Hello, and thank you for visiting my site. I hope that you'll return often and always find something of interest about my world and what inspires me to pick up a pen. (This is a figure of speech, unfortunately. My handwriting is terrible!) Here's what I've been up to recently...
Regular visitors to my website have probably been wondering why there have been no postings so far this year. This isn’t because of inertia on my part – far from it – but because I’m determined to get my novel (working title Shadows Of The Past) finished before the summer.
This story, partially based on my own experiences in France when I was only 17, has been long in the telling. I began work on it over ten years ago and it has been through many drafts and very significant changes. Now that I’ve made some firm decisions about its form – the content was never in doubt – it’s all systems go!
The one thing I regret, is that my dear friend Jean-Claude Quehan, seen with me in the photograph above, passed away a while ago and will never see the finished product. He knew about it, though, and was highly amused to be cast as the saviour of the female character upon whose uncertain fate much of the story hinges.
To what extent are the events depicted autobiographical? Well, Jean-Claude and I lived through some of them together certainly, but I haven’t been afraid to use artistic licence in a way I think would have made him chuckle. He helped me with my research into the history of the area in which the story is set and many of the characters have been inspired by real people, although they won’t be slavishly depicted.
24 January, 2015
Although sitting firmly on the fence as regards religion, I do enjoy taking part in some of our local customs and the annual pilgrimage from Ripon Cathedral to the ruins of Fountains Abbey on Boxing Day morning is one of them. It follows in the footsteps of a group of Cistercian monks who walked from the Cathedral on 26th December 1132 to found the Abbey. Led this year by the Dean of Ripon, Bishop of Knaresborough and other clergy, hundreds of walkers, many with dogs in tow, followed the cross on a four mile walk, mainly across fields and via the deer park of Studley Royal to the gates of the Fountains estate. The National Trust waives the normal entry charge on this one day of the year and a carol service in the cellarium, the only part of the Abbey still to have a roof, is always held at midday. Refreshments – including mulled wine – are served beforehand and the atmosphere is very cheery.
The sound system leaves much to be desired, though, hence this letter to the Ripon Gazette!
On New Year’s Eve, I attended the Watchnight service at the Cathedral and joined the throng milling up Kirkgate to the Market Place to see in the New Year. When I first moved to Ripon, the congregation was equipped with flaming torches. Unfortunately, health and safety concerns did away with those many years ago. After a brief period with glow sticks, someone came up with the idea of a small candle in a cardboard holder, to be lit during the singing of O Come All Ye Faithful. Unfortunately, it was windy this year and most of the candles, including mine, were extinguished as soon as their bearers stepped out of the west door.
However, spirits were high as well wrapped up church goers merged with scantily clad revellers in the Market Place. From the balcony of the Town Hall, the Mayor, Dean and Bishop wished us all the best for the New Year and – just before the chimes of midnight – our Hornblower, George Pickles, sounded the old Ripon horn for the last time in 2014. An excellent firework display followed and then – as Samuel Pepys would have said – to bed.
2 January, 2015
Well, I hope that this chap’s hard work will pay off for me!
15 December, 2014
Great gifts, food and wine will instil
A feeling of warmth and good will,
But don’t overdo it,
Or by Jove you’ll rue it
When you see your credit card bill.
This has been a week full of Christmas events of different kinds and without much time for writing, although I did manage to pen a seasonal limerick or two for the Ripon Writers’ Group party. My favourite one is above!
Held at The Old Deanery, the event centred around a three course set menu, although I only had two courses. The only vegetarian main dish on offer was a Quorn terrine, tasty and so satisfying that I hardly had room for the Bailey’s cheesecake that followed. With less room for manoeuvre than in our previous venue, the options for other activities were limited, but the wine flowed and the quiz, ‘Who Am I?’ game in masks and especially composed Christmas poems and limericks were fun. You can read more about the party and see all the photographs by clicking on the link to your right.
I was back at The Old Deanery for lunch on Thursday with friends from my weekly Spanish group and had exactly the same meal, although without the wine. That was just as well, because almost immediately afterwards I was on my way to the West Yorkshire Playhouse for a performance of ‘White Christmas’ starring Darren Day. It was an excellent show and how much more seasonal can you get!
Saturday morning saw me at quite a different event. For well over ten years I’ve been a committee member of the Ripon Activity Project, a social group for adults with learning disabilities, and each December sees a Christmas party that runs along well oiled lines. Our council grant was withdrawn a few years ago, so we can’t offer as much to members as we used to, but we’re very grateful for the ongoing support of our local mayors. You can read more about that party too and see all the photographs by clicking on the link to your right.
Next week, I’ll be putting on my dancing shoes!
14 December, 2014
For me, apart from the odd posting of parcels and cards to foreign parts, this means that December has arrived. Despite store displays set up before I’ve shaken the sand out of my summer sandals, I always refuse to have anything to do with Christmas before November is over. (I shall also continue to boycott the American import of Black Friday, preferring to reflect on how much money I can save simply by staying at home.)
Last night saw me at York Writers’ end of year social. It’s just over a year since I became a member and so I knew most of the cheerful group that met at Brigantes in Micklegate. After drinks in the bar, just under 30 of us sat down to dine at two long tables in the big room where our monthly meetings are held. Choices had been made in advance, so the waiting staff – although probably worn out by all the walking up and downstairs – didn’t have too much trouble. As seems generally to be the case with set menus, it was Hobson’s choice for vegetarians, so it’s just as well that I enjoyed my mushroom starter and stuffed aubergine main course. At least I was able to choose from four desserts and I’m still trying to pick the honey nut clusters out of my teeth! Well, that’s not quite true, but it did take a while.
Helen Cadbury, crime novelist, poet and playwright, was the after dinner speaker and did a fine job despite the lateness of the hour. She even managed to incorporate at least one dreadful joke culled from the Christmas crackers on our table. As wine had been taken by that point – I wasn’t driving, so I was able to indulge – I’m not sure that I got all the finer points of what she told us about her path to publication, but what I did grasp was very interesting. I particularly enjoyed her account of the ups and downs of finding a literary agent. To Catch A Rabbit was Helen’s debut novel and joint winner of the Northern Crime Award in 2012. A revised edition and a second book in the series will be out in 2015 and a third one is in preparation. Much more information is available from helencadbury.com.
4 December, 2014
I was at St Peter’s Church in Hartshead, West Yorkshire, this year for a very special reason. Amongst the many names on the plaque commemorating the dead of WW1 is that of David Robert Davidson, a London workhouse boy sent up to Yorkshire to toil in the mines. His name, together with all those listed on the memorial inside the church, is read out each Remembrance Sunday before the two minutes’ silence.
In 1916, in that same little old church where Patrick Bronte once preached, David married the widow of a friend. She was much older than he, but David was determined to give her and three small children the security of his army pension, should he not survive.
He was killed in France a few months later, aged only 21, but my great-aunt and her daughters cherished his memory for the rest of their lives. Now I firmly believe that it’s up to my generation and those who follow to do the same.
The photographs below show David’s widow and step-daughters shortly before they emigrated to the USA in 1919 and years later, by which time they were living in California. I feel confident that he would have been very happy for them.
The following lines by A.E. Housman sum up better than I ever could the sacrifice of David and the thousands of other young men whose lives were cut short in that terrible war:
Here dead lie we because we did not choose to live and shame the land from which we sprung. Death, to be sure, is nothing much to lose, but young men think it is and we were young.
11 November, 2014