Sunday, 10 February 2019

Love in the Forbidden City

In 2011 I was lucky enough to go to China, to Beijing and Xian and then north-west, far off the tourist trail, to a small town called Xingian in Gansu Province. I found it all so fascinating that in the eight years since then I have read loads of books about China – from its earliest history to the modern day, and even did an online (Future Learn) course on the European Discovery of China.

I’ve only written one story though (so far) inspired by the visit and that was The Palace of Complete Happiness which was published in Woman’s Weekly, and that came about by looking again at the names on this map of the Forbidden City.

I chose it as the title story for a collection of previously published with the theme of love … published on St Valentine’s Day last year.

Two for Joy
Superstitious Jess is looking for true love – will the magpies or the tea-leaves point her in the right direction?

Bonnie Prince Charlie
Isabel has an unexpected guest staying for Bed & Breakfast – and there are people who would pay to know his whereabouts.

Sam Something
Sam is enjoying a cappuccino while waiting for his colleague – when he overhears his name being mentioned at the next table.

Summertime Blues
It’s the year of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, but Lindsay, part-time record-spinner on a Scottish island, is feeling far from chirpy.

A Green Wedding Dress
As Caitlin attends a rather strange, small registry office ceremony she can’t help comparing it favourably with her own lavish and traditional wedding.

Please, Mr Postman
When Petra tries to track down some missing letters she ends up meeting some of her new neighbours.

Ae Fond Kiss
When cafĂ© owner Mary takes part in a flash mob to sing one of the Robert Burns’ love songs she finds herself standing next to one of her customers.

A Parallel Universe
Louise meets David for the first time in fifteen years and wonders about the life they might have had together – is it too late?

See You Later, Alligator
Lizzie’s met an explorer who wrestles alligators but is she intrepid enough to fall in love with him?

And Pomona Came Too
There’s a third party in Nick and Jill’s relationship – his metal detector. He even wants to take it on their weekend break to Basking-in-the-Wold …

Making a Scene
Of course her little boy’s birthday party is Lorna’s first priority but how she wishes she could be in two places at once.

Meet Your Match
Patsy decides it’s time to look for a new partner on a dating site but she gets distracted by her memories, and by three items that have arrived in the mail.

For Love or Money
Jackie is about to marry someone who’s made a lot of money – is she trying to leave her two oldest friends behind?

The Palace of Complete Happiness
While escorting a school party through the Forbidden City in Beijing, Milly comes to the conclusion that she can learn a lesson in love from the life of the imperial family.

The Palace of Complete Happiness is available from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback from FeedARead.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Eight in January

I read eight books in January – well, seven books and one long short story.

I’ve had a soft spot for the film Where Eagles Dare (based on the novel by Alastair Maclean) since I first saw it, something that for some reason my husband likes to tease me about. So what should I find in my Christmas stocking but this book, ‘Geoff Dyer’s tribute to the film he has loved since childhood.’ I thought I would put off reading it until I had the chance to see the film again – and lo, in early January there it was on one of the Freeview channels.

It was fun to see it again after a long gap and to realise the many ways in which it is preposterous (that seemingly bottomless haversack of explosives and useful things that Clint Eastwood lugs up and down snowy precipices for example) – and that is the tone of Geoff Dyer’s terrific little book: he still loves the film despite/because of its many preposterousnesses.

The Corrections by Jonathon Franzen
My son left this behind after a holiday. I’d never read JF before and I don’t think I will again but I was compelled to finish this once I’d embarked. The premise – an elderly mother wants to gather her three children and her grandsons around her in the family home for one last Christmas – could be the cue for a soft-focus, sentimental story, but soft-focus this most certainly ain’t. Father Alfred has always been a bullying type and, as a mother myself, my sympathies should have been with Enid but I’d avoid spending Christmas with her too given the choice.

Intellectual (too intellectual sometimes; I skipped pages of technical details concerning Alfred’s potentially millions-making invention which he’s sold to a large company for peanuts) but always with an edge of black humour to leaven the mix.

Song of the Skylark by Erica James
A dual timeline story. Lizzie in the present day, at a crossroads in her life, meets elderly American Mrs Dallimore when she volunteers in a care home. ‘As Lizzie listens to Mrs Dallimore's story, she begins to realize that she's not the only person to attract bad luck, or make mistakes, and maybe things aren't so bad for her after all . . . ’ Didn’t grab me.

A Country Christmas by Louisa May Alcott
This is a long short story and was a giveaway at Christmas time by a writer friend Helena Fairfax. Recipients could download the file; I then sent it to my Kindle. What a treat to read something previously unknown to me by the author of Little Women. I've just had a google and see that you can read it online here (along with Christmassy American recipes and other delights).

Read on Kindle. Set in Northern Territory, Australia in the 1970s. The members of the ‘book club’ live miles apart with often hostile terrain/weather between them so they can’t meet very often but their friendship and support for each other sees them all through difficult times. Loved it. And it led me to download, free from Project Gutenberg, an autobiographical novel set in the same region at the beginning of the last century: We of the Never Never.

The Woman in the Dark by Vanessa Savage
Read on Kindle – more or less in one go, on a cold wet Sunday. This is ‘A chilling psychological thriller about dark family dysfunction and the secrets that haunt us’ and had me gripped to the last twist. My only gripe is the title – rather fed up of seeing books called The Woman/The Girl ...

The Hard Way by Lee Child
Paperback from charity shop to whence it returned when I’d finished it. My favourite Jack Reacher (of about four) to date, unusual because it is part of it is set in England. A rich man’s wife has disappeared and Reacher has been hired to find her. He certainly knows how to make you turn the pages. If you want to read what other people think of the book it will take you a while – the last time I looked there were 11,657 reviews on Amazon with an average of four and a half stars.

Read on Kindle. Tagged as ‘the most heart-warming book you’ll read all year’ and although the year has just begun this could well be true. The friendship between twenty-five-old Lucy and her neighbour Brenda who’s seventy-nine is touching and funny, a perfect combination.