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Monday, 19 October 2020

WHEREFORE THE BARD?


Today it's my turn on the Historical Writers' Forum blog hop, in which we talk about our favourite historical characters and the reason for our choice.  For those of you who know me at all well, it will come as no surprise that my chosen subject is William Shakespeare - the Bard of Avon.


William Shakespeare, the eldest surviving son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, was born in Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, in April 1564.  Information about his early life is sketchy at best (even the exact date of his birth is not known for certain), but he probably attended the local grammar school, and in November 1582 he married Anne Hathaway, who was eight years his senior and three months pregnant.  Their daughter Susanna was born in May 1583, followed in 1595 by twins Hamnet and Judith.  Hamnet died of plague just eleven years later.

From this point onwards, nothing is known about Shakespeare until 1592, when he appeared in London and joined a company of actors called The Lord Chamberlain's Men.  He became the company's principal playwright, producing on average two plays per year for nearly twenty years.  His total works include 38 plays, 154 sonnets and and 2 lengthy narrative poems.  He died aged 52 on 23 April 1616, and is buried in Holy Trinity Church in his native Stratford-upon-Avon.

My first encounter with Shakespeare was at secondary school.  Then, as now, studying his works was a non-negotiable part of the English Literature curriculum.  Like most stroppy teenagers I found it very hard to understand the plays, and even harder to understand why anyone in their right mind would ever want to read them.  Faced with a few hundred pages of solid text written more than three centuries earlier, and in a near-incomprehensible style into the bargain, the class's collective response was “What on earth is the point of all this?”  (That, at any rate, was the gist of our collective response…)

What we stroppy teenagers had totally failed to appreciate, at least at first, is that the plays were never meant to be read in the same way that one would read novels.  They were written for performance.  It’s only when the text is translated into speech and action (on stage, screen or radio) that it really comes alive – and nowhere is this more apparent than in works which consist entirely of dialogue.

In an attempt to keep us interested, our wonderful English teacher allocated the main parts in the play to members of the class, and the key scenes were acted out at the front of the classroom.   Our efforts were hardly RSC standard, but they did serve as an early lesson in the basic principle of “show-don’t-tell”. And after this, Shakespeare did begin to make some kind of sense.

Whatever their original contexts or settings might be, the themes of many of his plays (love, power, war, rivalry, jealousy and betrayal) are still relevant today, and some of his works have formed the basis for modern theatre, musical and film productions.  West Side Story is an updated version of Romeo & Juliet, Kiss Me Kate and Ten Things I Hate About You are both based on The Taming of the Shrew, and The Lion King owes much of its basic plot to Hamlet.



Shakespeare has also contributed a huge amount to the everyday English language. A surprisingly large number of words and phrases in common use today were first penned by the Bard himself.  If you're on a wild goose chase and find yourself neither here nor there, feeling faint-hearted (having not slept one wink), waiting with bated breath for the naked truth, and all of a sudden find yourself saying "Good riddance" as those who have eaten you out of house and home whilst playing "Knock, knock, who's there?" vanish into thin air - you are quoting Shakespeare. The world is [your] oyster, but for goodness sake, don't wear your heart on your sleeve and end up looking a sorry sight in a fool's paradise.  Truth will out, and it's a foregone conclusion that you can still have too much of a good thing.  Click here to see the lovely Rob Brydon telling us more about this.

The Bard of Avon has certainly inspired much of my own writing.  One of my first successes as a poet was winning a limerick competition, in which I summed up the plot of Macbeth in five lines:

On the strength of a witches' conjection 
a regicide's planned to perfection, 
but revenge is prepared 
by a tree-moving laird 
who'd been born by Caesarean section.

One of my long-term projects is to produce a limerick for each of the plays.  That's still very much a work in progress, but in the meantime, two of Shakespeare's other plays - Romeo & Juliet and Julius Caesar - have formed the basis of two of my novels.


The Ghostly Father takes a new look at Romeo & Juliet, and asks the question "What might have happened if the events of the story had taken a different turn?"  If, like me, you love the original story but wish it didn't end so tragically, here is your chance to read an alternative version - one with a few new twists and a whole new outcome.



The Unkindest Cut of All is a murder mystery set in a theatre, during an amateur dramatic society's performance of Julius Caesar, the play I studied for O-Level (the equivalent of modern-day GCSE). What really happened to the actor playing the title role, during the final performance on the infamous Ides of March?

So if you were put off Shakespeare by less-than-perfect experiences during your formative years, do consider giving him another try.  You might be pleasantly surprised!


To find out more about the other fascinating historical characters featured in this amazing blog tour, check out the sites listed below:




Thursday, 15 October 2020

FREE FOR TODAY ONLY - BEATHAN THE BRIGANTE by Nancy Jardine

 


My dear friend and fellow-Ocelot author Nancy Jardine is delighted to announce that Beathan The Brigante, the latest addition to her highly-interlinked Celtic Fervour Series, is *FREE* on the 15th October 2020 across the Amazon network!

(Psst! And if you’re quick, you should find that some of the other books in the series have a reduced price during this special promotion.)

Book 5, Beathan The Brigante, features young Beathan of Garrigill, but it also depicts the interlinking of his life and that of the Ancient Roman General –  Gnaeus Iulius Agricola who is a main character in Books 4 & 5.

Having been captured by the Ancient Roman legions, after the battle at Beinn na Ciche in north-east Caledonia, we pick up Beathan’s story in AD 85 at Trimontium Roman Fort where he is used as a menial fort slave. General Agricola, having been summoned back to Rome by Emperor Domitian, collects Beathan and some other high-ranking hostages at Trimontium Fort and drags them all off in chains.

During the long trek to Rome, Beathan learns surprising things about General Agricola. In turn, Agricola finds aspects to grudgingly admire in young warrior Beathan. Escape from, and revenge against, his captors doesn’t come quickly for Beathan. However, by AD 89 he is back in Brigantia – the land of his birth – where revenge blazes for him at Vindolanda Roman Fort. It’s gratifying that by then he is closer to a reunion with his much-missed Garrigill kin ,and it’s even better that romance with a young Brigante warrior-woman named Torrin has lightened his eventful life, even though he is still only seventeen.

Moving from place to place is a regular feature for the Garrigill Brigantes in the Celtic Fervour Series novels, especially as they become refugees fleeing from Brigantia to Caledonia, but young warrior Beathan can truly say that he is the most widely-travelled across the Roman Empire!

It’s a reasonable assumption that youths matured into men much faster in 1st Century AD, especially if they were subjected to the treatment that’s meted out to Beathan of Garrigill!

Look forward to that **FREE** copy on the 15th October 2020 and enjoy reading about young Beathan of Garrigill!

Link for Beathan The Brigante getbook.at/BeathanTBrigantehere

You can find out more about the Celtic Fervour Series   HERE

 

Nancy Jardine writes historical fiction, time travel historical adventure and contemporary mysteries. Research, grandchildren, gardening and reading novels all take up non-writing time. Interacting with readers is a joy at Craft Fairs and larger venues where she signs/sells paperback versions of her novels. She enjoys giving author presentations on her books and Ancient Roman Scotland, though these activities are presently curtailed due to Covid 19!

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

BOOK REVIEW: 365 DAYS OF GRATITUDE by Mariëlle S Smith

 


"Gratitude is the wine for the soul. Go on. Get drunk." (Rumi)

Being grateful is easy - when everything goes according to plan.  But how do you keep at it, no matter what life throws at you?

Enter 365 Days of Gratitude, the undated daily journal that will help you stay on track.

After years of barely surviving her own emotional minefield, writing coach Marielle S Smith discovered the transformative power of practising gratitude. But, like no one else, she knows that cultivating an attitude of gratitude is easier said than done.

Complete with inspiring quotes, daily prompts, and recurring check-ins, the 365 Days of Gratitude Journal encourages you to create a sustainable gratitude practice too.

Ready to commit to the life-changing power of gratitude? Order your coy of the 365 Days of Gratitude Journal now.

  

Purchase Links 

https://mswordsmith.nl/365daysofgratitude/  

Get 50% off the printable PDF until 6 September 2020 with the following discount code: HAPPYLAUNCH. 

Go to https://mswordsmith.nl/365daysof gratitude 

or https://payhip.com/b/Hld2 

to claim your copy.


https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08FV15CJN

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08FV15CJN


My thoughts:

This 365-day journal is therapeutic, uplifting and easy to use.  The pages are undated (so the journal can be started at any time of the year), and there are prompts for each day, week and month, with a three-monthly overview at the end of each quarter.  Each page prompts the readers to focus on the positive aspects of their lives – something which, in the current climate, we all need more than ever.

I found that taking just a few minutes each day to reflect on the prompts made me realise that a glass which might have appeared half-empty was indeed half-full.  As an added bonus, there are regular inspirational quotations such as the one above.

Highly recommended.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariëlle S Smith is a coach for writers and other creatives, an editor, and a (ghost) writer. Early in 2019 she moved to Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, where she organises private writers’ retreats, is inspired 24/7, and feeds more stray cats than she can count.

Social Media Links –

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mswordsmith

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mariellessmith/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtnYOpjmj83mvMM2L348F1w


There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. (Albert Einstein)

Sincere thanks to Rachel’s Random Resources for the opportunity to take part in this blog tour.


Thursday, 20 August 2020

BEATHAN THE BRIGANTE - a guest post by Nancy Jardine

Today is a very special day for my friend and fellow-author Nancy Jardine: it is publication day for Beathan the Brigante, Book 5 in her highly-acclaimed Celtic Fervour Saga series of novels set in Roman Britain. 

Welcome, Nancy! Please tell us more about Beathan.

 

Hello Sue, and thank you for inviting me here today.  It’s been a nail-biting and stimulating few weeks for me getting the book ready for publishing. And now, I really can’t believe how excited I am that Beathan the Brigante officially launches today with Ocelot Press! It’s available in e-book and paperback from Amazon, and in paperback format via Ingram Spark for bookstore and library ordering.

Something different for your early readers is that the e-book versions of Books 1-4  in the Celtic Fervour Saga series are reduced to only 99p/99c/0.99euros each, for the 5 days prior to launch day in a Big Bonanza SALE! That offer might still be available, if your readers are quick. The link for my Amazon author page (to get access to the ebooks) is included below.

I’ve been excited about all of my book launches, but Book 5 brings one of the main themes of the series to a full circle. The birth of a son to Nara of the Selgovae, a son destined to become a famous tribal leader, happens at the end of Book 1. He is named Beathan, which means ‘life’. As the series progresses, book by book, Beathan grows into a young lad who is very responsible for his age, that maturity sculpted by the events and dangers that he lives through.  

Beathan cannot be found after the defeat of the Caledonian allies at Beinn na Ciche, a battle fought against the Ancient Roman legions of General Agricola, though his mother Nara knows in her heart he isn’t dead (end of Book 3). Choosing that event for Beathan was a pivotal point since I could ‘foresee’ making him into a famous rebel leader in a subsequent book of the series.

Though doing that in Book 4 was too soon, since a 13-year-old seemed unlikely to become a renowned ‘Celtic’ warrior. History, fortunately, has indications that it was not an impossible feat at a later teens stage. Another reason for Beathan’s tale not to be told in Book 4 was my desire to expand the Ancient Roman viewpoint. General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola needed some of the limelight in Book 4, since the genuine Ancient Roman Agricola was immensely important regarding the Roman expansion of Caledonia (present day Scotland).    

The research for my whole Celtic Fervour Saga Series has been a compelling study. Every Ancient Roman fort that Beathan visits was thoroughly investigated for me to glean some tiny, unusual, detail I could add to the tale. That process, naturally, became unwieldy! At one point the manuscript was sitting at upwards of 140,000 words. It was full of what I regarded as necessary, descriptive prose with lots of dangerous incidents happening to both Beathan and Agricola. But… like the Ancient Roman war machine destroying the tribes of Britannia, I did a high degree of ‘slashing and burning’ during my self-edits and whittled the manuscript down to a size compatible with the other books in the series.

Other themes of the series are further explored in Beathan The Brigante – honesty; loyalty; justice; fair-mindedness – sometimes these coming to the reader in surprising ways. Family love, friendships and less than usual ‘relationships’ are important across the series and Book 5 also features these aspects. Reuniting with family not seen for 5 years is a burning a desire for Beathan, but it’s equally balanced with a yearning for revenge against his Roman tormentors. 

Romance, too, plays a role to different degrees and in different ways across the books of the saga. After such a difficult time, Beathan deserves to have some passion in his life. However, enduring happiness rarely comes easily for my Garrigill warriors. Torrin is a feisty Brigante warrior-woman who has her own agendas. When creating her character, I found myself feeling a desperation to live life to the full seems realistic when young lives are likely to be cut short in what is essentially still a war-torn situation.

I do hope that readers of Bethan The Brigante enjoy reading about Beathan’s journey to ‘fame’ and about Agricola’s predicaments, since even a high-ranking Roman general can have enemies.

 

AD 85, Roman Empire

How can young Beathan of Garrigill – held hostage by General Agricola and dragged in chains to Rome – escape and wreak vengeance on his enemies?

Torrin is a strong-minded Brigante warrior-woman who forges her own future. She willingly takes care of Beathan in a time of need, but her own plans are paramount.

Agricola's career is in tatters. Attempts on his life are plentiful, having lost favour with Emperor Domitian. His gods have abandoned him, though assistance comes from a surprising source.

Will Beathan gain his freedom to return to his kin in Caledonia? Will Torrin be by his side? And how will Agricola survive without the emperor's benevolence?

Beathan the Brigante is the fifth in the bestselling Celtic Fervour series.

Nancy Jardine writes historical fiction, time travel historical adventure and contemporary mysteries. When not writing or researching (a compulsion she can’t give up), she’ll be with her grandchildren, gardening, or reading novels. She loves to interact with her readers when regularly signing/ selling paperback versions of her novels at local Craft Fairs, and at larger event venues. She enjoys presenting author talks and gives formal presentations on her novels, and on Ancient Roman Scotland, to groups large and small.

She’s a member of the Historical Novel Society, the Scottish Association of Writers, the Federation of Writers Scotland, the Romantic Novelists Association and the Alliance of Independent Authors. She’s self-published with Ocelot Press.

You can find her at these places:

Blog: http://nancyjardine.blogspot.co.uk  

Website: www.nancyjardineauthor.com/   

Facebook: http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG

email: nan_jar@btinternet.com  Twitter https://twitter.com/nansjar

Amazon Author page http://viewauthor.at/mybooksandnewspagehere


Buy Links:

Beathan The Brigante getbook.at/BeathanTBrigantehere

Paperback KDP  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beathan-Brigante-Celtic-Fervour-Jardine/dp/1916003885/


Friday, 7 August 2020

A NOVEL APPROACH - a guest post by Jennifer C Wilson

Tomorrow marks a very special day for Ocelot Press: the launch of its first non-fiction title.  A Novel Approach is an excellent book, whether you're just setting out on the writing journey or are already an experienced writer.  And I'm thrilled to welcome the author - my great friend and fellow-Ocelot Jennifer C Wilson - to tell the world more about it.

Welcome, Jen!

Hi Sue.

Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog today, to talk about A Novel Approach, my first foray into non-fiction!

I’ve said many times how much I love attending writing workshops. It doesn’t matter whether they’re on poetry or prose, on a particular skill, or a range of prompts to go off in any direction, I just love being surrounded by other writers, learning from them, and improving my own writing. It was from that place then, of finding workshops a great writing environment, that I decided to run a series of my own last year, and early into this one.

I called the series ‘A Novel Approach’, after a LOT of brainstorming, because I had the idea of walking attendees through some of the key elements of writing long-form fiction, starting with generating ideas, creating characters etc., building scenes each workshop, so that, although there wouldn’t necessarily be a finished novel at the end of things, there would be enough of a roadmap that they could see where it was going.

I’ll be honest, and admit that I don’t tend to get my actual story ideas from writing workshops. For me, the initial stories usually strike me as I’m wandering around a historical site, or reading a snippet of trivia about a place which sparks a thought to go and explore. However, once that idea has formed, I love workshops and prompts to keep the words flowing. For example, in the middle of April, a new historical romance idea came to me, but I was really struggling to put pen to paper. I signed up for a month of daily writing prompts, and following my synopsis, wrote a scene a day using the daily exercises. By the end of May I had ~15,000 words, and without the prompts, I don’t think I would have got anywhere near that word count.

It's often said that the most terrifying thing to a writer is the blank page. Whether in a notebook or on screen, having all that white, empty space starting back at you can be daunting. Especially when there’s an idea in your head that just won’t make that jump onto the page. I think this is where writing prompts are particularly useful. I used to use one at the start of a writing session, for an ‘easy way in’ and to get the words flowing, without having to think too much! As with the month of prompts above, when you have a scenario or set of characters in your head, but aren’t quite sure what they’re going to get up to, having somebody give you a scene to put them in, or something to think about, can be really helpful in getting those first few paragraphs down. Quite often, once that’s happened, you’re away, which is always the most important thing.

That’s what I’m really hoping people can get out of A Novel Approach, then; to find the prompts and exercises I’ve included a useful jumping-off point to get the ink flowing, whether on screen or on page.


A Novel Approach

Is there a novel in you? Let me help you find out...

Based on my series of workshops held throughout 2019 and into 2020, this book is designed to help writers work through each of the key stages of their story, including:

-          Idea generation;

-          Creating characters;

-          Describing your settings;

-          Showing vs telling; and

-          Keeping the words flowing when you find yourself stuck.

As well as the above, I have also added sections on hooking your readers in, leaving them wanting more, and useful resources as a writer, including how to dip a successful toe into the world of social media.

The workshops were fun, helping writers of short stories and novels alike, and I hope these exercises can help you too!

A Novel Approach: mybook.to/ANovelApproach

 

About Jennifer

Jennifer C. Wilson stalks dead people (usually monarchs, mostly Mary Queen of Scots and Richard III). Inspired by childhood visits to as many castles and historical sites her parents could find, and losing herself in their stories (not to mention quite often the castles themselves!), at least now her daydreams make it onto the page.

After returning to the north-east of England for work, she joined a creative writing class, and has been filling notebooks ever since. Jennifer won North Tyneside Libraries’ Story Tyne short story competition in 2014, and in 2015, her debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London was published by Crooked Cat Books. The full series was re-released by Darkstroke in January 2020.

Jennifer is a founder and host of the award-winning North Tyneside Writers’ Circle, and has been running writing workshops in North Tyneside since 2015. She also publishes historical fiction novels with Ocelot Press. She lives in Whitley Bay, and is very proud of her two-inch view of the North Sea.

You can connect with Jennifer online:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jennifercwilsonwriter/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/inkjunkie1984

Blog: https://jennifercwilsonwriter.wordpress.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jennifercwilsonwriter/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jennifer-C-Wilson/e/B018UBP1ZO/


Tuesday, 21 July 2020

TO THE MOON AND BACK





I'm delighted to be taking part in this summer's Historical Writers Forum Blog Hop on the theme of Momentous Events. My chosen topic is that unforgettable moment in July 1969 when humans first set foot on the Moon.

Although the Moon Landings might feel like comparatively recent history – particularly in the minds of those who, like me, are old enough to remember them – the concept of space travel is not by any means a modern phenomenon.  As long ago as the middle of the 19th century, the idea had been anticipated by the French author Jules Verne, in his novel De la Terre à la Lune (1865) and its sequel Autour de la Lune (1869).  It was further developed by the English writer H G Wells in his story The First Men in the Moon (1900-1901), and by the pioneering French film director and magician Georges Méliès in his short film Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902), which was inspired partly by Verne's stories.  The film, featuring Méliès himself in the main role of Professor Barbenfouillis, can be seen here


Just over half a century later space travel became a reality, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 – the world’s first artificial satellite – on 4th October 1957.  This was followed on 3rd November 1957 by Sputnik 2, the first spacecraft to carry a living creature.  The passenger was Laika, a stray dog from the streets of Moscow.  But Sputnik 2 was not designed to return to Earth, and consequently (and controversially) Laika died in space.   A memorial to her can now be seen in Moscow.


The first successful USA satellite was Explorer 1, launched on 31st January 1958.  The space race had begun in earnest.

On 25th May 1961, four months after his inauguration, US President John F Kennedy announced to Congress: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”  You can see footage of his original speech here.  Because the Soviet Union was well ahead of the USA in the space race at this stage, having already sent a man into space (Yuri Gagarin, in Vostok 1) just over a month earlier, Kennedy’s bold challenge was exciting news for Cold-War-era America.

Sadly, John Kennedy did not live to see his goal achieved.  Less than three years later, an assassin’s bullet brought his term of office to a sudden and brutal end.  It is said that everyone who is old enough to remember the events of 22nd November 1963 can still recall what they were doing when they heard the sombre announcement: “President Kennedy is dead”.

But work on the USA space program continued, and in 1966 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conducted the first (unmanned) Apollo mission.  The first manned flight was Apollo 7, which began in October 1968 and lasted for 11 days.  During the flight, the three astronauts (Walter Cunningham, Donn Eisele and Wally Schirra) made the first live television transmissions from inside a manned spacecraft – a feat which later earned them a special Emmy award.   


 Schirra & Eisele on board Apollo 7 (photo: NASA)

In December of the same year, Apollo 8 transported astronauts William Anders, Frank Borman and Jim Lovell to the far side of the moon in an iconic figure-of-eight orbit which became the mission’s logo:


This was followed in March 1969 by Apollo 9, which tested the lunar module whilst in orbit round the Earth, and in May 1969 by Apollo 10, which performed a dry run of the route for the forthcoming lunar landing mission two months later.

Apollo 11 blasted off from Cape Canaveral (re-named Cape Kennedy in honour of the former President) on 16th July 1969, carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin (“Buzz”) Aldrin  and Michael Collins.  


Photo: Time Life Pictures/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

The 230,000-mile (395,000-km) journey to the moon took just over three days, after which Armstrong and Aldrin moved into the lunar module (known as the Eagle) and detached it from the command module to prepare for descent to the surface of the moon. 

The descent took around two hours, of which the final minutes were particularly fraught – both inside the Eagle and on the ground at Mission Control in Houston.  As the Eagle approached the lunar surface, and with its fuel supply almost exhausted, Armstrong realised that the craft’s auto-landing program was about to deposit them in the middle of a crater full of boulders.  A veteran test pilot, he swiftly took over manual control and skilfully manoeuvred the craft towards a clear spot beyond the crater.  The module came to rest in the Sea of Tranquility with just thirty seconds’ worth of fuel left.

The staff at Mission Control waited with bated breath until they heard Armstrong’s voice: “This is Tranquility Base.  The Eagle has landed.”

Roger, Tranquility,” came the response from Houston. “We copy you on the ground.  You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue.  We’re breathing again.”

Ten minutes later, Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon.  He stepped off the ladder on to the lunar surface, uttering the now famous words: “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”  Aldrin followed him down the ladder and the two men spent two hours on the moon, collecting soil and rock samples, conducting experiments and taking photographs.


Buzz Aldrin on the moon, photographed by Neil Armstrong (photo: NASA)

A plaque left on the moon bore the inscription:

HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON
JULY 1969, A.D.
WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND

together with the signatures of Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Edwin Aldrin, and US President Richard Nixon.

 (Photo: Buzz Aldrin on Twitter)

America had now achieved Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon, but the second half of his promise had still to be fulfilled: returning him safely to Earth.

This, too, was fraught with danger at every stage.  The Eagle first had to take off from the moon, then successfully re-engage with the command module in orbit.  And if the Eagle’s single ascent engine failed, there was a very real prospect that Armstrong and Aldrin could find themselves stranded on the moon.  It is a sobering thought that President Nixon had a condolence speech already prepared for this eventuality.  The speech began: “Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace…”

Thankfully, Nixon’s speech was not needed.  Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins survived all the perils of the return journey: taking off from the moon, docking with the command module, and re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.  Apollo 11’s capsule, with the three astronauts safely inside, splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, 800 nautical miles south-west of Hawaii, on 28th July1969.  They remained in quarantine for 21 days before returning to their families.

All three astronauts went on to live to a ripe old age.  Neil Armstrong died on 25th August 2012 at the age of 82.  At the time of writing, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins (aged 90 and 89 respectively) are still living.


A FEW FUN FACTS

  • It used to be thought that the full moon caused madness.  The words “lunacy” and “lunatic” are both derived from luna, the Latin word for moon.
  • Sputnik 1 was the size of a beachball.
  • The Apollo astronauts’ spacesuits were designed by Playtex, a company better known for manufacturing ladies’ underwear.
  • The astronauts on Apollo 11 ate cereal (mixed with fruit and packed into cubes), but couldn’t have it with milk in case it floated out of the bowl.
  • The average smartphone today contains a more powerful computer than the spaceships which sent the astronauts to the moon.
  • Surprisingly, even today, some people apparently still believe that the moon landings were an elaborate hoax!  I wonder what they think could have happened...




Sunday, 28 June 2020

WALKING ON WILD AIR - an interview with Yvonne Marjot


My guest today is my dear friend Yvonne Marjot, whose wonderful novel Walking on Wild Air has just been re-released through Ocelot Press.  



Welcome, Yvonne.  And many congratulations on the new launch.

What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t make up stories and poems. I have a copy of my first science fiction story, written aged 10. It was about a colony ship travelling for thousands of years to seed a new planet with human life. My mum used to say I wouldn’t know the truth if I fell over it in the street. Hmm… I wonder what she meant?

Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words?

Walking on Wild Air is a paranormal romance, a ghost story with a twist, set partly in Sri Lanka and partly on a Scottish island. Sushila Mackenzie travels to her father’s home to scatter his ashes. There she meets a man who will change her life forever, but there is much more to Dougie MacLean than meets the eye. Can their love survive the collision of such different worlds?

What was the inspiration for this book?

I’ve always been fascinated by Greek mythology, and ancient ideas about little gods everywhere: the genius loci of springs and woods. I wanted to write a story which crossed over between the real world and a magical realm, and to set it on the Scottish island where I live.

Did you do any research for the book?

I love research. It’s a great excuse for putting off the writing. Actually, a friend challenged me to ‘write a romance in six weeks’ and I did so: the first draft of Walking on Wild Air was written in a mad rush during one school summer holiday. Only afterwards did I go away and do some reading around the subject, and it was then that I wrote the parts of the story which give Dougie’s point of view.

What does a typical writing day involve for you?

I work full time and until recently I was also a lone parent, so writing has been my escape from real life. However, I wasn’t able to really get my teeth into until my sons grew up and left home. Now, during lockdown, I try to get up and write a little every morning before getting on with my day. It’s been so successful that I’m determined to keep doing it even when I go back to work.

How do you decide on the names for your characters?

Names are really important to me. Sometimes I choose them because their underlying meaning speaks to me. Dougal comes from a Gaelic phrase, ‘the dark stranger’ (Dubh Gall), which I thought was appropriate. Sushila is named after the daughter of a man I worked with decades ago. I never met her, but he spoke often about how wonderful she was, and I wanted to channel some of that affection into my character.

Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write?

When I start writing a novel I need to know the names of my characters and to have a fell for the kinds of people they are. It’s vital I know the ending/climax, and I often write that before I start work. Then it’s a question of writing towards the ending. I make notes for myself along the way, but I never have a formal plan.

Which writers have influenced your own writing?

I’m a reader first of all, and I read very widely, but my favourite genres are fantasy and SciFi. I’ve been hugely influenced by writers such as Ursula K Le Guin, an absolute master of her art, and also by Barbara Kingsolver who writes lovely contemporary literary fiction often with a scientific or ecological theme. I’ve also deliberately read many modern writers of paranormal fiction to work out what I like, and don’t like, about their styles. 

Now the book is published and ‘out there’ how do you feel?

I’ve really enjoyed revisiting Walking on Wild Air, which was first published in 2016, and rewriting it to make it even better than before. This is my favourite of all my books so far. I’m delighted that it’s going to be available again. 

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Be prepared to work hard, and to make little or no money. Do it because you love it—because not to write would be intolerable. Read widely, learn from your mistakes, but most of all have fun!

What can we expect from you in the future?

This year I will also be re-publishing my archaeological romances, The Calgary Chessman trilogy. I’m working on the second book in a sequence of post-apocalyptic SciFi/Fantasy novels, Tales of the Broken Road. Publication has been deferred because of Covid-19 and I now hope it will come out in 2021. My book of short stories, Treacle and Other Twisted Tales, is still in print and there’s definitely another collection of short stories quietly stacking up in my files. Am I ever going to stop writing? Not a chance.

Thanks for visiting, Yvonne.  Please come again!


More about Yvonne:

Yvonne Marjot is a published poet and author, and once won a case of port in a poetry competition. Her four novels, the Calgary Chessman trilogy of archaeological romances, and the paranormal romance Walking on Wild Air, have recently come out of contract and she will be self-publishing them in 2020. Her collection of short stories, Treacle and Other Twisted Tales, is still in print.

She lives on a Scottish island where she is volunteering during the Covid19 lockdown, but normally runs the local public library. She has three grown-up children and a very naughty cat.



More about Walking on Wild Air:

She is a wounded soul fleeing a terrible grief.  He has been alone forever.  They find solace in each other on a remote Scottish island, but can love survive the collision of such different worlds?

Escape to a place forged not by time, but by memories.

"A story as beautiful and haunting as its Scottish Highlands location." Shani Struthers, author of the Psychic Surveys series.

"If you want a story with romance, magic, mystery and the paranormal, then surely this is the book for you."  Edyth Harrison.

"A story to touch the heart."  Christine Nedahl.


Monday, 22 June 2020

DARK & DISCREET



Darkness lurks beneath London’s glittering surface… 

Announcing a new anthology about the shadier side of Britain’s capital, 
and the background to my part of it.

Although I’ve never lived in London and have only ever visited as a tourist, I still feel a strong affinity with the city.  My mother’s side of the family all came from London, so you could almost say it’s in my blood.

My contribution to this new anthology, a short story entitled A Discreet Distance, has a particular significance for me.  In its original form, it was one of my very early attempts at writing fiction.   

The initial idea for the story was inspired by a book I’d read when I was learning French at school: Le Grand Meaulnes, by Alain-Fournier – first published in 1913, a year before its 27-year-old author was killed during the first month of World War One.  The novel has been translated into English several times, with titles including The Wanderer, The Lost Domain and The Land of Lost Content, and is based partly on Fournier’s own experience of a lifetime search for a lost love.

The first version of A Discreet Distance appeared far longer ago than I care to remember.  It was extremely short, it contained no dialogue, and the characters didn’t even have names.  What kind of story is that, I hear you ask – and I would answer: What indeed?  But like the dog walking on its hind legs, at that stage in my writing career the miracle was not that it was done well, but that it was done at all.

Over the years the story has seen several expansions and revisions, including the introduction of dialogue, names for the two principal characters (David and Caroline), and a significant reworking of the ending.  But the one thing which has remained constant throughout is the setting: a chance encounter on a London Underground train.  David finds Caroline again after an absence of more than thirty years, but in a way he could never have imagined...

A previous version of the story was shortlisted for Story Tyne 2019, and its latest reincarnation has now found a home in Dark London.  This anthology, which contains a total of eighteen gripping stories spread over two volumes, is released on 25th June – that’s just three days away – and all proceeds from the sale will be donated to two London charities: The London Communities Foundation and Centrepoint. 

If you’re stuck indoors and looking for something to read, look no further.  Click here to buy Volume One and here to buy Volume Two.

Monday, 11 May 2020

VEG OUT!


This week (11-17 May 2020) is National Vegetarian Week in the UK.  Whilst I’m not a vegetarian myself, I do have a keen interest in meat-free food, and a few years ago I did some research into the basic principles of vegetarian and vegan cookery.

Officially, a vegetarian is someone who does not eat meat in any form, and this includes fish, shellfish and poultry.  Vegans take this principle one stage further, and do not consume any animal-derived derived products at all.

So how do those who don’t eat meat obtain the protein they need in their diet?

The answer is: surprisingly easily.  Proteins consist of 22 different amino acids, of which eight are essential to our health.  Non-meat proteins contain some – but not always all – of these eight essential amino acids.  The secret of getting all your protein from non-meat sources is simply knowing how to combine foods to ensure that all eight amino acids are present. 

Non-meat sources of protein fall into four main categories:

GRAINS: Rice, cereal, corn, wheat (including bread and pasta)

PULSES: Beans, peas, lentils, peanuts (which, despite their name, are not actually nuts)

MILK PRODUCTS: Milk, cheese, yoghurt

SEEDS (including nuts)

Three basic combinations of these food groups will provide the eight essential amino acids.  These combinations are:

GRAINS + PULSES

GRAINS + MILK PRODUCTS

PULSES + SEEDS

It might sound complicated, but it isn't.  In fact, you might already be eating some of these combinations without even realising it.  For example, beans on toast combines grains and pulses, and cheese on toast combines grains and milk.  One point worth remembering when planning a meal is that all the protein doesn’t necessarily have to be in the main course.

You don’t need to be a vegetarian to enjoy vegetarian food.  To find out more about National Vegetarian Week, click on the link at the beginning of this article.  If you’d like to know more about vegetarianism and/or veganism in general, including some tempting recipes, take a look at The Vegetarian Society website and The Vegan Society website.

Happy cooking!

Saturday, 9 May 2020

FIFTEEN MINUTES OF LOCKDOWN SILLINESS

Yesterday morning I spent some time chatting on Skype with my very good friend and fellow-author David W Robinson.  This was the eventual result:



You can find out more about David and his writings on his own website: www.dwrob.com.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

BOOK REVIEW: 52 WEEKS OF WRITING by Mariëlle S Smith



It's said that everyone has a book inside them. 

As more and more of us face having to stay indoors and avoid social contact, this would be a wonderful opportunity to find that book.

This amazing workbook will be a great help to any writer, from complete beginners to published authors, via any stage in between.  Accessible and understandable but not over-simplistic, it helps you to set your writing goals and - just as important - to keep to them.  I've found it invaluable in combatting the dreaded writer's block.  Highly recommended.

Read on for more details about the book, and news of an exciting giveaway.



52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner

Are you ready to become the writer you were always meant to be?
52 Weeks of Writing will get you cracking by making you plan, track, reflect on, and check in with your progress and goals an entire year long.
52 Weeks of Writing will help you dig deep by offering questions and writing prompts designed to unravel whatever truths about your writing you’re ready for.
52 Weeks of Writing will keep you inspired by delivering a thought-provoking writing quote every week.

-          Do you struggle with setting goals that reflect your daily reality?
-          Do you want to practise breaking goals down into manageable chunks?
-          Would you like more insight into your writing habit(s) and figure out why you keep getting in your own way?
-          And do you want to create a sustainable writing practice that honours your needs and desires as a writer?

Then the 52 Weeks of Writing: Author Journal and Planner is for you.
52 Weeks of Writing brings together every lesson Mariëlle S. Smith has learned as a writing coach and writer. Wary as she is of comparisonitis and unhealthy competition, this author journal and planner was designed to help writers develop and fine-tune a practice that works for them.
If you’re ready to get out of your own way and become the writer you’re meant to be, pick up your copy of 52 Weeks of Writing today.

Purchase Link



Author Bio –

Social Media Links –



Giveaway to win….
·         THREE paperback copies of the 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner,
·         ONE coaching session.

          
To enter, just click on this link:



Sincere thanks to Rachel's Random Resources for the opportunity to take part in this blog tour.