Thursday, 22 January 2015

*** Three Free Short Stories 23rd/24th January ***

Dear blog visitors,

Thank you for popping over to see what's happening on my blog.  I'm amazed and delighted to have regular page views - sometimes over one hundred per day!  Most gratifying.

As you can see, I'm offering three of my short stories free for a limited time and I hope that as many people as possible will take advantage of this, so if you would like to tell your friends, please do.

Short stories are not everyone's first choice, but they really do have a lot to offer.  It might be tempting to think that because they do not have the word count of a novel, they are simply dashed off in an hour or so and do not have much to offer in the way of characters or plot development.

In fact, short stories take months or even years to develop and polish.  The story may take place over a few minutes or a lifetime, the characters may be many or few, nevertheless the end product must have an emotional effect, and leave the reader changed in some way. With a limited word count, there must be a potency of expression that is not present in longer works.  I always know when I've read a good short story because I think about it for days afterwards.

I recently read and reviewed a wonderful short story by Alice Munro entitled 'Queenie'.  I still recall the power of the last sentence.  It's a story that I know I will go back to. You can read my review on this blog by clicking on 'Books I've Read'.

Of course, I do not dare to compare my stories with this great writer's masterpieces, but I do hope that I can hold my reader's attention while he reads and perhaps, just perhaps, as the last page is turned, make him glad that he chose to download one of my stories.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Review: Dare to Lose by E. L. Lindley

I enjoyed this book on my Kindle, over Christmas. 

After a gentle start, the plot gets exciting when a young waitress disappears under mysterious circumstances.  Dare to Lose is essentially a ‘whodunnit’ incorporating a twist of romance, with a skilful measure of violence, danger and suspense.  The story is well constructed with great tension at times, and the characters, some of them extremely undesirable, are well drawn.  Nicola is a middle-aged woman who risks all she has built up over the years to start up a cafĂ©, serving homemade meals and delicious cakes.  She’s a kind person, who suffers from a range of mild neuroses, especially when it comes to men.  She is in need of someone to love.  I especially like the protagonist’s mother, who is a frank, fun-loving, well-balanced person not afraid to break the stereotypical descriptors associated with ‘being old’.  Although Jack, the American love interest, is rather one-dimensional, I was interested in what would happen as his relationship with Nicola deepened.

Apart from a couple of spelling slips, the writing is almost flawless (which is important to me) with an easy style that flows and hardly ever jars.

I’d recommend this book if you like an exciting story with good pace and realistic characters. 

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Review: Queenie by Alice Munro

Amongst the books I received at Christmas was a  tiny sixty-page short story entitled ‘Queenie’, by an author I’d never heard of: Alice Munro, now eighty-three years old and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.  As a writer of short stories myself, I was curious to find out how this author could have earned the most prestigious of prizes for such an underrated art form.

I was excited.  Expecting miracles.  I was not to be disappointed.

It’s a slow burn, which is what I like.  Introductions are succinct and slick.  No information overload here. 

Queenie (real name, Lena) and Chrissy (the narrator) are half sisters, who leave their family home and follow very different paths. Their story is unremarkable, but that’s not what we’re digging for, as we read.  We sift through Chrissy’s observations of the beautiful but tragic Queenie.  We look for treasure, as she reveals little by little the faults in her sister’s marriage and hints at a possible alternative future. We hold our breath as, through Chrissy’s eyes, we take in the weight of a new perspective on someone she thought she knew, who suddenly seems strange to her.  There is little of substance in the plot.  But that is the point.  This is no quick fix.  The seeds are scattered and take time to grow.

What comes to the fore as we assess the girls’ individual predicaments, is the realisation that, with the passing of time, something precious, something familiar, is left behind.  Not just for Chrissy, but for all of us.  ‘Queenie’ captures and delivers an exquisite and ultimately overwhelming synthesis of those moments in life that pass us by and which are largely taken for granted, only coming back to haunt us later, arriving like shock waves, unsummoned and bewildering, as we perform our routine tasks, dumbed down and comfortable, as it were, in the microcosm of our present existence.  A word, a phrase, a smile, the tilt of a head takes us away, then leaves us bereft, wanting to find a way back but not knowing how to get there.

This wonderful story reminds us that, at a certain point, we no longer look to the future hoping for excitement or novelty as often as we look into the past for comfort and reassurance, or, if we are honest, with regret.  Alice Munro’s ‘Queenie’ once read, ripples through our minds, reminding us of those times, gone forever, that mean the world to us. 

Quite simply a masterpiece. 

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

American college students doing drugs, studying Greek and committing murder.  Donna Tartt lures us into a world where the normal limits of college life disappear and something closer to supernatural anarchy takes over.  There are half-revealed scenes of ritual horror, betrayals of trust, free love for some, tantalising frustrations for others. 

The narrator, Richard Pappin, endures the agony and the ecstasy of becoming a member of an elite Greek class at Hampden College, Vermont, led by Julian Morrow, a brilliant and enigmatic professor, who remains mostly in the shadows and, despite his almost incestuous attachment to his exceptionally gifted students, is only partially aware of their extra curricular obsessions.

Richard is granted entry to this elite group and begins to find out how Bunny, Francis, Henry, Camilla and Charles tick, although there is always the notion that secrets are being withheld from him.  We, too feel that we are honorary members of the group, only permitted to look through the blinds, as it were.  The result of such a fragmented view is that, in addition to constantly having to second guess what will happen (which we expect to do in any good mystery), we find ourselves fretting, worrying what these dysfunctional characters will do next to sink themselves more deeply in the mire. At times, it is almost like reading something by Enid Blyton.  'The Secret Seven', grown up and with pathological tendencies.  Friendship has never been quite so stressful, or downright dangerous.

I did enjoy this book immensely, but there was something so destructive woven into the fabric of the writing, that when I got to the final page and saw the full-page photograph of the author, I actually shuddered.  Here was Henry, just as I had imagined him, but in female form. 

Highly recommended for readers who enjoy a seriously disturbing murder mystery with more than a pinch of pure madness.

Monday, 22 December 2014

~~~~~~~~ My Christmas Present to You ~~~~~~~~

Free download from 22nd - 27th December

Happy Christmas to all my blog visitors! I hope you enjoy my most recent short story with a glass of something fragrant and a Jamie Oliver mince pie...

Inspector Hanson and his team are perplexed by the work of a serial killer, in and around the town of Halfton.  The bizarre murders seem to be unconnected, with no obvious motive.  Eventually, though, the trail becomes warmer and Inspector Hanson has a hunch...

Thursday, 18 December 2014

My French Life

August 2008

When we moved to France it was done on a whim.  I think it was probably my idea.  

My husband Al’s parents had bought a mobile ‘ome on the south west coast near Ronce les Bains and we’d already been out there for a two week holiday.  The lure of a new adventure beckoned. “Let’s move to France,” I said on Saturday afternoon after a mind-numbing trip to Tesco’s in the drizzle. 

“Okay,” said Al.  You find out everything we have to do, put the house on the market and I’ll see if I can work from home.   Well, that’s the twist I put on his rather more detailed response.

A year later, having given up trying to sell the house, and after I’d checked all the things he’d asked me to check and filled in reams of largely unnecessary forms, and after his company had agreed to his working remotely, we packed a trailer, squeezed into our Rover with our two enormous sons, and set off.

Our friends came to see us off - very sad.

The A14 had never seemed so exciting.

Ten hours later, we rolled up at the gite in the dark, apprehensive and very tired.  I’d booked everything through the Internet. We'd chosen our accommodation in a village called le Gua, after sifting through hundreds of places in department 17, and viewing them on Google Earth to detect potentially poisonous emissions from factory chimneys or noise pollution from encroaching motorways laden with juggernauts.  Ha!

Let the mayhem begin!

We got out of the car and were assaulted by a German Shepherd and two bouncing Jack Russells, much to the delight of our children.


We’d dissected emails and analysed phone calls for clues as to whether our new landlords would be monsters, but nothing could have prepared us for Jim and Monique, who were the perfect hosts from day one.  We were lucky.  They were accommodating and fun.  Bright and breezy.  

Life at the gite was cramped, but there was open countryside beyond Jim's fields.  And there were horses, donkeys, dogs, cats…you get the picture...  Pulses slowed.  We breathed in the clean air and accompanied Jim and his dogs on long walks, gathering mushrooms, walnuts, figs, living off the land.  

Al got the Internet sorted out (eventually) and stuck a desk in the corner of our bedroom.  Hey presto! He was a teleworker.  Paid in sterling, with an exchange rate of one euro fifty to the pound, we were comfortably off. 

Our two boys, then 8 and 11 went off to French school with the little French they’d picked up in England and on the Internet during the summer.  They coped brilliantly, despite Harry being put into the wrong classes at first and Alfie having a teacher who believed in teaching by decibel. 

I didn’t have a job and was charged with finding a house to buy.  What fun!  I got lots of brochures and started circling ads.

Three months went by and Christmas came.  We shared it with Jim, Monique and Paulette, a formidable local woman in her seventies who had only recently given up cycling 28 kilometres to see her relatives on the Ile d’Oleron.  She arrived, dismounted in mid sentence and didn’t really let up much.  She cornered my husband, hemming him in between the wall and an enormous rubber plant, telling him that she wanted to tour Europe on the back of his motorbike.  I could see that he was tempted.  At lunch, Paulette said the turkey was dry and tough, but as she'd forgotten to put her teeth in, no one was particularly surprised.

Christmas in Charente Maritime, sitting on the terrace for coffee in the warm sunshine while my boys petted the various dogs, cats, rabbits, donkeys and horses, it was easy to think that we’d done the right thing.

Harry's first riding experience.

Happy Days  

(To be continued…)

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Review: 'A Thousand Splendid Suns'

Khaled Hosseini  (‘The Kite Runner’) is a best-selling Afghan-American author.

They say that you should write about what you know.

Khaled Hosseini certainly has me believing in a world that is both horrifying and exquisite.  There is human suffering on an unimaginable scale, tempered by compassion, and friendships forged in the most hostile environments.  Characters are beautifully drawn, so that we walk in their footsteps, travelling with them along paths that offer hope in the midst of war and oppression.  Mariam and Laila, women of their time, are skilfully brought together, their sufferings shared and made tolerable by a mutual empathy that allows these women to bear with integrity and stoicism the lives they have had no part in choosing. 

We learn about an Afghanistan wracked with brutal traditions, aggressive regimes and a divided people, not through dry documentary, but via the experiences of the characters we have come to care deeply about.  We are shown the vastness of the land, its ancient monuments and close communities, its mountains and deserts.  Khaled Hosseini is a true master of the written word and, as we find out in the author’s final notes at the end of the book, a man of principle, who takes an active interest in the future of his country.

Highly recommended.  

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