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Thursday, 10 December 2015

My Recommended Christmas Reading List - mulled wine optional.

murderous affairExcellent murder mystery with larger than life characters and a tone in which you can tell the author is enjoying the telling of the tale. John Lovat, the bastard brother of one of Queen Elizabeth's courtiers and always second fiddle to his snooty brother, is employed to solve the mystery of the death of a Portuguese nobleman, and to hush up any scandal that might affect the court.
The author has researched the times thoroughly, with detailed knowledge of London streets, the theatres, the waterways and the politics of the day including the taking of slaves and the ruthlessness of piracy on the high seas. There are plenty of false leads and a surprising denouement. All in all an excellent read.

House of York
The House of York is loosely based on events during the era of the Wars of the Roses. It includes part of the plot of the Princes in the Tower (albeit updated) and this adds extra interest for history buffs.
The events are told from several points of view, mostly unreliable (!) and this family saga is part thriller, part crime, part intrigue, with a good dollop of psychology thrown in. This makes it sound complex, and it is, but it is also a seamless and entertaining read. The voices are clearly delineated, and each character convincing. Like the best historical sagas, Terry Tyler's books are about power. Who owns it, who wants it, and the lengths people will go to to get it. Jealousy, back-stabbing, manipulation are all a part of the game. The ending leaves enough intrigue for this reader to long for for the next instalment so I can find out if Elodie's egomania will finally bring down the edifice of York Towers! 

dangerous mourningA Dangerous Mourning is the second book in the William Monk Series, set just after the Crimean war, and full of Victorian atmosphere - the foggy Thames, and the complexity of the Victorian legal system. Both these outside forces are mirrored by Monk's mind - his amnesia and how he copes with it, alongside his determination to be better than Mr. Runcorn, his superior, who would be happy to get rid of him from the Force.
The plot revolves around the murder of Octavia Moidore, a wealthy aristocrat's daughter, who has been stabbed to death in her bed. Of course in those days there was no fingerprinting, no forensics, and the police force is full of ineptitude. Some of the time Monk is outwitting the system itself, as well as the perpetrator of the crime. Gripping, atmospheric stuff, with a great courtroom drama ending.

letters to the lostLetters to the Lost is a double romance set during World War Two and today. The plot is built around an empty house in which Jess finds herself after she escapes her violent boyfriend, Dodge. The letters she discovers in the abandoned house describe a sweeping love story that went wrong. At the same time, the airman of the letters is trying to find his long lost sweetheart and hopes she is still alive. With the help of her friend Will, Jess begins to unravel the mystery behind Dan and Stella's wartime story, and in doing so finds a love of her own. Our hopes for a happy ending propel the two narratives along, and anyone looking for an exceptionally well-written romance with true heart and poignancy will love this.

Monday, 23 November 2015

The Lancashire Highwayman


Masked highwayman George Lyon held up the Liverpool mail coach by firing shots and forcing the driver to stop. Then, having robbed the passengers of their valuables, he retired to the pub at Upholland, where he had been drinking earlier. The distraught passengers arrived a little later, bringing with them their tale of robbery and their narrow escape from death, and Lyon must have been entertained by their version of events.

According to local legend, Lyon once tried to hold up a coach that was transporting wages to a coal mine. He was waiting by the side of the road, but it was pouring with rain and the gunpowder in his pistol got soaked. When the coach finally rounded the bend, his pistol failed to fire. The driver, seeing the highwayman, whipped the horses into a gallop and the coach sped by him, throwing up a wave of water,  leaving Lyon bedraggled and no richer.
Lyon's subsequent career involved more petty crime and burglary until he was eventually caught in 1815. His career ended after burgling Westwood Hall, at Ince near Wigan (below).

Westwood Hall
Unknown to Lyon, the landlord of the pub was an undercover constable acting as a 'fence', and the silver that  Lyon was trying to sell was easily traceable.

Lyon was hanged at Lancaster Castle, but was allowed to be taken back to his home village for burial. Usually it was the custom for executed criminals to be given to local surgeons to dissect, in the interests of medical advancement. Lyons' body was brought back in a thunderstorm, a suitably dramatic end for the Upholland Highwayman.

Lyon called himself a 'prince of thieves' and in time, because of this phrase, he came to be remembered as a Robin Hood type of figure - though there is no evidence at all that he gave anything back to the poor!
Lancashire beneath
Most of the information about the Upholland Highway man came from a great little book: Lancashire: Who Lies Beneath, by Elisabeth Ashworth, about the stories behind the gravestones  of Lancashire churchyards. The book is a treasure trove of fascinating characters and covers many Lancashire graveyards. Visit Elizabeth's website

And tonight, find out more about the history of Gentlemen of the Road, watch the BBC 4 programme,

Sunday, 1 November 2015

70th Anniversary of the film Brief Encounter

This year marks 70 years since Brief Encounter was made in 1945. It was one of my mother's favourite films, a real weepie, and one which seemed to touch the heart of a nation. Just why, is explored in this lovely documentary on Radio 4 which I listened to earlier in the week.

One of the reasons I am celebrating the anniversary of the release of the film is because I have published a book which features the filming of Brief Encounter in 1945.  The site of the wartime filming on Carnforth station is close to my home, and the Heritage Centre there has a wealth of information about the film and its stars. At the moment to celebrate the anniversary, the Heritage Centre has been featuring a free season of David Lean's films. Lean's many credits include quintessentially classic cinema experiences  - from Dr Zhivago to The Bridge over the River Kwai, from A Passage to India to Hobson's Choice. And of course Brief Encounter.
Brief Encounter
From Filmsite
Brief Encounter (1946) is director David Lean's brilliantly-crafted, classic British masterpiece. It is one of the greatest romantic tearjerkers/weepers of all time, with a very downbeat ending. Lean's film is a simple but realistically-honest, unsentimental, self-told social melodrama of the quiet desperation involved in an illicit, extra-marital love affair between two married, middle-class individuals over seven weekly meetings, mostly against the backdrop of a railway station. The romantic couple includes a wife/mother (stage actress Celia Johnson) looking for escape from her humdrum life and sterile marriage, and a dashing doctor (Trevor Howard in his third film). (Characteristics of film noir also abound within the film - unglamorous locations, rain-slicked streets, dimly-lit interiors and dark train passageways in a tale of doomed, unfulfilled and frustrated love.) 
The Guardian says attempts to parody Brief Encounter have failed:
Brief Encounter has survived such threats, because it is so well made, because Laura's voiceover narration is truly anguished and dreamy, because the music suckers all of us, and because Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard are perfect.
The Radio 4 feature says that the timing of it, when so many men were returning from war, made the last few lines, 'Thank you for coming back to me,' particularly poignant. Do take a listen to the programme, it's only half an hour but very informative if you love the film.
In my novel Past Encounters, written under the pseudonym of Davina Blake, I explore and echo the same themes as in the film. In my book, my female character, Rhoda, has her own interior monologues. Peter, her fiance, is told with more distance as he fights for his survival in a German POW camp. Both endure emotional and physical hardships during their separation during the long years of WWII. Like the film I was looking for a certain restraint in the writing.
You can catch Brief Encounter at special screenings during this, its 70th year, and even go to a tea dance after seeing the film at various venues throughout the country.
And if you are interested in my novel, here it is. Past Encounters is the winner of a BRAG medallion for excellence in independent fiction.
About 'Past Encounters'
From the moment Rhoda Middleton opens one of her husband’s letters and finds it is from another woman, she is convinced he is having an affair. But when Rhoda tracks her down, she discovers the mysterious woman is not his lover after all, but the wife of his best friend, Archie Foster. There is only one problem - Rhoda has never even heard of Archie Foster.
Devastated by this betrayal of trust, Rhoda tries to find out how and why her husband, Peter, has kept this friendship hidden for so long. Her search leads her back to 1945, but as she gradually uncovers Peter’s wartime secrets she must wrestle with painful memories of her own. For if they are ever to understand each other, Rhoda too must escape the ghosts of the past.
Taking us on a journey from the atmospheric filming of Brief Encounter, to the extraordinary Great March of prisoners of war through snow-bound Germany, this is a novel of friendship, hope, and how in the end, it is the small things that enable love to survive.