Every now and again, a word, phrase or quotation hovers, disappears only to return again and again, until it becomes almost a mantra on many writer’s minds. A while ago, I became fascinated by the word Labyrinth and it cropped up in reading matter on several occasions, until I found myself compelled to write about it. This time it was the word alchemist and its magical connotations. An alchemist, supposedly, can turn dirt into jewels, cure illnesses…make one actually believe in magic…And then the penny dropped as I recalled the book I’d read about, but not read, called ‘The Alchemist’ written by Paulo Coelho and my curiosity was further aroused. His story is an amazing one!
Born in 1947 to devout Roman Catholic parents in Brazil, Paulo, it seemed, was an unusual, slightly disturbed child, who happened to enjoy writing. For some reason, his parents did not agree that their son should be a writer, but should choose a more ‘worthy’ vocation in life. His rather questionable behaviour thereafter, lead his parents to have him committed to an Asylum for three years. Upon release, he travelled and became a hippie, and then a songwriter and political activist, which lead to imprisonment and torture. His thinking gradually then changed, and he walked the gruelling 500 km pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and felt a spiritual awakening, which lead him to write The Pilgrimage, which eventually sold well, after a slow start. His second book, The Alchemist, was a simple, while inspirational story, about an Andalusian shepherd boy. Sales were also weak, and it was said that he literally begged people to buy a copy….Incredibly, over time, it grew in popularity, until astronomical sales figures were reached and it was translated into 70 languages!.
Paulo met and married an artist named Christina Oiticica and they bought two homes: one in Brazil and another in France. He became so successful, sales of his books reached 65 million and he started a Charity for deprived children and needy elderly people, much to his credit. One wonders whether his parents lived to see their son’s amazing achievements? He has now written 26 books – one every two years, and continues to prosper.
The true alchemists do not change lead into gold, they change the world into words (Anon)
Oddly enough, though fairly happy with what I had read about alchemy, the word cropped up again in two places and so, I dug deeper, as I sometimes do…(curiosity doesn’t always kill the cat.) Wow!
‘Alchemy’ (from Arabic and ancient Greek) is complicated and obscure and goes way back to an ancient branch of natural philosophy, historically practised in India, China and the Muslim world and in Europe in Western form. It was first attested in a number of texts written in Greco-Roman Egypt during the first few centuries. New interpretations of alchemy merge with New Age or radical environmental movements. Freemasons have a continued interest in alchemy and its symbolism, and in Victorian times, occultists interpreted alchemy as a spiritual practice and the merging of magic and alchemy is a popular theme.
Alchemy also has a long-standing relationship with art in texts and mainstream entertainment. William Shakespeare certainly mentioned it, and Chaucer, in the 14th century, began a trend for alchemy in satire, and alchemists appeared in fantastic, magical roles in films and on television, in comics and video games.
When it comes to medicine, how often has an accidental splash of liquid – or even a tear – combined in a Petrie dish with other mysterious substances, to produce some near miraculous cure? Now that is something to ponder on.
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…)
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!
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.
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.
Harking 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… ).
As 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.
Back 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. They 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.
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.
Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing a writer who you may, or may not, be familiar with; but one, I’m sure you will return to, once you have enjoyed a taste of his excellent, entertaining books and writing style.
Hi Richard, it’s a pleasure to have you here today as my guest. Get comfy and take a deep breath as you’re now under the microscope so to speak! We’re all keen to learn more about you, so fire away.
What’s your earliest memory and your favourite one?
I remember living in Brixham when I was very young. Our house was at the base of what seemed to be a huge cliff, trains ran over the back. The station has long gone, the house was for sale when we were on holiday one year, we almost looked around; in the end, I couldn’t face it. My favourite memory is harder to pin down, I’ve had so many memorable experiences in my life, as most people have, there are all the usual ones, marriage, the birth and achievements of my wife and children., it’s hard to say which one was the best. I think that my favourite one must be when I was twenty, after passing my Second Mates Certificate of Competency and completing my apprenticeship. Standing on the bridge of a ship and realising that I was in charge of it for the next four hours. Exciting and terrifying all at the same time.
Where do you live? And have you travelled much?
I live in Brixham, after retiring here a few years ago. As you might have spotted, I was at sea, in a forty-year career I went to a lot of places. As well as the familiar ones like New York and Cape Town, I went around Cape Horn, travelled 600 miles up the Amazon, spent a lot of time in the South China and around the Indonesian Islands. I was on a ship that was flooded and somehow didn’t sink, survived a collision, a fire in an engine room, and was on a jumbo jet that crash-landed in Johannesburg after a bird flew into an engine. The smell of Sandalwood on the breeze at 3 am, moving across a flat calm sea; shot with phosphorescence, under a sky filled with stars, is another fond memory. I ended my career as a ship’s pilot on the River Thames, taking ships of all sizes through the Thames Barrier, Tower Bridge and up Barking Creek!
Did you have a creative background which guided you towards writing, or was it something you gradually drifted into?
I failed English at school, in fact, I failed all my O levels first time around, largely because I couldn’t be bothered. I had to retake them while working in a supermarket and scraped into the apprenticeship by the skin of my teeth. I never intended to be a writer, I had ideas but never wrote them down. I had trouble writing letters home. My mind must have been storing up all the experiences because one day after I had retired, I had a dream, which I kept having until I wrote it down. I thought, or at least hoped, that writing it down would be the end of it. Then I had another dream, which I realised was connected to the first. After that, I was away and the more I wrote, the more ideas I had. It was like watching a film in my head, I just wrote what I saw. I could slow the film down and rewind, but I could never fast-forward. Even now, after nine novels, I never see the end of a story until I get to it.
Have you a secret desire/dream or ambition you’d care to share with everyone?
Apart from Fortune, Glory and World Domination? Seriously, I’ve had a full life, I’ve been lucky, and I appreciate it. I’m not desperate for huge success, because I think that doesn’t necessarily solve problems, merely adds new and different ones. I’d like people to like what I write, and to be known as someone whose books were enjoyable. When I was just starting out, with one badly edited novel and no clue what I was doing, I received so much help and advice from other authors, for which I’m very grateful. I try to give back as much as I can by encouraging and supporting people who are at the same stage now as I was then, by promoting them and their work on my website. If I can leave my work as a legacy for my children and grandchildren to enjoy and perhaps benefit from in some small way, I think I will have achieved enough.
Which two people would you like to be shipwrecked with? And one you wouldn’t? (You can change the name… )
If I couldn’t take any of my family, they would have to be authors, so that we could swap ideas and develop new plots and characters to while away the time. My heroes include Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Arthur C Clarke, so if one of them were available, that would be fantastic. As I’m also writing crime fiction, Agatha Christie is a candidate, to help me learn the craft of dropping clues and leading readers astray. I’d also love to know the REAL story of her disappearance in 1926, there have been so many theories, the truth might be more exciting than anything she ever wrote. As for one person I wouldn’t, maybe the ship’s Captain who sacked me on my 21st birthday. Although it eventually got me the job of my dreams, it felt like the end of the world at the time. Other than that, there is nobody that springs to mind.
If someone gave you one million pounds tomorrow, what would you do with it?
That’s far more money than I would ever need. I’m not attracted by fast cars or fancy holidays. I know it sounds cheesy, but after I made sure that my family shared in my good fortune, I’d like to set up a way of using some of it to help people. I don’t know how but I’m sure I could think of a way to make it useful. Money is only energy after all: if you can, you should pass it around, keep it flowing.
You are now well-known as a writer. Have you another talent you keep hidden (like singing)?
I bake bread. When I first retired, as something to do, I started baking bread for a local shop. It was all Organic Sourdough, using Spelt and Rye flour, I also made various rolls, cakes and biscuits. It developed into too much work in the end, especially complying with all the regulations and keeping up with the paperwork. I was supposed to be retired and spending more time with the family. I was starting at 4 a.m. seven days a week and something had to give, I couldn’t stay at the level I was. I was faced with the choice of either expanding the business it had become or stopping, after a lot of deliberation, I stopped. I still bake every week for my family though, occasionally I’ll do something more for a special event. I put baking posts up on my website and I’m always happy to talk about techniques with anyone who’s interested.
Would you rather sit under a tree and read or go for a run?
I’d rather read or write at any time, but I do enjoy walking. Torbay has some beautiful walks, which I used to do with my dogs, before the inevitable happened. Now I still walk the familiar paths on my own, thinking up plots and having conversations between characters, as long as nobody else is in earshot. You get funny looks if you’re not careful.
What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you/or the most serious?
At college in 1982, which I was attending to study for my Mates Certificate, I was in the pub and saw a man I hadn’t seen for ages, he had a dark-haired girl with him. I remembered his previous girlfriend, who nobody liked, so after saying hello, I said, “what had happened to the awful blonde you used to hang around with?” It all went quiet as she replied, “I dyed my hair.” Five years later, I was their best man, so I think I got away with that one.
The most serious was probably when my wife was choking, I had to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on her. There’s a lot that can go wrong, the potential for all sorts of disaster. Once again, I got away with it, as she’s still here.
If you could pass another law, what would it be?
I’d like to make it illegal to be too busy to stop and enjoy yourself. Whether it because of pressure from work, your peers or any other reason, you have to take time to appreciate that you’re alive and take enjoyment from the wonders of the world around you, There’s no need to travel to exotic lands, or spend a fortune on the latest whatever, beauty is around you, it’s free and all you need it to take the time to see it. I learned that on a ship, you might be under pressure to get to the next port or pick up the next cargo, but in the end, you only went at a certain speed, the wind and currents could disrupt your progress and you got there when you did. It’s a valuable lesson, I know we all have things that need doing but there is always five minutes somewhere that you can take for relaxation. You’ll feel better for it.
What, if anything, really tests your patience?
People or organisations who come across as friendly, promise mutual things until you have done what they want, at which point, they don’t reciprocate and dump you. Or people who seem to have missed out on common sense. Fortunately, they seem to be dying out, you still get the odd one though. And traffic lights that turn red as you approach, on an otherwise empty road.
What makes you the happiest and what would you like to be remembered for?
A smile, or a compliment from someone who you’ve never met. I’d like to be remembered as a person who always did their best.
Thank you so much for the interview, Richard. Most revealing! I’m sure your many fans will have enjoyed reading your answers. Wishing you a mountain of good luck and mega sales of your books.
You can find out more about Richard on his website at richarddeescifi.co.uk. Head over there to see what he gets up to, click the FREE STUFF tab or the PORTFOLIO tab to get all the details about his work and pick up a free short story!
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.
Commonly known in writing circles as a ‘hook,’ a lot has been said over the years about the opening sentence, or two, of a tale. It’s common sense to try and grab a reader asap, be it with something dramatic, curious, unusual or quirky. Not all writers do, of course. I’ve read some bland opening sentences over the years and yet – reading deeper – some books have ‘delivered’ more than promised. It is, nevertheless, a good idea to give careful thought to those first words which confront you when you open the cover. As I always have piles of read and unread books everywhere…I picked five at random and checked them out.
The first one: Kate Granville’s The Lieutenant began: ‘Daniel Rooke was quiet, moody, a man of few words.’ Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) by Sandy Balfour, simply said: ‘Let me take you back to December, 1983.’ Both openings were an invitation: to know more about the ‘quiet, moody, man’ in the first instance, and a direct request to return to December, 1983 in the second. So, both subtle hooks… The third book, called The Seed Collectors by Scarlet Thomas starts: ‘Imagine a tree that can walk. Yes, actually walk. Think it’s impossible? You’re wrong.’ The fourth book titled Amsterdam, written by Ian McEwan, begins: ‘Two former lovers of Molly Lane stood waiting outside the crematorium chapel with their backs to the February chill.’ Both openings intrigue. A tree that can walk? And who was Molly Lane? None of the authors are amateurs. They knew what they were writing.
The fifth and final book, a favourite by Carlos Ruiz Zafon The Shadow of the Wind states: ‘I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time.’ Another interesting, mind-winding opening.
Fast-forwarding to Writers’ Ink member, Nigel Grundey’s, latest novel, The Vienna Connection, let’s see what his hook is…Take his first paragraph; ‘Can we trust the messenger?’ asked Harry Ward slowly as the tall Warrant Officer scratched at a scar on his cheek, then returned the hand-written note to his commanding officer. ‘What it says is believable, because the Nazis broadcast their plans for Rome and Paris before liberation. But why wait until now to reveal the details?’ Again, intriguing.
There’s so much heavy, disheartening and tragic news around, thought I’d lighten the load for a while.
For anyone fed up to their back teeth with either flippant/kinky, or boring romances/gory, twenty-toed monster killings or utter nonsense all depending on your particular taste of course – here are a few books which promise (dib dib dib) to, at the very least, offer something unusual/bizarre/original to titillate the jaded reader’s palate. (The fact that they could be a load of old codswallop is neither here nor there.)
Forget the proverbial ‘Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman’. ‘LAGOON’ by Nnedi Okanafor presents a rapper, a biologist and a rogue soldier, who walk into a bar…
‘SLAPSTICK, OR LONESOME NO MORE’ by Kurt Vonnegut. Apparently, it’s about the last President of the USA… (Written in 1976, but could be quite topical!)
‘THE PASSION’ by Jeanette Winterson –Napoleon! Venice! More web –footed people! And a woman who is trying to retrieve her heart from a locked box…
‘THE BEAR COMES HOME’ by Rafi Zabor – The protagonist is a walking, talking, saxophone-playing bear. What more could you ask for?
I imagine, if you’re a reader/writer, you are as fascinated by people as I am. Here are a few facts about some of our more famous ‘Pensmiths’.
CHARLES DICKENS was a stickler for order and routine and wrote most days from 9 am until 2 pm. He always slept facing north as he believed it better aligned him to the electrical currents of the earth. Despite no formal education, he wrote 15 novels, 5 novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction; lectured and performed: all before he was 48 years old, when he tragically died of a stroke.
HARUKI MURAKAMI is working by 4 am – five or six hours – he then runs for ten kilometres and/or both swims 100 metres. Later, he reads, listens to music and is in bed by 9.00 pm. He says the discipline helps him reach a deeper state of mind.
JODI PICOULT says: ‘You can’t edit a blank page,’ so obviously gets on with it. She never suffers from writers’ block.
KURT VONNEGUT worked from 5.30 until 8.00, then again later. He swam, had ‘several belts of scotch and water,’ and did push-ups and sit-ups in between writing. (It must have helped, he lived to a respectable age of 84).
ERNEST HEMINGWAY wrote every morning, as soon as it was light, ‘Cool and quiet.’
HENRY MILLER advised not to work on more than one thing at a time; ‘to mix work with pleasure, go out and meet people and don’t be a draughthorse.’ He also said you should ‘not be nervous, work calmly, joyously and recklessly.’ And last, but ‘that cliché’…’
MAYA ANGELOU, poet and author, found the comfort of home too distracting, so rented a small, mean room in a hotel for months at a time, taking only her writing materials, a Bible, a bottle of sherry and a pack of cards. She had a calloused elbow from leaning on one side of her bed to write!
So, there you have it, for now. Just a few odds and ends for you to ponder.