OUT OF THE ARCHIVES…(2)

How well do you know the history of where you live?

Laguna-Salada-de-Torrevieja sml

A willing victim of the writing bug – there really is no cure – and having retired to Spain, I viewed the alphabet with positive eyes I’ll have you working your butts off shortly, I threatened, as any self-respecting writer would.

Recently roped in with other members of The Torrevieja Writing Group, I soon felt at home and enjoyed the company of like-minded people. Open to what was happening locally, I was aware of a writing competition announced by Torrevieja’s Ayuntamiento – great word – Town Hall. It was to be the First International Short Story Competition ever held, so I read the history of the town and wrote a story about its past and the precious commodity for which it is widely known: namely that white substance we can’t do without, Salt.


Excerpts from my entry Worth its Salt:

“…As for me, being older than the infamous Methuselah, and a time traveller to boot (invisible though we may be, there are – surprisingly – still a few of us around.), I daily count my lucky stars. The drawbacks are unimportant here and don’t affect my present quest, which is to take you on a journey backwards and forwards in time…So, gird your loins, or fasten your seat-belts, and come back with me to the year 218 B.C.

Roman soldier“…A column of foot-weary and dusty soldiers and their pack horses approach. At their head is Centurion Marcus (I’d clean forgotten how handsome he is…) See how his body armour reflects the fiery sun-rays as he rides his Barbary horse towards the Salinas: scarlet and gold cloak a vivid gash against the cobalt blue of the sky, billowing behind him. He is off to claim his salary of salt: Sal, a common if precious payment for work well done, and conquerors… Before they leave, one of the Romans will fall in love with a Spanish girl and, until now, only she knew that the child she bore had Roman blood in his veins.”

I noted: ”… Men seemed to have a penchant for war. And, although the colour red dominates time, I choose to look at the sky. More centuries than I care to remember, pass. I even hibernated through one! And then Spain attains her most triumphant success – that of expelling the Moors at the end of the 15th century.” Though… “the Moors left behind them an admirable legacy of some wonderful architecture, intricate wood carvings, colourful textile designs, outstanding tiles and other objet d’art.” Time moves ever on.

“At the end of the 18th century, King Carlos IV decrees that the Salinas salt works offices move from La Mata to Torrevieja, and plans are later drawn up for the building of a new town next to the existing one.” The town’s population swells to 1,500, industry is buzzing and the first commercial wharf is constructed. Pungent aromas of exotic spices drift up from the holds of numerous vessels, and many of the town’s citizens find work building over 250 ships. You may find it interesting to know that two of the ships are to be used in forthcoming films: ‘The Onedin Line’ and ‘Treasure Island.’ There is much optimism in the air.” Sadly, Mother Nature has something else in mind.

“…now it is March 21, 1829 – the beginning of the Spring Equinox. Earlier, the sky was calm, the atmosphere clear. However, around lunch-time there is a slight tremor and I again feel a great sense of foreboding, for there have beenFerdinand sml 70 worrying days and nights of seismic activity in the area of late. Suddenly, the wind drops, the sky becomes overcast and there is an uneasy calm over all. My palms are damp, my throat dry. I do not want to re-experience the inevitable…I am fearful as the earth begins to tremble and inside Carlos`’villa, plates fall and smash on the tiled floor. Then, a huge tremor wreaks havoc where it strikes in Torrevieja and all the towns and villages in the Vega Baja. In a little over five seconds, 32 people perish. Along with 36 animals, and 67 people are injured. As in many other households. tragedy descends on the Rodriguez family, for Carlos’ wife Maria,is making paella in her kitchen when the roof collapses on her. Fortunately, Carlos in out in the open with his two sons. All three survive. Uncle Jose – by now a bent old gentleman – is still asleep when the earthquake strikes, a sleep from which he will never awake. I am again overcome with sadness, especially for Maria, who was so full of life. As most of the survivors are now homeless, the reconstruction of the decimated town is ordered by King Ferdinand VII.

King JuanHold tight…forward we go, to the year 1975. So many flags and bunting? And the sound of trumpets? Is my memory failing me? Oh, of course… General Franco has died and Juan Carlos is proclaimed King. I again feel cautious optimism- with countless others. I am sure a Democratic State will succeed.”

“And now, back in 2004. after hovering over ’pineapple palms,’ admiring the colourful Lantana and Oleander: the ubiquitous Bougainvillea… we are in La Plaza de la Constitucion, a delightful, verdant oasis of calm (well, at present). Think I’ll linger awhile. There’s a Welsh choir due to sing at The Palacio de la Musica (excellent acoustics) not to mention an ‘Habaneras’ – a melodious song competition to look forward to. I must haves some ancient Welsh blood mingling with the Spanish and Portuguese in my veins, for I adore Welsh choirs!”

“Unfortunately, I am unable to enlighten you as to the mysteries of being a time traveller, for they are strictly secret. Sufficient to say that, one moment, oh so long ago, I was bathing my feet in the warm Mediterranean sea, while my husband Fernando Rodriguez and young son were picnicking nearby, and the next I was spirited away. They mourned me as drowned. They shed many tears, as did I. However, I was blessed to see my husband and son prosper”plaza

“And now? I am putting in a fervent request – in triplicate – for retirement, for I feel the strong heart-beat of Torrevieja here in the Plaza. It augurs well for the future. A future filled with imaginative plans, hope and optimism. Yes, I think Torrevieja is well worth its Sal.”

The complete story Worth its Salt was published in Torrevieja Another Look, on the festive day of Saint Valentin, 14th February, 2005. My story won First Prize!

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2021

An interview with Seumas Gallacher

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

portraitI pondered long and hard on the best way to introduce renowned author Seumas Gallacher, and the first word which came to mind was Charismatic (full of charisma and charm) and – as he calls me ‘m’Lady’ – thought it entirely apt and fitting.

Like most inhabitants of the planet, we can only fervently hope that 2021 is hugely improved on last year. Surely, from many viewpoints, there has never been a more tumultuous twelve months since World War II!

So, we can do no better than respect the obvious and kick-start the year with someone as interesting, capable, talented and entertaining as Seumas, who is known to many users of the internet and a myriad other souls scattered all over the planet, more especially those who read! Naturally, some folk know more about our author than others, so I’ll now switch to first person and ask Seumas some direct questions.

Me. Hi m’Lord. First off, the warmest welcome to my home in sunny Spain. Please make yourself comfortable. May I offer you a tipple, or would you prefer tea or coffee?

S. Diet Coke is my poison of choice, thanks, with ice – lemon not necessary…

Me. What is the most enduring memory you have of childhood, and where was it spent?

S. So many, good, and some not so terrific… my infant school days, as a totality, I think, where I was completely comfortable…

Me. Is there anyone or anything special that lingers in your mind from those days?

S. The teaching staff, all of whom were ladies, Miss Knox who taught us all how to knit and do crochet, even the boys … Miss MacLeod, who gave every child as much time as she felt necessary to help them, and Mrs Burnside, who ruled her class with a siren voice, but a gentle giantess in her own way, and an absolute hero of a headmaster, Carl Caplan (you will read about him in my memoir).

Me. Were you born brainy, or did you have to work hard to reach your goal/s?

S. It seems I was supposedly a bright child, and have always had a fascination for learning things… I have SO MUCH trivia in my head from through the years… I have a capacity for remembering detail from years ago…

Me. Does writing fulfil you? And have you hankered after any other role in life?

S. Writing certainly has fulfilled much of my desire of being able to express myself… to unload a lot of things from my inner being, especially in my poetry… I believe that real poetry is a highly selfish, personal thing, a matter of taking emotions and wrapping words around them… and I have no qualms about that… as for other career ambitions, I would dearly love to have been allowed to sing on stage for a living.

Me. If you could grant just one wish for the betterment of the world, what would it be?

S. Let all Mankind take note of the second part of their description…’kind’… and ease all manner of anxieties and sufferings anywhere it exists around the planet.

Me. If you were invisible, what mischief would you get up to?

S. If somehow it were possible to get invisibly into political lawmakers’ offices and rewrite all the laws to equalise pay and conditions for all of the front line and support services people who sustain our hospitals and other areas of public service.

Me. Describe your favourite way of relaxing.

S. Watching professional English Premier League football on television… in Bahrain, we get every match televised live… I also get therapeutic pleasure from being active on the few social network channels that I indulge.

Me. Do you have a bucket list, and if so, what’s on it?

S. Not a bucket list as such, as that almost accepts an ‘end’ to everything… I would like to be financially well off enough to spend a lot of my life travelling the world meeting fellow writers.

Me. What do you feel the most passionate about?

S. Depends what day you ask me that question, as there are so many things… but I am big on ‘giving back’ in many small ways on a daily basis if I can, and not letting people know about it…

Me. Pet hate?

S. Bullies in any form or station in life, in business or in private life… I generally meet them head on, for better or worse.

Me. Which two people would you like to have dinner with? (Dead or alive.)

S. Peter Ustinov and Billy Connolly… but again, ask me on other days and there will be plenty of different pairings…

Me. Name two favourite pieces of music.

S. Anything haunting from the Celtic genre, and the past concerts of The Highwaymen (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and the magnificent Kris Kristofferson).

Me. Name two favourite authors.

S. So many again to choose, but Charles Dickens and John Steinbeck are always high on my list of favourite literary giants.

Me. Name a Favourite holiday destination.

S. The small township of Tobermory on the beautiful Isle of Mull in the Scottish Inner Hebrides, where I lived and worked as a young man in my late teens.

Me. What is your favourite genre, Seumas?

S. Anything by the old authors from a century and more ago, as they had a command of the English language which I adore and rejoice in reading.

Me. Why do you enjoy writing so much? And which one of your books means the most to you?

S. Exercising my mind has always been something I have been conscious of… use it or lose it! My favourite among all my writing is the autobiography… I like reading about the guy I became.

Me. How would you like to be remembered?

S. As someone who would rather do right by people than otherwise…

Me. That wasn’t too painful, was it, Seumas! It’s been great having you here and learning so much more about you. Live long and be happy. Cheers!

S. Thanks for allowing me space on your pages, m’Lady!

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2021

Seumas’ website is here and you can purchase his books here on Amazon.

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A tale of many cities

A tale

The following excerpt from Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities” could apply all over our precious planet at present, for while too many innocent bodies are being ravaged by this horrendous pandemic, people are still falling in love; new life is coming into being, and new, vital, medical and other advances are, fortunately, being made.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the Spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

The biggest positive in that paragraph is “the Spring of Hope” for where would we be without it?!

Whatever age we are, many of us have doubts. Some more than others. Despite being enthusiastic and keen to write, for years I never felt good enough and always too aware of successful, top authors. Something we should never do…Then, one day, I read a description which led me to view my efforts in a different light. It stated: “Writers can be weavers of magic and purveyors of exotic tales. They can transport readers to new heights and give them hope and guidance; they can educate, illuminate, as well as shock and open our eyes to the unique, mysterious and exotic.” That gave me heart, and hope, and as long as we write to the very best of our ability and strive to write even better, readers should be mollified and entertained. After all, if we can make someone, somewhere happy reading our words, even for a little while, it is surely worth any effort on our part.

With Christmas very near, whatever our circumstances, we can only hope that we and our loved ones will be able to indulge in a little festive fare, and can at least make sure that our neighbours are not hungry. With food in mind, the following quotations may be apt!

wc fields“A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.” Barbara Johnson (Courtesy Sarah Weinberg)

“Ice cream is exquisite. What a shame it isn‘t illegal!” Voltaire

“You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food!” Paul Brudhomme

“People who love to eat are always the best people.” Julia Child

“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently, is an art.” Francois de la Roche Foucauld

And, an excellent one:

“I cook with wine. Sometimes, I even add it to food!” W.C.Fields

Christmas memory… Lake Garda & Riva

Riva del garda

I’m sure we all have festive memories that stay special to us, and – if you’ve never experienced the delights of Italy, do sample them if you can! I’ve written about the alluring sights of Florence, Rome and Venice elsewhere, but the magic of our Christmas Lake Garda holiday remains almost as enjoyable in retrospect as it did physically. Imagine a marginally ‘iced’ town festooned with coloured lights, with welcoming cafes and shops casting pools of light on the winter gloom, guarded by snow-topped mountains as a lure. Then a cosy hotel offering all the traditional delights and day trips to a dazzling, freezing …Venice and the gay market of Verona, where Romeo was supposed (of course he did) to have wooed his Juliet, and the actual balcony: ‘Wherefor art thou Romeo?’ on which she stood! Magic was in the air…It hovers still.

Back to today and reality… whether you are dining alone and spoiling yourself –and why not? – or having (a few) family members or friends over for chow, enjoy every mouthful and raise your glass to HOPE for a much, much better year in 2021. Cheers!

Jingle bells, jingle bells…

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2020

Imagination vs Realism

Cobbled Courtyards and alleyways…

What immediately comes to mind when you read the above? I think of the 1800s, swirling fogs; the plaintive cry of a lone tug hooting on the River Thames, and – goose-pimples and horror – Jack the Ripper waiting around a corner with a knife and evil intent. But then, I was born in England, my father worked on the river – we lived near enough to hear those mournful cries – and I walked down many of the alleyways the Ripper haunted when I later lived and worked in the East End of London for a few years. So, it was hardly difficult… Plus, I read a lot of Charles Dickens works. Like much writing, it’s when realism and imagination merge, which is my favourite style. For reasons unknown to me, I most enjoy writing stories based on the truth, although I veer off course now and then.

Travel and life experience are invaluable to factual writers, whereby fantasy writing, as the name implies, relies on a vivid imagination, and authors don’t come more imaginative than Franz Kafka who wrote The Metamorphosis. Let’s face it, waking up in the form of a giant cockroach needs serious thought…

Switching to fact and fiction, how easily old, historical cities and towns lend themselves as backdrops for mystery, murder and intrigue. Take Prague with its cobbled squares and enigmatic alley ways. I explored it, fascinated by its architecture when celebrating our Golden wedding anniversary with my husband.

Charles Bridge, surrounding countryside and castle were a joy to behold; the atmosphere so tantalizing and almost as “sliceable” as an elaborate iced cake…

It didn’t seem in the least bit bizarre that we came upon a man sitting by a gutter with a fishing rod down a drain, or to come across a lady with a tortoise on a lead in the local park.

Us writers are such lucky souls… even if some haven’t travelled widely. I believe it was Einstein who said that “Imagination is more important than intelligence.” Bless him. Imagination married to talented writing can produce some amazing works of fantasy. One such author, who creates believable ‘other worlds’ peopled by believable creatures because her writing ability ensnares you with her craft, is Diana Wallace Peach (See below.)*

It is said that most of us have between 60,000 and 70,000 thoughts per day… and we have to make around 35,000 decisions (crikey!). That many of the thoughts and decisions are usually quite mundane is inevitable, but pouncing on the INSPIRED ones, which sometimes creep in like welcome visitors, can be a gift from the muses.

Much like many frequent travellers, I have always kept a daily diary and have more notebooks than money… (being ‘mature’ and not technical I like to SEE my words written in ink, although I do, of course, save them online). Leafing through them is fun – little illegible – and handy if I want a quick quote or reference.

Lately, as I’m still…writing THAT book (you know the one which will make one famous…) I’m more aware than ever of ATMOSPHERE and CHARACTERIZATION, so it’s edit, edit, edit. To write “The wind – wailing like a banshee through the forest,” (Steinbeck?) is obviously more descriptive than just plain “It was windy in the forest,” (Hemingway?) so I’ve got ‘my eagle eyes open.’

Fortunately, whether your reading taste runs to fact or fantasy, the choice is huge. I am an eclectic reader and writer, but there was one book I just couldn’t get into, and that was James Joyce’s Ulysses. He may have been highly intelligent and spoke 17 languages, but he certainly didn’t speak mine.

Of course, whatever style you write in, catchy, character descriptions are valuable to any reader desirous of ‘seeing’ the person on the page. Someone with “Close-set, olive-black eyes, an elongated face and parrot-like nose” is hardly likely to be forgotten…”. “Tall, dark and handsome,” belongs in an old Barbara Cartland novel.

So, all you factual/fantasy writers ‘out there,’ what’s stopping you?!

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2020

 

*Diana Wallace Peach author of:

Liars & Thieves

Sunwielder

Soul Swallower

Catling’s Bane

And several more excellent, books

Words, Wonderful Words…

Trinity-College-Library-in-Dublin-1Every now and then I pontificate on the power and magic of words. Those twenty-six little letters have faithfully served us ever since “Adam” said Ugg to “Eve.” And, in what variety! True and Fairy tales… Sci-Fi and Paranormal, Murder and Mystery, Love and Romance, Historical, et al – all cater to different literary tastes.

Milne 3What led to writing today’s post was reading about Alan Alexander Milne and his Pooh stories. The House on Pooh Corner (1928), and Winnie the Pooh in particular. Without Milne, Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and the rest of the gang, would have been lost to so many fans. Christopher Robin, Pooh’s human companion, was named after Milne’s own son. Sadly, Christopher was not happy about his inescapable connection to the popular books as he grew older. Winnie the Pooh was based on his teddy bear. Also on his infant bed, were a stuffed piglet, a tiger, a pair of kangaroos and a downtrodden donkey. (Owl and Rabbit were added for good measure.) Hundred Acre Wood closely resembles Ashdown Forest near to Milne’s home.

Milne went to Cambridge University to study maths but focused on writing. He pursued a career as a writer and contributed many humorous pieces to Punch magazine, later becoming Assistant Editor at Punch in 1906. Having served in WW11, despite being a Pacifist, he suffered illness and was declared unfit for service at the front, going on to join a secret British Propaganda unit: M17b. He also turned to playwriting. Deemed successful, he changed Wind in the Willows into the acclaimed Toad at Toad Hall.

winnie 2It seems especially sad that Milne was estranged from his son, Christopher, who rarely saw his father, despite him having a stroke and spending his last few years in a wheelchair. He was ever conscious of his disliked association with the Pooh books. I feel it was his great loss.

When I read the Pooh books, way back, I knew nothing of their creator, but re-quoting some of the content, I can’t help thinking he was a man with his heart in the right place.

I had the warmest glow, when I read:

“My spelling is wobbly. It’s good spelling. But it wobbles and the letters get in the wrong places.”

And “A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey inside.” And

“I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I have been.” And

“We’ll be friends forever, won’t we, Pooh?” asked Piglet.

“Even longer.” Pooh answered.

pooh and piglet 2And, this one made me cry…

“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.”

Thank you Mr. Milne. Very much!

 
Other books by AA Milne: When we Were very Young, Now we are Six, The World of Pooh Collection, The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2020

World War II, Pandemics and Tears

Obviously, in times of wars, epidemics and catastrophes – after the first shock waves subside – it is human nature to do one of many things… Tighten your belts and do whatever needs to be done in the given circumstances; hole up in any available safe place; have a nervous breakdown; or take a very deep breath and pick up a book/check the local cinema…I’m not being facetious here!

factory smlAs a child in WWII, in between evacuation, separation: Dad in the Royal Air Force, Mum working in an ammunition factory, whenever there was the slightest opportunity… Mum and I would sidle off to the cinema to escape the realities of the dangerous world we found ourselves locked in. Who knew that an evil lunatic – seen in newsreels ranting and raving his dangerous rhetoric- would prove to be the death of countless millions of souls around the globe. And what a life lesson it was to me to learn just how adaptable, ingenious, courageous and usually kind, people really were, although I couldn’t fully evaluate or appreciate it then.

What a balm books and films were then. The siren could wail and cause disquiet and concern , but – at first – us children could never imagine what the adults could foresee. Whether one stayed in or went out, it was like playing Russian Roulette, so a trip to that dark cavern where the silver screen would totally change our world for a few, delicious hours, was a huge treat.

1930s-usa-snow-white edit smlI was hooked by ‘the Pictures’ from the mind-boggling time I saw my first film: Walt Disney’s “Snow White.” Like countless other children, I fell in love with the seven dwarves and Snow White, and had nightmares courtesy the witch. The film was released just before the war started. And who could resist the childish charms of the charismatic Shirley Temple pictures, or the quirky, endearing Charlie Chaplin and clever, dead-pan antics of Buster Keaton?

janeeyre1944Once in Wales, dear Aunt Sal held my hand as singer Nelsen Eddy sang “I’ll See You –again…” to Jeanette McDonald from the clouds, having been tragically killed, and I thought my heart would break in two…But, if I could pick two films which had my emotions more firmly in their grip, they would be Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” and “All Quiet on the Western Front.” The latter – being an anti-war film – was so moving; the end so devastating…it deeply affected me. The book “Jane Eyre” on the other hand, affected me even more than the film. I read it aged 13 just after I met my best friend Sheila (Slim) Devo, an enigmatic, elfin-like girl with a huge personality. In the book, Jane’s friend died in the dreadful school they attended and – with my hormones all over the place – I imagined losing my new friend, and it floored me.

As for books, there are far too many to mention, but one which seems to link in with the present pandemic had a profound affect on me. It was Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities.” It started:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the Spring of hope; it was the winter of despair.”

twocitiesSuch an insightful piece of writing. Set in London and Paris in1859 during the French Revolution, a French doctor Alexandre Manette, having served an 18 year imprisonment, is released and goes to live in London with the daughter, Lucie, he has never met. The story is dark and complicated. They find themselves back in Paris. There are two men in love with Lucie and she marries Charles Damay, a French émigré, who is tried for treason against the British Crown; eventually found guilty and sentenced to be guillotined. Lucie’s other suitor, Sydney Carton, bears a striking resemblance to Damay, while an evil, blood-lust character called Madam Defarge is shot while up to skulduggery. In the mean-time, the selfless hero of the day, Sydney Carton, drugs Damay in the prison and changes places with him. Before he ‘goes bravely to the chop’ he states: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done. It is a far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” Forgive me for revealing the denouement. It left me a helpless, sodden mess… I do seem to enjoy a good cry!!

What about YOU? What films/books left you emotionally drained?

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2020

Isaac Newton and Samuel Pepys, or what did YOU do in isolation?

heroes

It is fortunately not often that millions of people on our planet find themselves in such a similar, dire situation, except in wars and epidemics, and so many, brave individuals have, in this present, horrific coronavirus situation, paid the ultimate price for their unselfishness in caring for the sick and dying. We should feel eternally grateful and humbled. I am.

NASA_newton4048_regHarking back to the truly dreadful plague of 1665: it was said that a five-year-old boy named John Morley was found dead at his home in Cambridge with black spots on his chest in July 1665 and became the town’s first bubonic plague victim. Townspeople started to isolate, and a young scholar at Trinity College named Isaac Newton fled to his home farm in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire to study. In the two years he was there, he studied calculus, created the science of motion and unravelled gravity, or so it was said. (Husband reckons he went scrumping, filled his pockets with apples and they were so heavy, his trousers fell down, but wouldn’t dream of putting forward such a theory… ).

pepysAs for the Diarist Samuel Pepys, in 1665, aged 32 years, he dined out wearing a camel-hair or goat suit, noting ‘The very best I wore in my life,’ during the plague. He commented that most doctors, lawyers and merchants fled the city and that ‘Parliament is postponed until October.’ Later, while in Drury Lane, he saw ‘two or three houses marked with red crosses’ and the words “Lord have mercy upon us.” Writ there, which was a sad sight to see.’ Claire Tomalin, Pepys biographer, spoke of his pain and suffering since a child which made him a stoic person. It was said that he welcomed whatever there was to enjoy.

Theatres, sports and other meeting places were closed and the poor – as ever then – had to steal or beg for food. History rarely shows us a pretty place.

Pepys was a clerk and worked for the Navy Board, had a wife called Elizabeth, but as he admitted, was up for many shenanigans with fancied chamber maids and the like. The times provided rich pickings for his diary, like the Restoration of the Merry Monarch, Charles II (from whom Pepys received favours), the Great Plague (An estimated 100,000 died – 20% of London’s population), the Great Fire of London and the terror waged by the Dutch when the Royal Navy suffered one of their worst defeats after they destroyed several British ships and captured Sheerness. Luckily peace swiftly followed. It is not known whether Pepys, who lived to the age of seventy, actually expected his diary to be published after his death, but it now famously infamous.

nature smlBack to the present, apart from a birth explosion in around nine months, I wonder what some of us will have accomplished/learned during this trying and protracted period of isolation. Of course, some will be almost speechless from boredom, while others will have gained more than they lost… Marriages and relationships will have floundered or, hopefully been made stronger. Life itself will, surely, be writ in larger letters, for it is the most precious thing we have, and Mother Nature, in her more likeable guises, will never have looked more attractive; or freedom sweeter. The fact that so many people have lost loved ones of all ages and creeds is heart-breaking and all the blaming won’t bring them back. We can, perhaps (must!) try harder to work together for the well being of each other. Surely, we can do that, in memory of all those lost and the brave heroes and heroines of this epidemic.

As such phenomena as splitting the atom, black holes, penicillin, and heaps of other, tremendous strides in technological fields have been discovered or accomplished, I questioned my feeble grey matter and did a lot of thinking. Sadly, I had to accept that – in the grand scheme of things – I had diddly-squat to offer, as I push when a sign says ‘pull’ and maths is not my best subject. So, what to do? Well – and I’m sure you are dying of curiosity!! – it’s mainly too prosaic to itemize – I lived, within the boundaries dictated, read, prized the telephone and my computer, exercised a little… toured the ‘estate’ (small urbanization and communal pool) daily, and thought some more. Oh, and read and wrote a lot. I missed our sons and their partners, but a loud hurray for my online friends. laptop_computer_hand_pen smlThey are a wonderful, friendly and helpful bunch. Not to mention good writers. So, what’s with all the thinking you may wonder? Well, I intend finishing the ULTIMATE, FABULOUS book I’ve been working on – forever – and new ideas have been percolating. You can drop my name at dinner parties if you like; autographs given on request. Who am I kidding… Joking aside, hubby and I have had more than a few laughs – quite silly things can spark us and we are most grateful for humour. It’s a great antidote to what’s really happening outside and saves sanity.

Meanwhile, I bet many people have actually published their books, cooked up a storm, written songs and music and painted near masterpieces. Do tell what you have been doing.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2020

Thanks to Gavin Mortimer of The Spectator for the piece on Samuel Pepys.

A Spanish Christmas and New Year

“Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart…”
Victor Hugo

befana canile-2Fascinated by the customs of other countries, I was involved in some research recently and discovered several odd facts about Christmas. Unless you happen to be Italian, did you know, for instance, that in Italy an “old woman” named Befana delivers presents on the night of January 5th and even “goes down chimneys!” I bet all the octogenarians are queuing up, poor dears…

In Iceland, the Jólakötturinn (the Yule Cat) dominates the scene. Good children are given new clothes, but woe betide the bad ones, as they are eaten by gigantic felines. Oh dear!

Christmas-catIn Spain, things are much more to everyone’s liking, especially the sometimes naughty children…
Being a mainly Catholic country, religious Spanish attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve – also known as the “Mass of the Rooster” – as one was said to crow when Jesus was born, while the non-religious celebrate it in a traditional manner without the religious connection. Parks, and other green areas, are planted with hundreds of glowing Poinsettias, and outside many town halls and churches, creative “Beléns” are erected. A Belén is usually a religious scene, or a ‘cameo’ showing how people lived at the time of Christ’s birth. Some are beautifully constructed and lit, and often different villages and towns compete. They are also evident in many shop widows.

BelénChristmas Eve sees most revellers partaking of generous feasts of festive fare when family and friends get together, continuing on the 25th… The streets and houses are decorated- often in lavish fashion – with festooned trees, coloured lights and bright decorations, as in many parts of the world. And, I can assure you, the Spanish know how to welcome and party!! Can you feel a BUT coming? For it doesn’t end on Boxing Day… Oh no! Apart from New Year’s Eve celebrations to welcome in the New Year (Wowie…) when the magical 5th of January arrives, children in particular get very excited, for it is the night of the Three Kings. And anyone who has seen the extravagant, colourful, procession of the beautifully dressed figures, will always 46191107442_1da1b1b0c3_wremember it! I certainly will. We saw ours on the 5th night of the new century 2000, snuggled in our warm coats against the cold, and ducking to escape the showers of sweets being generously thrown to the children from the elaborate floats passing by. As custom decrees, most children put their shoes outside their bedroom doors which are magically filled with small gifts in the night. (Glasses of cognac, a Satsuma and walnuts are left for each King.) Then more festive food on the 6th! In the Basque country of Spain, gifts are distributed by a ‘magical man’ called Olentzero, and in Catalonia country, gifts are left in or near a hollow log in the image of a ‘funny man.‘

2959233463_d8c68098b0_wHeralding in a new century, the lavish firework display was another memory for the diary. It was the most extravagant I had seen since the end of World War 2…Oddly enough, nevertheless, the New Year’s eve of 2001 beat it hollow.

Living in a new country in the midst of people of many nationalities, was a newish and heady experience and no less than fifty people of our acquaintance – from two urbanizations – got together and booked tables at an excellent fish restaurant in Torrevieja. You could have cut the ambience and electric atmosphere with a knife! The fact that my middle brother and his dear wife were present, plus a Scottish couple who had a holiday home near us, was also of significance. My brother had brought some ‘flying balloons’ over and the poor waiters – so good-humoured – had the devil of a time serving our food while being ‘attacked.’ The Scots: Katrine and Gordon, were more than ‘up for it,’ and Gordon, in particular, was the life and soul of the party. Possessing an infectious humour and warm personality, he was ‘flavour of the month.’ He later … wearing a red wig and Scottish hat, sang us ballads and strummed his guitar until the wee hours. We all remained good friends…

25627865030_97a4752618_wThe rest of that January seemed very quiet…until a Dutch couple moved in nearby. While they behaved impeccably and were very pleasant, we noticed pungent odours drifting from their casa and, in fact, the wife of our President – who had stayed chatting to them too long – admitted she felt ‘squiffy’ when she arrived home…The Dutch couple had a romantic story to tell – told to yours truly – in that ‘he’ who had been in the British Navy, wrote his name and phone number on a slip of paper, sealed it in a bottle and threw it overboard (fortunately still at sea). It bobbed gaily along in the ocean, until it was washed up on a Dutch beach weeks later. A young lady, out walking, picked it up, read the contents and phoned ‘said guy.’ Footloose and fancy-free, he travelled to Holland and claimed the maiden as his own. You couldn’t make it up! They duly married, had children, and lived near us for several years.

Meanwhile, there was a Boules match to organize – on cleared waste ground nearby – planted and treed with seats and suitable pitch – and a holiday in the UK to arrange.

Before I wish you Adios, I must admit to a weakness for good quotations, and noted a few worth quoting, by no less a person than Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of the acclaimed “Don Quixote.” He said: “Wit and humour do not reside in slow minds.” Comforting words. And another I’m fond of “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams – this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness, but maddest of all, is to see life as it is, and not as it should be.”

3154478032_ea58011fc8_cWishing everyone a healthy Christmas, with no socks… (well, not under the tree) lots of noshy things to eat, maybe a few gifts AND an abundance of peace, fun and love.

Feliz Navidad

Joy xx


Important PS
I would like to express my heart-felt appreciation for the inspiration and assistance freely given by so many writers on the internet. You are stars in the earthly firmament. X

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

Pic links: Befana  Yule cat  Belen  Street lights   Fireworks & Valencia tree   Bottle

Letters from Spain – numero tres

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” – Blaise Pascal

Mum and Dad editedHola folks…I believe I left you back in 2005, when there was excitement in the air due to the imminent short story competition being run by the Cultural Department of the Ayuntamienta (Town Hall) There was a natural, keen interest among members of our Torrevieja Writing group to enter and everyone was busy scribbling away like mad, me included. Being fairly new to the town, compared to several others, I needed to do more research, which is something I always enjoy, so set to reading up on its history.

salt lake tour editedI soon discovered that Torrevieja and environs was home to a valuable substance, once known as “white gold,” now a common or garden product – sal (salt!). Roman soldiers in the area way back were paid salt in lieu of wages it was so precious, and put the town and countless acres firmly on the map of the world. In fact, Torrevieja was such a tiny pueblo, it depended on the product for its economic survival. The famous salt lagoons of La Mata and Torrevieja are now designated as National Parks and are home to a huge variety of bird species, with over 200 sighted on the lakes.

Delving further back into history, I was fascinated to learn that via 15th C Roman Chronicles – in fact – local salt funded the travels of Christopher Columbus! As it also preserved fish, salt was found to be invaluable when travelling long distances, and who could eat a boiled egg without it!

Flamingoes editedMeanwhile, just how was I going to handle writing a riveting story about such a place?! I’d already written a few, modest tales but never entered one in a competition before…Umm. An idea then struck which sounded a reasonable ‘peg’ on which to hang my story. I’d become a TIME TRAVELLER. I knew nada about such a mode of travel (Who does… ), but what the heck, I’d give it a go and it worked out a treat. I mentally travelled backwards and forwards at will, incorporating actual history, linking it neatly to fiction. Of course annoying doubts gathered along the way; they often do. But at least/last it was finished and the dreaded judging time arrived. The Palacio de la Musica was packed, fingers were nearly nibbled to the elbows, etc., and I thought I heard my name called out. It was! Wow and eek… I’d won first prize. Being something of an introvert when it comes to crowds and public speaking, AND being interviewed in Spanish, twice, was a bit disconcerting, while sweetened by a generous cheque and a most friendly reception. The international competition was held for two further years, when I was one of the judges, which was great fun and a privilege.

Before moving on, I’ll just share a few excerpts from my story:

“…Spain – after much barbarism (via) the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans – finally emerges as the most advanced of the provinces under the Romans. I became a Time Traveller before the Visigothic Kings succeeded Rome’s domination and witnessed too many tragedies… and did much century hopping when the Vandals were around…”

Moorish edited“Spain attained her most triumphant success – that of expelling the Moors at the end of the 15th century. Although bloodthirsty, that period was exciting and the Moors left behind an admirable legacy of wonderful architecture, intricate wood carvings, (and) exquisite textile designs…”

“Men seem to have a penchant for war but, although the colour red dominates time, I choose to look to the sky.”

“It is March 2lst, 1829 – the beginning of the Spring equinox. Earlier, the sky was calm, the atmosphere clear. Around lunch-time, there is a slight tremor and I again feel a great sense of foreboding, for there have been over 70 worrying days and nights of seismic activity in the area of late. Suddenly, the wind drops, the sky becomes overcast, and there is an uneasy calm over all. My palms are damp; my throat dry. I do not want to re-experience the inevitable … I am fearful as the earth begins to tremble and, inside Carlos’s villa, plates fall and smash on the filed floor. Then, a huge tremor wreaks havoc where it strikes: in Torrevieja and all the towns and villages in the Vega Baja. In a little over five seconds, 32 people perish, along with 36 animals and 67 people are injured. As in many other households, tragedy descends on the Rodriguez family, for Carlos’s wife Maria is making paella in the kitchen when the roof collapses on her. Fortunately, Carlos is out in the open with his two sons. All three survive. Uncle Jose – now a bent, old gentleman – is still asleep when the earthquake strikes; a sleep from which he will never awake. I am again overcome with sadness as Maria was so full of life. The reconstruction of the decimated town is ordered by King Fernando VII.”

***

Treasure Island Ship editedTorrevieja slowly grew into a town buzzing with activity and industry and 250 ships were built in sight of the Casino. Two of the ships became famous in later TV and films: one in ‘The Onedin Line’ the other ‘Treasure Island.’

Today, it is a modern-leaning, fascinating and cosmopolitan town of 100,000 people, with beckoning, clean beaches and green parks aplenty, eager to cater to the curious traveller.

Adios until next time.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

Pics via: Euromarina.com, servigroup.com, Michael C Snell. Treasure Island painting by Geoff Hunt

An interview with author Beryl Kingston

Beryl_resizedToday, I have great pleasure in interviewing someone very familiar with the writing craft. Not many of us can claim to have sold ONE MILLION BOOKS, but Beryl Kingston can. I can’t begin to imagine how that feels … Hugely proud and gratifying, I’m sure, and she must have worked so hard to have achieved that figure.

I’ll tell you more about Beryl later on, but first I’ve invited her to answer a few questions to give you some insight into what makes this amazing lady tick.

Hi Beryl, a warm welcome to the ‘writer’s hot seat.’ It’s great having you as my guest today. I promise it won’t be a bumpy ride!

Where were you born and what is your earliest memory?

image1To start at the beginning, I was born in Tooting in South London 88 years ago and my first memory is probably singing and dancing on a stage somewhere feeling completely happy with spotlights shining on my head and foot-lights warming my feet and people clapping and cheering in the darkness below me. I was probably about five.


Were your early years marked by an outstanding/unusual or particularly disturbing/amusing incident?

I’m afraid I can’t tell you amusing stories about my childhood because I was an abused child and spent most of my time in a state of twitchy anxiety and fear. The abuser was my mother who beat me with a cane from the time I was five, when my younger sister was born, until I was seventeen and finally took action to stop her. Not a pretty story. I wrote about it in some detail in ‘A Family at War’ so anyone who is interested can find it there. But there’s one fact that might interest other writers. In a roundabout way, being beaten made a writer of me. My mother enjoyed her brutality and was buoyed up by it, but she also had an image to protect, which meant that she had to take steps to ensure that her neighbours knew nothing about it. I had strict instructions to hide the marks she left on my legs and arms by wearing a thick cardigan and black stockings – she never hit my face, only my back, legs and arms. She used to say ‘Cover yourself up. You don’t want people to know what a wicked child you are.’ And I did as I was told because I agreed with her then and thought she was right. But I needed to talk about it and I needed it desperately. It didn’t seem right to me, that she could be so cruel and get away with it. And in the end I decided to keep a diary. I nicked and exercise book from school, kept it well hidden and wrote in it freely and honestly from the time I was seven and for the next twelve years until I married my darling. I never considered that anything I wrote or did could ever be any good or of any value. My mother made sure of that. She told me so often that I was a nasty wicked child, that I should never have been born, that I was useless and would never amount to a ‘row of beans’ and that my ‘dear little sister Pat’ would ‘make ten of me’. Naturally I believed her. So when I started to write poems and stories and plays I threw them away like the trash I thought they were.

Did evacuation in World War II have a lasting – good or bad – effect on you?

blitz_smlI don’t think being evacuated made a lot of difference to me. It was just something that happened. The London Blitz, on the other hand, was another matter altogether. That had a profound effect. My mother evacuated us all to Felpham on the day before war was declared, but having decided that we were going to make peace with Germany and that the Germans were going to fight the Russians, she brought us back to London in August 1940. We were just in time for me to watch the bombing of Croydon from the flat roof at the top of an apartment block, and, not long after that, the Blitz began. From then on we spent our nights in the cellar, listening to the ack-ack and the dreadful laboured droning of the German bombers, until November, when we were bombed out and she evacuated us again. But I was back in London in 1944 – on my own this time – so that I could attend the local Grammar School. And that meant I saw the terrible casualties and the widespread devastation that was caused by the doodle-bugs and Werner Braun’s obscene rockets. All of which I’ve written about in ‘London Pride’ and ‘Citizen Armies’ which is my latest book.

During your teaching years, did you nurture a growing desire to write?

It rather tickled me to be asked whether I ‘nurtured a growing desire to write during my teaching career’, because the question is so wonderfully inapplicable. I didn’t ‘nurture a desire’ to write, I just wrote and enjoyed it, even though I was still sure it wasn’t any good. It was as simple as that. Most of the time I wrote plays. I taught in a variety of schools and the bulk of my time was taken up with encouraging my pupils to enjoy learning, but whenever I found a drama club or a group of kids who wanted to act in a play, I wrote one for them. Very cumbersome things they were because anyone who wanted a part had to have one, so the casts were enormous – on several occasions over a hundred strong. It was great fun. The last five or six were musicals which I wrote in conjunction with a talented teacher from the music department. I learnt a lot from doing that.

What advice would I give to a young writer just starting out?

queen of sagas smlI don’t think I would give them any advice at all. We all have to discover our own writing methods and we are all different. I expect what a newbie would most like to know would be how to persuade one of the big publishers to take their manuscript and publish it and sell it in millions. But another writer can’t tell him/her that. What they need is a good agent. I can tell them how to set about looking for one but that’s the limit. I feel very sorry for newbies in these pushy times. There are thousands of wannabees out there all pushing their work as hard as they can and the competition must be soul destroying. I feel very fortunate to have had a Fairy Godmother around at the two big turning points of my life. One saw to it that the man I was going to marry should turn up on my doorstep at just the right time. The other arranged for an agent to be at the Frankfurt Book Fair and to pick up a rather esoteric book on the next stall on how to cope with period pain that had been published by Ebury and to be interested enough to read it. With his help and support – offered out of the blue and doggedly – I ended up having my first novel published by Century/Futura – no less – and became a best seller. But that’s the stuff of fairy tales. When I tell people the story I also tell them that when I’ve finished they’re at perfect liberty to chant, ‘Liar, liar, pants on fire’ because I don’t believe it either.

Separate from your writing, how would you like to be remembered?

I’m going to answer that with a – suitable when slightly adapted – quotation from Hilaire Belloc.

‘‘When I am dead,’’ he wrote, ‘‘I hope it may be said

His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.’’

***

More about Beryl and her books:

She was evacuated to a place called Felpham, during World War II, igniting an interest in poet William Blake, and went on to become a teacher until 1985 when she became a full-time writer.

Her debut novel “Gates of Paradise” was her 20th novel on Google Books. She admits to writing VERY BAD poems, aged seven but, hey, give a little girl a break! She redeemed herself when her first novel became an instant best seller years later. Beryl is an eclectic writer, publishing family sagas, modern stories and historical novels, including books about the first and second world wars. She reached the pinnacle of one million books with No. 12, and has also written plays for children, stories for magazines and a novella about a conceited cat!

Our celebrated author won The Blake Society Tithe Grant Award, and has been married for 54 years, has three children, five grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren – all apples of her eye… Another distinction, is for receiving the top level for public library lending with her 4th book.

Beryl’s books, include:

“Hearts and Farthings”

And the sequel “Kisses and Ha’pennies”

Modern: “Laura’s Way” and “Maggie’s Boy”

Historical: 18th/19th/20th centuries, WWI & II – “A Time to Love” and “Avalanche of Daisies.”

Beryl’s 30th book, ‘Citizen Armies’, will be published this year on 2nd September.


Her books can be purchased from Amazon UK / Amazon.com and from bookstores

You can find Beryl on Twitter and her Website

© Joy Lennick 2019

Pictures © copyright Beryl Kingston & Imperial War Museum