Eva Jordan reviews… Where the Wild Winds Blow by the Whittlesey Wordsmiths

Eva Jordan reviews - Where the Wild Winds Blow - the Whittlesey Wordsmiths

Recently, a member of a local writing group approached me and asked me if I’d be interested in reviewing a book they had put together and published. Honoured, I said I’d love to.

Where the Wild Winds Blow is an eclectic mix of fact and fiction, featuring short stories, poems and memoirs contributed by the various members of the Whittlesey Wordsmiths. I have to say; I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I will admit I was pleasantly surprised. Informative, thought-provoking, and at times, enjoyably humorous, it was a real pleasure to read.

At just over 400 pages long it is quite a dense book, but for me, it is not a book that should be devoured all at once, but rather savoured, slowly. Neither does it need to be read sequentially, but rather picked up and flicked through until something piques your curiosity or catches your eye, be that poem, short story or one of the more factual pieces. There’s certainly a wide variety to choose from. I loved the black humour of Jan Cunningham’s somewhat morally bankrupt character in The Mitherers. Then there was Stephen Oliver’s curious tale of Peter Lewis, which recants the story of a modest, seemingly level headed man who lives in constant terror for his life thanks to the same monthly reoccurring nightmare.

Val Chapman’s Amos, concerning a 92-year-old chimney sweep that has won a national writing competition, was hilarious. Largely unimpressed with the pomp and flowing champagne at the award ceremony, Amos is far more concerned about how he can get his hands on a pint of Guinness. Some of the poems, which reflect the bleak beauty of the fens, are eloquent and evocative, while others are witty and amusing. Plus, if you’re looking to brush up on your local history of the fens there’s Philip’s Cumberland’s aptly titled, The Fens (very briefly), packed with lots of interesting facts including several notable historic individuals, like Samuel Pepys and Oliver Cromwell, and their links to the area.

Where the Wild Winds Blow is a veritable box of delights and makes for great reading. The writing is impressive, especially as, noted in the acknowledgements, many of the contributors started their writing projects later in life. A lovely anthology, it would make a thoughtful gift for someone with an interest in the fens or just the book lover in your life, and one I highly recommend.

You can find out more about the Whittlesey Wordsmiths here and buy a copy of the book here, and here.

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Eva Jordan in conversation with… Liza Perrat – The Story behind The Swooping Magpie

Eva Jordan in conversation with Liza Perrat - The Story behind The Swooping Magpie - Post Header

On my blog today, I’m very pleased to welcome the lovely Liza Perrat who has written a guest post about her current novel, The Swooping Magpie.

Hi Liza, it’s an honour to have you here today. I haven’t read it yet but The Swooping Magpie sounds like an amazing but heartbreaking read. Can you tell us a little bit more about it, the story behind it?

The Story Behind The Swooping Magpie

We’ve all heard the terrible stories of the Magdalene Laundries, 18th to late 20th century-institutions housing “fallen women”, term implicating sexual promiscuity or prostitution work. In practice, most of these “laundries” were operated as gruelling work-houses. However, many people are unaware that similar institutions operated in Australia and, inspired by a true-life scandal, this the story behind The Swooping Magpie.

It is difficult for any Australian born after the feminist movement to understand what it was like to be sixteen, pregnant and unmarried in 1970. Marriage was still the vital cornerstone of Australian society and it was impossible to imagine having a child outside of this union blessed by church and state.

So, rather than rejoicing at the new life growing inside her, these girls were hidden away in shame –– at their parents’ house or sent to homes for unmarried mothers.

While The Swooping Magpie demonstrates a society that refused to support mothers battling to raise an infant alone, it also exposes the brutal adoption industry practices that targeted healthy newborn babies for childless couples.

Until the mid-70s it was common practice to adopt out the babies of unwed mothers. In the 1960s, Sydney’s Crown Street Women’s Hospital was one of the largest sources of Australia’s adopted babies. Patient documents from there, and other maternity hospitals show that from the moment most unmarried girls arrived, their records were marked “for adoption”.

They were given three days after the birth to sign the adoption consent, and then thirty days to change their minds. These laws were meant to give legal certainty to adoptive parents while protecting relinquishing mothers’ rights. But in practice, those rights were either denied or the women had no idea they existed.

During this time, approximately 250,000 girls had their newborns taken, many claiming they were pressured into signing consent whilst under the effects of postpartum sedation. Forced to pay this terrible price for pregnancy outside marriage, thousands of women harboured their grief, in silence, for decades.

The Swooping Magpie Book Description

The thunderclap of sexual revolution collides with the black cloud of illegitimacy.

Sixteen-year-old Lindsay Townsend is pretty and popular at school. At home, it’s a different story. Dad belts her and Mum’s either busy or battling a migraine. So when sexy school-teacher Jon Halliwell finds her irresistible, Lindsay believes life is about to change.

She’s not wrong.

Lindsay and Jon pursue their affair in secret because if the school finds out, Jon will lose his job. If Lindsay’s dad finds out, there will be hell to pay. But when a dramatic accident turns her life upside down, Lindsay is separated from the man she loves.

Events spiral beyond her control, emotions conflicting with doubt, loneliness and fear, and Lindsay becomes enmeshed in a shocking true-life Australian scandal. The schoolyard beauty will discover the dangerous games of the adult world. Games that destroy lives.

Lindsay is forced into the toughest choice of her young life. The resulting trauma will forever burden her heart.

Excerpt From Chapter 1

I wrinkle my nostrils against the caustic smell of cat piss as we pick our way across the filthy footpath to the black gate.

My mother steps aside as the high gate creaks open, nods at me to go through. I scowl, don’t move.

‘You heard what your father said, Lindsay.’

With a sigh, I push past her.

The storm flushed away, the humidity has seeped back into the air at this tail-end of another scalding Australian summer. There’s no warmth in me though, only ice-blocks freezing my insides so that I become so cold I can’t stop shivering.

It’s not just the fear that sets me quaking, but the helplessness too. Like when I was a kid about to launch myself down the slippery dip. I’d hesitate, knowing that once I slid off there was no turning back, even if the metal burned my bum raw, or that once I reached the bottom I’d tumble forwards and scrape my knees.

My mother nudges me ahead of her. I don’t realise it yet, and I won’t speak of the whole sorry tale for years to come, since every time I thought about it, the memories would leave me frustrated, sad and angry, but I would recall walking through those black iron gates as crossing the threshold into the darkest hell.

Liza Bio

Liza grew up in Australia, working as a general nurse and midwife. She has now been living in France for over twenty years, where she works as a part-time medical translator and a novelist. She is the author of the historical The Bone Angel series. The first, Spirit of Lost Angels, is set in 18th century revolutionary France. The second, Wolfsangel, is set during the WW2 Nazi Occupation and the French Resistance, and the third novel Blood Rose Angel –– is set during the 14th century Black Plague years.

The first book in Liza’s new series, The Silent Kookaburra, published in November 2016, is a psychological suspense set in 1970s Australia.

Liza is a co-founder and member of the writers’ collective Triskele Books and also reviews books for Bookmuse. liza perrat

Connect with Liza Perrat:
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Sign up for her new book releases and receive a FREE copy of Ill-Fated Rose, the short story that inspired The Bone Angel French historical series.

The Swooping Magpie is available in both ebook and paperback at all the usual retailers.

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Eva Jordan in conversation with… M.J. Lee

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Last month, in honour of Remembrance Day, I wrote about my Great Great Uncle William who is commemorated on the Menin Gate. How apt then, when writing my column, I came across author Martin Lee’s recently published novella, The Silent Christmas, which finds Jayne Sinclair, a genealogical investigator, trying to unravel a mystery concerning her client’s great grandfather in the trenches on December 25, 1914. Read my review here to find out more but in the meantime, I’d thought we’d do an interview with the author himself.

Martin, can you please tell our readers a bit about yourself? How long have you been writing? Did you always want to be a writer?

I’ve been a writer for most of my adult life, but not a novel writer. I worked in advertising for over 25 years as a copywriter and creative director. Every day, I had to go into work and, in the blink of an eye, come up with creative solutions to business problems for clients. About four years ago, I was offered a new job and I had a chat with a headhunter who asked me what I really wanted to do with my future. Without a thought, I answered ‘write novels’. And now, here I am, with The Silent Christmas being my tenth book to be published, the fifth in the Jayne Sinclair series.

I really enjoyed The Silent Christmas, which falls into the historical fiction genre, however, I also understand that you’ve recently released a contemporary thriller called Where The Truth Lies? My question being, which do you prefer to write about, the past or the present?

I’m so glad you enjoyed The Silent Christmas, I really loved writing the book. The answer is both because the challenges are very different for an author. When writing about the past, you have to put yourself in the mind of the character, his or her beliefs, attitudes and thoughts at the time. Writing in the present is much more about the observation of people and events in one’s daily life. I think what links the two is the idea of character. What made people act the way they did, whether it is yesterday or 100 years ago. That’s what I love to write about.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I love research, it’s where you can escape the banal and ordinary and discover something new. As I write historical crime fiction, the mores, actions and beliefs of the time are present in all my work. Readers would soon point out (and have) anachronisms for me. Research allows me to stay true to the times whether its 1920s Shanghai, the Restoration period of Samuel Pepys, or the first year of the Great War.

I’m quite methodical, probably because I was at one time a researcher in history as well as my background in advertising. I start with some general books of the period, in this case, the lead-up and first year of World War One, so that I can understand what was happening on a macro level. Then I will read contemporary newspaper accounts of what happened. In most cases these are third hand, ie reporters writing about something told to them, but in the case of the Christmas Truce, some newspapers published letters from men at the front describing what had happened. At the same time, I will look at newsreel footage, programmes or films on the subject. Some of the participants actually described what happened on film. Next, I will read memoirs or first-hand accounts of what happened. There are three or four published accounts of the Christmas Truce the best being by Henry Williamson, Bruce Bairnsfather and Bertie Felstead. Finally, I will look at contemporary documents such as War Diaries and individual diaries kept at the National Archives or, in this case, at Cheshire Military Museum.

I’m generally researching two books ahead of my writing. So at the moment, I’m looking into the Emancipation of Slaves in 1834….

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Character. Why do people act like they do?

In The Silent Christmas, what made people, on both sides, stop killing each other for one day? What made people stop being enemies and become friends? And conversely, having met and chatted with their opposite numbers, how did they return to the trenches a day later and start killing again?

And finally, what one piece of advice would you offer any would-be writers out there?

Read. Read. Read.

But read smartly.

How is the writer telling his story? What are they trying to say? How are they saying it? What would you do differently? How have they built up character and themes? What genre are they writing in? How would you describe this book in one sentence?

And once you’ve decided to be a writer, never, never give up. There will come a point when you want to stop. Don’t. Push on through to the end, because nobody will ever read an unfinished book.

Writer Martin Lee

M J Lee on Social Media:
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Eva Jordan reviews… The Silent Christmas by M.J. Lee

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Thanks to a cousin who has been researching our family tree, I recently discovered I had a Great-Great uncle who served in the trenches during WWl. He joined at the start of the war as a volunteer in 1914, and just one year later, aged twenty-one, he was dead, killed in action, his body never recovered but is commemorated on the Menin Wall in Ypres, Belgium. How apt then, I should stumble upon Martin Lee’s recently released novella, The Silent Christmas, the fifth in the Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery series, which can also be read as a stand-alone.

Set in both the present day and the WWI trenches, the story centres on the informal football match believed to have taken place between the English and German soldiers during a brief truce on Christmas Day 1914. The first chapter takes us straight to the trenches on December 21st in Belgium, capturing the conditions and possible mindset of some soldiers, ‘He lay on his back on the hard ground and dreamt of England; picnicking on the grass in front of the bandstand, straw hat tipped over his eyes to shield them from the sun… A shadow crossed his face and he felt a tap against his foot. ‘Time to get up, Tom, we’re moving forward… The men began packing up… As they did so, a solitary shell from a German whizz-bang whistled overhead, landing one hundred yards past the farm. None of the men moved or even ducked; each one carried on preparing to move forward as if nothing had happened.’ We then move forward to the present day and discover Jayne Sinclair, a genealogical investigator, asked, just days before Christmas, if she can help shed light on the mystery of several items, namely a label, a silver button and a lump of leather, found in a chest in the attic of her client. Ms Sinclair, who says, ‘Our role as genealogists is to use our research to bring these lost people, the vanished people of our family, back to life,’ agrees, and the mystery begins to unravel.

Written in the third person throughout, The Silent Christmas is a fictional tale exploring the actual events that took place during December 1914, later called the ‘Christmas Truce.’ A real “feel good” story handled with great care and respect, full of hope and love, that is both well written and researched. And, as 2018 marks the 100-year anniversary of Armistice it is also particularly poignant.

You can find The Silent Christmas on Amazon 

Writer Martin Lee

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Eva Jordan reviews… Corrupted by Simon Michael

 

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Corrupted, the latest book by fellow Urbane published author Simon Michael, is the fourth in a series of noir gangster crime thrillers concerning criminal barrister Charles Holborne. However, although part of a series there is just enough back-story for it to read perfectly well as a standalone. Set in London’s swinging sixties, the author mixes historical fact with fiction, making Corruption a story that sees its fictional barrister, Charles Holborne QC, drawn into the real-life investigation of a sex ring scandal that involved the Kray twins and some very powerful but corrupt politicians. The author’s note reads, ‘This is not a true crime novel, but the historical facts upon which it is based did actually occur.’

Written in close third person, Charles, the flawed main protagonist, narrates throughout and the story itself unfolds during several crucial months of 1964, namely Friday 26th June–Monday 24th August. Charles, a Jewish East Ender doing well for himself, building his reputation as a brilliant murder trial lawyer, is living with his partner Sally. On the surface all looks well, however, Charles is clearly at odds with himself. ‘An East Ender, born and bred on the wrong side of town, the wrong side of the track and the wrong side of the law, Charles has muscled his way into the Establishment by becoming a war hero, barrister… His acquaintances include Oxbridge graduates with country seats, titles and racehorses; they also include boxers, burglars and con artists. He no longer quite fits in anywhere, and everywhere feels like the wrong place.’

Charles is asked to help a young lad called Teddy who has been arrested and accused of murder. Charles agrees to take the case on and in doing so takes the reader on a magical mystery tour of 1960s London including the music, fashion and haircuts of the time. The author also gives the reader a fascinating glimpse of Fleet Street during the sixties, sprinkled with sporadic but fascinating historical facts like the time Charles takes a run past Jack Straw’s Castle–the pub and reputed favourite haunt of Charles Dickens, Karl Marx and Bram Stoker. However, at the heart of this story is a dark, uncomfortable tale about power, corruption and sexual abuse. Pacey, but often sombre and heartbreaking, it also includes great dialogue and some extremely well-written courtroom drama. A thrilling page-turner and one I highly recommend.

Remembrance Day, The Menin Gate and Great, Great Uncle William

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When I was a very small child and people asked me when my birthday was, I’d tell them—11th November. “Ah Remembrance Day”, they’d reply, nodding their heads gravely. Understandably, their sobriety confused me. Remembrance Day or not, it was my birthday… and birthdays are supposed to be happy occasions aren’t they? As I got older though, understood better, I realised what an important day it is. Marked on the date of the World War I Armistice (1918), Remembrance Day is a day when—regardless of politics, religion, and race—everyone in the UK and Commonwealth remembers those who have lost their lives in war and military conflict while serving in the armed forces.

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2018 is particularly poignant because it marks the 100-year anniversary of Armistice. It is also the year that my lovely cousin Dean, who lives in Kent, got in touch with some very interesting information. He’d been doing family research (on my mother’s side) and discovered we had a Great, Great Uncle, Corporal William Alfred Tuckley, who is commemorated on the Menin Gate. The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is a war memorial in Ypres, Belgium dedicated to soldiers killed in the Ypres Salient and whose graves are unknown. The memorial is at the eastern exit of the town and marks the starting point for one of the main roads out of the town that led Allied soldiers to the front line. Since the inauguration ceremony, which took place in July 1928, a moving ceremony takes place under the Menin Gate every night at 8.00pm regardless of turnout or weather. The Last Post Ceremony has become part of the daily life in Ieper (Ypres) and local people are said to be very proud of this simple but moving tribute to the courage and self-sacrifice of those who fell in defence of their town.

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Built in the form of a Roman triumphal arch, the vast, white, Portland-stone walls of the Menin Gate are engraved with the names of some 55,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers lost on the battlefield with no known graves, my Great, Great Uncle William among them. His recorded date of death was 17th October 1915—he was just 21 years old. A very sobering thought when I think of my son who recently had his 20th birthday, and my daughter who is 22. So, this year during the two-minute silence, while my thoughts, as usual, will go out to all those who have served and lost their lives, I will also take a moment to spare a special thought for my Great, Great Uncle William.  

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The Legend of Black Shuck

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Modern day celebrations of Halloween generally involve groups of children dressed in scary costumes roaming from house to house, demanding a “trick-or-treat”. However, traditionally, Halloween is also a time for telling ghost stories. Therefore, with a mind to keep things local (to me) I thought we’d take a look at “Black Shuck”, the name given to a ghostly black dog – supposedly the inspiration behind Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles novel – said to roam the coastline and countryside of East Anglia.

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Research suggests the name Shuck may come from the old Anglo-Saxon word “scaucca” or “scucca” which means a “demon”, or it may be based on the local dialect word “shucky” meaning “shaggy” or “hairy”. A creature of legend, alleged sightings of Black Shuck vary in both shape and size but usually include a large dog with large red or yellow eyes, or sometimes one huge eye in the middle of the ghostly black dog’s forehead. All sightings describe thick, shaggy black fur, a snarling mouth, and, most importantly, Shuck is supposedly the harbinger of death, an omen of doom, and to see him is to befall a terrible fate before the week is out.

In his “Highways & Byways in East Anglia”, published in 1901, W. A. Dutt says…

“He takes the form of a huge black dog, and prowls along dark lanes and lonesome field footpaths, where, although his howling makes the hearer’s blood run cold, his footfalls make no sound. You may know him at once, should you see him, by his fiery eye; he has but one, and that, like the Cyclops, is in the middle of his head. But such an encounter might bring you the worst of luck: it is even said that to meet him is to be warned that your death will occur before the end of the year. So you will do well to shut your eyes if you hear him howling; shut them even if you are uncertain whether it is the dog fiend or the voice of the wind you hear. Should you never set eyes on our Norfolk Snarleyow you may perhaps doubt his existence, and, like other learned folks, tell us that his story is nothing but the old Scandinavian myth of the black hound of Odin, brought to us by the Vikings who long ago settled down on the Norfolk coast.”

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An article posted in the Peterborough Advertiser in 1936 states that local people used to shun the A605 road between Whittlesey and Coates during the hours of darkness because of the ‘Shuck Dog’ said to haunt the highway at night. The creature is large, black, has “great yellow eyes”, and “brings sure death to anyone he meets.” However, other stories describe the Shuck as assisting lone women, wandering or lost in the night, to safety.

Perhaps, late at night, if you listen hard enough, you’ll hear Black Shuck howling …?

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