New book CROW COURT by Andy Charman

Today I received a signed copy of CROW COURT – my friend Andy Charman’s debut novel set in C19th Dorset.

McV with copy of CROW COURT

Andy and I met on an Arvon Editing course in 2018. He read an extract to the group and I was enchanted. Can’t wait to read it!


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Friday Fiction Feature for Jigsaw Island

Many thanks to LORRAINE MACE, creator of the hugely popular D.I. STERLING series ( for including JIGSAW ISLAND in her blog today.

Find it HERE

Artwork by Lynne McVernon / Digital render Martyn Stead
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New Goodreads review of Jigsaw Island

Thank you to David Tucker for this lovely review on Goodreads September 22, 2020

A very timely, humane book, full of heart and humour. It is believable and its structure is never contrived. One is drawn in through the alternating first-person narratives that take the reader on journeys both emotional and locational. There is a real sense of authenticity about it that manages to tell very personal stories while shining a light on the very global issue of the ongoing refugee crisis.

Artwork by Lynne McVernon / Digital render Martyn Stead

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Review: The Girl from the Hermitage by Molly Gartland

Published by Lightning Books 2020

Fascinated by this period of Russian history since a teenager – after watching Dr Zhivago – I wanted to review Molly Gartland’s The Girl from the Hermitage, and I’m glad I did. Inspired by a portrait discovered by the writer in Moscow, a tragic sweep of decades is reflected in the lives of one woman, her friends and family, progressing through WWII, Perestroika and Glasnost to the 21st Century. Starting in 1941, the contrast between deprivation during the Siege of Leningrad with conspicuous consumption in 2016 carries the sense that, somehow, nothing changes, just the nature of the venality, fear and suppression. Galina is the girl from the Hermitage, as a child, living through the siege in its cellars with her art restorer father, following the death through cold and hunger of her mother. When he is commissioned to paint the portrait of the young sons of a colonel, the difference in wealth and lifestyle between himself and his sitters highlights the callous dishonesty of Stalin’s military, a negative precursor to the Soviet concept of egalitarianism. Galina becomes an artist and we follow her experiences, the theme of art and portraiture interweaving with the growth of capitalism, and overshadowed by increasing corruption. Enough of the plot; the characterisation is truthful and engaging, relationships as simple and complex as reality. Galina is a heroine of talent, wisdom and restraint, patience being her heritage from life in the Hermitage. As she aged through betrayal and injustice, I found myself angry and frustrated on her behalf and wanted to know what became of her – the mark of excellent storytelling. Molly Gartland’s knowledge of and connection with her subject is evident throughout; so firmly rooted in reality, the writing is also rich in imagery and attention to detail without ever halting the narrative. This is a book to be savoured and to learn from. Thank you for letting me read it.

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Herkos odonton – a barrier of teeth i.e. keeping secret

OK, opening the barrier, and about to give away one of my secrets. Not that I have a bronze medal for Scottish Highland and Country dancing, not that I was asked to give up maths in 5th year because I was causing the teacher anxiety, and not that I pretended, when I lost my train ticket in 1967, that I was French and couldn’t understand the ticket collector at Raynes Park.

The secret I’m about to give away is one that many fellow writers share, and that is…when you say you’ve bought our book on a specific day, or will by our book, we can always tell whether or not you have because…




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Another five star review for JIGSAW ISLAND

Thanks to Jillian Morton for her review of JIGSAW ISLAND. Deleted a couple of words because – oops – they contain a spoiler 😱 But thank you, Jillian, for a great review. Taken a while to get here from Oz but those luxury cruisers take their time 😎😎

Continue reading

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The cuts to our brainchildren that we can’t bear to lose.

Cutting and editing is one of the most difficult things to do as a writer. Some years ago, I started a novel based on a situation (a hugely dysfunctional neighbourhood) then realised there wasn’t a strong enough story. So I’ve backtracked and provided a plot. Now I have to lose a lot of what I enjoyed writing – particularly the bits that made me laugh. So I thought I’d post some outtakes. Hope they make you laugh, too…

From WIP: Working title: THE LIFE OF LALLA

Number Eight, Chatt Abbas Close, Ruby’s home, New neighbour: Day One
Ruby was at school. Her father, Steve, abandoned American Football on Sky in favour of hovering by the window with his lager and squinting through the net curtains. His Vauxhall Astra gleamed on the drive and the council white van that he drove was parked outside next door. He always parked the van in front of number seven A) to give him a clear view of his rival Tolly’s, at number one, and B) to show who was king of the road.

In the front garden, his sons, Cashus and Tisan, dismantled another motorbike. Their mother, Yvonne, was playing a computer game, Djinn Ja Tan’gul of Minnjh: The Tongue of Thighbold (V2) on the laptop with her headset on. In her pocket was a note from Ann Cann passed to her by Ruby before school that morning. Unable to read, herself, she would pretend to read it with her youngest daughter, later.

Steve clenched his teeth as the new next door neighbour pulled up outside number six, Minnie Chickerell’s house, in her Series 1 BMW.

‘’Oo she think she is? Lady Muck…People like ’er – think they own the bleedin’ road.’
He glanced round at Yvonne, but she hadn’t heard his remark, lost in her game world, mouth slightly open, fingers working rapidly. He turned back to the window and pulled himself to his full five foot five, tension jacking up his shoulders to his hairy ears. Steve had a problem with women or, rather, women he couldn’t bully. He would probably have been more comfortable living in Saudi Arabia, except for not being a prince and therefore unable to circumvent the ban on alcohol.
‘Whoever moves in number nine’d better be more normal.’
Truth to tell, no-one who moved into number nine, the end-terrace on the other side of his mid-terrace house, stood much chance of Steve liking them, what with the council turning down his application to do a swap.

Number Eight, Ruby’s house. New neighbour: Day Two
Ruby’s father Steve believed the rest of the world existed to make his life difficult. Had to be up early because of a hospital appointment for Yvonne. Women’s stuff. Went in the van. Couldn’t get the Astra out because half a motorbike was in the way.
‘Bleedin’ kids, blockin’ me in. Where’s Cashus? Where’s Tisan?
Yvonne was listening to Showaddywaddy on her MP3, her stare fixed on the ground. She zipped up her hoody and got in the passenger seat of the van, anticipating the stirrups and the cold metal spectrum. Leaving the safety of the house filled her with anxiety.

Steve arrived back from the hospital with Yvonne to find that the stuck up cow next door had parked her posh car outside number seven. Number seven was her house, true, and he hadn’t met his next door neighbour yet. But she was obviously a stuck up cow for having a newer car than his and parking in his favourite spot. His fury was boundless.

Number Seven
With the phone at her ear, Alison prepared the bedroom for their first night in their new home. She didn’t allow Granny into her head, being able to imagine the conversation word for word. Granny would call Clark an untrustworthy, two-timing shyster, Alison would defend him, Granny would say they could have written the Ten Commandments about him and Alison would fall back on being forty two and Clark being her best hope of fathering her baby. At this point, Granny refused to be shut out.

Granny Lalla: Ask me you’re better off having a bundle with that clapped out old carpet man. (Currently steaming the carpets)

Despite Alison’s realistic approach to their relationship, Clark’s many unscheduled absences often stirred her imagination to alarming scenarios, such as his being horribly mangled in a train crash or knifed on a secret mission in a trans-gender brothel, deep in Soho or, given the current climate, his arrest for seducing an underage beauty many years ago. These fictions were sometimes darkly amusing but more often unsettling. As she pulled the bedcover straight there was another hammering at the front door, this time so urgent that she dropped her mobile and fled downstairs, propelled by dread. Walter Arrowsmith poked his head out of the living room as she passed.

‘Spotted what it is, missus. Dog urine. Unmistakable.’

At the front door was an angry, short, middle-aged man dressed in jeans, a singlet and a baseball cap.

‘You parked in my parking place! Mine! Come ’ere, think yer own the road!’

‘Who are you?’

‘Next door. Twenty-three years. Always parked there.’

Alison glanced past her fuming neighbour. ‘Erm – I’ve parked outside my house, not yours.’
This passed as though she hadn’t spoken.

The argument became circular. A warning bell rang in Alison’s head and she was about to apply her superior power of persuasion when a taxi drew up. Clark! Carrying a profusion of gerberas, sunflowers and asters – all her favourites – he strode up the garden path past the fuming pint-sized neighbour and lifted her off her feet.

‘Mah wee darlin’! Good to be home!’
The neighbour retrieved the fallen bouquet and held it uncomfortably.‘’Ere – yer dropped yer flowers.’
Clark turned on his best bloke-bonding act. ‘Sorry, pal. Thanksalot. Ma first day in ma new home. Clark MacArne – and you’re…?’
‘Steve. Live next door.’
‘Real privilege to meet you, Steve. New neighbour, new friend!’ Clark held out his hand.
Steve, initially hesitant, launched into a strange ritual of punching knuckles and clasping palms at forty-five degrees. All dead serious. Steve, the pudgy, fifty-something adolescent. After which he restarted his harangue about the BMW being parked in his space.
Clark mentioned the motorcycle parts blocking their drive and Steve smirked with pride at the opportunity to prove that there had, at one time, been lead in his pencil –
‘O them. My twin boys, Cashus and Tisan, they’ll get it sorted for you, Mark.’
– then swaggered down the path, ignoring Alison.
(All characters are the work of the author’s imagination and any coincidence to persons living or dead is coincidental.)
This is how I see Steve (apologies to whoever posted this on FB)

Steve Shackley?

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JIGSAW ISLAND – new review on Goodreads

This is a warm and delightful read. I really enjoyed it. Characters and relationships are brought to life with skilfully written and convincing dialogue. The relationships are believable and very relatable. All in all, it was an engrossing plot, well told, satisfying and thought-provoking.

Thank you, Linda, reviews are so important
See Get the Books! (above) for book sales of JIGSAW ISLAND and TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS

Terrible with Raisins and Jigsaw Island

Posted in Contemporary Women's Fiction, Fiction, Greek Islands, Humour, Leros, Life on the edge, new writing, Review, reviewers, Single mother, Single mothers, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For those of you who remember calypso…

Shopping calypso, shopping calypso, hear all about it – yakka-yak-yak
Morrisons Sainsburys Aldi and Tesco – giving out the discounts and getting it back
Well we had a happy ‘sperience in Teignmouth town
Never thought our groc’ry store would let us down
But on a day we least expect our Waitrose close its doors
An’ ‘spected us to stand up an give it big applause

Head in your botty, way up your rectum, John Lewis Partners – kacky kack kack
Leave us with Lidl, what you expect? Them pay staff half the wages and give the rest the sack
Now we have to book deliveries and wait a month in line
Or travel into Exeter on A-three-seven-nine
So when we got the energy we make the trip at last
And spend a bloody fortune ‘cos we’re desperate for class

OK – now I have your attention: New novel JIGSAW ISLAND HERE

Artwork by Lynne McVernon / Digital render Martyn Stead

Posted in Contemporary Women's Fiction, Fiction, Greek Islands, Humour, Leros, Life on the edge, new writing, Personal, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Non-parent writing about parenting issues – where have I gone right?

Having ducked out of the whole breeding issue, I stand as an observer of friends, family, colleagues – and partner – who have all trodden that uneven path. I’ve been lassoed in from time to time, as a totally unprepared stepmother, and as a godparent. Being without a god of my own, I declined the ‘god’ bit, but am still fond of the kids and have become close to other children of friends. So why have I featured motherhood so strongly in my writing, both close and dysfunctional? Maybe exploring it intellectually? Apparently it works, though, readers are convinced by it. An example from TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS – Clair and 17 year old daughter, Jess visit a Symi beach by taxi boat. Any comments?:

Symi harbour

‘We’ll have been here a whole week by this evening.’
We were having breakfast on the terrace – nonchalant, now, about the view. Jess continued, contemplative.
‘You know, it’s really odd about holidays. You’re having a good time and you think ‘I want it always to be this moment’. And you try to hang onto it but it goes racing away and you suddenly find yourself in another moment on a wet day in October remembering the moment you were trying to hang onto. Except we’re here, now, and it’s holiday and it’s wonderful!’
She wiped a dribble of Symi honey from her chin and squinted out across the harbour.
‘Shall we go somewhere else today? Oh – d’you mind if I go for a drink with Nikos tonight?’
The last was tacked on so casually it was difficult to object. I wondered how long the assignation had been on her agenda. They met at the supermarket while I was talking to Fraser on Monday – before we went to Nimborio! Sly little… At least the arch manipulator was being deferential. I OK’d it.
As we waited for the next Nanou boat I squinted around the harbour for Richard’s white hair. Or Mandy’s blonde. Failed on both. When the boat arrived we headed for the prow to avoid the exhaust of the engine and the tobacco fumes of the two-man crew. Jess hissed in my ear.
‘Look – there’s that woman with the purple face, you know, the one who was so arsey on the boat coming back from Sesklia. Huh – Arsey Purple!’
I glanced round instantly catching the woman’s narrow eye. She stood with a little man who looked spookily like Charles Hawtrey. I pointed him out to Jess.
‘Who’s Charles Hawtrey?’
On the boat, we played a ‘Who would we least like to meet here?’ game. Number of points dependent on level of undesirability. My sort of partner, Howard was Jess’s opening gambit, for which she claimed a thousand points. I vetoed it as too predictable. After a tussle over rules Jess conceded, provided that her Granny Connie and step-grandfather, Joe, were also excluded. Play recommenced with Brenda next door at home in Aborigine Road, for fifty points. And so it continued with teachers, ex-employers, sometime friends and foes. I hurled in Jess’s contemporary, Sharn (sic) Fellowes, for twenty-five points. Sharn had dressed like a hooker since age nine and spoke to her elders as though they were dung beetles.
‘But Sharn’s a good laugh!’
I wouldn’t budge. Counter attacking, Jess threw in Harry Whelkin, self-appointed convener of Aborigine Road Neighbourhood Watch and right-wing bigot. I had to admit it was an excellent call, boosting her score to three hundred.
‘So why do you suck up to him, Mum?’
‘I don’t. I’ve been to a couple of meetings because we have been broken into twice.’
‘So why did you go to his barbecue? You said it would be like a white supercilious convention.’
‘White supremacist. I couldn’t think what else to do with Howard.’
Oh tits. Played right into her hands. Jess looked at me solemnly.
‘Are you that lonely, Mum? That you have to be with him?’
‘No, I’m not lonely, darling. It’s like that old song, ‘If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with’. Except there’s no one I love that I can’t be with. But I may as well be with someone when it suits. So – Howard.’
‘I so don’t understand you!’
She could have asked now if I had loved her father. It perplexed me that she’d never wanted to know about him. In her position I’d have been eaten up with curiosity. Maybe she was waiting for me to say. Or maybe she was intuitive. Or perhaps she realised that his role wasn’t important – well, not important to our relationship. It was all getting too serious. I played an ace.
‘Rita Whelkin!’
Jess was caught off guard but delighted.
‘Oh yes – no! Bleeurrrghhh! Vomit, vomit! Ten million trillion points – and a zillion for her wig and her dog!’
‘I win, then?’
‘I’m a slaughtered daughter! Look – my guts are splattered all over the boat and my bum hole’s landed on Arsey Purple!’
At Nanou Jess went straight to the taverna and ferried two beers back to the shade of our parasol.
‘Here’s to everyone we don’t want here! Long may they be somewhere else!’


Next novel JIGSAW ISLAND – eBook HERE

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