Boats in the Air

IMG_8190Back in 2012 during the London Olympics, I stood in a crowd at Newton’s Cove, Weymouth, watching the sailing events. Ben Ainslie won his gold medal for GB, and we all jumped up and down and cheered like mad. It was a special moment. Five years later I stood with my hands on the gunwale of the boat he sailed that day. That was a special moment, too.

This was one of the wonderful exhibits at the National Maritime Museum (Cornwall) at Falmouth, which I visited a few weeks ago. It’s a striking building, perched right on the water’s edge, and includes a tower with a panoramic view from the top and a glass-walled room at the base under the waterline, so visitors can see estuarine fish and sea creatures swimming right in front of their noses.

IMG_8191I loved that, but it was the huge display of boats that really caught my attention. They don’t just exhibit them, either – they build them, too. A recently-completed reconstruction of the ship’s boat used by Captain Bligh following the Bounty mutiny was the basis of one exhibit, and loud hammering from the rear of the building announced the next project – a reconstruction of one of the lifeboats of the Titanic.

The main hall was full of boats from floor to ceiling, many of them suspended by wires and flying magically so the whole beautiful space was used. Small boats of every kind from all over the world were on show, designed to be propelled by steam, diesel, wind or sheer arm-power, and built for speed, fishing or fun. This cosmopolitan display is matched by side galleries celebrating Cornwall’s (and Falmouth’s) own extensive maritime history from packet-boats to pilchard fishing.IMG_8200

I enjoyed it all, but my particular favourite was a huge glass case containing exquisite models of boats through the ages, also apparently flying through the air. This was so beautifully presented and lit that the little boats looked like jewels in a casket. Stunning.IMG_8202

 

 

 

 

 

There’s plenty for children, too, including boats to climb into and radio-controlled sailing. If you’re visiting Cornwall do go and see this fabulous museum (full details here). I insist!

 

 

And for more boats…Whales and Strange Stars

A stunning mystery in the tradition of Jamaica Inn. When a sea captain passes through the forgotten port of Wych Ferry and whiles away an hour at the Tradewinds Inn relating his traveller’s tales to young Rosamund Euden, he has no idea of the dramatic events he has set in action. Adventure, dark magic and betrayal in the marshlands of 18th century Kent.

To be published by Crooked Cat Books, 16 January, 2018

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The Last Plantagenet?

My guest today is fellow-writer Jennifer C Wilson, author of The Last Plantagenet, released today. Welcome to the Quirky Genre, Jennifer!

JenniferWilsonPortraitHi Kathy, and thanks so much for inviting me onto the blog today, on launch day for my new release, The Last Plantagenet? This is a debut in a couple of ways for me – my first timeslip historical fiction, and my first attempt at self-publishing. Happily, I’ve learned a lot through the release of the Kindred Spirits series through Crooked Cat, so it isn’t quite as scary as it could otherwise have been.

The Last Plantagenet? follows history-lover Kate as she’s transported in a heartbeat from July 2011 back to the same month in 1485, just weeks before a certain battle, and most of us know how that ended for Richard III… Here’s an extract, just as Kate, now transported, but still unsure where (or when) she is, encounters the King of England for the very first time:

The room they entered was exactly as Kate had always imagined a medieval great hall should be. They never seemed quite right when recreated in the twenty-first centuries, but this, this was glorious. Candles flickered on every surface, catching the hints of gold, silver and jewels on the well-dressed courtiers, or picking out the vibrant hues of the draft-excluding tapestries. Somebody had put plenty of effort into the décor and costumes yet, there was nobody around to see it. The whole walk from kitchen to hall, Kate had seen only costumed participants, not one member of the public. Why would you go to all this effort, and do such a great job of recreating the period, if you didn’t let the public in to see it? It seemed a waste to her.

Then she noticed him. 

Kate had always hated the phrase ‘skipped a beat’, but that’s exactly what she was certain her heart did, as she saw who was literally holding court in the centre of the room.

Richard.

King Richard.

King Richard III of England.

And definitely not the actor who had been playing him with such great aplomb earlier. This man’s hair, dark, shoulder length, was real, no wig, and he carried himself with a charisma that was hard to fake, how ever good an actor you were. Kate caught snippets of conversation as she walked through the room; either these actors were keeping far more in-character than any other re-enactment she had encountered before, or, more worryingly, she had somehow been transported back in time, and this truly was 1485. Her mind whirled at the notion, but whatever had happened, and however it had come to happen, she had to deal with the here-and-now first, and get this platter of bread safely onto the table the servant was moving towards.

TheLastPlantagenetCoverFollowing in his wake, Kate was suddenly painfully aware of the length of her dress, and the uneven nature of the floor; even the kitten-height heeled clogs, feeling suddenly like stilettos, were too much for her at that moment. She felt dozens of eyes burning into her, half-hoping, half-fearing that they might just include Richard. Risking a glance at the king, Kate almost dropped her tray. His piercing eyes had indeed found hers, forcing her to meet his gaze, even as she felt herself trembling with, what, desire, terror? She couldn’t quite tell. The liveried servant nudged her forwards with the jug he was carrying, and she reluctantly tore her eyes away from the king to place her tray on the table in the centre of the room.

Hopefully that’s whetted your appetite! If you’d like to join in today’s online launch, you can find it over on Facebook here, or dive in and get the ebook itself here. If you do either, then I hope you enjoy!

About Jennifer

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who spent much of her childhood stalking Mary, Queen of Scots (initially accidentally, but then with intention). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consulting since graduating. Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to develop her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. She is also part of The Next Page, running workshops and other literary events in North Tyneside.

Jennifer’s debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, was released by Crooked Cat Books in October 2015, with Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile following in June 2017. She can be found online at her website, on Twitter and Facebook, as well as at The Next Page’s website. Her timeslip historical romance, The Last Plantagenet? is available for pre-order now.

How the Book got its Name…

So here it is, the cover for my new book, finally revealed. Whales and Strange Stars. Now then, people say to me, that’s an intriguing title. What on earth does it mean? Is it about whales? Or, Heaven forfend, whaling? The short answer is no. Allow me to explain: the story begins with a sea captain passing through a sleepy riverside ferry crossing. While he waits to continue his journey, he fills the time by telling his traveller’s tales to the young girl who lives there. He tells her that the stars are different, if you sail far enough; he tells her about great oceans and the creatures that live in them, and many other wonders, too. For the girl, who has never travelled away from home, or even seen the sea, the whales and stars come to symbolise adventure – the wide world she longs to explore. And that is how the book got its name. So you see, absolutely no whales were harmed, or stars displaced, in the writing of this story.WASSCover

For all that, it isn’t an easy title to illustrate, being a metaphor.  We have taken the literal approach, as you see, with actual whale and stars in a woodcut style that suits the 18th century setting of the story. It’s a tale of secrets and betrayal, and the stark contrast of colours suits that, too.

My thanks go to Crooked Cat Books for such original and striking artwork. I hope readers like it as much as we do.

 

 

 

 

Ready to read soon…

Whales and Strange Stars

A stunning mystery in the tradition of Jamaica Inn. When a sea captain passes through the forgotten port of Wych Ferry and whiles away an hour at the Tradewinds Inn relating his traveller’s tales to young Rosamund Euden, he has no idea of the dramatic events he has set in action. Adventure, dark magic and betrayal in the marshlands of 18th century Kent.

To be published by Crooked Cat Books, 16 January, 2018

A Very Peculiar Theatre

During my recent break in Cornwall I was fortunate in being able to visit the open air theatre at Minack. I had watched TV programmes about this beguiling place, just round the corner from Land’s End, but none of it prepared me for the reality. It is simply breathtaking.

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Don’t look down. Minack Theatre seen from the top.

If you haven’t heard of it, it is a complete theatre – the stage occupying a rock ledge and the seats cut into a steep cliff. The backdrop – and how could you beat this – is the sea and the stunning Cornish coastline. As a visitor you hardly know whether to look outwards to the surroundings or inwards to this remarkable building. One of my best memories of the visit is of standing within the theatre watching gannets diving into a turquoise-blue sea. Quite a sight.

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A very unusual stage setting

The theatre dates from the 1930s – the first performance was The Tempest – and has been developed over the years. It was built by an extraordinary woman, Rowena Cade. Now, when we speak of someone from a wealthy background building something, we usually mean they paid for it, rather than got to work with a pick and shovel. But not the redoubtable Miss Cade. She mixed concrete, carried timber, shovelled sand – and all up and down an almost sheer cliff face; she was responsible for the lovely Celtic-style designs carved into the concrete; and she continued to work physically on the theatre until she was over 80. It’s a remarkable story as well as a remarkable place.IMG_8093

Miss Cade’s dauntless enthusiasm and energy is everywhere, her whole personality carved into the cliff face, along with the titles of all the plays (and musicals; imagine West Side Story on a Cornish cliff!) ever performed in this unique setting.

It’s quite a legacy to leave behind, for one woman – and a reminder to us all that if we want to achieve something it’s not enough to have a good idea; we must roll our sleeves up and get on with the hard labour.

If you’re visiting Cornwall, Minack Theatre is a must-see.

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Restless sea – always at work as background music…

Ready to read soon…

Whales and Strange Stars

A stunning mystery in the tradition of Jamaica Inn. When a sea captain passes through the forgotten port of Wych Ferry and whiles away an hour at the Tradewinds Inn relating his traveller’s tales to young Rosamund Euden, he has no idea of the dramatic events he has set in action. Adventure, dark magic and betrayal in the marshlands of 18th century Kent.

To be published by Crooked Cat Books,  January, 2018

An Open Window

Here in the UK we have recently celebrated the August Bank Holiday Weekend. This is traditionally marked by cool temperatures and driving rain – but this year, at least here in Weymouth, it has been the hottest and sunniest on record. Memorable, then. But it’s been memorable for me in quite another way.

On the Thursday afternoon I clicked on a video link on Facebook, apparently from a friend. I am normally very wary about clicking on links, but my friend had been experimenting with live videos for his forthcoming book launch, and I thought it was one of those. It wasn’t. With a simple click of the mouse my Facebook account was hacked and similar videos began appearing in messages to my friends, apparently from me, and, later, on my timeline too. There was no stopping the things, and they proliferated.

Now I have, in the past, had the unhappy experience of having my house burgled via an unsecured window. I am aware of the feeling of violation that comes from knowing someone has entered your house, rifled through your belongings and taken whatever they wanted. Having your Facebook account hacked brings many of the same feelings in its wake.

After the burglary, when locks had been changed, an alarm installed and far greater care taken to secure windows, I was shaken but felt my home was now safe. However, nothing I could do could secure my Facebook account, and in the end I had to bring in an IT professional to fix not only Facebook, but my whole computer. There was a possibility that malware had found its way in and might gain access to my private files and passwords.

It’s hard for me to accept this, since never in life would I dream of invading another person’s privacy in this way. I simply cannot imagine doing such a thing. The experience left me exhausted, distressed, suspicious and, at times, downright paranoid wondering if someone had access to my files, photos – my whole life, in short.

My Facebook presence is important to me because it gives me convenient access to distant friends and family, and also an essential point of contact with my publisher, readers and the large supportive community of authors of which I am part. I value it highly, and I can only hope that this horrible online virus hasn’t damaged my reputation. My first thought on returning was to change my Facebook photo, as the old one, at least in my mind, was fatally compromised by appearing on the messages sent out in my name. I simply couldn’t look at it without being overcome by a feeling of dismay.

I don’t imagine either burglars or hackers waste much time regretting the acute distress they cause, but it’s very real for their victims, as I know to my cost. IMG_8026My computer came back scrubbed clean and chastened, but it’ll be some time before I get over the sheer panic I felt, and I’ll be far more careful in future.

So, please, everybody, enjoy the internet, enjoy the connection it can bring to all sorts of delightful and interesting people, stories and information. But use it with care, and ask questions before you click. One careless move is all it takes to open a window and let a potentially very nasty burglar into your life.

The Eccentric Writer

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On Smallmouth Beach

It’s no surprise if writers are a little odd. It’s an occupational hazard caused by spending so much time in your own head. But until the other day I hadn’t realised the oddity was visible, too.

I live by the sea, and one of the joys of my life is go down to the little beach nearby and watch the tide come in. There is something very soothing about watching time passing in this way. It’s also a very good background occupation while I’m working out what to write next.

So there I was, standing at the water’s edge, engrossed in both the puddling and ripples of the rising tide and a particularly knotty plot-hole in my current writing project, when a voice said, “Excuse me…”

I turned and discovered an old gentleman, complete with walking stick, looking at me earnestly.

“I just wondered if you were all right?” he said.

IMG_6773I climbed rapidly out of my reverie, and my plot-hole, too, and assured him that I was perfectly fine, thank you. He went on to say that he had seen me standing there alone for a long while (I often stand for an hour or more, losing all track of time – another occupational hazard), and thought he would just come down and check that all was well. He had hobbled down onto the beach – it’s a bit of a scramble, with no proper steps – across the shingle and all the way down to the tide line, walking stick and all.

I’m not sure what he thought I was going to do – perhaps hurl myself into the three inches of water in front of me – but I told him I simply enjoyed watching the tide advancing. I thought it better not to mention the writing or the plot-hole, which could only confuse the issue. He seemed satisfied that I was neither lost nor suicidal, so I thanked him for his kind concern, and he set off back up the beach on wobbly legs, looking more in need of my assistance than I was of his. I only hoped he would make it before the tide caught up with him.

But this curious little episode set me thinking. I had not considered it at all odd to stand alone and watch the water as I so often do, lost in thought. But other people apparently do. It’s one more step, I suppose, towards becoming a proper eccentric. I guess I can live with that. Perhaps I should carry leaflets detailing my books to hand out to any future rescuers. It’s a thought.

 

Ready to read soon…

Whales and Strange Stars

A stunning mystery in the tradition of Jamaica Inn. When a sea captain passes through the forgotten port of Wych Ferry and whiles away an hour at the Tradewinds Inn relating his traveller’s tales to young Rosamund Euden, he has no idea of the dramatic events he has set in action. Adventure, dark magic and betrayal in the marshlands of 18th century Kent.

To be published by Crooked Cat Books, 12 December, 2017

Historical Fiction or Historical Novel?

All my books have been set in the eighteenth century, really. The first three were in a fantasy version – the Larus Series – but having found them difficult to promote, being untypical fantasy, I thought the obvious thing to do would be to move on to historical fiction and that is what I did.

So here I am, with my first historical fiction title scheduled for release this December. Wonderful. I loved writing the book; I enjoyed the research; it all went awfully well. Spiffing stuff. Then I began taking an interest (probably a little too late) in the historical fiction genre, and discovered a whole new can of worms, as they say.

To begin with, I find I’m unsure whether I’ve written historical fiction or a historical novel. A toe-curling admission, no? There seem to be boundaries, but no-one seems entirely sure what they are, least of all me. This sort of writing falls broadly into two camps: a fictionalised version of real events and real people; or a work of pure fiction –  invented characters, invented story, set in the past.

My novel falls squarely within the second camp; it’s all invention except the general eighteenth century setting. I’m not attempting to interpret or recreate history. I just find the past a quieter place to work in. I’d happily admit that I’m creating a past that probably never was. So have I slipped into historical fantasy, then? Well, no, I don’t think so. There’s nothing in the story that absolutely couldn’t have happened – much of it was inspired by the research I did. But it’s not real. It’s not based on historical figures or events. Now then, is that historical fiction, or a historical novel? Or even something else? Answers on a postcard, please…

 

Whales and Strange Stars

A stunning mystery in the tradition of Jamaica Inn. When a sea captain passes through the forgotten port of Wych Ferry and whiles away an hour at the Tradewinds Inn relating his traveller’s tales to young Rosamund Euden, he has no idea of the dramatic events he has set in action. Adventure, dark magic and betrayal in the marshlands of 18th century Kent.

To be published by Crooked Cat Books, 12 December, 2017

5 things you’ll love about the Isle of Larus

Off the beaten track. The Isle stands in the English Channel, just off Weymouth. Sometimes. It has a habit of disappearing suddenly, making it the ideal secluded holiday destination.

Old fashioned charm. Since Larus is set permanently in the 18th century, there is no traffic, no aircraft, no pollution, no crowds. The only way to get here is by sailing boat – the perfect relaxing start to your visit. Dig out your tricorne hat and join in the fun!

Excitement. For the more adventurous visitor, there is plenty to do. Strange events happen daily. Would you like to encounter a fleet of completely impossible ships? Or a pirate chased by a vengeful waterspout? This is the place to find them. You’ll never be bored on Larus.

Highly Recommended. Visitors tell us they’d like to stay here forever, and you can’t give higher praise than that. You won’t find us on TripAdvisor, but some people do leave lovely reviews on Amazon.

Great value. You can visit Larus for just £1.99. No queues, no crush, no passport necessary. Truly the perfect holiday. Smiles guaranteed.

Visit the Isle of Larus, the English Channel’s best-kept secret.

The Larus Series

Return of the Native

I wrote this piece a few years ago, but it seems appropriate it publish it now, with all the talk about Dunkirk and the new film:

I was reading, just the other day, about the gathering of former Little Ships of Dunkirk at Ramsgate. I read with more interest than most since a) I was born in Ramsgate, and b) I love boats. I looked online and discovered a list of many of the known vessels that took part, and, in scanning it, a familiar name jumped out at me; the New Britannic.

She was built, I read, as a pleasure boat with a very shallow draft, specially designed to take trippers out to the Goodwin Sands. It was just this attribute that made her so useful at Dunkirk; her ability to go right inshore and pick up troops from the beach and ferry them out to waiting warships. She plied back and forth for three days and two nights, I learned, rescuing around 3,000 soldiers. A most remarkable feat for a boat able to carry only a small  number of people at a time. It is hard to imagine the feelings of a soldier trapped in that awful place on seeing the friendly face of this steady, stable, south-coast pleasure boat with her reassuringly British name coming to the rescue. She must have seemed almost motherly.

After the war, the New Britannic resumed her old life, taking visitors out to the Goodwins, and that is when I met her. As a child, I went out on most of the local pleasure boats, and I clearly remember a trip on the New Britannic. Still steady, stable and unfussed, I can see her now, tied up at the harbour wall.

After that we went our separate ways, two Ramsgate natives, the boat and I, but our paths have since crossed – in different timelines. Both of us fetched up in Weymouth, strangely enough. Subsequently she moved on to the Scilly Isles, and seemed doomed to end her days there, mouldering away. But no, she was found, and towed back to the mainland, where she sank at her moorings. Again, she was rescued, and taken back to Kent by road in the end, to begin a long and painstaking period of restoration. The least that could be done, you could say, for a boat that had so thoroughly done her duty. Now she is back at Ramsgate enjoying a new life as a boat for the disabled, her kindly steadiness and stability paying off once again.

Will I, too, find my way back to Ramsgate one day? Who knows – perhaps. But if I ever do, there will be at least one friendly, motherly face awaiting me there –  the New Britannic.

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The New Britannic, June 2016. (Photo: Foxy59)

For more information see the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships

Songs in Stone

It isn’t often that the Isle of Portland is completely still. It’s a breezy place, verging on the gale force much of the time, but on this particular evening it fell quiet for us. I had visited the Memory Stones a few weeks earlier and instantly knew that I had to persuade the other members of the Island Voices Choir to come and sing here. So here we were.

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Island Voices at the Memory Stones, Portland

This remarkable place on the lip of an old Portland stone quarry is an art installation, a gateway and an amphitheatre, and not long completed. The stones are still raw white and fresh, and each has a dual significance – in alignment to the sun at different seasons, and relating to Portland’s history, both natural and man-made. It’s a remarkable idea. Hannah Sofaer, the artist responsible, came along to take pictures.

This place already has atmosphere, but when the choir lined up in that still sunset and launched into our song Portland Stone, the great blocks looming over us suddenly had… presence. I can’t think of a better word. Their individuality became clear. They were part of the place, and so were we. I had thought from the first time I saw the Memory Stones that this song was made for them, but I hadn’t expected the connection to be so profound. I for one found it very moving.memorystoneslooking west

The only way to improve on this wonderful moment, for me, was for us to sing Island Voice. And we did. I wrote the lyrics for this twelve years ago when both the Island Voices Choir and my writing career were taking their first baby steps. We’ve sung it many times since in all sorts of places but it never seemed so right as it did in this place. “If only there were songs in stone…” I wrote, all those years ago. Well, just for a moment, with the blessing of the Memory Stones, there were. It was pure magic.

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