A really worthwhile cause – please leave a link on Hugh’s blog 🙂
I read ‘Not My Father’s House’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.
Suzanna hates everything about her New Mexico mountain home. The isolation. The short growing season. The critters after her corn. The long snow-bound winters in a dimly-lit cabin.
But she loves Gerald, who loves this valley.
So Suzanna does her unhappy best to adjust, even when the babies come, both of them in the middle of winter. Her postpartum depression, the cold, and the lack of sunlight push her to the edge.
But the Sangre de Cristo mountains contain a menace far more dangerous than Suzanna’s internal struggles. The man Gerald killed in the mountains of the Gila two years ago isn’t as dead as everyone thought.
And his lust for Suzanna may be even stronger than his desire for Gerald’s blood.
This novel is part of a series, but it works very well as a standalone – you very quickly get to know the characters and their backgrounds and what has brought them to the mountains.
Suzanna is that rare thing in an historical novel – a woman who doesn’t fit in with the requirements of the time, who rails against the constraints of her life, but who isn’t allowed to overcome them. She has to conform, as women did, but this leads to frustration and misery.
There is some wonderful description in this novel, description that doesn’t overwhelm the narrative, and it is very easy to picture the beautiful, but often hostile countryside. There are some really horrible and upsetting moments, written without melodrama, that bring home the reality of the fragility and danger of life then, particularly for women.
The writing is polished, professional and technically sound. Characters are authentic and consistent. It’s refreshing to see themes like post-natal depression examined so sensitively here – something not often tackled in historical novels.
My only gripe is that some of the scenes of the mountain man are rather repetitive. He thinks the same things, does the same things, and I did feel that these episodes could have been cut. There is some repetition throughout the novel – while it is undoubtedly well-written, it could do with being cut back a little. I did find myself skipping over some parts.
That said, this was a really interesting read and I’ll definitely read more by this author.
It has been ages since my last blog post – life has become very busy and unfortunately the blog has slipped down the list of priorities, as it often does.
As well as editing and freelance writing (the day jobs) we have been settling into our new home, and getting to know everyone in the village, and now the run up to Christmas is gathering pace.
As if that wasn’t enough, we have also just welcomed a new member of the family – two dogs and a cat aren’t enough apparently, so we’ve adopted Charlie.
We had always planned to get another dog, but possibly not just before Christmas. But my daughter was home from uni the other week and she showed me a heart-breaking video.
I had to find out more. And what I found out was terrible. I have long been involved in animal welfare, campaigning, donating, protesting, particularly pre-children. I even worked for an animal welfare charity. I’ve seen and heard some terrible things. But I have to say that some of the things that happen to these dogs are the worst things I’ve ever heard or seen. Bred for hunting, they’re cheap to buy, so those that aren’t up to scratch are kicked out, or worse. If they fail, they can be tortured – to repay the debt and alleviate the ‘shame’ of the hunter. These beautiful dogs are tortured, burned alive, buried alive, kicked, beaten, run over, even hung.
So caution went out of the window. I got in touch with Galgos del Sol and Charlie arrived from Spain a week ago. He was rescued by the charity when he was about one. He’d been abandoned, living on the streets and was absolutely covered in fleas. It took a very long time before he’d let anyone show him affection. He’s been at the rescue for two years.
He’s nervous, shy, a little bit skittish. But he’ll let me cuddle him and stoke his very long nose, and adores an ear scratch. He was soon settled enough to have a long sleep – he had had a very long trip from Murcia all the way to West Wales!
Our other dogs have accepted him without question and, fingers crossed, all is going well. He’s had lots of walks and his first trip to the vets, where he’s been given a clean bill of health.
Galgos del Sol takes in so many dogs. It’s unbelievable how many are abandoned and hurt. They’re found running along busy roads, living by motorways, thrown in skips, in bins, in wells. The founder, Tina Solera, and the staff and volunteers work tirelessly. They’re devoted and they must feel sometimes like they’re fighting a losing battle. They’re trying to educate, to change opinions, to get people to question these horrible ‘traditions’.
I know that a lot of my followers and a lot of my online friends are animal lovers. If you’re looking for a charity to support, please consider Galgos del Sol. And if you are ever thinking of adopting a dog, you can’t do much better than a galgo. Charlie, despite everything he’s been through, is fast asleep at my feet as I write this. The trust he already has in me is humbling; he doesn’t know that I’m not going to hurt him, starve him, abandon him. But his incredibly long tail thumps every time he sees me.
I know it won’t be easy, that we’ll have ups and downs, that it will take time. But he’s turning out to be a really lovely early Christmas present!
October seems to have sped by and Halloween is here once again. As we become more and more engulfed in plastic tat that will sit in future landfill, I always spare a thought for those who were murdered in the witch hunts and trials of the past. And it seems like a good time to revisit some of my past posts.
England has a long and varied history of witchcraft. As a tradition stretching back centuries, it is hardly surprising that there are a great variety of places that abound with legends, stories and histories about witchcraft, witches, persecution and execution. When researching the topic, I came across lots of interesting stories and made a long list of places that I’d love to visit. Some of them I have been lucky enough to visit although I would like to visit again one day. In fact, what I’d really like to do is go on a witchcraft tour of England – spending time in all these places. All offer something interesting and informative; some are fun and have more to do with legend, myth and fairy tale than the brutal truth of the horror of the witch hunts; other places I have found to be spots where poor, misunderstood and persecuted women (let’s not forget that the majority of the witch hunt victims were women) can be remembered and honoured in some small way. These are the places I’d love to visit and re-visit.
The North West
No witchcraft tour would be complete without a visit to Pendle Hill in Lancashire and it’s a great place to start. Pendle was the location of the famous 1612 trial for witchcraft. The accused all lived in the area, and ten were hanged on Gallows Hill. Of course, rumours now abound that the hill is haunted – TV’s Most Haunted has filmed there. As a sceptic I don’t believe that these women haunt the hill – I like to think they are at peace, free from the horrible persecution they suffered and no longer afraid. But I must admit I’m not sure I’d like to spend the night on the hill!
The North East
Margaret Brown and thirteen other poor souls were hanged on the Town Moor in Newcastle in 1650. Margaret was a victim of ‘witch-pricking’ – it was claimed she had a devil’s mark on her body that, when pricked by a pin did not bleed. She protested her innocence right up to the last according to Ralph Gardener’s 1655 book ‘England’s Grievance’:
“These poor souls never confessed anything but pleaded innocence and one of them, by name Margaret Brown, beseeched God that some remarkable sign might be seen at the time of her execution.”
The Town Moor is a place I’d like to visit, to pause for a moment and think about poor Margaret and the other terrified accused – hoping against hope that something would end their terror.
I have heard a lot of stories about Mother Shipton and the ‘Petrifying Well’ or ‘dropping well’ in Knaresborough. It used to be believed that the water was magic – turning objects to stone. Now of course we know that the calcifying is due to the high mineral content of the water – but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. And Mother Shipton herself is an interesting character – allegedly born in a cave near the dropping well, she has become a legendary figure of folklore, renowned for her prophecies. There is a whole park devoted to her now, with the dropping well, cave, a museum, castle ruins and gardens. You can even buy a petrified teddy bear in the gift shop!
This area was the stomping ground of Matthew Hopkins – Witchfinder General. There are a wealth of places to visit – though few traces of the man himself remain. I’ve visited Colchester Castle and stood in the cells where Hopkins interrogated his victims (a very spooky and uncomfortable experience). I’ve also eaten dinner in ‘The Mistley Thorn’, a lovely pub that stands on the site of the inn where Hopkins set up his witch finding business and where he is rumoured to have lived. The food is lovely. I did get a bit freaked out when leaving though as we decided to go for a walk in the dark – and I have to say it was incredibly chilling to think we were walking where Hopkins may have walked. My imagination did get the better of me, but that might have been the wine.
Burley is a very pretty village in the New Forest known for its connection with the witch Sybil Leek. Leek moved to the area in the 1950s and opened a shop – ‘A Coven of Witches’ – still open in the village. There are now other shops in the village selling various witch-related items and a tea shop called ‘The Black Cat’. I’ve been to Burley several times and it is a really beautiful place – and a bit of light relief too!
The South West
Two places of note in the South West – the wonderful Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall, and Exeter in Devon.
I won’t say too much about the Witchcraft Museum other than saying again how utterly fabulous it is – quirky and weird, packed full of witchcraft related stuff, but you can read about my visit here.
I regret not stopping in Exeter on my way to Boscastle as I would have liked to have seen the plaque at Rougemont Castle commemorating the execution of the Bideford witches and Alice Molland – you can find out about Alice here.
While Halloween is supposed to be light-hearted and fun, it is also a time, for me at least, to remember all those who suffered because of suspicion and ignorance.
Wishing you all a peaceful Samhain!
1838: when a terrible storm blows up off the Northumberland coast, Grace Darling, the lighthouse-keeper’s daughter, knows there is little chance of survival for the passengers on the small ship battling the waves. But her actions set in motion an incredible feat of bravery that echoes down the century.
1938: when nineteen-year-old Matilda Emmerson sails across the Atlantic to New England, she faces an uncertain future. Staying with her reclusive relative, Harriet Flaherty, a lighthouse keeper on Rhode Island, Matilda discovers a discarded portrait that opens a window on to a secret that will change her life forever.
I remember learning about Grace Darling many years ago when I was at primary school, and for some reason he image of her rowing across the wild sea in the moonlight has stayed with me. I loved Hazel Gaynor’s ‘The Cottingley Secret’, another novel that mixes fiction with reality, and this novel further establishes her as one of my favourite authors.
This is a really gorgeous book, beautifully and sensitively written. It tells the story of Grace, living with her close-knit family in the lighthouse on Longstone, who helps her father in a dramatic and dangerous rescue one night, which leads to an unwanted celebrity. We also follow the story of Matilda, alone and scared, sent by her family across the sea in shame, to live with an aunt she doesn’t know – a lighthouse keeper. The two women’s stories are threaded together, the narrative moving from 1838 to 1938 effortlessly, with compelling and honest characters and a poignant, arresting storyline.
One of my bugbears with women portrayed in historical fiction is that they often act outside of what wold have been allowed without repercussions. Often they are ‘feisty’. Grace and Matilda are definitely ‘strong’ women, but their lives are controlled and defined by convention – the author portrays them as finding ways to live within that and be true to themselves rather than allowing them unrealistic happy endings.
I loved the portrayal of Grace especially. There’s a real warmth and respect that comes across very clearly, without Grace being perfect. The ramifications of her bravery and celebrity are shown honestly, and shed a whole new light on her story.
A really lovely book and definitely recommended.
October seems to have sped by and Halloween is drawing close once again. As we become more and more engulfed in plastic tat that will sit in future landfill, I always spare a thought for those who were murdered in the witch hunts and trials of the past. And it seems like a good time to revisit some of my past posts.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
Most of us are familiar with these words from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and with the gruesome hags that stir the cauldron. They have become the blueprint for the portrayal of witches; ugly, toothless old women; scheming, mysterious and powerful. But is it fair? And why do we see witches in this way – it can’t all be Shakespeare’s fault, can it?
Before the advent of Christianity there were many diverse religions – Druids, Norse Odinists and the witches that had for centuries acted as healers, midwives and wise women and men. However, when the Inquisition was launched, it wasn’t just direct ‘threats’ to the Roman Catholic Church that came under suspicion. Anyone could potentially be accused of heresy, and many of those healers and wise woman came under attack.
Propaganda was a big part of this religious war. The inquisitors sought to portray witches as evil, ugly, dirty, devil-worshippers as these images show:
This left anyone who didn’t conform open to attack – if you lived by yourself, had a wart on your nose or a deformed leg – then watch out! You were probably a witch. The majority of those arrested, tortured, tried, condemned and murdered were not witches; real witches had taken their religion underground.
Of course real witches are nothing like those pointy-nosed, warty child-cookers of Hansel and Gretel fame and seemingly endless Disney adaptations. But the stereotype lingers, as false today as it was back then. Witches aren’t Satanists, and witchcraft isn’t and never has been Satanism. In fact, witchcraft in ancient times was ‘the craft of the wise’. It is a spiritual system that teaches respect for the earth. Witchcraft is also referred to as Wicca, the term most often used today. It is a religion, based on respect for the earth, and the worship of a creator that is both male and female – Goddess and God. Wiccans believe the creator is in everything – the trees, rain, the sea and all other creatures, and this belief fosters a respect and a caring for the natural world and for all life. Wiccans celebrate the changing of the seasons, and the phases of the moon. They are still healers; using natural remedies, and their spells are for harmony, love, creativity, wisdom and healing. Isn’t it time witches were given the respect that we give others? After all, we speak a lot of tolerance for religion and beliefs and yet don’t allow this most ancient of religions any respect at all.
And as a little antidote to these images, here’s a rather beautiful portrayal of a witch, strangely enough from an ad for Pears soap!
Kinship names are the words we use to indicate family members, like mum, mom, dad, aunt etc. Incorrect capitalisation of these names is a huge bugbear of mine. I see it done incorrectly in so many self-published books, and more and more in traditionally published books too.
It seems to cause a lot of confusion, when it’s really actually very simple:
Capitalise when the name immediately precedes a personal name, or when the name is used alone in place of an actual name.
Did you remember to get Mum a birthday card?
We went to see Dad when he was in hospital.
Lily and Joe loved visiting Aunt Susie’s house.
I was seven when I last saw Grandma.
Don’t capitalise when these words follow the personal name, when they don’t refer to a specific person or when they are used with possessive nouns or pronouns.
The Sinfield sisters always stuck together.
There aren’t many dads who would do that.
My aunt wasn’t feeling well.
I bought a card for my mum.
Sally’s grandma lived next door.
Many children’s books portray families and use these terms and I shudder each time I see it done incorrectly. Children learn from the books they read. It’s up to writers and editors to make sure we get it right.
I bought this book because I read some of Kerry Hudson’s articles in The Pool and in The Guardian. She’s a fabulous writer, and I recognised in her writing some aspects of my own childhood (that could be me and my sisters on the cover!).
Reading some of the more negative reviews of this book actually shines a light on how those who have no idea of what it’s like to be poor continuously misrepresent and misunderstand poverty. There are plenty of reviews putting the blame resoundingly on Ms Hudson’s mother and her mental health issues. These reviewers completely miss the point that mental health issues are exacerbated by poverty. How much harder is it to cope with anxiety, depression, addiction, etc. when your life is so enclosed? When you are frustrated at every turn? When there is no help because of cuts? And inevitably there is the review that cites the poor families with their plasma screen TVs and consoles – because god forbid poor people should have any pleasure in life at all.
There’s a whole lot more I could say about poverty and childhood and inequality, but this is supposed to be a book review.
While difficult to read at times, this book has an enormous amount of warmth. While parts of Ms. Hudson’s life were harrowing, there are moments of joy too, and it’s so interesting to read about her feelings as she confronts her past and revisits those places where she grew up and that helped form her.
These stories need to be told because society wishes to look in the other direction, because we do not want to think of the children a few streets away who have eaten rubbish food and not nearly enough of it, in a house where the heat isn’t on and they don’t own a single book, in threadbare clothes that are too small for them, being cared for by a parent who desperately requires help themselves.
Perhaps it’s easier, though, because if we did look at what was really happening, surely we wouldn’t be able to live with that?
Reading this though, and some of the reviews, and the comments on Twitter whenever anyone mentions poverty or foodbanks or people on benefits, I wonder if it’s less that people don’t want to acknowledge the reality of society in 2019, or that they really just don’t care. Books like this are so important, because people need to know – you can’t keep turning away from children like Kerry.
I’ve seen a lot of posts on Goodreads lately where an author posts their blurb and asks for advice and feedback. The biggest issue I’ve seen is that the blurbs are far too long and detailed and read more like a synopsis. It’s really important to get the blurb right – its purpose is to attract a reader, to make them want to read your book. And if you’re approaching agents, you really need to nail that synopsis. I’ve posted on this subject before – but I can’t give this advice often enough.
What is a blurb?
The blurb is the hook, along with the cover, to reel those readers in. You need to make sure that you entice your reader, that you intrigue them without giving too much away. Longer than the elevator pitch, but shorter than a synopsis, the book blurb is key to whetting a reader’s appetite.
So how should you approach it? Here are some quick tips on getting that blurb up to scratch.
- Keep it short. This is NOT a synopsis. You want a couple of two to three line paragraphs. Too much and you risk giving too much away and turning off your reader. Too little and you might miss the mark.
- Mention your main character(s). It’s important for your reader to know who the book is about.
- Be precise. There is no place or space for vagueness, long-windedness or clever clever vocabulary in your blurb. Short, sharp, to the point.
- Make it interesting. Obviously. What’s intriguing about the story? Why would I want to read it?
- Don’t give away the ending. It might sound silly to even point that out – but it does happen.
- Don’t compare yourself to other writers or compare the book to other books. Tell your potential reader that you’re the next J.K Rowling or Stephen King and you’re more likely to annoy them than anything.
- Watch out for clichés or overused words and phrases. Try and be refreshing and new. And interesting.
What is a synopsis?
A synopsis is basically a summary, or outline, of your novel. If you are approaching agents or publishers, they will want to see a synopsis. A synopsis is not a blurb and you should not include a synopsis on Amazon, Goodreads or wherever you are selling your book.
First of all, check what the agent/publisher is looking for. They may well specify a length and may want you to write a chapter by chapter synopsis. If there are no specifications, then I would advise sticking to one page, single-spaced, six hundred words maximum.
Remember to write in third person (even if your novel is written in first person). Use active voice and present tense.
Now to the actual writing of the synopsis itself.
When I was studying literature, we learnt a lot about narrative structure, and although it might not initially seem like it, most novels do fit into this basic structure:
- Set up – main characters introduced. Introduction of the problem.
- Conflict – the main body of the story. There is a catalyst that sets the conflict in motion. Characters go through changes because of this conflict and develop – the character arc.
- Resolution – the problem is confronted and solved – or not – and loose ends are tied up.
To write your synopsis, it is really helpful to look at your novel in these terms and break it down into this structure. Start with the set up – who is the protagonist? The other main characters? What is the problem?
Then move on to the conflict – there may be more than one. Decide what conflicts, plot twists and turns are really important; what do you need to include for the ending, the resolution, to make sense? How does this conflict change the main characters?
Finish with the resolution. Remember – this isn’t a blurb. The agent/publisher needs to know how your novel ends.
- Don’t get caught up in too much detail. Think about what’s really important.
- Don’t include lots of backstory – you don’t have the space.
- Be short, concise, clear. This isn’t the time for showing off your beautiful prose. That’s what the sample chapters are for.
- Agents/publishers are looking for something new, something exciting – if your novel has that (and it should) then make sure your synopsis makes that clear.
- And please, please, please remember the point I made above. This is not a blurb. You MUST include the ending.
‘Everyone thinks, tomorrow it will be my turn. Daily, hourly, death is before our eyes . . .’
Gustav and Fritz Kleinmann are father and son in an ordinary Austrian Jewish family when the Nazis come for them.
Sent to Buchenwald concentration camp in 1939 they survive three years of murderous brutality.
Then Gustav is ordered to Auschwitz.
Fritz, desperate not to lose his beloved father, insists he must go too. And though he is told it means certain death, he won’t back down.
So it is that father and son together board a train bound for the most hellish place on Earth . . .
This is the astonishing true story of horror, love and impossible survival.
There are a huge amount of books being published at the moment based on the stories of those who suffered in concentration camps at the hands of the Nazis. And while I strongly believe that these stories must be told, must be kept alive, there are problems with what seems to be a bit of a ‘trend’.
I think it’s important to always remember that these terrible things happened to real people. These stories are not fiction; these things actually happened, and, as such those involved should be treated with respect, dignity and compassion. Their stories shouldn’t be used for their shock factor or as material for that rather horrible human trait that has people slowing down when they see an accident on the motorway. I do sometimes have the decidedly uncomfortable feeling that this is sometimes the case.
There is a very popular book out at the moment that is ‘based’ on a true story but has caused a great deal of pain to the relatives of the people involved. I’m not sure that anyone should be writing a story based on a real victim of the holocaust without the permission of their family. It leaves a rather nasty taste.
So I chose to read this book because it used the actual words and experiences of Gustav and Fritz and was written with the full permission of and in collaboration with the family.
And it is a book that should be read by everyone. It doesn’t hold back in detailing the cruelty of the regime, and neither should it. But this is, more than anything, a story of the extraordinary strength of human beings, their resilience, their ability to survive in the most dreadful of circumstances. We talk a lot about heroes these days, and it sometimes seems that not a lot is involved to become a hero, but in this book you’ll find multiple examples of people helping each other at great risk to themselves – real heroes.
It’s beautifully written too. There’s no sentimentality here, just crisp, clear, honest writing. The dialogue and excerpts from Gustav’s record of events means you become really involved in their story, and you never forget these were real people.
There’s a real rise in nasty politics at the moment, and the resurgence of the far right is particularly terrifying. Books like this serve as a reminder of how easy it is for things to turn ugly, and very quickly too. Gustav, Fritz and their family and friends didn’t realise how badly things were going until it was too late. It’s up to all of us to make sure this doesn’t happen again.