While appreciating that being on this beautiful, while beleaguered planet, growing older comes with minor aggravations, I of course realize they could be major ones, so the gratefulness multiplies. Many others of my age, have huge hurdles to navigate. One thing, though, which seems in little supply, is energy. Despite eating fairly sensibly, exercising a little, and resting, long walks and energetic house-cleaning dwell in the past. But, as I have said before, at least, I’m doing better than a banana!
So, what is the purpose of this post, you may ask? Today I am tooting on behalf of day-dreaming and recalling the many joys of the past. Travel really does broaden the mind and garners intriguing memories for future use. Take visiting the delightful small town of Laugharne, set on the Taf Estuary in Carmarthen Bay, Wales. Home of a Norman Castle, an annual Arts Festival and twice home to Welsh poet/writer Dylan Thomas – famous for the radio play Under Milk Wood. We – husband and I – ‘came upon it’ while exploring parts of South Wales, in bright Spring sunshine, golden daffodils nodding their heads in greeting on the shore-line of the estuary, while a green tunnel of multifarious trees and bushes rose up to one side: a cool labyrinth leading to a pleasing café, set in a once grand house. En route, we passed the shed where Thomas spent many days and nights labouring over his many poems, and walked the same boards as he did in the Boat House – his former home overlooking the calm waters of the bay.
Thomas called his base, ‘A timeless, mild, beguiling island of a town,’ inspiration for fiction town Llareggub (spell it backwards) in his play.
Although I was familiar with Dylan’s fame as a writer, I hadn’t read much of his work. A lot of it is for a required taste, but once I dug deeper, the alluring musicality and humour of it, intrigued me. Strangers to Anglo-Welsh (Thomas didn’t speak Welsh) may find it a tad puzzling, but as I am half-Welsh and lived in Wales for a few years as an evacuee in World War 2, it didn’t take long to understand his appeal, more especially his play. It must be said, though, that it does not invite an academic approach with all its many ‘voices’ and the sort of singing and ballads, suggesting a night of maudlin drunkenness and ribaldry. But the intended fun and echoes of laughter are so ’Welsh’ and alluring. .
Born in Swansea, Wales in 1914, Dylan Marlais Thomas became a Junior Reporter for the South Wales Evening Post, before embarking on a literary career in London. He established himself with a series of poetry collections, short stories, film scripts, and talks, and also lectured in the U.S, as well as writing Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. The forming and writing of his ’voice play’ Under Milk Wood, constantly reworked over a period of ten years, was finally finished just before he left this mortal coil in New York, in 1953 just days after his thirty-ninth birthday. It is a sad fact that his special work wasn’t broadcast by the BBC until 1954, a year after his death, with a cast led by no less a man than the memorable, sexy. Richard Burton. Who better?! It portrayed lust, simple love, and a dream-world of gossip, including the ever open Sailor’s Arms.
Here are some snippets from Under Milk Wood to give you an idea of its gentle, down to earth, humour.
“To begin at the beginning. It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat- bobbing sea. The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine to-night in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows’ weeds. And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now.”
“The husbands of Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard are already at their tasks: ‘Dust the china. Feed the canary, sweep the drawing-room floor, and before you let the sun in, mind he wipes his shoes.”
“Time passes. Listen. Time passes. Come closer now. Only you can hear the houses sleeping in the streets in the slow deep salt and silent black, bandaged night.”
There was something magical about Laugharne I couldn’t put out my finger on, and we visited on two more occasions when the sun performed on cue, and before returning home, I had written the first page of a proposed story starting: “Long-legged herons, picked their delicate way across the silvered waters of the bay like corned-feet ballerinas…” (I never did finish it…). More relevant, we visited the graves of Dylan and his wife Caitlin Macnamara, on a hill in the graveyard in Laugharne. They had three children and, apparently, spent a very ‘colourful,’ while brief, life, together.
I am sure most writers enjoy ‘dipping’ into other lives from time to time. What better way to learn about the many quirks of human nature? And, apart from authors of ’other worlds’ and purely imaginative genres, would you be a writer if you didn’t?!
A few Welsh expressions:
Ach y fi – an expression of disgust (muttered by Grandma and Mum when some folk didn’t whiten their front steps…)
I 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!
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!
“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
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!
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?!
Every 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.
What 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.
It 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.
And, 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.
“Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart…”
Fascinated 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!
In 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.
Christmas 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 remember 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.‘
Heralding 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…
The 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.”
Wishing 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.
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
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” – Blaise Pascal
Hola 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.
I 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!
Meanwhile, 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…”
“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.”
Torrevieja 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.
Today, 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?
To 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?
I 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?
I 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.
Thank you very much Joy for inviting me over for an interview… it is a great pleasure.
Where you born and what was your first memory?
I was born in Wickham, a village in Hampshire, not far from Portsmouth. My parents lived in a house that my mother grew up in from about the age of 8 years old. Her step-father was the village butcher, with a shop in the main square. We went to Ceylon, as it was called in those days, when I was 18 months old for two years, and my first memories were of noisy monkeys. Small macaques lived all around us in the forest, and they would come into the house at any opportunity to thieve food, my father’s cigarettes and my mother’s jewellry. I also have vivid memories of the scents and sunshine, and I remember swimming at a very early age in my rubber ring, following my sisters everywhere including into the water.
Most poignant memory?
Probably my most poignant memory is visiting my grandfather’s grave for the first time in 1998. He died on November 2nd, 1918 and was buried in a small military cemetery in the village of Poid-du-Nord , close to the Belgium border. My sister had done the research to locate his grave and taken my mother there for her first visit in 1996. David and I were living in Brussels and we took my mother back to lay a wreath on the 80th Anniversary of his death. She was only 12 months old when he died, and therefore never knew him. But it was still very emotional for us all. He was 31 years old and left a legacy behind that he could never have imagined. I am sure he would have been proud of his daughter, who lived to 95 years old; travelled the world, and his four grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
What place you’ve lived or visited has remained special to you?
We have moved around so much as a family, and David and I have lived in six countries since we married in 1980. If I had to pick one place it would be our home in the mountains to the north of Madrid where we lived for 17 years. We had panoramic views from where we lived at 900 metres, across a valley to another mountain range and also over a plain for 50 miles. The weather was alpine with long hot summers, very dry so a lovely heat, and very old, crisp winters with snow. The sun was usually shining for about 250 days a year which was wonderful and I swam every day for two hours from May to October. The friends we made were amazing and we loved the lifestyle, spending most of our time outside. Great people, wonderful food, fabulous weather and memories.
Did anyone inspire you to write or was it something you naturally turned to?
My sisters read me bedtime stories and as soon as I could read I was off like a rocket. I was like a sponge reading books way above my pay grade. Every author I have read inspired me to write; as a child I would make up stories at the drop of a hat… especially when I decided at seven that I would take the odd day off school to enjoy other activities! I began writing short stories and song lyrics as a teenager, really getting serious when I had time on my hands during our two years in Texas in 1985. I used to write a lot of business reports and budgets during my career, and there was probably a hint of fiction in those too.
If you were invisible, what three things would you like to do?
I would love to have the additional superpower of being scent free so that I could get up close and personal with wildlife. I am a huge fan of Jane Goodall and would love to have worked with primates. What an amazing thing to be invisible and be able to observe these wonderful creatures unnoticed.
There are certain people who might benefit from having a poltergeist in their lives for a day or so. For example, world leaders who need to be knocked down a peg or two, and given a scare that makes them stop and remember their own mortality. They seem to feel that they are omnipotent, and some flying crockery, levitating tables and chairs, and home truths uttered in a deep and profound tone, might just do the trick.
I wouldn’t want to waste this invisibility; there are plenty of small but helpful things you could do, to bring some happiness, fun, surprises and gifts into the lives of friends and family and strangers you come across who need help, without them feeling obligated to you.
If you could pass two new laws, what would they be?
Although it is law that dogs should be micro-chipped in Wales and the UK since 2016, it is not being enforced, and thousands of dogs are still making their way into the rescue centres unchipped. Clearly that is not working. I think it is time to bring back dog licences which was abolished in 1987. This time however, I suggest that they make the dog licence free. It might encourage more to register their dogs and the benefit would be a card that gives you 15% off your annual pet check and vaccinations at the vet. Which are horrendously expensive. I would also like the government to set up free mobile vet clinics which will do the rounds in high risk areas offering free treatment as long as pets are registered. The cost of taking care of strays and rehoming is far more expensive in the long run.
I would also like much longer jail sentences for drunk or texting drivers who kill or maim others. A car is a lethal weapon, and if you get behind the wheel when you have had too much to drink, or you are in the act of texting, it is in my view, as bad as premeditated murder.
What two people would you like to invite for lunch (famous, dead or alive).
I would love to have Wilbur Smith to lunch. I have read his books since the age of 11 and bought every one he has written. I am just about to start his new autobiography with great excitement. He is one of the authors that inspired me to write and would love to ply him with wine and pick his brains.
The second person would be my grandmother who I was named after. Georgina was left devastated after losing my grandfather so near to the end of the war. He had been wounded three times and was back at the front for the final push. I can only imagine how desperate she must have felt each time he left for the front wondering if she would see him again. She struggled to bring up my mother for seven years before remarrying, and she suffered badly from asthma, long before there was medication to help. She died several years before I was born, at only 52, and my mother felt that her heart was broken. I would like to tell her that she is not forgotten, share stories about us all, and remind her that both of them live on in the younger generation and all those to come.
Name two of your favourite writers.
Well, I let the cat out of the bag with Wilbur Smith, but I do read everything that Bernard Cornwell writes, and love the way he brings history to life. I am looking forward to the next in The Last Kingdom series.
And I read and enjoy so many authors that I have come into contact with in our community and I would be hard pushed to name favourites.
What would you wish for if you could have ANYTHING?
Another 38 years with the love of my life….. Although he might look upon that as a penance!
What makes you crosser than anything else?
Oh wow, how much time have you got? More than anything I cannot abide bad manners. Courtesy at all levels of society, is one of the few cultural concepts, that prevent us from tearing at each other’s throats. It is part of the socialisation process of young children into responsible adults. It is clear, when you read the papers and see the stories of moped muggers, acid throwers and stabbings, that there is definitely a lack of socialisation in far too many homes and at school.
I get really miffed when I am watching a drama on television or a movie and people do not say please or thank you when given some form of service. It sends completely the wrong message and it will only get worse. The teachers say it is the responsibility of the parents and the parents say that it is down to the teachers. Someone needs to take control and sort it out.
Apart from reading and writing, what other ways do you like to relax?
I love music and movies. My husband and I have different taste in music, but both love fast action thrillers, epic adventures and films adapted from good books… Such as Dr. Zhivago and The Last of the Mohicans.
In the past we have enjoy travelling to various places but the glamour of flying has definitely lapsed. There is so much to see here in Ireland that we will be sticking close to home.
24 hours left on the planet!. How would you spend them?
I presume that this is for all of us…..I would probably leave a quick message of love and hope for all my friends on social media, wishing them luck in the next life. Then switch off everything and if possible sit outside with my husband and family, have a great meal, lots of good wine and make sure that we leave nothing unsaid. Then a last glass of Cava and a handful of pills and drift off to sleep holding my husband close. (I have read On the Beach by Nevil Shute, so have this all prepped should it become necessary).
Many thanks Joy for allowing me to speak my mind and share some of my experiences. It has been great fun.
About Sally Cronin
I have lived a fairly nomadic existence living in eight countries including the Sri Lanka, South Africa and USA before settling back here in Ireland. My work, and a desire to see some of the most beautiful parts of the world in the last forty years, has taken me to many more incredible destinations around Europe and Canada, and across the oceans to New Zealand and Hawaii. All those experiences and the people that I have met, provide a rich source of inspiration for my stories.
I have been a storyteller most of my life (my mother called them fibs!). Poetry, song lyrics and short stories were left behind when work and life intruded, but that all changed in 1996. My first book Size Matters was a health and weight loss book based on my own experiences of losing 70kilo. I have written another ten books since then on health and also fiction including three collections of short stories. I am an indie author and proud to be one. My greatest pleasure comes from those readers who enjoy my take on health, characters and twisted endings… and of course come back for more.
As a writer I know how important it is to have help in marketing books… as important as my own promotion is, I believe it is important to support others. I offer a number of FREE promotional opportunities on my blog and linked to my social media. If you are an author who would like to be promoted to a new audience of dedicated readers, please contact me via my blog. All it will cost you is a few minutes of your time. Look forward to hearing from you.
Our legacy is not always about money or fame, but rather in the way that people remember our name after we have gone. In these sixteen short stories we discover the reasons why special men and women will stay in the hearts and minds of those who have met them. Romance, revenge and sacrifice all play their part in the lives of these characters.