Location, Location, Location #21

Location No 21 – Chinatown, Liverpool

Welcome to the latest stop on our literary tour through the pages of my novels. We’re parking up by this magnificent Chinese Arch as the coach driver has reminded me that we finished our tour of Toxteth with a promise to come back and visit Liverpool’s famous Chinatown. Here we are at the gateway.

Opened on Chinese New Year in 2000, the Arch was manufactured in Shanghai and shipped over to Liverpool in sections together with the Chinese workers who assembled it from 2000 pieces. It stands 13.5 metres (44 ft) high and boasts 200 hand carved dragons of which 188 are ordinary and 12 are pregnant, the meaning of which is to symbolise good fortune between Liverpool and Shanghai.

Liverpool’s Chinatown is home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe. Their sailors were the first to arrive in the city in the 1830s when Chinese vessels arrived carrying silk and cotton. Many more came in the 1860s when the Blue Funnel Shipping Line was established by Alfred Holt, creating strong links between Liverpool, Shanghai and Hong Kong. By the 1890s, the Chinese were setting up their own businesses to cater to the needs of their own community. Many also married local women, often Irish immigrants.

During the Second World War, Liverpool became the headquarters of the Western Approaches which monitored and guarded the crucial lifelines across the Atlantic. Thousands of the Chinese sailors lost their lives to the Atlantic during attacks from German submarines and as part of the British fleet the Chinese sailors played an important role to Britain’s victory in the war. If you ever visit Liverpool, I strongly recommend a visit to the Western Approaches Museum.

Beyond the Chinese Arch is Nelson Street, where most of Liverpool’s Chinese restaurants are concentrated. There was always a brisk lunchtime trade, and I have fond memories of having lunches with intruder alarm reps, customers and colleagues, in particular a surveyor from Malaysia, who was desperately missing his ‘rice fix’. But the street really comes alive on Friday and Saturday nights when people pile in from the pubs and clubs in search of a late night meal.

My favourite of the many restaurants which line both sides of Nelson Street was the New Capital, formerly the Blue Funnel’s shipping and recruitment office, one reason being that I never carried out an insurance inspection of the kitchen! Believe me, there was more than one establishment on Nelson Street that I would definitely avoid. Let’s take a look at what’s on the menu. Looks good, doesn’t it?

Another of my favourite businesses was the Chung Wah Supermarket. Originally housed in a dilapidated three storey Victorian building, which was packed to the rafters and incredibly untidy (and virtually uninsurable), it was fortunately in the process of moving to a purpose-built premises, when I first carried out my inspection. The shiny new building was much more appealing insurance risk. The owner was a charming young man with some very interesting (Triad?) tattoos on his neck and wrists who, following my second inspection, insisted on giving me a lift into town as I’d arrived on the bus because my new company car had rolled off the transporter the previous day and stubbornly refused to start. I did a lot of grocery shopping in his store over the years!

But back to Nelson Street where, next door to New Capital restaurant, is The Nook. Sadly now closed, it was famous for being the only Chinese pub in England, and was a favourite with the Chinese seafaring community from the 1940s. I remember it being dark and dingy, with a pool table in the back room where a load of dodgy-looking Chinese characters used to hang out. The landlady was a very small but formidable woman who called ‘last orders’ in Cantonese. You wouldn’t argue with her or her ‘boys’!

In You’ll Never Walk Alone, I took a little bit of a liberty and placed ruthless Triad boss, Albie Chan’s office on the upper floor of the building. The basement also belongs to him.

Now, imagine it’s night time. It’s dark but the street and pub are still alive with the last of the late night revellers. Our hero, Pierre, has entered the building from the back entry and climbed the stairs to Albie Chan’s office. This is where the trouble really starts…

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Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone

“Mr Chan, Mr Chan, Mr Chan!” Arms stretched wide open, the man who called himself Pierre Bezukhov strode across the floor, his high black boots raising dust from the carpet. “I have a new proposition for you.”

“Where is the necklace you promised me, Mr Bezukhov?” said the Asian man sitting behind the desk.

Pierre put his hands on the desk and leaned over towards Mr Chan, his long dark hair tumbling over his shoulders. “I’ve found something which I know you’re going to like so much better.”

“I commissioned you to procure a particular necklace. Where is it?”

“I’m afraid I no longer have it.” Pierre walked over to the grimy window. He stared out at the dark Liverpool rooftops. “I found a better home for it.”

Mr Chan frowned. “A better home? I do not understand you.”

“Listen, I have something else for you. Something better.”

“Mr Bezukhov,” Mr Chan said quietly. “I paid you a substantial sum to obtain a very specific item. I will accept no substitute.”

Turning to face him, Pierre reached into the pocket of his long brocade jacket and took out a small velvet bag. He held it up between thumb and forefinger. “Mr Chan, you don’t know what I’m offering. If you just care to…”

Mr Chan banged his fist on the desk. “No!” His eyes widened. “No substitutes.” He looked over at his tall henchman who had been lurking in the shadows by the door. “Ju-long!”

Ju-long stepped forward and smiled revealing two gold front teeth. Mr Chan nodded and Ju-long advanced on Pierre.

“Bring me the ruby necklace. I give you one week.”

“Well, if you’re not prepared even to look.” Pierre shrugged. Pocketing the little velvet bag, he turned back to the window.  In one swift movement he threw it open and swung onto the roof below. “Ta-ra, gentlemen!” And he was gone, skittering over the rooftop below and onto the wall of the back-alley, disturbing a cat which yowled indignantly.

“I’ll go after him, Mr Chan. Don’t worry, I’ll get the necklace from him.”

Albie Chan stood up and went to the window. He gazed across the inky black roofs. “Good. Find him and identify any associates he may have. Retrieve the necklace but do not harm him unduly. He may be useful to us.”

“Very good, Mr Chan.”  Ju-long bowed and quietly left the room.


You’ll Never Walk Alone is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook and on Kindle Unlimited
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Released 2 years ago this week!!

Image credits: Juan Jorge Arellano, liverpoolecho.co.uk

Location, Location, Location #20

Location No. 20 – Lewis’s Department Store, Liverpool

For this week’s stop on our literary tour through the pages of my novels, I’m inviting you to meet me under ‘Big Willie’, the striking statue which adorns the main entrance to the building which was formerly one of Liverpool’s best known department stores, Lewis’s. The statue was created by Sir Jacob Epstein to symbolise Liverpool’s resurgence following World War II. The bronze figure is 18 feet high and stands on a plinth shaped like the prow of a ship. It’s official title is Liverpool Resurgent, although everyone I know calls him by him nickname! 

The store and the statue were very much a part of my student days, when the Saturday afternoon ritual was generally to meet up under said statue, duck into the department store for a free spray of scent from one of the many perfume counters that arrayed part of the ground floor and trot into town for a spot of shopping, or maybe just window shopping, since we didn’t exactly have money to burn.

The store is no more and the building has been converted into an Aparthotel. We can quickly admire the lambanana as we pass through the new dining room. The mural in the background is the original from Lewis’s restaurant the 1950s which was rediscovered during the building refurbishment. More about the original Superlambanana, here.

The Lewis’s building and the ‘Lambanana’ in the new Aparthotel dining room,

The statue, which still presides over the Aparthotel entrance, was made famous in the 1962 song In My Liverpool Home sung by The Spinners. “We speak with an accent exceedingly rare, meet under a statue exceedingly bare…”

Listen to the immortal words and savour the ‘exceedingly rare’ accent which, during the 30 years I lived in Liverpool, I managed both to acquire and discard (most of the time).

Within the pages of You’ll Never Walk Alone, feisty Lucy and her handsome boyfriend, Pierre visit Lewis’s for a spot of unorthodox out of hours shopping, accessing the store on a Sunday (there was no such thing as Sunday opening back in he 1980s) via one of the underground tunnels which run under the city – more about those on a future tour. While they’re dodging the security guards, they bump into another iconic figure of the 1980s, singer and songwriter, Pete Burns.

In those days, still building his musical career, Pete Burns worked at a small but popular independent record store, Probe Records, an important stop off point for musicians and fans of the alternative music scene in Liverpool. Located in Button Street, just around the corner from the more famous, Mathew Street (home of the Cavern Club), it was always packed on a Saturday.

‘He caused a sensation in Liverpool because he was the ultimate head-turner,’ recalls Geoff Davies, Probe Records MD. ‘The nearest I ever got to being involved in a fight was when I stopped some fella beating him up in the shop because he took exception to his appearance.’

He was also notorious for his maltreatment of customers, sometimes throwing their purchases at them because he disapproved of their selection. He was a frequent visitor to the cosmetics counters in Lewis where I remember seeing him wearing his striking all-black contact lenses. Quite a disturbing sight close up.

Probe Records, mid 1980s. That could almost be me with Cliff on an early date!

Now, if you’ve got all your vinyl, let’s return to Lewis’s and join Lucy and Pierre as they start their own spot of shopping. They’re about to go on a trip to the Isle of Man and they need to pick up a few bits and pieces…

Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone

“You’ve been here, you know, out of hours, before?”

“Of course.”

Lucy nodded. “Okay, after you…”

Pierre opened the door slowly and peered into the corridor. They both slipped out and hurried past the metal loading doors which stood opposite the goods lift. There was a flight of worn stone steps next to it. Pierre took the steps two at a time, Lucy following him. He opened the door at the top of the steps cautiously, listening for signs of the security guards. He jerked his head for Lucy to follow him. They emerged next to the curtain which led to the changing rooms on the ground floor of the store. Pierre scanned the sales floor. There was no sign of any security guard.

“Okay,” Pierre whispered. “Keep away from the windows, just in case one of the boys in blue come strolling past. I think the luggage department’s over there.” He pointed. Lucy nodded. “It’s just after the perfume counter…I know this store,” said Lucy. “We often pop in for a free spray of scent!”

Five minutes later they had each picked out a case. Lucy lingered by the perfume counter. Her hand hovered over a bottle of Chanel No.5. Just then, they heard the sound of someone whistling from the far side of the store, close to the main entrance. Lucy turned to Pierre who had been admiring the watches. He gestured to her to get down. The guard was coming up the main aisle. Lucy and Pierre inched behind the nearest counter, leaving their cases at the side of the aisle. The guard’s footsteps slowed; he was only a few feet away from where they were crouching. Lucy realised she was holding her breath.

“Aye, aye,” he said. “Who’s been leaving the stock out of place?” They heard him pick up one of the cases. Just then, his two-way radio crackled into life.

“Receiving, Charlie…over.” There was a pause and more crackling. “Can’t hear yer, Charlie. Where are yer?” They heard him put the case down. “Listen, Charlie, I can’t hear a bloody word on this thing. I’ll meet you by the main doors and yer can speak to me where I can hear yer.” They heard the guard’s footsteps marching back the way he’d come.

“Let’s go,” Pierre mouthed to Lucy. “Keep low,” he indicated with his hand. Lucy nodded and followed him as he picked up the cases and weaved through the side aisles and display stands. They had almost reached the changing rooms when one of the ruffles on Lucy’s skirt caught on the protruding arm of a loaded display stand which carried a selection of rather fetching straw boaters. Lucy felt the material snag. The hats bobbed jauntily as Lucy struggled to free the lace trim from the metal prong.

Just then a man appeared from behind the nearby make-up counter where he had obviously been busy with a selection of products. He grabbed the display stand just as it was about to crash to the floor. As he set it straight, Lucy finally managed to free herself. She looked up to see that he was dressed in tight shiny black PVC trousers and a tight black shirt. His eyes were very strange. No colour, just huge black pupils.

Pierre turned. His face lit up with a smile. “All right, Pete,” he whispered. “Better scarper, the guard’s by the front door.”

The man nodded and headed for the exit by the changing rooms. Pierre and Lucy followed.

“Who’s dat now?” The guard called out. They turned to see him charging up the central aisle, already panting with the effort.

They hurried through the door and ran down the stone steps. As they reached the bottom they heard the sound of a two-way radio coming from the corridor where they had entered from the tunnels. Pierre and Pete looked at each other for a second, then charged the goods doors in front of them. A piercing alarm bell started to ring.

“Run for it,” Pete yelled over his shoulder as he headed for the back alley at the back of the store.

Pierre strode across the road to a graffiti-covered door in the building opposite. He put one of the cases down and turned the handle. The door swung inwards. He and Lucy had just disappeared from view as the two security men emerged on the street. Hands on hips and breathing heavily they scanned the street. Charlie turned to his colleague: “I’m getting too old for this.” The other man held his hands up. “Let’s go sit down; I need a smoke.”

Pierre and Lucy were threading their way through a narrow service corridor. On the other side of the breeze-block wall they could hear the whirr and screech of the underground trains.

“That was Pete Burns, wasn’t it?” said Lucy. “You know him?”

“Sure. He’s a regular to the tunnels. Someone who looks as different as that needs a bolt hole occasionally. I mean, he’s confident and all that, but sometimes people don’t, you know, accept the way he looks and want to have a go at him.”

“We danced to his new record at the club last night, didn’t we?”

“Your DJ friend has good taste. That tune’s definitely going to the top.”

~~~

Let’s let Pete Burns and his band, Dead or Alive, play us out with the very single Lucy’s talking about. Released as a single in 1984, ‘You Spin me Round’ reached No. 1 in the UK in March 1985.


You’ll Never Walk Alone is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook and on Kindle Unlimited
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Photo credits: Liverpool Echo, Wikipedia, Aparthotel Adagio

Location, Location, Location #19

Location No 19 – Bokkomlaan, Velddrift

Today on our literary journey through the pages of my novels we’re returning to the beautiful Berg River where it meets the wonderful West Coast of South Africa, one of my favourite places. This time we’re going a little way inland from our previous visit to Laaiplek where the story of ‘Song of the Sea Goddess’ first seeped into my imagination.

The Berg River rises in the mountains almost 200 miles to the south east, flowing north then west, disappearing and reappearing from a second mountain range, having joined up with a handful of seasonal streams from where it meanders towards the Atlantic Ocean through mudflats, reed beds and sandy scrub. In the summer at low tide careful navigation through the riverine channels is required.

Just a mile or two before the estuary at Laaiplek, the Berg River flows through Velddrift, where we find numerous little jetties reaching out into the river to which the local fishermen moor their little boats. One small section, Bokkomlaan, is particularly delightful. Bokkomlaan (Bokkom Lane) is named for ‘bokkoms’, small whole dried and salted fish (mullet) which are caught in this area. There are lots of little eateries to choose from, river trips and even an art gallery, all packed into one little lane by the banks of the Berg River. Let’s drop in for a spot of seafood and a lot of birdlife!

Come and have a look!

Bokkoms are something of an acquired taste in my opinion, but the fresh mullet, called ‘harders’ here, are delicious sprinkled with coarse salt and cooked over the braai (barbeque). Bought from the local fish shop, they are incredibly cheap and absolutely delicious, especially if helped down with a chilled bottle of one of our local wines.

Harders on the braai at our favourite haunt, River Tides, February 2021

Now, if you’ve finished licking the salt off your fingers, let’s join fisherman Sam as he takes his little boat up the river – a man on a mission with something to hide and a rumbling belly.

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Excerpt from ‘Song of the Sea Goddess’

Sam slows Porcupine’s engine. This part of the river can be tricky to navigate, especially when the water’s low. It is now well into the dry summer season when all the upland waters have already flowed down from the mountains. There is no more left to replenish the river until the rains come again. Sandbanks lie just beneath the surface of the water, waiting to catch the unwary, and Sam has no wish to run aground and risk becoming stranded. It gives him an idea though. He remembers there’s a tiny island a little further upstream. It’s only accessible by boat and it’s unlikely to be visited by anyone. There are no roads leading to this part of the river and no farms or dwellings near the river’s edge. Only the soggy reed beds. Sam smiles to himself and presses on. Birds dip and dive into the water in Porcupine’s wake, and Sam can see eddies where fish are being stirred up as the little boat progresses. There are plenty of them here. Sam’s stomach rumbles. A tasty river trout would be perfect for his supper.

The island comes into view around the next meander. There’s nowhere to tie up, so he drops the anchor.

Sam looks around. Up and downstream, and across over the open, empty marshland either side of the river. There is no one about. All is deserted apart from the insects that hover and the birds that stalk among the tall reeds. Beyond the marsh, cows graze on a strip of green, and in the distance, the purple and ochre of the distant mountains rise on either side of the wide river valley. The headland where Jannie found the cave, looks down on him. It dominates the landscape and looms over the ocean beyond. It too is deserted.

He listens. Only the sounds of nature and the water gently lapping against Porcupine’s hull reach his straining ears.

He opens the bow end storage compartment and takes out his fishing line and bait tin. There are still a few scraps of dried fish. Enough for him to quickly bait a couple of hooks. He throws the lines over the stern and secures them to the rail of boat, then kicking off his worn takkies, he grabs his spade and jumps over the side into the warm waist-height water. Within a couple of strides he’s standing on the grassy bank of the island.

The island is oval-shaped, no more than four times the length of his little boat. One small, solitary tree stands slightly off centre, its branches spreading low, dipping into the water at the upstream end of the island. He attacks sandy ground with his spade. It’s pretty hard work, since the sand keeps sliding back and refilling the hole, but slowly, slowly he’s making progress. After a few minutes more of steady digging, the spade strikes something hard. Not rock though. It makes the dull metallic clunk of metal on metal. Sam drops the spade and crouches down, scrabbling away at the sand with his hands.

Soon he’s uncovered a square metal box the length and width of his forearm. It’s rusted with age, but still sound. He feels around the edges, his hands seeking a way in. He locates the lip of the box and starts to dig down with his fingers. The sand is damp at this depth and separates from the side of the box easily. He peers into the hole. The lid of the box is a little deeper than his hand and is secured with a rusty hasp and staple. There’s no padlock though. Sam carefully pulls on the hasp and tugs open the lid. He reaches in and finds that the box is deeper than his forearm. He kneels down and peers in. It’s empty apart from a few pebbles and a thick layer of sand. He probes around with his fingertips. The box is sound; moreover it’s the perfect size in which to hide his treasure.

Sam jumps up and wades back out to the boat. Let me get this done quickly, he thinks to himself, as he clambers aboard. He drags the three sacks to the edge of the boat, then jumps back into the water. One by one, he swings the sacks from the deck onto the island then hauls them over the sand to the waiting box. Soon the gold is safely buried and Sam is smoothing the sand back into place. He scatters some twigs and stones over the site. No one would know that the ground’s been disturbed. He fixes the distance from the tree in his mind. He’s confident he’ll find it again.

Sam sits back on his heels and glances over his shoulder at Porcupine. The little boat is bobbing up and down in the water. Noticing that one of the fishing lines is straining, he hurries over to the edge of the island. Sure enough, something’s taken one of the baited hooks. He jumps into the boat and hurries over to examine the line. The river water is murky where it’s just been stirred up, but it must be a fish.

He wraps the line around his hand and starts to pull steadily. The line moves easily at first, but then the fish begins to fight. It must be a big one. Sam lets the line slacken a little to allow him to wrap his other hand around the line. As it tightens again it bites into his flesh, but Sam’s not going to let go. He pulls again steadily, ignoring the pain in his hands. The hook’s holding, so he puts all his effort into the struggle, bracing one foot against the boat’s rail.

Then he tugs sharply on the line. The silvery head of a large trout breaks the surface, but something’s holding on to the fish. Two slender hands appear, the long fingers wrapped around the belly of the fish. Sam gasps: what in the world..?

Then she breaks the surface. Sam is confronted by the face of a pretty young woman with bright blue-green eyes set in a pale oval-shaped face, which is framed with long dark hair that clings to her skin.

‘Let go of my fish,’ she cries indignantly. ‘It’s mine, I saw it first. I’ve been chasing it for ages and now it’s got caught in your stupid line.’

Sam opens his mouth, but words fail him.

‘Give me my fish,’ she says, tugging on the slippery creature, whose mouth is also working now that it’s out of the water. ‘Well..?’ Her eyes flash angrily.

‘I… I…’ stutters Sam.

She glides towards him and his eyes are drawn to the slender body, which is still submerged just beneath the surface of the water. Her hair swirls around her naked shoulders. His eyes travel down her back and, at first, Sam thinks she is wearing a tight silver skirt, but then he notices the glistening, fish-like scales.

It seems that Sam has caught a mermaid.


Song of the Sea Goddess

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Photo credits: westcoastway.co.za, Cliff Davies

Location, Location, Location #18

Location No 18 – Delamere Forest, Cheshire, UK

Let’s hop on the tour bus today and leave the big city behind. Our latest stop on the literary tour through the pages of my novels takes us to Delamere Forest in the heart of the Cheshire countryside. If we’re in Cheshire, we must be Following the Green Rabbit, which seems appropriate for this Easter weekend.

Delamere Forest, in the north-west of England, is also known as the ‘forest of the lakes’. It is the largest area of woodland in the country and it’s an ancient woodland too: the remains of the great forests of Mara and Mondrem, hunting areas which date back to the 11th century. It’s still an important recreational site, although now for walking, hiking and cycling rather than chasing down deer and wild boar.

It’s also on the way to Beeston Reclamation, a large architectural antiques retailers, which we visited several times when we were renovating our last house in Liverpool. One time, we were looking for some quarry tiles to replace the broken ones we found under the hideous green carpet we took up in the lounge-dining room. What a happy find that floor was! Happier still, while we were looking at the tiles that were available, we got chatting to someone who was looking to off-load a pile of the very same tiles – all for free so long as we went to fetch them – which, of course, we did.

But back to Delamere Forest. The narrow country road which cuts north-south through the forest has the feel of an old Roman road. The trees rise on either side giving you a feeling of being in a great green tunnel, especially in summer.

I remember visiting Delamere Forest one late spring day and coming upon a glade of bluebells. It was a magical site. One I took away with me and eventually incorporated into the creation of Bluebell Wood, the small woodland which lies just beyond the orchard belonging to the house where Bryony and Bethany from Following the Green Rabbit live. Geographically speaking, Delamere Forest is not so far from Daresbury, the Cheshire village which, in my imagination, became the principal backdrop to the novel. I just had to drag a little piece of forest about 10 miles north-east. The Forest’s ancient nature also fuelled my imagination for the story and, of course, for heroines Bryony and Bethany, living so close to a ‘forbidden’ woodland makes for a great start to an adventure.

Now let’s hop off the bus and feel the warmth of the breeze on our faces. Let’s walk a little way and find a perfect patch of grass, lie down and look up at the clouds. What can you see?

Excerpt from Following the Green Rabbit

“Come and look at the clouds with me,” Bethany shouted. She was sitting on the soft grass, legs stretched out, leaning back on her hands, her golden curls tumbling over her shoulders. “Come on, Briney.”

Bryony gathered her things and went to join her sister. They lay on the grass, heads touching, staring up at the blue summer sky. “Look, there’s a squirrel,” she pointed at a fat round cloud, dragging a wispy plume behind it.

“I think it looks more like Celia’s cat. Tom said we might have one of her kittens when they’re old enough.”

“If Hodge lets us.”

“She will if we ask her nicely.”

Bryony was pointing again, over to the left. “Doesn’t that one look just like Clara?” Clara was Bryony’s favourite hen, a little round bantam with snowy white feathers and frills on her feet. She closed her eyes and listened to the insects buzzing around the fruit trees. Tom was pleased with them and a bumper crop of apples, cherries and plums was anticipated.

Bethany sighed. “I wish we could stay like this forever.”

“With no Mr Eyre.”

“He can’t be worse than Miss Calderbridge.”

“With her stupid pointy nose and her silly stuck up voice.”

Both girls giggled. Bryony rolled over on her stomach. “Mama hasn’t been very good at picking our tutors so far, has she?” She plucked a daisy from the grass and examined it. “I suppose it’s harder when you’re so far away.”

“What’s it like in India?” Bethany turned on one side and looked at her sister.

“Well, the garden with all those roses on that postcard Mama sent looked a bit like ours didn’t it? But it’s much, much hotter there.”

They had been silent for a little while, when suddenly they heard something rustling in the bushes by the fence behind them. They looked round to see an enormous rabbit emerge, nose twitching. His fur was grey-brown with a slight tinge of green. He nibbled on a piece of long grass and then hopped past them. He was so close that Bryony could have stretched out and touched him. He stopped by the first tree and sat up on his hind legs. Then he turned and looked directly at them.

“That’s the biggest rabbit I’ve ever seen. Look at his fur.” Bryony whispered.

The rabbit’s ears twitched. “Do you think he wants us to follow him?” Bethany whispered back.

Bryony laughed. “You’re not Alice.” It was only last year that Bryony had read ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to her.

“But look, Briney.” The rabbit had raised a paw in their direction. “I’ll just go a bit nearer.” She stood up slowly so as not to alarm the creature, then took a few steps towards him.

The rabbit hopped off as far as the next stand of apple trees. He stopped and turned, looking up at Bethany with his dark brown eyes. His left ear bent quizzically. She looked back at Bryony. “I’m going to follow him.”

Bryony watched her sister scamper off after the rabbit. At twelve, going on thirteen, she felt she was a bit old to be running after rabbits, even if it was an exceptional-looking animal. She rolled over on her back and resumed her contemplation of the clouds. They formed pictures in her mind; pictures which she would later turn into stories. Miss Calderbridge had not approved of her work. Far from it. ‘Too fanciful’, she’d said in that prissy high voice. Fortunately she’s left soon after that particular pronouncement. That had been more than two months ago and Bryony’s note book was more than half full now. She hoped Mr Eyre would be more sympathetic and not try to force useless mathematical problems down her throat. She was going to be a writer. What possible use was algebra?

Bryony was distracted by thoughts of Mr Eyre. How old was he? Might he be young and handsome? Mama’s letter hadn’t mentioned these things. Her eyes refocused on the sky. She let her imagination run free, then struck by a burst of inspiration, she sat up. After a few minutes’ thought she snatched up her note book and pencil and hurried over to the bench under the oak tree, one of her favourite writing spots. Starting on a new page she wrote the words, Bethany and the Great Green Rabbit. She sucked the end of her pencil for a moment then began to write.

Bryony wrote five pages in her closely written script as her story unfolded. Eventually she came to a halt and closed the note book, a satisfied smile on her face. She looked up through the rich canopy of oak leaves which shielded her from the summer sunshine. The shadows had shortened. She’d better go and find her sister. Bryony leapt to her feet and stowed the note book and pencil in her pinafore pocket before setting off through the orchard.

There was a small woodland at the far side. The girls weren’t really supposed to go in there, but they often had, although only as far as the first clearing. No doubt Bethany would be picking bluebells there.

When Bryony reached the clearing, sure enough, there she was sitting on a fallen log. Her long, golden hair obscured her face. She was looking down, examining something she was holding in her hands.

“What have you got there?” Bryony asked as she sat down next to her sister. Bethany held out a tiny wooden object. It just fitted into the palm of her hand. It was a carving of a little bird, which had once been painted; brown feathers on its back and red on its breast. A robin. “It’s lovely, Beth, where did you find it?”


FOLLOWING THE GREEN RABBIT
~ a fantastical adventure

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Image credits: woodlandtrust.org.uk, visit-chester.co.uk
Cloud photo by Laurette van de Merwe

Location, Location, Location #17

Today, we’re just a stone’s throw away from our previous stop on our literary journey through the pages of my novels, but this time we’re catching up with Laura from The Silver Locket.

Here we are at one of the entrances to Princes Park, another of Liverpool’s urban oases, and a location mentioned in both You’ll Never Walk Alone and The Silver Locket. Time-wise, the books are set a few years apart, with You’ll Never Walk Alone being set sometime in the mid 1980s and The Silver Locket in 1989. Maybe one day, the paths of some of the characters from the two books will cross!

In the excerpt below, we join Laura who’s travelled from Rufford on the train to Liverpool to meet the reclusive Ceridwen, who is something of a specialist in strange objects like the locket that Laura’s found under the floorboards of the house she’s inherited. I decided to put Ceridwen in a flat overlooking Princes Park, based on a place I’d have loved to have lived in and so fictionally I could go back and spend a little more time there.

Back in September 1984, I was looking for a new place to stay after I’d graduated and left the house I’d shared in my final year. Of course, back then there were no online sites on which to seek a flat, nor were there any mobile phones, so I was armed with a copy of the Liverpool Echo, folded to the ‘flats for rent’ section, and a pocketful of 10 pence pieces for a public phone box.

I’d already decided I wanted to move across the city to South Liverpool, where a number of my friends had flats. I’d been kipping on the ‘imprompu chaise-longue’ in a friend’s house for a week or so and it was high time I moved on. Having narrowed down my search, the first flat I viewed that afternoon was on the first floor of a huge high-ceilinged converted house on Devonshire Road, right next to Princes Park. The large bed-sitting room, with its curtained-off kitchen, was at the back of the house. The bathroom was down the hall, but only shared with one other flat, which was across the landing. But what really impressed me was the view over the Park. It was stunning! And the room was even within my price range (just).

I still had another place to view, which wasn’t far away, so off I went, telling the landlord I’d phone him straight afterwards, because I was very, very keen on his place. Sadly, however, by the time I found an unvandalised phone box, the ‘room with a view’ had already been taken by someone else. The flat I ended up in was that second one. It was, of course, in the house that belonged to a Chinese landlord – my Tony Wong, from You’ll Never Walk Alone. Who knows what would have happened to that novel without him in my head!

But back to Princes Park and the view from Devonshire Road. From here you can almost see the grave of Judy the Donkey, who was buried on the site of her favourite grazing spot back in 1926. Judy  worked in Princes Park for 21 of her 26 years. Not just a donkey for children’s pleasure riding, she was a working animal helping the gardeners by pulling a cart for them.

It’s such a lovely little memorial that couldn’t resist mentioning it in the book. A tiny reference to Judy’s grave appears a few pages further along from today’s excerpt where we catch up with Laura on her visit to the mysterious Ceridwen in that lovely ‘room with a view’.

Visit the Friends of Princes Park for a host of information including Judy’s story

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Excerpt from The Silver Locket

The following afternoon Laura was in a black taxi cab heading from Lime Street station to the southern suburbs of Liverpool, clutching a local address in her hand. The locket and an envelope containing forty seven pounds, were tucked into the inside packet of her handbag.

The taxi slowed and turned into the broad driveway of a large double-fronted Georgian house. Laura paid the driver and walked up to the front door. The house had been divided into six flats; she pressed the buzzer for Flat 4. Laura still didn’t know the name of the woman she was about to meet. The jeweller’s friend had arranged the appointment for three o’clock, but had only passed on the address. The woman was apparently very nervous about giving out any personal information.

“Yes,” a low voice answered the intercom.

“It’s Laura Peterson; I have an appointment at three o’clock.”

“Come up, Laura. My flat’s on the first floor landing, on the right.”

The front door unlocked and Laura went in. The entrance hall was rather grand, if somewhat dilapidated. There was a large table to the side of the door with the usual mixture of circulars and uncollected post, common to shared houses. A bicycle was chained to the iron balusters at the foot of the stairs.

The door to Flat 4 was standing slightly ajar. Laura knocked gently.

“Come in,” said the low voice.

Laura pushed open the door. The room was large with a high ceiling.  The blinds were closed and the room was warm and rather stuffy. Laura closed the door gently and peered into the gloom.

“Come, my dear.” The voice came from a chaise-longue which stood next to the empty fireplace. Laura saw a slight figure, dressed in flowing garments, rising to greet her.

Laura crossed the room, the heels of her shoes noisy on the wooden floor.

“Hi, I’m Laura,” she said holding out her hand. “I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”

The woman made no attempt to take Laura’s outstretched hand.

“Please sit down, Laura,” she said, indicating a low armchair on the opposite side of the fireplace. My name is Ceridwen. I must apologise for not taking your hand just yet, but you will understand why presently.”

Laura sat down.

“Can I bring you some tea, Laura?”

Laura nodded. Ceridwen disappeared behind a curtain on the far side of the room. Laura heard her filling a kettle. Something brushed against Laura’s knee. She looked down and saw a green-eyed cat looking up at her. She stroked the cat’s soft grey head.

Ceridwen returned carrying a tray which held a painted china teapot and two matching mugs. “I see Cullen has introduced himself to you.”

The cat stood up, stretched and walked off. Laura watched as he jumped up onto the windowsill, nosing his way behind the drawn blind.

“Keeping a look out, eh?” said Laura.

Ceridwen said nothing. She poured the tea and handed a mug to Laura.  The brown liquid had a pungent, slightly antiseptic smell.

“A herbal mixture of my own.  It aids precision of thought and clarity of understanding. I think you’ll find it refreshing.”

Laura sipped the tea; it actually tasted rather pleasant.

“So,” said Ceridwen, pushing back her long red hair, “you have something to show me.”

Laura reached into her handbag and drew out the locket. She slipped it out of its wrapper and held it out to her.

“I found it…” began Laura.

Ceridwen held up her hand. “No, don’t tell me anything about it yet. May I hold it please?”

Ceridwen took the locket, as she did so she avoided touching Laura’s hand. She drew in a sharp breath and closed her eyes, running her thumb gently over the face of the locket. She sat there, motionless for several minutes, then clasping the locket in her fist, she opened her eyes, leant over and switched on the lamp which stood on the table beside her.

“Now Laura, I’d like you to tell me all you can about the locket. Where you found it, what you’ve observed about it, what it means to you.”

Laura paused. “It’s complicated.”

“Take you time, my dear. Start with the facts. Don’t worry if your story seems strange or fanciful.  That’s why you’re here with me now.”

Laura recounted all she could from finding the locket to the most recent dream in which the little face had been different from the one Laura knew. While she was speaking, Ceridwen was carefully examining the locket. As Laura finished speaking, she was studying the oval mark intently.

On the windowsill, Cullen uttered a low, menacing sound. Laura could see his silhouette through the blind, his back arched, head erect.

“Would you mind going to see what he’s growling about? It must be something in the park outside.”

Laura went to the window and raised the edge of the blind. A solitary figure in a brown coat was looking up at the window. The figure was too far away for Laura to make out her face, but it looked awfully like the old woman from the churchyard; the same woman who had appeared outside the jewellers and whom Laura had seen leaving the station earlier.

Cullen continued to growl. The woman turned and hurried away. Cullen sat back down on the windowsill and was quiet again, his fur settling back into place.

Laura returned to her seat. “It’s strange; I keep seeing this woman in a brown coat. It’s as if she’s following me. But when she realises I’ve seen her, she rushes off. Maybe I’m imagining it, but I’m sure that was her again, just standing there looking up at the window. I couldn’t see anything else which might have disturbed your cat.”

“She could be following this.” Ceridwen held up the locket.


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

USA UK ~ ESPCAN ~ AUS ~ IND ~ the rest of the world


Image credits:

http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk (Welcome to Princes Park)

Colin Lane (aerial view of Princes Park) on http://www.nearlythereyet.co.uk

Rodhullandemu (Devonshire Road) Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

A Promotion Post For Chris Hall: Chatting With My Characters

Here they go again…
Thanks for hosting us on your blog, Charles!

charles french words reading and writing

 

chattingwithcharacters

Chatting with my characters

My characters often chat with me, usually in that sleepless hour between three and four in the morning, when they worm their way into my consciousness and strike up a conversation. Some of the principal players from my second novel, You’ll Never Walk Alone, are the most insistent. This recent conversation went the way they usually do, starting with a few flattering comments and then… well, you’ll see.

~~~

I’m sitting with Connor and Cynthia in the patch of garden behind Cynthia’s flat. It’s late summer and bees are buzzing lazily around the neglected rosebushes, echoing the hum of the traffic circling Sefton Park.

Connor fills our glasses and places the almost empty bottle on the peeling wrought iron table. He sits back,  takes a large mouthful of wine and beams at me. ‘I believe congratulations are in order, once again, Ms Hall.’

Cynthia…

View original post 423 more words

Location, Location, Location #16

Location No 16 – Toxteth, Liverpool 8

This time on our literary tour through the pages of my novels, we return to 1980s Liverpool and visit Toxteth, an inner city area through which the characters of You’ll Never Walk Alone frequently pass.

I doubt that many people outside the UK will have heard of Toxteth, and even anyone who has will probably associate it only with the headline-hitting riots of the summer of 1981. As it happened, I moved to Liverpool that autumn, although initially to a different part of the city, but three years later, I’d moved to the south of the city and was living in bedsit in a large, three storey dwelling on the edge of Toxteth. It was on this house, complete with its Chinese landlord, who lived in the room opposite mine, that the house occupied by the main characters in the You’ll Never Walk Alone was based.

At one time, Toxteth had been rather grand. In the 18th and 19th centuries the district became home to the wealthy merchants of Liverpool, alongside a much larger, poor population, living in modest Victorian terraces, who came from all around the world to work as dockers and builders. Come the late 1970s, Liverpool, and Liverpool 8 in particular, had been badly hit by economic stagnation and unemployment, sowing the seeds of a growing unrest that escalated and eventually led to the riots. You can read more about ‘The Summer Liverpool burned’ here.

By the 1980s many of the large Georgian and Victorian houses were converted into flats, mainly occupied by students and others on very modest incomes. Crime levels rocketed, especially house-breaking. My landlord, on whom the fictional Tony Wong is based, owned a second property on Princes Road, one of the main thoroughfares in L8, and I put minor characters, Mark and Stu, in a very similar basement flat (‘The Bunker’). We briefly visit the Bunker in a later chapter and the security measures described are no exaggeration. I remember them well, since a succession of my friends lived there in the mid-80s.

It was one evening in 1984 that a friend and I were walking back to my house from that very basement flat. We happened to come across a couple of young guys who were trying to push start an old van. By chance, I bumped into one of them up by the University only a few days later. Reader, I (eventually) married him; but that, as they say, is another story.

Regeneration began in parts of the area in the 1990s and the area was gradually gentrified and transformed. This is Princes Boulevard today.

Moving onwards towards the city centre, as we do in today’s book excerpt, we walk down the formerly grand boulevards with their blackened exteriors and boarded up windows, passing St Luke’s ‘bombed out church’ (seen in a previous tour), then crossing the road past ‘The Blackie’, which was once a chapel and later a community centre. It was so-called because the walls had been blackened by the soot and smoke over many decades. Finally we come to Liverpool’s Chinatown, the oldest Chinese community in Europe, but it’s getting late, so we’ll come back and have a proper look around here another day.

‘The Blackie’ (left) now cleaned up and (right) the beautiful archway through which you enter Liverpool’s Chinatown that was brought from Shanghai and re-erected, piece by piece, in 2000.

In the following excerpt, Tony Wong takes an after-dark walk into the city centre. Why Asmar, his tenant Cynthia’s cat, follows Tony into town isn’t immediately apparent, but let’s just say that later on in the story it was just as well he did.

It was this journey, in which Tony Wong was not alone as he ventured into Chinatown, which partly inspired the title of the novel. The fact that it’s also the title of Liverpool Football Club’s well-known anthem is (largely) coincidental. The song, You’ll Never Walk Alone, was written by Rogers and Hammerstein for the musical, Carousel. If you’re not familiar with it, you can listen to a selection of excellent renditions by moseying on over to see Jen Goldie who, by happy coincidence, just happened to post them earlier this week.

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Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone

Tony Wong had been woken by the beep of his Casio watch. He lifted his head from the cushion and listened. The house was quiet. He pushed the coverless duvet over the back of the couch and stood up.  He pulled on his suit trousers and tucked the shirt he had been wearing earlier that day into the waistband.  He pulled on socks and pushed his feet into scuffed white plimsolls.

Shuffling past the coffee table, he approached the wide bay window and drew aside one of the heavy curtains, the velvety fabric was stiff and slightly sticky to the touch.  Peering around the curtain he checked outside.  Pools of orange light illuminated the empty street, reflecting in the puddles of the day’s rain. Letting the curtain fall back into place he picked up a folded note from the table. He re-read the Chinese symbols and stuffed the note into his pocket. Then he put on his jacket and took his keys from the chest by the door. He unlocked his door and listened.  The hallway was silent.  He glanced at Cynthia’s door opposite and saw the post-it note by the payphone on the wall. He didn’t stop to read the message.

He opened the front door with his key. The large panelled door swung open easily.  Streetlight played on the frosted glass casting awkward patterns on the tiled floor of the hall.  Tony stepped out and carefully locked the door behind him. His tennis shoes were silent on the worn sandstone steps that led down to the path.  At the foot of the steep driveway he turned and headed towards the main road.

Asmar detached himself from the garden shadows and padded silently behind him.  His red-gold coat glowed in the light from the street lamps.

Tony Wong trudged purposefully towards the city centre, the cat following.  The midweek traffic was light: just the occasional black cab.  Up ahead a police car, blue lights flashing, siren off, crossed the intersection of Princes Road and Duke Street.  The tall red brick houses with their blank, black windows were silent.  Once the dwellings of rich merchants, some had been converted to bed-sitters over cheap shops, whilst the many boarded up and blackened buildings were the legacy of the notorious riots which had happened a few summers ago.

Man and cat crossed Berry Street by the bombed-out church on the corner with its well-tended public gardens. The church had remained unrestored, a monument to the devastation of the city of World War Two.  Trying to ignore the sounds of the couple who were busy in the grounds of the community building known as The Blackie opposite, Tony pressed on.  He heard the man grunt and swear, then saw him push the girl away.  Tony glanced towards them and saw the man zip up his jeans, while the girl straightened her short orange skirt. He watched them part without a word, he to the cab rank while she, on spikey white heels, stalked back up the hill towards the cathedral.

The lights were still on in the Nelson Street restaurants, the boundary between club land and Chinatown.  Two men holding takeaway cartons swayed past Tony Wong.  ‘All right, China?’ one asked him cheerfully.  The other mumbled something and they both chortled as they staggered off up the road.

Asmar remained out of sight clinging to the shadows, skipping up and down through the basement areas and railings.

A few yards further on Tony Wong paused and looked around. Sure that no-one was watching he darted down the passageway into the back entry of the famous Chinese pub which in English was called ‘The Nook’.  He picked his way along the rubbish strewn alleyway trying not to think about what might be lurking there.  The cat followed carefully along the top of the wall avoiding the glass shards which had been set in concrete on the wall-top as a security measure. Turning the corner, Tony Wong scampered up the steps at the rear of the building. As he opened the door, light flooded the entry.  He closed it quickly, trying to ignore the flurry of scurrying amongst the rubbish.

Asmar settled down on the wall and waited.


You’ll Never Walk Alone is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook and on Kindle Unlimited
USA UK ~ CAN ~ AUS IND ~ the rest of the world

Image credits: Liverpool Echo, Liverpool City Council

Location, Location, Location #15

Location No. 15 – The Royal Liver Building, Liverpool

Today, on our literary journey through the pages of my novels, we’re back in Liverpool outside the Royal Liver Building, one of the most recognisable buildings in the city and the setting for a meeting between local Triad leader, Albie Chan and nightclub owner, Alan Green, two of my favourite supporting characters from You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Back in the 1990s, I considered myself fortunate to receive the instruction to carry out an insurance inspection of the building, so I’ve had the privilege of poking around all the nooks and crannies of this historic building from the basement boiler room to the feet of the famous birds that perch on top of the two clock towers!

Completed in 1911, coincidentally the same date as the house we visited last time we were in the city, the building was constructed as the head office of Royal Liver Assurance. It was one of the first buildings in the world to be built of reinforced concrete, and its design has much in common with early American skyscrapers. Thirteen floors high, looking out over the river Mersey, it is an impressive part of the Liverpool skyline, especially when viewed from the opposite bank. Two huge clock towers rise from the building, where two mythical Liver Birds perch (liver rhyming with fiver), each bearing a branch of seaweed in its beak. Various legends attach to these 18ft high birds and one of these is mentioned by Alan Green in the excerpt below.

After hours, the car park on the river side is deserted and rather desolate; the ideal location for Messrs Chan and Green to meet to discuss a bit of business. Let’s join them now…

Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone

The late afternoon sunlight sparkled on the surface of the murky River Mersey. The fresh-smelling breeze, blowing from the estuary, almost masked the odour of the nearby tannery. Big Al and Joe were leaning on the polished burgundy paintwork of Big Al’s Jaguar XJ6. Big Al looked up at the clock on the Liver Building. It was almost half past six and Chan was late.

“What’s that chinky bastard up to, keeping me waiting like this? Our Pauline said she’s doing something special for our tea tonight. She’ll give me down the banks if I’m late home.” Big Al started to pace about.

Joe shrugged. “Dunno boss.” He looked around. “Eh up, this must be him,” said Joe pointing at the large black Mercedes rounding the corner of the Liver Building.

Big Al watched as the car cruised up to them. The driver got out. Big Al noticed he was limping. The driver opened the rear door and Albie Chan got out. He was immaculately dressed entirely in black, the only decoration being two tiny dragon heads facing each other on the mandarin collar of his shirt. Big Al was wearing a rather lived-in sports jacket and shapeless cords. Despite his wife’s protests, Alan Castle was a man who dressed for comfort rather than style.

Chan spoke first: “Mr Castle.”

“Albie, mate!” Chan flinched, unnoticed by Big Al, who continued, holding out his hand. “Call me Al, you know, like in the song?” Chan gazed at him blankly, ignoring the proffered hand. “Never mind.” Big Al clapped his hands together. “You know the story about Bella and Bertie? You know, the Liver Birds up on the towers there?” He pointed at the Liver Building behind them. Chan raised an eyebrow. “Well Bella’s the girl, looking out to sea for a sailor; and the other one, Bertie, he’s the fella, and he’s looking to see if the pubs are open yet, which they have been for the last thirty minutes.”

Bertha and Bertie

“Mr Castle, are you referring to the fact that I am a little late? I regret to say that I have had some unforeseen business to attend to. That business concerned the two individuals you spoke to me about last night, one of whom I had expected you to bring to me.”

Big Al frowned. Before he could say anything, Chan went on: “You telephoned me last night to say that my men had caused some disruption in your establishment. I explained the reason for the disturbance and you said you would handle it. After we spoke, I assumed that you would intervene and get hold of the man I was seeking straight away. You did not. Since you did not intervene, my men continued their pursuit. Later, there was an altercation involving the gentleman and his lady friend, which included Ju-long here,” Chan indicated his driver. “Unfortunately,” he went on, glaring at the hapless employee, “Ju-long and the two men with him were outmanoeuvred. Then this morning, when you still failed to deliver, I put out some feelers. Information led to Ju-long attempting to apprehend the target at The Adelphi Hotel, but I am disappointed to say that once again he failed.” Chan paused and gave Ju-long a sideways glace. “Ju-long knows precisely how disappointed I am.” Big Al looked at Ju-long, but his face remained impassive behind his dark glasses.

“So what happened?” asked Big Al.

“What has happened is irrelevant. What is important is that the man known as Pierre Bezukhov got away. I have unconcluded business with him, which I am anxious to complete. I thought I had explained this to you already. Clearly you did not understand the urgency of the matter. I need to apprehend him and I am reluctant to leave it in the hands of incompetents.”

There was a pause. Big Al said: “Well now, no worries, I’ll just get on the blower and ask whatshisname? New DJ…Joe?”

“Mark,” supplied Joe helpfully.

“Yeah, get on the blower to Mark. We’ll get hold of him, find the girl, and she in turn will lead us to your guy. Simple. You don’t need to have people running around town beating each other up. Although I’m surprised a big guy like him,” Big Al pointed at Ju-long, “couldn’t take on a couple of dancers.”

Joe detected a twitch on Ju-long’s otherwise inscrutable face.

“Bezukhov has displeased me and I want him found. I am inclined to leave it to you on this occasion since I have a temporary personnel problem.”

Big Al rubbed his hands together. “So this guy owes you money? What’s the deal? And more importantly, what’s my cut?”

“Let us see if you can come up with the goods first,” Chan said. “After all, it was your offer and at this stage you have failed to deliver.”

“Eh, I’m not just doing this outta the goodness of me heart.”

“Well you would not want anything untoward to happen to ‘The Pink Parrot’, would you? Even the stupidest of my men can torch a place.”

Big Al held his hands up: “Alright, alright, leave it with me.”

“Very good, Mr Castle, I will give you until the end of this week. Now run along, I wouldn’t want your supper to get cold.”


And finally, a little music to play us out. ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’ written by the late Gerry Marsden. This version, sung by Liverpool band, Frankie Goes to Hollywood was in the charts at about the time the novel is set. The accompanying video is more recent, but gives you a feel for the location.

As an aside, I once had to take the ferry across to Birkenhead in my slippers because I’d locked myself out of our student house popping down to the corner shop for some milk. My three housemates had all gone home for the holidays and that was were the landlord stayed. Happy days!


You’ll Never Walk Alone is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook and on Kindle Unlimited
USA UK ~ CAN ~ AUS IND ~ the rest of the world

Image credits: smarttravelapp.com, explore-liverpool.com

Location, Location, Location #14

Location No.14 – Northwich, Cheshire

This week’s stop on our literary journey through my novels takes us to the town of Northwich in Cheshire, on which I based the fictional town of Greaton, where the Ruling Council meets in my historical fantasy fiction novel for younger readers, Following the Green Rabbit.

Established in Roman times, Northwich is an attractive small town with many historic, half-timbered buildings, located in the middle of the Cheshire Plain, where the book is set. The town is most famous for the production of salt, which has been carried on since its establishment. However, a list of tolls for crossing over Northwich bridge in 1353 shows goods coming into the town including carcasses, fleeces, hides and skins, cloth, fish, alcoholic drinks, dairy products, building materials, household goods, metals, glass and millstones, so it would have been a busy little place.

Like Daresbury, I first travelled to the Northwich on a canal boat holiday. Of particular note for canal enthusiasts is the Anderton Boat Lift, a 50 foot vertical lock, which connects the Trent & Mersey Canal with the River Weaver. Sadly it was out of operation when we took our canal holiday in the late 1980s, but it has since been restored. It would be quite a thrill to take a boat up on it!

The slow pace of travelling the canal on a narrow boat and the silence of the flat, open Cheshire countryside stayed with me, and I drew on that memory when I came to write the description of journey that Bryony takes to Greaton, travelling over that same terrain at that same slow speed. The look and feel of the town seemed right, and although I don’t dwell on any description in the novel, the bustle of a busy market town plays in the background, contrasting with Bryony’s isolation as she sits in the intimidating atmosphere of the Court House waiting to submit her supplication to the Ruling Council in order to free her friends from the clutches of the evil Lord Childecott.

Excerpt from Following the Green Rabbit

Bryony was astonished at the noise and commotion which had greeted them on entering the town. There were people and animals everywhere. Thank goodness John knew where they should go. He reined Rosie in and they came to a halt opposite the Court House, outside the appropriately named Court House Tavern. Bryony slid off the horse, stamping the life back into her legs as John dismounted and patted Rosie’s neck.

“I need to get Rosie some water and let her rest up a while,” said John. “I believe the Ruling Council meets in the building over there,” he pointed at the Court House. “Do you want me to come with you?”

Bryony considered for a moment. “No thank you, John. You and Eliza have been so kind to us already. I wouldn’t want you to get into trouble with Lord Childecott by delivering the supplication with me.”

John nodded. “I’ll be waiting for you right here. He smiled at her encouragingly. “Good luck, Bryony.” He touched his hat. You’re a brave young lady, he thought as he watched her plod determinedly across the muddy track and up the steps to the Court House.

Bryony felt little of the confidence she shown outwardly to John but, as Hodge always said, if there’s something difficult to do, confront it head on and don’t delay. And so Bryony let her feet take her through the wide entrance to the Court House and into a large vestibule where an attendant was sitting at a tall desk. Bryony took a deep breath and approached. The attendant looked down his long bony nose at her.

“What business have you here, girl?” He squinted at her with obvious contempt.

“Sir, I have a supplication to offer to the Ruling Council.” Her voice echoed around the empty room.

“Council is already in session. No disturbances are permitted. You may wait for the secretary to the Chief of Council.” He pointed at a long bench on the other side of the room.

“But please, sir,” Bryony held up her supplication. “This is urgent.”

“You will wait.” The clerk waved her towards the bench with a bony hand.

Bryony crossed the stone floor and sat alone on the hard wooden bench next to the imposing doors which presumably led to the chamber where the Ruling Council was meeting. She glanced at the clerk who was busy writing in a heavy ledger and fingered the edges of the supplication, smoothing down the creases it had suffered from the journey. She stared around the high-ceilinged room then focussed on the door, willing it to open. She sighed. Her hope was ebbing away.


Following the Green Rabbit
available in paperback and ebook from Amazon

USA ~ UK ~ CAN AUS ~ IND ~ ESP ~
the rest of the world

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.