Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Wish I Was Here....

'Reaching For The Stars' is the latest novel by the lovely Janice Horton. Following on from Bagpipes & Bullshot, Janice has written her latest book about a celebrity chef. (Very 'of the moment,' what with Professional Masterchef and The Great British Bake-Off being so popular on television).

In ‘Reaching for the Stars,’ the main character Chef Finn McDuff feels he's had enough of all the food campaigns, the TV cookery shows, the constant frenzy surrounding his private life and disappears into a self-imposed exile for a while. Hence the theme of Launch Day is 'Wish I Was Here...' Janice has invited fellow writers to tweet or blog a picture of a place where we'd love to be - 'Wish I Was Here...'

My favourite place is the Villa Cimbrone Gardens over-looking the turquoise Tyrrhenian sea in Italy. It's on the Amalfi Coast in the hillside town of Ravello. It's close to the idyllic villages of Amalfi and Positano, both of which cling to the cliffs like exquisite flowers. I've visited these jewels in Italy four times now, but each time I find something new to marvel at.

The gardens at Villa Cimbrone are steeped in history and famous artists, writers and actors have escaped to its peace and tranquility over the years. A few visitors who have stayed are D H Lawrence, Greta Garbo, E M Forster, Piaget, Winston Churchill, to name but a few.

These gardens and views are my favourite place and 'I Wish I Was Here...'

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Scent of Cinnamon

As golden light from windows glow,
Warm noses press against a pane
To see the trees all laced with snow
And frilled with ice, too cold for rain.

Sweet spices from the mince pies beckon,
Candles glow with cinnamon scents.
Thinking of loved-ones across the ocean,
Now that’s what Christmas represents.

Neighbours standing at the door
Wrapped in scarves and singing psalms.
Mistletoe held aloft with laughter
With hugs of joy and open arms.

Warm flames burning in the grate,
Stockings hanging from its shelf.
Family hugs as games are played
With fairy, reindeer and Christmas elf.

Children sleeping at long last
With snowman keeping guard outside.
Wishing all a Happy Christmas,
The merry friends and neighbours cried.

Angela Barton

A little light-hearted poem to wish you all a Happy Christmas!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Show, Don't Tell

When the writing bug first bit me, I developed a feverish search for information about how to write. I enrolled at master classes at The London Book Fair, attended a workshops at Harper Collins, joined writing groups, a book club, bought how-to books, attended writing workshops and started to read more fiction. I realise that no amount of books or workshops can teach new writers how to find a passion for writing, but it's possible to learn techniques and rules.

But surely rules are meant for a classroom full of hyperactive, unruly children? Surely writers are free to unleash their creative talents in any way they choose?

The answer is, yes, they can. But they'll stand a much better chance when submitting their work to competitions or agents, if some writing rules are adhered to. Manuscripts won't be dismissed without the adjudicator or agent even finishing the first page.

Some rules are basic. Submit in a clear font, double spacing, no gaps between paragraphs, indent paragraphs and the first line of dialogue. Writers know these rules like it's second nature. The rule which has always fascinated me, and which I'm still striving to perfect, is show, don't tell.

It can be a bit tricky, but the simple way to put this rule into action, is to think that telling is from the author's point of view and that showing is from the character's point of view.

Eek! I suppose I should give an example next!


The fair was in town. Emily and Sam walked amongst the bustling crowds holding hands. Emily was excited about the rides but Sam was more interested in the mechanics of the event. They decided to take a ride on the big wheel.


"I love the fair," sighed Emily. "It reminds me of being a little girl. Mmm! Those toffee apples smell amazing." She grasped Sam's hand. "Come on, let's go on the big wheel, it's my favourite."
"Hang on a minute," called Sam, inhaling deeply. "Take a look at this generator. I much prefer the smell of oil and petrol."

Okay a simple show and tell and I'm sure we all agree that we don't fancy a trip to the fair with Sam! To sum up, telling is similar to watching a film. The words (the camera) are telling the audience what is happening. It is giving information regardless of who is present, or even if no one is present. Showing is seeing things from your characters' perspective. It's showing their viewpoint and experiences. We are inside their head, so to speak.

Even though I understand the show and tell rule, I'm sometimes caught out whilst editing my work and notice a paragraph that slows the action down. And it's usually a telling piece!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Liebster Blog Award

Liebster is a German word meaning dearest, and the award is given to up-and-coming bloggers with less than 200 followers. I was delighted to receive my award from the lovely and talented Janice Horton.

Janice has written a wonderful debut novel entitled, Bagpipes & Bullshot. Her second book, Reaching for the Stars, is due for publication on 14th December 2011. Janice is a talented writer, a lovely lady and a great supporter of fellow writers and their blog posts. I only wished I lived closer so that we could share a natter and a coffee occasionally! Thank you very much for my award Janice.

If you receive the award, you should:

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
2. Reveal your top five picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
4. Hope that the people you’ve sent the award to forward it to their five favourite bloggers and keep it going!

This is the nice side of a chain letter. It’s always good to be appreciated and too often we are all quick to criticise and slow to praise. So here are some virtual pats on the back to five of my favourite bloggers.

Maria Smith is a talented writer of dark fiction and as you read this, is probably tapping away on the keyboard as she's taking part in this year's NaNoWriMo. I first met Maria on twitter and have since shared several cups of coffee and slices of cake with her in different Nottingham cafes. Maria is always just a click away to offer support, ideas and great conversation.

Rosemary Gemmell is another great supporter. Rosemary doesn't just click to follow your blog and rarely visits again. She always drops by and leaves a cheerful comment and I'm always delighted to see her name on my posts. Rosemary's debut novel is called, Dangerous Deceit and was published in May 2011. She is a freelance writer of short stories and articles in UK magazines.

Kay is a short story writer who decided to establish a reading group. Having read Kay's blog, I'm delighted to hear that it very successful with many members attending. Kay is a lovely twitter friend who regularly keeps in touch.

Pam Mcllroy is a delightful lady who runs the book club I attend. (At Broadway Cinema, Nottingham) She is a readaholic who is always ready to chat with a ready smile - just don't eat rice pudding near her!

Megan Taylor is a warm friendly, talented writer. I first met her at Nottingham Writers' Studio and have listened to her read extracts from her books several times. She is visiting Pam's Broadway Book Club tomorrow evening as we're discussing The Dawning. (24th Nov) Megan's books are How We Were Lost and The Dawning.

I would recommend these lovely ladies' blogs if you're not already following them. They'll put a smile on your face and teach you a thing or two as well!!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

California 2011

Those of you who follow my blog, will know the traumas I've had with my computer. Sadly this delayed my holiday blog, but here it is at last. I still don't like my new computer much. As I type this post, the font size has decided to expand.(Probably just following suit with my stomach!) I can only cross my fingers that it looks normal to you!

Firstly, I'd like to introduce you to my younger sister, Jennifer. Jennifer moved to America many years ago. She first visited California to work as a nanny but loved the life (and weather) and decided to stay. Jen also met her husband Alex over there. I miss her very much and often wondered what it'd be like to have spent all these years meeting her in town or popping in for a coffee to each other's houses. Instead, we spend some lovely holidays together and catch up with our families' lives. These are her two daughters, Natasha and Rachel - my gorgeous nieces. I hadn't seen Jen for five years before this holiday, so it was well overdue. We were welcomed with open arms by our American family and spent a memorable and delightful holiday with them all.

This is Alex, my brother-in-law. He's a gifted motobike mechanic and jeweller. With him is my handsome nephew, Nicholas.

One of my favourite places is only 1.3 acres and five minutes away from my sister's house. It's the Japanese Water Garden set in the local university's campus. The immaculate gardens are breath-taking, along with lush mature trees, bridges, huge koi carp and sparkling waterfalls. Many people choose to get married here, but it's also used as a setting for parties, memorial services and receptions.

The pier and beautiful sands of Seal Beach.

There are some gorgeous beaches along the Californian coast. We visited the beaches closest to Long Beach, where my sister lives. The beach below is called Laguna Beach, which as you can see, is idyllic.

Of course I couldn't go to California without visiting Disneyland. Here I am in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle. I saw Mickey and Minnie but they were very busy having photographs taken with little children and I felt too silly to get in the queue! Sadly Pirates of the Carribean was closed for refurbishment but my daughter Rosanna and I screamed loundly on many other rides!

We visited San Francisco for a three day tour. Most of the buildings were new or modern due to the 1906 earthquake. Many of the lovely Georgian houses were destroyed and replaced with stronger building to withstand further acts of God.
We walked for miles along the many piers along Fisherman's Wharf. Sea lions lounged whilst basking in the sun and pelicans flew their gangly bodies over the roof tops, no doubt keeping a greedy eye on the fishermen's catches of the day!
Having shopped, eaten clam chowder in bread bowls and taken a boat trip, I just had to hang off one of the trams!

I'd been told that we were lucky to see even a small part of The Golden Gate Bridge in September, as thick mists descend and hover over the bridge. I was delighted to get a glimpse of it, as it's a sight that was on my 'to-see bucket list'.

This is Alcatraz. Despite only being a tourist attraction these days, it still had a palpable aura of fear and desperation about it. I suppose the atmospheric mist which was descending helped the goose bumps to prickle my skin as we passed the island. I'm sure there are ghosts of remorseful prisioners still walking the corridors!

We took a boat trip to Sausalito on the Northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. It's a residential community for wealthy and artistic Americans. We ate over-looking the bay and the iconic bridge. Afterwards we sauntered in and out of lots of lovely little shops before boarding the boat back to our hotel.

We drove up the Hollywood hills to find the iconic sign. It was a very hot day as we climbed passed signs which warned of snakes in the area! It was worth it though. I love this photograph of us all. From left to right are, my daughter Rosanna, niece Natasha, sister Jennifer, my mum, me and my niece Rachel.

Finally I'll end with Johnny Depp. Sadly he couldn't make it to Hollywood that day, so I had to make do with his stand-in dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow! I did find his star on the walk of fame and also his prints in front of the Chinese Theatre.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Friendly Blogger Award

A big thank you to Rosemary Gemmell who has awarded me this cute green smiley award. Rosemary is a very busy lady, but always finds time to be supportive and encouraging. If you don't already, please follow Rosemary's blog! You won't be sorry.

Having happily received my Friendly Blogger Award, I now have to pass it on to people I deem to be friendly! Actually there are too many to mention, but the lovely friends below regularly comment on my posts. So...*drum roll*... I award this smiley face to,

Avril Joy I met lovely Avril at The London Book Fair, and we've been in touch for advice and support ever since. We both share the same literary agent and dreams of publication.

Kay Kay is a lovely friend from twitter. She's always just a little tweet away!

Keith Havers Keith attends my writing group in Nottingham. He's a talented writer and very supportive of my blog.

Maria Smith Maria is a lovely friend from twitter who I've meet up with for coffee and cake. It's good to have a friend to discuss our writing ups and downs with, over a few (hundred) calories!

Megan Taylor Megan was very welcoming when I first joined Nottingham Writers' Studio and continues to support my blog. She is a gifted writer, guests at literary events around Nottingham and has successful novels published.

Pam Pam is a gorgeous lady who runs The Broadway Book Club. She's a prolific reader and shares her knowledge with us at the book club. Visit her blog if you'd like to know more.

Carol Bevitt Carol is also a Nottingham Writers' Club friend and sits on the commmittee with me. Her blog is always entertaining as she shares her writing ambitions with her followers.

Thank you all once again for the support and friendship you have shown me.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Out With The Old...

It's been a stressful week and my new computer relationship isn't working out. At the moment it's not a happy one.

Having returned from a wonderful holiday visiting my sister in California, I was looking forward to knuckling down to my novel. Firstly I was going to write a blog post about my visit, as I hadn't seen my sister in five years.

Have you seen that advert on television - the one with the "noooooo" face, when your computer 'does one?' Well, no sooner had I'd laughed at the advert, than I was making my own "noooooo" face!

The mouse arrow locked, the key pad didn't work and I was stuck. Of course I tried the famous tried and tested cure-all. I switched the computer off and on again. But no. My mouse had squeaked its last and my keyboard didn't respond to desperate begging.

Having run the Toshiba help line, which cost a fortune per minute, it was recommended that I have my data recovered. What about me? I needed to recover too! Then I realised he meant that it needed saving onto a hard drive.

This is where I hide in shame and you tut at me. It had been about six weeks since I'd saved my work. (sounds like I'm back in the confessional box) I know, I know! It's my own fault. I broke the golden rule. But how many of us finish a few hundred words and put the kettle on? Or someone calls you from another room. I just got out of the habit, and as is always the case, the best lessons are learnt from mistakes.

Having got a quote from a recovery service who said I had to POST my computer to them for a fee of £200, I decided to go to my local PC World. Well they were wonderful, or at least a young man called Steve was. He calmly explained that if I a bought a cheap hard drive, he'd recover my work, if it was possible!!

If it was possible??? It hadn't occurred to me that it wouldn't be possible. I think I frightened him with my "noooooo" face again! I had a novel, half a new novel, poetry, short stories, photographs....well you know what we writers have on our computers. I didn't have a choice. I had to trust him and leave my years of work in his hands. The twinge I got when I walked out of the store was similar to the feeling I got when I left my children at nursery for the first time when they were four. Could others care for something that is precious to me, as carefully as I do?

Don't you just hate it when someone says they've got good news and bad news for you? Do you take the good news and run so you don't have to hear the bad? Do you hear the bad first and hope the good out-weighs it?

I asked for the good news. He'd saved all my data! Hooray! What could possily be bad after that?

The bad news was that it would cost almost as much to fix my three year old laptop as it would to buy a new one. AND it would have to be sent away so I couldn't write, tweet, blog etc for a week. I can't say it was an easy decision to say good-bye to my tired Toshiba. I knew his idiosyncrasies, I knew what buttons to push and was comfortable in his company. Now I have a shiny new Dell. I haven't got to know him yet and I'm still a bit wary. He makes strange noises, has different buttons, feels different and I think he's a bit domineering. I suppose we just need to spend some time together and get to know each other.

One thing he hasn't got that my old computer had.


Not a bean. Just dull pictures of flowers which he gave me as a gift when I bought him. I clicked on 'photos' and there they were. Drooping and glaring at me in a too-bright-yellow. Where were my precious family photographs? My holiday photographs? Hundreds of them. Then I thought that my old computer must have held onto them as a desperate bid to take him back. (I really wish I didn't give objects anthropomorphic qualities. It just makes life more stressful and guilt-ridden.)

Should I encourage my old and new computers to connect and work together in harmony - sharing the photos? Or do you think I should get a solicitor involved?

I think I'll go back to Steve at PC World!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Back Soon!!

On holiday in California visiting my sister. I haven't seen her for 5 years. I'll be back soon and may even share some photos! : )

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

White Silence

Clothed in winter whites,
The garden sleeps beneath
The pale under-belly of the
Snow-laden clouds.
Curled, crinkled leaves freckle the ground
As shadows from the skeletal canopies
Criss-cross the lawn.
But for one dichotomous ruby rose
Lolling rudely by the five bar gate,
And gloating at the tepid hues.
White silence in the garden,
Although tiny prints betray the mystery
Of a bird’s dawn visit.
Its footsteps in the snow, disappearing
On the ice-polished pond.
And still the snowman keeps guard,
As soft, slow, silent snow falls,
Frilling grass and lacing trees.
The hedgehog stays furled and warm
Beneath the hawthorn’s rotting leaves,
Whilst a bird sits sulking on a frost-fringed fence.
Sombre trees stretch skyward,
Entreating the reluctant rays for some warmth
From behind the steel-grey clouds.
And underfoot, iced diamonds glint,
A constellation of a million tiny twinkles
Wrap the garden in festive trimmings,
To be unwrapped by the coming thaw.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

A Writer's Workshop

Drawn by Pyon_Pattebayo

Judith Allnatt, author of A Mile Of River and The Poet’s Wife, visited Nottingham Writers’ Club to host a workshop. I'd read and loved her books, so I was looking forward to her visit.

After introductions, Judith started the session with an ideas generator. She suggested writing a list of different characters, locations and objects. By choosing one of these at random from each list, a basis for an idea will appear. Another suggestion was to pick an arbitrary word from the dictionary. Just open the dictionary and point!

As a warm up for the grey matter, Judith suggested describing someone you know in terms of a piece of music, a colour or an animal.
The group moved on to flow writing. We wrote for ten minutes without stopping to think. We scribbled down anything that came into our head without crossing out or editing. Quite a feat, even for ten minutes! After the allotted time, we read over our paragraphs and underlined ideas, phrases and words which we found interesting and could use in the future.

Next we concentrated on mind-mapping and clustering. We chose a word which we wrote in the middle of the page. Using lines (like a child’s drawing of the sun) we wrote words which were connected in some way. For example we chose the word, tower. From that word we mapped over thirty more, including vantage point, Pisa, inferno, suicide, vertigo, sniper, injury, hair. Mind mapping helps the writer to dig deeper and find a new view point.

Judith explained that a writer needs to have a two-sided approach to their work. They need to be spontaneous and creative, but also be a ruthless analyst and editor. The pitfalls are that the writer can become too flippant or censor too harshly. There is a fine balancing act we writers must find.

For our next writing challenge, we all chose a post card from a selection which Judith had brought with her. We had to study it and make notes on what struck us about the picture. The mood, the atmosphere, the colour and textures. We imagined what sounds were present and what was unfolding beyond the boundaries of our picture. Moving on, we conjured up ideas of what had happened before and after the event we were looking at. This exercise was extremely helpful in developing a story with depth and vision.

I find workshops invaluable for picking up new ideas from established writers. I also find it heart-warming that published authors are happy to selflessly share their knowledge with new writers.

I'd love to hear from any writers, publishers or agents who'd like to visit us at Nottingham Writers' Club to talk about their expertise and work lives. We're always delighted to welcome new speakers and learn from their experiences.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

I'm Scrambled!

I'm trying to stay calm and focused. *deep breath* It's not that my mind isn't full of my characters' conversations, or that I have a block in my plotting. But sometimes too many ideas can bring you to a standstill as suddenly as writers' block can. My thoughts are like the wires tied in knots behind my desk. Computer wires are tied around the curly telephone wire, the kettle wire is getting steamy with the bt connection and the printer wire looks like it's doing a bit of heavy petting with the answer phone cable! So many points of communication, but all in one big fat stationary mess. That's the metaphor for my brain at the moment. (not the heavy petting bit....)

I write lists, I make notes, I jot down words and phrases I like, I scribble conversations and I annoy my husband by switching on the bedside lamp to record ideas which have sprung to mind during the night. I think the only thing that can help me unravel my thoughts and get this plot into some sort of order, is an Enigma machine!

Oh and don't get me started on procrastination. *goes and makes a cuppa*
Because my ideas are one big tangle at the moment, instead of trying my hand at deciphering my bouillabaisse of ideas, I write a poem or short story for my writing group. Which is great, because I'm keeping my hand in and even winning some competitions. But a book doesn't write itself and I know I'm going to have to stop saying, "I'll start Chapter 8 tomorrow/at the weekend/next Monday. (sounds a bit like my diet!)

And life! Boy, can't life get in the way of writing? The children, the house, the dogs, the shopping, the chores, work (earning some money is actually quite a good idea) the garden, nights out with friends.... Wonderful diversions, but diversions nonetheless!

Do you have any ideas to make me knuckle down? (no smart comments about tying me to a chair) How do you fit writing into your day and how do you untangle your metaphorical wires of thought? I'd seriously love to know.
Must dash, time to write.....think I'll just take the dogs for a walk.......

Monday, 22 August 2011

Trapped Butterfly

Trembling behind gauze, like a trapped butterfly
Listening to the scrunch of rubber on gravel.
He’s home.
A door slams as headlights fade.
How can a lover become a stranger,
As swiftly as a once polished plum
Becomes covered in a delicate froth of fungi?
Turn back the clock to those heady fruitful days
When love blossomed.
Shared dreams divided by time
And split like parched wood.
His footfall, once a welcoming tread,
Now splinter my calm with regret
As he strides on the polished parquet.
Turn back the clock to a time when our words tumbled
like a rushing brook in a spring thaw.
Before the wordless air ambushed me,
Squeezing my breath at his glance.
A look which once glowed with love,
Now glowers.
Loving praise decayed into mute criticism.
A curl of his lip.
Turn back the clock to a time when the sun shone
On entwined fingers, and a passionate embrace.
His kiss, once lingering and heartfelt is but a memory,
Bleached pale by time’s incessant race.
“Goodnights” unspoken.
An extinguished bulb
Signals the end of his day.

Angela Barton

Friday, 19 August 2011

The Garden Swing

And still it hangs, the garden swing,
Beneath the ancient elm.
Its weather-frayed rope, knotted with memories
Of summers past and childhood days.
I sit awhile to reminisce,
And inhale the sweet perfumed air,
As the splintered seat protests
With groaning creaks of age.
Lemon trumpets nod their heads
Lost in forgotten borders,
Overcrowded with creeping greens
And twisting browns.
Cloud-shadows slink across the lawn,
Patterning with jigsaw shapes,
Highlighting bejewelled leaves
Decorated with silver beads;
A gift left from a recent shower.
Budding twigs reach for the cyan sky,
As if pointing to a higher power,
As grumbling crows take flight
Like black smudges on a canvas;
Flitting and swirling on mild zephyrs.
And daisies gather to gossip and sway,
Waiting for tiny fingers to pluck and thread
Their stems, into chains of gold and white.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Hougoumont

During the autumn of 1867, an incongruous group of sack-clothed men huddled close to the harbour wall at Sheerness. Gusts whipped around their bodies, their arms folded tightly across their chests as protection against the biting wind. They shuffled from leg to leg, trying to keep warm in their inadequate clothing, but also trying to alleviate the muscle pain from walking with the weight of leg chains. Above them, pewter clouds sped across the skies at the mercy of the gales, whilst an insipid sun shone pale lemon beams of sunlight onto the choppy seas.

Silas Dredge was amongst this group. He sniffed, cleared his throat and sidled closer to the bearded man on his left.

“Any idea where they’re sending us?”

The man’s piercing blue eyes stared back at Silas, like sapphires lying in the mud. It appeared that he hadn’t washed in days.

“I’ve heard talk of a place called Freemantle,” he grunted, clearly not in the mood for idle talk.

Silas persisted. “I’m Silas. Silas Dredge.”

“William Pointing.”

“I can’t believe this is happening; being taken away from my pregnant wife and seven bairns, just for collecting firewood.”

William turned towards Silas, his leg chain grating on the ground. He saw a pale wiry man, his neck puckered like smocking. He still had a full head of fair hair which framed his gaunt features. He noticed that Silas’s eyes were kindly, a starburst of wrinkles splaying out from their corners. William relaxed, relieved that he wasn’t making small talk with a murderer.

“Firewood?” he enquired.

“How was I to know that I was on another’s land? I thought I was still in Hickling Woods. I was only trying to keep my family warm. I’m not a brigand.”

After a short pause, William replied quietly, “Seven years.”


“I’ve got seven years for trying to keep my youngest alive.”

Silas raised an eyebrow by way of a silent enquiry.

“I took some milk from a local farm. My youngest was two months old and sickly. Nancy my wife, she was sick too so she couldn’t feed the baby herself. She begged each day for me to help save our son. What’s a man to do?”

“You were caught?”

William nodded. “I thought he was a friend – the farmer. We used to wave a greeting as we passed. He went straight to the authorities when he found me leaving with a pitcher of milk.”

Silas clenched his fists. “And they say The Blood Code was too harsh,” he hissed. “What do they call this punishment? This isn’t right.” They stood in silence for a minute before Silas enquired, “How’s your bairn?”

William cleared his throat and fidgeted. “He’s with the Lord.”

Silas looked down at his worn shoes and shuffled uncomfortably whilst mumbling his condolences. He changed the subject.

“In different circumstances, I’d say that was a mighty fine ship.”

The two men raised their eyes towards the Hougoumont, a magnificent three-masted fully rigged ship. Its sails fought the blustering gales as they flapped frenziedly, like a trapped butterfly.

“My father used to be in the Navy. If I’m not mistaken, I’d say that’s a Blackwall Frigate,” said William.

Silas shivered but didn’t answer. If he’d met William down the local ale house, he thought, he’d be fascinated to hear about the ship. New friends, bonding over a flagon of ale and a warm fire. Instead they were standing on a bleak dock yard, about to spend several months being transported to a new continent called Australia. And what about his wife Milly and their seven children? She earned a little money repairing neighbours’ clothes, but... Silas wiped away a tear with the back of his rough hand.

“This wind plays havoc with your eyes doesn’t it?”

William smiled weakly and nodded, knowingly.

The large group of men were herded into single file and ordered to stop talking. A guard cajoled and struck out at some of the men.

“Take a last look at your country,” he jeered. “You’ll only see it in your dreams from tonight.” He laughed pitilessly at the line of shivering men. “Now walk,” he ordered.

Rusting leg chains clanked and rattled as the prisoners shuffled one after the other towards the Hougoumont’s gang plank. Silas looked around the dock yard which was bathed in weak autumnal sunlight. Suddenly the colours of the yard faded as grey clouds eclipsed the sun’s weak glow, muting the dull harbour colours a tone darker. He saw the small timber houses in the far distance, framing the dock. Around the perimeter of the harbour he noticed the timber yard, bustling with weary workers. Rolls of rope lay coiled like sleeping serpents at the cordage works, whilst a rhythmical rasping echoed from the saw pits.

As the forlorn line hobbled towards the towering ship, Silas looked into the inky water, gazing at the reflection of the rounded wooden hull at the bow above the waterline. It certainly was a fine ship. If only the circumstances could have been different.

The long line of men shambled in single file, until they reached the gang plank. Here the procession turned at a right angle in order to embark. A fine drizzle now fell from the overcast sky, blown sideways by the continuing gusts.

Silas momentarily closed his eyes against the spray. He belly ached from hunger, his muscles shivered from cold, and now his inadequate clothing was slowly soaking up every drop of rain which fell on him. Hot tears stung his eyes but were instantly wiped away with the back of his coarse hand. He had to be tough to survive this journey, he chided himself.

As he reached the gang plank, he turned to look at William. In turn, William made eye contact and gave a thin-lipped smile and a nod of his head. Strengthened, Silas stepped onto the bridge dividing his homeland and what was to be his prison for the next few months.

He felt the gentle bounce of the wooden gang plank beneath his tread, his nostrils filling with the aroma of rotting salty fish soup. Was that a farmyard he could smell too? Fearful that he might slip and drown now that the gang plank was wet from the rain, he slowed his gait to a shuffle.

“You! Get a move on.”

Silas looked towards the ship, where a guard was pointing at him and scowling.

“I’ve got a hearty meal by the fire, a pitcher of ale and the arms of a warm woman waiting for me at home. Get a move on so I can make haste.”

Silas heard the spiteful laughing of the guards as he finally stood on the deck of the Hougoumont. He was surprised to see sheep being brought on board, but it solved the mystery of the farmyard smell. Inhaling wearily he looked up, his eyes drawn by the flapping of the sails which sounded like the cracking of whips. The three masts, laced with a cobweb of rigging, creaked and groaned above him. He’d heard talk of these magnificent ships but now the dichotomous emotions he was feeling, disorientated him.

A sting of pain stabbed his temple, rendering him senseless for a few seconds. When he opened his eyes, still clutching his head, the same guard grimaced in front of him.

“I can see you’re going to be trouble. You’ll be sorry.” He turned to a younger guard who seemed no older than Silas’s eldest son. “Get him below decks,” he ordered.

Silas was man-handled towards a worn staircase, where he was unceremoniously pushed. As Silas fell into the black nothingness above the stairs, he felt a blissful few seconds of freedom. He was floating, flying weightlessly. An obscure memory flashed through his mind. A hot summer, he was six, swinging on a rope tied to a tree, dappled sunlight shadowing his playmates. A happy memory. Then nothing.

Sometime later, Silas awoke to startlingly blue eyes. William was dripping tepid water into his mouth. The searing pain in his head made him flinch, but he drank thirstily from the cup William was holding.

Peering around the damp stinking murkiness, he became aware that the ship was rocking gently.

“We’ve set sail. How’re you fairing?” asked William.

“I wish the Lord had taken me when I fell.”

“You must be strong. We’ve family to return to.”

Silas sat up shakily in his hammock. “Return?”

“I hear men have returned after several years. Take heart my friend and strengthen your mind. One day we will return to our loved ones.”

Several of the other convicts scoffed as they eavesdropped on their conversation.

“Yer’ll be lucky if yer survive the journey. There’s a sickness that’ll surely come after months at sea,” sneered a toothless convict.

“Don’t listen,” urged William. “Keep strong and focus on your return. Believe that you’ll see your wife and bairns again.”

Silas nodded, lay back, closed his eyes and thought of Milly.

By Angela Barton

Saturday, 30 July 2011

In Hindsight (Chapter 1)


Ellie Morgan’s coffee mug slipped from her fingers, dropped onto the floor and smashed. Her other hand squeezed her apartment’s door handle so tightly, that her knuckles stood out on her fist like four pale pebbles.

Kate stood defiantly in the doorway, as the gentle strains of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas played in the background. She blinked calmly, unmoved by what she’d just revealed.

“He wouldn’t. I don’t believe you,” continued Ellie, the shake of her head barely perceptible.

Kate tilted her head a fraction to one side and raised her eyebrows. “Don’t you?”

Ellie had been on her way to the kitchen to take some baking out of the oven when a knock on her front door had disturbed her. Now the sweet spicy aroma of cooked mince pies was wafting from the kitchen. She didn’t know whether to rescue her pies or continue to listen to these ridiculous accusations. She decided to stay and listen.

“Why are you doing this?” Ellie frowned. “You said you understood why I’d asked you to leave. I’m sorry if I upset you…”

“Upset me?” Kate laughed, her mouth stretched wide but her eyes remained cold. “You threw me and my daughter out into the street just before Christmas. What would Tom have said about that?”

“Stop bringing Tom into this. You know why I asked you to leave and you know that I gave you time to find somewhere else. Besides, it doesn’t give you the excuse to come here and make up stories about my husband.”

The insincere smile slipped from Kate’s lips. “Tom’s dead.”

Ellie reeled at the venom in her voice. “Do you really think that I need reminding?”

“Yes, I do.” shouted Kate.

“How dare you, after all the chaos you’ve caused.” Ellie let go of the door handle and pointed at her. “I’ll tell you why you’re making up this rubbish. Because you had a crush on Tom and couldn’t stand the fact that he wasn’t attracted to you.” She gripped the handle again for support. “He was professional at his job and you couldn’t handle the reality that he was married and not interested. You might have men falling at your feet every day, but I don’t believe for a minute that Tom was weak enough to fall for your fluttering eyelashes. You models were all just part of the job; props to be dressed and photographed. You’re lying because I asked you to leave – because you’re jealous of what we had. It’s so easy to accuse him of sleeping with you when he’s not here to defend himself, isn’t it?”

Bizarrely, as Ellie was ranting, she’d noticed that her lanky Poinsettia was wilting over the side of its pot, just outside the doorway on the landing. Inanely, she made a mental note to water it.

Kate stared impassively back at her. “I have proof.”

Ellie didn’t believe for a minute that she had proof. She was just looking for a reaction and she wasn’t going to get one. How had it come to this? They’d been friends for the past year and now they couldn’t bear the sight of each other “I’m not interested in hearing any more lies. I’d like you to leave.”

The telephone rang inside the apartment, causing Ellie to momentarily turn. In that instant, Kate pushed past her and walked into the lounge.

“What the hell are you doing? Get out.”

The telephone continued to ring as Kate walked towards a framed photograph of Tom which was sitting on the coffee table. She picked it up and studied it. Tracing her fore-finger around Tom’s profile, she kissed her fingertip and touched his lips with it.

Ellie felt the bile rise in her throat, but took a calming breath, held out her arm and pointed towards the staircase. “Get out!” She rotated her hand so that her palm was facing upwards. “Give me the front door key first. I don’t want you ever coming back.” Her hand shook visibly as it lay upturned, hovering in the empty space between them.

“Look at him,” ordered Kate, turning the photograph.

Ellie continued to glare at Kate.

“Look at him!”

Ellie glanced at the picture of her husband. His kind almond-shaped eyes held her gaze, making it impossible for her to look away immediately. The photograph had been taken in Aubeterre, a small hamlet in France they’d often visited. It’d been awarded a sign which stated that it was a village of outstanding natural beauty. Tom had joked that she should be awarded a badge which read those very same words. He’d asked her to marry him in Aubeterre Square, kneeling on one knee beneath one of the Linden trees which grew around the Place Trarieux. The dappled light had patterned his earnest, smiling face. She could almost evoke the sweet aroma of the trees, just by envisioning them.

The phone stopped and for a few seconds the room was quiet, as the Christmas tree lights flashed on and off to the rhythm of Ellie’s pounding heartbeat. She blinked as a bird screeched an alarm call outside the window, its dark shadow flitting past the glass.

“How can you just move on?” asked Kate. "What’s the point of having photographs sitting around the place if you intend to exchange him like faulty goods?” She replaced the photograph and walked towards the window, her breath clouding the glass. “I could have made him happy you know?” she said quietly, almost to herself.

The sky had a metallic quality to it. Heavy grey clouds hung low in the sky, laden with snow which was promised for later that afternoon. Kate peered into the street below and watched the opposite neighbour dragging a wheelie bin towards the pavement. Another was strapping a child into their car seat before setting off. Perhaps the little girl would visit Santa in the shopping centre before being dragged around the supermarket. Mundane tasks maybe, but a life which Kate had daydreamed about since meeting Tom.

Ellie stood with her arms folded, wondering if she was capable of physically removing Kate from her apartment. She doubted it. It was taking all her self-control not to run to the bathroom and retch.

“For your information, Tom was happy, not that it’s any of your business. You seem to have invented a set of circumstances which are all in your head. We were happy, Tom wasn’t a cheat and I am not seeing anyone else.”

Kate turned, tears balancing precariously on her eyelashes. Ellie let out a sigh as she felt her shoulders relax a little, with relief. Surely Kate was now regretting coming round and had come to her senses. Surely she now realised that making up lies about Tom wouldn’t help her feelings of loneliness.

“It’s okay Kate,” soothed Ellie. “It must be lonely being a single mum but…..”

“I hate you,” spat Kate. “It should’ve been me living here with Tom. I wouldn’t be running round after another man only a few months after he’d died if he’d been my husband. I don’t know why you don’t just ask James to move in, instead of all the ridiculous flirting that goes on. It’s sickening to watch.”

Ellie’s jaw dropped in shock before she regained her composure. “I’m not running around after another man!” shouted Ellie. “James is a friend. He understands it’s too early to think about…besides, how dare you tell me how to live my life. Tom died a year ago, and he would understand that friendships are important for support.”

“Friendship?” Kate mocked. “Come off it! We used to talk, remember?” She pointed at the sofa. “Sitting there. I’d listen to you giggling over what James had done or said. You told me how you felt about him. It made me sick to listen to how quickly you’d forgotten about Tom. How easily you’d moved on.”

“I’ll never stop loving Tom and you know it. James and I are just good friends.”

“That’s pathetic! Don’t insult me by using that old cliché. The only reason you’re not an item is because he doesn’t feel the same way about you.”

Ellie was shocked at how deeply those words had hurt. The notion that James didn’t think that they had something special growing between them, made her feel incredibly sad and isolated; as if she’d lost something very special. She tried to remember if James had ever shown her any affection; given her any hint that he might be interested in getting to known her more intimately. Yes, they’d shared some recent lingering looks, he’d held her hand when she’d been tearful and he’d always been so attentive. But what if Kate was right? What if friendship was all that was on his mind?

Kate continued, with Ellie only half listening. “Yours couldn’t have been a great marriage could it? You say Tom was happy. Why would he stray if he was happy at home?” She swept her hand in a semi-circle in front of her. “It should be us living here. I can’t sleep at night. I miss him. And you! Call yourself a wife? Have you no respect?”

Ellie was determined not to cry in front of Kate, even though she was screaming soundlessly inside. “For the last time, get out.” Her drained face was the only outward sign that Ellie’s memories of her beloved Tom had been shaken as violently as a child’s snow globe.

The sound of someone running upstairs from the apartment below stopped their conversation. James appeared in the open doorway.

“I just phoned you. I heard something smash.”

He looked down as he crunched on the shattered mug underfoot. He paused before raising his eyes to the two women facing each other across the coffee table. Ellie’s face looked ashen. It was instantly obvious that they’d been arguing.

“What’s going on?” He looked from one to the other.

“Well talk of the devil,” said Kate. “Were your ears burning?”

“Ellie?” he asked, looking at her.

“Kate was just leaving,” she replied. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, unsure of what to do with her hands as The Little Drummer Boy, rum-pum-pum-pummed from the speakers.

“Oh but we’re having such a lovely time,” cooed Kate, sarcastically. “Come and join us James. We’re just getting to know each other a little better.” She beckoned him into the room.

James didn’t move. “I don’t know what’s going on, but if Ellie wants you to leave, I think you’d better.”

Kate sauntered towards him and stopped an arm’s length away. “What Ellie wants, Ellie gets, is that it? Who are you, the perfect hero on a white charger? Have you come to rescue poor Ellie from the evil mistress? Her husband’s lover.” She laughed in his face. “Thought that would shock you.”

The bitter-sweet smell of burnt pastry drifted into the room as James looked at Ellie. She was chewing her bottom lip nervously and didn’t look up.

“It doesn’t matter why you’re here Kate, but I think it’s best if you leave now.” He stood to one side of the doorway.

Kate sneered. “Oh you do, do you?” She laughed whilst shaking her head. “It’s pathetic. You’ve no idea have you? Well if you think that piece of news shocked you, wait ‘til you hear this.”

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Chocolate Cake and Tarmac

I love to invent characters, imagine settings and create plots. But one of my most favourite aspects of writing, is adding detail and description. I believe that including sensory details, pulls the reader into the scene and helps to bring characters and situations to life.

It's a bit like an artist adds colour and texture. Our words are our paint.

I have a little note book (well I have about 50 to be honest) into which I write my own similies, metaphors and analogies. I know that one of my writing weaknesses is that I can include too many similies into my writing. A few can be great; too many and you're over egging the pudding as they say! I usually re-read my work at the first edit and find that my flow is disrupted with too many comparisons. This is where I hit the delete button most often when editing!!

Description can be great fun to work on and can be a welcome break from working out the plot and dialogue. Rather than have my character eat a cake, I'd rather she inhaled the sweet smell of baking as she bit into the rich moist chocolate cake, licking her fingers clean of the butter cream which had dribbled down them? I don't know about you, but I can almost smell that chocolate gateaux!

I've added a extract of my second novel, In Hindsight. I think it shows more clearly than explaining, how I colour my story. It's still a work in progress, so please let me know if you think I've gone over-the-top! I know I have to sometimes rein myself in!

June’s heat-haze danced and twitched as it levitated above the broiled pavements. Shiny black slugs of melted tarmac dribbled lazily into the gutter, smelling as sickly-sweet as a bag of pineapple chunks. Aircraft droned above them, leaving white streaks slashed across the bare blue sky, criss-crossing existing contrails. This month was a melting pot of sticky days.

Ellie and Tom Forrester stood in front of the neglected weather-worn house in Clapham, looking up in disbelief. A flaking central front door didn’t bode well for the rest of the building. The sash windows looked rotten where paint had peeled and rain had drenched the exposed wood. The low parapet which was built around the edge of the roof was crumbling in parts and missing in others. Its only redeeming feature was a mature Magnolia tree standing in the diminutive front garden.

Ellie opened the paper she’d been carrying and re-read the advertisement which had caught Tom’s attention over breakfast the previous morning.

“It says here, 'Elegant three-storey semi-detached Georgian town house. In need of some modernisation to bring it back to its former glory. Full of original features. Pretty courtyard to the rear of the property. Dated decor requiring attention throughout.'”

“Dated! I think they mean delapi-dated.” Tom frowned as he rubbed the stubble on his chin. It was a nervous habit he’d developed since establishing his own photographic business, The Bigger Picture.

Nearby church bells chimed half past the hour as the estate agent fidgeted impatiently next to the front steps. She’d felt a trickle of sweat run down between her shoulder blades and was worried that the damp patch would show through her new summer shift dress. The news channels were proclaiming that it was going to be the hottest June on record for the past twelve years and the damp skin on her back, lay testimony to that fact. She silently urged the dithering couple to make up their minds.

“Do you still want to take a look?” Ellie asked.

Tom pulled a face and shrugged. “We’re here I suppose.”

She folded her arm through his as they joined the red-faced agent.

“Tom and Ellie Forrester?”

“That’s us,” Tom smiled.

“Great. Let’s get in out of this heat.”

The woman turned a key in the lock and the door squeaked open. Ellie noticed that a line of perspiration had seeped through the back of the agent’s olive dress, staining it dark green. Once inside the cool hallway, they gave a collective sigh of relief. The smell in the dank entrance hall propelled Ellie back to the many hours she used to dig in the damp earth under the shade of a huge silver birch as a child. Almost like a perfume, it smelt musty and sweet

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Prophecy

I entered this short story into a competition which had a word count of 250 and the theme, The Darkness Came.

Mauve clouds bruised bi-polar skies, now grumbling miserably having been bright and sunny an hour earlier. Bird song hushed as rain began to dimple puddles.

It wouldn’t be long now.

The captain shivered, fear unravelling in his veins like a skein of wool. Would the prophecy come true? He was prepared. He couldn’t take the chance.

“Hurry up,” he called to his sons. “Have you checked that the food supply is secured?”

“Twice,” his eldest replied.

“Good. Help me get everyone on board. We’re running out of time.”

Father and sons hurried the couples along, their feet click-clacking upon the deck.

The captain looked skyward, his eyes widening in horror. A dark curtain of rain raced closer, muting colours and beating a faster rhythm. Thunderous skies unleashed a deluge, staining stones a shade darker and painting a glistening patina on the wooden hull. Bubbling bulimic brooks spewed debris into the rising waters, as a white-forked tongue licked the sky. The clouds grumbled in reply as the water began to take the weight of the giant hull, causing the boat to rock gently to and fro.

“Close the doors,” yelled the captain, his brow furrowed with anxiety. “Fasten the windows and secure all on board.”

The darkness came, dampening colour and form. The captain peered through the gloom at his cargo, as sounds echoed around the vast interior. Startled eyes stared back as hooves stamped, nostrils flared, wings flapped and paws scratched. The ark broke free.

“It begins,” cried Noah.

By Angela Barton

Monday, 11 July 2011

A Hero By Any Other Name

We imagine a hero to show great courage or ability, to have performed heroic acts, to be admired for his qualities and regarded as an ideal. Not forgetting of course that he must be devilishly good-looking to boot!

Can you imagine just how boring the books we read and write would be, if our pages were filled with white-toothed, grinning, muscular, handsome men? The phrase ‘nice but dim’ springs to mind, along with images of asexual cartoon characters.
As writers, our choice of hero is a very personal thing and speaks volumes about ourselves. We reveal our individual values and preferences. We comment on those we perceive to be lacking or deficient in some way. For me, a hero has to have flaws. The truth is that bad things happen to good people. The best heroes in my mind are male protagonists who have a failing, an imperfection or a weak spot.

Achilles was a handsome Greek hero of the Trojan War. He was the central character and the greatest warrior in Homer’s Illiad, but had one weakness – his heel, an injury to which ultimately led to his death. Although this mythological story refers to a physical vulnerability, we can use this weakness metaphorically in our writing. It will make our hero seem more three dimensional and ‘human,’ as opposed to robotic and boring. Having said that, I believe a handsome or rugged face and an attractive body are important for a fictional hero. We want the reader to ‘fall in love’ with the male protagonist in order to keep reading! After all, if sexual attraction was solely based on inner goodness alone, we’d all fancy the Pope instead of Johnny Depp!

I thought I’d share with you my own personal top five heroes! I’m not going to list the likes of Tarzan, Atticus Finch, Romeo, Batman, Hamlet or Mr Spock – all heroes in their own right, but I’m talking jaw-dropping sexy heroes below. (Although I do have a bit of a thing for Mr Spock’s brooding sexy demeanour. He needs a lady to melt away his….anyway, I digress!)

5th place goes to Mr D’Arcy

Sorry. I know. I can hear some of you groaning, but let me explain. It’s not just the wet clothes clinging like they’ve been vacuum packed on to his taught stomach and thighs. It’s not the droplets of water decorating his face like tribal markings, waiting to be kissed away. It’s not the facts that his damp lips are parted as he catches his breath from swimming. *pauses whilst I catch my breath* It’s that personal preference thing again. I like my heroes to have a brooding, deep, sexy, almost distant character. It’s so much better if the heroine has to win her way into his heart and bed, rather than him turning up, winking at her whilst he flashes his perfect Simon Cowell teeth before beckoning her into the back of his car/carriage/horse. (No, scrap the horse – that doesn’t work!) I prefer the softly, softly catchee monkey approach!

4th place goes to Angel Clare

Thomas Hardy’s hero in Tess of the D’Urbevilles scored a high mark from me. He was good-natured, strong, handsome, jovial character who possessed a sense of humour. He was musical, and I’m a sucker for anyone creative! I also have a penchant for my heroes having long dark shoulder-length hair. Angel also knew what he wanted from life and set out determinedly to get it. I like a man who knows his own mind.
But Hardy was a realistic writer and Angel needed a flaw. Hardy didn’t give him a huge imperfection to overcome, but gave him the poor ability to make the right choices. He fell in love with Tess and married her. When she told him she’d been raped before the marriage, he fled to work abroad without consummating the marriage or even spending the night in the same house as Tess. That callous act eventually led to Tess’ tragic downfall. There was no happy ending for Tess.

3rd place goes to Rupert Campbell-Black

Rupert Edward Algernon Campbell-Black is a rich, famous, Olympic medal-winning show jumper. He’s incredibly handsome, fit and charming. Whereas Angel Clare’s only flaw was that he made a wrong decision (albeit a humongous one), Jilly Cooper doled out a few more imperfections on Rupert! He was a brutish womanizer and an adulterous arrogant cad. The thing about fictional heroes, is that you can have a crush on them safely, secure in the knowledge that you don’t really have a husband/lover who is really that much of a b*stard.

2nd place goes to Edward Rochester

Charlotte Bronte’s Mr Rochester makes a wonderful hero for me. Craggy-faced, abrupt, stern (not to mention he keeps his wife locked up in the attic) you’d be forgiven for thinking he wasn’t your archetypical hero. But he is to my personal ideals for a male protagonist. He’s real – okay, he’s not real, but you know what I mean. He’s doesn’t have perfect handsome features who says all the right things. He has long hair (did I mention I like long hair?) and he’s a little bit dangerous and brooding –not to be mistaken with sulking! He’s intellectual and has an air of mystery. He’s not bad by nature, just finds himself in a bad situation. He needs time, affection and taming. I’m willing to over-look his more glaring flaws in order to indulge the passion he and Jane Eyre share. He’s locked himself away inside Thornfield Hall, and someone needs to slowly and gently unlock his demons…and his heart.

1st place goes to Daniel Cavanagh

“Who?” I hear you say.

I’d like to introduce you to my very own hero. Daniel is the love interest in my first novel, Lies and Linguine. He’s handsome, tall, artistic, sexy, and has a body which makes women silently mouth the word, ‘Wow!’ Okay, so far, not so real – except, he has a flaw which brings him to life.

Daniel is a troubled artist. He inherited Larkston Hall following the death of his parents in a motorway accident. He also blames himself for an accident involving his best friend Sean. His guilt over his absence at the time of his parents’ death and his wrong choice which led to Sean’s accident, have left Daniel with a mild obsessive compulsive disorder. He feels that if he focuses on the number three, a third traumatic incident will be prevented. As well as emotional scars, Daniel has a physical scar on his left temple, received in the same accident in which Sean was injured. My heroine Tess, must slowly, gently and thoughtfully win Daniel’s trust, in order to help him start the slow process of recovering. This, of course, whilst she’s trying to get to grips with her own dramas.

I’ve listed Daniel Cavanagh as my number one hero because I invented him. I have a personal attachment to him and literally know what he’s thinking. I’ve embodied all my most personal physical preferences of a man into Daniel’s appearance and given him the personality of all the character traits of my ideal man. Kind and humorous being high on the agenda.

I have to admit, I missed him terribly when I finished my novel and had edited for the final time. I think I’m a little bit in love….

I'd love to know who your favourite hero/heroes are.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The Forgotten Scarf

Yesterday, whispers that war was over
Trickled down the wireless, and filled the room with news
As sweet as honeysuckle blooms.
Hopes of my love returning, prodded my eyes through the night,
Keeping sleep as remote as the land in which he fought.
And now I’m running, frightening birds in sallies of flight
As I race, brushing blossoms and dew-laden ferns aside.
Holding petticoats aloft as words escape my lips,
“He’s home.”
I saw him from my window, waving at the gate;
Its five bars, lichen encrusted and pale.
I’m hurrying, across the purple paddock
Infused with scents of lavender and meadowsweet.
I’m skipping through silver flashes of dew
Which sparkle like a bride’s smile on each translucent leaf.
“He’s home.”
I’m jumping, soaring over hillocks
Of lanky wild grasses which sway to the breeze’s melody.
I remember the soft touch of his lips on mine,
His arms which held me tightly, cocooned in love.
And now, raw and bloodied, I must hold him.
“He’s home.”
The sun dims and slinks behind purple clouds
Which slip across the bare blue sky.
I reach the gate and can’t hide the smile upon my lips,
Even though the peeling paintwork stabs my fingertips
As my knuckles clench the wood.
I call his name, but silence greets me like an insult.
The lane is bare beneath arms of sycamore,
A tunnel of boughs through which dreams travel.
Golden rays re-appear, warming my face; but not my heart.
And then I see it,
Tied to the gate post which stands proud and sentinel.
A forgotten scarf waving a frayed greeting in the breeze.
Just a blue tattered yarn, ripped and discarded.
A trick of the light.

Angela Barton

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Skimming Stones

Surely only a handful of summers have passed,
Since I jumped the white chalked squares
On the shiny black slugs of melting tarmac?
Long halcyon days filled with playgrounds and parks,
In which hung a shimmering heat-haze
Which levitated above the hot grainy concrete.
Holidays of sipping iced-lemonade, my skin tinged pink
From the rays which danced in the palest of blues.
Surely only a small bouquet of nights have passed,
Each nocturnal hour filled with scents of blossom,
Since I read of the Famous Five by the landing’s pale glow.

And now my reflection is patterned with lines of middle age.
How did I sink like a painted pebble into these murky depths?
Did I skim that stone before it sank?
Polish it against my hip before hurling it
Seawards, to bounce and pirouette upon the surface?
And why does my mother’s face look back from the mirror?
Is it a trick of the light? Her tired eyes, her lips,
Puckered with a life of conversation.
A private prank played on me by shadows, as
The poised pencil which draws the circle of life,
Rises, tick by slow tock, to meet its starting point.

Yes I’ve skimmed the stone countless times,
And lived, and loved, and laughed.
I’ve born three babies and watched them grow
And skip the hopscotch squares themselves.
I’ve walked on Arabian sand, smiled at Amalfi’s coast,
I’ve prayed in Rome and sailed Californian seas.
Imagined friends lie inside the folios of my novel
Written in captured moments from the hullaballoo,
The hubbub and the topsy-turvy of life’s pages.
Yes, my lines of age tell of a life well-lived.
Happy in my skin, I’ve earned my stripes.

Angela Barton

Thursday, 30 June 2011

The Lowdham Book Fair 2011

The Lowdham Book Fair is Nottingham’s largest literary gathering. This year it celebrated its 12th annual event. There was something for everybody at the fair, with national and local authors mingling with local actors and performers.

Our stall for The Nottingham Writers' Club, offered information about meetings, Scribe magazine, NWC’s website and a large variety of member’s work to read or purchase. Our neighbours in the wind-buffeted marquee were local publishers, second-hand book dealers, other writing organisations and the Society of Bookbinders. I gave into temptation and bought Phillip Larkin's Collected Poems and Thomas Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree.

Literary and musical talent were represented in many and varied forms. Travel writers, poets, writers of humour, biographies, fiction and children’s stories rubbed shoulders with musicians and story tellers from Southwell workhouse. Dressed in period costume, the actors told a story of hunger and deprivation in the 19th century. They even stayed in character whilst browsing our stall, which caused some hilarity as the actress pretended she couldn't read!

Elsewhere at the book fair, visitors could partake in diverse activities. A few examples of these were guided meditation with Ian Bramble from the Nottingham Buddist Centre. Also, singer Barbara Dickson OBE talked about her successful career, whilst crime writer Jasper Fforde was in conversation with Stephen Booth.

An exhibition of photographs and memorabilia celebrating the life and work of Alan Sillitoe was on show in the main building. One of Nottingham’s finest contemporary writers, Alan died on 25th April 2010. The Alan Sillitoe Statue Fund was set up to dedicate a statue to the much loved author. A raffle draw helped add to the target of £50,000. During the afternoon an announcement was made to reveal the winner of the Alan Sillitoe Short Story Competition and the raffle winners.

This year was the East Midland’s Book Award took place in Lowdham for the first time. The ‘surprise’ winner was Mark Goodwin with his poetry book entitled, Shod. (Nine Arches Press)
Many congratulations to him.

The late Alan Sillitoe

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

A Bouquet Of Memories

My resting place, a crescent of golden sand
Cradles my bouquet of life’s memories
As my shadow touches the sparkling rock pools,
Glinting like splintered glass.

Crumbling cliffs guard my spirit,
As Lowry figures, heads bowed against whipping winds
Trudge along the snaking path.
Steps my worldly self once trod.

And still the gaping cave yawns seaward, my childhood refuge
From sea dragon and pirates bold.
And there I met my love one summer’s day
In the mouth of that cave, when he stole my first kiss.

Wed on these sands, flowing gown, a smile
And blissful tears beneath wide blue skies
As cousins frolicked and wine was sipped,
Now gentle zephyrs carry my soul.

Slice of melon grins on our children’s faces,
As my love and I sat hand in hand
By the bubbling breeze-stirred shallows.
My voice now whispers through russet leaves.

Embracing the wind which blows through my presence,
And whisks away troubles into raging seas
As gales stir the oceans and rainbows shine resplendent
With each skyward-tossed champagne spray.

My spirit floats with fragrant blossoms
Carried on a summer’s breeze, then as night falls
And stars a-light, sweet remembrance of my life
As I dance with angels on gossamer thread.

My ashes are strewn in sighing rushes,
Soft surging dunes and well-trodden paths
Which meander through meadows of larkspur and daisy,
As I watch and remember, and wait for my love.

Angela Barton

Monday, 27 June 2011

A Road Of Lemon Bricks

A hag with skin as green as crinkled cabbage,
Screamed a cackling curse.
A vortex whisked
Twisting spirals and coils
Like an unfurling skein of wool.
I held him close, my four-legged friend,
A bundle of fur that nudged closer
For comfort.
I closed my eyes, squeezing them shut
Until they puckered like smocking.
A sudden bark and bare blue skies,
As a new world emerged.
With friends of tin, and straw
And a lion as timid as a whisper.
And small folk dancing and skipping.
Wishes come true if you only believe,
Or so the good witch said.
A gift of red shoes,
Which twinkled like the nursery rhyme
With each step I took,
Arm in arm with my chums.
And still the journey made me gasp with wonder.
A road of lemon bricks.
Apes which soared on outstretched wings
Over rainbows in the cyan sky.
A magic castle where lived a wizard
Whose voice boomed from beyond.
“Click your heels in your ruby shoes
And make a wish from your heart.”
With a hug and some tears
I bid farewell to a beast now so brave,
A scarecrow who understood
And a man of tin who cried with love.
Inhaling, I made a wish
“I want to go home - there’s no place like home.”

I wrote this poem for a bit of fun really. I entered it into a 'Going Home' themed competition. I also entered Dusk In Afghanistan and was delighted to win first place with that poem. If you'd like to read it, I put it on my blog a few posts earlier.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Lies and Linguine

When Mark Twain uttered the phrase, 'Write What You Know', did he realise that those four words could impose huge limitations on writers imaginations? Panic ensues for the majority of us who lead, if not boring, then routine family lives. Do I really want to write about supermarket shopping, trying to find out which of my offspring uses a towel once and drops it on the floor, or when to give worming tablets to the dogs? Do our heroes have to be replicas of our partners, with the same annoying habits? Not the makings of a best seller!

But what does it really mean? After all, Shakespeare didn't know what it was like to be a young girl. But he had been in love before, so he knew how Juliet felt about Romeo. Writing what you know doesn't have to be taken so literally. We've all experienced sadness, grief, love, joy and fear. We've all taken a holiday, sat an exam, had painful unrequited crushes (or is that just me?) and encounted extreme weather conditions. It's our emotions and memories which we can draw on and write about.

Research is essential for accurately getting the facts right. My antagonist, Tess' boyfriend Blake, appears in court towards the end of my novel. I needed to research the workings of a Magistrate's Court. I spoke to lawyers and researched the correct procedure on the internet. In Lies and Linguine, Blake also visits a brothel in Amsterdam's Red Light District. Although I did visit Amsterdam and walked through the area, I drew the line at knocking on a door highlighted by a neon red light! Thankfully the internet came to my rescue for the seedier side of things!

I do think it helps to write a scene if I've visited a certain place. Accurate description can help paint a picture in the mind's eye. Write What You Know makes more sense and can be applied literally when it comes to settings. The photograph above is Car Colston, the village where I live. I've named it Larkston in Lies and Linguine. This is where my protagonist, Tess, lives. This is how I described Larkston in my novel.

After a twenty-five minute commute, Tess’ car rattled to a standstill outside Rose Cottage in the beautiful village of Larkston. The little house’s rent was comfortably affordable because most people didn’t want a morning commute in rush hour into the city of Nottingham. But Tess didn’t mind. For her, living in Larkston was like living in a painting. A narrow winding road curled around the village green, where grasses and wild flowers were given free rein to do as they pleased. By day, cows lolled and grazed on the common land, hemmed in by a small electric fence which crackled its warning at passers-by. A weathered matt pink phone box stood guard over the expanse of grass, the colour of unripe tomatoes, tinged taupe by the sun. The grass of the cricket pitch had been manicured into a smooth velvet covering, where birds dotted its surface looking like bored fielders. Informal gatherings of cottages bordered the edges of the open land, which were fringed by blackberry bushes and mature trees. The embattled clock tower of St Mary’s church rose above Larkston’s homes, protecting the eternally sleeping villagers beneath their storm-tossed head stones. At the heart of the green stood The Royal Oak, which swelled with the laughter of friends and family as they shared news and embellished stories.

Before I wrote my novel, I was fascinated by this magical house in the village. It over-looks the cricket pitch and whilst taking the dogs for their evening walk, I'd notice a light flickering in one of the windows. I wondered who lived there and what their story was. I decided that my hero, Daniel, would be the owner of this gorgeous property. Being young and with the property market being in such a poor state, I had to engineer the story to make it possible. Sadly I had to kill off his parents so that he inherited Larkston Hall from them. Writers can control anything in their novel - if only it was that easy in real life!

Daniel is a troubled artist who's haunted by two tragedies in his past. The death of his parents in a car accident and a further trauma involving his close friend Sean; a tragedy he blames himself for. His guilt and grief leave him with a mild compulsive disorder. An obsession with the number three. He believes that a third catastrophe will be averted if he completes particular tasks, three times.

The evenings had been long and seemingly endless in the early days. He’d spent them numbly staring at the television or in front of a crackling fire in the library. There he’d lose himself in long novels which whisked him away into other worlds. It was usually during these long evenings, after he’d finished reading but before attempting sleep, when Daniel thought about his parents and Sean most vividly. He’d tormented himself as he watched the twinkling orange embers collapse into grey ashes, blaming his own absence for his parents’ death and his wrong decision for Sean’s injury.
Two accidents. Didn’t bad things happen in threes?
This was the day that the number three took on a greater significance in Daniel’s life. He became fixated with the number. He stood up to go to bed, stopping at the library door. His eyes had lingered on the light switch. Perhaps if he switched it three times it’d keep the third disaster from happening.

This photograph is taken at the top of Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath. I visited London just to spend the day on the Heath so I could colour my descriptions with more depth. My hero Daniel, has a twin sister called Denise who lives in London with her family. She's never had to fight for anything in her life, but after finding a breast lump, she must fight for life itself. This extract is from a family visit to Hampstead Heath. It's written before her life is turned upside-down.

“Come on slow coach, we’re nearly there,” she panted.
Four year old Sam was lagging behind, head bowed and pushing his chubby hands onto his bare scuffed knees with each laborious step he took up Parliament Hill. Simon had been a little way ahead with their eldest son Peter. It was a Sunday afternoon on a warm sunny blue-skied day. The melody of an ice-cream van tinkled up the hill, as lazy bees zig-zagged from daisy to daisy.
Today they were exploring Hampstead Heath in all its wondrous beauty. Living close by meant that over the years, they’d already discovered most of its wonderful secrets. Hidden glens, ponds obscured by leafy willows, crooked trees for small boys to climb and best of all, the stunning expansive views from the top of Parliament Hill. The boys loved visiting the adventure playground and watching the entertainers - clowns, puppets and magicians. Fairs visited on summer bank holidays and Simon took them fishing on the calm lakes. When each summer was almost over and the hint of autumn floated on the breeze, they’d pick a basket of blackberries to freeze and cook throughout the winter months. It was their special place to people-watch, fly kites, share picnics or just to wander and gaze.
It was to drink in the breath-taking view from the top of Parliament Hill, that they were climbing the grassy mount to the highest point in the city of London. An excited yell from the top of the hill drew her attention upwards. She shielded her eyes and laughed as Simon and Peter waved their arms above their heads having reached the top. She stopped and waited until Sam had caught up.
“Mummy, can we have an ice-cream when we go back down?”
“Of course, but let’s play king of the castle and sit on the top of the hill first.”
“Can we sit on our favourite bench?”
“If it’s free we can.”
Denise had held out her hand to her youngest son, which he grasped tightly.
“Yes darling?”
“Can I have a piggy back?”
Denise chuckled between breaths. “Phew, mummy is very old Sam and doesn’t have your young legs to carry her, let alone carry a little boy as well.”
“I’m not little, I’m four.”
“Compared to mummy and daddy you’re little.”
“And Peter?”
“Yes…phew,” she panted.
“How old are you?”
“Mmm, well you shouldn’t really ask a lady how old they are, but because I know you can keep a secret, I’m thirty-two.”
“Yes Sam.”
“If you’re thirty-two and Uncle Daniel is your twin, then he is thirty-two too!” Sam had giggled and repeated, “thirty-two too, two too.”
“That’s right, there are no flies on you are there!”
Sam looked at his arms and bent double to survey his legs. “No.”
“No it means….never mind, look we’ve made it.”
Simon stood next to Peter on the summit, his arm draped around his eldest son’s shoulders. They were standing with their backs to her, looking at the view of the city.
“Hello, you two.”
They turned, smiling.
“Beat you,” Peter teased.
“Mum is very old and she has thirty-two legs. No, I mean her legs are thirty-two and old, so I had to stay with her,” Sam explained.
Simon laughed and kissed Denise’s cheek. “Sexiest old legs I’ve ever seen,” he whispered in her ear and tapped her bottom.

St. Mary's Church stands in the centre of our village. I lie in bed at night and listen to the mellow tones of the bells striking the hour. It doesn't play a significant part in my book, but is mentioned several times.

Larkston slept quietly the night before the exhibition. A rusting lamp spilled its pale glow onto the village green, flickering as if blinking tiredly. The silence was only broken by several persistent moths which fluttered repeatedly against the bulb’s plastic covering. A dusting of mist coated the grass like a froth of fungi, spreading a ghostly white blanket across the cricket pitch and countryside. St Mary’s church bell tolled three times, unheard by the sleeping villagers.

I loved writing this chapter. Above is a photograph of our village's Little Green. (The Big Green is in front of The Royal Oak) This is where Daniel took his dogs for a walk and the heavens opened drenching them all. Tess had seen Daniel walk past her cottage, so when the storm broke, she realised that Daniel had no protection from the elements. She raced to rescue him, her heart racing at the thought of seeing him again.

Tess rinsed her hands again and glanced up as she heard tapping on the window. Raindrops were spotting all over the glass. After drying her hands, she started stacking the dishwasher just as the tapping turned into a loud hammering. The rain beat down on the windows with ferocious strength. Tess was just thinking that a second deluge of water in twenty four hours would be good for her sun-baked lawn, when she remembered Daniel. He’d passed by with the dogs and the only place for dogs to run in that direction would be the little green, which had no shelter.
Without hesitating she shoved the pizza in the oven, grabbed her car keys and an umbrella from under the stairs and ran down the garden path. She jumped in her car and accelerated along the road with her wipers waving frantically in front of her. The rain pounded against the roof of her little car, deafening the music from the radio. She turned the corner and saw the expanse of grass and wild flowers being battered by the downpour. Standing in the middle of the green she saw Daniel and his dogs, hunched together under a mature tree. She beeped her horn and saw him turn to look towards her car.
Realisation dawned. She’d driven to Daniel’s rescue without giving it a second thought. Now here she was - the unimaginable about to happen. He would be sitting in her car, enclosed in this tiny metal box inches away from her within seconds. She hyperventilated as she saw Daniel running towards her. It was thrilling and terrifying. She took a lungful of air and exhaled slowly. He was a few feet away now, so she rolled down her window a few inches and yelled.
“Get in. It’s a strange ark but you’re all welcome aboard!”
Daniel opened the back door and jumped in gratefully. Harlyn and Brook leapt in after him and shook themselves on the back seat, showering them both.
“Best ark I’ve ever seen. Thanks.” He smiled at her through the rear view mirror.
Tess looked at his handsome wet face in the mirror. She felt awkward and shy now that he was sitting in her car with her. She hoped he couldn’t tell her heart was hammering against her chest, so decided to make up an excuse for passing by.
“I was on my way to Jackson’s mini store for some….mushrooms.”
Daniel leaned forwards so that his head was between the two front seats.
“Thanks for stopping. I was beginning to think I’d need a snorkel!”
His voice was inches from her ear, tantalizingly close. She could feel his breath on her skin as he spoke and could smell a faint lemon fragrance from his soapy shower.

This is the tree seat looking towards the village green and The Royal Oak. Tess tries to help Daniel overcome his phobia of fireworks, brought on by witnessing his best friend being maimed by a wayward rocket. She has done some research and believes that confronting a fear is the first step to overcoming it. She suggests that Daniel sits with her on the tree seat and watches a firework display on November 5th.

Tess shone the torch on the rough grass as they trudged across the green towards the bench. Behind them they could hear the crowds cheer as a rocket screeched skywards.
Daniel flinched and hoped that Tess didn’t feel it.
“They’ve started, you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Daniel lied, as they turned and sat beneath the skeletal canopy of the huge tree.
Sitting with their arms still linked, they both looked ahead towards the distant glow of the bonfire. The navy blue sky was bare and clear. Daniel thought how romantic this would be if they were on their own instead of sharing the village green with hundreds of people and waiting for disfiguring bombs to explode. Laughter occasionally broke free from the huddled crowd as voices cheered into the night, serenaded by crackling sparks from the fire.
Suddenly, the sky lit up with brilliant arms of cascading gold and silver stars. Bright glowing pearls rose silently into the darkness, dissolving into the heavens. Blue tracer stars crackled as they wriggled in a sparkling mesmeric dance. Gold clusters of star-bursts flashed and glittered above the green, lighting upturned faces. The whizzing and whirring echoed across the cricket pitch and far past the village.
Daniel pulled his scarf up to hide his mouth and nose. He didn’t think that a soft cashmere mix, a gift from his sister, would be much protection from a wayward explosive, but it made him feel warmer and safer. He turned to look at Tess to see if she was looking at him with a pitying gaze. Fortunately, she was looking skyward with a hint of a smile on her glistening lips. Her profile was silhouetted against The Royal Oak’s lights, a pale glow outlining her features. His eyes were drawn to her smooth neck which stretched upwards as she watched another rocket explode into a chrysanthemum of stars. Her lips parted slightly as a series of whistling clusters shot into the black night. He watched her eyelashes blink with each explosion and burst of colour. From the position they were sitting in, Daniel slightly behind Tess, he could watch her in secret against a backdrop of Swarkovski crystals raining down from the sky.
So, for the next ten minutes whilst a crescendo of squeals, oohs and aahs emanated from the distant crowd, and a climax of whistles, bangs and crackles sprang from the sky, Daniel focused on Tess. He drank in the curves of her profile and the warmth of her body leaning against him. A cheer and a noisy round of applause heralded the end of the display. Tess turned towards Daniel.
“You okay?”
“I’m fine,” he answered, truthfully. Watching the fireworks as a background to Tess’ lovely face, had been the perfect way to be re-introduced to the volatile explosives. They were the colour wash to the central eye-catching subject of the painting - Tess.

As Daniel walks Tess home, she gives him a piece of paper. The note contains information which changes Daniel's future. I can't give away what has been downloaded from Tess' computer, but it shocks him to his core.

Daniel laughed, having read it for the fourth time. It was the laugh of a hostage’s first view of open meadows after years of captivity - heady with manic relief. He shook his head and ran his hands through his hair. How thoughtful of Tess to let him read it privately. His eyes glistened with tears as he laughed again with loud rasps, his head thrown back and his hands clutching handfuls of hair. He paused, open-mouthed in disbelief.
Standing up, he paced around the table still clutching his hair. Like a demented Dickensian character, his frenzied laughter was interspersed with undecipherable words which he chanted to himself. His hand slipped to cover his face as he bent forwards, his laughter slowly morphing into deep uncontrollable anguished cries. His body shuddered with violent racking sobs as he leant on his folded arms against the kitchen wall.
He cried with relief. He cried for his parents. He cried for forbidden love.

Our family visits Cornwall during the summer and at Christmas. We know every alley way and short cut of Padstow, so it made writing a scene set in the little harbour town, so much easier. In Lies and Linguine Tess' parents still live at her childhood home near Padstow. Tess is offered a chance to fulfil her dream. She's always wanted to own and run a tea shop, and when one comes available over-looking the harbour, she makes an appointment to view it. I won't give the story away and tell you whether she buys 'Crimpton's Tea Shop', but here's a paragraph or two from the chapter.

The smell of fish and chips wafted around Padstow’s harbour, as Tess and her parents made their way to view the tea shop. Brightly coloured boats bobbed up and down on the water, like plastic ducks at the fair waiting to be hooked for a prize. As usual, the seagulls were out in force pestering the weekend visitors. The tourists were oblivious to the cunning skills the greedy gulls possessed in order to steal a chip or two. Four children ran past, their ice-cream-smeared mouths looking like clowns’ make-up.
The sun shone weakly through a thin veil of clouds, as Tess and her parents stopped outside the tea shop and looked up at the white-washed building. It was a small two-storey cafe directly facing the beautiful harbour. There was no doubt that its position was perfect. It had black paint work and a sign hanging over the door which read, Crimptons Tea Shop. Below the name was a picture of a pretty tea-pot with a cup and saucer.
Celia linked arms with Tess. “Isn’t it perfect darling?”
“It’s very pretty mum.”
“A manageable size, not too big to start off with.”
“Let’s have a look inside then.”

This is where our family stays when we visit Cornwall. The house over-looks majestic Harlyn Bay and the garden peters out onto the beach. We have spent many happy holidays in this house, so this is where Tess' parents live in my novel. Tess visits Harlyn Bay three times. Once is set a Christmas time where there's much laughter and frivolity. Another visit is beset with disappointment and despair. This excerpt is from her first visit home where it dawns on her that she's fallen in love with Daniel.

At the water’s edge, strands of seaweed tickled her toes as a smooth pebble cart-wheeled on a shallow wave and stopped at her feet. She picked it up and stared at it in disbelief. Lying in her palm was a pebble – the perfect shape of the capital letter D. Was it a sign? Tess shook her head with a smile. Now she was just being sentimental. Common sense told her that somewhere on its ocean-tossed journey, this pebble would have smashed against rocks and split in two. She wrapped her fingers tightly around her precious rescued treasure. Glancing along the deserted beach to check that she was alone and that the kite flyers had left, she breathed in deeply, closed her eyes and lifted her face to the sun.
“I love you Daniel Cavanagh,” she shouted out to sea, his name lost amongst the call of the gulls.

The beach is where my story ends. My four main characters have obstacles to overcome before they reach the finale. Will Daniel overcome his demons and allow himself to love again? Will Tess find out that it's a devious lie which is stopping her from leaving her boyfriend? Can Denise beat her life-threatening illness? And does Blake escape a prison sentence and win Tess' heart back?