An Infuriating Addition to my Handbag

Yuki Chan in Brontë Country 

 Mick Jackson

 

This was an oddly infuriating and fascinating book.  I liked the character of Yuki and the bizarre insight into her world. 

I bought the book because I like the Bronte books, especially Wuthering Heights, and expected to find a kindred spirit and some insight .  At first, I was furious with comments such as:

‘In Japan, an old house like this would have been flattened and rebuilt half a dozen time, along with every other building in the town.’

 

 

Please the full review on My Reading page.

 

Check out my blog at jessiecahalin.com

Meeting historical novelist and his scoundrel ancestors

John Jackson

 

 

 

 

My phone guided me through the ancient streets of York to meet, historical novelist, John Jackson.  I could not resist stopping to watch to the occasional street entertainer, and was very distracted by the outdoor market.  Although, the air was unseasonably warm, I could sense Christmas creeping around the corner. Some of the stalls were crammed with Christmas jumpers, wrapping paper and the sort of decorations that would tempt the Christmas magpies.  Tempted by the bakery, I had a cursory glance through the window then moved on towards Ye Olde Shambles Tavern. 

Finally, I felt the uneven cobbles beneath my feet, and the heels of my boots struggled to grip the ground, it was obvious that I had reached the famous medieval street.  I reached a building that would have looked at home in a museum.  Outside the building was painted black and the window reminded me of a shop one would imagine in a Dickensian novel.  My imagination had taken me to the wrong era, but having researched John’s book, my mind was full of history.  Instantly, John greeted me with his warm smile and welcoming manner.  He was looking very relaxed in his cords and checked shirt.

John:  Welcome to York!  I have taken the liberty of buying you half a pint of Shambles Tavern Stumbler.

It was a straw coloured beer with a pleasant hoppy finish.  It was served cool but not cold.  We also had a complementary plate of sandwiches and crisps.

Jessie:  Thank you, John. It is great to be back in Yorkshire.  Sorry, I’m a little late but I got distracted with Shambles Market. 

John:  No problem, it is so easy to get lost in the history of York.  The Shambles is rumoured to be the best preserved medieval street in the world.

Jessie: I didn’t know that – thank you.  You certainly do adore your history.  I was reading about your historical novel on the train and it looks so tempting.  It was fascinating to discover your novel is based on your family history.

John:  Ah yes, I started to research my Family Tree fifty years ago.  I was lucky to find transcribed letters from my great, great grandfather on one side of the family, and on the other I found that my great great grandmother was related to the Rochforts of Belvedere, in Ireland.  I had to research this treasure and along the way, I came across some juicy relatives – and a story that was crying out to be told.

I found a booklet titled ” Some Celebrated Irish Beauties of the Last Century”, and the first chapter was about my book’s heroine. I couldn’t pass this story by. In my eyes it was crying out to be told, even though the original story would need a very different treatment.

I ended up writing the story of what I would LIKE to have happened.

John saw me looking at his novel peeping out of a rucksack.  He held up the front cover with pride.

John:  It was a great moment for me when I received the physical copies of the book.  I am totally delighted with the front cover. It’s a portrait of Robert Rochfort, and it hangs in Belvedere House in Mullingar. The management of the house (an Irish National Monument) were extremely helpful in allowing me to use the image.

Jessie:  It is like the front cover for a classic, historical novel – perfect for the genre.  Can you capture the essence of the book in a couple of sentences?

John:

You can’t choose who you lose your heart to!

Love can be the only thing that keeps you alive.

Jessie:  Wow!  You have already hooked me into the novel.  

I picked up the book and searched for a key sentence on the blurb.  The blurb is succinct and deliciously tempting. I read from the blurb on the book, hoping that John would tell me more.

Jessie: The blurb says, ‘Based on real events, Heart of Stone is a tale of power, jealousy, imprisonment, and love, set in 1740s Ireland.’ Please tell me more about this captivating story.

John: I don’t want to give too much away, obviously. Fortunately, it is a time that is past. We behave better now – or at least differently. I can reassure you, though – you really WILL be captivated by the story.

Jessie: I can see that there has been an awful lot of interest in your book online.  Everyone seems to love the fact that the story is based on your own family.  What do the reviewers say?

John:  For me, the fact that my wife loved the book was such a great reward.  Here are some of the reviews from Amazon:

‘A brilliant book, found it hard to put it down!’ By Mum’s the word

‘I thoroughly enjoyed reading Heart of Stone. I found it hard to put down from the first pages onwards.’ By Rebecca H Stevens

And from Goodreads: ‘Utterly loved the book, fantastic read and loved it very much…’ by Gwessie Tee.

Jessie:  I am impressed with the way that you are tempting me to read the book – very clever.  Come on now, can you read an extract.

John took a sip of his beer then picked up his book.  He had already marked some passages and took a couple of minutes to select the extract.

John: Mary felt the warmth of his lips on her fingers; the sensation caused her to feel a glow deep within her. She looked up and into his eyes. They seemed deep enough to drown in.

Jessie:  Well, I wasn’t expecting that level of intrigue in such a short passage.  Who is Mary, she sounds as if she is in trouble?

John: She is, but doesn’t know it! She is my 5 x Great Grandmother, Mary Molesworth and the daughter of an Irish peer. She is Robert’s new wife.

Jessie:  How did you develop the characters in your novel.  Did you have clues about the characters’ personalities in your research?

I started with what was actually known about them and worked from there. I found that easier than I expected, possibly because they are – initially – “broad brush” characters.

Jessie:  It must have been quite a journey to write this book, and it must have been difficult to leave the characters behind. How did you feel when you had finished writing your book, and did you miss any of the characters?

John: Writing “The End” was both the best and the worst of sensations. I was delighted to finish the work; but it was also like saying goodbye to some old friends.

I would like to have written more about the enigmatic Mr Stafford. He knows everything.

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.  

John: Most of all, I would like my friends to read it. There is a lot of “me” in Heart of Stone.  My wife has already read it, and, happily, loved it.

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

John: It entertains (I hope), and it reaffirms the old tenet of “Never give up! Never lose faith!”

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

From my next book: (Working title “Strange Bedfellows”. He never felt the blow that felled him, but, as his assailant kicked him viciously in the ribs and back, he could feel himself slipping into unconsciousness. A disembodied voice spoke into his ear as he lay there. “Stay away from here. We don’t want your kind.”

Jessie: I have just read a wonderful blog post from you where you explain how you have marketed your book.  It was thorough and I have shared it with others. What is the biggest challenge for an author?

John: For a NEW author, realising that you might have a good tale to tell, but you really need to learn how to tell it! Writing is a craft, and it behoves us to do it well, if we believe in our story.

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

John:  Don’t give up!

Jessie:  You certainly don’t seem like the sort of person to give up.  Your novel sounds like a labour of love. It must be wonderful to get an insight into your ancestors.  I searched for Belvedere House, one of the settings, it looks magnificent.  I was intrigued by the Jealous Wall.  Does this feature in the novel? Tell me, did you visit Belvedere House in Ireland? 

John: We did indeed. I HAD to check to see if I had made any major mistakes in my draft. Fortunately, I hadn’t. Belvedere and the Wall are impressive. They both feature heavily in the novel.

As expected, John was great fun to interview.  He is such a warm character and very clever at presenting clues about his book.  I wish him the very best of luck with his debut novel.

About John…

After a lifetime at sea, I am now retired, and have turned to writing fiction. An avid genealogist, I found a rich vein of ancestors, and suddenly realised just how much material there was for any number of books. Most people throughout history have led boring, humdrum and frequently brutally short lives, but on my family tree, there were a good number of real characters. Some were total scumbags, and lots did “interesting things.”

A chance meeting with some authors led me to turn his efforts to setting down some amazing stories. John is a keen member of the Romantic Novelists Association and the Historic Novel Society and an enthusiastic conference-goer for both organizations.

I was brought up on Georgette Heyer from an early age, and, like many of my age devoured R L Stevenson, Jane Austen, R M Ballantyne, and the like. These days my tastes run towards Bernard Cornwell, Simon Scarrow, Liz Fenwick, and Kate Mosse.

Contact details:

Website:  john42hhh.blogspot.co.uk

Twitter: @jjackson42 

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/johnjacksonauthor/

 

 

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

 

Cycling fever in my handbag

French Revolutions:Cycling the Tour de France

Tim Moore

‘..clearly, here was an event that gripped the nation like no other and didn’t relax its grasp for twenty one whole days.’

Tour de Yorkshire fever is about to grip Yorkshire this Friday. In preparation for the race, I have placed a topical book, about cycling, in my handbag. Nowadays, I can’t wait to go and capture the atmosphere of this cycling event but I haven’t always been a fan! 

However, my husband has always been obsessed with the Tour de France and is glued to the television for three weeks during the tournament.  I could never understand the appeal; to me it seemed like endless scenery whizzing past.  I was not impressed when my husband decided to buy me a book about the event.  He assured me that I didn’t need to be an enthusiast to read French Revolutions by Tim Moore.

Annoyingly, I did love the book, and didn’t stop laughing; it was something to read whilst my husband watched the race.  It is an hilarious book about an amateur cyclist, aged 35, who decided to complete the Tour de France route six weeks before the big race.  Admittedly, you do learn about the event, but the book is crammed full of entertaining anecdotes. Moore’s style of writing just breezes along, punctuated with witty observations.

The book entertained me and managed to begin a revolution in my heart! I was nudged again when Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France, and then when the Tour de France visited Yorkshire.  It really was like a fever had swept through God’s own county.

Read the full article in My Reading .

 

I’ll leave you with the words of that great French cycling legend:

“It was like having a Tour de France stage in my home region, it was so amazing. I am not saying that because I am here, I really feel it. To see my name written on the road or on banners held by children really touches me. I have been a rider for 16 years and I have never seen anything like that.”

Thomas Voekler, France, Tour de Yorkshire Winner 2016

 

Books abandoned for sculptures…

I had the pleasure of visiting Yorkshire Sculpture Park last week. It is an open-air art gallery, set in the grounds of an eighteenth-century mansion.  The landscaped gardens work together with the sculptures to create an amazing creative harmony.

There is such a variety of sculptures and each one inspires questions.  Indeed, it is amazing the way in which perfect strangers are happy to discuss the sculptures without worrying about their interpretations. Perhaps the visitors feel uninhibited as they are not confined by the walls of gallery that echoes with knowledge. Who knows?’

During the walk, we stumbled on many people from different nationalities.  An Australian woman told me that she had been ‘startled’ by a wonderful sculpture of a woman’s head.  We agreed that the spirit of the woman seems to beckon you.  From a distance, the sculpture looks like a projected image – prompting: is she real or imaginary? As you approach, the sculpture is flat – like the silhouette on a stamp.  It is a beautiful form that seemed to appeal to women rather than men, on that day.  Despite the grey sky, the light was adding a mystical quality that gave the sculpture an air of confidence.  What this suggesting something about the modern woman?

Further into the walk, we were greeted by Highland cattle.  These creatures were so still, and at ease with the visitors, that we wondered if they were sculptures.  We also found a dead tree with ancient looking bark and a very twisted form.  Had the tree been left there to demonstrate how natural objects can also be sculpted by the elements? We were having this debate when another visitor overheard and said, ‘What a load of arty farty nonsense!’  This brought us completely down to earth and reminded me of how everything is open to interpretation.

Still laughing at the comments, we found some steps that were carved into the earth paving a way to some open woodland.  I decided that the steps were a sculpture but my husband was sceptical at this point; he had been influenced by our fellow Yorkshire folk.  A plaque marked the spot as if to reassure me.  It felt as if someone was presenting a hopeful message about the climb.  Pardon the pun, but I went a step further and commented that to me they represented the struggle for independent authors.  But that was my interpretation at that point in time: I was influenced by my emotions, experience, the weather and, of course, ‘arty farty nonsense’.

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a wonderful place to visit.  I wonder if you would be able to spot the sculptures that instigated our discussions?  Would you agree with the interpretations?  Did someone deliberately construct a place when art can be read according to mood, weather and other factors?  I don’t know the answer to this but invite you to have a look.  Perhaps some of the questions should be placed next to the sculptures?  Maybe, there will be a sculpture of a handbag in the future, or possibly a sculpture constructed of books.

Following the visit, I was brimming with questions and ideas.  Reading the sculptures inspired my own writing, and reminded me that it is so important to take some time for reflection.  I placed picture postcards of the sculptures in my handbag, rather than books.  However, I know that I will return to ask more questions and to find a suitable reading spot – or maybe several.

Please see my blog at jessiecahalin.com and subscribe to it.