Tuesday 31 March 2020

Book Review ~ A Good Neighbourhood by Therese Anne |Fowler

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February 2020

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book
In Oak Knoll, a verdant, tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son. Xavier is headed to college in the fall, and after years of single parenting, Valerie is facing the prospect of an empty nest. All is well until the Whitmans move in next door―an apparently traditional family with new money, ambition, and a secretly troubled teenaged daughter.

Thanks to his thriving local business, Brad Whitman is something of a celebrity around town, and he's made a small fortune on his customer service and charm, while his wife, Julia, escaped her trailer park upbringing for the security of marriage and homemaking. Their new house is more than she ever imagined for herself, and who wouldn't want to live in Oak Knoll? With little in common except a property line, these two very different families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over an historic oak tree in Valerie's yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers.

Told from multiple points of view, A Good Neighborhood asks big questions about life in America today―What does it mean to be a good neighbor? How do we live alongside each other when we don't see eye to eye?―as it explores the effects of class, race, and heartrending star-crossed love in a story that’s as provocative as it is powerful. 

What did I think about it..

Sometimes a book comes along at the right time. I'm a great believer in a book suiting a reader rather than a reader suiting a book and A Good Neighbourhood helped to get my reading mojo back in this confused and gloomy time when, because my mind has been on lots of other things, I couldn't really settle into a story.

A Good Neighbourhood impressed me right from the start and almost at once I became part of this good neighbourhood, with its neat trimmed lawns, impressive square acreage of houseroom and a monthly book club that had me envious of the camaraderie shown to each of the neighbours. Their welcome to the new neighbour, Julie Whitman, is impressive even though she made the ultimate faux pas of taking foie gras to a group of women  who are strongly immersed in animal welfare.

Valerie Alston-Holt and her charming son, Xavier have been part of the Oak Knoll community since Xavier was a baby, and this year he is about to go to college to study music. His life seems pretty much settled, and on track, that is, until pretty Juniper Whitman moves in next door, and a relationship develops between Xavier and Juniper, which, despite all the odds, seems to move on rather quickly.

What then follows is a compelling coming-of -age story, and of how a blossoming romance between two lovely young people very quickly becomes something rather different. Tackling the racial issue sympathetically is sometimes difficult to get right but the author's delicate way of handling this subject brings the dilemma into stark focus, whilst at the same time highlighting the petty prejudices of small town America.

Beautifully written from first page to last, A Good Neighbourhood had me engrossed from the start, and I read the book in one sitting as I couldn't put it down. Parts of made me angry, others made me smile, and sometimes, I was just so unutterably sad by the outcome that I sobbed.

I know in this gloomy time uplifting and feel good stories are perhaps more in order but reading A Good Neighbourhood suited my mood and took me out of isolation and into the fictional world of the good neighbours of Oak Knoll.

Therese Anne Fowler

THERESE ANNE FOWLER is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and A Well-Behaved Woman. Raised in the American Midwest, she moved to North Carolina in 1995. She holds a BA in sociology/cultural anthropology and an MFA in creative writing from North Carolina State University.

Twitter @headlinepg #AGoodNeighbourhood

Monday 30 March 2020

Review ~ Ten Poems about Flowers from Candlestick Press

Candlestick Press
February 2020

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this pamphlet

A bouquet is a welcome and beautiful thing, but the beauty is inevitably short-lived. This delightful mini-anthology, however, is guaranteed never to wither. Roses, fritillaries, daisies, gentians and the humble ragwort are celebrated here by poets ranging from Mimi Khalvati to William Wordsworth.

We experience their colours and scents in vivid language, so each lives on the page with all the intensity of a real flower. Sometimes it seems we can even learn from them; lilacs growing in an urban street know as much about love as we do:

“Lilac, like love, makes no distinction.
It will open for anyone.
Even before love knows that it is love
lilac knows it must blossom.”

from ‘City Lilacs’ by Helen Dunmore

This is one of the lovely mysteries of these poems – that a flower can somehow be like us and shed light on our own hopes and joys.

Poems by John Clare, Beth Davies, Helen Dunmore, John Heath-Stubbs, Seán Hewitt, Mimi Khalvati, DH Lawrence, Anne Ridler, Edward Thomas and William Wordsworth.

Cover illustration by Angie Lewin

What did I think about it..

If there's ever a time when the value of poetry comes into its own, then this is it. I personally gain such comfort from reading about the beauty of nature, especially flowers, and the lovely sentiments expressed in this latest mini-anthology have helped to lift my spirit during a particularly sad time in my life.

The poems cover a range of emotions and depending on your mood there is something both to comfort and charm, I especially enjoyed the late Helen Dunmore's poem, City Lilacs which highlights the beauty of lilac blossom in city life's ordinariness.

William Wordsworth's sweet poem To the Daisy reminds us of simple pleasures:

"Do thou, as thou art want, repair
My heart with gladness, and a share
Of thy meek nature!..."

It's also good to see D H Lawrence's Bavarian Gentians featured, he's such an underrated poet, I love how his words resonate with a rhythm entirely of their own making:

"Reach me a gentian, give me a torch!
let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of this flower..."

The most significant poem for me, Overblown Roses by Mimi Khalvati, reminded me of my mother, who loved roses:

"She held one up, twirling it in her hand
as if to show how the world began
and ended in perfection..."

Ten poems about Flowers is a perfect collection of verse for any time of year, to celebrate a birthday, or an anniversary, or quite simply to comfort someone in this strange time in our world when everything seems especially gloomy just now.

Candlestick Press is a small, independent press publishing sumptuously produced poetry pamphlets that serve as a wonderful alternative to a greetings card, with matching envelopes and bookmarks left blank for your message. Their subjects include Clouds, Walking, Birds, Home and Kindness. Candlestick Press pamphlets are stocked by chain and independent bookshops, galleries and garden centres nationwide and available to order online.

Connect: www.candlestickpress.co.uk /  Twitter @PoetryCandle

Sunday 29 March 2020

Sunday Brunch with Jaffareadstoo ~ Anne Williams

On this quiet Sunday morning why don't you put the kettle on, make your favourite breakfast and settle down for Sunday Brunch with Jaffareadstoo

I'd delighted to welcome blogger, Anne Williams from Being Anne

☼Good Morning, Anne. Happy Sunday !

What favourite food are you bringing to Sunday brunch? 

You can’t really go wrong with a bacon buttie, can you? 

Would you like a pot of English Breakfast tea, a strong Americano, or a glass of Bucks Fizz? 

Ooh, the coffee please Josie - with just a splash of milk… 

Which of your literary heroes are joining us today? 

I think maybe some of those lovely ladies from Authors on the Edge - it’s not too far for them to travel, and I so loved the two Miss Moonshine anthologies, as well as some of the novels they’ve written on their own. 

What’s the title of the book nearest to you? 

It’s Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik - I’ve had a signed copy on my bookshelves for quite a long time, but it’s this month’s choice for my real-life bookclub. 

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What’s the oldest book on your book shelf? 

I’ll admit I’ve had a major clear-out over the last few years - I now read almost entirely on kindle, and have only hung on to my signed copies. But scanning my shelves, I think it might be a signed copy of Milly Johnson’s The Yorkshire Pudding Club - with a very old cover, featuring headless women! 

Which book do you really want to read but haven’t had time for …yet! 

I’m so behind with Lucinda Riley’s books - the standalones, and I’ve only managed the first two of the Seven Sisters series. 

Do you have a guilty reading pleasure, and if so will you tell us about it? 

I’m never guilty about my reading - I read whatever I feel like at the time, and get every bit as much pleasure from a fast-paced rom com as I do from something much more literary and challenging… 

If the house was on fire which book would you rescue? 

I might grab an armful of signed books, and my kindle will be in my handbag (as it always is). 

Do you have a reading playlist on Spotify, or a favourite CD to listen to when reading? And if so will you share with us a favourite song or piece of music that makes you feel happy? 

I prefer classical music when I’m reading, because I find words distracting - usually just Classic FM, on low in the background, and I particularly enjoy a bit of Rachmaninov… 

Do you have a favourite place to settle down to read? 

Most of my reading is in the afternoons in my lounge, in my reclining chair, with a cup of tea to hand (I switch from coffee to tea in the afternoons!). But I love the summer, when I can sit outside in the shade and disappear into a book for a while. But I’ll read anywhere and everywhere - and at all hours of the day or night. 

Give us four essential items that a blogger absolutely needs? 

A diary, kept rigorously updated 

A good wifi signal 

A piece of IT kit that suits your needs - some, I know, use their phones but for me it has to be my iMac 

An innate sense of organisation and attention to detail 

Tell us a little about your blog and why you are so passionate about books and reading? 

I started blogging seven years ago now - you might remember that you were one of the friends who encouraged me to start. I love doing it now more than I ever did - books are the best escape from life I know, and have given me so many years of joy. I guess I blog mainly to share my love with others, perhaps making them aware of books they might otherwise miss - but also to say thank you to the many authors whose books I’ve loved. 

Twitter @WilliamsAnne13

Sunday Brunch with Jaffareadstoo ~ Wendy Steele

On this quiet Sunday morning why don't you put the kettle on, make your favourite breakfast and settle down for Sunday Brunch with Jaffareadstoo

I'd delighted to welcome author, Wendy Steele

☼Good Morning, Wendy. Happy Sunday !

What favourite food are you bringing to Sunday brunch?

I’ll be bringing a full vegan breakfast to Sunday brunch: sausages, mushrooms, beans, tomatoes, tofu scramble and gluten free toast.

Would you like a pot of English Breakfast tea, a strong Americano, or a glass of Bucks Fizz?

I can’t manage caffeine or alcohol, but freshly squeezed orange juice is a delicious treat, and I love a decaf Americano.

Which of your literary heroes are joining us today?

If you mean my favourite writer, sadly, the great Sir Terry Pratchett is no longer with us, but his legacy is ‘un-put-downable’ books that make a reader laugh and cry in equal measures. When I’m writing, I love a good sentence or phrase, and my ambition is to craft one as beautiful as Sir Terry did.

What’s the title of the book nearest to you?

On my bedside table at the moment is ‘The Last Priestess of Malia’ by Laura Perry, bought at my request for my birthday. I’ve just started it, and I love it! 

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What’s the oldest book on your book shelf?

The oldest book on my book shelf isn’t very old as so many of my books precious books are still in boxes. I live in a renovation project. Until our house is dry and sound, we’re not putting up book shelves. I have a beautiful old copy of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, my mum’s Pears Cyclopaedia from before the war and my dad’s Brett’s Peerage from 1914, but I’ll guess that the oldest one on my shelf is my needlework guide, bought at the Ideal Home Exhibition when I joined a book club there, in 1981. 

Which book do you really want to read but haven’t had time for …yet!

I’m sure there are hundreds of books I haven’t had time to read, but I’m not sure I can name them! 

Do you have a guilty reading pleasure, and if so will you tell us about it?

My guilty reading pleasure is Agatha Christie novels, perfect to turn to on a day when you’re poorly in bed, or want a book you can allow to wash over you.

If the house was on fire which book would you rescue?

If my house was on fire, I’d grab my children’s baby books. I’d be sad to lose other books, but most books are replaceable, whereas the memories of my children’s first years are not.

Do you have a reading/writing playlist on Spotify, or a favourite CD to listen to when reading/writing? And if so will you share with us a favourite song or piece of music that makes you feel happy?

I write in silence most of the time, as I do when I read. I can work in a coffee shop, with the hubbub of conversations around me, but if there’s music playing, I want to listen to it…or dance to it!

Do you have a favourite place to settle down to read/write?

I read most evenings in bed before sleep, but the shelter on my riverbank is perfect on a warm day, for reading and writing.

Give us four essential items that a writer absolutely needs?

Four things a writer needs is an interesting question. First and foremost, I believe a writer needs a story they feel compelled to tell. They need self-belief, but also the capacity to listen to criticism and offers of help, and then be able to make their own mind up about their writing. Be a reader! I read and reviewed hundreds of books when I began writing, getting a feel for the story tellers I enjoyed, as well as those I didn’t, in order to create a style that suited me and my stories. 

What can you tell us about your latest novel, or your current work in progress?

My latest published novel is The Flowerpot Witch, the third book in the Lizzie Martin Witch Lit series. I’ve also written The Eloquent Witch and The Able Witch, books four and five, but I’m waiting until I’ve completed book six, The Real Witch, before I publish any more. In 2019, I had stories in a number of anthologies, and have recently completed my first romantic ghost story. I’m gearing up for a new project which I hope to launch on 21st March 2020, but you’ll have to wait for info on that once I’ve a few more things in place.

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You can get in touch with Wendy by using the following links:

Saturday 28 March 2020

Blog Tour ~ The Walls We Build by Jules Hayes

Delighted to host one of today's stops on this blog tour

Jukebox Publishing

My thanks to the author and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of this book
and the invitation to be part of this blog tour.

Three friends ... 

Growing up together around Winston Churchill’s estate in Westerham, Kent, Frank, Florence and Hilda are inseparable. But as WW2 casts its menacing shadow, friendships between the three grow complex, and Frank – now employed as Churchill’s bricklayer – makes choices that will haunt him beyond the grave, impacting his grandson’s life too. 

Two Secrets ... 

Shortly after Frank's death in 2002 Florence writes to Richard, Frank’s grandson, hinting at the darkness hidden within his family. On investigation, disturbing secrets come to light, including a pivotal encounter between Frank and Churchill during the war and the existence of a mysterious relative in a psychiatric hospital. 

One Hidden Life ... 

How much more does Florence dare reveal about Frank – and herself – and is Richard ready to hear? 
Set against the stunning backdrop of Chartwell, Churchill’s country home, comes a tragic story of misguided honour, thwarted love and redemption, reverberating through three generations and nine decades. 

What did I think about it..

I like nothing better than starting a novel and being immediately drawn into the story with an intriguing opening chapter which whets my appetite for what is to come.

Beautifully written with a fine for historical detail  the novels sweeps us back in time to the days prior to the start of WW2 when Frank, Florence and Hilda were friends growing up together in the same small village in Kent, but time will not always be kind to these characters and it's been particularly fascinating to see how their adult lives coalesce and overlap over the coming years.

Moving effortlessly forwards and backwards in time, The Walls We Build is an interesting generational saga which looks at a series of devastating secrets, which not only overshadow the lives of Frank, Florence and Hilda in the past, but which also have repercussions for those characters who remain in the here and now. Although I enjoyed the present day thread of story, I felt more of a strong connection to historical setting of the story, and admired the way that the author brings Winston Churchill into the novel making him an altogether more approachable figure in his home setting of Chartwell. The complicated threads of the story are nicely drawn together bringing the complexities of life in pre-war Britain to life in a meaningful way but also, in a more modern setting, shining a spotlight on a devastating secret which has been kept hidden in the shadows for far too long.

Combining history, with a modern day mystery The Walls We Build certainly ticked all the right boxes for a thought provoking and enjoyable read.

What did I think about it...

About the Author

Jules Hayes lives in Berkshire with her husband, daughter and a dog. She has a degree in modern history and holds a particular interest in events and characters from the early 20th century. As a former physiotherapist and trainer – old habits die hard – when not writing Jules likes to run. She also loves to watch films, read good novels and is a voracious consumer of non-fiction too, particularly biographies.
Jules is currently working on her second historical novel, another dual timeline story. Jules also writes contemporary thriller and speculative fiction as JA Corrigan.

Twitter @JulesHayes6

Writing as J A CorriganTwitter @juliannwriter

Giveaway to win a signed copy of The Walls We Build (open internationally)

Terms and Conditions

Open Internationally

Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.

The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.

Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

Friday 27 March 2020

Blog Tour ~ How to Carry Fire by Christina Thatcher

 Delighted to open this Poetry Blog Tour 

Parthian Books
1 April 2020

My thanks to Isabelle Kenyon and the publishers for my ecopy of these poems
and  the invitation to be part of the tour

How to Carry Fire was born from the ashes of family addiction. Beginning with the burning down of her childhood home, Thatcher explores how fire can both destroy and cleanse. Her work recognises embers everywhere: in farmhouses, heroin needles, poisonous salamanders. Thatcher reveals how fire is internalised and disclosed through anxiety, addiction, passion and love. Underneath and among the flames runs the American and Welsh landscapes – locations which, like fire itself, offer up experiences which mesmerise, burn and purify. This poignant second collection reminds us of how the most dangerous and volatile fires can forge us – even long after the flames have died down.

What did I think about it..

How to Carry Fire is a very interesting collection of poetry which explores the meaning of family memories and personal anxieties in a different and thought provoking way.

In turn both stark and unforgiving the idea of ritual cleansing through fire seems to be the recurring theme which cuts like a knife, and as the poet seeks to expunge personal memories which threaten at times to engulf her, so we travel through her thoughts and, at times, rather raw feelings.

Beautifully written with an expressionism which reiterates the strength of feeling and motivation, I was quite mesmerised by the poignant simplicity of some of the poems which are nicely juxtaposed alongside the strength of  the poet's personal observations.

Poetry can either comfort  or challenge, and on reflection after reading this collection, I would be inclined to place How to Carry Fire in the latter category. Daring, stimulating but also, at the same time, inspiring,  How to Carry Fire is a thought provoking collection, from start to finish.

About the Author

Shortlisted for the Bare Fiction Debut Poetry Collection Competition in 2015 and a winner in the Terry Hetherington Award for Young Writers in 2016, Christina Thatcher’s poetry and short stories have featured in over 40 publications including The London Magazine, Planet Magazine, And Other Poems, Acumen and The Interpreter’s House. Her first collection, More than you were, was published by Parthian Books in 2017.



Thursday 26 March 2020

Book Review ~ Just Another Mountain by Sarah Jane Douglas

26 March 2020

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book

In 1997, at the age of 24, Sarah lost her mother to breast cancer. Alone and adrift in the world, she very nearly gave up hope - but she'd made a promise to her mother that she would keep going no matter what. So she turned to the beautiful, dangerous, forbidding mountains of her native Scotland. - and then beyond.

What did I think about it..

All of us rise to the challenges of our lives in very different ways. Some of us take to moments of quiet reflection whilst others turn to more adventurous pursuits, and that was certainly the case for this author, who, having already lost her mother to breast cancer, faces her own cancer diagnosis, not with a sense of impending doom, but with the realisation that she promised her mother that she would never give up.

Rediscovering her love of hill walking in her beloved Scotland , the author finds freedom, and the joy of living, when she reaches the top of her chosen mountain. This love of walking in the great outdoors and the sheer pleasure from reaching the summit of the most impressive hills and mountains allowed her to put her rather fractured life into perspective again.

In this week when the country has faced the greatest challenge of a generation I have been inspired by the books I have been privileged to read in this troubled time. Some of them have been light hearted fun reads which made me smile, others have taken me back to another time and place, whilst clever poets have allowed me a moment or two of reflective calm.

Just another Mountain has been an inspiration. Beautifully written with real insight into, not just the physical benefits of striding out in the glorious countryside, but also of the sheer majesty of the hills and mountains,  and not just in Scotland but on whichever summit around the world the author chose to explore on her challenging journey of self discovery.

About the Author

Sarah Jane Douglas writes the popular blog ‘Smashing Cancer in the Face’. She is an artist and former teacher who lives with her two teenage sons in an old fishing village on the northeast coast of Scotland, is a lover of mountains and is proud to be Munroist number 5764. This is her first book.


Wednesday 25 March 2020

Blog Tour ~ When Life Gives You Lemons by Fiona Gibson

Thrilled to host a stop on this Blog Tour

Avon Books
5 March 2020

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book and the invitation to be part of the blog tour

Sometimes life can be bittersweet . . .

Between tending to the whims of her seven-year-old and the demands of her boss, Viv barely gets a moment to herself. It’s not quite the life she wanted, but she hasn’t run screaming for the hills yet.

But then Viv’s husband Andy makes his mid-life crisis her problem. He’s having an affair with his (infuriatingly age-appropriate) colleague, a woman who – unlike Viv – doesn’t put on weight when she so much as glances at a cream cake.

Viv suddenly finds herself single, with zero desire to mingle. Should she be mourning the end of life as she knows it, or could this be the perfect chance to put herself first?

When life gives you lemons, lemonade just won’t cut it. Bring on the gin!

What did I think about it..

Viv's life seems to be tootling along quite happily and despite being plagued by the night sweat and hot flushes of impending menopause, Viv hopes that she will come through this time in her life with her sanity, and family, intact. However, in the midst of her own uncertainty, Viv discovers that her husband of twenty five years has been having an affair with a much more svelte and sophisticated colleague. With everything around her in disarray, Viv is devastated but keeping her family safe is so important but then she also discovers that being single suddenly has its advantages. With the chance to get her life back on track,Viv starts to put herself first with interesting consequences.

I've really enjoyed getting to know Viv, every fifty-something woman, I think, will be able to identify with here, her angst about work, home and love certainly ring true. She's a great personality, and with her friends there when she needs them, Viv starts to gain in confidences and assurance. There's some genuinely funny moments which made me smile and the cast of interesting characters who come and go in Viv's life are a lively bunch and add some lovely light and shade to the story, but it is Viv's relationship with her friend, Penny, which is rather special.

The author does this genre so well and I know that whenever I pick up a Fiona Gibson book I won't be disappointed. Her ability to get right into the heart of her characters always brings her stories to life in a lovely light hearted way. When Life Gives You Lemons is a great feel good read and is perfect way to pass an afternoon of self isolation.

Fiona was born in a youth hostel in Yorkshire. She started working on teen magazine Jackie at age 17, then went on to join Just Seventeen and More! where she invented the infamous ‘Position of the Fortnight.’ Fiona now lives in Scotland with her husband Jimmy, their three children and a wayward rescue collie cross called Jac.

Twitter @FionaGibson #WhenLifeGivesYouLemons


Monday 23 March 2020

Blog Tour ~ The Evil Within by S M Hardy

Delighted to host a stop on this blog tour

Allison and Busby
19 March 2020

My thanks to the publishers for my ecopy of this book
and the invitation to be part of this blog tour

On the brink of a breakdown, two years after the death of his fiancé, Jim Hawkes quits his high-powered job in the City to rent a cottage in the Devonshire countryside seeking some well-needed rest. But Slyford St James is far from the peaceful haven Jim was hoping for. Almost immediately he is plagued by strange occurrences: a combination lock that won't open, loud noises in the attic, the figure of a little girl always just out of sight. His new village friends, Jed and Emma, are convinced Jim has found his way to the village for a reason, to solve the mystery surrounding the suspicious death of a child. But as Jim is haunted by the ghosts of his past and endangered by a real-world threat in the present, it soon becomes apparent that true evil never dies.

I am thrilled to be able to share with you the exciting first chapter 
of The Evil Within

Enjoy !!

I squinted at the alarm clock trying to focus on the fluorescent numerals. One-thirty; I’d been in bed forty-five minutes and asleep for about thirty. Two hours less than last night and three less than the night before. At this rate I was going to die of exhaustion. 

I wasn’t sure whether it was the same goddamn awful dream; I could never remember much about it other than I wake up in a cold sweat, my sheets wrapped around me like a shroud. It was getting that I didn’t want to go to bed. 

Dragging myself into a sitting position I slumped back against the headboard and waited for my pounding heart to calm before swinging my legs over the side of the bed and staggering to my feet. I needed to sleep, but I didn’t want to dream, though how I was going to manage that I wasn’t sure. The strongest thing in my medicine cabinet was paracetamol, or possibly Night Nurse. When I looked, I had neither. 

I padded into the lounge and over to what I laughingly called the bar. The bottle of Smirnoff had a dribble at the bottom, the gin had about two measures, but if I drank it, I would be sick to my stomach; gin and I didn’t get along. The bottle of Grouse was fumes only. I should have known I’d be dry. My least-best friend had come to squat two weeks ago and had only left the day before yesterday. Waking him with my yelling two nights in a row had seen him off. I couldn’t say I wasn’t relieved. His constant ‘Jim, it’s been two years, mate, you’re a young, good-looking fella, you need to get back out there, you need to get back on the pony’ had me wanting to shout in his face: ‘Shut the fuck up – what would you know? Have you ever fucked up your life so badly that you’d lost everything that meant anything to you?’ 

Of course he hadn’t. He was a shallow, know-it-all, know-nothing prick and I was glad to be rid of him. Sad to say he reminded me too much of me. Me before I met Kat; me before I knew what it was like to care deeply about someone other than myself. Shame I didn’t realise how much I cared until she was gone. 

The empties went in the bin, which left me with a bottle of Baileys, two years out of date − I didn’t need to look at the label − and a quarter-bottle of Amontillado sherry, probably just as old. 

I sat down on the settee cradling the Baileys in my hands. If she’d been here she would explain the bad dreams away. She’d have made me feel better. I sighed and dropped the bottle down on the floor beside me. She wasn’t here and never would be, so no point getting ‘all my yesterdays’. She was gone, I was here, and I was maybe beginning to face the consequences of my actions – ambitions – life. Hot fuck and buggeration. I didn’t deserve this. 

Feeling sorry for myself was definitely the pits and way down lower than I needed to go. Kat would have been ashamed of me; I was ashamed of me. I wiped my hand across my face, stood up and dragged my sorry self back to the bedroom. 

If I dreamt the dream I would try and take control. Isn’t that what the mind doctors told you? That’s what she used to say. Take control. Yeah right, just like she did, then my eyes filled up and I whispered, ‘Sorry, babe. I didn’t mean it. You know I didn’t mean it – right?’ I prayed she knew, and I guessed she did. Didn’t the inhabitants of the hereafter know everything? I hoped so. I hoped she knew. 

And then, for the first time in nearly two years I began to cry, and I felt weak and I felt worthless and I wanted to go to sleep and never wake. I wanted to be with Kat. 

I flung myself down on the bed, our bed, and thankfully I did sleep and there were no more dreams, at least none that I remembered. 

I woke to the alarm. Just as well, I had a meeting. I’d had my best work suit dry-cleaned but forgotten about ironing a shirt. After a frantic throwing out of clothing from within my wardrobe I found a shirt that was clean, relatively unrumpled, but white. I hated white; it reminded me of funerals and I’d had enough of those. 

I searched some more, but white it would have to be. The suit at least wasn’t black but a charcoal grey. Not a lot different, but to me a relief. I didn’t want to be seen as a grieving widower. Not that I was. We hadn’t made it to that one final step. Two weeks and one day it would have been different. 

I looked in the mirror, took a deep breath, blinked back tears and tried to block all the bad thoughts out of my head. I at least looked the part: smooth, slick, a clean-cut, up-and-coming young exec. Today I had to act like one and be sharp and focused. This was what I was paid exorbitant amounts of money for. Two years ago, I’d have said I was worth every penny. 

The meeting went on longer than it should have, but not as long as the clients would have hoped. How you could call businessmen whose legs you were about to cut out from beneath them clients I wasn’t sure. After the meeting I guess they were ex-clients. 

In this case the clients were a small family business. On the surface financially sound, but someone, somewhere within the organisation had decided not sound enough. After months of wrangling and solicitors’ letters this was D-Day. The clients and their representatives walked into the room hoping there was a modicum of a chance of their survival. The suits sitting on the other side of the table, of which I was one, had already written them off. The meeting was perfunctory and for the first time it left me with a sour taste in my mouth. I couldn’t do this any more. 

‘That went well,’ Clement said as we left the room. 

I glanced back over my shoulder at the clients’ shell-shocked faces. ‘You think?’ 

He frowned at me. ‘Well, we all knew it was a waste of time.’ 

‘They didn’t.’ 

His frown deepened. ‘Don’t let Sir Peter hear you say that.’ 

I raised an eyebrow at him. ‘Maybe I should.’ 

‘What the fuck?’ 

‘Did you not read their file? Didn’t you go through the figures?’ 

‘The account was terminal,’ he said, clearly exasperated that we were still talking about it when as far as he was concerned there was no more to be said. 

‘Only because of our punitive interest rates, yet they’d never missed a payment and in fifteen months the loan would have been paid off. With the loan repaid, on their current turnover, the overdraft would probably have been gone as well within five years.’ 

‘Five years is a long time – too long.’ 

‘When they came to us for help the loan was meant to be a lifeline, now they owe us a great deal less than they did at the outset and even so we’ve gone and pulled the plug on them.’ I shook my head in disgust. ‘I’ve had it, Clem. What we did in there was brutal. Immoral. Even criminal.’ 

‘What we did was our job.’ 

‘Makes it right, does it?’ 

‘The salary makes it right,’ he said and by God he meant it. From his expression he couldn’t see anything even mildly wrong with what we’d just done. 

I looked back down the corridor; the clients were being shown out, shoulders slumped, faces slack, spirits broken. The father, the man who’d started the business over thirty years ago, looked frail, almost as though he’d aged ten years since the beginning of our meeting. When they entered the lift they shuffled around to face me. I had to turn away; I couldn’t bear to see the look of betrayal in their eyes. 

Sir Peter was pleased. The fact he gestured for us both to sit down was the tell. He dropped the phone-book-thick file on his desk and buzzed his secretary. 

‘Coffee?’ he asked us, although didn’t wait for a reply. ‘Pot of coffee and three cups,’ he said as he sunk down behind his desk. 

A seat and coffee? I was surprised and when I glanced at Clem a self-satisfied smile was creeping onto his face. Was he expecting promotion? A pay rise? Sir Pete was hardly going to call us both in together for either of those things. Christ, if you were found to have even discussed your pay scale with anyone else within the company you were out on your ear. 

The coffee appeared, brought in by a tall, slim, tight-arsed secretary, with a plastic smile. She served us and was dismissed with a nod from the great man and something clicked inside my head and it was as though a veil had been lifted from in front of my eyes. This wasn’t what I wanted to do. This wasn’t where I wanted to be. 

Sir Pete started to speak, at least his lips were moving, though I didn’t hear a word he said. All I wanted was to get out of that room, and out of this life. I reached for my coffee, slopping some into the saucer. If I tried to drink it now I was going to drip it everywhere and the suit was fresh on today. Fresh on . . . I put the cup and saucer back on the desk and got to my feet. 

‘James?’ Sir Pete said with a frown as I interrupted his speech. 

‘I’m leaving,’ I heard myself say as I walked out of his office. 

As I reached the lift Clem came up behind me and grabbed hold of my sleeve. ‘Jim, are you OK? Jim?’ 

‘I’m leaving,’ I repeated as I stepped into the lift. 

He stood there glancing about him as though he wasn’t sure what he should do, then, with a sigh, joined me. 

‘You just walked out on the boss while he was in mid flow.’ 

‘So did you.’ 

‘He sent me after you, you jerk. What are you playing at?’ 

‘I’m leaving.’ 

‘So you fucking said.’ 

‘No, Clem, I’m leaving. Resigning, handing in my notice.’ 

‘No fucking way.’ 

‘Yes fucking way,’ I said and I started to grin. ‘Yes fucking way.’ 

Sir Pete couldn’t believe I was throwing away a successful career and was convinced I’d had some sort of breakdown. Maybe I had. The bank’s shrinks certainly thought so. Worried about lawsuits citing work-related stress, I was signed off on long-term sick leave and, if worse came to worst, would be let go after an appropriate period of time with a handshake good enough to deter any claim of unfair or constructive dismissal. Sir Pete’s biggest mistake; he should have accepted my resignation. 

For the first week there were no more dreams and I’d more or less convinced myself they were down to stress. On night eight of my sabbatical they started again. And boy they were full-blown gorefests. 

These I remembered. Nightmares so bloody and vicious and full of rage that after the fourth day I was wondering whether I hadn’t just had a breakdown but was going full-on insane and heading for a long-term stay in the funny farm. 

After a particularly harrowing night when I’d woken screaming Kat’s name and for a moment could almost feel her cold, dead body lying within my arms, I went to see my doctor. Fortunately for me she was a no-nonsense, matronly figure who didn’t believe in most of today’s PC psychobabble. 

‘Mr Hawkes, all you need is a good, long rest,’ she had said, her voice laced with sympathy. ‘You’ve had three major events in your life within as many years. You lost your mother and father, then your long-term partner within a very short period. Having a highly pressurised job hasn’t helped. Now that’s behind you, I suggest you get away somewhere new. Somewhere you can relax.’ 

And that was it. No pills, no potions, just a prescription of rest, rest and more rest. So that afternoon I started scanning the classifieds for a country retreat somewhere. And this is when I found Slyford St James.

About the Author

S. M. Hardy grew up in south London and worked in banking for many years before turning her attention to arboricultural management. She has now given up the day job to allegedly spend more time with her husband; he, however, has noticed that an awful lot more writing appears to be going on. She currently lives in Devon. The Evil Within is her first paranormal mystery novel.

Twitter @SueTingey #TheEvilWithin


Sunday 22 March 2020

Sunday Brunch with Jaffareadstoo ~ Alison Morton

On this quiet Sunday morning why don't you put the kettle on, make your favourite breakfast and settle down for Sunday Brunch with Jaffareadstoo

I'd delighted to welcome author, Alison Morton

☼Good Morning, Alison. Happy Sunday !

What favourite food are you bringing to Sunday brunch? 

Croissant and pain au chocolat (I do live in France ;-) ). Then I follow it with Greek yoghurt with berries in an attempt to be healthy… 

Would you like a pot of English Breakfast tea, a strong Americano, or a glass of Bucks Fizz? 

Café au lait in a very large mug. I’ve already had my first cup of tea in bed. 

Which of your literary heroes are joining us today? 

If I can include dead or alive authors, I’d love Georgette Heyer, Robert Harris, William Boyd and Anne McCaffery 

What’s the title of the book nearest to you? 

L’Homme Aux Cercles Bleus (The Chalk Circle Man) by Fred Vargas
I’ve just started reading these clever crime thrillers in the original French (with the dictionary app on my phone close to hand!). But most of them are published in English. 

What’s the oldest book on your bookshelf? 

A Latin dictionary printed by Spottiswoode & Co dated 1869! 

Which book do you really want to read but haven’t had time for …yet! 

The Power by Naomi Alderman 

Do you have a guilty reading pleasure, and if so will you tell us about it? 

Haha! Anything by Georgette Heyer, especially Arabella or The Grand Sophy 

If the house was on fire which book would you rescue? 

I would end up in a heap of ash before I could decide. *cries* 

Do you have a reading/writing playlist on Spotify, or a favourite CD to listen to when reading/writing? And if so will you share with us a favourite song or piece of music that makes you feel happy? 

I prefer to write in total silence. Actually, I read in silence, too. 

Do you have a favourite place to settle down to read/write? 

I write in a purpose-built office in the half-basement under our house. The sun streams through the window most of the day. A gorgeous abelia just outside bursts into flower in summer and its leaves take on shiny red and bronze tones in the winter. 

Give us four essential items that a writer absolutely needs? 

Chocolate, persistence, curiosity and a Mac 

What can you tell us about your latest novel, or your current work in progress? 

NEXUS, a novella featuring Aurelia Mitela, is the latest in my Roma Nova thriller series. Aurelia offers to help a friend in the British foreign office search for his wayward son, but she’s recalled to Roma Nova to investigate a much more deadly affair.

Currently, I’m developing a modern crime series, but I’ll be back in Roma Nova soon! 

Where can we follow you on social media? 

Instagram handle: alisonmortonauthor