As 2021 draws to a close, although there are aspects of the year I’d prefer to forget, I’m looking back with a happy and satisfied smile on the books I’ve enjoyed in this second half of the year.
I love to read almost as much as I love to write, and I firmly believe that the more good writing I read, the more my own writing improves.
Here’s what I read as our wet and windy winter gave way to a hot and breezy summer. The most recently read books are shown first.
Once again I’ve enjoyed my half-year’s reading. Books I’ve frequently found via reviews and recommendations here on WordPress, including a nice helping of works by fellow indie authors. I’ve read a mixture of old books and new – mostly prose and poetry – a long, long history/geography of Africa, and a witty and instructive writer’s manual. Thanks to the latter, written by Kathy Steinmann, my latest MS is all the more sparkly and shiny!
More news on my new release coming soon.
As a writer I know how exciting it is to receive a review from a reader, and I offer a big, big thank you to my readers (and listeners, now I’ve two books published as audiobooks) who’ve taken the time and trouble to rate/review my books. That aside, to know someone has read one of my books is enough.
I continue to faithfully post a review of all the books I’ve read on Goodreads and usually on Bookbub, so long as the book comes up in a search. It’s good to recognise fellow writers and give something back for the enjoyment I’ve had from their words.
Happy reading, happy writing and a Happy New Year!
Nothing but a beautiful view of my favourite beach today.
A slow walk on the sand, tasting the salty air, the breeze brushing my skin. Strolling over warm silky grains, washed by gently breaking waves; picking up shells and peering in rock pools. Gazing out over the azure ocean, eyes resting on a ruby-sailed yacht. And later, sitting on a sun-warmed rock, waiting for the glowing golden orb to sink beneath distant Table Mountain in a sudden flare of scarlet.
Have a pleasant and peaceful weekend, wherever you are in the world.
‘Misquoting the Bard, Ms Hall?’ Connor strides across the floor and strikes a dramatic pose by the fireplace. The two bars of the electric fire glow ineffectually against the foggy October day which presses around the edges of the bay windows. Feeling the chill, I pull my cardigan more tightly around me.
‘Turn the fire up, Connor,’ says Cynthia. ‘Ms Hall’s blood will have thinned after ten years in warmer climes than these. I remember when I returned from Singapore, it took me years to readjust to our dismal English weather.’ She takes an emerald-coloured pashmina from the back of the chaise-longue and tosses it over to me.
‘Spot of something warming, perhaps?’ asks Connor, looking longingly at the half-empty bottle of whisky on the sideboard. I shake my head. He frowns. ‘I sense by your utterance you are caught on the horns of a dilemma. Pray tell us what troubles you.’
Before I can answer, there’s a tap on the door.
‘It’s open, darling,’ calls Cynthia.
Gina appears. She flings herself into an armchair and grins across the room at me. ‘Do you have some news for us, Ms Hall?’
I explain about NaNoWriMo. Three years running and three books written within each succeeding year. But last year NaNo was a struggle and didn’t get me off to the same start.
‘It sounds as if you might be taking on a little too much to commit to that for a fourth time,’ says Cynthia gently. ‘Don’t pressurise yourself.’
‘But you’d be picking up our story again,’ says Gina. ‘I mean you’ve just finished writing that other sequel, haven’t you?’
I incline my head. It’s true. The sequel to Song of the Sea Goddess has passed the final editing stage and is soon to be proof-read by another keen eye. I twist the pen I’m holding. ‘Ah well, not quite yet, and I’ve been considering putting a poetry collection together in time for next year’s World Poetry Day.’
Connor’s eyes light up. ‘Congratulations, splendid idea!’ Connor rubs his hands together. ‘I’d like to think my success with the slim volumes I’ve had published has inspired you. You know I’ve had an advance to compose a third..?’
Gina shifts in her seat. ‘But so much has happened in our story since our book came out,’ she holds out her hands. ‘Each time you’ve come round something new has happened.’ Her eyes fall on the notebook in my lap. ‘You’ve noted it all down, haven’t you?’
I look down in my lap. Gina’s right of course, I have been keeping notes… and there are a few more. I smile at three of my favourite characters from You’ll Never Walk Alone. ‘Next year will be your year, but no NaNo this time.’
Listen here! There’s something a little different on Luna’s online this Friday.
We have a splendid sight and sound combo from da-AL’s Happiness Between Tails, in which she introduces her new podcast page. We also have a helping of carrot cake and a dancing delight: the tango – que romántico!
This week I did more writing on my novels … plus… happiness!… It’s been since forever — gulp! since quarantine! —that my husband and I haven’t danced. No classes, no practicing on our own, no nuthin’. And as much as we’ve missed it, we’ve missed…
Let me introduce you to these two fine gentlemen: on your right is my husband, Cliff (he had hair then!) and on the left is Andreas, the man who made the best chips we’d ever tasted! It’s because of him that the fictional little town in my novel, Song of the Sea Goddess, has a café owned by a Greek, who makes the ‘best chips on the whole of the west coast’.
Back in the late 1980s and 1990s, we spent almost every holiday island hopping around Greece. I was counting them up, and we’ve visited twenty islands over the years (several more than once) and adding all those visits up, we spent at more than a year altogether in that beautiful country. We’d go at the start and end of the holiday season, two weeks in both May and September, taking any cheap flight we could find. Then, armed with a laden rucksack, a few guide books and book of ferry timetables, off we’d go.
We became increasing adventurous over the years and would try to seek out the less well-known islands and the more off-the-beaten track locations. We avoided the popular places plagued by package tourists, seeking a more authentic Greece (and escaping the Brits on holiday). I’d do my research in the local library, poring over Greek guide books on a Saturday morning after the unavoidable weekend shopping. One year, a photograph of some unusually decorated buildings caught my eye. My reaction? We have to go there!
And so we did! Here are a couple of photos from our visit. You can just make out the shaded roof garden at the top of the picture on the left. ‘Captured’ by Dmitri off the afternoon bus from the port of Chios, he offered us his rooftop room for rent. Accessed by a rather precarious metal stairway, it had all we needed, including a wonderful view.
On the right is an example of the xysta, the intricate wall decorations that first caught my eye. These adorn many of Pyrgi’s houses and are unique to this medieval village. These patterns aren’t painted, they are scratched into the surface plaster. They are everywhere!
The centre of the village is dominated by a large square, filled with chairs and tables belonging to a handful of tiny bars and restaurants which ring the square itself. In the evening, we found the square was filled with people eating, drinking and chatting while their children played on the periphery. It was here we came across Andreas, who owned the tiniest of restaurants in one corner of the square. His menu was simple, but fresh and delicious – and he made these wonderful chips, served with a generous dollop of tzatziki (thick Greek yoghurt mixed with salted and drained cucumber, garlic, mint and olive oil). Over several evening visits we came to know a little bit about his past, particularly about his time in the merchant navy, an occupation he shared with Cliff’s younger brother.
Spool on to November 2019, when I started writing Song of the Sea Goddess and although I’d not thought about him for years, Andreas suddenly stepped out from the doorway of a building by the harbour in my fictional little town on the west coast of South Africa. He seemed to be very at home and he hadn’t aged a bit!
You can take a little tour of Pyrgi on this clip I found on You Tube:
I hope you enjoyed that. Now, let’s see what my version of Andreas is up to in his little harbourside café.
Excerpt from Song of the Sea Goddess
Later that morning when Porcupine returns to the harbour, Andreas is picking up the battered tin bowl that has been licked clean by the scruffy little dog, which he’s taken to feeding with scraps from his kitchen. He raises a hand in greeting to Sam and Jannie.
‘There’s coffee still in the pot,’ shouts Andreas.
‘Should we tell him about the gold?’ Sam asks as they across the yard.
‘Could be he knows something about treasure like that. He was at sea far longer than I was and he sailed in different waters,’ says Jannie. ‘But I’m not so sure. You know he gossips like no tomorrow.’
Sam shrugs. ‘We don’t have to tell him the whole story.’
‘You mean say it’s something we just heard…’
‘…from a friend of a friend.’
The two men grin at each other.
The two conspirators enter through the back door of Andreas’s little café. Moments later they’re sitting at the counter while Andreas fills two tiny cups with thick, sweet Greek coffee and sets them down on the counter in front them.
‘So what’s new?’ asks the café owner as he resumes his slicing and chopping in preparation for lunchtime. Andreas serves up a simple menu from his native Greece: fried fish, kebabs, chips and salad. He makes the best chips on the whole of the west coast and if you can’t afford meat or fish, you can always dip your chips in his thick, garlicky tzatziki. It is this that he’s busy making.
Andreas frowns as Sam explains about the friend of a friend and the strange pot of gold coins which no-one can touch with their bare hands. The wiry old Greek listens until Sam has finished, then throws his head back and laughs.
‘Well, you must know what that is,’ he exclaims.
‘What d’you mean?’ Jannie asks. ‘I sailed around the South China seas and in the cold waters of the far north, but I’ve never heard of such a thing.’
‘Really? And you’ve never heard of the ‘treasure that can’t be touched’?’
Jannie shakes his head.
‘They say it’s the old gold of Atlantis.’
‘Yes, you know, the lost city…’
Jannie shakes his head. ‘That’s just a legend. It doesn’t exist.’
Andreas chuckles. ‘Well, gold coins that burn your fingers don’t exist either.” He shakes his head. ‘Come on guys, I’m having a joke with you.’ He pours them a second cup of coffee. Then he notices the coin shaped scar on Sam’s right hand. He points to the scar and raises his bushy grey eyebrows. ‘Don’t tell me. That’s how you got that scar?’ Andreas’s eyes widen. ‘That’s what you were off-loading earlier, is it?’
‘What do you mean?’ asks Jannie. He cocks his head sideways feigning innocence.
‘Well,’ Andreas leans forward on the counter, his chin resting on his hand, ‘when Porcupine first entered the harbour this morning, she was sitting very low in the water. I thought Sam here had made it big. A net full of snoek maybe. But after he tied up the boat, rather than landing his catch, he called you over, Jannie. Then a few minutes later, deep in conversation and looking a little shifty by the way, you were both on the boat and heading out of the harbour.’
Andreas pauses, looking from one friend to the other. He grins. ‘I figured it wasn’t an illegal haul of perlemoen, since that wouldn’t have weighed so heavy. Nor crayfish.’ He wags his finger slowly from side to side. ‘And in any case, neither of you would do such a thing, would you?’
Sam and Jannie remain silent for a moment.
‘Okay then, Sam,’ Andreas says. ‘Where did you find this treasure you can’t touch? And what have you done with it?’
I’m delighted to tell you that I’ve made my latest novel, Song of the Sea Goddess, into an audiobook. It’s been such a pleasurable experience too. Of course, I didn’t do it all by myself. Nobody would want to listen to me stumbling over my own words, and I have neither the expertise or the equipment to create a professional recording.
By great good fortune my husband, when he was teaching at the International School of Cape Town, worked with the wonderful Terry Lloyd Roberts who, aside from being a teacher, is an accomplished voice artist. She in turn introduced me to Devon Martindale, Director at Audioshelf, a South African company dedicated to the production of audiobooks. All I had to do was send a pdf version of the manuscript and they did the rest.
It wasn’t as costly as I might have imagined – the price of a nice overseas holiday – and we haven’t done and won’t be doing that for a while.
It took a little while to record, as the book runs to over 7 hours listening time, but over a period of about 3 weeks, I received the audio files to check, ten or so chapters at a time. What a pleasure it was to hear Terry read the words I had written! Her voice is perfect for the book and she really made my characters come alive.
She also managed to sail over a number of typos and missed words. I thought that between me and my beta-reading team we’d caught all those. Not so. Apologies to everyone who’s had to suffer those! I’ve since corrected them and reloaded the paperback and ebook onto Amazon. That was the only downside of curling up under the covers on a succession of winter weekends with my paperback copy and read along with Terry. But it’s a great way to proof-read a book! I was slightly placated by Devon, who said: “…with every single book we’ve produced into audio, we have picked up at least a few errors in the text, so don’t feel too bad.”
Once I’d received and read over all of the audio files, all that remained for me to do was to find a platform from which to publish the audiobook. I took Devon’s advice and went to Authors Republic who offer audiobook publishing and distribution worldwide. I emphasise the worldwide, since outside of North America, a range of restrictions can make it quite tricky for indie authors.
After signing up, completing a US tax form, and adding my paypal account details, all that remained was to fill in the book details, load up a square version of the cover and upload the audio files, which had been perfectly prepared by Audioshelf. Much less stressful than Amazon/KDP. Now, just a week or two later, my audiobook is available in all sorts of places – even ones not available to people in South Africa!
You can listen to the short (5 min) sample below and see how beautifully it’s narrated. Would it be wrong of me to say that I loved my own book when I listened to it?
It’s been a sad week. I lost someone who was important in my life. One of the first people whom I met when I arrived to live here on South Africa’s shores. A man I met at the clinic here in Somerset West, where I was part of a volunteer group providing help and support to people living with chronic diseases like HIV and TB, whichI talked abouta few weeks ago. His name was Johannes and he was part of our team (pictured above).
He had already been living with HIV for some 12 years when we first met, although you wouldn’t have thought he was sick. He was our greatest advocate in the campaign we were running to dispel the myths and the stigma attached to HIV. Within our group was a safe place to speak, a place where people could share their stories without judgment. It was through sharing these stories that I started to get to know Johannes.
In my guest post ‘From the Writer’s Desk’ on da-AL’s blog, Happiness Between the Tails, back in January this year, I talked about how some of the main characters in Song of the Sea Goddesscame to be. Johannes was one of them.
“A few of my key characters are based on people I met when I first came to live in South Africa. …people who come from what are euphemistically called ‘formerly disadvantaged communities’…
I could have written about some of their struggles, about the conditions in which they live, about the poverty and lack of opportunity… but as I got to them better, I realised that none of them wants to dwell on any of that.
So I decided I could give them better lives, locate them in a much more pleasant place and put a positive spin on this beautiful country.”
Our support group folded after a couple of years, but by that time Johannes was working for me as a gardener, painter and general handy man. In fact, there was little that he couldn’t turn his hand to. His stories continued through our coffee breaks – of how he ran away to sea at the age of twelve and worked on the deep-sea trawlers for years, how he came home, got into a fight and was jailed and then, after he was released, how he turned his life around.
There’s a lovely little pen portrait of ‘Jannie’ by Robbie Cheadle in her recent review of Song of the Sea Goddess on her blog, Roberta Writes. I was delighted the way she ‘got’ all of my characters, and these few lines sum up the character Johannes inspired (and a little part of Johannes himself) perfectly.
“Jannie is an ex-convict who has discovered the errors of his ways and allowed his better nature to reassert itself. He is a lover of animals and the stray dog featured in the story, and Toti, the monkey, both love him.”
The fictional Jannie gets his long brown-black dreadlocks, his watchfulness and his willingness to help from Johannes. He gets his understanding, his gentle ways and his kindness too, as well as his ability to fight in the defence of his friends.
It’s ironic that the da-AL’s post was prefaced by her and her husband’s Covid experience. Fortunately, they came through. Johannes wasn’t so lucky and it was he that I was thinking of when I wrote my poem, Last Gasp on Monday. He lost that particular fight late on Tuesday evening.
Johannes wasn’t just a gardener and handyman, he wasn’t just a source of stories, he was my friend and I shall miss him very much. But just as he will live on in the hearts and memories of those who knew him, part of him will live on in the pages of Song of the Sea Goddess, and the so far unfinished sequel, as well.
Johannes Williams, 10.03.64 – 10.08.21 May the sun never set on your memory.
My response to Sadje’s What do you see?picture prompt on Monday, suggested to me that it might be nice for us all to hop on the tour bus and take a little virtual safari together to recharge our batteries. Also, my right shoulder is in particular need of a little rest from too much typing, so let’s just feast our eyes and listen to the sounds of nature….
It’s half the way through the year already, can you believe it? Almost the end of June and it’s wet and wintry here, and while many of you are enjoying your ‘summer reading’ and I thought I’d share what I’ve been reading this year. I love to read almost as much as I love to write, and I firmly believe that the more good writing I read, the more my own writing improves.
Last year I did the ArmedWithABingo year-long reading challenge hosted by Kriti Khare & Ariel Joy which was great fun, and which encouraged my to read a few books that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise picked up. But this year I’m on a ‘free choice’ foray, guided mostly by some great reviews I’ve read by some great reviewers here in our WordPress family, who’ve wickedly tempted me to augment my already tottering ‘TBR’ pile way beyond normal safety parameters.
I’ve also over-stuffed my book shelves with piles of pre-loved books from our local indie book stores.
However, I must confess to my shame that I haven’t been to our lovely local library for ages. I really should, even though under lockdown regulations you can only spend half an hour at a time there. Before Covid, I used to go to write there sometimes since being surrounded by all those books was rather inspiring (and it’s lovely and warm in winter).
Anyway, enough rambling. Here’s what I’ve read so far this year.
I’ve had a most enjoyable half-year’s reading: a mixture of old books and new, prose and poetry, even a cookery book. I’ve continued to honour my resolve to read more books from the southern hemisphere, especially by African writers, as I feel authors down here don’t get the exposure they should.
As a writer I know how exciting it is to receive a review from a reader, and I offer a big, big thank you to all of my readers who’ve taken the time and trouble to rate/review my books, although to know someone has read one of my books is even enough.
I faithfully post a review of the books I’ve read on Goodreads and usually on Bookbub, so long as the book comes up in a search. You can find all of my reviews here on Goodreads.
As for the next half of the year, I did promise myself not to buy any more books until I’d made a proper dent in the tottering TBR pile, but there’s a sale at Bookworms tomorrow, and I have to support the store which carries copies of my own books, don’t I?
According to WordPress this is my 500th post, which to me seems like something of a milestone for a self-styled ‘accidental’ blogger, even though it must seem modest to many.
I’ve always been happy writing. I even enjoyed writing up insurance inspections and composing reports for council committees. Words, I’ve come to realise, are just ‘my thing’.
‘Once I’ve written something it does tend to run away from me. I don’t seem to have any part of it – it’s no longer my piece of writing.’ – David Bowie
This quote, from the late and great David Bowie, is very apt. Words run away with me too. Especially in the mouths and actions of my characters. You’ve heard how some of them go on, even outside their own story.
Which brings me to the term for ‘my kind of writer’ that I’m not very fond of… Pantster!
I’m not alone, as discovered last week after I read an interview with fellow author and blogger, Liz Gauffreau. I’m always interested to read about other writers. This brief(!) exchange followed:
I got to thinking after that. What about a new term to replace the irritating ‘pantster’?
I mulled over some alternative words for pants: braggas (Spanish); breeks (Scottish); broekies (South African); but knowing that Liz is a Latin scholar, I came to braccas. I have to admit I had to look it up. My schoolroom Latin is too distant to recall, besides it wasn’t a word to feature much in Caesar or Cicero, although I’m sure Liz will correct me if I’m wrong!
And so here *drumroll* is the first mention of a new word – a neologism
Braccaneers of the world unite, you’ve nothing to lose but your…