A Break from Writing

I have just returned from a trip to Malta, a needed break after a hugely busy period. I thought I may write a few lines about islands in the Med’. Not that I have visited them all by any means, but there are some that I would return to and some not.

My favourite is still the first trip to Majorca, or Mallorca as we now write spell it. We were younger and fitter then and walking amongst the orange blossom at Easter is one of my favourite things to do. I adore that scent; the world seems a better place if I get a sniff of it. It’s like sitting in a café in a shaded French square when the lime trees are in bloom. Perfection. We backpacked on that occasion by catching the old wooden train through the mountains frDigital Cameraom Palma to Soller. We fought the German tourists to get a seat on local buses to take us to lovely little villages and walked the ancient paths. My favourite café near Deià was featured in the Night Manager on TV last year. Just a shack overlooking the sea, a more humble place you cannot imagine, but it was paradise.

Last year we visited the east coast. Nowhere near as dramatic, it is full of hotels for tourists and seemed an easy option. We needed easy at that time. Ten years had taken its toll on fitness. This was a test to see if we could consider another long haul flight and to build up strength after a bout of sciatica. DSC03669_edited-1

Gentle walking beside a sea of remarkable colours soothed us. It was quiet, early on in the season and although we did not venture far, we enjoyed the peace.

It’s sister island, Menorca, has two very picturesque towns Mahon and Cuitadella, far more historically attractive than Palma, I felt. Those were towns you could wander around for hours admiring the architecture. The countryside is like Malta, a series of tiny fields with dry stone walls, marking small patches of land where little seems to be cultivated. We found an outstandingly beautiful bay, no roads within a mile, untouched, romantic and not crowded. We cycled from our hotel to a nearby ancient village and ate fabulous food by the sea. I think again that this is an island worth visiting. My photographs, unfortunately, are not accessible.

Cyprus – perhaps my feelings are coloured by having visited twice and been ill there both times. The first time, I don’t remember, I was two and ended up in a Nicosean hospital, dangerously ill with dysentery. My mother had always commented on how beautiful Kyrenia was and I looked forward to seeing it. I visited on my birthday. It was an endless bus journey from Paphos on the south coast, across the border into Turkish held Cyprus, and all I wanted was my bed. Some virus, no doubt caught on the plane laid me low for the week. Nothing about that journey attracted me. Neither did Paphos, although we had a good hotel. Perhaps it would be more beautiful at a different time of the year, February was early. However, I returned home unimpressed with Cyprus.

Which brings me to Malta. First impressions were good. We stayed at Sliema, across the bay from Valetta. However, as soon as we began to walk from our hotel, we found that we were in one of the largest building sites we had come across.Sliema1 It appears to cover most of the island. Dust, broken pavements, hammering, lorries, litter provided the backdrop to our trip. This is not to say the island does not have its pleasures. Valetta itself is a Unesco World Heritage site deservedly. It is a remarkable city for having raised itself up from the ashes. Malta was the most bombed place on earth during WW2. However, they appear to be destroying the rest of their heritage by tearing down the old villas and building high-rise flats and hotels all along the coast. It’s maybe good for tourism income, but I don’t go on holiday to find a concrete jungle.

Having said that, the people are extremely friendly. We had some of the tastiest pasta I have ever had in a little restaurant, The Black Sheep in Sliema, and the wine was both cheap and very good. I drink little normally but I enjoyed a glass of rosé most days. Some of it was the best wine I have tasted. We won’t return to Malta. I recommend a weekend in Valetta to anyone, but without trees and flowers and peace, it’s not a holiday for me.

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The Big One

Today I reached one of those awful milestones. A birthday that ends with a 0. I thought I would reflect on what I have learnt over the years.

First, avoid placing things in the garden you can trip over. Feeling that I ought to be out planting birthday bulbs on this last sunny day before winter returns, I fell into a rose bush and now my backside looks as though it has been mauled by a tiger. I don’t look forward to tomorrow’s bruising and smarting scars. Luckily, I didn’t damage the camelia which is at its best. camelia

Second, there is nothing better in life than the gift of family and friends. Nurture them. I woke up this morning to best wishes from Australia, India and Italy, followed by lots of British friends and I know that Barbados has just woken up because another greeting from an old schoolfriend has pinged up while I am writing. As much as I dislike much of Facebook, one can’t deny that it keeps us in touch, no matter the distance. Long may those firendships last. I look forward to seeing my gorgeous family this weekeIMG_20190227_100843nd and am sad for the people who, for whatever reason, miss theirs on a significant birthday. This morning my mother rang, 98 years old, and with no memory to speak of, but she wished me a happy birthday for the first time in years. That’s a memory to treasure.

Third, you are never to old to learn new things until your brain gives up. If you keep your brain active, hopefully it won’t give up until your body does.  Stay curious, use your imagination, say yes to new opportunities, keep pushing yourself to achieve new goals.

Fourth, our parliamentary system is long broken. Many politicians are venal, lack courage and don’t have the brains of a gnat. I woke up one day in my thirties and realised that those in charge of our destiny are often lacking in common sense. Thirty plus years later, I realise that it is now far worse. it used to be said that those who can do, do, and those that can’t teach. Teaching is one of the hardest jobs in the world, so I take issue with that statement. I now feel it should be – those that can do, do, those that can’t go into politics to make a mess of everyone else’s life – with some noble exceptions, a dear friend among them.

Fifth, dig for the truth. Don’t accept the lies which are told. As an author, I don’t accept one source and I treat everything with scepticism. Never automatically believe what you read in the newspapers. I have been misreprsented by local press at times – it gave me a healthy disregard for journalism. Also victors write the history. There’s always an alternative view. Seek it out.

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Australia Day at School

I spent Monday afternoon at my granddaughter’s school where I had been invited in as an author to talk about Australia. img_20190128_102631

I couldn’t have done this without lots of input from various cousins, friends and Facebook friends in Australia. With video snapshots from Hobart, Sydney and Queensland, I showed the beauties of Australia. Lots of lovely readers on the Australian rural fiction Facebook page told me what kinds of things they get up to on Australia Day which the children read out.

We then explored why Australia Day is at the end of January. These little six year-olds sailed the sea with me on our eight-month journey as we were sea-sick, bored and sad about leaving friends and family. We were astonished that John Hudson was sent at 11 to Australia for some minor theft and learnt what privations these intrepid settlers had to undego. Yes, I showed them the bucket that was their shared toilet. ff-route

Then we learnt about what the aboriginals thought of the first settlers and learned to shout Warra, Warra, Warra – go away – to no avail, in the local language of the Cadigal people.

After a well-deserved break they enjoyed a creation dreamtime story from Queensland and I gave them all a lizard outline on card so they could have a go at making some aboriginal art work. I look forward to seeing the results. aboriginal art1

We then sang the Kookaburra song, learned some Aussie words like billabong and tucker bag. Yes, you know what’s coming. We finished off with a rousing chorus of Waltzing Matilda and a final video from New South Wales for Happy Australia Day.

It was a lot of work. I was not there to sell books but I had a great time and received a clap & some gifts from the school for my time. I wonder if I will be invited back next year.

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Local author, with a touch of Tasmanian devil …



Lexi Rees

I’m really excited to introduce Rosemary Noble to you today. Now, she’s not a kids book author, so I know I risk straying off here, but I just read Sadie’s War, the third book in a historical saga which is based on her own family’s true story of being transported to Australia. She now lives locally to me and we’re in the same writers group, Chindi Authors, so how could I not share! She’s just back from a tour of Australia, all in the name of research – remind me to write a book set in Fiji soon – but skipped Sydney Opera House in favour of convict factories and orphan schools.

Over to Rosemary …

I’d like to thank Lexi for inviting me to her blog today. I know Lexi is interested in travel and sailing, so come with me on a journey to the far side of the…

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Australia – shadows amidst the sunshine

Isabella Muir

I am delighted to welcome fellow author, Rosemary Noble, to my blog today. Rosemary shares my passion for exploring the truth about some of the darkest parts of Australian history.

Here she explains…

In the Australian National Anthem, ‘Advance Australia Fair’, there’s a phrase celebrating the country’s modern forward-thinking attitude:

Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;”

And later it talks about all the immigrants:

For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share;”

All very positive, and yet, there are many dark sides to Australian history beginning with the misconception fostered by Captain Cook that this new land was “Terra Nullius” – an empty land, when, in fact, it was populated by 500 different nations who had cared for the land for over fifty thousand years.

‘Ngara – from the day we are born we listen to our Elders, hear…

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War and Memories

War provides the bookends for the protagonist in my latest book, Sadie’s Wars. She lives out the first world war in Australia waiting for the return of her husband, while in the second, she experiences the horror of the blitz in England. sadies wars2

On our latest trip to Australia, we made a point of visiting the War Memorial in Canberra. Designed by C E W Bean, the war correspondent throughout WW1, it is both temple and museum extraordinaire. The grounds struck us immediately. Coming up to Armistice Day the surrounding green space were littered with simple, home-crafted knitted poppies. I imagined how they had been made with love and care, each one slightly different. Overall the effect was a symbol of beauty and devotion to the idea of sacrifice.

A sacrifice that was made by so many young, perhaps naive, Diggers 2018 11 17_0724as they thronged to experience adventure, but then became some of the bravest men to fight in that war. A very informative guide showed us the WW1 exhibits and pointed out some things I had not known but was obvious from an oil painting on display. Each of the men at the Gallipoli landings carried a ration bag at their waists. It lay like a  white flag against their dull, khaki uniforms, providing the perfect target for Turkish snipers. Many of those first casulaties were shot in the upper thighs and groin area. A casual decision with far reaching consequences, an accident of war.

There were some heart-stopping moments on our trip. One came the day after as we returned to tour the WW2 halls. Sadie’s sons in the book are in bomber command, so we stopped at an exhibit where you stood in a pod to feel the vibration of being in a Lancaster bomber while watching a video of an actual sortie. We could not believe what we heard and stayed to listen twice more. That bomber took off from a Lincolnshire aerodrome, where my book is set, at an airfield we know well. It is now part of my sister-in-law’s farm at Elsham. She had died the previous year and we felt her presence guiding us to that exhibit.

A few days later we were in Wagga Wagga, a modern and attractive city with lots of museums and art galleries. After visiting a glass museum and a modern art gallery, where the stand-out exhibit was a blow-up giant rabbit (yes, really), we visited the town hall which  was featuring WW1 panels. 2018 11 17_0691The very first one I stopped at was this one. Private Allan Bruce injured on the western front and cared for at Graylingwell Hospital. For those of you living around Chichester, you may know Graylingwell. I had been at the Graylingwell Fair selling books with Chindi only two months before. Those very close connections we have with Australia flooded my mind and soul. How did Private Bruce cope losing a leg and both middle fingers? As I walked around the other panels reading the stories, the overwhelming feeling was of sadness. These soldiers returned injured in body and mind, several taking thir own lives rather than living with the consequences of war. These young men left, full of pride in their country and empire,  with high hopes, seeking glory. We need to remember them and the Australians do.

Every town has its Anzac Avenue, every town has its RSL (Returned Services League) club in a prominent position. Every town has more than just a cenotaph where people gather once a year to lay wreaths. I was pleased to see that.

War is loathsome but the twentieth century had more than its share. It’s the heartbreak of mothers and wives, of families and communities we need to honour, not war itself.

I loved writing Sadie’s Wars. It’s based on a true story. It has heartbreak and romance but mostly it is about the consequences of war on ordinary people, their lives and loves. Although the third in a trilogy about one family, it works well as a stand-alone novel.



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What a Busy Month!

Many apologies for not posting anything for a month – you may be relieved about that. My time has been taken up by arranging Chindi events for the Chichester Festival and thinking about a session which my daughter has volunteered me for at her local school. I’m to talk to 57 six-year-olds about Australia. I have been planning the session as though it were to be delivered to the UN. I’m full of self-doubt. I want to keep them interested, make it interactive and informative. I’ve read stories in infant schools before but never delivered content. The teacher appears happy with my lesson plan but it could all go pear-shaped if I get the tone wrong. Will I be running across the playground, chased by irate staff and pupils or will they all fall asleep through boredom? I’ll get back to you on that.

Other exciting things have happened or are about to. My book group read Sadies’s Wars and their comments were very positive. book group1A review of the book also came out in Ingenue Magazine, a magazine for the arts across Southern England. A paragraph such as this is enough to make my heart soar, “Sadie’s Wars is a must-read. It had me on tenterhooks but I had to keep reading -even while my heart was breaking…”

I have also going to be featured author with Chindi over the Australia Day period next week so eight different bloggers will be blogging about my books. Some of those blogs I have written myself and I will share them here.

Now to get back to writing the next book, I wish.

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