Monday, 5 December 2011

Sold out! The new collection from The Cwrtnewydd Scribblers

I should have blogged about this weeks ago but have been too under the weather to think straight.

A week or so ago The Cwrtnewydd Scribblers 2011 collection of short stories, poems and memoirs was published. A Way With Words is our third anthology and this time we are excited to say it contains the top three winning entries in our Summer sun, Summer fun short story competition. This was such a success and such fun to do that we are holding another competition in 2012. Details on how to enter can be found inside A Way With Words and will also be published on the website very soon. Remember that 50 pence from every copy sold will be donated to Wales Air Ambulance, an invaluable service to people who live in rural areas, as we do.

The Cwrtnewydd Scribblers are a group of women from the tiny rural hamlet Cwrtnewydd in West Wales. Every part of the publishing process (bar the actual printing) is undertaken by us, from writing to designing the cover. We launched this third collection, A Way With Words, at Lampeter University's Christmas fair last Saturday and were all delighted when the first print run SOLD OUT by the end of the day. A second print run will be available soon.

For more information on how to get your copy of A Way With Words or for further information about authors, Brenda Old, Iris Lee, Rachael Thomas, Judith Arnopp, Mary Middleton, Sue Moules and Margaret Williams please visit our webpage:

Friday, 18 November 2011

Review of The Bones of Avalon - Phil Rickman

I had never heard of Phil Rickman before I stumbled, quite accidentally, upon this book. As a writer and historian myself, I am a harsh critic and have grown weary of predictable, run of the mill historical novels. Most are unconvincing both in characterisation and plot and when I picked up The Bones of Avalon I did not expect it to be any different. But I was wrong; Phil had me at the first line.

The Bones of Avalon is set in the 1560’s; a time of religious uncertainty, Popish plot and counterplot. The people walk in fear, trusting no-one in an England still reeling from the heretical burnings and hangings of Mary Tudor’s Catholic reign. Now, she is dead and another Tudor takes the throne. Another queen, the bastard daughter of Anne Boleyn – Elizabeth.

Haunted by her mother’s death, uncertain if she will succeed or fail, the young Elizabeth allows herself to trust few men. Two of whom are Robert Dudley – mistrusted by the council, a wild card adventurer and rumoured to be the queen’s lover; and her consultant and astrologer, Dr Dee, a mild mannered scholar and dreamer.

They are sent to Glastonbury to discover the missing bones of King Arthur, lost during the dissolution in Henry VIII’s reign, so that Elizabeth might fulfil a prophecy. Without its abbey Glastonbury is desolate, the town decaying and as soon as Dudley and Dr Dee set foot there, mystery and superstition unfolds.

By the time I reached the end of the first chapter I knew I was in good hands. Mr Rickman’s first person narrative is authentic enough to make me forget I was actually reading. His characters are well-drawn properly thought out. The fumbling investigative powers of Dr Dee endears him to the reader and the primitive, wary people of Glastonbury instil the plot with ambiguity. It was delightfully refreshing to find Robert Dudley illustrated, not as a broad shouldered, devil-may-care, wife killing braggart, but as an ordinary man, torn, confused, afflicted with sickness and, throughout it all, a stalwart friend to Dr Dee and loyal to his queen.

The author’s knowledge of the period is indisputable, his understanding of 16th century uncertainty is flawless but, for me, the best thing about this book has to be the atmosphere.

I am not a believer in the supernatural but Mr Rickman had me doubting my own sound good sense. He gave me goose bumps such as I have not experienced since childhood. An undercurrent of human evil runs through this book, illustrating mankind’s capacity to destroy that which they don’t understand as an evil far stronger than the supernatural. Although the author never infers that supernatural power truly exists, The Bones of Avalon is unsettling; it has you looking over your shoulder. It is a book to read with the doors and windows locked.

Phil Rickman has written an intelligent book. Some may find the length off putting, it certainly isn’t for lightweight readers but, if you have the ability to let go of disbelief and embrace the mindset of the late 16th century, then you will love it as much as I. A whopping five stars – brilliant.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Forest Dwellers - Book Giveaway

Hello Everyone,

Thank you for visiting my blog. I am very happy to say that I finally have my author copies of The Forest Dwellers: ISBN:978-10908603-63-0 and it will be available at Amazon and other leading booksellers very soon. It has been a long and painful journey to get this book into print, writing it was the easy bit. As most of you know there has been set back after set back. To celebrate I thought I would hold a little competition with a free signed copy for the lucky winner.

To Enter just leave a comment (you may have to join to comment) on which side you would have fought on at Hastings and why. A friend and I will decide which comment is the most original and announce the winner both here and on Facebook on the 15th November 2011.

The Forest Dwellers is the story of a family who, several years after the conquest, are evicted from their home to make way for King William's hunting ground. Life is hard. The Norman interlopers are hated. When Leo sees a trio of Norman's molesting a forest girl, he stops the attack in teh only he can ...violently. His action triggers a chain of events that will end only with the death of a king.

The Forest Dwellers is a story of oppression, sexual manipulation and vengeance. Here is a little something from the first few pages:

We sank into the undergrowth. Leofric raised his hand and beckoned me forward. Fear scuttled up my neck as the scream ripped the silence again. We waited, listening, the pounding loud beneath my ribs.

Beneath the canopy of the trees I could see nothing. Leo cocked his head to one side, mentally blocking out the sound of the surging river. He ignored the natural noises of the wood and set his sights upon larger prey. The cry came again, echoing and terrible, sending a shrim of fear through my body. This time I recognised the sound as human, and female.

Leofric fitted an arrow into his bow. We trod stealthily forward. A twig snapped beneath my feet. Cursing my clumsiness, we moved on. The path took us downhill, Leo had scented his quarry. I knew we were close.

He drew aside a tangle of undergrowth and we peered into the clearing. We saw three men, strangers. One solidly built, the others his bondsmen. A girl cowered before them. It was her cries that had penetrated the quiet.

They grabbed her and, like an animal in a snare, she writhed in her attackers grip, her limbs pale against the woodland floor. One of them struggled to hold her legs but she broke free. She kicked him, hard, on the mouth. Spitting out a tooth, he put up a hand, bringing it away bloody. His accomplice pinioned her arms above her head. Their leader took the hem of her tunic. We heard it rip and saw it tossed aside. The other man caught and held her again. His superior, dropping his breeches about his knees, prepared to take his pleasure. It was the first time I had seen a naked woman.

The girl thrashed and screamed. I glimpsed a gaping mouth and white-blonde hair. Leo had them marked. A thin sound, swift and true, hushed through the clearing. The un-breeched man clutched his chest and fell to the ground, spouting blood.

They let her loose, backing off, hands raised as she scrambled away. Spreading their arms they asked silently for mercy. Leo drew his bow. One man took his chance and turned to flee. His accomplice fell with Leofric’s arrow through his throat.

Leo stood up, nocked another and moved into the clearing. He released it. It ripped into the back of the fleeing man. I glimpsed the girl crouched in the bushes. Heard her breath rasping. Leo kicked her tunic toward me. ‘Give her the clothes.’

I thrust the garment to her. A hand emerged from the bush. I saw fair hair strewn across a thin, naked shoulder.

A few moments later she stood before us, pulling down her torn garments. She was ready to flee, not trusting us. Her eyes darted from Leo to myself as I absorbed every extraordinary inch of her.

Unlike other forest dwellers, her hair was as white as a gull’s back. And her eyes, that seemed to burn in her narrow face, were as bright as the sky. She was filthy and about fifteen summers, a couple of years older than me, although she seemed more. The shadow of a bruise marred her forehead. Leofric put down his bow. ‘Come, we will lead you home.’

We trailed after Leo, unspeaking. I noticed her placing her grimy feet in the prints left by my brother’s and I did likewise. Half hour or so later we reached the lonely glade where her father lived. Smoke sulked from three cone shaped piles of turf and a few scrawny hens scratched in the dirt before a tumble down shack. Purkiss and his forebears had lived here for generations burning charcoal in the forest. It was an ancient craft and the life a lonely one. They kept to the deep woods, not mixing with the other forest dwellers. Leo jerked his head.

‘Send Purkiss out.’ She ran toward the hovel without saying goodbye. I hoped she would come out again. Leo and I waited until, at last, the door creaked open and a small, twisted man emerged. He nodded, blinking in the sun and grimacing in a horrible approximation of a smile. Leofric spat onto the ground.

‘Tisn’t safe for a girl to be out alone, Purkiss. The wood is full of vermin. In future, keep her close.’

Purkiss nodded and pulled his forelock.

‘Aye, Master Leo, aye, that I will and thank ye sir, thank ye for bringin’ her safe back.’

Without further words, Leo and I trod the forest path homeward.

Ælf’s Story

Ytene – 1078

Home’ was a ramshackle holding. In winter the rain seeped through the thatch and quick, brown mice feasted among the floor rushes. In my father’s day we had been prosperous. Not rich but comfortable. He sat on the council and fought for the king. Not the bastard that rules over us now, but King Harold that led us well until he was slain at Senlache Ridge.

My family call me Ælf and at the time my tale began I lived in Ytene with my brothers. My mother had perished giving life to me and I do not remember her. As the last born, I was at the mercy of my brothers’ goodwill. They treated me fairly, teaching me how to hunt and move soundlessly through the wood. They praised me when I excelled and thrashed me when I failed. It was a good system for I learned fast. I could shoot as well as Edric and he was two years my senior. My legs were sturdy and I could run like a hound and creep like mist through the forest.

In the year that I was born our father marched off to fight for King Harold. My brothers say he was a brave fighting man until he returned with the side of his head cleaved open like a turnip. On the day he finally awoke he was not even half a man and for three years they spooned gruel between his lips and cleaned his soiled linen. On the morning they found him stiff in his bed, with his favourite hound asleep across his chest, it was a burden lifted.

Nowadays, life for us is all hardship and even my brothers can barely recall the merriment of the days when my mother was alive. At least they have those golden memories. I only remember harshness, the hunger in my belly and chilblains gnawing my toes.

Life altered for us after the conqueror came, he coveted our forest for himself. He didn’t care that our families had dwelt there since before the Saxons took the land from the Celts. He saw only a place to chase deer and hunt the wild boar. And so, our fences were torn down, leaving our crops unprotected. Our mastiff’s claws and fangs were drawn so that they would not harm the king’s stags. Where once our family had eaten well on small game, hunted in our own copse, we were afterward reduced to poaching on our own land while the king and his countrymen feasted high on the hog in their sumptuous castles.

Even the berries and acorns belonged to the king now and we were forbidden them. Instead we watched them moulder on the bush. We could no longer cut turf or collect wood for our fires. The king cared only for the protection of the venison and vert. Everyone that dwelt within the forest, and without for that matter, hated the Norman invaders. The forest dwellers were miserable…and they were cold. We spat on the name of King William.

After the shooting in the wood we kept our heads low and, when we heard that the Norman’s were questioning the people of Broceste, we took no action. We had to worry for ourselves. The hardship of our neighbours was their own affair. Deep in the forest, we stayed close to our dwelling. Leofric and Guthlac poached our supper while, out on the heath, Edric and Oswulf dug peat for our sulky hearth. We kept the fire small so that the smoke would not betray our crime. I got on with my chores at the holding as if nothing had happened but the thud of Leo’s arrow in Norman flesh remained with me. I prayed that God would understand.

To enter please tell me which side you would have joined at Hastings and why. The most original, well thought out answer will be chosen. You can also join The Forest Dwellers Face Book Page.!/pages/The-Forest-Dwellers-by-Judith-Arnopp/124828370880823

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Book Review of The Girl in the Box by Sheila Dalton

When psychoanalyst Jerry Simpson rescues a young girl from an abusive existence and takes her home with him to Canada it soon becomes apparent that the girl is suffering from more than trauma. She is mute, locked in an autistic world that Jerry and his colleagues find impossible to infiltrate. They quickly stop seeing her as a fascinating case study and fall beneath the spell of her child like innocence. But when Inez is found leaning over Jerry Simpson’s dead body and is accused of his murder, Jerry’s partner, Caitlin, is motivated to discover not who killed him but why he was killed. Caitlin is forced to confront and overcome uncomfortable suspicion, damaged trust and inner emotional conflict to penetrate Inez’ psyche to discover why her lover died.

When I began to read this book I had no idea what to expect. It is not my genre of choice and I am unfamiliar with both the setting and the psychological problems that Inez suffers. As a consequence it was a real adventure for me; a journey into a world that I soon found totally absorbing and it was immediately apparent that I was in very capable hands.

The Girl in the Box is an intelligent read. I don’t usually enjoy flashbacks but here they serve to illustrate the perplexed state of Caitlin’s mind. Sheila Dalton’s characters are fascinatingly complex and interact so naturally that you forget you are reading a book at all. The narrative is beautiful, her descriptions delicately evocative yet she never shies away from the truth of any situation. The violence is harsh, the love making sensuous and at times the narrative is uncompromising but what makes it wonderful for me is the way Sheila reveals Caitlin and Inez’s inner trauma. Their pain is understated, the scenes lightly but powerfully written providing total credibility and heightening the stunning impact of the final chapters.

I highly recommend this book whether you enjoy psychological drama or not. The characters linger long after the turn of the final page. Like people that you have met once and may never meet again, you worry about them and wonder how they are. This is not a book that you will want to give away, put it on your book shelf and read it again and again.

Friday, 14 October 2011

The Norman Invasion and the release of The Forest Dwellers

Today, the 14th October, is the anniversary of The Battle of Hastings, one of the most pivotal moments in British history. Like the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, it was the end of an era, a battle that forced Britain along a new path and forged new allegiances. If the events of those two battles could be altered, England and those living in it would be very different today.

Prior to the Battle of Hastings the country’s political influence was Scandinavia. Harold himself was half Danish and, although the Normans stemmed from the same Scandinavian branch, their outlook and ideas were very different.

With the Normans came new methods of kingship and rule, new traditions and social conduct. Most of the Saxons that survived the battle were either forced into hiding or to assume subservient roles. Despite recent historical revisionist theories the impact of the invasion must have been severe. The Saxons maintained a lengthy resistance against Norman rule, burning towns, sacking cathedrals and conducting a guerilla style campaign against William and his ilk. The Norman’s name for these people was ‘silvatici’ or forest dwellers.

Within the next few weeks my second novel, The Forest Dwellers will be published. It is set in the land of Ytene, which today is better known as The New Forest. It is so named because when William the Conqueror saw its potential he immediately claimed it for the crown, expanding Cnut’s existing hunting grounds and dispossessing thousands of people who had previously made their living beneath the rich canopy of woodland and expanse of heath. It is the imagined resentment of these people that inspired my novel.

Indeed, resentment for the invaders was widely recorded and although I could not find any
contemporary poetry from the Hampshire area I did find some from St David’s in
South Wales.
The Poet, Rhigyfarch (d. 1099), was the son of Bishop Sulien of St. David's.
The poem is rich with sorrow and a fierce resentment at the enforced changes the Normans
brought to the British way of life. I imagine feelings would have been similar in the Royal Forest.
Sorry it is a little long but poets of the day were notoriously long winded; please feel free to skip it.
From "The Welsh-Latin Poetry of Sulien's Family" _Studia Celtica_8,
1973, trans. by Michael Lapidge, pp. 89-93.
"Alas!  that the present time led us into this state of things,
where a cruel power threatens to drive away by its authority
those who are duly reading this poem.
Why have the blind fates not let us die?
Why does the earth not consume us, nor the sea swallow us?
Now an unheard-of rumour comes to our ears:
it says that free necks are subjected to the yoke.
Nothing is of any use to me now, but the power of giving:
neither the law, nor learning, nor great fame,
nor the deep-resounding glory of nobility,
not honour formerly held, not riches, not wise teaching, not deeds nor
not reverence for God, not old age;
none of these things retains its station, nor any power.
Now the labours of earlier days lie despised by the word,
heart and work of the Normans.
For they increase our taxes and burn our properties.
One vile Norman intimidates one hundred natives with his command,
and terrifies them with his look.
Alas the fall of the former state, alas the profound grief:
The people become debased, naked of limb;
each man ploughs the earth,
for with curved foot the nobleman as well as the poor man
turns over the soil.
Now the pomp of the mighty falls from the heights;
and each company is sad, the court is sad:
there are continual sorrows and fears.
Families do not now take delight in offspring;
the heir does not hope for paternal estates;
the rich man does not aspire to accumulate flocks.
No youth takes delight in pleasantries,
there is no pleasure in hearing the poems of poets.
But instead the broken spirit falls,
weighed down by lethargy, and immersed in shadows,
does not know that it is day.
Why shall I enumerate more, or rehearse this further?
Our limbs are cut off, we are lacerated,
our necks condemned to death, and chains are put on our arms.
The honest man's hand is branded by burning metals.
A woman now lacks her nose, a man his genitals.
More dire losses of our faculties follow,
And prison shuts us in for many years.
Sefdom is brought to the neck with a meathook,
and learns that nothing can be had at will.
Alas the heap of crimes of this evil race,
alas the diseased hearts of this sinful race!
Alas the full weight of these crimes which have prevented
the raising of arms against this enemy by its very weight!
Are you, British people, at enmity with God?
You, Wales, do not carry the quiver of arrows
on your shoulder, nor stretch the bow with tight bow-string,
nor gird your loins with broadsword,
nor raise the shield on your left shoulder.
Nor does the lance vibrate in the open fist.
Devoid of armament you waste away exhausted.
O unhappy and lamentable fate:
slothful in seeking peace, slothful in taking up arms.
O Wales, you are afflicted and dying,
you are quivering with fear, you collapse, alas,
miserable with your sad armament.
Nothing is joyful now, nothing pleasant.
Your beard droops, your eye is sad.
An alien crowd speaks of you as hateful.
See how ignominy fills the open face with disgrace.
Alas, the evil plague:  for the diseased mind depicts its condition in
the flesh,
just as the healthy mind shows its joys to the field.
O deserted by God, O transient glory!  What is now left for you,
Why do you rehearse these things?
It would be appropriate to weep excessively,
to weep throughout the countryside:
let every field lament, let it weep, I say.
Why would you cease watering the fields with your tears?
Why would you cease filling the stars with your lament?
Patriotism and the hope of self-rule flee;
liberty and self-will perish.
Seek now your everlasting home,
whose never-fading flowers, the lilies,
burgeon perpetually in golden fields.
Now, now, you reluctant ones, look upon heaven's heights,
which first you hated, inspired by Hades.
These things I, Rhigyfarch, sadly lament;
and, weeping over the losses of a miserable people,
I have carefully tried to depict the penalties for sins.
But, Omnipotent Father, have mercy on me who weeps over such things,
confined among them:  the asperities of life
shall not shatter me, and the sweetness
of this fragile existence shall not elevate my spirit--
let it not be either the left or the right way,
but a royal way between these two,
whereby I might ascend to the heavenly kingdom.

The local population resented the Norman rule enough to believe that the death of his sons, Richard and William Rufus, in the forest was divine justice.

As I delved further into the period I became absorbed into the age-old mystery of ‘who killed William Rufus’. Much ink has been wasted on speculation but it is undeniable that the truth died with the king in August 1100.

For many years it was believed that Walter Tyrell was responsible, and that belief has become legend. Historians have reconstructed the hunting scene, investigated the main protagonists and pieced together a patchwork of evidence so faded with age as to be indecipherable.

Today, most historians agree that the king’s brother, shortly to become King Henry I and the man to benefit most from the king’s death, was the probable person behind the deed and I tend to agree. It is more than probable that whoever fired the arrow was merely a paid assassin. That is not to say I believe it was Tyrell for not only did he not benefit personally from the killing but the denial that he upheld until his death was supported by Abbot Suger who reported in his Life of Louis VI that he ‘had often heard Tirel, at a time when he had nothing to hope or fear, affirm on the solemnest oath that on the fateful day he neither went into that part of the wood where the king was nor even caught sight of him in the wood[1]’.

The Anglo Saxon chronicle state that ‘The King was shot by one of his men.’ Geoffrey Gaimer stated, ‘We do not know who shot the king.’ And Gerald of Wales wrote, ‘The King was shot by Ranulf of Aquis.’ Clearly it was as much a mystery at the time as it is now, possibly a mystery encouraged by the new monarch and it will unfortunately have to remain so. However, a mystery does provide splendid scope for the imagination.

The Forest Dwellers is the story of Alys and Aelf, forest dwellers who's lives are blown apart by the arrival of the Normans. Armed with very different weapons the narrative follows their bitter fight for survival from the early days of conquest to the death in the forest of William Rufus. I stress that The Forest Dwellers is a work of fiction and hope my readers will enjoy discovering the world of the forest dwellers as much as I enjoyed creating it. I will update details of the publication date as soon as I have them.

The Forest Dwellers is a fiction of oppression, sexual manipulation and vengeance.

[1] Abbot Suger, Vie de Louis VI le Gros, edited and translated by H. Waquet, (Paris, 1929,1964), p.12

Friday, 9 September 2011

Untying the Knot by Linda Gillard A Review by Judith Arnopp

I was drawn to this book via a posting on Linda Gillard’s Facebook page. I downloaded the free sample first and began to read it while I ate my toast at lunchtime. By the time my coffee was cold I was so into the story that I downloaded the rest straight away.

Initially, I found the structure a bit distracting but once I got the hang of it and the story had its claws into me, I didn’t give it another thought. The whole thing could do with a bit of formatting as some parts of the narrative, the differing points of view etc. run into each other but I think that is down to the upload to kindle, I had similar problems uploading my own novels.

But, all that aside, I couldn’t put Untying the Knot down. (Click on the link to find it on Amazon) I spent two days with my nose pressed to my pc screen (note to self: must get a Kindle a.s.a.p).

All the characters are totally convincing, no cliches, no cardboard people. Jessie, Emily, Magnus and Fay are very human and their troubles seem so insurmountable that I routed for them from start to finish. Apart from Nina whom I disliked intensely although the poor girl did nothing wrong, I was just jealous on Fay’s behalf.

They are the sort of people you pass everyday on the street. Ordinary enough looking on the surface but a turmoil of emotion beneath.

This book triggered all my emotions, it made me angry, made me sad, made me remember the hopelessness of lost love, the despair of divorce and the sickening hope and passion of reconciliation. When things really take off at the engagement party you will not be able to turn the pages fast enough so make sure you have enough time to really enjoy it.

If you like first-rate writing, a strong plot, competent editing and a marvellous ending, this one is for you. The only reason I have only given it four stars is for the formatting and structure issues I noted earlier but take no notice, they are easily remedied …it is well worth a read.

I’m off to search for Linda’s other work now and when I have found them I will lock all my doors and take the phone off the hook until I’ve finished.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Nobody said it was easy!

After the disappointments of the last year I feel things are really taking off again. I may not ever make a fortune from writing by self publishing but to be perfectly honest, that isnt really why I write. Of course, I'd not turn down fame and fortune if it tapped on my door but I don't see the point of knocking myself out to be noticed if the journey doesn't make me happy.

It's the little things that mean the most not massive royalty cheques. I had an email from a lady in Canada this morning saying how much she had enjoyed Peaceweaver and was unable to put it down. She also wanted to know when my next novel would be out. That is what makes it worthwhile for me, the shiver of satisfied pleasure that positive comments like that provide. If a week spent reading my book made her happy then it was worth every second of the anxiety I suffered in writing and producing it. So, Thank you, dear lady from Canada, feedback from readers is invaluable.

In the last few weeks I have managed to conquer the mysteries of Kindle and am at last able to offer Peaceweaver for download as an e-book. I have a kindle app on my pc now and must say the luxury of accessing a book in 60 seconds is both marvelous and dangerous. I could spend a fortune in a very short time! One little click and there it is in front of me, taking up no shelf space at all! I have already bought and reviewed many of my fellow writer friends books and will continue to do so now that it has become so easy.

Like many other people, I was not in support of e-books but I have definitely been converted. I don't think there is much danger of them making hard copies obselete. There is alot more to a book than the story, after all. I love the smell and the feel and the sensuous pleasure of a new experience at the turn of each page. And, just think of all the unsold books that are pulped every year, that is an extraordinary waste of the Earth's resources. E-books will help with that problem, I'm sure. I will be asking Father Christmas for a Kindle this year and, if I like an e-book enough to want the hard copy, I will buy that as well. An excellent plan.

So, I hope you manage to download Peaceweaver with less problems than I encountered uploading it! A new hard copy edition is due for publication very soon with a nice glossy cover and a reformatted interior. And, to my great delight, The Forest Dweller's will also be available in hard copy - an event that has taken much longer to come about than it should have. The e-book will follow, all being well.

Have a wonderful day.

Friday, 26 August 2011

The Chainmakers by Helen Spring - A Review by Judith Arnopp

If you want to be totally absorbed into the past, experience the joys, sorrows and hardships of the late 19th - early 20th century then this is the book for you. I bought the kindle edition on Thursday lunchtime and completely lost the next 24 hours while I read it.
The Chainmakers is an experience rather than just a 'read', you follow Anna on her life journey, from childhood, through the pangs of first love, through marriage and childbirth to late middle age. Her story takes you across the Atlantic from England to New York and shows you the difficulties that ordinary, law abiding people suffered, both in the manufacturing towns of the UK and under prohibition and mob law in the U.S.A.
Ms Spring's competent narrative sweeps the reader effortlessly from the filth of the 19th century factory floor to the elegant drawing rooms of New York. Her characters sing, the settings are masterfully drawn and the plot intriging. I can not imagine why this is not on the best seller list. Very highly recommended.

Monday, 22 August 2011

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber : A Review by Judith Arnopp

Don’t read this book if you are offended by disagreeable truths. It contains explicit, unpleasant sexual content and is not for the faint hearted. It is a stark view of Victorian London– a stark-naked view that is very different to the image that Victorian London wished to project. The author rips away the pretty drapes and shows us, not just the legs of the table but the filth that lies hidden beneath.
The narrator takes the reader by the hand and leads you through dark alleyways to the places where only the destitute or the criminal live. Here you become so involved in the lives of the people you meet that you will be implicit in the crimes witnessed.
This is not a pretty story of simpering Victorian girls who lift their petticoats for a penny; it is an honest, unflinching, often brutal perspective of the darker side of human nature. As others have said before me, Faber takes his reader to the places that Dickens and Wilkie Collins could only hint at.
Every character is superbly drawn, warts and all, twisted, tortured, selfish and very, uncomfortably human. You will meet rich punters and the poorest of working girls and they are so convincing that you might think you have met them somewhere before.
Sugar is not a stereotypical tart with a heart, she is an enigma, from her curious skin condition to her traumatised mind. One minute you will think she loves William, the next that she despises him and this keeps the reader hanging, on the edge of his seat, wondering what jaw dropping surprise she will reveal next.
Is she a champion of women or an anti-heroine? As a prostitute she is an object for the use of all men but she only really loses control of her own destiny when she ties herself to just one man – William Rackham; then her choices are taken out of her hands.
Sugar takes all her frustration and contempt for men and pours it into a hastily scrawled novel that is so overflowing with hatred, disgust and perversion that she knows she can never allow the world to see it, for they wouldn’t care to look.
Whether you want to or not, when reading this novel you will require all your senses. You will smell the shit, feel the cold; taste the hunger, hear the weeping of the destitute and scream with them, frustrated by the ignorance.
You will share the degradation that women like Sugar were subjected to and try as you might you will not be able to comprehend why so many prostitutes clung to their way of life. It is not possible for us to understand why they considered work in the factories to be so much worse. The choice was between a fast, gay life of sin and an early grave, or a life of drudgery and hunger that would end just as prematurely. For some women, things are not so different today.
Victorian London tried to conceal its darker nature beneath a façade of respectability just as Agnes Rackham’s delicate beauty conceals a voracious tumour that is eating away at her brain. Sugar’s sexual allure conceals a deep, twisting loathing for the male species and everyone else is hiding something, pretending to be what they are not. Just as the broad leafy streets of the rich are a veneer on the crumbling tenements of the poor, so do the human residents of nineteenth century Notting Hill project a decent Christian face as they button their expensive waistcoats very tightly over soiled undergarments.
It is not exaggerating to say that Mr Faber takes all this ugliness and wraps it in the most beautiful prose I have ever read, and I have read many books. This novel is one to keep. It rests easily among the greatest novels of all time and will, without doubt, come to be a classic. The Crimson Petal and the White is not just a story, it is something real and that is why it makes such uncomfortable reading.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Back in the Driver Seat

You’ve probably been wondering where I’ve been or maybe it's been so long you’ve forgotten all about me but, whichever camp you fall into, I am back ... for good.

For the past year my blogs have been sporadic to say the least and that is because I have had nothing much to say – and I am one of those people who aren’t given to idle gossip; small talk just isn’t my thing.

The followers of my blog may remember that about a year ago I acquired the services of an agent. BRILLIANT!! I thought, at last my career will take off big time but, for once, the oracle was wrong and it didn’t.

It is easy for an un-agented author to think that the services of an expert from the publishing world is the one thing that your career lacks. But this isn’t always so. It wasn’t long before I found I didn’t like it, nothing was happening, things were too slow. I wanted action. Patience isn't my thing either :)

There isn’t much point being a novelist if it doesn't make you happy. I am not in it for a big pay out (although of course that would be nice). I write because I have stories in my head that need to be heard. I’ve written since I was eight years old and I need to do something with it.

The first thing the agent suggested (suggested not demanded) was that I remove Peaceweaver from the shelves as a self-published tag might put off serious publishers. I did so because I thought she must know best; I placed all my eggs in her basket, so to speak.

Of course, without Peaceweaver I was left with nothing to market, nothing to blog about, nothing to peddle. So I sat at home, quickly completed the final edits of The Forest Dwellers and finished the first draft of The Song of Heledd.

Then I twiddled my thumbs, made a lot of phone calls, drank alot of coffee and watched enviously as my peers happily continued to produce and market their own excellent novels without recourse to expert help.

I began to write short stories and, as my poetry and shorts were not in the agent’s hands, had a few published. Things were a bit better but still things felt wrong somehow. It took me a while to realise I was no longer happy.

In the end it was my lovely old fella that pointed out what was wrong and suggested I terminate the agreement which, after much deliberation, I did!

I don’t know why the agent failed to sell my work, perhaps my novels are unmarketable, although my readers don’t seem to think so and I get emails every week asking when The Forest Dwellers will be published. I don’t think she fully understood the genre or where I was coming from. I felt she tried to twee my writing up, make it like other big name authors who shall remain nameless. ‘Write a Tudor novel,’ she suggested more than once but I don’t want to write Tudor novels.....

I’ve been agent free for a whole week now and already I feel so relieved, as if I’ve put down a bag of very heavy shopping. In that short time I have put the wheels in motion for a re-edition of Peaceweaver with a prettier cover and complete interior reformat. The Forest Dwellers should be issued at the same time with The Song of Heledd following shortly afterwards in (2012). Then I had better write some more.

It feels good to be in control of my own work again. My kids always accuse me of being a control freak and perhaps they are right. All I know for sure is that I’ve been reformatting, editing, looking at book cover designs and feel involved and a totally happy bunny again. And once the manuscripts are off to the publishers I will have a look and see how easy it is to get them onto Kindle.

So, it’s onwards and upwards! Watch this space!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Re-emerging from the Gloom

I know you haven't heard from me for a while and I'm not really sure why. I suppose I have been having one of those periods when you think you might as well jack it all in and get a proper job. After the exciting involvement with the Waterloo Collection anthology that I bored you all with last time, I was devastated to hear of the death of Proffessor Richard Holmes who was also involved with it. I never had the pleasure of meeting him in person but I loved him on screen, his passion for his subject was so close to the surface and infected everyone he met; he was a proper gentle man. One of the last things he did was to sign the author copies of the anthology and I shall keep mine close to my heart.

So, the news about Richard's passing took the shine from the pleasure of having three of my Waterloo stories included in his project - I like to think he might have read and enjoyed them. Since t hen I have been writing and writing, keeping my head down, not hearing anything from my agent, often wondering if it is really worth all the sweat and tears I shed over my work; when out of the blue, another publication appears.

I am getting quite a list now. I had forgotten I had submitted a few stories to Vintage Script; a magazine offering short historical stories and articles, so when I heard one of mine was included in the first issue, it picked me up no end. Vintage Script will fill a gap in the market for people like me, mad on history. I don't buy any magazine's apart from BBC's History, Myslexia and the Historical Review, oh and the Richard the Third Society Review because other magazine's dont seem to cater for me. I will buy and enjoy this one though and will be submitting more stories and articles to it too. So good luck to Vintage Script and thank you to Emma for selecting my story, you have providied the fillip I needed.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Waterloo Project

In June 1815 The Battle of Waterloo brought to an end almost twenty-three years of European conflict. Of the four battles that made up this campaign Waterloo is the most famous and has become iconic with the Anglo/French wars. It was Napoleon’s first personal defeat marking the end of his bid for power.

The battle took place just south of the town of Waterloo on the ridge of Mont St Jean, in and around three farms, Hougoumont, La Haye Sainte and Papelotte. It was a hard fought, bloody battle that resulted in massive casualties on both sides.

Hougoumont Farm was placed under the charge of Lieutenant-Colonel Macdonell. Wellington’s instructions being that he should "defend the post to the last extremity." Macdonell certainly followed this command and repelled the French assault for an exhausting nine hours.

During the maelstrom the main building was destroyed, as was the tower, cowshed, coach house and stables. Otherwise, the farm remains intact However, almost two hundred years of neglect have taken their toll and the buildings are now very much dilapidated. The walls of the great barn are bulging and despite recent attempts at repair, the farm is vulnerable to vandalism and the detrimental effects of the weather.

In recent years historians and conservationists have banded together to form The Hougoumont Project to raise funds for the farm’s restoration. Professor Richard Holmes is chairman of the project. He says ‘My own visits to Hougoumont left me increasingly worried about its condition, and a number of other visitors – from professional battlefield guides to enthusiastic amateurs – wrote, telephoned, or emailed to suggest that something should to be done as a matter of urgency. A small group of us met (fittingly enough in a Berkshire pub), and Project Hougoumont was formally launched in June 2008.’

The project intends to sympathetically restore the existing buildings, and develop the wider site providing educational facilities and enabling living history events to be held. The chapel has been restored and some of the breaches in the walls repaired but there still remains much to do. Professor Holmes goes on to say, “In my long experience of historical battlefields, few spots have the haunting appeal of the farm complex of Hougoumont on the field of Waterloo. In seeking to preserve this iconic spot we do not simply remember the British troops who held it. We also applaud the courage of the German infantry who fought for the wood in front of it, of the brave Frenchmen who came so close to taking it and turning the fortune of the day, and of the cavalry whose charges swirled up and down the slopes within sight of its ancient walls, now in such acute peril.’

Several fund raising schemes are being set up by The Hougoumont Project to coincide with the forthcoming bicentenary celebrations in 2015. One of these schemes is an anthology of short stories set in and around the battle.

This book, The Waterloo Collection – an anthology of short stories is available for pre-order on Amazon, priced £11.99 with proceeds going to this worthy cause. (Yes, some of mine are in it.) Professor Holmes, who has written the foreword, has kindly agreed to sign copies at Bookstop during the Tavistock Music and Arts Festival on April 23rd 2011. We hope to see you there.

Also available are some brilliant art prints by renowned military artists who are very generously donating 25% of sales to the Hougoumont Project. You can find details on the website

Monday, 14 March 2011

Short Story Competition

The Cwrtnewydd Scribblers writing group, of whom I am a proud member, have launched a short story competition.
It has been a long hard winter in the UK this year and summer still seems a long way off so, to bring the warm weather a little closer, the theme of the competition is to be Summer Sun, Summer Fun. Your story can be in the genre of your choice (but keep it clean please). The winner will receive £40, the second prize is £20 and the runner up will win £10. All winning entries will be offered inclusion in The Cwrtnewydd Scribblers’ Annual Anthology due to be published in time for Christmas.

For further details and rules of entry please see our website:

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Sultana: New release from Lisa Yarde

Lisa Yarde

A review by Judith Arnopp

Fatima is the granddaughter of the Sultan of Granada and as such has lived a life of luxury, safe from dangers, her future secure. But there are underlying political currents and intrigues that she knows nothing about.
When she is married off to the Sultan’s nephew, Faraj, a man governed by resentment and insecurity, neither party is pleased at the match. His determination to seek vengeance for the murder of his family and his struggle to regain his rightful inheritance results in bitter civil war. The marriage between Fatima and Faraj, two strong willed characters, could go either way and the novel tracks the progress of both their personal relationship and the war.


Thirteenth century Moorish Spain is a new world to me. At first I found the place and character names confusing but a short while into the story it all became clear.
Sultana is superbly written. Lisa Yarde lifts the reader from the ennui of the twenty-first century and thrusts them into the turmoil of medieval Spain. Each page is eagerly turned as she deftly details every aspect of Granadian life, the clothes, the food and the riches. Lisa penetrates the mind of Fatima to illustrate the unfolding war through her eyes and allow the reader to experience both her insecurity and her pain. The story moves through war, treason, murder and despair but, despite that, it remains a romance, a heavenly blend of sorrow and joy, just like life.
This book was a whole new experience for me. I know next to nothing about the days of the last Moorish dynasty but Lisa writes with the confidence that only thorough research can provide. Sultana is a worthy addition to any book shelf, this is one to keep.

Both paperback and kindle editions of Sultana are available on Amazon.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The return of the blogger

I am back, sort of. After spending Christmas under a thick blanket of snow, pudding and wrapping paper, I dug a way out and found that it was mid-January, my worst month. A dark, cold month, a month of misery, post Christmas fat and penury. It should be a time of new beginnings and optimism but it isn't and so I've been pretending I am not here. Although I hate to wish my life away, I just long for it to be February, when the promise of spring is more evident.

Things aren't all bad though. For Christmas I was given a wii fit plus and, after years of thinking up excuses not to go jogging or join a gym, I now have a method that is fun. I have used it everyday since December 27th, only gently as I am very unfit and don't want to do permanent damage. I have lost 9lbs so far, which is, for me, miraculous.
I'm following the Slimming World plan, at home on my own as there isnt a class close enough and my income won't stretch to joining online. The plan suits me as it is generous and caters brilliantly for vegetarians. And I do feel better already, more positive, confident, thinner, fitter even though there is still such a long way to go. I am trying to look no further than the next goal, half a stone at a time, for small steps make up a mile and all that.

As to work, well I am rewriting and editing The Forest Dwellers and not finding at all it easy. There are parts of it that I am reluctant to lose, small minutae that help explain the whole, and I am trying to figure out how to blend them in better rather than omit them altogether. I don't think I am alone in disliking the rewriting process, I miss the thrilling creative flood of the first draft, the interaction with the characters, and not knowing how it will all end.
Rewriting isnt art, I have become a mechanic retuning an engine and the real trouble is that I preferred the engine when it ran a little rough and used up a little too much fuel. I am fixing something I dont want fixed. I suppose its all part of becoming a professional but its rather like having given birth to a child and someone says its nose is all wrong and you feel you have to get it altered :)

The sun will help when it comes. I am indoors too much and miss the feel of the gentle spring breezes, the birds singing, the green aroma of growing grass. So, I look forward to the springtime, just a few weeks away, when everything will be right again. Until then I trudge doggedly on, rewriting my novel and reshaping my body. Belated New Year wishes everyone :)