A Black History Tour Around Norwich

Paul Dickson runs some fascinating walking tours around Norwich and elsewhere in Norfolk. Last week, I went on his Black History Tour around central Norwich where he had many highlights dealing with key Norfolk people concerned with abolition – a subject central to the new book that I am writing. I had no idea that the petition run in the 1790s on Abolition was so widely supported. One in twelve of the British population supported it and it would have passed into law if it had not been for blockers in the House of Lords. It took another 15 years for the Slave trade to become illegal, and a further 25 years for slaves to be freed in British colonies. Freedom in name, because they had to work a further four years as compensation to their masters. The slaves never received monetary compensation while the amount paid to slave owners was only paid off in 2016. Not only that, but then the slave owners brought in unpaid indentured labour from India.

Neither had I heard of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, a key figure in the eventual abolition and also in reducing capital crimes from two hundred to six. He was married to Hannah Gurney, Elizabeth Fry’s sister. Once again my books coincide. Elizabeth Fry and the Quakers were key figures in Search for the Light.

The image on the right is a carving of Amelia Opie, another Quaker, and a key figure in the fight against slavery and women’s rights. I am waiting for her biography from the library.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying being able to add more detail to my new book and look forward to putting what I have learnt to use.

I must book the Shardlake tour for later in the year.

My really good news this week, is that after a year of pain in my knee and hips, one simple steroid injection has had a dramatic effect and I no longer waddle like a duck. I hope it lasts and I can get back to walking distances and being useful in the garden again.

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Head Hopping

After a few disappointing reads this year, at last a serious novel. I am reading After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell – who has yet to serve up a bad book. The interesting thing is that she does something which as writers we are told not to do – head hopping. She has several point of view in this book and they interchange within chapters separated only by a line. She also changes from third to first person, again withing the same chapter.

It took me a couple of chapters to get my head around it but she has mastery of what she is writing and I am so immersed in the story that I care not. Writing rules are made to be broken and I love it that she has the confidence to bring it off, even with a debut novel.

I am taking a break from writing, having done quite a lot last month. I think I need to take time to rethink aspects of my WIP. I am hoping that a booked walking tour of Norwich next week and a visit to a relevant exhibition at the Royal Academy will help me focus.

I am excited that our village hall will be hosting a talk All About Books in the not too distant future and that I have been invited to participate. I have to come up with some ideas over the next couple of weeks. It may give me the opportunity to set up a local writing group if we can find enough people interested.

Meanwhile our guest suite is coming along. Four months after ordering our new arched bedroom window, it was fitted today (second time lucky as the first didn’t fit) and by the weekend all doors and windows will be installed and the building will be watertight. I am thinking of colour schemes and fabrics now, not my strongest area, so I am going to keep is simple but tasteful.

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A Trip to Norwich

I had a good writing week so was relaxed about taking time for a two day trip to Norwich, our local city. Our hotel was The Maids Head Hotel, featured in the book, Tombland, for those that enjoy reading about the Tudor detective, Matthew Shardlake. They believe it is the oldest hotel in England, 800 years old but much of it was rebuilt over the years. The oldest part is on the right-hand side. It is a lovely hotel with lots of different communal areas in which to relax and take afternoon tea. I will find a way to include it in my current book. It’s also very handy for the cathedral.

We undertook a guided tour of the cathedral, first pausing at the statue commemorating Edith Cavell, which had been featured the evening before on TV. Serendipity rules again. I hadn’t realised that she was a Norfolk lass. When she was reburied in the city, thousands came to pay their respects.

Edith Cavell Statue

Our guide was a lovely lady, passionate and knowledgeable about the cathedral. It always add so much when she points out things that you would otherwise miss. The beautiful ceiling is uniquely decorated with tiny carved figures from the old and new testament. I love the guy who decided he wanted to be buried upright in the wall of the cathedral.

One scene in my book is set in the wonderful area of Elm Hill, a medieval street with cobble stones.

They say that there are churches for every week of the year in Norwich. There could be more. This area had three or four within a hundred meters. Some are no longer churches but have become antique centres or a theatre, or an arts centre. How to repurpose a church and make it viable is a big question in Norfolk with so many ecclesiastical buildings.

My next trip to Norwich is later this month for a walking tour about black history in Norwich. I have a couple of abolitionists in my new book so am hoping to find out more background for the historical elements.

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I have made some progress on my latest book. I think it’s going to be a short one, so more of a novella but 30,000 words in now and around 20,000 to go. Serendipity has also come into play this week. I was struggling over a DNA question when up popped an invitation to go and listen to a lecture by Dr Turi King – the leading expert on familial DNA – you may have seen her on TV. She was also instrumental in the identification of Richard III.

I wrote my questions out and headed off to Norwich Arts Centre for what turned out to be the most fascinating talk and all my questions were answered before I had the chance to ask. I was able to write up that piece for my book with confidence.

I was writing another scene earlier in the week which is set in The Sainsbury Arts Centre (though I may not call it that), thinking I must visit again because I need to tighten up some details. Once again, I received an invitation to go on a chauffeured visit quite out of the blue. That’s happening tomorrow. Happy Days.

Last year, my first book, Search for the Light, was offered free on Amazon Prime, Australia, for six months. While I did not see any upswing in sales of the other books in the trilogy, what I have noticed recently is that ratings have gone from 86 to 330 of that one with an average of 4.2. The second one has also much increased ratings with an average of 4.1, the third has increased but not so much with an average of 4.4 – so on balance, I think it was worth agreeing to that offer.

It’s been splendid weather recently, so I took the opportunity to visit the ruined church which was the inspiration for my latest book. i took some images and found the angle which I think will work for the cover, though I need a ghostly figure somewhere. A long, dark cloak and a willing granddaughter are the next things on my list. I wonder if serendipity hand me the cloak. Do you think I need sunshine as well?

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Christmas Short Story

I was quite depressed about the COP27 in Cairo so it led me to write this. The Ghost of Christmas Future. You may not like it.

Photo by Laker on Pexels.com

Ned poked a stick in the sand hoping to find turtle eggs. His stomach growled. When was it they had last eaten? No clutch of eggs there. He lifted his stick and caught sight of Jen trudging over the dunes towards him. She held a gourd against her protruding stomach.  Hopefully she had found water. He turned back to the sand and followed a slight depression with his eye. Could it be a crab? He jabbed the stick at the end of the hole. No crab. It hit something, a harsher noise than hitting stone, more of a clang.

‘’Ouch!’’ Jen cried. She sat on the hummocky grass and nursed her foot in her hand, the gourd safe beside her.

Ned could see a trickle of red seeping through her foot bindings. She must have stood on a thorn. He sighed. An injury was always bad news. He dropped the stick and hurried towards her. ‘’You must paddle in the sea. Let the salt water at it.’’

‘’I know, don’t you think I know that?’’

Her weariness shamed him. How could he keep her and this new baby safe? The previous two had not survived weaning. If only they could find enough food. The daily struggle was overwhelming. He helped her up, then picked up the gourd, the dirty brown water would need to be boiled. She half-hopped towards the shoreline where the sun dazzled water lapped against the red sand. Jen tore of her bindings then gingerly waded into the tepid water while Ned scanned the sea for tentacles of jelly fish, about the only thing left swimming.

Had they done the right thing by leaving their last shelter and hunting ground? But what was the alternative? He hadn’t managed to trap a single rabbit in days. If the rabbits were sickening and not producing young, what hope was there? Ned looked at his shadow. It must be early-afternoon; the light would soon go in these shortest days. Time to find shelter and some fuel for a fire. The bones of dead trees poked out from the sand. Jen rebound her feet while he dug in his back sack for a flint axe head.

‘’Did you find anything to eat?’’ Jen looked up at him, her skin grey amidst the sunburn.

Ned shook his head, then remembered his stick hitting something unusual. It was probably nothing but what else had he found that day. He walked back to his stick and jabbed it into the sand until he heard the clunk then crouched down to dig, his fingers quickly burning. After a few minutes work he drew out a straight-edged object. It was hard and shiny, nothing like he had ever soon before. ‘’Come over here, Jen,’’ he called.

‘’What is it? Something to eat, I hope.’’

Ned doubted it. He shook it and heard rattling.  Taking his axe head, he chipped away at the thing on the lid which was stopping it from opening.

‘’Doesn’t look like a nest.’’ Jen looked over his shoulder.

‘’Funny animal if it is.’’ Ned agreed.

All at once the bit fell off and Ned began to prize off the lid. It was packed with strange items. The first thing he drew out was the thickness of two broad hands put together and about as wide as one of Jen’s smaller hands. It weighed little and Ned fanned it out to see strange black markings. ’’I reckon this could be good kindling.’’ He set it aside. Next he drew out another smaller shiny object with pictures of silver fish on the front. Ned attacked it with his axe head and an oily substance seeped out. He dipped his fingers into the oil and tentatively sniffed, then tasted.

‘’I think it’s food, Jen.’’ He turned towards her, tears in his eyes, and offered her his finger dipped in the oil.

Jen sucked, her eyes widening. ‘’Can you open it more?”

‘’It may be better to wait for a few hours to see if that makes us ill.’’

‘’But the sun may spoil it. Ned, I am starving. Please don’t make me wait.’’

He looked at her and his heart contracted. She rarely complained even though they often fell asleep with empty stomachs. Ned nodded and attacked the tin with the axe head to reveal perfectly small fish, several of them. He marvelled at them. How had they got inside? He held the tin to his nose and sniffed. They smelt fishy and good. He took one in his fingers and broke it in half, feeding it to Jen who closed her eyes and nibbled.

‘’Oh, oh, oh.’’ The oil dribbled down her chin. He licked it off laughing at her expression, then not being able to stand it any longer took a fish for himself. They finished the tin and licked it out, careful of the jagged edges.

As she nestled against him, Jen asked, ‘’How long do you think it’s been there?’’

‘’Since the burning. Long before our grandparents left the bunker as children.’’

‘’A thousand moons or more then. How did it last?’’

Ned shrugged.

‘’Do you think there’s any more food?’’

 ‘’First I’ll build us a shelter and make a fire to boil the water. Then we can see what else there is. Come help me gather the wood. The light will be gone in an hour.’’

Jen nodded regretfully. It made sense.

As the fiery sun set, the sky turning from orange to red then purple. Jen and Ned were thankful to have survived another day and prayed to the gentle moon to keep them and their baby safe in the days ahead. As Jen snuggled into the rabbit pelt blanket, the fire gave enough light for Ned to empty the box. He found two more tins of fish and a larger one with orange discs in some sort of juice painted on the side. Enough food for a week if they were careful, longer if he snared a rabbit or found a crab.

‘’What’s this?’’ Jen held up a shiny picture on a thin, flat surface. ‘’What does it mean?’’

They both stared intently. It showed people in clothes of reds and greens but not made of grass, sitting on pieces of brown wood with legs. On a larger piece of wood, was food like they had never seen before. An enormous, plucked bird, at least that’s what they thought it was, surrounded by dishes of different coloured things, small green balls, larger yellow chunks and long orange sticks. Everyone was smiling. In the corner a fire burned and beside it a green tree with long thin leaves set with coloured balls. A square hole in the shelter showed another tree covered in white and a strange white object with a pebble face. It wore a hat and a long stripey thing around its neck.

Jen and Ned stared and stared.

‘’Is that what it was like before the burning?’’ Jen asked not expecting an answer. Her insides twisted with envy and sorrow. ‘’How I wish my baby could have been born then.’’ A sudden pain gripped her, and warm water puddled into the sand by her feet. She gripped Ned’s hand. ‘’It’s time, Ned.’’

‘’Look, Jen.’’ A hundred or so pairs of eyes glimmered and danced in the light of the full moon. ‘’Rabbits. This baby will survive.” He squeezed her hand.

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Heading to Winter

While it is unseasonably warm, we are steadily getting ready for winter. Geraniums are going into the greenhouse and bulbs being planted. Apples and pears have been stored away with the surplus sold in aid of our local foodbank. We have plenty of help with weeding and the heavier jobs. This year, we hope to finish the pond which we began digging last year, then abandoned after our labourer became ill. He’s back now, so I am keeping my fingers crossed.

The big news is that our building work will begin this weekend. The guest suite will become reality within the next three months. Apart from smartening up, the front will look the same but behind the false garage doors will be a large bedroom with ensuite and at the back, a kitchen /lounge/diner and private garden. I will show progress photos.

What has fallen by the wayside is writing. I need to believe I can get back to it. It’s always harder to begin again after a break. Sometimes you need to force yourself to sit down at the computer and just write. It may be rubbish and all get deleted but the juices beginning to flow again is what is required to kickstart the process to get back on track. Now I have done my tax return, there should be no more excuses.

I have read two books recently, both of which I enjoyed. Wild by Kristin Hannah is a real page turner about a six-year-old girl who appears suddenly from the woods and the struggle to find a relative but also to get through to her. She really is wild and traumatised. It’s a great read.

The other book was Pigs in Heaven by Brabara Kingsolver, one of my favourite authors. The wisdom of Solomon transferred to Oklahoma and Indian rights. I was enthralled by the book and how much I learnt. She is such an empathetic writer and an enthusiastic supporter of the Native American Culture.

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What I Mean is…

We returned a week ago from a relaxing week in Mallorca, our first trip abroad in almost three years. It was an experiment to see how my husband coped with flying and walking, after a summer of pain with drop foot.

No one can fault the hotel, the food, the service or the small holiday resort which has been built for ease of use and safety of pedestrians. The problem was us longing for some sign that we were actually in Spain, the real Spain, not the sanitised version. I knew beforehand what we were buying, sun, heat, a pool and all the food you can eat. It’s our fault for growing older and knowing that cobblestones were a no no, as were hills and rough tracks and sightseeing in small villages off the beaten track. Can I bear the thought of never being able to explore old towns and taking a drive, letting serendipity take over as we come across another hidden gem?

At least I got plenty of reading done. mostly enjoyable but unmemorable books. I tried another Elizabeth Strout, Oh William. My first attempt at reading this raved over author was unsuccessful. I couldn’t pet past her wholly unlikeable characters. I quite enjoyed Oh William, for its gentle insight into a first marriage where the couple stayed friends but knew each other’s flaws, but I got tired of Lucy’s double explanations followed by ”is what I mean” – the character’s voice which became an annoying verbal tic.

Wholly better, in my opinion, was Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny, same subject, same setting – a second marriage in New York, but this time with an autistic son. Written from the point of view of the husband, with a cool, precise ex-wife, and a garrulous, spontaneous and younger current wife, I found the writing thoroughly engaging, hugely comic and deeply sensitive. There’s no great plot, as there wasn’t for the Strout. They are both slices of life to be observed, one that became somewhat tiring, the other – ooh, what happens next?

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Autumn Reads

I belong to a Facebook Page called Global Girls Online Book Club and from that I find lots of new authors and book recommendations, so here are some of my favourite books this Autumn.

I have just finished The Keeper of Stories by Salle Page. A woman who thinks of herself as cleaner and collector of other people’s stories, married to a man who thinks of her as ‘just a cleaner’. I fell in love with Janice’s characters, from Decius, the fox terrier, to Adam a twelve-year-old boy who has lost his father to suicide, to Lady B, irascible, ninety plus years and a former spy and Euan, a bus driver who somehow reaches into Janice’s life as a real-life rescuer complete with bicycle as trusty steed. It’s a heart-warming book but with an edge. There are plenty of side characters too, all finely drawn. The author is an observer of people, of conversations and behaviour.

Next are two books by Amor Towles. Judging by both these books, he is a new favourite author. I would go out of my way to read anything by him.

First The Lincoln Highway. It’s an American road book, an adventure set in post-war America, it’s a modern Steinbeck. Again, the characters leap off the page. The main character, Emmett, is released from a young offenders’ institution, not aware that two of his mates have secreted themselves in the sheriff’s boot as he is driven home after the death of his father. Emmett, together with Woolly Martin and Duchess Hewitt and Emmett’s young brother set out on the search for Emmet’s mother and money owing to Woolly Martin. Emmett intended to drive west to California, but he is forestalled by the wily Duchess, a swindler out for revenge. This being the first book I have read by Amor Towles, I loved it and the story with its references to Ulysses and it’s Steinbeck setting. It was only the final chapter which left me unsure.

But then I read reviews which said that it wasn’t a patch on Gentleman in Moscow. Oh my, Gentleman in Moscow will live with me forever. In 1922, Count Rostov is spared death by the Revolutionary Tribunal and confined to The Metropol Hotel where he had a suite of rooms. He will leave it only on pain of death. His suite is denied him, instead he is shown a bare garret. Het can choose items from his belongings to sustain him through his life sentence in the hotel while observing the absurdities of the Soviet Regime from the grand dining room, where he eventually becomes head waiter. How can I describe this book? It’s humanity and love, its gentle comedic genius, it’s forbearance and making the best of one’s situation. It’s a masterpiece and I love that it uses descendants of characters found in War and Peace. It also has a very satisfying ending.

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Boston and Beyond

The Boston Book Festival was a blast. I wished we had been able to book for more authors, but we did hear the Reverend Richard Coles on the Saturday evening. What a great speaker, so funny, so empathetic, so interesting in whatever guise he finds himself from number one pop singer with the Communards, to priest and now detective book writer.

My session, the following morning was in this lovely building.

I was in the American Room – a room dedicated to the connection between Boston Lincolnshire and Boston Massachusetts, and opened by Joseph Kennedy, his first duty as Ambassador, way back last century. A small gathering for my event but I loved it, and the feedback was great. I also sold a good number of books.

We travelled from there to Lincoln for two nights in a wonderful apartment south of the city. Our first trip to Lincoln Castle was cancelled because of the Queen’s funeral. But on the second day, our Bomber Command Memorial outing lived up to expectations. It opened as I was writing Sadie’s Wars and would have been useful to visit then. However, I was more than delighted to find my second cousin’s name on one of the memorial boards. I dedicated the book to him and the other 50,000 volunteers in Bomber Command who sacrificed so much. Tony’s sister, now 96, was delighted when I sent her these photos.

On then to our childhood home, Cleethorpes. So many memories. It was a great place to grow up, however, it has seen hard times over the last years. The shopping area where I once worked as a Saturday girl in a supermarket, is particularly depressing. The pier where I once performed at the Dance Festival is now a fish and chip restaurant. At least I was able to donate my latest books to Cleethorpes Library.

After a flying visit to Yorkshire, we arrived home to find that planning permission has been granted to turn our garage and workshop into a guest suite for family and friends. We are not allowed to rent it out so our guests will have free accommodation, can pick fresh fruit and veg from our allotment and will be looking out onto an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. What’s not to like?

This part will be the bedroom and shower room. Around the back will be the living and kitchen area. So now I have a question. I am veering away from putting in a full oven and toying with microwave, slow cooker and airfryer – would that bother you if you were staying in a self-catering place?

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Boston Book Festival

Barely a week to go until we travel north, first for the Boston Book Festival where I will be talking mainly about my Lincolnshire based novels and the stories that made it into the books. It will be so good to get back to speaking to an audience of book lovers again. My slot is on Sunay Sept 18th at 11.00 a.m.

We have booked tickets to hear the Reverend Richard Coles on the Saturday evening. That will be a great treat. I used to love his radio programmes – and I must try his new crime novel.

Then it’s off to Lincoln for a couple of nights. At long last we will be visiting Lincoln Castle. How come we never had a school trip there, or even a trip with the family? It took Professor Alice Roberts to tell me the amazing story of the castle in one of her TV programmes a couple of years ago. A trip to the Cathedral may also be on the cards.

Photo by Mike B on Pexels.com

The following day we will visit the Bomber Command Museum, somewhere I have wanted to visit for a while. I am sure it would have been useful when I was writing Sadie’s Wars.

Then back to my hometown of Cleethorpes for a couple of nights. We’ll walk along the prom, have fish and chips on the pier, revisit the courting places of our youth like the Boating Lake. I may drop into the library and offer them my latest books.

It will be many years since we have spent so much time in our native county. I wonder if it will spark some more stories.

I am getting to grips with our new air fryer. Today, I am dehydrating pears, later, for dessert, I am going to try baked peaches. Our glut of fruit is making me find lots of ways of using them up. When will I ever get time to write?

Tonight’s dinner, aubergines and mozzarella. Yes, we have an aubergine harvest.

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