A while ago I was asked to take my books along to a meeting and speak about my writing. The chairman who greeted me was friendly enough, if not a little dour and rather solemn when introducing me. I stood up to give my talk.
Honestly! I’ve spoken to some off-putting audiences in my time but the sea of glum faces that greeted me took the biscuit! I hesitated. My opening story was meant to be amusing but it was clear it would take a genius to get this lot to crack a smile.
A smile! Ah! Perhaps that’s the secret! I opened my mouth speak – except I didn’t. I gave a wide smile – then – still smiling – I told them what a pleasure it was to meet them all. (so OK I lied) But it did the trick. One by one the plaster faces cracked, the eyes crinkled, a light of interest came on and lips parted into – yes – a smile.
What a world of difference a smile makes – and it sells books!
Pickering High Street was packed, and it wasn’t just with market traders or holiday-makers. Sight-seers were leaning out of hotel windows, Union Jacks were fluttering; the bells in the old Anglican church were ringing out; traffic was forbidden – but then it always is on market day and there were more policemen controlling the crowds than at Wembley Stadium.
And then the cheers started; kids waved their flags; dogs wagged their tails; and everyone wore a broad grin as King Charles, waving and smiling, walked up our High Street. The atmosphere was absolutely wonderful.
It occurred to me as I walked home, that whether you’re a monarchist or not, there was some good material for a story in that experience, because any occasion that can bring smiles to faces must be a good thing, mustn’t it?
And to think – I only went out for a bunch of bananas!
It’s quite a thrill to visit the places you’ve written about. That’s what I did when I visited Italy. My trilogy took place in Rome 30-45 In all three books, ‘The Senator’s Assignment’ ;The Senator’s Darkest Days’ and ‘The Senator’s Sons,’ I did my research thoroughly then immersed myself in the cruel Caesars, and the corrupt political atmosphere of the time and how it affected my plot and my characters. I lost myself in descriptions of markets, houses and the dress of the day, and totally fell in love with my protagonist – but that’s another story – and got great reviews. But one thing I didn’t capture was the vastness of the Roman Empire. They were so keen to build bigger and better, to conquer the world and spread their influence and get rich, that perhaps they forgot the little man and woman in the street.
Perhaps it’s the little man and woman, who, in their quiet, unassuming service to others, who are the real builders of empires. It reminded me of a song I sang in Sunday School:
Jesus bids us shine with a pure clear light. Like a little candle burning in the night.
In this world of darkness, we must shine. ‘You in your small corner – and me in mine!’
On the day my second book in ‘The Senator’ series was launched, all the book shops closed, speaking engagements were cancelled, and everyone went into lock-down for Covid.
And now, the last in ‘The Senator’ trilogy ‘The Senator’s Sons’ has been launched and what’s happened? I’ve caught Covid! Unbelievable!
I was so sure God was prompting me to write the last in this series, but getting this venture launched, has not been easy, but then they say nothing worth-while ever comes easy. Still early reviews are extremely encouraging – just what I need as I cough my way through Covid.
It’s that time of year when I’m excitedly scanning the hedgerows and bushes for signs of bright new green buds; delighted when I see the first yellow daffodils emerge, and wondering when I can stop taking vitamin D and rely on the sun.
However, I was so engrossed in seeking out new buds, daffs and pondering on my vitamin D that I completely forgot about Pancake Day. Shouldn’t we, as writers, be more aware of the historical meaning of these special days and include them in our work to inform, teach and make our writing more interesting?
Shrove Tuesday. According to Christian tradition, that’s when I should have been using up my leftover eggs, milk, fat and sugar before the start of Lent. That’s when I should have been focussed on eating simpler foods; giving up something I love, and spending time in self-examination and repentance instead of sticking my head in hedgerows, talking to daffs and counting my vitamin D pills.
Do you think God would mind if I had my pancakes after Easter?
This third and last book in the series is another tense historical thriller, which weaves fact with fiction, and reflects on the daily power games in Rome when, after Claudius is poisoned, Nero claims the Empire of Rome, and Senator Vivius Marcianus realises this is not a good time to have a Jew or a Christian in his family.
I found it amazing how the research into all three books deepened my understanding of the difficulties facing Jews and Christians. It also brought colour, light and understanding into scriptural passages, and enabled me to see how the wider picture in Rome, had consequences in Jerusalem.
I thought it a strange way for my faith to grow and to deepen, but it has.
Can you name something good that happened to you in 2022?
Because remembering the good raises your spirits, lifts your stature, brings a smile to your face and gives you a positive outlook on life – after all, who wants to see a grumpy face?
Let me give you an example. I spent a good part of last year bemoaning the fact that I’m rubbish at technology. Marketing my books on social media was no fun; I was no good at it; I didn’t understand it. In fact, my computer was beginning to lack confidence in its own abilities at the degrading names I yelled at it. However, at the end of last year, I read:
Matthew 19:26: ‘With God all things are possible.’
I know this scripture well, but this time I found myself absorbing it instead of just letting it sail over my head.
So, after much prayer, I eliminated self-doubt at my lack of skills; I eliminated negative self-talk, and I began to think ‘positively’ regarding technology and trusted God for success. Added to that, as Proverbs tells us the tongue can bring life of death, I began to talk kindly to my computer, and as it was delighted at not being yelled at any more it responded by throwing up relevant web sites to help me on my way.
Now I’m still no genius, but this year, 2023, me and my computer are much happier, we have a better relationship, and I’m well on my way to succeeding where once I failed.
The Senator’s Sons – the last in the Senator series – published October 2022
Just an ordinary copper.
Whenever we lose someone we love, after the initial grief the memories come flooding in. The trouble is, not many of us have actually met the Queen. Perhaps some of us remember her car flashing by as we stood and waved a flag, but I bet you she was looking out of the opposite window at the time. That was my memory of her. But I have another, totally different memory.
My brother Bill, a young policeman at the time told me told me he had spent the entire day guarding the Queen.
‘I’ve heard of some excuses to get out of the washing up, but that’s the stupidest one yet!’ I complained and flung the tea towel at him.
My warning is – be careful who you call stupid, because the following day my brother’s photo appeared in the press – guarding Her Majesty the Queen.
It’s amazing how you can make a story out of the simplest memories, isn’t it?
There’s this wonderful little shoe shop in the market town where I live. The out of the ordinary styles and colours really appeal to me.
I was trying on an unusual pair of sandals yesterday, wriggling my toes to see if they pinched, and walking across the floor and back again to see if they were comfortable. I was staring down at my pink toenails peeping through and planning what summer dresses would go with them – the shoes I mean, not my toenails, when it occurred to me that starting a new writing project is like trying on new shoes. If the plot excites, the characters have colour, the research interests you, well … if the shoe fits – wear it.
Of course, the reality is they’ll pinch a bit; new shoes always do, but writing is exactly the same – at least marketing is for me. Finding my way around unfamiliar technology and especially starting up my first newsletter; that’s an uncomfortable business. Will anyone sign up? But then not every aspect of writing is comfortable. However, if you’re passionate about writing – get on with it!
So I did… I stuck my credit card in the machine and walked out of that charming little shop with my lovely new shoes – broke – but happy.
I’m busy watching grass grow. No, I’m not bored – just puzzled as to how I’ve managed to get as much grass growing on my pebbled flower beds as on my new lawn. It’s a disaster! Shouldn’t the box have told me not to scatter seeds on a windy day? Or perhaps I should have known that. I was contemplating this during our Jubilee Street party. It was a delight meeting all our new neighbours in this lovely little market town in North Yorkshire and being invited to join so many local events. However, it occurred me that perhaps I shouldn’t say ‘yes’ to everything. Perhaps I should plant myself around things to do with my faith, my writing, my books and my family. Things I can contribute to and need to give time to. After all, I want to make a difference – not be a disaster.