Location, Location, Location #26

photo of castle street in Liverpool showing the town hall at the end of the street. Cafes and restaurants occupy the ground floors of these impressive 19th century buildings
Location No.26 – Castle Street, Liverpool City Centre

Welcome back to our literary tour through the pages of my novels. Once again, we’re in the centre of Liverpool, with a fine view of the Town Hall in front of us. The insurance office where I started my first ‘proper’ job is just around the corner on Exchange Street East. The building has been converted into a Travelodge, which I find rather weird. You can take a peek at it here – see the old company logo carved into the stonework over the front door? How strange to stay in a building in which you once worked!

Anyway, that’s not why we’re here. We’re just going to pop through one of the doorways on the right of the picture into a warm and slightly stuffy basement café, and take a peek at one of my favourite scenes from You’ll Never Walk Alone. The café will have changed beyond all recognition now, but the way I describe it was pretty much the way it was when we used to pop out from the office for a lunchtime tea and toasted teacake, long before the time when central Liverpool became a trendy, ‘go-to’ destination.

All done? Well, let’s jump on the No 82 bus and travel out to the leafy suburbs of south Liverpool.

1 Aigburth Vale, Liverpool 17

This rather sad-looking building is where my husband and I first rented a flat together (it was a little bit smarter back then). The house is at the end of a long driveway and there was a rambling woodland garden on one side, long gone now. The area is occupied by some rather nice retirement flats. You can just make it out in Google Maps Street View.

The house originally belonged to Sir Ronald Ross, the man who discovered that malaria was transmitted by mosquitoes. Later the building was sold and it became a nightclub, and so it gets a passing mention in my book excerpt below.

Now, onto the story – look out for my little ‘Hitchcockian’ cameo too!

Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone

Gina had almost finished her coffee. Mollie, her mother, was late as usual. She fiddled with the teaspoon in her saucer and stared around the gloomy interior of the subterranean cafeteria, at its brown banquettes and Formica-topped tables. Dreary pictures of sad-looking landscapes lined the walls. The place was stuck in the 1970s. Not a good decade for Liverpool, (not that the 80s were turning out to be much better so far). Gina wondered what it was about this particular establishment which made it her mother’s favourite lunchtime meeting place. Maybe some tie from the past. Well, that was apt, Gina thought, as she took the photocopied photo from her bag; the one with her mother, her long-time friend Marie and various members of the Kingston Jazz Cats, including Godrell Clarke, the man Mollie claimed was Gina’s father.

The sound of Mollie’s voice preceded her as she tottered down steps from Castle Street in her high heels. “Oh Marie, you know who I mean, the one with the face like a robber’s dog.” Gina rolled her eyes, glancing at the woman at the next table, who had been sitting pen in hand, gazing at the notebook in front of her. The woman looked up at the two women as they made their entrance and suddenly started writing.

“Here she is!” Marie started waving at Gina as she bustled her way through the tables. She was hard to miss in her bright pink coat. “Gina, love, sorry we’re late.” Marie plonked a couple of carrier bags down on the floor before easing her way between table top and banquette to sit opposite Gina. “Bargains,” she announced proudly, “you should get along to T J Hughes’s and have a look. I got a smashing skirt and a few little tops, all for a tenner.”

Mollie arrived more sedately and sat down next to Marie. “Ouch, my feet are killin’ me.” She slipped off her shoes under the table and flexed her stockinged toes.

“You didn’t walk from TJ’s in those new shoes of yours, did you, Ma?”

“No, love, of course not, we got the bus, but it’s still a tidy walk from the stop in Dale Street.” Mollie reached down and rubbed her left foot. “I think I’ve got a bunion coming.”

The waitress hovered beside the table. “What can I get you, ladies?”

“What’s the soup today?” asked Mollie.

“Mulligatawny.”

Mollie pulled a face.

“We’ve got sandwiches: cheese and ham, cheese and tomato, ham and tomato. Or there’s scones or toasted teacakes.” The waitress reeled off the limited menu.

“Toasted teacake and a tea, please,” said Marie.

“Same for me,” said Gina.

Mollie paused, screwing up her eyes in an effort of indecision. “Yes, I’ll have that too,” she said eventually. “And make it a pot of tea, for three.”

The waitress nodded and scribbled on her pad before wandering back to the serving counter.

“How’s Gary, love?” asked Marie, leaning across the table.

“Fine, thanks,” Gina smiled, remembering the wicked look on his face as they’d tumbled into bed the previous evening.

“Oh look at that. Isn’t that just the cat that got the cream last night,” said Mollie loudly,

“Ma, shush,” Gina said, glancing at the woman at the next table. Her head was bent over her notebook, busy writing.

“What’s the matter, love?” said Mollie innocently.

“You’re embarrassing me.”

“No ring on your finger yet?” Marie put in.

“Not yet, Auntie Marie,” Gina smiled sweetly, covering her irritation.

“Oh, I wish you’d drop the ‘auntie’, Gina,” said Marie, “you make me feel like a hundred years old.”

Gina laughed. “Okay, I’ll try to remember.” She picked up the photo and slid it across the table. “Now, look. Here’s what I wanted you to see.”

Both women leaned forward and peered at the grainy photocopy. There was silence for a full two minutes, probably a record for those two, thought Gina. She looked over at the woman at the next table; she was gazing into space again.

‘Well?” said Gina, impatient for a reaction.

“Oh my word,” said Marie. “Don’t we look young?”

“We were young. Younger than our Gina is now.” Mollie stroked the face of the man holding the saxophone. “Here he is, my Godrell.” She had a dreamy look in her eyes. “He was so gorgeous, and he fell for me.”

“…and then left you.” Gina put in.

Mollie ignored her. “What were the others’ names, Marie? This one with the trumpet?” Mollie tapped the photo with a red-painted nail, “Deon something…”

“No, Deon was the guitarist. That’s Dixon. Dixon Jones played the trumpet.” Marie smiled. “He had a bit of thing for me, remember?”

There was a pause while the waitress set out the cups and saucers. “The teacakes are just coming,” she said as she set down a large stainless steel teapot before heading back to the serving counter.

“Where was the picture taken?” asked Gina.

“It was a dance hall,” said Marie, “near Sefton Park somewhere, wasn’t it?” she turned to Mollie.

“I don’t remember…” Mollie shook her head.

The food arrived. Mollie poked her teacake with a knife. She looked up at the waitress and smiled. “Lovely. Thanks, love.” The waitress mumbled something as she turned away.

Marie continued: “It was up this long drive. A big white building, with French doors to the garden outside. You must remember. You’d disappeared outside with Godrell that time…”

Mollie’s face lit up with recognition. “Oh yes…”

Gina noticed a red flush travel up her mother’s neck. “Really, Ma?”

“You can mind your own business, my girl,” said Mollie. Although she spoke sharply, she had a twinkle in her eye. She busied herself buttering her teacake.

Gina took a bite of her own teacake and decided to change the subject. “What about you and the trumpet player, Marie?”

“Oh, that never came to anything, love. I’d met my Jimmy by then.” The three women cast their eyes down. Jimmy had been killed in an accident at the docks when Gina was nine. He and three other men had entered the cargo hold of a ship which was full of logs. One of the others had slipped and fallen into a gap between the logs. Jimmy had tried to rescue him, but he too had disappeared into the narrow spaces between the logs. When the two men were eventually brought out by the shore fire brigade, both had died of suffocation.

Gina smiled sadly. Her uncle Jimmy had been a great favourite of hers, always cracking jokes and bringing her sweets.

Marie rubbed her hand across her face and turned her attention back to the photo. “Just look at what we’re wearing… and your hairdo, Mollie.” She turned to Gina, “you know, your mother was the first girl to have a beehive in South Liverpool.”

Mollie laughed. “All that lacquer, it set hard like a bloody helmet.”

“You know why our handbags are all lined up on the table like that?” Marie looked at Gina. Gina shook her head. “We had those miniatures of gin behind them, but all you can see are the tonic bottles.” She threw back her head and laughed. “What a time, we had.”

an old photo taken c. 1960 showing four young women all dressed up sitting at a table with their handbags in front of them. You can see little bottles of tonic water, but the accompanying gin is hidden.
‘Hiding the gin’. Emma, my lovely late mum-in-law is the one winking at the camera.

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You’ll Never Walk Alone is available from Amazon in paperback, e-book & on Kindle Unlimited
USA UK ~ CAN ~ AUS IND ~ the rest of the world

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Photo credits: liverpool.echo.co.uk, boomin.com

Little Inspirations: Translocation from Greece

Pyrgi, on the island of Chios, Greece c. 1996

Let me introduce you to these two fine gentlemen: on your right is my husband, Cliff (he had hair then!) and on the left is Andreas, the man who made the best chips we’d ever tasted! It’s because of him that the fictional little town in my novel, Song of the Sea Goddess, has a café owned by a Greek, who makes the ‘best chips on the whole of the west coast’.

Back in the late 1980s and 1990s, we spent almost every holiday island hopping around Greece. I was counting them up, and we’ve visited twenty islands over the years (several more than once) and adding all those visits up, we spent at more than a year altogether in that beautiful country. We’d go at the start and end of the holiday season, two weeks in both May and September, taking any cheap flight we could find. Then, armed with a laden rucksack, a few guide books and book of ferry timetables, off we’d go.

We became increasing adventurous over the years and would try to seek out the less well-known islands and the more off-the-beaten track locations. We avoided the popular places plagued by package tourists, seeking a more authentic Greece (and escaping the Brits on holiday). I’d do my research in the local library, poring over Greek guide books on a Saturday morning after the unavoidable weekend shopping. One year, a photograph of some unusually decorated buildings caught my eye. My reaction? We have to go there!

Pyrgi, the ‘painted village’ in southern Chios

And so we did! Here are a couple of photos from our visit. You can just make out the shaded roof garden at the top of the picture on the left. ‘Captured’ by Dmitri off the afternoon bus from the port of Chios, he offered us his rooftop room for rent. Accessed by a rather precarious metal stairway, it had all we needed, including a wonderful view.

On the right is an example of the xysta, the intricate wall decorations that first caught my eye. These adorn many of Pyrgi’s houses and are unique to this medieval village. These patterns aren’t painted, they are scratched into the surface plaster. They are everywhere!

The centre of the village is dominated by a large square, filled with chairs and tables belonging to a handful of tiny bars and restaurants which ring the square itself. In the evening, we found the square was filled with people eating, drinking and chatting while their children played on the periphery. It was here we came across Andreas, who owned the tiniest of restaurants in one corner of the square. His menu was simple, but fresh and delicious – and he made these wonderful chips, served with a generous dollop of tzatziki (thick Greek yoghurt mixed with salted and drained cucumber, garlic, mint and olive oil). Over several evening visits we came to know a little bit about his past, particularly about his time in the merchant navy, an occupation he shared with Cliff’s younger brother.

Spool on to November 2019, when I started writing Song of the Sea Goddess and although I’d not thought about him for years, Andreas suddenly stepped out from the doorway of a building by the harbour in my fictional little town on the west coast of South Africa. He seemed to be very at home and he hadn’t aged a bit!

You can take a little tour of Pyrgi on this clip I found on You Tube:

I hope you enjoyed that. Now, let’s see what my version of Andreas is up to in his little harbourside café.

Excerpt from Song of the Sea Goddess

Later that morning when Porcupine returns to the harbour, Andreas is picking up the battered tin bowl that has been licked clean by the scruffy little dog, which he’s taken to feeding with scraps from his kitchen. He raises a hand in greeting to Sam and Jannie.

‘There’s coffee still in the pot,’ shouts Andreas.

‘Should we tell him about the gold?’ Sam asks as they across the yard.

‘Could be he knows something about treasure like that. He was at sea far longer than I was and he sailed in different waters,’ says Jannie. ‘But I’m not so sure. You know he gossips like no tomorrow.’

Sam shrugs. ‘We don’t have to tell him the whole story.’

‘You mean say it’s something we just heard…’

‘…from a friend of a friend.’

The two men grin at each other.

The two conspirators enter through the back door of Andreas’s little café. Moments later they’re sitting at the counter while Andreas fills two tiny cups with thick, sweet Greek coffee and sets them down on the counter in front them.

‘So what’s new?’ asks the café owner as he resumes his slicing and chopping in preparation for lunchtime. Andreas serves up a simple menu from his native Greece: fried fish, kebabs, chips and salad. He makes the best chips on the whole of the west coast and if you can’t afford meat or fish, you can always dip your chips in his thick, garlicky tzatziki. It is this that he’s busy making.

Andreas frowns as Sam explains about the friend of a friend and the strange pot of gold coins which no-one can touch with their bare hands. The wiry old Greek listens until Sam has finished, then throws his head back and laughs.

‘Well, you must know what that is,’ he exclaims.

‘What d’you mean?’ Jannie asks. ‘I sailed around the South China seas and in the cold waters of the far north, but I’ve never heard of such a thing.’

‘Really? And you’ve never heard of the ‘treasure that can’t be touched’?’

Jannie shakes his head.

‘They say it’s the old gold of Atlantis.’

‘Atlantis?’

‘Yes, you know, the lost city…’

Jannie shakes his head. ‘That’s just a legend. It doesn’t exist.’

Andreas chuckles. ‘Well, gold coins that burn your fingers don’t exist either.” He shakes his head. ‘Come on guys, I’m having a joke with you.’ He pours them a second cup of coffee. Then he notices the coin shaped scar on Sam’s right hand. He points to the scar and raises his bushy grey eyebrows. ‘Don’t tell me. That’s how you got that scar?’ Andreas’s eyes widen. ‘That’s what you were off-loading earlier, is it?’

‘What do you mean?’ asks Jannie. He cocks his head sideways feigning innocence.

‘Well,’ Andreas leans forward on the counter, his chin resting on his hand, ‘when Porcupine first entered the harbour this morning, she was sitting very low in the water. I thought Sam here had made it big. A net full of snoek maybe. But after he tied up the boat, rather than landing his catch, he called you over, Jannie. Then a few minutes later, deep in conversation and looking a little shifty by the way, you were both on the boat and heading out of the harbour.’

Andreas pauses, looking from one friend to the other. He grins. ‘I figured it wasn’t an illegal haul of perlemoen, since that wouldn’t have weighed so heavy. Nor crayfish.’ He wags his finger slowly from side to side. ‘And in any case, neither of you would do such a thing, would you?’

Sam and Jannie remain silent for a moment.

‘Okay then, Sam,’ Andreas says. ‘Where did you find this treasure you can’t touch? And what have you done with it?’

Sam and Jannie exchange glances.

Amazon: USA ~ UK ~ IND ~ AUS ~ CAN ~ ESP ~ South Africa and the Rest of the World
Download from Kobo: ebook ~ audiobook
The audiobook is available on most popular audiobook stores – listen to a sample here

Location, Location, Location #25

Location No. 25 – Anfield, home of Liverpool Football Club

Welcome back to our literary tour through the pages on my novels and, in case you didn’t realise straight away, we’re back in Liverpool, so we must be dropping in on the characters of You’ll Never Walk Alone. Look up, the words are written above these wrought-iron gates, right by where we’re standing!

These are the famous Shankly gates, erected in tribute to Bill Shankly, the manager who brought huge success to the team in the early 1970s. It was during his reign that the club adopted its famous anthem, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. Hearing the fans sing the song at the start of a match or after a hard-earned victory, sends a shiver down the spine. It is that feeling of togetherness and belonging which really what inspired the title of my novel, as my ‘players’ stand together and support each other throughout the narrative. In fact, the book isn’t about football or Liverpool FC at all – just a few passing references and one character’s obsession.

Bill Shankly is famous for the quote: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.So it is for some in the city but not all, especially Gina, although Gary, her boyfriend is the die-hard football fan.. Here’s his view of the ‘beautiful game’.

Gina rolled her eyes at Gary. Well, what exotic location are we going to tonight?”

“Go for a couple of pints, chippy and back in time for ‘Match of the Day. My ideal night!” Gary turned to Tony Wong. “Here, Tone, have one of your crackers.”  Gary proffered the bowl to its owner.

Tony Wong giggled and took the bowl. “Two left, which will you take, Miss Gina?” he said, holding the bowl out to her.

“Mmm, which one predicts I’m going to do something other than watch football on the telly tonight?” She pointed to each of the cookies in turn. “Eeny, meeny, miny, mo.”  She picked out one of the cookies and chewed it open. “‘Your passions sweep you away!’ I think that should’ve been Lu’s.”

“Hey, I’m passionate about footy – you should be too.” Gary broke into song: “We’re on the way to Wembley, on the way to Wembley…”

Liverpool – South Africa Connection

Back in 2005, we were entertaining a little group of teachers from South Africa who were on an exchange visit to my husband’s school. As part of their visit we took an organised tour around the LFC ground. Our guide was explaining the importance of the Kop, the stand behind one of the goals occupied by the ‘Kopites’ – the home team supporters. At the time, I didn’t know what the Kop was named for. However, one of our party did. Carmen held up her hand and pre-empted him. You can’t keep a good teacher down!

The Battle of Spion Kop

Spion Kop (Spioenkop) literally means ‘Spy hill’. During the Second Anglo-Boer War, the town of Ladysmith, which was being held by the British, had been besieged by the Boers for a couple of months. The Spioenkop, which was occupied by the Boers, offered a view from the summit for hundreds of miles all around, so the British considered it important to attack and hold it. The British prevailed in the end, but they had lost 340 soldiers before they ended the four month long siege. The new Anfield stand, opened in 1906, was named the Kop as a tribute to the many local men who died during that battle.

It was that exchange visit and the friends that we made, that sowed the seeds that would lead to us moving to South Africa 5 years later.

The Other Team in Town

Before we get swept away by an outpouring of love for Liverpool FC, I must mention the other local soccer team, Everton Football Club, whose ground is only a mile away from where we’re standing. It’s another fine football club, with a long history which goes back even further than LFC’s. Obviously, there is strong rivalry between the two clubs, although it is genial for the most part. In the interests of balance I did introduce a Everton-supporting character: Bob’s Nan. It’s pretty clear where her loyalties lie, even if we never actually meet her.

It’s in the scene below that we first meet her little monkey, Fingers.

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Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone

Gary and his mate, Bob, had evidently come into the sitting room as the sound of the pre-match build-up on the TV started blaring out from the other side of her door. Liverpool were playing away to some team or other deemed by the boys to be too far away to attend midweek. It was a regular ritual: Bob would always come round when Liverpool were playing away because followers of Liverpool FC weren’t tolerated at his Nan’s where he lived, his Nan being an ardent armchair Everton fan.  On these occasions Lucy and Gina would usually go to the local wine bar or spend the evening downstairs with Cynthia. Tonight they were planning a quiet drink at the nearby Alicia Hotel as Cynthia was out with Connor at some ‘poetry slam’, whatever that was.

She heard the door to the flat open.  Even above the sound of the TV Lucy couldn’t mistake the characteristic squeal of the hinges.

“All right, Gina!” Lucy heard Bob’s voice, loud and cheery as ever.

“G, luv!” (Gary) “We got any more crisps?”

There was a pause.  Lucy visualised Gina’s expression.

“Fingers ate them.” (Gary again).

Just then Lucy heard something crash to the floor

“What the..?” Gina’s voice rose an octave.

Lucy opened her bedroom door to see Bob plucking a small monkey dressed in a grubby red waistcoat from the coffee table. The large metal bowl which they habitually used for snacks was upturned on the floor in front of the TV surrounded by a halo of crisp fragments.

The creature in Bob’s arms struggled and shrieked in alarm. “Shush lad, easy now.” He turned to Gina, “you’re scaring him.” He stroked the monkey’s head, who’d calmed down considerably in the safety of Bob’s grasp.

“Meet Fingers, girls!”  Bob looked from Gina to Lucy and back to Gina.  “Sorry about that. Bad manners. Gets excited over food, like.”

“You have a monkey?” Asked Gina, eyebrows raised.

“He’s me Nan’s. She found him down Paddy’s market. She was off to the bingo, like. Couldn’t take him, cos he’s been banned.”

“I wonder why,” said Gina, picking up the bowl.

“It’s a long story, like.”  Bob looked down at Fingers and chuckled.

Lucy leant over the back of the couch and stretched a hand out towards the monkey. “Oh, but he’s sweet.”

“Sort of.”  Bob grinned at her.

Fingers wriggled a paw from beneath Bob’s grasp and reached towards Lucy’s outstretched hand. He gently grasped her finger in his little paw, looking up at her while chattering softly.

“Looks like you’ve made a friend.” Bob winked at Lucy.

“Can I hold him?” Lucy stretched over to take Fingers from him.

“Okay, but be careful. He bites.”

“I’m sure he won’t bite me.” She took Fingers who snuggled in her arms, his delicate little paws playing with her long hair.

“Why’s he called Fingers?” Gina asked.

“Me Nan named him.  I wanted to call him Robin.”

“Why Robin?”

Suddenly Fingers wriggled out of Lucy’s arms, dropped onto the couch and started rummaging between the cushions, chattering away to himself. He had almost disappeared when he popped back out again. With a loud whoop he skittered under the coffee table and disappeared behind the TV. Bob frowned. Moving surprisingly quickly for his sizeable build, he rushed to the TV. Pulling it aside on its casters he grabbed Fingers by the waistcoat and hauled him out. Wrapped around his neck was Lucy’s necklace.

“Because he’s a robbin’ bastard!”

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

Image credits: playupliverpool.com, lfhistory.net, Mike Pennington

I’ve published an audiobook!

Photo by Findaway Voices on Unsplash

I’m delighted to tell you that I’ve made my latest novel, Song of the Sea Goddess, into an audiobook. It’s been such a pleasurable experience too. Of course, I didn’t do it all by myself. Nobody would want to listen to me stumbling over my own words, and I have neither the expertise or the equipment to create a professional recording.

By great good fortune my husband, when he was teaching at the International School of Cape Town, worked with the wonderful Terry Lloyd Roberts who, aside from being a teacher, is an accomplished voice artist. She in turn introduced me to Devon Martindale, Director at Audioshelf, a South African company dedicated to the production of audiobooks. All I had to do was send a pdf version of the manuscript and they did the rest.

It wasn’t as costly as I might have imagined – the price of a nice overseas holiday – and we haven’t done and won’t be doing that for a while.

It took a little while to record, as the book runs to over 7 hours listening time, but over a period of about 3 weeks, I received the audio files to check, ten or so chapters at a time. What a pleasure it was to hear Terry read the words I had written! Her voice is perfect for the book and she really made my characters come alive.

She also managed to sail over a number of typos and missed words. I thought that between me and my beta-reading team we’d caught all those. Not so. Apologies to everyone who’s had to suffer those! I’ve since corrected them and reloaded the paperback and ebook onto Amazon. That was the only downside of curling up under the covers on a succession of winter weekends with my paperback copy and read along with Terry. But it’s a great way to proof-read a book! I was slightly placated by Devon, who said: “…with every single book we’ve produced into audio, we have picked up at least a few errors in the text, so don’t feel too bad.”

Once I’d received and read over all of the audio files, all that remained for me to do was to find a platform from which to publish the audiobook. I took Devon’s advice and went to Authors Republic who offer audiobook publishing and distribution worldwide. I emphasise the worldwide, since outside of North America, a range of restrictions can make it quite tricky for indie authors.

After signing up, completing a US tax form, and adding my paypal account details, all that remained was to fill in the book details, load up a square version of the cover and upload the audio files, which had been perfectly prepared by Audioshelf. Much less stressful than Amazon/KDP. Now, just a week or two later, my audiobook is available in all sorts of places – even ones not available to people in South Africa!

You can listen to the short (5 min) sample below and see how beautifully it’s narrated. Would it be wrong of me to say that I loved my own book when I listened to it?

Available on Audible, Amazon, Google Play, Kobo, Chirp and probably your own favourite audiobook store too!

Little Inspirations: animal characters

Asmar and Fingers from You’ll Never Walk Alone

If you’ve read any of my books you’ll know that animal characters feature somewhere in all of them. Sometimes they just hop in and hop out again, like the baby rabbit in The Silver Locket, or Astra, the small back cat with the white star on her forehead, who wanders in and out of Following the Green Rabbit. Others play a much more prominent role, like little Toti, the Professor’s small sidekick in Song of the Sea Goddess or these two, pictured above.

You can always rest assured that no animal in any book I write will ever come to any permanent harm. And, fellow authors, I’ll tell you, I become deeply distressed if you kill off one of your animal characters, never mind the fact your story might demand it! If an animal appears in a book I’m reading, I start to fear for its safety and I’ll frequently page though the book to find out whether it makes it to the end.

I write for my own pleasure and that, I hope, of my reader too. None of my novels are particularly serious. All are spattered with at least an element of fantasy, and a handful of quirky characters, especially clever animal characters, tend to come with the territory. Or at least they do in my writing. All my principal characters have a responsibility to contribute to the plot and to move the story forward; they have a duty to draw each other out and offer one another opportunities to demonstrate different facets of their personalities. The non-human players are no exception.

My animal characters frequently feature in my favourite scenes and I particularly enjoyed writing those which included Asmar and Fingers in my Liverpool-based book, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. These for me are the superstars of my pages, but from what part of my imagination did they spring?

Asmar the cat belongs to Cynthia, a charming and independent woman ‘of a certain age’. Her cat is the perfect match for her, an exotic Abyssinian, both beautiful and intelligent, with an instinct for tracking and a sense of adventure. The ‘real’ Asmar, both in name and appearance, was a cat that belonged to the chef-patron of a tiny restaurant in a village in northern France where we stayed on holiday, many years ago. With a gentle nature and an enigmatic bearing, he stepped delicately into the role.

Fingers is the naughty young monkey who accompanies Bob in his transit van, doing errands and striking slightly dodgy deals for his market-trader gran, with whom he stays. Both characters might well be referred to as ‘scallies’ in scouse (Liverpool) slang: ‘rascal or miscreant, scallywag.’ But these two aren’t malicious or wicked, they just do a bit of ‘dodging and weaving’ to get by. They represent many people of the time: the book is set in the 1980s, when the city was at its lowest and jobs were very hard to come by.

The excerpt below, is one of my favourite chase scenes. It also includes a potential cameo appearance for my husband, sitting in a battered red Ford Capri, which he used to drive back in the late 1980s – just in case the book is ever made into a movie😉.

Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone

Gary pounded down the road following the sound of Bob cursing. He soon caught up with him. Bob was clutching a lamp-post by the entrance to Princes Park. He was breathing heavily. Bob nodded to the road opposite. “He headed off up Princes Road there,” he gasped, “following that cat of Cynthia’s.” He caught his breath and shook his head, “I dunno what’s got into him.”

Gary scanned the road in front of them. A movement caught his eye. “There he is,” he pointed to a bench on the central area between the two carriageways which formed the once elegant boulevard. “The cat’s there too.”

The two animals perched on the graffitied bench, watched as Gary jogged towards them. Bob followed a little way behind. Gary slowed down as he neared the bench, then suddenly Asmar leapt down and scurried away further up the road. Fingers chattered excitedly and followed, loping after the cat.

“They’re off again,” Gary shouted over his shoulder to Bob who was already lagging behind him. “Don’t worry, I’ll catch the little blighter.”

“Right behind you,” Bob called out breathlessly.

Gary set off at a run this time. He’d been a good sprinter in school and was determined to catch up with the little monkey who would surely tire soon. Asmar, no doubt, could keep this up for a while, but then he could look after himself. As Gary narrowed the gap between them, Fingers changed direction and headed for the trees which lined the pavement on the left-hand side of the road. Swinging from branch to branch, he continued after Asmar, who’d also crossed the roadway and was hugging the low wall below the swaying branches.

Gary raced on keeping both animals in sight. As the trees came to an end, Fingers dropped down onto the wall below. Asmar changed direction and headed down a side street on the left. Fingers was now on the other side of the wall and Gary lost sight of him, but he could see Asmar trotting along the pavement. The cat looked purposeful, as if he knew exactly where he was going, and there was no doubt in Gary’s mind that Fingers was following him. He would just have to do the same. He turned to see Bob some way behind, he waved and pointed where they were heading next.

The wall ended and Fingers emerged just behind Asmar who shot across the road. Gary heard the sound of an engine and turned to see a car coming around the corner. Fingers was loping across the road following the cat, totally unaware of the danger from the oncoming vehicle. Gary stepped off the pavement waving his arms in the air. The car driver slowed. Gary could see the driver was mouthing something at him. He glanced the other way to see Fingers safely across the road, then turned back to the driver who was shaking his head at him. Gary shrugged and mouthed ‘sorry’ at the driver. As the car drew level with Gary, the driver continued to shake his head, mouthing an obscenity before accelerating away.

A classier and tidier version of the car my husband used to drive

Unfazed, Gary jogged across the road. Up ahead, Asmar had stopped and was sitting on the pavement licking a front paw. Fingers was nowhere in sight. Gary scanned around. Then he saw the little monkey perched on the bonnet of a tatty red Ford Capri which was parked at the kerbside. Fingers had his back to Gary and was peering at the driver through the windscreen. The man was hunched down in his seat as if trying to remain unobserved. Gary walked slowly towards the car, hoping to scoop Fingers up before he noticed his approach. He watched as the man in the Capri sank down even further behind the small steering wheel. Fingers had turned his attention to the car’s aerial and was prodding it curiously, watching as it sprang back and forth. Gary was level with the bonnet of the car; he sprang forward, grabbing Fingers around the middle with both hands. Fingers squeaked in surprise and wriggled furiously, but Gary had him firmly in his grip. Fingers clutched at the aerial trying to resist capture, all the time screeching in protest. Gary glanced at the driver who was furiously gesturing for them to get away from the car. Gary pulled, Fingers held onto the aerial. Suddenly it snapped and Fingers ricocheted into Gary’s chest, brandishing the broken aerial aloft. Gary looked at the driver. His hands were gripping the steering wheel and his head was resting between them. Gary sprinted off clutching Fingers to his chest and ducked into the first back alley he came to.

Gary leant against the rough brick wall. Fingers had quietened down and was sitting calmly in his arms, still brandishing the car aerial. Gary peered around the corner into the street but all was quiet. The driver was still in his car. He sank back onto the wall.

“Gaz! Gaz! Where are yer?” Gary heard Bob shouting as he hurried up the road. “Alright, mate,” he said cheerfully, knocking on the window of the Capri. “Have you seen a fella chasing a monkey? Must’ve come down ‘ere.”

“Come on, here’s Bob now,” said Gary to Fingers. “Over here,” he called to Bob, as he emerged from the alleyway. Gary watched Bob shrug his shoulders at the occupant of the Capri. “Suit yerself,” he muttered.

Seeing Bob, Fingers let out a loud chirrup. Gary set him down on the pavement as Bob held out his arms to the little monkey. No sooner had he done so, Asmar appeared from the other side of the road meowing loudly. Fingers turned towards the cat who immediately changed direction and dashed off up the road.

“Oh no you don’t mate,” said Bob reaching down to pick Fingers up, but the little monkey was too quick for him. Gary almost got a hand under him, but he bolted off after the cat, dropping the aerial in the road.

“Here we go again,” said Gary turning to follow.

“Hold on, Gaz, I don’t how or why, but look,” he nodded his head at the two animals who were now sitting on a low wall at the corner of the street. “They’re waiting for us to go after them. I’m sure of it.”

“So we just follow them?”

Bob shrugged. “Seems weird, but I guess so.”


You’ll Never Walk Alone is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook and on Kindle Unlimited
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Image credits: newworldencyclopedia.org, kidadl.com, classics.honestjohn.co.uk

Little Inspirations: what’s in a name?

Lovely, isn’t it? This sampler, inherited from my husband’s side of the family, is by far the oldest piece we have in our house. We don’t know much about the family members mentioned, only that they were part of the Dodding family who were prosperous merchants living in the Lake District, in the north-west of England. The family made a fortune and built a fancy house then a risky investment in a coal mine in Birmingham, which turned out to have no mineable coal, led them to lose most of their money. The fancy house had to be sold, but that’s about all I know of their story. One thing I do know is that ‘our’ Elizabeth wasn’t related to the much more famous Elizabeth Gaskell, English novelist, biographer and short story writer, although that would have been so cool – a famous writer in the family!

But that’s not the reason I’m sharing this particular family heirloom with you. It’s because it is a ‘little inspiration’.

I was pondering on what to post today, wandering about the house (as I do), when I found myself contemplating the sampler. As I stood before the sampler my thoughts drifted to a recent post by Jean Lee on ‘How do you name your characters.’ My response to this question, about which she expands so interestingly, was this: ‘Naming characters is like naming cats… I have to wait for them to whisper them to me.’

Then I remembered that it was while I was gazing at the sampler that William, from Following the Green Rabbit, whispered his name to me. The date is about right for the ‘olden times’ part of the story, and it’s a nice ‘solid’ name for his character. I’d already named his wife, Ellen, for my maternal grandmother. The name just seemed right, and it was she who inspired me to improve my cookery skills. Grandma Atkins gave me her recipe for Lancashire Hotpot which in turn became my first published piece anywhere!

Grandma Atkins’s Lancashire Hotpot recipe, published in the Sunday Times!

And the ‘little inspiration’ for Ellen showing Bethany how to card wool in the excerpt below? Well, that came from my former life in the 17th century.

So now, what better time to introduce you to William, as my young heroine Bethany first finds herself back in the ‘olden times’.

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Excerpt from Following the Green Rabbit

“There was this man. He was dressed oddly, in sort of sacking stuff, but he had a nice, friendly face and I wasn’t afraid. He reminded me of Papa in a way, you know how his eyes pucker up at the edges when he smiles?” Bethany fell silent.

Bryony looked out across the garden; she blinked quickly then turned back to her sister. “A man, you say, in the woods? What did you do?” She glanced towards the kitchen door and over to Tom’s work shed, but there was no sign of either of their benevolent and hugely protective guardians.

“Well, he held out his hand to me, and I took it. He said something, but I didn’t quite understand him. He had a funny way of talking.”

Bryony’s eyes widened. “You took his hand? Beth…”

“I know I shouldn’t’ve done, but…” Bethany closed her eyes and shook her hands in front of her, like she did when she knew she’d done something wrong.

Bryony stretched out and grabbed her hands. “It’s all right; gently now. Take a deep breath and tell me.”

Bethany breathed in and out a few times.

“That’s better. Pray continue,” said Bryony, imitating the voice of the frightful Miss C.

Bethany looked up. “He told me his name was William and he lived with his wife nearby. We walked a little way and we came to his house. It was built out of stones and had a sort of straw roof, like one of the ones from the olden days in our big history book, except it seemed quite new. There was another little building too, like Tom’s workshop, and there were chickens running about outside.”

“His wife was called Ellen and she was sitting on a little bench outside the house. She had a big mound of white fluffy stuff next to her. She said it was from one of their sheep and she showed me how she was straightening it out with two big brushes.” Bethany frowned, putting her head on one side. “What did she call it?” She looked up at the sky. “Carding, that’s it. It was called carding. She showed me how to do it. Then we went into the house and she gave me some milk and biscuits.”

“Then Ellen said it was getting late. She and William looked at each other, you know, that funny kind of look which adults give each other, when we’re not supposed to understand something.” Bethany rolled her eyes. “Then William said that he’d walk me back to the village, so I explained that we didn’t live in the village. And they gave each other that look again. So I told them where we lived, but they didn’t know our house. They said there was no big house over the other side of the wood; just more trees.”

Bryony frowned. ‘How could they not know Bluebell Wood House?”

Bethany shrugged. “Perhaps I didn’t explain it very well. You know I get muddled up with directions. Anyway, they asked me to stay where I was and they went outside for a little while. When they came back they looked happy again. William said he’d take me back to the part of the woods where he first saw me and I’d be sure to find my way home. So that’s what we did.”

“I hope you thanked Ellen.”

“Yes,” Bethany rolled her eyes again. “You sound just like Hodge.”

“Who’s taking my name in vain?”

The two girls looked round. Hodge was carrying a basket of washing to hang out on the line.

“Oh, nothing. We were just saying we should thank you for our lunch,” said Bryony quickly.

“Well, you’re very welcome and you can show me your gratitude by clearing the table there.” She balanced the washing basket on her hip and picked the little carved robin up from the table. “That’s a pretty little thing, so it is. Where did you get it?”

‘I found it in the w… orchard,” stammered Bethany.

‘Hmm,” Hodge pursed her lips and put it down. She shifted the heavy basket in front of her. “Just mind you carry those lunch things in carefully,” she said turning away and continuing down the garden.

They started to clear the table. When Hodge was out of earshot Bethany picked up the robin and turned to her sister. “When William took me back to the woods he gave this to me and said it was a present to remember him and Ellen by. I took it from him and looked at it, but then when I looked up he’d gone. I didn’t even get the chance to thank him.” She stroked the little carving. “The funny thing is that when he gave it to me it looked like new. The colours were all bright and shiny. Now it looks as if it’s really old.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

FOLLOWING THE GREEN RABBIT
~ a fantastical adventure

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Location, Location, Location #24

Location No 24 – From Somerset West to the West Coast of South Africa

Welcome to the latest stop on our literary tour through the pages of my novels. This week we’ll taking a pleasant drive from my home town to the little fictional town on the West Coast of South Africa to meet the characters from Song of the Sea Goddess who were so much fun to write about. The ladies are loosely based on some of the people whom I met when I arrived in Somerset West, not so long ago as the postcard above might suggest, I hasten to add.

The reason I’m showing you the postcard is that it gives you an idea of the style of house in which my two little aunties live, although their cottage stands alone on a dusty road just a stone-throw from the sea. Several similar ‘Cape Dutch’ style houses still remain in Somerset West, the best examples being in Church Street, which has an interesting history and which is a place that became an important part of my life when I arrived here.

Auntie Grace and Auntie Rose provide a comedic element to the novel, and the group of ladies their characters are based upon had the same wry outlook on life.

We were all part of a small volunteer group which sought to provide support to clients of the public clinic who were being treated for HIV, TB and other chronic conditions. It sounds a bit grim, but we did in fact have a lot of fun, as we engaged in various uplifting activities including sewing, knitting and beadwork, all of which was accompanied by singing and chatting over cups of tea and coffee, and the plates of sandwiches which were my contribution.

Somerset West Clinic, Church Street

Most of my fellow volunteers lived in Church Street in houses which were built on a plot of land originally owned by Lady Phillips, wife of Cape Governor, Lord Charles Phillips around the turn of the 20th century. A Methodist church and a school were also established here. My involvement in the support group was as a result of a connection to that school via an international art competition and exchange programme with my husband’s school in the UK back in 2008. It was through the friends we made at Somerset West Primary School that led to us moving Somerset West, two years later.

During our two mornings a week in our room at the back of the clinic, our conversations tended to centre on matters like ‘soapies’ (soap operas), clothes, kids and cooking. Sharing recipes and talking about food was what really cemented my connection with members of the group and this is how I came upon some of ‘Auntie Rose’s recipes‘ and my character’s cooking became part of her story.

And now to the story. The following excerpt is taken from an early part of the book where Albertina, new to the little West Coast town, first comes across the aunties.

Excerpt from Song of the Sea Goddess

A commotion at the front of the little house catches Albertina’s attention. Two little old aunties are marching up and down their stoep, noisily pulling the chairs from under the table, bending over and searching the floor. They both straighten up so much as they can; one holds up her hands in the air, the other plants her hands on her broad hips and shakes her head.

She walks over and stands looking at them, her head on one side and a smile on her bright red lips.

‘Come,’ Auntie Rose beckons her onto the stoep. ‘She can help us look, can’t she, Auntie Grace?’

Auntie Grace nods and hurries over to open the little gate for Albertina. She takes hold of Albertina’s sleeve. ‘Come,’ she tugs at the sleeve, propelling Albertina towards the table. ‘Put your bag down here and help us look.’

‘She doesn’t know what we’re looking for,’ says Auntie Rose.

‘I’m coming to that.’

Auntie Rose rolls her eyes and squints up at Albertina. ‘She’s lost her glasses,’ she points to her sister, ‘and I’ve lost my teeth,’ she explains gurning at Albertina. ‘My false teeth,’ she adds, in case Albertina misunderstands.

Albertina places her bag on the table and looks from one little auntie to the other. Immediately she notices the pair of glasses perched on Grace’s head. She points to her own head. Auntie Grace reaches up with one hand, pulls her glasses off her tightly cropped grey hair and holds them out to her sister, her eyebrows raised.

It’s Auntie Rose’s turn to put her hands on her hips. ‘I wasn’t looking there,’ she said indignantly. ‘You said they must have fallen on the floor, and anyway,’ she continued, ‘that’s where I was looking for my teeth.’ Albertina bends down to look under the table. As she does so, she notices a crescent-shaped bulge halfway down Auntie Rose’s rather tightly stretched pants’ leg. She stands up and points at the bulge. Auntie Rose looks down. Her hand goes to her thigh feeling the trapped object. She starts to giggle. She sits on the nearest chair and eases the object down past her knee. Still giggling she scoops the object up as it drops out of her pants’ leg and brandishes a set of teeth aloft. Both aunties burst into peals of laughter. Such is their merriment that Albertina joins in too, her eyes darting about the stoep.

As the laughter dies down, Albertina seizes the brush which is leaning by the wall and starts to sweep the stoep. Albertina is a demon sweeper. The aunties watch as she whisks up the dust and crumbs and bits of fabric and thread which have accumulated under the table. She makes a neat pile and looks around. She grabs the little shovel that stands in the corner and deftly sweeps the pile onto it. She spies the dirt bin the other side of the wall and swiftly deposits the rubbish inside, before replacing the brush and shovel. She goes to pick up her bag, but Auntie Grace puts her hand on hers and points towards a chair. ‘Sit a moment.’

The sisters look at each other and something unspoken passes between them.

‘We could do with some help,’ says Auntie Grace. ‘We can’t pay a lot mind. There’s not so much to do but, you know, some of the heavier work…’

A smile spreads across Albertina’s face.

‘Where do you stay?’ asks Auntie Rose.

Albertina gestures vaguely at the road behind them.

The two aunties nod at each other and stand up. ‘Come and see,’ Auntie Grace says to Albertina as she heads into the house. Albertina picks up her handbag and follows her through the little kitchen to the back yard. Auntie Rose follows, her left leg swings awkwardly as she walks.

Out in the yard is a little wendy house. Auntie Grace pulls the door open. ‘It needs a good clean but would you like to…’

Albertina throws her arms around Auntie Grace, who totters, slightly off balance. Auntie Grace laughs, disentangling herself.

‘There’s a little bathroom too,’ says Auntie Rose, pointing to a small lean-to next to the kitchen. ‘It only has cold water though…’

‘Albertina only washes in cold water,’ she says proudly.

The two aunties look at each other. ‘That’s settled then,’ says Auntie Grace. ‘Why don’t you make us some tea?’ Auntie Rose beckons to Albertina and leads the way to the kitchen.


Song of the Sea Goddess 
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Image credits: Wikipedia (unknown author), Somerset West Clinic

Location, Location, Location #23

Location No 23 – Basements and tunnels beneath Liverpool

Welcome to the latest stop on our literary tour through the pages of my novels. This week you’re going to need your hard hats as we venture into the mysterious network of tunnels and basements built beneath the fine city of Liverpool. These fictional tunnels from You’ll Never Walk Alone, are partly based on fact, although I embellished the extent of the network for the sake of the story.

When I was initially rummaging around in rabbit holes researching the background to the book, I came across this article which talks about a basement areas under Bold Street in the city centre, where Pierre and Lucy do some of their Sunday Shopping. In fact, I’ve referenced the before – you might even remember it if you were following the unfolding novel back in October 2018! One of the comments in the thread provided me with a big chunk of inspiration for my fictional tunnel network:

“I worked on a refurbishment prog (sic) in 1980 at the Adelphi hotel. A tunnel was found at the front of the hotel, it’s now covered over by the back bar in the night club. It was heading in the direction of Lewis’s or Central Station.”

Many of you will remember that I was once employed as an insurance surveyor, and in the course of some of my building inspections I tramped through many of the dusty, disused and fascinating parts of Liverpool’s panoply of historical edifices.

One of these was the Cotton Exchange. Remember how Liverpool was built on the Far Eastern trade of cotton and silk? Even in the distant days of my insurance career not much was left of the cotton trade in Liverpool and, at the time of my visit, this beautiful old building had fallen into disrepair. I remember being shown the old sample room where the quality of the merchants’ cotton was once assessed against the samples contained in a large beautifully crafted chest of drawers. But the basement held many treasures. Take a look.

Around the perimeter of this massive building there were a number of intriguing metal-clad doors which led from the pavement down into the basement storage level and it was this that captured my imagination for Pierre’s little bolt hole:

“I have just the place. Come, Lucy.” He held out his hand. Lucy took it and followed him as he ducked around the next corner and down a short flight of steps leading to a basement area. There was a heavy door at the bottom of the stairs and the window next to the door was boarded up. Pierre reached down and drew out a key from a recess under the bottom step. He fitted the key into the lock and turned it. The door swung open silently on well-oiled hinges...

A few paragraphs later, they finally make their escape through the basement and into the tunnels. Lucy is understandably unnerved when she and Pierre first enter…

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Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone

“This way,” Pierre took Lucy’s hand and guided her out of the room into a dimly lit corridor. The heels of Lucy’s dancing shoes echoed on the tiled floor as they hurried past the closed doors on either side of the corridor. At the end there was a larger metal door with a plate which read ‘boiler room’. Pierre pulled the thick metal handle towards him and they stepped over the threshold. The door clanged shut behind them. They climbed down a short flight of metal steps and crossed the floor of the boiler room to another metal staircase which led to a sub-basement. At the far side of the lower basement there was a smaller unmarked door. Pierre pushed against.

“Okay, Lucy, through here.”

“It’s so dark. Where are we going, Pierre?”

“Hold on, just stand there a sec,” he said letting go of her hand and feeling along the wall. Lucy heard a click and a torch beam shone on the ground in front of her. Pierre shone the beam around revealing a tall, brick-lined tunnel.

“Where are we?” asked Lucy. “It’s not a sewer is it?

“You’d be able to smell if it was. No, this is part of a whole network of tunnels under the city.”

“How did you know about..?”

“Come on, Lucy,” just a bit further. “You’ll like where we come out.” Pierre sounded as if he was enjoying himself now.

“Okay, you’re the boss.”

Hand in hand they strode along the tunnel. Lucy focused on the torch beam, shutting out all thoughts of what might lurk beyond the pool of yellowy light. As they followed a branch in the tunnel which led off to the right, the gradient increased and a little further on, Lucy could make out the faint outline of a door. Pierre clicked off the torch and placed it in a small alcove alongside the door.

“Okay, Lucy, let me just check the coast is clear.” Pierre ducked inside the doorway and looked around. He gestured Lucy to follow.

Lucy stepped into another corridor and followed Pierre through the door opposite where they had come in. The room beyond was shrouded in gloom, but Lucy could make out a row of steel barrels and shelves containing cardboard boxes and bottles. They crept through the storeroom and found themselves behind a bar counter, looking out into a room containing an assortment of tables with chairs piled up on them. Pierre looked at Lucy and smiled.

“I know where this is. It’s that little bar at the side of the Adelphi Hotel.” Lucy said triumphantly.

“It certainly is,” Pierre held out his hand. “Follow me, let’s see about a room.”

We’ll likely be visiting the Adelphi Hotel another time!

You’ll Never Walk Alone is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook and on Kindle Unlimited
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Image credits: Liverpool Echo, Britannia Adelphi Hotel

Location, Location, Location #22

Location No. 22 – Somewhere in Yorkshire

On our literary tour this week we’re going on a little time-travelling detour. Let me take you back to my school-days when I deftly managed to avoid a week’s work experience by wangling my way onto a historical workshop run by a local theatre group.

There were about 10 of us from our all girls grammar school, and we were about to be transported to the time of the English Civil War, accompanied by a handful of enthusiastic actors, who were keen to recreate the correct conditions for our plight under the iron fist of the Royalists who held the walled City of York.

The historical details were somewhat lost on me, but the story was that our fathers, fearful for our safety, were sending us out of the city to an unspecified rural location, were we would conceal our identities as daughters of prominent Parliamentarians and assume the roles of farmer’s daughters.

There were various preparations including the fitting of period costumes and, for the sake of historical accuracy, being urged not to wash or wear modern undergarments (which of course we ignored). Then the following day, with minimal baggage and concealed toothbrushes, we were whisked away to the past in the theatre minibus.

We were undoubtedly too compliant for young ladies of the time thrown into such a situation, but eager to get into our roles we got down to work. There was much peeling to be done. I chiefly remember the potatoes and onions. The onion skins were boiled up to make a dye for some rather malodorous sheep’s wool, which was marinated overnight, and came up a vibrant shade of yellow the following day. We learned to card and spin wool. My spinning was woeful and I was sent to the kitchen to busy myself about the potatoes again. I learned to milk a cow which was brilliant, unlike the subsequent butter-making. Churning is absolutely arm-aching.

We were also shown the hayloft where we would hide should anyone in authority from the ‘wrong side’ come calling. Little did we know that the following evening we wouldn’t have time to hide.

The sun was setting and we’d finished our supper. We were all sitting together in the large room at the front of the farmhouse which looked out onto the yard. I chanced to look through the window to see a group of soldiers, wearing high boots and feather-plumed hats, marching towards the farmhouse. They were undoubtedly the enemy. Almost before I’d had time to call out a warning, they were hammering on the door.

They took the farmer into the back room. His wife followed. One soldier stayed guarding the door. We heard punches, screams and cries; furniture was being overturned. If we hadn’t been in character before, we certainly were in those few moments.

Then they emerged. The make-up was very realistic.

The soldiers moved on.

I really don’t recall what happened after that, but what an experience! One on which I was to draw on for a little piece, written about 30 years later, in a response to a writing group prompt: ‘A Scary Moment’. Revised and updated it became the first piece in my tiny collection of short fiction, released in 2018.

~~~

The Day the Soldiers Came

I smile as I watch my mother play with my little brother Tommy on the hearth-rug. My father sits in his chair, still but alert. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I detect a movement in the yard.  I turn to look. Soldiers, four of them! By the way they are dressed, I know them instantly as ‘the enemy’. My father has followed my gaze as I gasp in fright and immediately he’s on his feet, sweeping up Tommy in the same movement and shoving him in my direction.

‘You know what to do Annie,’ he says quietly. He nods urgently at me and I grab Tommy’s hand and propel him through the kitchen. I look through the window, checking our route to the barn. It’s clear, so I open the door and we slide through and dash into the slatted wooden building. Behind us, I hear the soldiers hammering on the front door, shouting.

Although Tommy’s only little he knows what to do. Just as we’ve practiced so many times in recent months, I help him up the ladder to the hayloft. He doesn’t make a sound as we creep across the creaky boards and hide ourselves in the straw behind the loosely baled hay. We lie there, waiting. We haven’t practised what happens next. Then I hear a scream; I know it’s my mother, although the sound is like none I’ve ever heard her make. Her pain and terror flood my head. I grip Tommy tightly; he’s trembling and sobbing silently. The minutes tick by; I wonder what’s happening in the house. My father is shouting, but I can’t make out what he’s saying. The shouting stops abruptly and I hear the back door slam against the outside wall of the kitchen.

Heavy boots march towards the barn; I bite down hard on my knuckles. A cold fist contorts my stomach as I realise I forgot to drag the ladder up behind us. I hear the soldier’s heavy breathing down below. He’s pulling things over, searching. He approaches the ladder and in my mind’s eye I see him grab the ladder and place his boot on the first rung. Sweat runs down my back. Tommy is rigid in my arms.

There is a loud call from the house: ‘Move on!’ I hear the sound of the ladder clattering to the floor.  It settles and there is no sound apart from the blood pumping in my ears. Slowly I get up, my legs are shaking. I grab the rail at the edge of the loft and feel for the rope which we use as a swing when it’s too wet to play outside. Telling Tommy to stay where his is, I let myself down and run towards the back door which is gaping off its hinges.

Inside the house furniture has been overturned and one curtain has been ripped from the window. My mother cowers in a corner. Her blouse is torn and there is blood on her skirt. Father’s face is bruised and bloody. He reaches for her, but she turns her face to the wall.


The English Civil War, 1642 – 1651. Scenes from ‘Cromwell’ with Richard Harris and Alec Guinness, music by The Clash.

A Sextet of Shorts is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook and on Kindle Unlimited

Photo credits: naturalhomes.org, http://www.sheepcabana.com, pixels.com

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

Released 2 years ago this week!!

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