All the Titles I’ve Released Before ;)

I’ve just rereleased two more works from my backlist, so it felt like a good time to sum up everything that I’ve rescued from Dreamspinner’s ashes over the last few months.

First of all, here are Aunt Adeline’s Bequest, a Valentine’s short story set in a sweet shop in post-WW1 Chester, and Lord Heliodor’s Retirement, in which Lord Heliodor, traumatised and forced into early retirement, finds his life isn’t quite as over with as he assumed.

And then here’s the rest, including two non-DSP titles which have been treated to new covers. Click on the covers to find out more 🙂

Book cover: a man looks troubled against a background of dark sky and moorland. Title: Something Wicked This Way Comes

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It’s Christmas, So Be Afraid!

Christmas is traditionally ghost story time here in the UK, so I’ve got a spooky story for you! My 2019 Christmas novella A Distant Drum is up for pre-order.

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This fab cover art is by TL Bland 🙂

Christmas is coming… but Alex is running away.
Panicked by the prospect of spending Christmas with his boyfriend’s disapproving parents, Alex flees to the old houseboat in the Norfolk Broads his uncle left him. But when a freak snowstorm traps him there, Alex soon realises he’s not the only heartbroken lover haunting the shores of Halsham Broad.
Two hundred years ago, drummer boy Jack Sadler drowned skating over thin ice to meet his lover. Now, whenever the Broad freezes over, he returns and brings a curse with him.
And every night Alex spends trapped in the icebound boat, he hears the beat of a distant drum draw closer…

Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk Amazon.de  Smashwords

I’ve also been busy reissuing my old Christmas novellas. You can find links to Gaudete and The Holly Groweth Green below:

Gaudete smallishFind out more…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holly smallFind out more…

 

 

 

 

 

 

In other news, Something Wicked This Way Comes is currently out of print. This and A Frost of Cares are the next two pieces on my rerelease list, so expect an update in the new year!

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All change, all change, please!

Wow, it’s been a while and I have a lot of news to cover in one post (which is what happens after an almost two year hiatus, I guess).

So, first and foremost, book-related news. As most of you will know by now, Dreamspinner Press, who have published virtually all of my backlist, are facing significant financial difficulties. With that in mind, I have requested the rights back for all but one of my books. The Reawakening trilogy, my three Christmas novellas (Gaudete, The Holly Groweth Green, and The Ghost of Mistletoe Lock), my ghost stories Spindrift and A Frost of Cares, my Valentines Day novella Aunt Adeline’s Bequest, and my standalone fantasy novella Lord Heliodor’s Retirement are all due to come down from the Dreamspinner and DSPP websites on October 1st and will start to disappear from other vendors after that. The five anthologies I was part of with Dreamspinner and DSPP have already gone out of print.

So is the news all bad?

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From Lambeth Marsh to Southwark Priory: a Meander

In Temse whan it was flowende
As I be bote cam rowende,
So as fortune hir tyme sette, 
My liege lord par chaunce I mette; 

So wrote one of my favourite poets, John Gower, in the 1390s, when a poet rowing down the Thames really could meet his monarch by chance and be summoned aboard the royal barge and commissioned to write one of the first great poems in the English language. It was to Gower’s London we went today, wandering along the South Bank from Waterloo Station, built in the 19th century on what had been, in Gower’s time, Lambeth Marshe, to Southwark Cathedral, once the priory where the poet lived out the last thirty years of his life.

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Here, outside the back entrance of the Royal Festival Hall, we spotted thus marvellous miscellany of Christmas trees. We also stopped here for a cup of tea overlooking the Thames on the other side of the building.

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Looking over the Thames towards Somerset House.

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Towards the City, St Pauls, and Blackfriars Bridge, with bonus bird.

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More shots of the City and some of the more bonkers buildings of the last two decades, including the Walkie-Talkie and the Cheesegrater.

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Ferry going under Blackfriars bridge, which is itself a railway station.

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Inside the Tate Modern, where the current exhibition in the Turbine Hall is lots of three-seater swings made out of orange piping. I have no idea what the artistic significance is, but great fun was being had by all 😉

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Once we’d had a go on the swings, I dragged Mum upstairs to look at the Living Cities gallery (aka the only one I like) and then we headed up to the viewing platform on top of the gallery. Here’s the Shard, one of the newest and most striking additions to London’s skyline.

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And here’s the boiler room tower of the Tate Modern and St Paul’s Cathedral opposite. St Paul’s still dominates the skyline, despite all the modern additions.

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And looking back towards Blackfriars and distant hills beyond.

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All of those cityscapes came well after Gower’s time, but this is a scrap of old Southwark–all that remains of Winchester Palace, once the London residence of the bishops of Winchester, whose diocese stretched as far as the south banks of the Thames. Southwark was not part of the city of London, then, but a lawless place packed with markets. prisons, brothels and actors (we’re only a few hundred metres from the Globe here). Here in the ‘Liberty of the Clink’ even the bishops grew rich on the wages of sin–so many brothels here paid rent to Winchester Palace that Southwark whores became known as ‘Winchester Geese.’

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But amongst the chaos of Southwark stood a priory, which eventually became Southwark Cathedral in 1905, when it was decided that South London really wasn’t part of the diocese of Winchester (a city seventy miles away). Today it is tucked away between tall buildings–not the sort of cathedral that is as much tourist attraction as place of worship, but a quiet place of refuge from the busy city life. Here, in its churchyard, you can still get a sense of how little Southwark has changed. The herb garden here is hemmed in by the edge of Borough Market. The quiet of the cathedral gives way to the noise of the city and the railway line that passes within metres of its walls, and the air smells of meat and spices. I’ve been to a lot of cathedrals which sit gracefully in polite and restrained greens, but this felt authentic–surrounded on all sides by business and energy, its towers in the shadow of the Shard. They were all like this once.

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And, of course, I found a dragon–although I think this may actually be a proper London wyvern–and some marvellous gargoyles.

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Here’s a close-up. Wyverns are the heraldic animal on the crest of the City of London and they appear all over the place–most notably as statues guarding the entrances to the City.

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Inside the cathedral. This was for a long time simply the Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie.

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And here lies John Gower, London poet. His monument shows him resting his head on his three books (written in three different languages). It is unusual in so far as the colours have been kept renewed over the centuries so his tomb is just as bright as it would once have been. I’ve been wanting to visit here since I first read the Confessio Amantis in 2001. Opposite him, across the nave, stand a memorial to Shakespeare and his life in Southwark, and besides that one to Sam Wanamaker, who is responsible for the reconstructed Globe. Shakespeare drew on Gower’s work in writing his plays and Gower appears as a prologue in one of them, so it’s a very fitting combination.

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Back out on the riverbank, the light was starting to grow long and low and so we turned our faces back towards Waterloo.

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Lost in the Hampshire Hills: my inspirations for The Holly Groweth Green

Many of you will have noticed that I have a new Christmas short story out. In fact, those of you who have signed up to the Dreamspinner Advent Calendar should have received your copy today 🙂 It’s a little piece of whimsy which I hope has brightened a few people’s days at this busy time of year, and I thought I’d tell you how it came about and share pictures of some of the landscapes that inspired it.

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The story has its roots in two things: a fairy tale and a play about fairies. Many years ago, I had the idea to write a story about a prince who had been turned into a holly bush and could only be saved by true love’s kiss. It was one of those ideas that never really grew wings and I tucked it away and forgot about it until the urge to write a Christmas story grabbed me last summer. Of course, writing Christmas stories in high summer presents its own challenges, and this year we had a heatwave. I had also, like every English teacher in the world, picked that term to teach A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Those threads came together in my mind to create Avery–an Elizabethan wizard who has offended the fairy court and been cursed for it. Avery needed a hero and the scenario which was beginning to take place in a mind needed a place which could be cut off by snow. That’s not easily done in the modern English countryside, so I investigated the worst winters in British history. The winter of 1946-47 immediately leapt out at me, and very soon I had Laurence too–a war veteran who is more than a little lost after a head injury which has left him with long-term problems with coordination and calculations. Laurence is muddling through at the start of the book, with no sense of what his future holds or how he will ever find a purpose again. The magic begins when he meets Avery, who has almost given up hoping for a hero.

The story is set in the rolling hills of North Hampshire, even now a quiet corner of the world, dreaming away between the urban bustle of London’s commuter belt and the more dramatic rise of the South Downs nearer the coast. It’s a country best known for Jane Austen, and one I’ve walked extensively. Unfortunately, none of my walks have taken me to the real lanes in the story and so their description should be taken as more of a rural fantasia than true representation of the real Privett as it is today.

Above, you can see some pictures of the villages of North Hampshire. Below are some of the roads and tracks. It’s a deceptive landscape–at least one of these views entirely conceals a large town which lies deeper into the valley. It’s an easy country to get lost in (I speak from experience) and it’s getting lost–stepping off the familiar road and into the unknown–which throws Laurence into his midwinter night’s dream.

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Even the railway which brings Laurence into this countryside has vanished today. The Meon Valley line used to be an alternative route from London to Portsmouth. It was closed to passengers in 1955 and altogether in 1968. All that remains is a few bridges, a couple of sealed tunnels, and some station buildings turned into country homes. You can see the remains of one of the bridges in the pictures above.

What we do still have is a heritage railway about five miles to the north–the Watercress Line. This was once the ‘main’ line from which the Meon Valley line branched off.

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Sadly, I don’t have any pictures of trains in snow to share, but it’s snow on the railway which leaves Laurence stranded in the countryside on Christmas Eve. With the tunnel ahead blocked, he can’t get to his destination, Portsmouth. Nobody’s expecting him, so he decides to find somewhere local to stay.

Instead, he finds Avery.

Oh, and that Shakespeare influence? If you look closely, you’ll find multiple allusions to and quotations from the Dream in the story, alongside the titles of several of Shakespeare’s other plays (I think there are six in total). Happy hunting 😉

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Dreamspinner Press   Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk

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Fog and Marsh (Essex Walks 2/2)

After an evening of shimmering mist in March, we emerged from our hotel to thick fog to continue our walk east of Southend, back out into the marshes and islands of the Essex coast. Our final destination was only a few miles north as the crow flies, but the coast here curls around creeks and inlets.

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Looking towards the first stage of our walk from just outside our hotel on the edge of Southend.

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And out to sea from the same spot. Not only the far side of the estuary but even the edge of the water were completely invisible.

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Beach huts at Thorpe Bay, still closed up for the winter.

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Cutting inland to buy sandwiches for lunch, we found ourselves picking our way around and over this railway depot. Shoeburyness is the end of the line along the north bank of the Thames. I’m always vaguely fascinated by quiet rural termini and the way they are such an inverse of the great city behemoths at the far end of their lines.

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Winding out way back towards the water, we passed a rather striking scarecrow O_O

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Unfortunately the red flags were flying when we reached the edge of the military land which runs along the water’s edge, so we had to cut inland and meet the coast further up. As we did, the mist began to lift.

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And here’s the view from the seawall, once we reached it. Islands of mud barely rise above the tide. Most are uninhabited, or have a lone farm, or belong to the army. A network of low bridges now joins them to the mainland, but once the only routes in were along causeways at low tide. The most infamous is the Broomway, which connects distant Foulness with the mainland–running along a sandbank a mile out to sea, it is separated from the land by deep mud flats except for three narrow and unmarked paths to shore. If the army land had been open, we would have passed the end of the path. It was last used by vehicles to get aid to Foulness after the 1952 flood left the island nearly underwater and cut off from the road. 

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Here, in the distance, you can see one of the military bridges carrying the road across the inner islands towards Foulness. I think this is the one between Rushey Island and Havengore Island, but it’s hard to pick out enough landmarks to place anything on the map.

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Inland, looking back at the farm by the seawall. The light was soft and hazy all day, even after the thick fog lifted.

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Further along the coast lies this community of houseboats, few of them seaworthy, and only accessible via a rough road–or by boat.

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The coast winds in and out of creeks. Here we were staring ahead at our next walk, still several hours away.

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As the afternoon came on, the tide rose up between the islets and tussocks of marsh.

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And here, at last, the creek narrowed and we came back to land, in the village of Little Wakering.

Our plan was to return to Little Wakering in August and continue the walk back to the town of Rochford. Unfortunately it all went a little wrong. The first setback was in getting back to the start. We’d stayed in Rochford the night before and decided to get a taxi back to the end of the creek. The path comes out in the middle of a suburban street and you have to know exactly where to look, but our taxi driver was confident he could get us to the right road, and we didn’t mind walking down a bit.

His confidence was misplaced. It wasn’t until we’d spent a couple of minutes trying to spot something familiar that we realised he had dropped us off in the wrong village–not Little Wakering, but Great Wakering, a couple of miles south. We cut across the fields to get back to the start, but by that point the heat of the day was settling onto us. It was almost as hazy as it had been in April, but that day’s haze came with a late heatwave. If you’ve never tried walking around a marsh during the first really hot day after a week of rain: don’t. Just don’t.

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We left the road at Barling church, where the graveyard was full of wildflowers.

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The headland where the river met the waters coming out from behind the islands of the last walk. Those dots are midges.

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View inland from our lunch spot, a couple of miles out of Rochford. Also the spot where we decided to give up and head inland in search of a bus stop. One arrived just as we did and so we headed back towards Southend. We’ve worked out that it’s a landscape best walked in spring, so we’ll be back next year. 

 

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Back to the Sea Again (Essex walks 1/2)

It’s been a while since I wrote about our walk along the coast of Essex, but we’ve actually come quite a long way since my last post, about the miseries of redirected footpaths through endless marshes, so I thought it time to catch up. After staggering our way to Pitsea station in July 2016, we returned a few weeks later to continue our walk. This time, things went much more smoothly. Our path led alongside the railway line, through summer fields. We were aiming for Southend, or at the very least Leigh-on-Sea, on the outskirts of the town, where our estuary walk would finally meet the sea again.

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Alongside the railway, already warm, but with pleasant views to compensate.

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