Location, Location, Location #13

Location No. 13 – my former house in South Liverpool

On today’s stop on our literary journey through my novels we find ourselves outside the house in Liverpool where my novel writing journey began. It was here that I started writing The Silver Locket. Built in 1911, the house was pretty run down when we moved there in November 2000. It didn’t even have a kitchen, although it did have a ghost.

It had been rather a grand house in its time, owned by a widow of the Irish Free State and then by a master mariner, prior to the family we bought it from purchasing it in the 1950s. It even had a flagpole out the back. One of the upstairs rooms still had a push-bell to summon the housekeeper. She would, no doubt, have lived in, and the attic rooms at the top of the house would have been the servants’ quarters at one time.

I believe our ghost was that of the former housekeeper.

There was no ghostly apparition, but there was definitely a presence; a warm, benevolent presence that I would sense when the house was quiet and I was upstairs, usually in the day-time. She’d descend from the attic, traverse the landing, passing the two front bedrooms, then turn to go downstairs, at which point the feeling of someone being there would evaporate. The cats were aware of her too. If one of them was in the bedroom with me, they’d look up and follow her progress. Even my husband couldn’t deny that there was ‘something’.

Over time, I came to think of her as Hodge the Housekeeper, who graced the pages of The Silver Locket. Subsequently, as a younger women at an earlier time, she turned up as the housekeeper in Following the Green Rabbit (you can’t waste a good character).

Photo found on Pinterest

We spent several years doing up the house, finishing with the little attic room with the dormer window (top left in the photo), which had a little white-painted fireplace, very like this one. It was this old, untouched room that I translocated to the house, 20 miles away in Rufford, which Laura inherits at the start of The Silver Locket.

The Prologue begins:
“The silver locket hides beneath the loose floorboard in a small attic room. Sunlight streams through the window pointing towards the tarnished trinket which waits patiently for its secrets to be unlocked.”

There was, indeed, a loose floorboard by the little fire place, but sadly there was no tarnished trinket to be found in that hidey-hole. I was so disappointed! But where my locket came from is a different story.

Now, let us join Laura who, having settled back in the old leather armchair and closed her eyes, has the first of her mysterious dreams, which seem to be connected to a little locket she’s found.

Excerpt from ‘The Silver Locket’

Laura is in the little attic room. Sunlight and birdsong stream through the open window. She looks around. The room is simply furnished, with a table and chair in one corner and an overstuffed couch facing the window. A large chest has been placed under the window and a small silver framed mirror is propped against the wall on the mantelshelf over the fireplace.

She approaches the fireplace, intrigued by the metal fire surround. Someone has started to decorate the raised sunflower pattern in yellow and green paint. Then she notices that she has a paint brush in her hand. It is she who has been carefully painting in the flowers on the dull metal.

She looks in the little mirror and is surprised to see another face reflected in the glass, the face of a young girl, her long dark hair drawn back in a thick plait. She is wearing a white cotton pinafore and the front of it is stained with yellow and green paint.

“Miss Cathy! Miss Cathy! Are you up here? What are you doing?”

The face looks guilty and turns toward the door.

The woman appears in the doorway, her face flushed from climbing the stairs.

“There you are… and look at the state of you,” she says. There is an Irish lilt to her voice and although she is frowning, she doesn’t seem cross.

Laura feels the girl’s guilt and puts the paint brushes in their water jar, which is balancing on the narrow mantelshelf.

The woman is well-built and dressed in a stiff white blouse and long black skirt, Laura judges her to be in her thirties. She advances into the room and stands next to her, viewing the newly-decorated fireplace.

“That looks much more cheerful, so it does. This little sitting room of mine could do with a spruce up, not that I have time to use it.”  The woman turns and smiles. “Now come and get cleaned up.  Your mother’s ready for her afternoon tea.”

As she is gently escorted from the room, Laura catches sight of her reflection in the little mirror. The face looks pleased, but her eyes look sad.

Obediently she follows the woman down the narrow stairs onto the landing. The house is familiar, but the furnishings are different and the layout wrong in some way, which Laura can’t identify. The woman takes her into a bedroom and pours water from a heavy-looking jug decorated with dark blue roses into a matching porcelain bowl.

“Now wash those hands while I find you a clean pinafore. You know how a mess upsets your mother.”


The Silver Locket
(written under pen name Holly Atkins) is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.

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Psst! – Fancy a look inside my old house? This site still has the photos from when were selling it.

Me and COVID plus Imagining a New Place by novelist Chris Hall

First of all, let me reassure you, I have not got the virus!

A little while ago, I was delighted to be invited to write a guest blog by writer, blogger and podcaster, da-AL. Then, just as she was preparing to publish my piece her husband came down with Covid! Thankfully he’s on the mend, and so is she, having also fallen sick subsequently.

Talking of masks, as she does, you can see one of mine on my desk in the photo of Luna, next to my ‘Pride and Prejudice’ mug. Looking at that messy desk, I could write a whole post about that. But I didn’t.

Instead, here it is, my guest post, in which I explain how my new novel came to be…

Happiness Between Tails by da-AL

‘Sunset over the Berg River ©River Tides Guesthouse’ – where author Chris Hall stayed when she began writing her book, "Song of the Sea Goddess." Owner Mike Harvey is a good friend of hers and the photo is from his website. ‘Sunset over the Berg River ©River Tides Guesthouse’ – where author Chris Hall stayed when she began writing her book, “Song of the Sea Goddess.” Owner Mike Harvey is a good friend of hers and the photo is from his website.

Writers get to build whatever world they please — sometimes our novels bend the truth only somewhat — other times they invent entire new gallaxies.

My works in progress, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” are set in fictitious towns within Los Angeles during 2002 and 2003. Back then, COVID-19 didn’t exist…

Note: Earlier this week, my husband became feverish and unwell. Turns out he has COVID-19. He’s doing his best to get well while I feel healthy and am awaiting my test results. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been super careful. I’m letting you know this as a reminder that one can never be…

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Location, Location, Location #12

Location No.12 – Sefton Park, Liverpool

Today’s stop on our literary journey through my novels takes us back to Liverpool, to Sefton Park where a little piece of the action in You’ll Never Walk Alone plays out.

I lived within a short walk of Sefton Park for more than 15 years, moving from one bedsit, to three different flats and eventually my own house. We only have a fleeting glimpse of the park in the book, but the location gives the narrative a sense of place, particularly to anyone familiar with the city.

And now, as I imagine myself back in the park, I’m engulfed by a huge wave of nostalgia, which threatens to stay my fingers while I wallow in memories… but no, we must press on!

Sefton Park is a huge and glorious public park; a green island set amongst row upon row of terraced houses dating from the early 1900s, and encircled by impressive old mansions, once the homes of rich merchants, civic dignitaries and even a foreign embassy or two, although many of these have been converted into rather desirable flats. Over the years I spent countless hours in Sefton Park, wandering its paths, feeding the ducks on the lake, and on occasion, watching my friend’s husband playing cricket or, more accurately, sitting in the sun gossiping over a glass or two of wine (sorry, Jim, you scored how many?).

In all the time I lived there I don’t  think I ever took a photo of any of the wonderful aspects of the park, so let me hand you over to another ‘tour guide’ whose blog I came across the other day. Take a moment for a spin around the park to see why it’s such a special place.

Click on the LINK

I hope that gave you a little flavour of a true Liverpool gem.

And now, we’ll take a tiny detour into Lark Lane, which is just across the road and where, if you’d met up with friends in the park of an afternoon, you’d be sure to end up.

Lark Lane, Liverpool

Lark Lane was, and still is, a lively little street, full of trendy bars, ‘proper’ pubs, well-priced eateries and quirky shops. It’s popular with students and locals alike, and perfect for a Sunday lunch or a weekend night out. Needless to say, my friends and I spent a fair amount of time hanging out here over the years.

Now, back to the book. The house in which my principal characters live in You’ll Never Walk Alone, is based on a very similar house, also with a Chinese landlord, where I rented a room, back in 1984-5. Just a stone’s throw away from the northern edge of the park it’s a pleasant 15 minute walk over the grass and along the paths to Lark Lane where we join Gary and Bob for a lunchtime pint. Of course they choose The Albert, a traditional ale house, over one of the poncy wine bars (as Bob would, no doubt, say).

The Albert, Lark Lane

Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone

Bob looked up from the Echo he’d found on the seat next to him as Gary put their drinks down on the scuffed wooden table.

“Cheers mate,” said Bob as he picked up his pint. He swallowed some of the golden liquid. “I keep thinking about that Pierre guy. Why would he have a load of Chinese thugs after him?”

“Who knows? Maybe we should ask Tony?”

Someone switched on the television. The highlights from the previous day’s football were showing. Bob and Gary turned their attention to the game. Neither of them noticed the three smartly dressed oriental gentlemen who’d just entered the pub.

Inside The Albert

The match highlights had finished as Gary and Bob drained their second pints. “Better get off then, I suppose,” said Gary putting his glass down on the table. Bob nodded.

Gary glanced towards the bar as he picked up his jacket. He grabbed his friend’s arm. Bob looked at him: “Wha…”

Gary put his mouth close to Bob’s ear: “Don’t look round, but there are three Chinese guys at the bar. “D’you think they’re watching us?”

Bob frowned and started to turn around. Gary jerked his sleeve. “Don’t look…”

“Don’t be daft, what would they want with us?”

“The thing with Lucy,” Gary hissed, raising his eyebrows.

“Look, you’re just being paranoid. C’mon, let’s get off.”

Gary let go of his arm. “Alright, but maybe we should get a cab?”

Bob rolled his eyes and put on his jacket, glancing across to the bar as he did so. The three Chinese guys were busy chatting and didn’t even look up. “Okay, let’s go.”

As the door swung shut behind Gary and Bob, the three men finished their drinks and headed after them.

Walking through Sefton Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon – what could possibly happen?

Bob and Gary crossed the road into Sefton Park passing a queue of noisy children by an ice cream van. As was usual on a warm Sunday afternoon, the park was busy with families, couples and dog walkers. Bob sometimes went fishing in the central lake, not that he’d ever caught anything. Few people did. Gary cast a look over his shoulder, but there was no sign of the Chinese guys. Bob was probably right, he was being paranoid. They plodded across the grass, skirting around a football match between two teams of random players, before reaching the edge of the boating lake.

Suddenly they were aware of someone running behind them; there was a shout. Both turned to see one of the Chinese guys from the pub. The other two weren’t far behind.

“Shit,” Gary muttered under his breath.

“Look, we’ll just have to face up to them. There’s loads of people around. It’ll be fine, no-one’s going to attack us here in broad daylight,” Bob muttered back, flexing his fingers ready to fight if need be.

The Chinese guy slowed down to a walk and approached them. His friends had caught up and had fallen in just behind him. The guy in front reached into his jacket pocket.


You’ll Never Walk Alone
is available from Amazon
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and on Kindle Unlimited

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Image credits:
Liverpool Echo, Visit Liverpool, Trip Advisor

Location, Location, Location #11

Location No. 11 – The West Coast National Park, South Africa

This time, on our literary journey through the pages of my books, we’re back in South Africa to explore a little more of the beautiful west coast, where Song of the Sea Goddess is set. My imaginary little town isn’t a single place, but an amalgam of different locations, all quite close to each other, but brought together so as to satisfy the needs of the narrative.

Today’s visit is to a key site for the story. So pause, feel the African sun on your back, breathe in the salty sea air mixed with the sweet, spicy scent of the fynbos under your feet, and join me in the West Coast National Park, where the flora and fauna are protected and visitors now step lightly on the land.

I first visited the park on a day trip with my cousin and her husband, while they were visiting from the UK. It’s a lovely place for a walk by the lagoon, a little bird spotting and a pleasant lunch.

As a quick aside, the photo for the cover of my short story collection was taken at the restaurant.

These attractive yellow birds are weaver birds, whose nests fill the trees above the outdoor seating area. The males painstakingly weave their intricate nests out of grasses and the fussy females make their choice. If they don’t like them they destroy them and start again.

Better than a day trip is a couple of nights spent in the self-catering accommodation in the park. Some of the cottages are very isolated so that once the day visitors have left, it’s just you and nature and the night.

On one such visit, the sun had slipped beneath the horizon, not long after the photo above was taken, and we were sitting contemplating the dying embers of the braai (barbeque). Suddenly we were roused by a strange clicking sound. Lots of clicking. There was something around the other side of the cottage. Slowly we crept around the building.

What an amazing sight! One after another, a long ribbon of eland were walking past the cottage between us and the lagoon, no more than 20 yards away from where we were standing. There must have been about 50 of them, knees clicking as they walked, apparently so they can keep in touch with one another in the dark, or so I was once told by a park ranger.

Listen carefully. My increasingly arthritic knees can relate!

And now we come to the specific location and its role in the story. In the excerpt below we meet Jannie, one of our main characters, and catch an early glimpse of a mysterious, mythical figure who dives from the ‘looming headland’, which is a key part of the local landscape.

This is the ‘borrowed’ location, Kraal Bay, on the Langebaan Lagoon in the National Park. This is the place where Eve’s footprint was discovered: a set of fossilized footprints left in the sand some 117,000 years ago by one of the first people to walk on this shore.

My imaginary headland is possibly a little more whale-shaped, but that is the writer’s mind at work. Knowing the paths of the ancient people ran through this place, what else might be eventually be discovered beneath this domed hillside?

Kraal Bay – sanparks.co.za

Excerpt from ‘Song of the Sea Goddess

Jannie stretches out his legs and breathes in the warm sea air, which is laden with the smell of diesel and freshly caught fish. He smiles to himself. This is the life, he thinks, far away from all his cares and responsibilities. It’s been a stroke of luck that his brother, Robert landed a two month contract working up-country, and asked him if he would like to come and mind his little house on the coast while he was away. Robert, a long-time widower, lives alone now his family’s grown up and moved to Cape Town. He didn’t want to leave his house unoccupied. People are for the most part honest in the little town where he’s settled, but with more mouths to feed and fewer jobs, no one’s property’s safe for long.

Jannie has his own problems back home. Much as he loves his extended family, it was all becoming too much. What with his own grown up children, their children and assorted aunties, nephews and nieces constantly calling upon him for help, he’d really had enough. It wasn’t as if they couldn’t manage without him. It would be good for them, especially his four sons, to stand on their own two feet for a change.

He casts his eyes over the small harbour, looking out for Sam in his little fishing boat, Porcupine, which he’d helped him repair over a week or two when he first arrived. Jannie likes to keep busy, and was pleased to be able to use the skills he’d gained during his fifteen years at sea. But there’s no sign of Sam or little Porcupine. Perhaps they’ve gone further up the coast for a while, he thinks. Sam might be turning a better profit for his catch at one of the other busier harbours up the coast.

Remembering the past, Jannie chuckles to himself and closes his eyes. He’d run away to sea with his friend when they were just twelve years old. Carrying a little bag of warm clothes, he’d snuck out of his mother’s shack while she was sleeping and met his older sister up by the highway. She had a job in a bar next to Cape Town harbour, and she knew an officer on one of the deep sea fishing boats who would help them once they were on board. Jannie recalls standing in the almost pitch black on the quayside, his body swaying, thinking it was the ground under him which was moving, when in fact it was the looming steel hull of the ship in front of him. And oh, they had been so sick once the ship was underway…

Shouts and running feet jolt Jannie back to the present. The harbour master, jamming his peaked cap on his head, rushes past him towards the southern end of the harbour, where a small group of people have gathered. Jannie stands up and shakes himself, then hurries after the harbour master to join the gathering crowd, jumping up onto the harbour wall to get a better view of what’s caught their interest.

A tall, slender woman in long skirts is standing on the edge of the headland across the estuary. Her arms are held out in a welcoming gesture as dozens of whales break the surface of the waves before her. She lifts her head skywards, spreading her arms out widely, in a pose that reminds Jannie of the statue he’d so admired, long ago in Rio de Janeiro.

The woman opens her mouth and a loud, ululating song resonates across the bay. Suddenly the whales take to the air; wave upon wave of them. Jannie blinks and shakes his head. What’s going on? The woman’s song grows louder. The whales are flying! Jannie pinches himself.

The sky darkens, filled with the huge beasts. Then the song stops.

A close up of the woman’s face appears before Jannie’s eyes. She smiles revealing a row of pointed teeth. A selkie! He’d heard talk of these when he’d been sailing in northern waters. Jannie feels the harbour wall ripple beneath his feet.

Her face disappears. Up on the headland he watches her dive into the ocean. Her silver seal tail flaps once above the waves, and then she’s gone.

Jannie looks around. He’s alone on the harbour wall. A man passes close by him, he glances up and smiles, tipping his broad-brimmed hat in Jannie’s direction, while behind him, people are going about their business as usual. Jannie sits down on the wall and rubs his eyes. He looks up, the headland is deserted. Far out in the ocean he sees a solitary whale breaching.

Jannie returns to the white plastic chair that he’s claimed for himself and sits down. He rests his head in his hands, his thick brown-black dreadlocks spilling over his shoulders. It’s been more than ten years since he gave up the booze. So what kind of strange vision has he just had?


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Location, Location, Location #10

Location No. 10, Berg River, Laaiplek ©River Tides Guest House

In the latest stop on our literary tour through the pages of my novels, we’re taking a trip up the west coast of South Africa to a small town called Laaiplek, situated where the Berg River meets the Atlantic Ocean. This is the spot where my latest novel, Song of the Sea Goddess was conceived.

A visit to Mike Harvey’s lovely River Tides guest house just after New Year has become something of a tradition for us, although sadly our sundowners with Mike have had to be postponed this year with beaches and rivers out-of-bounds and travel between ‘hot-spots’ actively discouraged. But we will return.

Here I am, back in January 2019, sitting on the shady bench on the right hand side of the photo, busy with pen and notebook, during our customary short summer break. I might well have been writing the very words that eventually evolved into the first chapter of the book, which started as a short story involving Sam the fisherman and his little boat, Porcupine.

Sitting by the banks of the broad brackish Berg River,  fishing boats periodically put-putter past. It was easy to start to imagine a story about one of them. A little blue-painted fishing boat, which I watched throttling past the old fish-processing factory as it set out on an evening voyage, captured my imagination.

I know from reading Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, that night-time is the right time to catch octopuses, using a little olive oil to ‘calm troubled waters’ and a light to attract them. But then, once Sam had caught his two octopuses, I desperately wanted to save them because, as we all know, they are at least as intelligent as dogs, and I really couldn’t bring myself to let them be despatched. And so the fantasy was created and the adventure begun.

Some of you might remember the original short story from when I put it up on my blog almost exactly two years ago, although it has undergone some reworking and refinement since then. But the essence of the place remains unchanged, for who could fail to be inspired by a location like this?

“Many ghosts of ships and men haunt Laaiplek. A place of adventure and romance.
Coast of Treasure’ by Laurence G. Green (1932)

Sunset over the Berg River ©Cliff Davies 2019

Excerpt from ‘Song of the Sea Goddess’

Sam casts off from the jetty in his little fishing boat, Porcupine. The last orange and gold sunset slivers are disappearing behind the blue-grey hills on the far horizon as he pushes the throttle forward and eases little Porcupine out into the broad brackish river that leads to the ocean.

Gulls wheel noisily overhead, their keening cries eerie in the twilight. The twin lighthouses blink at each other on either side of the bay. Sam pushes the throttle forward another notch against the growing sea swell. He runs his work-roughened hands around the little boat’s steering wheel and sets his course along the coast, inhaling the sharp sea air.

Sam grew up on the Cape Flats. Life had been hard there; it still is. But he’s escaped. He had to. On the run from members of an opposing gang, he got on the road and hitched up the West Coast. He slept rough; got work, casual stuff; then things started to look up. He found a broken-down little boat one day when he was exploring the shoreline for salvage. Slowly he fixed it up with the help of a retired ship’s engineer called Jannie, who spends his days giving advice and watching the activity in the little harbour by the river mouth.

Sam and Porcupine make a great team. He’s brought the little boat back to life and in return she gives him safe shelter and a means to make a living from the bounty of the ocean. Tonight he’s fishing for octopus, which is best done at night with a lamp and a little can of vegetable oil to make a window in the waves. He rounds the coast to his favourite cove and drops anchor.

Night comes quickly, and within half an hour Sam has two good-sized octopuses in his fishing bucket. He shifts a little on the makeshift perch of his old sleeping blanket, propping his back against the wheelhouse. Sam has been busy helping out in the harbour all day. He feels the stiffness of a hard day’s work; he’s tired. Lulled by the bobbing boat, Sam slips away into a glorious slumber.

He is awakened by the sound of voices. Someone’s on the boat!

‘Concentrate,’ says the first.

‘I am concentrating,’ says the second, rather indignantly.

Sam holds up the lamp. ‘Who’s there?’ He stands up and turns around sharply. There’s no one. He walks around the little deck, holding up the lamp and peering out into the inky ocean. Then he hears them again.

‘Over he-re,’ the voice calls in a sing-song voice.

‘Over he-re,’ joins in the second voice in a deeper tone.

Sam spins around. Where are the voices coming from?

‘Coo-e,” calls the first voice.

Suddenly a jet of water spurts out of the fishing bucket, wetting Sam’s feet. A tentacle waves at him. ‘Coo-e.’ It waves again.

Sam crouches down by the bucket. The two octopus heads bob up, their eyes fasten upon his. ‘What the…?’ Each of them winks at him. ‘No!” Sam stands up and takes a step backwards. More tentacles appear, waving at him. Sam shakes his head.

‘Let us go!’

‘Please, mister fisherman!’

Sam approaches the bucket again. He squats down. ‘No man. Fish don’t talk.’

‘We’re not fish,’ says the first voice indignantly.

‘We’re cephalopods.’

Sam rubs his eyes; he pinches himself.

‘You’re not dreaming, you know.’ A tentacle extends towards Sam’s arm and prods him gently. ‘This is real.’

‘Tip us out and let us go,’ sings the first voice.

‘And lots of treasure you will know,’ choruses the second.

It’s as if someone has taken over control of his body. Sam picks up the bucket and steps over to the side of the boat where he gently inverts it. As the two octopuses slide into the sea, a huge wave breaks over the boat, knocking Sam flat on the deck. The empty bucket lands next to him with a clatter. Porcupine bobs about like a cork, and suddenly dozens of octopuses appear above the waves. As Sam tries to find his feet, a vast tentacle reaches onto the deck and grabs the bucket, swiping Sam across the head and knocking him out cold.


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My characters are tugging at my sleeve… again

‘Another new book? I say, Ms Hall, that is admirable.’ Connor raises his whisky glass in my direction and takes a long pull. ‘And you’re already onto the follow up novel. You’re becoming almost as prolific as The Poet!’ He strikes a dramatic pose from his position by the fireplace.

I smile politely as my eyes travel around Cynthia’s sitting room. Cynthia is lounging languidly on the battered silk chaise-longue. Her eyes are shining over the large glass of red wine she’s sipping. ‘Song of the Sea Goddess; it’s a lovely title,’ she smiles at me encouragingly. ‘Do you have a copy for us?’

I’m still waiting for them to ship from the printers. ‘Next time,’ I promise.

Gina is sitting in the armchair opposite her. Her left hand rests on her knee and the light is catching the diamond in her ring. She sees me looking at it.

‘We decided to put the wedding off for a bit.’

‘I hope you weren’t waiting for me to…’ I stop in mid-sentence, feeling awkward.

Gina laughs. ‘Only Ma and Auntie Marie are bothered. You know what they’re like!’ She shakes her head. ‘No, I’m concentrating on my career.’

‘Good for you,’ I say, raising my glass and taking a sip. The pleasant taste of the cheap Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon takes me straight back to the early 1980s. A sudden thought occurs to me. ‘Where’s Gary?’

‘Oh, he and Bob have gone to the match, nursing their New Year hangovers.’ She grins. ‘Fingers has become quite a celebratory at Anfield.’

‘I can imagine,’ I say, smiling back.

Gina’s expression darkens. ‘Your new book’s set in South Africa, isn’t it? She raises a disapproving eyebrow. ‘You do know we’re boycotting everything South African*.’

Connor clears his throat but says nothing and Cynthia shifts awkwardly on the chaise-longue.

‘Yes, I know. I did the same.’ I reply, remembering short supermarket dilemmas. ‘But things have changed. The country celebrated 25 years of democracy last year. Apartheid is over. Nelson Mandela became the first president.’

‘Well I never.’ Connor stares thoughtfully into his glass. ‘But I suppose we’re part of history now.’

‘I’m afraid so.’ Strange as it still seems, the 1980s are history. It feels to me like only yesterday.

‘Oh, but Ms Hall, you bring us to life.’ Cynthia casts a theatrical gesture in my direction.

‘Which is what’s happening to us now,’ says Gina determinedly. She shifts in her seat and pulls a crumpled postcard out of the back pocket of her jeans. ‘This came from Lucy last week. She and Pierre are working on a cruise ship now. He’s a DJ and she’s a croupier in the casino.’

That makes perfect sense.

Connor interrupts my thoughts. ‘As a fellow writer, I understand you have to go where the muse takes you, as it were.’ He strides over to the sideboard to top up his glass. ‘But I thought there might be at least one more historical fiction book in you.’

Our sequel?’ Gina waves the postcard at me.

I glance down and see my notebook has fallen open on my lap. I look up at their expectant faces. I guess there’s no harm in jotting down a few more notes…

*For a long time, Nelson Mandela and the issue of South Africa under the Nationalist apartheid regime weren’t widely discussed in the UK. When this song hit the UK charts in 1984 more people started asking questions, which contributed to the issue rising to national prominence. The rest, as they say, is history.

Side Note: I vividly remember my flat-mate, who makes a tiny cameo appearance in ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone, dancing round our kitchen singing this!


Many of you will know that the characters from You’ll Never Walk Alone are frequently tugging at my sleeve. One day, I will give them their wish and write their longed for sequel. They’ve certainly come up with a few good ideas to start to shape the plot. Meanwhile, my new novel, Song of the Sea Goddess, is coming very soon.

And finally, a Happy New Year
to one and all.
Keep safe, keep sane, and let’s hope for a better 2021!

Location, Location, Location #9

Speke Hall, Liverpool

Today’s stop on our literary tour through my novels takes us to a specific location in South Liverpool. Grade 1 listed Speke Hall has a fascinating history, and a whole novel could have been constructed around a number of events associated with the house and its inhabitants. However, it purely serves as a backdrop to my story.

My familiarity with the building is connected to the tea-rooms there, and not just for the coffee and cake, although as any writer knows, that would be reason enough. It was, among a number of venues, where I used to meet with members of my team to conduct their appraisals. We were all home-based workers, probably some of the first back in the early noughties, and following a remark from one of my neighbours about the number of ‘gentleman callers’ I’d had to my house, I realised that having home-based meetings was probably not such a good idea. Hence I came to know the nearby tea-rooms at Speke Hall rather well. Not all the meetings were easy, but the lovely setting made the whole business a little less stressful, and allowed my reputation to recover.

Speke Hall – tea-rooms and visitors’ centre

Speke Hall is a beautiful old manor house, with parts dating back to Tudor times, and it’s just the kind of place that wicked Lord Childecott, the antagonist in Following the Green Rabbit, might have lived, although I had to whisk it away to the next county for the purposes of my story. In addition, the estate’s former farm buildings, which were converted into the tea-rooms, could quite easily have served as one of the outbuildings in which Mr Eyre was imprisoned by the evil Lord, if you picture them without windows and with a thatched roof, as they probably would have been in the past.

I was deliberately vague about the time-period in which the novel was set in order to avoid becoming embroiled in too much historical research, but we’re somewhere in the late sixteenth century. Like William Norris, a Royalist, who lived in Speke Hall at the time, Lord Childecott would be suspicious of both the French and the Jacobites. Of course, my antagonist is suspicious of any stranger, but to tell you more would give the game away if you haven’t read the novel.

I had in mind the Great Hall with its grand fireplace and oak paneling, as the setting for the scene below.

Speke Hall, The Great Hall

Excerpt from ‘Following the Green Rabbit

Up at the Manor House, Lord Childecott was getting nowhere with his new prisoner. Despite his best efforts, Mr Eyre was failing to co-operate. True, he hadn’t resorted to violence yet, and that was always a possibility. His chief enforcer, Smiler, so named because of his lack of teeth, was a dab hand with the thumb screws and other less than dainty tools. However, he had a feeling that such methods would only work if Eyre was to watch them being applied to someone he cared about. If local gossip was true, then he knew just who that would be.

Lord Childecott paced the room while Mr Eyre sat patiently on the chair to which he had been bound. Since his capture that afternoon, he’d been locked up in a dusty outbuilding. He had tried to find a way out, but although he’d succeeded in freeing himself from the ropes which tied his hands and feet, escape from the building had proved impossible. Now it was evening. He was hungry and thirsty and he was facing his captor and his questions.

“I’ll ask you again, Eyre, where are you from?”

“And I’ll tell you again. I came from the other side of the wood.”

“You were on my land and that’s forbidden.” Lord Childecott glared at him. What do you want here?” He strode over and fingered Mr Eyre’s jacket. “And why are you so strangely dressed?”

Had his hands not been bound to the chair, Mr Eyre would have raised them in a gesture of exasperation. “If I told you where I’m from, you wouldn’t believe me.”

“Try me,” Lord Childecott snarled, an inch from Mr Eyre’s face. Mr Eyre tried to avoid grimacing at the stench of Lord Childecott’s rotten-toothed breath.

“I believe I’ve come from the future. More than two hundred years in the future, judging by what you’re wearing and the style of the buildings here,” Mr Eyre replied glancing around the room.

“Don’t trifle with me, Eyre.”

“I’m not. Look, you say I’m strangely dressed. This is how gentlemen are accustomed to dress in the first decade of the twentieth century. Look in my pocket” he indicated his jacket pocket. Childecott didn’t move. “Well, go on, look.”

Childecott reached into Mr Eyre’s pocket and brought out the Box Brownie.

“That’s called a camera. It’s a new invention. Something from the future,” said Mr Eyre. “It takes pictures, likenesses if you will.” Mr Eyre thought for a moment. “Like an automated artist.”

Childecott turned the camera over in his hands. He put it to his ear and shook it. “In this little box?”

“Do be careful with that,” Mr Eyre pleaded.

Childecott tossed the camera onto a nearby couch where it rolled over and came to rest on its side. “I don’t believe you. Some foreign toy, no doubt,” he sneered. “Now, who are you working for? The Jacobites? The French?”

“I’ve told you. I’m not working for anyone and I’m not a spy. I’ve told you what I believe has happened.”

“Enough! You are trying my patience.” Lord Childecott thought for a moment, then turned to one of his men who was standing by the door. “Lock him up again and fetch Martha Stebbins, I’m sure we can give you an incentive to talk once you see what Smiler here can do to your friend Mistress Stebbins.”

Two of Lord Childecott’s enforcers untied Mr Eyre, then taking him firmly by the arms, frog-marched him from the room.

“No! No!” He struggled against them wildly. “You leave Martha out of this. I…” At Lord Childecott’s signal one of the guards stuffed a grubby piece of material in to Mr Eyre’s mouth and he could speak no more.

As the two enforcers dragged the struggling Mr Eyre across the courtyard and back to the barn, he noticed a flash of movement behind the Manor House. The guards, however, were too preoccupied with trying to manoeuvre their resisting captive to notice the two boys watching from the other side of the yard. Mr Eyre was manhandled through the barn door, all the time protesting through his gag. One of the men yanked it out of his mouth.

“Go on, you can yell all you like out here. No one will hear you.” He laughed and heaved the door closed, dropping the heavy wooden plank into place and barring the door shut.

Mr Eyre got to his feet and started to hammer on the door with his bound hands, bellowing at the top of his voice to be released.

“Right then, we’d better go and fetch old Martha,” the guard said to his companion as they stomped off, leaving Mr Eyre cursing and yelling and banging on the barn door.


Following the Green Rabbit
is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon at a discounted price
for the month of December.

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Image credits: Rodhullandemu, wikiwand, countrylife.co.uk

Shifting Perspectives: Orion is Upside Down!

What do you see when you look up at the stars?

A chance remark I made the other day in response to Frank Prem’s illustrated poem, Southern Stars for Christmas, raised a question or two about what we see in our night sky, depending upon where we are in the world. If you follow the link you’ll see the thread, and as a special bonus, you’ll get to read Frank’s poem and see his southern star pics.

We can all see some of the same stars

If you live in the northern hemisphere, you can see all of the constellations in the northern part of the sky and some of what is visible from the southern hemisphere. As you travel downward towards the equator, you’ll be able to see more of the sky from the southern hemisphere’s perspective, while also losing more of what you’d normally see in the northern hemisphere. And vice versa, of course.

There are some stars that you can only see from one hemisphere, which is why if you’re in the North, you’re so familiar with the Polaris (the North Star) and conversely, if you’re in the South, you know the Southern Cross.

But some constellations, like Orion, look different!

Coming originally from the northern hemisphere, I’d say Orion is upside down here in the South, but maybe it’s the other way around. I guess it depends on what you’re used to. Either way, you can still make a huntsman out of the two-dimensional pattern of distant stars, which form the constellation.

A new night sky can be a little disorienting

I remember, not long after first moving to South Africa, getting up in the middle of the night and looking up at this strange, unfamiliar sky. It was a clear night and here was very little light pollution compared to what I was used to back in the well-lit city of Liverpool. The huge velvet sky, pin-pricked  with the brightest, densest stars I’d ever seen, was magical. And in that part-way point of being half asleep and properly awake, when all around me was silence, I thought for a moment that I’d been transported to a completely different planet.

We’re all looking at the same moon…

…but we might not be seeing the same part of her.
Click here for the ‘sciency’ bit.

In the northern hemisphere you have the famous Man in the Moon. But for me, here in the South, one of the loveliest sights is of the African moon lying on her back. I think of Karen Blixen’s words every time I see our beautiful moon reclining languidly in our night-time sky.

The African moon has influenced my writing. Just last week, when I wrote Home for the Holidays in response to Sadje‘s What Do You See? prompt, our lovely moon popped up in the second verse. She also puts in an appearance in Trance, one of the lyrical pieces from my San Man series written earlier this year. Moving hemispheres, countries and cultures has had an increasing impact on my writing journey and now, ten years on, the British author has become a South African one, and my soon-to-be-released novel, rather then being set in England, is set in my adopted country.

Frank suggested I post some pictures of my African sky at night. Unfortunately there’s been a lot of high cloud about in the past week, but if I eventually get some good ones, I’ll post them to my Instagram feed on the sidebar.

What do you see when you look up at the stars?

Location, Location, Location #8

Location No.8 – The Isle of Man

Next on our literary journey through the pages of my novels, we’re going to hop over to the Isle of Man, a small island in the Irish Sea, which lies between northern Great Britain and the north of Ireland, where we’re going to catch up with Pierre, our handsome leading man from You’ll Never Walk Alone, who’s treating Lucy to a little break away (although, if you’ve read the book, you’ll know he has another agenda).

I have fond memories of the Isle of Man, even though I only ever visited as part of my job as an insurance surveyor. I used to go there for three or four days at a time a couple times a year, but unlike Pierre and Lucy, who travel on the Isle of Man ferry, I used to fly over from Liverpool on a little Shorts 360 airplane.


Although I was working, I still managed to see quite a lot of the place between appointments. The island is probably best known for the notoriously hazardous annual TT motor cycle race. On one occasion I drove my hire car around the famous circuit, although at a considerably more modest pace than the TT competitors, of course. During the initial draft of the book, I’d been planning for Pierre to take part in the race, but the logistics became problematic. Maybe he’ll return to the island to do just that in a sequel to You’ll Never Walk Alone that my characters are still begging me to write.

I was also tempted to take Lucy and Pierre on a grand tour of the island, but it would have got in the way of the story, so I contented myself with a brief interlude in which they drive out to Peel Castle on the west coast of the island. It’s a partially restored Viking ruin, and a pretty, peaceful location where once I sat overlooking harbour to dictate a report. My typist (yes, it was that long ago) told me she wondered why she could hear seagulls in the background.


Lucy and Pierre stay in the fictional Royal Hotel, where Pierre ‘has a bit of business’ to attend to. It’s loosely based on the Palace Hotel and Casino, one of the places I stayed in during my visits to the island. It made a fine and fitting backdrop to the story, although I never went to the casino itself where much of the action in this part of the book is set. Nor did I visit the ‘back of house’ areas in that particular hotel. Trust me, it’s not always a good idea to stay, much less eat, in a place where you’ve inspected the kitchens. However, my knowledge of hotel security did come into play.

Excerpt from ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’

Pierre crept along the second floor corridor. He’d left Lucy sleeping. As far as she was concerned, they were just going to help Verushka get away from the abusive Russian. Pierre hadn’t mentioned the jewels again. He decided he was going to make sure he got his hands on them himself, and since he still had the passkey and d-lock, what could go wrong? Provided he was careful.

He counted off the room numbers until he reached 287. Even from outside the door he could hear the Russian snoring. Pierre took out the passkey and ran it through the slot next to the door handle. The indicator light changed from red to green and the lock clicked open. Pierre paused and listened again; satisfied, he opened the door gently and slipped into the room. He closed the door quietly. The room was shrouded in darkness. The Russian snored on. Pierre could also hear Verushka’s slow, quiet breathing; she was also asleep.

Pierre moved silently over to the wardrobe and took out the pen torch he’d borrowed from behind the bar downstairs. As he opened the door, the Russian spluttered and muttered something. Pierre froze and killed the torch beam. He heard Denisovich turn over. Minutes passed. He heard the Russian breathing heavily again.

All clear, Pierre thought. He switched the torch back on and fitted the electronic device into the lock of the safe. The little door swung open. Pierre reached in and drew out a thick, velvet covered jewel case. He eased back the little golden clasp and opened it. There was the necklace, with the matching earrings and a brooch; the complete set.

As Pierre stood up he felt the cold, hard barrel of a gun press against the back of his head. ‘Turn around slowly and give that to me,’ said Verushka softly.


You’ll Never Walk Alone
is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon at a discounted price
for the month of December.

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the rest of the world


Image credits:
Isle of Man Tourism Board, Isle of Man Newspapers (David Kneale); jetphotos.com (Fraser McLachlan); Trip Advisor; Best Western Hotels

Location, Location, Location #7

Location No.7 – Cimetière du Père Lachaise, Paris (Wikipedia)

Returning to our literary tour through the pages of my novels, let’s pop over to the romantic city of Paris, where we’re going to join our main character, Laura and her boyfriend, Greg from The Silver Locket. The city of Paris is rather special to me, being the first overseas place to which I travelled with my husband, when we were very young, back in 1985. In a similar way, Paris is special to Laura, being the first place Greg took her for a weekend away.

Specifically today we’re going to tag along with them on their visit to Père Lachaise, the largest cemetery in Paris and the most visited necropolis in the world. You may remember from the first stop on our tour that I share Laura’s fascination for old graveyards. You can’t get much more fascinating than Père Lachaise with its catalogue of famous decedents including Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein and many, many more, so naturally Laura would choose to visit the place during her weekend away with Greg.

Poet George Rodenbach, climbing out of his grave (Wikipedia)

It’s a fascinating place where you can wander for hours amongst some of the most incredible funerary monuments. I’ve been drawn to the cemetery during several subsequent visits to Paris, which was an easy hop from Liverpool on Easyjet by the late 1990s.

The narrow lanes and twisting paths are the perfect place for another eerie encounter with the mysterious woman in the brown coat, whom Laura first meets in the Rufford graveyard, although on this occasion, Laura’s mistaken and it’s someone else. Greg’s reaction to her erroneous confrontation and, a little later on, to the silver locket with its naively-drawn picture and odd little talisman inside, show us how dismissive he can be of Laura. We start to see that he’s on different trajectory to her, scorning simple pleasures, like picnics by the river, which Laura continues to enjoy (as do I, provided there’s a nice bench to sit on).

Narrow lanes among the graves, perfect for an eerie encounter! (Fodor)

I have to say that I’m in rather good company with this particular choice of setting. Alexandre Dumas references the famous cemetery in his novel The Count of Monte Cristo as being ‘alone worthy of receiving the mortal remains of a Parisian family…’ and the protagonist of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is buried in Père Lachaise. More recently, in the film Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the eponymous dark wizard convenes his followers at Père-Lachaise towards the end of the film.

Excerpt from ‘The Silver Locket’

Laura and Greg stood together poring over the plan of the famous Parisian cemetery, Père Lachaise.

“Okay,” said Greg, “we’ve seen Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, the Belgian poet who’s climbing out of his grave…”

“Georges Rodenbach.”

“Yeah, Rodenbach, who else do you want to visit?” Greg looked around at the lines of gravestones and monuments stretching off in all directions. “We don’t want to spend all day here do we?”

“No, but can’t we just wander around for a bit? Oh, but we should see the wall where the communards were executed, that should appeal to you,” Laura laughed. “Round up the anarchists and shoot them.”

“Mmm, very amusing,” said Greg consulting the plan. “The Mur des Fédérés, as it’s actually called, is along here,” he said pointing to the map. “We can go there and then loop back along here towards where we came in.”

They wandered along in silence, Laura veering off the path to take a closer look at some of the more intriguing or quirky-looking tombs. A large ginger cat was happily curled up on the step of Rossini’s tomb. Laura stopped to stroke it. It purred loudly.

She looked up; Greg was already some distance away further down the path. Then out of the corner of her eye she saw a movement. At first she thought it was another cat, the cemetery was full of them, but then she saw a figure emerge from inside one of the tombs. It was a large woman wearing a brown coat. It was her, Laura was sure. And this time she’d followed her all the way to Paris. Laura moved stealthily towards the woman. She wasn’t going to get away from her a third time. Laura crept as quickly as she could after the woman, keeping out of sight. The woman was on one of the main pathways now, heading towards the gate. Laura broke into a trot. She was almost on her when she heard rapid footsteps catching up behind her. She ignored them as she drew level with the woman and caught her by the arm.

“Got you,” Laura cried triumphantly. “Now you can tell me who you are and…” Laura’s voice trailed off.  It wasn’t her. “Oh, sorry. Pardon, madame,” she said, letting go of the woman’s arm. She continued her apology, explaining in her fluent French that she’d mistaken her for someone else. Laura stepped back and bowed her head. “Pardonnez-moi.”

“What on earth do you think you’re doing, Law?” It had been Greg behind her.

“It was a mistake,” Laura said to Greg, then turning to the woman: “Une erreur, Madame.”

The woman brushed her arm in an exaggerated fashion, snorted, and headed off towards the gate.

“Do you think I should go after her?” asked Laura.

“No, I don’t. Just leave it. But what in heaven’s name were you doing? You virtually assaulted that poor woman.”

“I know, I feel awful. But this woman in a brown coat keeps following me. First I met her in the churchyard in Rufford. But then she was in Preston, and then I saw her by the park in Liverpool and then at the train station there too.”

Greg rolled his eyes.  “Come on, let’s get out of here,” said Greg.  “There was a café near we came in, let’s go and have a drink and maybe you can explain what this is all about.”

Laura did her best to explain, but under Greg’s critical gaze, it did seem that her bumping into the mystery woman a couple of times was probably no more than coincidence. Laura took out the locket and handed it to him, telling him where she had found it and showing him how it opened.

“What’s this scruffy bit of paper?” he said, pulling out the little drawing. Laura was only just quick enough to stop it blowing off the table where Greg had dropped it in disgust. “And this stamp inside, it doesn’t look like a proper jeweller’s mark to me. Is it worth anything? At least you’ve not been tempted to wear such a naff little object.”

Laura snatched it back from him and carefully replaced Thomas’s drawing over the little talisman which still looked up at her imploringly. There was clearly no point in explaining anything further about it. As for the dreams, she decided she should keep those to herself. It was all very well trying to find out about the history of the house she’d inherited, but to try to get Greg to understand that she’d been trying to trace the existence of someone she had just dreamt about, however strangely and vividly, was really not a good idea.

The sun was high in the sky; it was past noon and people were leaving their offices for their customary long lunch breaks.

“Come on,” said Laura. “Let’s get a picnic from the boulangerie over the road there and take it down by the river.”

“Wouldn’t you prefer to go to a nice bistro somewhere?”

“Not if we’re eating tonight. Oh please, Greg, let’s have a picnic. It’s what we always used to do.”

“That’s because it was all we could afford. But okay, if you like. I’ll leave the choice up to you, as long as you promise not to attack any more old ladies.”


The Silver Locket
(written under my pen name Holly Atkins) is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon at a discounted price for the month of December.

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the rest of the world