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Tuesday 26 February 2019

Tuesday Talk - author J.G. Harlond and a tribute to Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier
It is 80 years now since Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca was first released. Back in 1938, du Maurier’s publishers were nervous about the novel’s future, but the story has become a classic: a world-wide favourite, a play, a television series, even an iconic black and white movie. For a while, back in the 90s, new editions of du Maurier’s novels were hard to obtain, but with the recent film version of My Cousin Rachel she is very much back in the public eye. Which is as it should be, because Daphne du Maurier was a very accomplished novelist.

The real Jamaica Inn
© Alexa Zari - Shutterstock Purchased

Despite her success, du Maurier would probably make a modern publisher nervous, too. She did not, or would not, stick to one genre. Worse: she wrote books that were the antithesis of best sellers. The Glass-blowers (a fictionalised version of her French family history) was written in direct opposition to the hugely popular Scarlet Pimpernel and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. In this novel it is the skilled artisan not the aristocrat who takes centre stage: the novel tells not of heroes but of ordinary people striving to survive and make a future for their children during the French Revolution. And this, I think, is why many new readers are being drawn to du Maurier’s fiction. Despite Hollywood casting’s best efforts to the contrary, her protagonists are real people. They are ordinary men and women confused by events, over-awed by more glamorous or charismatic people around them, caught up in situations beyond their control. They may triumph in the end, but it is never a certain or perfect ending.

We may not be like the timid heroine of Rebecca or Rachel’s doubting, bewitched young man, we aren’t the frightened girl in Jamaica Inn or the bored wife in Frenchman’s Creek, but we understand their worries and motivations. Hungry Hill includes extra-ordinary events, but what happens is grounded in normal family life.

Reading the Glass-blowers again I was struck by this, and the simple wisdom in the story. Du Maurier understands the difficulties her characters face: like real people (like us) they may present one facet of their personality to the world, but underneath, inside, they are much more complex. As was Du Maurier herself.

Daphne at Ferryside, Devon, 1931
where The Loving Spirit was written
There is also a sense that no matter how fantastical or exciting the plot, and most stories are page-turners, there is something very ‘lived’ in each book. Du Maurier was classified as a Romantic Novelist, and I’m not belittling romantic fiction, far from it, but the sum of her writing goes well beyond that genre description. In an article on the anniversary of Rebecca in the Guardian (23rd February, 2018) the writer Olivia Laing says:
What really startled (du Maurier) was that everyone seemed to think she’d written a romantic novel. She believed Rebecca was about jealousy, and that all the relationships in it – including the marriage between De Winter and his shy second wife – were dark and unsettling. (“I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool” hardly betokened love between equals.) The idea had emerged out of her own jealousy about the woman to whom her husband, Tommy “Boy” Browning, had briefly been engaged. She had looked at their love letters, and the big elegant “R” with which Jan Ricardo signed her name had made her painfully aware of her own shortcomings as a woman and a wife.’

Many of du Maurier’s books address the past like this, they take on our concerns and confusions related to ‘what happened when’. Her writing examines what Laing calls the ‘oddities of time’. Regarding these ‘oddities of time’, I remember with absolute clarity reading the time-slip novel The House on the Strand during the course of a family Christmas day. The paperback transported me out of a modern household into an ancient house on a tidal reach, out of the 20th century into the 14th century. Listening to the story on the radio some months ago, I was taken back to those three time periods: that Christmas day and the two epochs in the novel. Some weeks later I picked up a battered hardback of My Cousin Rachel and remembered worrying about the laburnum seeds in our garden. I have now re-read most of du Maurier’s novels. On each occasion, opening the first page I have a clear vision of a place and/or moment in the story, and how it affected me the first time I read it. I remember reading the end of Frenchman’s Creek during the last lesson of a rainy Friday afternoon when I was about 16 – I remember feeling the tears on my cheeks. The teacher confiscated the book, naturally. I’ve read that story twice since then, and each time I’ve seen something new in it; I relate to something I hadn’t recognised before, but each time I have been taken back to that classroom. It is a curious experience. A good historical fiction author can take a reader back in time in the space of a paragraph, but I wonder how many can mark their readers for life like this?

Menabilly House, Fowey, Cornwall
Was du Maurier aware that she had this skill, this gift to transport readers through time and into other lives? I don’t know. Accounts of her own life tell of a troubled woman at odds with her gender and circumstances; a woman trapped in a troubled marriage with a man who had a breakdown because he was having two extra-marital affairs simultaneously. She is often linked to the house named Menabilly on the Cornish coast, where she apparently went to escape the real world. Big houses, full of private tragedies and secret histories feature in many of her novels. Looking at photographs of Menabilly I wonder if that house stands as a metaphor for her fiction – as full of conflicting emotions, versions of the past and fantasies as the house on the strand. Such thoughts and ideas are only suggested, it is up to each reader to interpret them of course, and as in real life we interpret them according to our own way of thinking and personal experiences. Readers bring their own baggage to any book.

Reconstruction of Daphne du Maurier's study
at the Smugglers Museum, 
Jamaica InnCornwall.
The room contains her Sheraton writing desk
Not all is what it seems in du Maurier’s novels, though, and they can’t be limited by a genre label. “Don’t look now,” we are told in that famous story about grieving parents in Venice, but if and when you do, you will find something disturbing, a theme that is both honest yet fantastical. For me, du Maurier’s novels are like a haunted room full not of ghosts but of real lives from the past – and the present.

© J.G. Harlond

about Jane Harlond

Originally from the south west of England, J.G Harlond (Jane) studied and worked in various different countries before finally settling down with her husband, a retired Spanish naval captain, in rural Andalucía, Spain. Her historical fiction, set in the 17th century and the first half of the 20th century, features many of the places Jane has lived in or visited – along with flawed rogues, wicked crimes, and the more serious issues of being an outsider. Apart from fiction, Jane also writes school text books under her married name. Her favourite reading is along the Dorothy Dunnett lines: well-researched stories with compelling plots and complex characters.

Website:   Blog

 Twitter: @JaneGHarlond

The Chosen Man is the first book in a trilogy, set in 17th century Europe and involves papal politics, the Thirty Years War, and the financial scandal known as tulipomania in Holland. There is a charming rogue, Ludovico da Portovenere who is an genoese silk and spice merchant commissioned by the King of Spain to destabilise the burgeoning Protestant Dutch economy in 1635. There are also pirates similar to those that sailed up quiet European estuaries to capture men, women and children for the white slave trade. 

"A Turning Wind. Writing the second story in The Chosen Man Trilogy took a long time because the background history was all so interesting. I started by investigating the spice and gem trade from Goa in India to Portugal and the rest of Europe around the middle of the 17th century, then moved on to what was happening in Plymouth and London during the run up to the English Civil War. That was also full of fascinating rabbit holes. The kernel of the story start to take shape, however, after I located letters between Henrietta Maria and her husband, King Charles. Pursuing this line, I found messages sent by a Venetian envoy at the Court of Charles Stuart to his Doge. Henrietta Maria was the sister of the Queen of Spain, and I soon learned that a secret treaty between England and Spain had been drawn up just prior to the outbreak of war. So here it was, the reason the chosen man is called upon to act in secret again, ostensibly for King Charles, but in fact for the royal sisters. Ludo’s mission is clandestine on both counts, and naturally he intends to turn the skullduggery to his advantage, but in the process – and it doesn’t all fall out as he plans – he finds himself obsessed by a secret of his own."

The Empress Emerald, is set between 1900-1944. This was a period of rapid social change when people’s lives were disrupted not only by war and international political events, but by technology. Transport, communications and weaponry were developing so rapidly, daily life in the first half of the twentieth century changed nearly as fast as our own.

The protagonists’ lives are influenced by two World Wars, Civil War in Spain and India’s transition to Independence. Leo Kazan, half-Russian, half-Indian, and descendant of Ludo in The Chosen Man, is another charming rogue who can’t be trusted, but he’s also a victim of events beyond his control. The novel raises the question: do the circumstances of his birth and abduction excuse his behaviour? It is for the reader to decide. The heroine, Davina Fulford, who grows up in the old Cornish mansion Crimphele, lives in a fairy tale world of her own making - until she finds herself in a much darker story, and in a very different country.

*Previously published on Discovering Diamonds November 2018

Saturday 23 February 2019

When a book review is blatantly and deliberately misleading...

For a totally independent article about this same subject - visit the Alliance of Independent Authors who posted a very enlightening article .... 
click HERE>

Many authors, indie especially, and several publishing houses (indie and traditional) have received, over the span of a couple of years now, unsolicited spam emails from a certain freelance proofreading company complaining about errors in various published books and offering their services and/or a list of the noted errors. Obviously, a ruse to tout for business. Naturally, such unwanted junk spam mail gets dumped without hesitation into the bin. But a few weeks later, as if by magical co-incidence, a scathing 'review' appears on Amazon mentioning, and often listing, these supposed errors and typos that this proofreading company has 'spotted'. (Doesn't he have enough work to do? Apparently not.)

quote:  *Out of courtesy, the author and the publisher were both contacted before this review was posted, but neither responded.*

What, you wonder, as do I, is the intention of this person from this company? Is it, as seems at first glance, to assist authors to produce good, quality books by pointing out the missed typos? Or is there some other, far more malicious, intention going on here?

Most genuine review sites (e.g my own Discovering Diamonds) do not review books that do not reach a certain standard. Giving poor or scathing reviews is a pointless exercise - there is barely enough time for volunteer reviewers to write constructive reviews for the good books, let alone the poorly written ones. At #DDRevs (Discovering Diamonds Review) if a reviewer gets back to me saying the book she/he has read is really good but what a shame about the far too many errors/grossly incorrect formatting etc., I privately contact the author and suggest a thorough re-edit/reprint/republish - which can be easily accomplished for indie writers. Alas for traditional/ mainstream where quite often it is the publishing house's fault that a bit of a mess has been made, there is nothing that can be done. Several thousand copies have already been printed and until the glorious height of another print run or the paperback edition is reached then grin and bear it with a very red face is the only option for the author. (Which is a huge reason why I prefer to be an indie writer. Bloopers are my own bloopers.) Occasionally the authors I contact rant back (somewhat rudely - I delete and block). More often than not I get an appreciative thank you for taking the trouble to respond,  BUT ... and this is a BIG BUT... these authors have submitted their books to #DDRevs for possible review. I do not contact strangers out of the blue, nor, unless the author particularly wants to continue communicating do I follow up with further e-mails.

THAT's the difference between being helpful 
or an outright spammer!

Unfortunately, this Proof Reader Person doesn't think like that. His  apparent selfless wish 'to help' takes on a sinister turn when he then goes on to harass and bully his victims by posting suspect tweets like this one to me:

Way back when (2017?) I did a talk at my local library (it went very well!) By chance, a few weeks ago (January 2019) I discovered an unread message dated from a few days before the talk in my Twitter inbox from Mr P referring to this event. (Mr P take note: I don't read/respond to Twitter DM messages.)

It said something like 'I intend to be there.' 

Well, he wasn't there (which in hindsight was very disappointing because I would have relished the face-to-face fisticuffs.) So what was the intention of his message? I can't believe it was meant as convivial support, so I can only conclude the purpose was to intimidate.

*Laugh* blimey mate, I've been doing talks for over 20 years at many and varied locations, (a highlight was one to the deputy British Ambassador and various big-wigs in Le Hague!) I've spoken in the US, fronted various conferences - I'm one of those authors who can Talk For England, so I'm an old hand at the job. Add to that, I'm a 65-year-old London East-ender!
As a friend remarked when I mentioned this somewhat crass attempt at intimidation: 'Poor guy, if he'd come along he wouldn't have known what had hit him.'  

I think the second one applies....
My Pirates Truth and Tales received a 2-star comment on Amazon from Mr P. Now I'm NOT claiming 'foul' regarding the facts of his comment - he was quite right about some of them. There are errors in the hardback edition and I'm mortified about them; the publisher printed from an uncorrected file. Result. Big Mess. But not my fault (I did not see a final proof copy until it was too late to do anything about it.) 

So I strongly reiterate that I am not complaining that someone had posted on Amazon about the errors, they are there, fact. (Very annoying fact!) but I am drawing awareness to his method, the motivation and the underlying reason for doing so. His comment and the dozens of similar ones for other author's books was left because I did not respond to his spam mail touting for business - to use his proofing service.

The publisher and I worked hard on ensuring the paperback was better proofed. Undoubtedly we did miss a few minor things (I think there's a 'too' instead of 'to' for instance) but the erroneous Marie Celeste (Mary) has been corrected, ditto coke (Coke), desert/dessert, the back to front date corrected blah blah blah. We also re-formatted the layout and I think the result is super. (Just a pity this wasn't done for the hardback!) 

OK, my 'chatty' style isn't to everyone's taste - fairy 'nuff, (although I did laugh at someone's comment of 'This isn't Patrick O'Brien' (sic - it should be O'BriAn). Well, thank goodness for that! Mission accomplished! I set out with every intention of ensuring Pirates and my Sea Witch Voyages were absolutely nothing like Mr O.B's novels. His books are engrossing but highly detailed, somewhat serious (and I have to say, in places a little dreary). They are a "mens' read" type books. My Sea Witch Voyages are meant to be a light, fun, tongue-in-cheek read with a blend of fantasy and romance. So I agree, absolutely nothing like Patrick O.B.

Back to our Proof Bully... this is the gist of his original comment for the hardback:

" 2 out of 5 stars Too many errors
March 2017
Format: hardback Verified Purchase
*Out of courtesy, the author and the publisher (Amberley) were both contacted before this review was posted, but neither responded.*
The book contains 249 errors of spelling, grammar, syntax and punctuation. The errors begin on the copyright page and increase a few pages later in the Timeline where ‘Hans Sloan’ should be ‘Hans Sloane’ (p10). Here is a brief selection (with examples) of what this reader found: "


Skip forward to January 2019... Determined to continue his 'helpfulness' Mr P has developed a new strategy: repost the original comments to make them look like new ones - this, of course, brings them to the fore where no one can miss them. (Again why? To what point? How does this, as he claims, be of help to authors?)

I protested that this was 'bad form' (to quote Captain Hook) and some changes were made: (in bold here)

2 out of 5 stars Too many errors
17 January 2019
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a review of the original hardback edition, purchased on Amazon in March 2017. *Out of courtesy, the author and the publisher (Amberley) were both contacted before this review was posted, but neither responded.*
*** UPDATE: a paperback version has been published and some of the errors have been addressed, but a huge number - at least half - remain. ***

but the rest of his comment is, as far as I can tell ... totally unchanged. 

So apparently there were originally 249 errors, now there's half that number  = 124.5. Well being blunt 124.5 minor errors out of 75,000 words isn't bad going! Especially when I bet that the majority of those 124.5 are picky and debatable (e.g. not taking into account author style etc) I occasionally ignore the split infinitive rule... sorry but I'm with Star Trek here: to 'boldly go' sounds much more 'every day' and comfortable than the correct 'go boldly'.  The use of ... or .... is personal preference, and often where a comma should/shouldn't go is also personal preference - all of which are not understood by a computer generated proof checker. (I use Grammarly, it's good but it doesn't pick up my personal style - it's picky-pedantic.) So I reckon a good half of the 124.5 so-called errors aren't errors at all, which gives us 62-ish, out of which half are probably tiny things like a missing space as in 'JanuaryTwenty-First' or a missed -  twenty six  instead of twenty-six .... so that brings us down to 31 possible errors... I mean does 31 small errors really deserve a 2 star review and public trashing?  Blimey, get yourself a life mate! 

Anyway, I responded thus: 

"Polite response: Do you, PP, really care about the several authors who decline to use your proofreading services? From the tone of this, and many other similar 'reviews', you have written your comments portray many books in a very poor light. The publisher of this book (and myself) worked hard on correcting the errors, which I have said many times were a result of printing from an uncorrected file (which I was/am cross about - and yes, the person responsible no longer works for the publisher. In fact he left during the final stages, hence the muddle.) The paperback is not 'a mess', it has been reformatted and I think looks most handsome. You say there are 'still'  half the original errors - that makes about 124 errors, most of which are very probably minor things picked up by the pedantic programme that you use (not a human reader's eye/brain which allows for style and author's voice.)  Out of over 75,000 words 124 minor, probably debatable, errors is annoying but not wholly unacceptable, and probably not even noticeable to a reader - certainly not to the extent of deliberately giving a false impression about a book. I am not debating the original hardback but I would appreciate a sense of honour and fair play from you PP regarding the paperback edition by upgrading this NEW review of yours (a copy of the old original) to at least a 3 star. 
Incidentally, thank you for purchasing this new paperback edition in order to re-proofread it, I wonder at how you find the time or inclination to do so? It is a most odd thing to do as you clearly have no real interest in the book, so what was your intended purpose? Or is the impression of repurchasing and re-reading in order to find a mere 124 minor errors somewhat false? I am baffled as to your motive? I leave sensible readers to reach an obvious answer..."

To which he has left a couple of sarcastic responses, which only show himself up as the t*sspot ass that he is. 
Apparently, I'm to stick to writing fiction (does he mean he likes my novels?) and he has suggested that I make full use of 'the free publicity'. Yes! I intend to! Although, can anyone enlighten me as to what he actually means by that? He's the one giving me the publicity opportunity, and given that I've sold a couple of books on the back of his sniping (readers interested in seeing just how much of 'a mess' the book is...LOL) I can only thank Mr P for this wonderful exposure of what is, to the majority of my readers, an interesting and enjoyable book about pirates. 

So following his advice, please do feel free to repost, reblog re-whatever this article - and please do leave an honest comment for any of my books that are on Amazon. 

Finally, I do have to say thank you to him, because I was stuck for an idea for a weekend topic to write about...

I repeat: I am NOT complaining about the embarrassing errors in the hardback. I AM drawing attention to this man's narsisitic misleading dishonesty, his dubious intent and his bullying harassing tactics. He is a menace to too many authors, some of whom he has grossly upset and even frightened. 

Note: Authors (new authors especially) are advised to NOT respond to this person but to report any harassment to the Society of Authors and/or the Alliance of Independent Authors. For myself, he does not frighten, intimidate or remotely succeed in bullying me personally ... I don't play the narcissistic bully game, nor do I tolerate harassment or attempts at intimidation. After all, I have my very own, very capable pirate (who has a very sharp cutlass) as a constant companion! :-)

#ObviouslyMrPHasNotEnoughWorkToDo #TooMuchTimeOnHisHands

For a totally independent article about this same subject - visit the Alliance of Independent Authors who posted a very enlightening article .... 
click HERE>

addendum: Mr P has 'advertised'...  "all corrections are available on request."
so I emailed him with:

Friday, 22 February 2019 7:43 PM
As 'advertised: "all corrections are available on request."
I request the corrections to my book 'Pirates Truth and Tales' 
Helen Hollick

within 5 minutes (maybe less) I got a reply - a link to his fees ... 
oh so his "all corrections are available on request." is also grossly misleading. You have to PAY to see how he's managed to publicly trash your book!

My suspicion is .... these 'corrections' do not exist because why would he proofread (and therefore purchase) my book TWICE without getting paid for it? Or is he hoping I'll be gullible enough to pay him?  

Sorry mate, I never fall for the con of spammers' spam. 

This YouTube advice is very good for how to deal with people/trolls like this:

Friday 22 February 2019

Novel Conversations with Nancy Jardine's Aran Bruce

 In conjunction with Indie BRAG
posted every Friday

To be a little different from the usual 'meet the author' 
let's meet a character...
Aran Bruce


Q: Hello, I’m Helen the host of Novel Conversations, please do make yourself comfortable. Would you like a drink? Tea, coffee, wine – something stronger? You’ll find a box of chocolates and a bowl of fruit on the table next to you, please do help yourself. I believe you are a character in Nancy Jardine’s novel The Taexali Game. Would you like to introduce yourself? Are you a lead character or a supporting role?  

A: Hi, I’m Aran Bruce. I’m the lead character in The Taexali Game but I suppose my friends might think otherwise. BTW – the cops will be called if you offer me any of your alcohol, since I’m only thirteen, but your chocolates and that slurp-looking mango in the bowl will be no problem. Where I’ve been recently was totally cool, but the food was yuck! 

Helen [smiles] no alcohol then - and I assure you, those chocolates and the fruit are very non-yuck! 

Q: What genre is the novel and what is it about?

A: The Taexali Game’s a time travel historical novel where I was whizzed back to A.D. 210, along with my friends Brian and Fianna. ‘Course, when we started playing our Rubidium Virtual Reality game we’d no idea where we were, or when it was, and had to work that out from really neat visual clues. Just as well that I’ve got a fabulous recall of facts. Oh, and then we had to come to terms with it all being really real, you know, and that death actually did mean being a dead-guy for ever. Some of the local Taexali Celts were our friends, others were dirty traitors, but the best bit of all was besting that nasty Ancient Roman Emperor Severus and his even more evil son – Caracalla – while we were solving the local mystery. We’re talking about Aberdeenshire, Scotland. That’s where I live when I’m not time travelling. 

Q: No spoilers, but are you a ‘goody’ or a ‘baddie’? (Or maybe you are both!)

A: I’m not sure the Roman auxiliary, the one that I was attacking during their raid on the Taexali Hillfort of Balbath, would call me a goody. It was actually Tyrnan’s spear that killed him, but if he hadn’t appeared at the right moment, I would have killed that Roman soldier to save Fianna. Otherwise, I’m mostly a ‘goody’, ‘cause tampering too much with history is against the rules! 

Q:  Goodness, that all sounded very dangerous. Tell me about another character in the novel – maybe your best friend, lover or partner … or maybe your arch enemy!

A: Tyrnan’s a fearsome-looking dude. He’s got a tribal tattoo on his brow and a spiky-limed fringe that sticks up solidly, though not from using the hair gel like I use today. As daughter of a chieftain, Seonagh’s kinda’ like a princess and Tyrnan’s her bodyguard till she becomes a fully-fledged warrior. At first, I thought Tyrnan was out to get me but once I knew him better, he is the coolest guy. As dour as …well, let’s say a smile is a rare thing. He’s the absolute-best loyal warrior, though he had me wondering when he let me be handed over to the enemy! 

a red jasper intaglio portrait of Caracalla
 in the Trimontium Museum, Melrose
Q: [thinks, it still all sounds very dangerous!] Is this the only novel you have appeared in, or are there others in a series?

A: So far, yes, but my author has already started Book 2 of the Rubidium Time Travel Series, and I’m really champin’ for her to get on with it since it’s in Victorian times. It’s boring having to wait, but she’s been spending time writing her other historical series.

Q: What is one of your least favourite scenes you appear in? 

A: Well, there’s the one where the adults from the Hillfort of Balbath drag me up to the ancient grove during the Beltane Ceremony. It’s really creepy up there, and I truly thought it was me that the Druid was going to sacrifice! I can’t say I was relieved when they tied the little sheep down on the altar to slit its throat because it was absolutely skanky to watch. I’m still not quite sure what would have happened to me if the auxiliaries from Emperor Severus’ fleet hadn’t come over the hill and attacked the hillfort. 

Q: And your favourite scene? 

A: Too tough to pick! I loved being in the chariot race against Maga and Sheonagh, even though I was completely useless at controlling it. However, a really great moment was when I was outwitting Emperor Severus. That guy was in charge of the whole of the massive Roman Empire, but the old man was so…superstitious. When I told him his Triumphal Arches in Rome and Leptis Magna would still be admired two thousand years later, he was fair chuffed. Though, it was amazing to watch him get really spooked after I told him to watch out for himself because his yukky son, Caracalla, was going to stab him in the back, which that bad b…oy really did attempt. 

Arch of Severus, Rome
Q: Tell me a little about your author. Has she written any other books? 

A: Her Celtic Fervour Series of historical adventures is set in late first-century northern Roman Britain. They begin in what we know of as Yorkshire and Cumbria, and then by Book 4 the location is Aberdeenshire. They’re during the first invasion of Scotland by General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola and his Flavian legions. And she’s also written three contemporary mysteries as well, totally stand-alone stories. 

Nancy Jardine
Q: Is your author working on anything else at the moment?

A: Yeah. She’s working on Book 5 of her Celtic Fervour Series. That action is in Roman forts in Southern Scotland, and maybe in Eboracum (York). She’s not told me yet, where it’s going to end but the main character, Beathan, is a guy I’d love to meet ‘cause he was the baby in Book 1 who was prophesied as going to become a great Celtic leader. 
Q: How do you think indie authors, such as your author, can be helped or supported by readers or groups? What does your author think is the most useful for her personally?

A: My author, Nancy Jardine, is getting better known in her home territory of Aberdeenshire. Local readers tell her they love her writing when they meet her in person and that’s amazing, but it’s great when her work gets written reviews – that really helps to spread the word globally. Telling other readers on Social Media like Facebook or Goodreads, and posting a review on Amazon is really helpful.

Q:  Finally, before we must bid adieu, the novel you appear in has been awarded a prestigious IndieBRAG Medallion, does your author find this helpful, and is there anything else she would like IndieBRAG to do to help indie authors receive the recognition they deserve?

A: Nancy Jardine loves being an IndieBRAG Medallion awardee and is really pleased that they help spread the word about The Taexali Game. Authors are all busy people but it’s really excellent that they reach out to each other and help endorse their work, in many ways. Nancy often has other authors promoting their writing on her own blog but, so far, she’s not thought of having some kind of blog series for guest authors who are indieBRAG awardees.  Working out how to start that sounds like a great plan for 2019! (Though, naturally, it would need to be different from this one.)

Helen: Thank you Aran it was a pleasure talking to you. Would your author like to add a short excerpt? But while she does that, I think that chatting is thirsty work, so would you like a refill of that non-alcoholic drink…? And do finish up those chocolates. Salute! Here’s to being a successful Brag Medallion Honouree! 

Aran and Nancy: Thank you, Helen! 

Mapon turned to him, the man as aloof as a stone statue. “Aran, son of Durran, you have the wisdom of the gods though you are still a boy.” The druid shouted so that as many people as possible would hear him. “The gods now go with you. You will take your knowledge to the Emperor Severus. He has need of your divining of the future.”
   Blairdaff guffawed drowning out Mapon’s next words as he leaned down from atop his horse. “The boy is not much of a diviner if he cannot see his own fate in front of him!”
His words pitiless, Aran felt the warrior grab at his golden torque and then he yanked him free of Tyrnan’s clutches. Blairdaff tugged him towards Severus, increasing the horse’s pace by using knee pressure alone. Aran dangled alongside, his feet skimming along the ground in uneven lurches.
    “It is your moment now, boy. You can tell Severus we have no further need for any of you. He can kill all the hostages immediately, including you, if he desires to, since your use is now over.” Blairdaff crowed when the horse padded across the tightly lashed planking of a makeshift bridge which had been set a across the waters of the narrow river.
   Aran felt himself airborne for a few seconds before he regained his balance on the far banking, his toes stubbing against the ground. He struggled to get free but it was no use. The torque bit into the back of his neck when he was towed across the rough grass till the High Chief came to a halt. He was furious but Blairdaff was as strong as an ox holding him in place for the Romans to collect. It was too late to realise what the Celtic leaders were doing. It wasn’t only the line of screaming tribespeople who were being dragged across the river as hostages to Severus. The treaty included bodies for slaves and he was one of them!”
   The Roman Emperor Severus looked as cruel as the history books said he was. There was nothing forgiving in the Emperor’s expression as he signalled for the hostages to be rounded up by his too eager auxiliaries.
   Why on earth had he wanted to get close up to this murderous man?

CONNECT WITH Nancy Jardine
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Twitter: @HelenHollick

Tuesday 19 February 2019

Tuesday Talk: A story Inspired By A Song

following on from the December series I ran on Discovering Diamonds...
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Read the story. Guess the song.


I watched you come in through the door, that quick glance you gave into the hall mirror, the expansive stretch of your arms as you greeted our hostess with your traditional three kisses, cheek, cheek, lips. God, I felt my skin crawl. She, laughing, took your trendy trilby hat and the real-silk scarf, slid those expensive leather gloves into the cashmere coat pocket and handed everything to the nearest waitress. Everyone was looking at you, the rock-star walking into the room, the guy with the Oscar-winning actor’s face, the multi-millionaire. James Bond, Johnny Depp, George Cluny all rolled into one. More kissing as the women flocked to greet you, more of your surreptitious touches on their ‘does my bum look big in this?’ backsides, (yes.) And you also touched up two very good looking young men, I noticed.

What really made me grit my teeth, through the essential false smile stuck on to my face, was the way you pretended to remember everyone: “Hello darling” – “Lovely to see you my dear”. You really hadn’t a clue who you were talking to did you?

It had been a decent enough party up to that point. Pre-Christmas always was a time for the rich and upward-heading to pretend they were all laid-back and super-dooper happy. The diamond earrings, sapphire necklaces – I feel I want to say ‘and that was just the men!’ but that would be unfair, it wasn’t their fault that you turned up. Nor would it have been at the doing of our Hostess with the Mostess, your invitation would have come from her Hubby. I hate that term, hubby, perhaps because I’m British and it isn’t a word we use much in the wrong part of Kent. Americans use it all the time. I have been here in the US for two-months, started at San Francisco, then travelling across various States, visiting and staying with friend to friend, catching up on Old Times. I hadn’t bargained on quite such an old time catching up on me though, here in Chicago. Last I’d heard of you, you were shacked up with a rich young widow in Budapest. This was my last evening. I was flying home back to Blighty at a I-didn’t-know-it-even-existed early hour in the morning. Home for Christmas. My bags were tucked away in one of the back bedrooms, I intended to slip away just gone midnight. Had a cab booked.

I digress. Several of the guests would have been invited by ‘Hubby’, he was the Main Man, the bloke with the money, the man with his finger on the pulse of Big Business, although how much that pulse was in need of emergency C.P.R., I could only guess. In my experience, rich people who threw these huge Christmas parties were probably on the verge of bankruptcy. The ploy was to openly and ostentatiously try to hide the fact, just in case there was some turban-clad genie waiting in the New Year with a magic solution. Our host, I guessed, was hoping to broker a huge payoff deal with you. Was that why you had been invited? Frankly, I couldn’t care less whether the poor b*stard and his simpering, size 8 wife went belly-up or not. The pair of them were tossers. No, to be fair, he was the tosser, she was a blank-minded out-of-a-bottle-blonde who had been swept up by his charm and he had married her for her looks. Nothing else. She didn’t have anything else, apart from that slim-line waist that a man could span his hands around.

And you were doing just that, right there in the middle of the room, laughing with everyone as Hubby urged you to prove it, that a man could touch his fingers together circled around her Barbie-thin waist. I felt sick again as I watched from the sidelines. Oh, and of course, you just had to kiss her again, and oops, as you released her, so accidentally brushed your hand against the swell of her Double-D boobs that were billowing out from her low-cut micro-mini black dress.

I met you, oh, many years ago now. I was still a child really, for all that I was seventeen. Naïve is the most appropriate word. Beyond Uncle Bob’s lecherous slurps, seventeen and never been kissed. I was at college and yes, we met at one of those rave parties that were all the rage back then. Stupid, clichéd, but it was true – our eyes met across the crowded room and you swept me off my feet. Literally as it happened, for it was, co-incidentally, Christmas, and when we went outside for a breath of fresh air… I’ve always wondered, did you slip on that patch of ice by chance or was it deliberate? Did you deliberately pull me down with you as you fell? Nowhere else seemed icy, but we were both hot and sweaty from the over-crowded party, and even hotter and sweatier after you'd picked me up off the floor and stole my virginity up against the club's kitchen wall.

I’d fallen in love with you that first moment. Hopelessly plunged into passion. I gave up college, followed you like a little puppy dog. Huh, more like a lamb to the slaughter. You had money and position, even then, your Mummy’s-Boy money. She’d passed away when you were twenty and left you a spoilt, rich man. A very  spoilt, very rich man who had no need to work for a living but could dabble in whatever he fancied whenever he wanted. Which is why everyone loved you, of course. You moved in the top circles, knew everyone who needed to be known - including royalty and presidents; financed promising businesses, movies, rock groups, athletes. Politicians. Had doubled your wealth by the time you were twenty-five, which is when I met you.

I’m not showing off, blowing my own trumpet, if I say I was pretty then. My skin is a little wrinkled now and my girth is more akin to a Cabbage Patch Doll rather than Barbie, but my eyes still sparkle, I’ve still got the gorgeous smile that you were always raving about. The one you grew bored with after six months, after we’d flown to the Philippines in your private ‘plane for that ‘special event’ that you just had to attend. I hadn’t realised that you only took me along because I was something pretty to drape on your arm and something for you to use to bargain with. I only discovered it on the second night when I couldn’t find you at that party – yes another one, your main hang-out has always been the parties you ought to be at, hasn’t it? I found out that you had been making love to the wife of the fifty-something ratbag you were doing your next big money-making deal with. He told me straight out, assuming I knew and had consented to the wife-swapping. He needed your support so had, at your suggestion, given her to you, and you'd reciprocated the gesture. She was even younger than me. Sixteen, maybe still only fifteen? Poor kid. Let’s not be coy, that man, your next business partner, raped me. You’d given me to him to have 'fun' with. Prostituted me in order to win the deal. You didn’t want me after that. I was ‘used goods’. You cleared of with not even a goodbye. Left me to wake up in that dreadful man’s house to make my own way home, with nothing but my clothes, passport and a wedge of money to pay me off. I never saw you again until tonight. You were a bastard then. You still are.

I couldn’t leave this party yet, I had obligations, although I had to fight down the urge to run away. I was sick, violently, in the loo. I’d been heading to the hidden-away one that the staff used, for a desperate pee. You really ought to be more careful, screwing the wife of the host, your supposed present best friend…

Yes, it was me you bumped into as you came out of the smallest spare bedroom buttoning your flies. I heard her voice inside, caught a glimpse of her as she hastily dressed.
You smiled, showing perfect white teeth, apologised.
“No problem, sir,” I answered in my best imitation American accent. I’d started disguising my British nationality after the first week, fed up with all the stupid remarks: ‘You from In-ga-land? You know my grandmother? She must be a neighbour, she lives in Warsaw.’  *
You didn’t give me a second look as you swaggered off down the stairs, whistling like you always did after an easy conquest.

You are so wrapped up in yourself, you didn’t recognise me, did you? But then why would you? You wouldn’t expect me, the forty-something who had finally found the courage to actually do things, to be moving in the same circles as you? To be frank, I hadn’t expected to be there either, but the friend I was staying with had to be there, and she felt guilty at leaving me alone on my last night, so had found me something suitable to wear and smuggled me in. And of course, you wouldn’t notice us, the staff, the hired waitresses.

Small revenge, petty I know: my last little performance as a waitress before I collected my bags and headed for the waiting cab. I served you a glass of cold, bubbling champagne.

I wonder how long it took for the three sachets of liquid laxative that I added to work?

© Helen Hollick
 * p.s: I'm not being rude about my American friends with the 'You know my grandmother? She must be a neighbour, she lives in Warsaw' quote - this was actually said to me by a waitress in a Virginia restaurant! 

Can you guess the song?

You’re so Vain by Carly Simon

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