13 March 2018

Tuesday Talk with Helen Hollick :the Return of Escaping to the Country

Back in 2012 we had a bit of a windfall - one of the winning numbers for the London Olympics Lottery Raffle Prize turned out to be our number. The outcome was that we finally had a chance to buy our own property and to get out of Walthamstow, N.E. London, in exchange for a prospective new home in Devon.

Problem: Finding said home.
Solution: Apply to go on Escape to the Country and let someone else do the leg-work!

The result was a couple of days with a BBC TV film crew in North Devon, and we bought the first house they showed us.

This one, in fact.

We moved in on the day it snowed heavily on 18th January 2013, and absolutely love it here.

Quite a few things have changed in the years between. Kathy married Adam, for instance, and we built an extension apartment for them.

We moved in with two cats, a dog and two horses. We now still have two cats (although Sybil has gone semi-feral) ...

Our old boy Rum
 sadly left us in March 2013
... two dogs

hens, ducks and geese (and Ron still has his racing pigeons)

Christmas Goose
a donkey called Wonky Donk and four Exmoor ponies

 three big show jumpers

Lexie (Shinglehall Casino)

Wexford Pippa
Saffie - La Rafaelle
with one more one the way, Saffie is in foal, due to be born in late March, early April

With all this additional excitement through the years, I invited the BBC TV Escape to the Country team back for their spin-off series I Escaped to the Country.

So on the 27th February 2018  we played host to the lovely Alistair Appleton  and crew for the day.

Baz wasn't very impressed
Although he adored Alistair

Mr Mischief, of course,
wanted to know if anything was edible...

Then it was time for lunch, which we provided
The cheese was from the Cheese Larder in South Molton

Donkey, however did not want to join in

... until Alistair walked away

I think he was scared because the boom-microphone
 looked a bit like donkey fur

Phew, it's hard work this being on TV lark!
No idea, yet, when the show will be broadcast ... but watch this space (or better still, sign up for my newsletter HERE and you'll get the date as soon as I know!)

< My Previous article Game of Thrones 

6 March 2018

Tuesday Talk: my guest A.E. Wasserman

What Started It All
Or  What Inspired Me to Become a Serious Author,
      And the Award-Winning Piece That Shoved Me Over the Edge

Often people ask what inspired me to become a writer. Many authors just always “knew.” 
I didn’t. 

I had always written just for fun. For myself. After all, novelists were those “other” folks who wrote the books I’d read. Hemingway, Faulkner, Doyle, Chandler, Grafton, Hollick. I wasn’t one of them. It didn’t matter that I’d written a novella at age 14. Longhand. On lined notebook paper. Eighty of those pages. I wrote because that’s just what I did as a fun hobby.

I was always the one who wrote the news articles for a club I belonged to. I wrote weekly or monthly columns for dog and horse magazines, earning a little bit of money that helped pay for horse shows. An occasional short story. But I never took myself seriously until, on a lark a few years ago, I entered a piece I’d written in a Writer’s Digest contest. Since I’d won several writing awards in high school, I thought it’d be fun to see what I might be able to do as an adult. Had I known there would be over 9500 entries and only twenty winners total, I would never have entered.
But I did enter.
And I won.

I won a Writer’s Digest prize, along with a coveted seal and a very nice-sized check.
It was then that I finally took myself seriously and said, “Why not?”
Why not write a novel? Granted, there’s a whole other story about that first novel and how the Langsford Series sprung from it. But this article I’m sharing today, this is what started it all and allowed me to believe in myself. It was my self-defining bit of writing.

Here it is, unchanged from the original:

Amanya Wasserman                                                                   word count 1772
PO Box nnnn
Burbank CA nnnn
nnn nnn-nnnn

A.E. Wasserman

There Are Three of Us

There are three of us leaning on the white board fence watching the horses play in the green California pasture. We are quiet, simply enjoying the moment.
There are three of us.
We watch as a yearling Trakehner[1] colt breaks from his trot, digging in with his hind legs to take off at full gallop. He is lovely. His young muscles work hard under his bright chestnut coat. His eyes are shining, full of both joy and mischief. Equivalent to a teenage boy, he has energy, spirit and naughty written all over him. He is and will be, I know, a handful.

Close on his heels comes another colt, a few months older, dark brown-bay, bigger and in more of a show-off mood. He trots with huge strides, elevating each step high above the grass, tail up in the air and nose snorting. Between each step, he suspends himself midair before any hoof can touch down. He floats effortlessly past me. “Look at me,” he says. “I’m incredibly
cool.” Then he drops his head, kicks out with quick hind feet, and joins his half-brother in a full gallop.

“Those two are both by the stallion, Templeritter,” my host explains as he stands beside me at the fence line. We don’t look at each other. We are watching the horses. “What do you think?” Roy Fleischer is a little under six feet, wearing jeans and short paddock boots. He has a cowboy hat on along with a smile that shows how proud he is of his youngsters.
“I think I’m glad I don’t have to train them,” I laugh at the cavorting colts. “The bay is a good mover and strong. I’d figure him to be an excellent dressage prospect, but then, I’ll have to see him again at three years old.”

Gerta, who has been standing silent on my right this whole time, finally speaks up. “Right. I agree. A lot can happen in their growth over the next two years.” Visiting California from Germany, she speaks without any accent. She is much taller than either Roy or I, muscular and very self-assured. Dressed in her riding breeches and custom German boots, she appears even taller than she is.
The yearlings turn nearly in unison, then thunder back toward us. “But I do think that big guy has dressage in his future.”
We watch as the larger one spins on his heels.

“Fernando,” Roy turns to call over to his stableman who is standing by the white pasture gate. Halters and lead ropes drape over his arms. “Ponga por favor los potros atrás y saque la nueva yegua.”  He asks Fernando to catch the teenagers and return them to their paddocks, then bring out the new horse; a mare this time.
We watch as the yearlings are led away. “Those are a couple of very nice youngsters.” Gerta absently brushes some hay from her shirt sleeve.
Roy beams at her. Her opinion means a lot to most of us Americans. Her grandfather had been a main groom at the famous Trakehnen Stud in Germany before World War II. Her family had always been involved with Trakehners, in one way or another.

Her father, at four years of age, had fled with many others from Germany in the infamous “Trek”, running from the Russians in the bitter winter of 1945. The story, well known among horse people, is one about the horses, not the people, and it is a heartbreaking one.
We know the number of horses and who they were. We don’t know much about the people themselves. Over eight hundred horses left the Prussian area of Trakehnen, which for over a century had always been part of a buffer zone between Germany, Poland and Russia. The people there, including Gerta’s family, were on the Nazi side of the last world war. They were Nazi Germans whose lives centered on the horses they bred, loved and cared for.

By the summer of 1944, it was clear that the Russians were going to break through the German lines. Many people in that area wanted to leave, but the German Army would arrest anyone leaving with their belongings and shoot them for treason. Finally, in January of 1945, the Trakehners had to be evacuated because the Russians had broken through the Prussian border and were fast approaching.   The people in and around Trakehnen quickly gathered up their beloved horses, hitched them to wagons laden with belongings, loaded their backs with food, hay, and bundled-up children. They turned loose the young stock in the hopes they could survive on their own, for feed on the trip was in short supply. Once ready, they all, people and horses alike, rushed for the West, six hundred miles away, in an attempt to flee the invading Russian forces.

The most vivid scene described in a rare telling of “The Trek” is the one of the horses galloping over the frozen Baltic Sea; a frantic effort to get to West Germany and safety. The Russian planes were literally overhead, strafing the entire group as it ran across the ice. Russian troops fired from the shoreline. Many horses and people dropped as bullets tore through them. The dead and dying tumbled and slid over the ice, leaving a blood slick behind them. There was no cover out in the middle of the sea. If a horse or wagon slowed, its heavy weight broke through the ice, dragging the wagon, horse and all, into the freezing black depths.  Those who were fast enough, raced over the cracking surface, leaving a trail of frantic hoof prints behind in the brittle and cracking ice.
People. Horses. All running for their lives. Nazi’s. Running. Galloping.
To this day, survivors cannot speak about it.

Of the eight hundred horses that began the six hundred mile Trek, fewer than one hundred made it to West Germany.  We have no count of the people. While Gerta’s young father somehow survived along with his parents, her great grandparents and others in her family did not. None of their own beautiful Trakehners survived.
After the war, her family, what remained of it, stayed in Germany and began life anew. Gerta’s grandfather began working with horses again, ultimately finding some Trakehners scattered here and there. He helped to rebuild the breed, originally numbering over 250,000 head, from the few sorry survivors. Growing up at his father’s side, Gerta’s father learned to work with the horses, and later, his daughter, Gerta.

Even today, those of us who know the story of the “Trek,” don’t talk about it much. But we do know and respect the vast knowledge that someone like Gerta has. So when she makes a comment, it is highly valued.
Today, we lean on the white fence, marveling at these beautiful creatures, while basking in the California sunshine. I think of my own Trakehners on my ranch in the Sierra foothills, other descendants of that long ago farm. I feel grateful that we have these horses at all.
The stableman brings out an imported broodmare that is Roy’s new pride and joy. Hadice trots beside the short Hispanic groom, a big round 17h[2] bay mare, with a heavy thick black mane and tail. In foal to a stallion named Windfall, she too, floats as she trots politely beside the man, eager to go faster, but staying at a mannered prance. We turn to watch her as she’s turned loose in the pasture.
It is amazing that all the Trakehners we have today have come from the few remaining survivor horses in West Germany. Like the Jews, their numbers severely dwindled, but they were strong enough to survive.

Gerta hangs on the fence to my right, Roy to my left. As if he were reading my mind, he starts talking about what a miracle it was that any of the horses survived the war. Gerta agrees. I nod.
“You know,” he continues, “My grandfather, Herman Fleischer, was a Captain in the US Army during the war. Afterward, he was assigned to help restructure the Deutsche Bank in Germany. It was fitting, because his grandfather had come from Germany.”
Gerta, quiet for a moment, replies. “My grandfather was a Nazi German who loved Trakehners.”
All of us keep watching the big bay mare canter around the pasture.
“My Jewish grandmother lived in a village about 60 km from Trakehnen.” I am almost whispering. “The entire village was destroyed early in the War.”
We watch the big bay mare as she circles, drops her head and bucks a little, her thick black mane tossing in the breeze.  We are silent.
Gerta and I put our arms over each other’s shoulders. Simultaneously Roy extends his arm around mine; I do the same with him.

We three stand there in that special embrace, along that white fence here in California so far in time and place from history, watching a horse that represents to us a very special healing. A moving forward from the long ago events of an ugly world. A hope for “never again,” ever.  A hope for a continuing better future. People. Trakehners. All living things.
We need not say more. We watch silently as the pregnant mare slows to a walk and begins grazing the green pasture in the California sunshine.
The German granddaughter of a Nazi, the Jewish granddaughter of a Prussian Jew, an American grandson of a G.I.

The three of us stand quietly at the white board fence.

 [1] In the beginning of the 18th century, Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm I wanted a new type of cavalry mount for the Prussian army. War tactics had changed and he wanted a lighter, more comfortable horse with more endurance and speed than the heavy horses previously needed to carry an armored combatant. The king wanted horses for “his officers to ride, attractive enough to make them proud, solid enough to stay sound, with a comfortable, ground-covering trot that would enable them to travel quickly and efficiently.” So he chose the best horses from seven of his royal breeding farms, and in 1732 moved them all to the new royal stud at Trakehnen, beginning the Trakehner breed.

[2] Horses’ heights are measured in “hands”, symbolized by the lower case “h.” Each hand is four inches. The measurement is from the ground to the top of the back, just below the neck. A 17h horse stands 68” tall at that location, or five ft., 8 inches.

 A.E. Wasserman currently has three historical mystery/thrillers in place, with two more in the works. She is a full time author, best known for her Langsford Series.  www.aewasserman.com

This is me with my Border Collie muse, Topper
(he's in all my author photos)
and we are at the 8830 ft summit of Mt Pinos in
California's Los Padres National Forest.
It's our heaven.

27 February 2018

Tuesday Talk with Helen Hollick: Hashtag GoT ( #GoT )

I am guessing that you either know what the above means – or you do not?

Hashtag (or more usually this symbol #) is a sort of alert sign, indicating ‘hey look at this specific topic’. Commonly it is used on Twitter (so I would put #BlogArticle followed by
www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com to draw attention to this (or any article that I decide to post here on this blog.) When something is 'trending', it means lots of people have noticed the # and are following that topic – sort of a Twitter bestseller if you like.

Now what about the GoT bit? Aw c’mon, where’ve you been these last few years? *laugh*.

I’m talking Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones is a US fantasy TV drama series created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. Adapted from A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin's series of novels set on the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos, and has an enormous cast of characters. Most of whom, at one time or another, are hoping to kill at least one of the other characters in one gruesome way or another.

If you’ve never watched the show, can’t stand it, can’t make head nor tail of it, abandon this article now, it’ll not hold much interest for you.

But #Love #GoT?... #Read on…

I had not read the books and came to the TV series rather late (series four!) not having Sky TV I  hired series one on Amazon’s Lovefilm (now, alas, discontinued:  what is it with Amazon? But that’s another discussion for a #FutureArticle). I watched the first few episodes with interest, but puzzlement. What on earth was going on, who were all these different characters with odd-sounding names – and I thought the series was fantasy? Apart from It being set somewhere that was obviously not Britain, America, Canada, Russia, New Zealand or wherever on this Earth, so obviously a make-believe country/land I couldn’t figure where the fantasy came in.

So there was a great Ice Wall? OK. Got that.
Winter was coming - obviously a harsh time that lasted years. Fine, we were in the realm of fiction, but not exactly fantasy.

Wolves – big wolves. Direwolves. Not quite ‘normal’ wolves. Acceptable. Still not fantasy?
Various things happened – mainly Ned Stark, the Lord of the North and his daughters go south with the King and his family, for Ned to be the King’s head adviser – 'the King's Hand'  That I found to be an interesting term. Darn – wish I’d thought of it!
One bastard-born son, Jon Snow went northward to serve in the Nights Watch. I guessed that meant to guard the Wall. Against who/what? Still not the fantasy I had expected. What was I missing here?

I was thinking Hadrian’s Wall, of course, and apart from the sheer size and the fact that the GoT Wall is made of solid ice, you can see the connection. Built across a narrow neck of land to keep the North out from the South (or vice versa if you happen to be from the North.) The Emperor Hadrian started to build his wall in AD 122. It (or its remains) is 73 miles long and varies between 10 – 20 feet in height. It stretches from the east coast of England in Northumbria to the west at Carlisle, with larger forts interspersed with smaller milecastles. Similar to our GoT Wall setup. Although that wall is much bigger!

As the episodes went on through series one, I worked out that the various ‘Houses’ were all at each other’s throats because of various past feuds, betrayals, jealousies and greed. I gave up trying to remember who was who for most of the secondary and minor characters though.
Head House was the King of the Seven Kingdoms, the House of Baratheon. Next, the Lannisters – the Queen’s family (and what a rum lot they turn out to be!) Then there’s the Greyjoys, the Tyrells, the Targaryens the… etc. The list is enormous. All of them to be frank, even more of a rum lot!

Then you’ve got the spies and those out for their own gain – remind you of anything else in history? The Wars of the Roses perhaps, with one House (York) against the other (Lancaster)? Add in the Tudors as well.  All wanting the Crown (or in the Game of Thrones, the #IronThrone – a throne made of swords) and willing to do anything – including torture, rape and murder – to sit on it. Or maybe compare to the upheaval of Rome after Caesar had been murdered. The goings-on between Augustus and wife Livia, then Caligula, Claudius, Nero…  (another very rum lot!) 

But #GoT? Still no fantasy. Had I got the wrong end of the stick somehow?

Enter the Dothraki and Daenerys Targaryen. Now this lot, the Dothraki, were very clearly the equivalent of Attila and his Huns, or the Vandals and Goths, or the modern-day Cossacks of the Russian Steppes. Their’s is the life of the nomad, the horse their most precious commodity and nothing, nothing, would stop the vast hoard once on the move. The only difference to Attila, we were in the hot grasslands (the African Savannah?) not the cold of Russia or Mongolia.

Daenerys. The Mother of Dragons, 
the Breaker of Chains the...
well, she has quite a long title to her name!
Ah! Some hint of fantasy at last! Daenerys (Dani) Targaryen,  the last daughter of the Targaryen House (everyone else except her whining, insipid fob of a brother, having been murdered by others mentioned above) is married off to Attila… well, in this story, Khal Drogo. There’s been a good bit of explicit and often violent sex up to now, by the way. Lots of bums and boobs, naked girls (and boys) in brothels and a fair bit of incest. So if you’re not keen on ‘explicit’, GoT is not for you.

As a wedding gift, Dani is given three stone dragon’s eggs. But are they stone…?

Ah, the fantasy is at last beckoning! Magic, supernatural, witchcraft, fantasy, it all starts creeping in,  but still I wasn’t sure. Was what was happening just superstition? Con tricks by those trying to gain positions of power? Then a zombie-like creature was brought to life... and THEN... (not giving away spoilers)… The zombie is killed and cremated and...   Oh WOW!

A lot goes on in between all the above, and following on (I bought the DVDs, couldn't wait to watch via hiring them). We are  (2017) up to series seven, with the last, the eighth, due to broadcast in 2018 or 2019, and I am not giving away spoilers, but I must share some of the lines that Tyrion Lannister – the Imp (the dwarf) comes out with. They are priceless. Actually, so is he.

“... a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”

"The powerful have always preyed on the powerless. That's how they became powerful in the first place."

"That's what I do. I drink and I know things."

Tyrion - the 'Imp'
Suffice to say, by the second series I was in love with Jon Snow, adored Tyrion, admired Daenerys  and was rooting  for Arya Stark… yes! Get in there girl!

Arya Stark
I also wonder how much is similar to the legends of King Arthur? A magic sword (well the swords in GoT are made of a special metal, so not exactly magic but...) The betrayals, the incest between brother and sister, the dragons... just a thought...

If you like intrigue, super character development, a nod to the past and history, and not  knowing what is going to happen next until it happens (no second guessing in GoT, apart from expect the unexpected) watch GoT. Add to all that, who survives not only to the end of each series but to the next episode without being murdered (one way or another) is, in my opinion one of the most engrossing aspects. And unlike many TV series, no it isn’t just the ‘bit-part’ guest characters who get bumped off. We’re talking main characters here!

Can you imagine? The lead character was dead in the previous episode …. So you sit there biting your nails hoping your favourite survives until next week…

Jon Snow
some more memorable quotes:

“The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword."

“Death is so terribly final, while life is full of possibilities.” 

"Why is it that when one man builds a wall, the next man immediately needs to know what's on the other side?” 

“Once you’ve accepted your flaws, no one can use them against you.” 

“Laughter is poison to fear.”

“Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle.”

 "Power resides where men believe it resides. It's a trick. A shadow on the wall. And a very small man can cast a very large shadow."

#GoT #LoveIt

Love it? Hate it? Do share your comments below, I'd love to hear your views!