A Christmas gift from a bright young star

Today, I am handing over this blog to talented, nine-year-old author, Ella Lopez.

Ella has co-written a book with her mother, Jennifer. C. Lopez, about their experience of home-schooling.  Entitled: ‘Thanks, But I’ll Teach My Own Kid’, the book explores fearless thinking and learning without borders. Their book has been honoured by their local library association, and featured in publications across the USA. Ella has also written her debut novel: ‘Legend of Beams’.

I challenged Ella to take me, and my handbag, on a Christmas adventure.  The young, innovative adventurer imagined a placed for the three of us to meet. Ella created a multicultural, celebratory setting and she is delighted to share it with you.

 

Ella’s Christmas Gift of Creativity

Jennifer, Ella and Jessie were having a good ole chat online about our writings, great books we’ve read and even cultural travels, when suddenly the internet line began to crackle. Their laptop screens went dark, but they could still hear each other faintly…they also heard some sort of bells ringing subtly from inside the screen and a jolly deep laughter- on both ends of the line. Jennifer, stared at the screen in disbelief as a faint image of Jessie grew larger out of the blackness. Suddenly, Jessie popped right out of the computer- and joined us. They were all together now, staring at each other in disbelief. Completely befuddled, they looked around. They heard bells and the sound of jolly laughter. They had all been transported through cyberspace when Ella pressed ‘escape’ on the laptop.

Thistle bushes, vibrant green shamrock plants and Noche Buenas of red adorned the landscape. The land appeared to be the most complex and unique combination of two distinct cultures: Mexico and Wales. It was an exuberant pallet of color, music and culture they witnessed unfold in front of us and beyond. Silvery snowflakes fell continuously, leaving a glistening canopy over the entire landscape.

They heard a faint voice echo beyond the grand red and green plants.

Voice of Christmas: Welcome, Bienvenidos, Croeso! You three have arrived in the land of Nadolexmas. This is the land of celebration where we merge experiences and cultures- a blending so unique and filled with pure beauty. You were transported here because the three of you have an immense appreciation of culture that encourages others to feel it too.  We want you to spread good cheer, and Nadolexmas beautifully blends both your loved cultures :Wales and Mexico. Please, sit down for your first meal.

The voice continued…as if closer now- but still there was no one visible within their sight.

A table and three chairs magically emerged on the landscape. Lights enveloped enormous trees that now surrounded our beautiful table. The table was adorned with a ‘Tapete’, hand woven in every color imaginable. Jennifer and Ella recognized it as from their favorite region of Mexico: Oaxaca. The table was set with gold placemats.  Each place setting had a Christmas cracker and some chocolate dragons dressed in festive costumes.  Tangerines and chocolate coins were also spread generously on the table and many plates of scrumptious plates began to appear.  Feeling grateful for this feast before us, Jessie reached for the plate of laverbread with cockles and bacon. She must have been thinking of  a Welsh breakfast.

Ella and Jennifer looked a little dubious at the green laverbread, but always willing to try new things- they placed some on their plates.  Jessie tried to think of something served by her Spanish sister-in-law then presented some additional prawns, with the shells on, cooked in garlic and chorizo. She was thrilled with the scrumptious holiday dishes she’d dreamt into reality, but was still looking for the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce.

Ella BEAMED with joy and closed her eyes then, thinking of her favorite dishes during Navidad (Christmas) in Mexico. A simple few of her favorites came dancing through the air to the tune of ‘Feliz Navidad’. First was Ponche, filled with bubbly sweet fruits. Then, came Chiles Rellenos filled with rice, meat and cilantro. As the dishes gently settled themselves onto the table, Ella reached immediately across the table for a chocolate dragon.

Ella: Mama look! It’s Beams! It is the dragon in my story.

Jennifer: Ella it sure does look like Beams, but you are forgetting your table manners and also- you know we save the dessert for after the main dishes.

Ella: But Mama, it’s the holiday and a special time with Jess. I’m only going to eat just this one now- in honor of Beams. And I’d like to try some Welsh cakes.

Mama: Well, since there definitely doesn’t appear to be a land where rules apply… I suppose just the one Beams Chocolate can’t hurt.

Ella: Jessie, I think the prawns are my favorite. I didn’t know the Welsh loved Chorizo too. We have that in common! Please…you need to try Los Tamales de maíz, fresa y canela now (corn tamales with strawberries and cinnamon).

Jessie: You bet, Ella! I can’t wait. I love how they’ve been prepared inside of the corn husks and wrapped as if they are a gift. Just beautiful.

Jennifer and Ella: ¡Feliz Navidad Jessie!

Jennifer and Jessie raised their glasses to toast this most magical celebration with Sparkling Pear Juice. Jessie smiled.

Jessie: Nadolig Llawin. Now, we have all wished each other a Merry Christmas.

Ella: We have some gifts to share Jessie and it seems there is no better time than now in this special place. It just feels so Christmas-like here.

Jessie: I agree sweet Ella. Might I ask you to open mine to you- first? You know the gifts we share are never material in nature, and I’m awfully excited to see what you think of yours.

Ella: That is really sweet of you to want me to open mine first Jess. I’m just as excited as you are, to find out what is inside!

Jessie: Great, let me grab it out of my Handbag sweetie. I can’t believe my HANDBAG somehow traveled here with us through Cyberspace- but who am I to question the beauty of this mysterious experience!

Ella examined her gift from Jess. Inside was a red velvet bag. She opened it up and bright light immediately illumined the space around Ella and spreads across her face as she smiled. They were the most vibrant sparkles in all shapes and colors.  Ella stared, speechless.

Jessie: I give you the gift of imagination, sweet Ella.

Ella hugged Jessie tightly.

Ella: ¡Gracias! Actually, I’d like to say, Diolch (thank you in Welsh)! I know this gift will help me tremendously.

Jennifer and Ella: We have something here for you now, Jess.

Jennifer and Ella handed Jess a bag of multi-hued golden silk. She looked at us smiling and then down at the bag in her hands.

Jessie: Oh, my goodness- this will go beautifully with my holiday handbag. It almost looks like pieces of iridescent Abalone! How in the world did you make these Ella and Jen?

Ella: Well, Jessie it’s the gift of continued growth in creativity. I think we had similar thoughts on sharing something with each other that we’d always be able to keep with us. You probably won’t be able to guess what these are- that give you the continued growth in your amazing creativity so let me tell you. . .

They are the scales from a most magical dragon. There’s only one of her kind and they can only be found in the Realm of Castelina, where this growing dragon, Beams lives. As she grows, so does her magic and her iridescent wings shed scales during the growth spurts. They will give you much happiness and encourage your creative side to continue to fly. Here, you can read my new novel: ‘Legend of Beams’.

As Ella spoke, the beautiful shiny scales started to rise up out of Jessie’s handbag.

 

Please see my blog at jessiecahalin.com.

 

A spooky tale for my handbag

Elizabeth Clark

 

 

 

Elizabeth Clark is a debut novelist.  I was delighted to be asked to chat with Elizabeth about her new novel, ‘Lay me to Rest’, was released on 29th September.  It is always an honour to support a new author. I organised to meet with Elizabeth at the suitably spooky location of Tredegar House, Newport.  It is a 17th century country house now owned by the National Trust, and it has a great atmosphere.  One can imagine the ghosts of past inhabitants moving around the long corridors.

We met in the teashop, located in the courtyard. Prior to Elizabeth arriving, I had ordered a selection of cakes. Elizabeth was delighted with the array of cakes and instantly grabbed herself a slice of very rich-looking chocolate cake while I poured the tea.  Elizabeth travelled from the Midlands.  She was wearing faded jeans, a brown faux leather jacket and ankle boots. Her handbag was a brown faux leather tote.  Elizabeth was cheerful and excited to be meeting at Tredegar House.

“I love antiquity and can spend hours poking round old houses. I love the atmosphere – I find it very calming – apart from finding endless inspiration for future stories!”

We sampled the cakes before settling down to chat about the book.

Jessie:  It’s lovely to meet you here.  Tell me a little about yourself.

Elizabeth: I was a stay-at-home mum whilst my three children were small. I’ve worked part-time for twenty years now as a specialist teaching assistant, producing modified large print and Braille resources for visually impaired and blind students in both primary and secondary education. I have always enjoyed writing and often find my imagination running away with me, so it’s a great outlet! I have written poetry and short stories for many years, and have had a few things published, but ‘Lay Me to Rest’ is my first attempt at a novel for adults.

Jessie:  Can you capture the essence of your novel in a few sentences?

Elizabeth: ‘Lay Me to Rest’ is the story of the newly-widowed, pregnant Annie’s attempt to overcome her depression, by renting a remote cottage in Anglesey. Her arrival, however, triggers violent, unexplained disturbances within the house and the “holiday” soon becomes the stuff of nightmares.

Jessie:  Was it the setting of Anglesey that inspired you to write the ghost story?

 Elizabeth: Yes – my father’s family hails from there and I spent much of my childhood staying with relatives in Anglesey. The whole island is steeped in history and legend. My auntie’s farm had a resident ghost in the barn plus the ghost of a Cavalier that was seen trudging across the field, and my great aunt’s home had three restless spirits, apparently, so I always associated their houses with supernatural activity!

At this point we decided to break to admire Tredegar House.  The house is organised so that the visitors can interact with the displays.  It was fun to sit at the table, set for dinner, and imagine the ghosts of the people walking the corridors.  The portraits around the room gave us some excellent inspiration.  We sat at the dining room table to finish our discussion.

Jessie:  What have the reviewers said about your novel?

‘I received a copy of “Lay me to rest” in exchange for an honest review, and all I can say is that I really love it! It just keeps getting better. The story is beautifully written, sad, dark and full of nostalgia. I will definitely follow the author’s future work.’ Hannah K, Netgalley Reviewer

‘Let me start by saying this, if I ever find a mysterious box I would think before I opened it. This is an excellent addition to the paranormal and mystery suspense genre. I was glad when I started reading it that it wasn’t very late and it was still light outside; definitely gave me some chills. I love to be surprised when I am reading so E.A. Clark did an amazing job keeping me guessing from one page to the next. Annie is an amazingly strong female lead that I can’t wait to find out more about.’ Laurie Beemer, Goodreads

‘So…so creepy! The author wastes no time in setting up the action, without neglecting the environment. The description of the fields and cottages is so vivid that it feels like being there. More importantly, the cast of characters is excellent, since we can’t really see all the sides of everyone and some turns surprised me.’ Elisa, Goodreads

Jessie:  I do not usually read ghost stories but I do like stories with a distinct atmosphere.  Give me an extract of the story to tempt me to read the story.

Elizabeth: “I stared helplessly at the apparition; through the gloom, its body resembled the shimmering negative of an old photograph; but the eyes receded deep into their sockets, as black and fathomless as a calm lake.”

Jessie:  The extract certainly invites the reader into the mystery and makes you shiver.  I am now wondering what the apparition is and why it resembled a photograph negative. Can you tell me a little more about how the story draws in the audience?

Elizabeth: The main character, Annie, is at a mentally fragile point in her existence, and I wanted the reader to wonder initially whether the apparitions were a figment of her imagination. The apparently tranquil setting lures the audience into a false sense of security, so I think that as they become more absorbed in the story they start to feel more than a little unsettled!

Jessie: It must be challenging to absorb yourself in another world – you need a vivid imagination.  How did you feel when you had finished writing your book, and did you miss any of the characters?

Elizabeth: Initially elated; then I kept turning the plot over in my mind and wondering if I should have changed anything! I did miss Annie and am planning a follow-up to show how she has moved on with her life.

Jessie: Who would you like to read your book and why?  This could be another author, someone famous, a friend or a member of your family. 

I wish my mum could have read the book – she passed away almost three years ago. She always hoped that I would pursue my childhood dream of becoming an author and I know that she would have been delighted to see me finally get into print. And she would have loved the book’s theme and setting.

Jessie:  How long did it take to write the book, and was it a challenging writing journey?

Elizabeth: I actually started writing the book back in 2011 and then filed it away. I picked it up again last year after revisiting and thinking that maybe it was worth finishing! I suppose it probably took about two to three months to write altogether. I had days when I could rattle off a couple of thousand words with ease and then there were others when I sat staring into space and wondering how to proceed at that particular juncture – so yes, I suppose it was a challenge!

Jessie: Why should I keep your book in my handbag?

You’ll want to keep the book to hand – there are several momentous events throughout, so you’ll probably want to keep turning pages!

Jessie: What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook?

I tend to have lots of notes scribbled on random bits of paper tucked inside the notebook and in no decipherable order – the last one I came across said ‘I sat at the edge of the bed, twisting my fingers together nervously as I watched Leo perfecting the knot in his colourful tie before the bedroom mirror.‘ -: a self-prompt for the follow-up to ‘Lay Me to Rest’ – the book I’m currently working on has different characters and is in a completely different location, so I wanted to remind  myself where I wish to begin when I eventually resume writing about Annie et al!

Jessie: What is the biggest challenge for an author?

Making your story stand out from the crowd! There are so many excellent novelists out there and the competition is fierce. It’s particularly challenging as a hitherto unknown author, as readers often stick with established writers with a proven track record.

Jessie: What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?

Never give up! Believe in yourself – don’t be put off by rejection letters and always remember, there may just be someone out there that will LOVE your work – one person’s trash is another’s treasure! Stick to your guns and it will pay off in the end. And make time to write every day – eventually it all adds up!

More about Elizabeth…

Elizabeth is passionate about animal welfare – she abhors animal cruelty and dreams of a world where one day the rights of animals will be taken as seriously as those of human beings.

…always about to embark on that diet and exercise regime – but the time never feels quite right – especially when there’s a particularly fine cake on offer!

…a perpetually anxious mother and grandmother!

The debut novel is released on 29th September.  I haven’t read this novel but it sounds like it will have the reader on the edge of their seat.  It looks like I will be making room for a spooky tale, in my handbag.  The best of luck to Elizabeth with her debut novel.

 

Contact details here

Twitter: @EAClarkAuthor

Facebook: Elizabeth Clark

 

Please see all my interviews at My Guests and my blog at jessiecahalin.com.

Chase away writer’s block in the real world

During the last couple of months, I have been immersed in a virtual world of social media. Yesterday, my family insisted that I visited the real world of the Brecon Beacons.

Initially, I complained that it was another rainy day in Wales and it wasn’t worth braving a potential storm.  I was happy to admire the colours of the garden, from my writing room, but the writing wasn’t flowing.  Finally, I left my handbag at home, retrieved my walking gear and went to the Brecon Beacons.  The beep, beep, beep of my phone was left behind as we drove into the heart of the impressive mountain range.

Always one to admire the cloudless blue sky, I was surprised by depth of the grey sky.   I had been adamant that I needed the blue sky for some ‘blue sky thinking’, but I was wrong. I needed the reality of a dramatic landscape to chase away the writer’s block.

We stood in the landscape as the colours were dissolved by silver, grey and bronze tones.  We discussed how the scene was changing before us, and how the moving clouds were like the curtains opening and closing on the stage.  This very real experience made me aware that the weather re-writes the landscape in the same way that a writer changes the shades of meaning in a story.

Rather than staring at the computer screen for inspiration, or peering into the same garden – why not immerse yourself in the real world?  It is good to hear the real tweets of the birds rather than the computer-generated tweets.

 

Please see my blog at jessiecahalin.com

Book dust and the curious world of ‘Book-ish’

It was like opening a book jacket into a giant book, when I opened the door into ‘Book-ish’, located in Crickhowell.  I looked up at the words ‘Book Dust’ above the shop door and let it settle on me.

I was Alice in Wonderland, as I explored the various rooms; and it became ‘curiouser and curiouser’.  Besides the books, treasures greeted me in every nook and cranny.  There were: cards, bags, soft toys, baubles, ornaments, but no sign of Captain Hook.

Passing through magical corridor from the main bookshop, I heard a little boy saying, “Wow!” to his mother, as they followed a staircase down into the children’s section.

And I hope that the little boy managed to find Harry Potter under the stairs, or perhaps he found some ‘read me labels’. Beyond the magical corridor, I was greeted with the aroma of coffee, alas there were no seats.

A gentleman, wearing a white shirt and waistcoat, looked up from his book. “Oh dear!” he declared. “I think there’s more seating upstairs.” he muttered, into his book.

Upstairs, there was a beautiful loft with a picture window framing a view of the Brecon Beacons, and plenty of seating.  A selection of wine was on display behind the bar that was decorated with lots of books. Various word and book games were scattered around for the customers to enjoy.  Clearly, this bookshop has been set up by a true book lover who values time to read, chat and eat. The ‘Book-ish’ cake menu has been designed to tempt the reader to stay. I chose The Queen of Hearts’ Bakewell Tarts. ‘Book-ish’ is a haven from the chaotic pace of modern life and a bibliophile’s dream.

I was writing for some time and taking pictures of the treasures, but no one asked questions.  I had entered a world of like-minded bookworms.  It felt as if I had travelled into cyberspace to meet my virtual friends.  Indeed, I was delighted that Sara Gethin’s book, ‘Not Thomas’ was there to keep me company.  The bookshop also hosts events in the loft space, and I couldn’t help wondering if Heidi also lives up there too.  I did find out that ‘The Snowman’ will be brought to life in the bookshop by Looby Lou.  I stayed in the shop for some time and imagined hosting a Books in Handbag meeting. I visualised bags and bags of books like a stairway to Heidi’s star filled sky.

I purchased a book entitled ‘Kindness: the little thing that matters the most’, by Jaimie Thurston. Indeed, the bookshop owner is spreading kindness to her customers by providing a reading space and not limiting time in the shop.  My Twitter and Facebook friends will understand my delight when I was handed my treasure in a brown bag that read, ‘BOOKS ARE MY BAG.’ I also discovered that the bookshop opened in the same month I launched my Books in my Handbag Blog.

Closing the door on the Bookish Narnia, I felt happy that I would return before the ‘Book Dust’ settles.  In the meantime, I must spread the word amongst my bookish community. Please don’t be late for this ‘very important date’ at ‘Book-ish’: a feast for the bookworm’s senses!

‘Sharing good news spreads positivity, changes attitudes and ultimately leads to more people feeling happy and encouraged.’

Kindness: the little thing that matters the most’, by Jaimie Thurston

 

Please see all my adventures at Handbag Adventures and my blog at jessiecahalin.com.

 

A table for two and a notebook

On arrival at Restaurant James Sommerin, we ordered a good Pinot Noir. We noted that the ambiance was calm, staff attentive and the other guests were very well attired.

Feeling relaxed, in our jeans and T shirts, we discussed the merits of the food; each dish looked elegant like a work of art.  Much to my husband’s dismay, I started to make notes about the food.  The guests on the neighbouring table were intrigued by the notebook.  Clearly, I wasn’t a restaurant critic as I was wearing jeans.   We sipped more of the wine that was so beautifully flavoured with summer fruits that it could have been a soft drink.

The delicious food improved with each course.  Buoyed by this tasting experience, I was determined to write an analysis of each dish. I scribbled furiously between each morsel and took photographs of the dishes.  More delicious wine was poured into a glass that could happily home several goldfish.

Alas, I cannot read the scribbles in my notebook.  Throughout the notebook, I had repeated the words ‘great textures’ and ‘explosion of flavour’ albeit in various styles of handwriting. ‘Desert’ was underlined enthusiastically. Did I go to the Sahara to eat pudding? Other words were incomplete and I hope that they didn’t run off onto the beautifully laundered table cloth.  I circled ‘black pudding’ purée several times because I didn’t have my highlighter pen. I do remember that I was offended by the puréed texture but I am a northerner.

Undeterred by the black pudding, I did note down Picasso’s poetry on a plate.  Obviously, Pinot Noir should come with a cliché warning on the label. Mysteriously, the notebook has splashes of wine and food inside of it but I will keep it as a tribute to the Picasso chef.

James Sommerin is a chef and an artist.  The restaurant was like a theatre of food and next time I will dress up for the occasion. The food was so good that I can forgive the corruption of the black pudding texture.  I will wish on a star for the restaurant!

 

 

Please see my blog at jessiecahalin.com

A ghostly extract in the pocket of my handbag

Lay Me to Rest, Elizabeth Clark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is the book about?

Lay Me to Rest’ is the story of the newly-widowed, pregnant Annie’s attempt to overcome her depression, by renting a remote cottage in Anglesey. Her arrival, however, triggers violent, unexplained disturbances within the house and the “holiday” soon becomes the stuff of nightmares.

Why should I keep your book in my handbag?

You’ll want to keep the book to hand – there are several momentous events throughout, so you’ll probably want to keep turning pages!

Extract

Again, the same line, yet louder and more persistent. It seemed to reverberate round the walls. I was in no doubt now that the words had been uttered with venom; that someone – or something – meant me harm. My breath came in shallow, rapid gasps. I was filled with a feeling of unreserved dread.

As my eyes grew accustomed to the dimness, I could discern a silhouette, apparently seated at the foot of my bed. I opened my mouth to scream but the power of speech seemed to have deserted me. I could do no more than watch in sheer terror, as the mattress rose slightly and a nebulous figure drew to its full height, releasing a rush of icy air. I could not – dared not– conceive of what might ensue. I was petrified.

I stared helplessly at the apparition; through the gloom, its body resembled the shimmering negative of an old photograph; but the eyes receded deep into their sockets, as black and fathomless as a calm lake. My stomach lurched as the spectre brushed past me, only to vanish into the wall. I sat, rigid with fear, hardly daring to breathe. My heart pounded so loudly in my chest that it seemed to fill my whole head.

The tension shines through in this extract and involves the reader. Elizabeth’s debut novel is receiving very positive reviews. This is a gripping thriller; perfect for fans of Kerry Wilkinson, Sarah Wray and Stella Duffy. 

E. A. Clark

The novel is currently on offer.  Find out more about the book at:

Bag a Bargain

Elizabeth will talk more about her book in an interview on Friday. This ghostly book is released on Friday, 29th September. Warning!  You won’t be able to put this book down.

 

Please see my blog for more articles, book reviews, author interviews and adventures at jessiecahalin.com