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

available in paperback and ebook
from Amazon

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the rest of the world

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

Location, Location, Location #2

Location No. 2 – Alderley Edge, Cheshire

In the second of my series discussing the settings for my novels, come with me to Alderley Edge, in Cheshire, NW England.

“Alderley Edge is an abrupt and elevated ridge, formerly the site of a beacon, which bears the appearance of having been detached by some great convulsion of nature. … The sides are varied with cultivated land, wood and rock; and the entire mass presents a striking object to all the surrounding district over which it commands a most extensive prospect.” The History of the County Palatine and City of Chester, George Ormerod (1819).

This looming escarpment provides the backdrop to my third novel, ‘Following the Green Rabbit’, which I began writing during NaNoWriMo in 2018. By this time, I’d been living in South Africa for eight years, so I was drawing heavily on my carefully stored memories of the English countryside for the setting.

Alderley Edge still towers over a patchwork of fields and farmland and small villages. It has an ancient, timeless quality. I drove past it numerous times when making the journey home from North Wales to Liverpool, and I can still see it clearly in my mind’s eye: a massive stark shape hunched over the surrounding landscape, dark against the glowing afternoon sky. This, and the open countryside beyond, the wide Cheshire Plain, peppered with old villages that still hold the essence of the past, was the perfect setting for the novel.

This location also provided the setting for two of my favourite childhood novels, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and its sequel, The Moon of Gomrath, written by British novelist, Alan Garner. Garner lived locally and the timeless quality of the place and the legends associated with it, inspired him too. It’s a place where anything might happen at any time in history.

The towering escarpment, presiding as it does over a flat, low-lying landscape, is a metaphor for the wicked Lord of the Manor in the novel, whose presence looms over the lives of the people who live in the village where my two plucky heroines find themselves.

Excerpt from ‘Following the Green Rabbit’

They stood up, wondering where to run. The sound of the hooves was getting louder. A horse snorted and they heard a man cry out.

“Quick. Behind the house.” Bryony grabbed her sister’s hand and they ran around the back of the damaged building.

Seconds later the clearing was full of stomping horses. The girls cowered under the window at the back of the house.

A man shouted. “Where did he go?” Another voice: “Search the buildings.”

Bethany gasped. Bryony held her tight. Over her shoulder she saw something moving in the bushes. A boy’s head appeared. His eyes were wide-open and startled-looking. He stared straight at Bryony, who froze, clinging on to her sister. Bryony was aware of more shouting at the front of the house. The men were arguing. She focused on the boy’s face. It was scratched and dirty, his hair was sticking out wildly from under his cap and his shirt was torn. He looked to left and right, then beckoned to her, nodding and mouthing words to her.

Bethany twisted around to see what Bryony was looking at. She gasped in surprise. The boy beckoned with greater urgency. At the front of the building the shouting stopped.

Then suddenly, they heard the order. “Find him! Spread out! He’s got to be here somewhere.” The voice was harsh and the accent strange to Bryony’s ears. She looked at Bethany and nodded. They scrabbled into the bushes and followed the boy as he disappeared deep into the undergrowth.

He moved rapidly and the girls struggled to keep up. But they did. The men’s shouts as they rode around the glade on their heavy-hoofed horses spurred them on. Low branches tugged at their hair and their clothes, while brambles scratched their bare legs. They stumbled over roots and crawled over logs for what seemed like ages. The boy glanced back a couple of times to check on their progress, but he didn’t slacken the pace. Finally they came to a steep bank where he stopped.

“Get ourselves over that,” he nodded at the bank, “they’ll not follow. A bit further on there’s a place where we can stop and talk.”

The girls weren’t used to climbing but he showed them how to use the tree roots as hand and foot holds and they soon managed to clamber up. A series of rocky outcrops on the other side made it easy enough for the girls to scramble down.

“Follow me,” the boy said. The girls obeyed, picking their way along the rock-strewn path. Both were grateful to still be wearing their sturdy outdoor shoes from their morning walk into the village. A little further along he stopped again and led them down another dip in the land to a wide flat slab of stone at the entrance to a cave.

The boy flopped down on the ground just inside the cave. The girls followed his example, leaning back against the smooth cave walls. “That was a close call,” he said. “I thought me goose was well and truly cooked.”


This week the ebook is on special offer at 99c (USA, CAN, AUS), 99p (UK), R18.99 (RSA), and other local equivalents.

USA – http://ow.ly/vjAA50BItEj
UK – http://ow.ly/2IYA50BItEg
CAN – http://ow.ly/DBTL50BItEh
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Image credit: Brian Abbott

Weekend Special!

Free Download this weekend https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07R116WPW

It was just one year ago this weekend that fellow author, Paul English and I held our book launch party in a lovely cosy cafe in our home town of Somerset West in South Africa.

I sold a small stack of the paperback edition that evening, and since then I’ve sold a few more, had a good number of downloads of the ebook and received some great reviews and feedback.

I still love this book and I miss the characters. One day I might write a sequel, as they’ve been asking me to do (really!) ever since I left them at the end of the book.

For now though, for this weekend the ebook will be FREE to DOWNLOAD.
Sorry to bang on about it if you’ve already read it, but if you have, and you haven’t left me a review, I’d love it if you’d consider doing so.

Here’s what some of my readers have said about it:

thumbnail Ellie Scott's review
You’ll Never Walk Alone is like a Scouse James Bond story. There are jewel thieves, evil villains and their sinister henchmen, plus a blooming romance between two beautiful people. But since it’s set against the vivid backdrop of 1980s Liverpool, it’s blended together with some wonderful Scouse charm and humour. Oh, and there’s a genius cat, a kleptomaniac monkey and an appearance from Dead or Alive singer Pete Burns. Doesn’t it sound like fun? Read more…

thumbnail JB Richards's review
Chris Hall’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is an absorbing fast-paced action and adventure romance that’s nearly impossible to put down. Hall expertly weaves together a fascinating plot-line involving several fascinating and complex characters while the action and danger written into this story is both dramatically and poignantly offset by what’s going on behind the scenes.

thumbnail Kevin Coopers's review
The story is full of interesting characters, especially those of the two couples. Gary and Gina have a strong established relationship, and live what most would consider to be a normal down to earth sort of life. Lucy and Pierre are caught up in a wild blooming romance which spins them into a life that some may consider as living on the edge. There is so much going on…  You’ll want to take your time with this one.

thumbnail Joe Leonardi's review
In You’ll Never Walk Alone, Chris Hall tells a good story a story I highly recommend. Read more…

 

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