratulate me on getting published.

Mark, my long suffering partner, was beyond generous in giving me such a gracious event – the prosecco, conversation and laughter flowed for hours.

Matthew Smith, founder of Urbane Publications (the publisher I am signed to) was kind enough not only to give up an evening and come along, but also to say a few words.  An accomplished public speaker, Matthew began with the words ‘they say there’s a book inside everyone – for most people it should probably stay there.’  We all got the joke.

Speeches and me are not a match made in heaven – put me in a room with lots of people and the phrase rabbit in headlights comes to mind.  Nevertheless, I just about managed to squeak some thank yous, before the drinking and volume went up a notch and the book signing commenced.

And this was to be the biggest surprise of the evening.  Matthew had kindly supplied a box of books should anyone wish to buy on the night.  I’d been convinced that only a handful of people would buy Seeking Eden – because either they’d already ordered from Amazon, or because they may wish to buy a copy in the future – but what was the rush?  It was a party for goodness’ sake!

I could not have been more wrong.  Even friends who had already bought and read the book were queuing up for me to sign three or four copies that they were giving to friends and family.  It was surreal.  I felt daft doing it – and weird knowing that people were paying to read my novel.

Somehow, I managed to spend several hours in a room with forty-plus people and speak to no one.  I was spinning; vague, vacant, vacuous.  I’m glad that the very talented Clair Goble was there to capture the event in photo-form, because I remember so little of the night; everything and nothing. I blinked and it was over.

So in lieu of my incoherent murmurings on the night, here are some thank yous.

Matthew Smith; you rock for taking a chance on an unknown tentative author who is rubbish at pitching and promotion, but who loves telling stories.  Thank you.

Mark Payton; what have I done to deserve you?  The weight of those wings must surely pull you down some days because you are an angel for sure.  Thank you.

Marika Cooke; wow!  The best bit of PR I could have asked for; thank you for writing a stunning review and background piece in Kings Hill Mums, our favourite community read.

David Harvey, Lyn Beer, Ali & Rob Gooderham, Josh, Lewis and Claire: As families go, I hit the jackpot – can’t thank you enough for all your support and encouragement.

And to everyone else who celebrated Seeking Eden at the launch party – my goodness, you scrub up well, you beautiful people.  Thank you for all your support.

A battery of further thank yous can be found on the Acknowledgements page of Seeking Eden. Out now on Amazon, soon to be in WH Smiths and other good book shops.  Woohoo!

Images by Clair Goble https://www.flashbangphoto.co.uk

The moving target of ‘success’

When I was 28, I wrote my first novel.  It was garbage, littered with clichés, adverbs and flowery similes. I printed one copy, then put it away – in the round filing cabinet that lives under my desk.

Roll forward twenty four years and I had another stab at it.  This one was better, but abandoned at the 45,000 words mark as the plot was weak and it ran out of steam.  ‘How come everyone’s written a book, if it’s this difficult?’ I thought.

The following year, I started a third.  And stuck with it – a 90,000 word contemporary women’s fiction novel called ‘Beginner’s Guide to Burb Watching’.  It took another year to edit and polish, and to find a publisher who liked it enough to back an unknown author.

Remarkably (to me at least), with the new moniker of Seeking Eden and a cover I never tire of looking at, that book is due for publication on 6th July. It’s very exciting, and it makes me smile to think of people being entertained or otherwise affected by something that formerly dwelt only in my imagination.

People keep congratulating me – which is lovely and I’m thankful.  But writing is a funny thing; it messes with your head.

When I started writing Seeking Eden, I thought: If I can just get to the end of this one, I’ll feel I’ve succeeded.  Once that was achieved, honing and polishing my rough manuscript became an ambition in itself.  And then I wanted to publish; to share my work with readers – which is kind of the point, isn’t it?

I was overjoyed when independent publisher Urbane offered to release Seeking Eden; at last, success was within my grasp!  Then like a shimmering mirage, as I walked towards it, success moved away, always ahead, warm and tantalising.  Now I see that writing a novel and even publishing one is not the Holy Grail.

So, new day, new objectives; now I want people to buy it, like it, and say nice things about it.  So when does writing a book begin to feel like a success?  Perhaps (dare to dream) when I’ve sold a few thousand copies?  Then again, knowing me, I’d want Seeking Eden made into a film or a three part BBC drama, with a stellar cast.  Some people are never happy!

Sincere thanks for all the wonderful support from friends and family and from my fellow Urbane authors – you are too kind and I am very grateful.

Seeking Eden is released 6th July on Urbane Publications.

Brodie’s Progress

 

I was recently emailed by a lady asking if I still had my terrier cross, Brodie.  She’d read my rather bleak post in February, shortly after I’d rescued him from the amazing Foal Farm in Kent, and after tuning in to my website at regular intervals and finding no further posts on the subject, had concluded that I’d given him up for adoption.

Firstly, apologies to any other dog lovers who may have been concerned about Brodie’s wellbeing.   Happily, I can report that far from returning him to Foal (or any other responsible rehoming centre), Brodie has settled down brilliantly and is a very happy boy.

I’d be lying if I said we had cured his dog aggression; Brodie is five years old and this kind of behavioural problem is not something that can be sorted overnight.  There are no quick fixes – and god alone knows what this poor dog has endured in his past that makes him regard every dog he meets with fear and loathing.

But we are seeing real progress, thanks to the dedication and support of Peter Williams, a former police dog handler and trainer, whom Brodie adores and responds to brilliantly.

In training sessions, Peter has Brodie running free and off-lead with several of his own dogs; four at the last count, and sized from a German Shepherd to a Jack Russell.  Brodie is completely chilled in their company, without even a hint of fear or aggression.  Of course, what he is responding to, is Peter’s natural authority and calming aura.

After such wonderful progress in a relatively short space of time, I am hopeful that Brodie’s confidence with his trainer begins to ripple out to me so that I can walk him off lead, without worrying about the safety of other dogs.

But we are not there yet.  Dog walkers; if you see me walking Brodie, on a short lead, and he’s wearing a bright yellow bandana that says: ‘space needed’, please accept that this is not a fashion statement or a gimmick.  Please help by putting your dog on a lead, too – or by reigning in a Flexi as you pass by.  I love ALL dogs and will do all I can to keep everyone’s fur-babies safe, but please – meet me half way.

 

How much is too much?

I’m very blessed that my partner is a talented graphic artist and web designer slash builder.  I’m even luckier that however busy Mark is, when I need a website or page, he loyally puts me at the top of his massive To Do list.  For this, and for so many other daily acts of kindness, I am truly grateful.

So, this week, I am pleased to unveil a new website, devoted exclusively to Seeking Eden, my debut novel on Urbane Publications.  Needless to say, I’m very excited about the book – and who can blame me?  It’s my first.

But how much to share in advance?  Every book needs a blurb – and writing a good one is a skill set in itself – but what else might tempt people into reading a novel?

For me, one of the most important qualities in a book is finding characters that I can identify with.  I don’t have to like them; afterall, it would seem like a big ask for readers to buy into an alcoholic, unemployed, self-obsessed fantasist, yet Paula Hawkins’s ‘Rachel’ in The Girl on the Train, is exactly that.  Ah, but I do need to get them – and to have some insight into why they behave as they do.

So, mindful of creating an attractive shop window for my novel, I’ve included a short profile for my lead protagonists. Trying to distil Kate, Lisa, Ben and Martin into a couple of sentences proved to be quite a challenge…because they are flawed and complex, with messy lives that can get derailed.  Just like the rest of us then!

I may add further information to seekingeden.co.uk as the launch of the book draws closer.  Or I may not; because how much is too much?

www.seekingeden.co.uk

Seeking Eden will publish on 6th July 2017 with Urbane Publications

Book Review: The Gift Maker by Mark Mayes

Sometimes, when a book (or a film) is accompanied by much hyperbole, the event itself can be a letdown; not so in the case of Mark Mayes’s exquisite debut novel, The Gift Maker.  The book’s blurb is an accurate teaser of what you’re getting so I won’t regurgitate it here.  Instead, I can say that it is a book rich in spiritual context, which drips symbolism and is utterly timeless.

It’s hard to pinpoint the genre of this very original novel; it’s a quest, a journey, an adult fairy-tale and has more than a sprinkling of magic and stardust.  However, it is a mercifully wizard-free zone, and some of it is a tough read – particularly the vividly repulsive descriptions of the border town of Grenze (think Patrick Suskind’s Perfume and you’re halfway there).

The characters are compelling and the story is so multi-layered that just when you think you’ve got a handle of where it’s all going – the plot takes another unexpected turn.  It’s a book about identity, vanity, ego and insecurity, and forces beyond our mortal flaws.  For me the final chapter was a big reveal, but each reader will draw their own conclusions.  I feel richer for reading The Gift Maker – the poetic language alone was worth the journey.

 

 

Book Review: Dancers in the Wind by Anne Coates

Dancers in the Wind is a classic thriller in the mould of Lynda La Plante’s Prime Suspect. It could be that I was reminded of the series because it is set in London’s King’s Cross in the early nineties – an era when this part of London was a world away from the chichi urban village it is today (and where a one bedroom flat will set you back a cool £Million).

Action packed from the first page, the book opens on the grisly discovery of a murdered prostitute – the latest in a series of vicious killings in the area.  Detective Inspector Tom Jordan heads up the investigation, but the story centres on Hannah Weybridge, a Freelance journalist and single mother who is commissioned by a national newspaper to write an investigative feature on the red light district in Kings Cross.

As a critical part of her research, Hannah interviews ‘Princess’ a young prostitute. Days later, Princess (real name Caroline) turns up at Hannah’s home, beaten within an inch of her life and demanding sanctuary. Hannah soon finds herself sucked into a sleazy underworld that hitherto she could never have imagined.  After discovering more than a whiff of police ineptitude and media cover-up, Hannah sets out to uncover the truth about the murdered prostitutes.

The gap between Hannah’s modest but genteel life and the murky world she is now entangled in is powerful stuff and the threat to Hannah and her baby daughter is palpable. We sense her frustration and dilemma throughout as she is torn between walking away from the grime – and gaining justice for Caroline and her co-sex workers.

Another layer to this gripping read is the sexual tension between Hannah and Tom Jordan, a complex character who is seemingly charismatic and compassionate; whether or not he can be trusted had me guessing until the final page.

Anne Coates captures the era and the location perfectly – and you’ll find yourself rooting for Hannah, whose very ordinariness is the key to her appeal.