Little Inspirations: a gift

An enlarged view of my ‘Silver Locket’

This little pendant was given to me by Emma, my lovely mother-in-law, many years ago. It’s a pretty piece, which might have originally been a broach. I’ve worn it on a chain a few times but the loop which it hangs from is so worn that I’m scared of losing it.

It’s about the size of my thumbnail, very light and it tarnishes ever so quickly. There is no hallmark, so it’s probably not actually silver. It looks like a locket, but it doesn’t open, although it looks as if it might. Don’t you think that one, or maybe a particular combination, of those decorative pins around the edge might spring it open? But sadly, no.

However, it did spark my imagination.

Spool on a couple of decades and my little pendant was transformed. Now a fully functioning locket with a strange little face engraved inside, it became the eponymous star of my debut novel, The Silver Locket which I wrote under the pen name, Holly Atkins. My pendant even took pride of place on the cover, flanked by photos of family members on Emma’s side, whose identity has disappeared in the mists of time.

I often say, ‘never let a good character go to waste’, and followers of my most recent micro-fiction series, The Jade Camel, will discover a bit of backstory to two of its characters who first entered my literary world in the scene below.

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Excerpt from ‘The Silver Locket’

“So,” said Ceridwen, pushing back her long red hair, “you have something to show me.”

Laura reached into her handbag and drew out the locket.  She slipped it out of its wrapper and held it out to her.

“I found it…” began Laura.

Ceridwen held up her hand.  “No, don’t tell me anything about it yet.  May I hold it please?”

Ceridwen took the locket, as she did so she avoided touching Laura’s hand.  She drew in a sharp breath and closed her eyes, running her thumb gently over the face of the locket.  She sat there, motionless for several minutes, then clasping the locket in her fist, she opened her eyes, leant over and switched on the lamp which stood on the table beside her.

“Now Laura, I’d like you to tell me all you can about the locket.  Where you found it, what you’ve observed about it, what it means to you.”

Laura paused.  “It’s complicated.”

“Take you time, my dear.  Start with the facts.  Don’t worry if your story seems strange or fanciful.  That’s why you’re here with me now.”

Laura recounted all she could from finding the locket to the most recent dream in which the little face had been different from the one Laura knew.  While she was speaking, Ceridwen was carefully examining the locket.  As Laura finished speaking, she was studying the oval mark inside intently.

On the window sill, Cullen uttered a low, menacing sound.  Laura could see his silhouette through the blind, his back arched, head erect.

“Would you mind going to see what he’s growling about?  It must be something in the park outside.”

Laura went to the window and raised the edge of the blind.  A solitary figure in a brown coat was looking up at the window.  The figure was too far away for Laura to make out her face, but it looked awfully like the old woman from the churchyard; the same woman who had appeared outside the jewellers and whom Laura had seen hurrying away from the station.

Cullen continued to growl.  The woman turned and hurried away.  Cullen sat back down on the window sill and was quiet again, his fur settling back into place.

Laura returned to her seat.  “It’s strange, I keep seeing this woman in a brown coat.  It’s as if she’s following me.  But when she sees I’ve seen her, she rushes off.  Maybe I’m imagining it, but I’m sure that was her again, just standing there looking up at the window.  I couldn’t see anything else which might have disturbed your cat.”

“She could be following this.”  Ceridwen held up the locket.

“Why?  What is it?” Laura looked at Ceridwen.  “The little face inside… it’s starting to scare me.”

“Well, let me tell you a little about the charm within the locket.  Please don’t worry. I’m quite certain that there is no need for you to be afraid of the locket or its ‘little face’, as you call it.”

“You say it’s a charm of some kind.  That’s what the jeweller told me yesterday.  A charm or a talisman, he said.  What does that mean exactly?”

“These little pieces are very rare, although long ago they used to be quite widely made and circulated amongst the Roma peoples of Eastern Europe.  It is said that charms or amulets of this kind actually originated in Ancient Egypt and were part of their magical rituals or heka.  The oval shape certainly does resemble the cartouches from Egyptian hieroglyphs.”  Ceridwen paused.

“But that need not concern us.  Your locket with its hidden amulet doesn’t date back quite that far, although it could be as much as two hundred years old.  Who knows where a young gardener would have obtained such a precious object.  He can’t have known what it was, or paid the true value.”

Ceridwen went on: “An amulet is essentially something which is designed to bring good luck or to offer protection to the wearer.  It need not be made specifically for the wearer, but the wearer will benefit from the powers imbued in the amulet.  From what you’ve told me, and what I can feel from holding it, his amulet is a special one, known as a ‘reflector’.  A reflector amulet not only gives the wearer protection, it also mirrors emotions, usually from its wearer, but also from people around her, particularly if they are antagonistic or threatening towards her.  This amplifies the power of the amulet, offering the wearer even greater protection.  It is said that the expression on the amulet’s face will change according to the prevailing emotion.  I’ve never seen a one before, but I believe that is what you have here.”

“Oh,” exclaimed Laura, “do you think I have upset the amulet by finding it?”

“I doubt it, but tell me, Laura, have you been wearing the locket.”

“Only for a few days.  I started wearing it after I first found it, because it kept disappearing.  It fell behind the dresser and then between the cushions of an armchair.  But I haven’t worn it since I took it to the jeweller’s and he opened it.  I guess I’ve been a bit wary of the expression on the little face.  I’ve kept it close to me though, either in my bag, or on my bedside table.”

“May I take your hand now, Laura?  Please, come and sit by me.”  Ceridwen patted the seat beside her.

Laura perched on the chaise-longue and Ceridwen took her hand in hers.  She closed her eyes, gently massaging Laura’s hand, much as she had done with the locket.

Opening her eyes she said gently: “I sense that there is some turmoil in your life.” Ceridwen smiled.  “I detect that you doubt someone close to you.  You also have some important choices to make.  Am I correct my dear?”

“How you would know that?”  Laura pulled her hand away.

“I am sensitive to people’s emotions.  I can feel things just from a touch…”

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The Silver Locket in paperback and ebook with the quote 'I enjoyed it so much that I read it in a day'.

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When Characters and Creators Collide…

The cover new Six Sentence Story Magazine created by Tom of the Mansionic Perspective blog
Cover creation by Tom

‘Look at this!’ Connor brandishes the bright and colourful cover of the new Six Sentence Stories magazine. ‘You’re on the cover, Ms Hall. A first for you.’

Cynthia stretches out an elegantly manicured hand and takes the proffered copy from him. She looks at me over her new reading glasses. ‘Such a nice photo of you, too.’

‘I’m surprised it’s not in sepia, it’s that old,’ interjects Gary with a grin, immediately receiving an elbow in the ribs from Gina.

‘Don’t upset her Gary,’ Gina mutters. ‘Don’t you want to be in a story again?’ Gina flashes a smile at me.

Cynthia brushes her hand over the glossy cover. ‘Oh look, there’s a voucher for that little deli shop, Sam’s. It was very pleasant. Apart from that rather brassy woman coming on to you, Connor.’

‘You mean, Beryl?’ Connor’s eyes twinkle.

Gina prods Gary’s leg. ‘You see, they’ve both had an outing, and it wasn’t even in one of Ms Hall’s stories.’

‘What a charming man Tom is,’ Cynthia purrs. ‘So creative! We met him briefly at Ms Hall’s book launch.’ She runs a thoughtful finger over Tom’s picture on the magazine cover. ‘Nice eyes. I don’t suppose I should blame him for Beryl’s behaviour.’

‘I met another excellent chap there too,’ Connor takes a long pull from the glass of whisky which has mysteriously appeared in his hand. ‘Chris Nelson, short story author and a fellow poet. No wonder we hit it off.’ He looks around the room. ‘And you know what, he’s written a really good review of Our Book!’ Connor beams and raises his glass to me.

Chris Nelson’s review of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

You’ll Never Walk Alone is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook and on Kindle Unlimited
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Ten Years a Novelist!

http://bit.ly/2WTizJZ
Quote from my interview with Jean Lee in April 2020

It’s exactly 10 years ago today that I took the plunge and published my first novel. April 1st 2012 saw me press that big ‘submit’ button and launch The Silver Locket into the world. A momentous moment about which I basically told no-one. So lacking in confidence was I back then that I published it under a pen-name.

I’d started bits and pieces of the book during the mid-noughties, but I hadn’t come up with anything very substantial. Then in April 2010, the ash cloud from the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull delayed my flight back to the UK from a holiday in South Africa and resulted in me being AWOL from my job for a week. Rules around unauthorised absence in the council where I worked dictated that I must make up the time, leaving me a chained to my desk for 2 hours every day after everyone else had gone home for (I can’t remember how many) weeks.

It was not even as if I had sufficient work to fill the time. My risk management role had been scaled down due to governmental policy changes, and the work that I took over from other members of my team hardly filled the the normal working day.

So what to do? Twiddle my thumbs? Bring in some knitting? Nobody much seemed to mind as long as I made up that oh-so-important missing time.

And so I began to work on the novel which I’d been composing in my head during my daily commute. Apart from the time I happily spent chatting to our cleaner, there was only one occasion that I remember being disturbed. One of the field staff phoned and I was so wrapped up in my writing – see that quote at the top of the page – that it took me a minute or two to come ‘back to earth’.

Six months later, we’d emigrated to South Africa. It took us a little while to settle in, but soon I was back to writing a couple of afternoons a week between the various voluntary activities I’d signed up for. Fast forward a further eighteen months and my finger was hovering over that submit button.

I sometimes wonder whether I would ever have got down to serious writing had it not been for that volcano, but now I’ve been well and truly bitten by the writing bug and I’ve never looked back.

Five novels, three published as audiobooks, and one tiny short story collection later, what’s next? Well, here’s the nearest I get to an outline for a new novel:

Revenge of the Rain Bull, third in my Weskus Series, is about to begin…

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Image credit for the unpronounceable volcano: National Geographic

Little inspirations: why monkeys?

Exchanging emails with a friend of mine a few weeks ago, she commented that she’d recently finished reading my novel, Song of the Sea Goddess, which I’m pleased to say she enjoyed. Knowing this part of the world, she commented that she could see how my trips up the west coast of South Africa had inspired me. She also said she found it interesting that a monkey should appear again. Was there a reason for this?

Good question! I had to think about that.

Fingers and Toti, my two monkey characters are very different creatures and have different roles and functions in the stories in which they appear.

Fingers provides some of the comedy in my earlier novel, You’ll Never Walk Alone. He also helps to reflect wheeler-dealer, Bob’s character, showing a softer side to a character who might not otherwise be perceived as such. Through Fingers we are shown elements of Bob’s relationship with his Nan and learn about her character, since we never actually meet her. Right from the first time Fingers is introduced we are shown his naughty side and his thieving tendencies (scouser-trope alert!) although he’s never malicious, in fact he turns out to be quite the hero thanks to his light-fingered antics.

Toti, who appears in both Song of the Sea Goddess and Spirit of the Shell Man, provides a means of reflecting some of her fellow cast members’ characteristics and personalities by the way that they react to her and interact with her. But mainly she’s the bookish Professor’s little companion; in particular, she provides a foil for his thoughts so that he isn’t talking to himself all the time. Toti actually crept into the book as a male monkey called Felix, but he didn’t fit. The gender switch and the African name worked so much better. Now in her second novel outing, Toti’s character has developed and she’s becoming a player in her own right.

Subconsciously though, I think there might be another reason for the appearance of monkey characters in my novels. Meet ‘Monkey’ (and Luna, of course).


Launch Pad Round Up

Launch Pad Logo

Over the past half year I’ve enjoyed hosting the Launch Pad spot for some lovely guests. Now we’re approaching the end of the year, I thought it would be good to catch up with them and find out what they are working on now.

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First on the spot, back in May, was internationally bestselling author, Lizzie Chantree, who had just released her latest romance, Shh… It’s our secret. Checking in on Lizzie’s social media, she already has another book out, The Woman Who Felt Invisible. Now that’s impressive! Click on the cover to view on Amazon.

Working as a stationery supervisor and a sitter to a pair of internet famous, delinquent dogs, wasn’t how former cyber-specialist, Olivia, imagined her life turning out. Working in a tiny cubicle with a decrepit computer and being overlooked had suited her for a while, but now she’s fed up, lonely and determined to make the world ‘see’ her again. Old school friend, Darius, wants to fill Olivia’s days with romance, but their love of technology has taken them on very different paths. Gorgeous undercover policeman Gabe is steadfast in finding out if Olivia was part of an online scam, but something doesn’t feel right and he suspects someone else was manipulating her life. Can love blossom from the most deceptive of starts? And can someone who feels lost, find a way to flourish against all odds?

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Next on the Launch Pad was Jude Itakali, who joined us in June to promote his wonderful new poetry collection, Crossroads (Winds of Love). I had an inter-continental chat with Jude the other day, via the wonder of Whatsapp, and this is what he had to say about his current writing project:

Ahhh, what can I say? Writing my first novel has been a rollercoaster ride, weaving through hopes, fears and even moments of bliss. It has probably been the greatest challenge I’ve ever undertaken, but still a most enjoyable one.

The original inspiration for writing my upcoming novel was actually from a poetic story I wrote over a year ago on my blog. I remember many of the comments saying it would make an outstanding novel. Once I was done publishing my debut poetry book, I knew that it was possible to get a book out into the world, so I started working on the novel. My core drive comes from a deepest realization that writing is what truly feeds my soul; what makes me happiest. I have always had a dream to write and be read, and I’m living half that dream for now, but that’s plenty too.  

The initial promo campaign for my debut novel (coming in Spring 2022) starts January, so I can’t reveal much until we’ve decided on some marketing details with the publisher. Here’s a little teaser verse I wrote about a few of the themes you’ll find in the book:

“Be it born to darkness and sacrifice,
Or be it raised amidst love and hope,
Those who dwell under light and freedom,
Or those shackled to ways preordained –
The cruelest curses stem from our greatest blessings
And yet some are cursed, so that others may be blessed.”


I hope that soon you will all walk, love, run and creep, along the thin line between blessing and curse, in my upcoming YA fantasy saga.

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In July, I had the pleasure of hosting Paul English, my writing buddy from up the road. Paul is another highly prolific author and back in July, the first book in his sci-fi trilogy, Scorched Earth: Arrival, had not long been published. We regularly get together for a ‘writerly chat’ over coffee and cake, so I’m well up on what Paul’s been up to. Here’s his comment between mouthfuls of carrot cake:

“Thanks for inviting me back on your blog. Since the last time I was over there, I’ve completed the second book of the Scorched Earth trilogy, Scorched Earth: Takeover. In a nutshell, the book takes up the story again about a month after the alien Drahux Empire arrived on Earth in Scorched Earth: Arrival. The tension rises as aliens are slowly taking over the planet, while our broken heroes are struggling to pick themselves up in order to fend off the alien threat before its too late.”

Not one to rest on his laurels, Paul is already busy with the final part of the trilogy. You can follow his progress over on his blog, Backroom Bulletin.

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Prehistoric fiction author, Jacqui Murray, joined us on the Launch Pad in August, where she shared her insights into how she found her writer’s voice and how this enabled her to follow her passion for writing the books she truly wanted to share with the world. At the time, her second book in her Dawn of Humanity Trilogy, Laws of Nature, had recently been released.

I caught up with Jacqui via email and this is what she said about her progress with the third book in the trilogy:

“After several months of stodgy progress, Natural Selection is finally moving forward.  Which is good because when it comes to writing, I have no Plan B. It either works or I’m f****. Yes, I understand all novels come with the warning, ‘some assembly required’. My fear is that when I’m done, there will be pieces leftover. None so far! Check back with me in January.”

Jacqui sent me the cover pic in the meantime. Doesn’t that whet your appetite?

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In September, I was delighted to host Michelle Navajas, international best selling poet, on the Launch Pad, where she shared her writing journey with us, setting out what has inspired her to write her ever-growing series of poetry books. This was her reply when I emailed her to find out what she’s working on at the moment.

“I am currently working on my 6th book which is the second edition of ‘After Rain Skies’ – a collection of true and inspiring stories of abuse and violence. The second edition will highlight other forms of abuse which I’d refused to write about in the first edition due to their highly sensitive nature. Now, I finally have got the courage to write about them.”

Here’s Michelle pictured with some of the awards she has earned in recognition of her unique, meaningful and highly accessible style of poetry.

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Next up on the Launch Pad was novelist and poet, Liz Gauffreau, whose deeply moving collection of syllabic poetry, Grief Songs, was published in October. A brief flurry of emails revealed some very exciting developments in Liz’s literary life.

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Here’s what Liz told me:

“Recently, I’ve had a short story, “New England Gothic,” published in The Chamber Magazine, a horror magazine, and another of my short stories, “A Formal Feeling Comes,” was published in Remington Review. Each publication is a bit out of the ordinary for me, as I’ve never written a horror story before and didn’t intend to with “New England Gothic.” “A Formal Feeling Comes” is a reprint. The first journal that published it changed the ending in a way that contradicted everything that came before it. (I won’t agree to that again!)

I’ve also just had a story, “Bonnie and Clyde Rob the Enosburg Falls National Bank,” accepted as part of a new venture that creates a video reading of the story as the means of publication. We’ll have to wait and see whether anything comes of it!

I have a collection of short stories planned for release in 2023. The stories all take place in my home town of Enosburg Falls, Vermont. “Bonnie and Clyde Rob the Enosburg Falls National Bank” is one of them.

Currently, I’m working on a new novel set at the Sheldon Poor Farm in Sheldon Springs, Vermont. It was the last poor farm in Vermont. The state shut it down in 1968, which is the year the novel takes place. I have a great deal of research ahead of me, so I’m more in the inspiration stage right now.”

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My final guest this year was Tom Burton, who joined us last month, having recently released his second collection of short stories, Pocketful of Time. Tom also shared some interesting insights into writing craft with his ‘Three Top Guidelines’, garnered from his own experience as a storyteller.

When I caught up with Tom earlier this week, I discovered that he’d had one of those writer’s eish! moments and accidentally lost quite a large chunk of the newest draft of his forthcoming historical short story collection. What with that and all the activity associated with the forthcoming festive season, Tom has had to postpone its release until next year.

If Pocketful of Time is anything to go by, be sure to look out for Tom’s new book in 2022!

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I’d like to thank all the authors who took time out to spend time with us on the Launch Pad spot last year, and who’ve just updated us about their latest progress and projects. If you’re reading this and would like a spot on the Launch Pad to talk about your new releases and literary adventures in 2022, please let me know.

In the meantime, I’m hoping to share news of my own new release next year.

Location, Location, Location #28

Wide angle view of the Gare du Nord, Paris
Location No. 28 – Gare du Nord, Paris

Welcome to Paris, where we find ourselves just outside the Gard du Nord, the imposing railway station in the north of the city, for another stop on our literary tour through the pages of my novels. You may remember that we previously visited the ‘city of lovers’ almost a year ago, when we caught up with Laura and Greg from The Silver Locket in the Père Lachaise cemetery.

As I explained then, Paris was as special to Laura, as it is to me, and I drew heavily on my own experiences of visiting that wonderful city when I was writing the book. Paris was the first overseas location to which I travelled with my husband, back in 1985, when we were very, very young. We visited the city during the Easter Weekend, travelling by ferry and train, and stayed in the two hotels mentioned in the excerpt below – for the very same reason.

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Laura was just opening a tin of soup for her lunch when the phone rang. It was Greg.

“Hi, Law, what are you doing next weekend?”

“I’ve nothing planned, Greg.  Why?”

“Come to Paris with me. I’ll send you the plane ticket.”

“What, Paris, for the weekend?” Laura had to admit she was excited at the prospect.  This was more like the old Greg. “That’s a bit extravagant, isn’t it?”

“The thing is, I’m down to go to a conference there the following week, but I thought if I arrived early, you could come over and we could make a special weekend of it. I know you love Paris, we could stay in that same hotel by Gare du Nord.”

That would be fabulous, really, Greg.”

“Okay then, it’s settled, I’ll sort out the tickets now. You should get them mid-week. Just make sure you get yourself to the airport in good time.”

“Yes, Greg, of course, listen I…”

“Sorry, Law, gotta go, duty calls.” He rang off abruptly.

Laura looked at the receiver. Well, that was a surprise, a very nice one too. Laura did love Paris, and it was special to her and Greg too. Their first trip away together had been to Paris. They’d gone for a week. They’d spent the first two nights in the Hotel Apollo, opposite the station, but couldn’t afford to stay there longer, so had moved to a cheaper hotel round the corner. She couldn’t remember its name, but she did remember the very squeaky bed. Laura shook her head in embarrassment, her face feeling flushed even now. Everyone had stared at them smirking at breakfast, or at least that what she’d thought at the time.

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Ahem. On with the tour…

The glass pyramid outside the famous Louvre Museum hadn’t been built when we first visited Paris, although it was finished by the time that Laura and Greg went there in 1989, several years before Dan Brown made it really famous in the Da Vinci Code.

I’ve always enjoyed visiting museums and galleries, but one of my biggest disappointments in the Louvre was the size of the painting of the Mona Lisa, which we, like Laura, found was surrounded by a tightly-packed crowd of tourists. As I remember, Leonardo’s La Giaconda was encased in a thick glass cabinet, making it even more difficult to see. Still, there were many, many other wonderful exhibits to appreciate, as well as the gift shop!

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Laura showered and dressed. There were still several hours before she was due to meet Greg, but she was quite keen to have another look around the Louvre, particularly since Greg’s attention span for such places was considerably shorter than her own. She remembered she needed to get a present for Helen; there was sure to be something suitable in the museum shop and if she still had time to spare she could always wander around the nearby gardens.

Laura drifted around the museum. Normally in a place of this size she would be systematic and plan a route around the things she really wanted to see, but today she was too preoccupied with her feelings about Greg and whether she really did want to go with him on this new posting. He’d not really convinced her about the job she’d be doing, although it had to be better than the one she had in Brussels. No one seemed to miss her from it anyway. There had certainly been no problem extending her leave of absence. The decision was really about her relationship with Greg. Yesterday, up on Montmartre, she’d convinced herself that she they had a promising future together, but now he’d gone off to this urgent meeting, and she’d had time to reflect on her own, she wasn’t so sure.

She found herself behind a group of Japanese tourists. Laura smiled to herself. They would be jostling for position to view the Mona Lisa. Laura mingled with the crowd, moving gently through them to the thick glass cabinet which contained the famous portrait.

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And so to ever-so-romantic Montmartre, with its galleries, artists and cafés, and probably the most expensive gin and tonic in the world.

Place du Tertre, Montmartre

In June 1993, budget airline, Easyjet started flying from Liverpool to Paris, and with Liverpool’s John Lennon airport just down the road from where we lived, we decided to treat ourselves to a weekend in Paris. On this particular trip, we decided to enjoy an afternoon drink after visiting the wonderful Salvador Dalí Museum and Gallery. We naïvely selected a pavement café on the edge of the main square above, ordered two G&Ts and discovered the cost was €12 (about $13.50) – pretty pricey now, extortionate then!

We made our drinks last, and it was suppertime before we moved on. I can’t remember where we ate, nor specifically where we finished our evening, but it was in a small, softly-lit bar where a pianist serenaded us, the only customers. He played several songs we recognised, including one of those ‘our tunes’. Some of you might recognise the Tom Robinson version, ‘Yuppie Scum’, but listening to the tune being played on the piano in that Parisian bar that night makes this clip seem far more appropriate for me to share with you.

That concludes our little tour for today, but even though I may never return, my memories of that wonderful city will continue to be a source of inspiration to me, for like Bergman and Bogart, We’ll Always Have Paris.

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The Silver Locket in paperback and ebook with the quote 'I enjoyed it so much that I read it in a day'.

The Silver Locket
(written under pen name Holly Atkins) is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.

USA UK ~ ESP ~ CAN ~ AUS ~ IND ~ the rest of the world

Image credits: Gard du Nord – MarcusObal (Wikimedia Commons); Louvre – Irina Lediaeva on Unsplash; Mona Lisa – Werner Willmann (Wikimedia Commons); Montmartre – talktraveltome.com

Location, Location, Location #27

Location No. 27 – Entering Lwandle Township (photo: stayza.com)

Welcome back to our literary tour through the pages of my novels. Today we’re returning to South Africa where we’re just about to enter a place called Lwandle. It’s not a usual stop on the tourist trail, although it boasts an important little museum – we’ll take a little contextual detour to it in a moment – but as far as our literary tour is concerned, it is here (or in an invented place very like it) that my character, Albertina first steps into the pages of ‘Song of the Sea Goddess‘.

Lwandle is an informal settlement (also known as a ‘location’) about 15 minutes drive from where I stay in Somerset West. It was originally established in the late 1950s to house workers who were brought in from rural areas to work in the farming and fruit canning businesses which had been established in the area. Let’s find out a little more about what conditions were like back then by visiting the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum which is just around the corner on our left.

Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum video

With the onset of democracy in South Africa in 1994, the ANC-led government turned the hostels of Lwandle into family-type accommodation. At the same time, with the relaxation of the restriction of movement throughout the country, more people arrived from the rural areas of the Eastern Cape. As a result, the area became increasingly overcrowded.

Even now, although some residents live in brick and block-built buildings, many still live in shacks, awaiting government-approved housing projects to be put in place. Those who are working mainly have jobs in the surrounding towns of Somerset West, Strand and Gordon’s Bay, and the roundabout in the picture above, is the place where I pick up Rayno, my gardener/handyman and Primrose, my housekeeper. Primrose came from the Eastern Cape about 20 years ago, but Rayno was born here, his grandparents and great-grandparents having worked on one of the fruit farms years ago. Although their family homes are modest, they have proper sanitation and the security of an enclosed yard. Other residents live in very humble circumstances, much as I imagined Albertina’s shack – no more than a small timber shed, like you might have at the bottom of your garden. But Albertina, with her proud and positive attitude, decides to up-sticks and seek a new place to stay.

Back in February, I wrote a guest post for da-AL’s ‘Happiness Between Tails‘, in which I talked about why I wanted to ‘uplift’ my characters, some of whom, like Albertina, are based on an amalgam of people I’ve met since I moved to South Africa. I explained how the characters that I’d created deserved something more and better, and that’s why Albertina starts her journey standing by the exit to a service station with a twenty rand note in her hand.

Only a couple of weeks ago, I discovered from da-AL that she’d converted and added that post, ‘Imagining a New Place’ to her growing list of podcasts. Note to self: this really is something I should try. You can listen to Imagining a New Place here, the actual post starts three minutes in.

Now, let’s join Albertina as, fed up with the noise and the dust, and the general mayhem in the ‘location’, she packs up her belongings and makes for the N2 highway to hitch a ride in search that new and better place.

Excerpt from Song of the Sea Goddess

Albertina throws the remains of her coffee onto the dust outside the door and stuffs her little tin mug into the top of the bulging holdall which stands by a similarly stuffed canvas bag next to the open door. As she finishes chewing the crust of bread she’d saved for her breakfast, she adjusts her second best wig and looks around the shack which has been her home for the best part of a year: Time to move on.

Albertina snatches up the two heavy bags containing all her worldly goods and strides out into the early morning. She holds her head up and sticks her nose in the air as she walks past the people busy with their cooking fires and washing bowls. She will not miss them and she will not miss the location, with its noise and dust, and people fighting and drinking long into the night. Her son is settled in a farm school and he has a roof over his head. He’s with people who’ll take better care of him that she can, far away from the temptations of drugs and alcohol, underage sex and communicable diseases which seem to be all that life has to offer for young people here.

Service station on the N2 freeway (photo: sasol.com)

Fifteen minutes of steady walking bring Albertina to the edge of the freeway. She is aware of the weight of the bags that she’s carrying, but she’s used to it. Used to carrying all her belongings with her; you can’t leave anything in your shack. The traffic is heavy, and the hot dirty wind from the road tugs at her long skirt. Albertina trudges on as far as the service station where she stops near the exit to the parking area. Here she will get her first lift. She takes out a tightly folded twenty rand note from where is has been tucked inside her clothing, unfolds it and carefully smooths out the creases. She holds it up to each vehicle that passes.

It’s not long before a large blue truck pulls up beside her, its airbrakes hissing loudly. The driver leans over and extends a thick brown arm to open the passenger door for her. Albertina looks up at him. For a moment they scrutinise each other. He looks okay, she thinks, but she’s still wary. She tries to read his face. The driver breaks into a gap-toothed grin and asks her where she’s going.

Albertina shrugs. ‘Just onwards,’ she smiles cautiously.

‘I’m going up the coast,’ he replies.

Albertina nods. One direction is as good as another. The coast sounds nice; fresh. Why not? Something will turn up. She hefts her bags into the foot-well and, gathering up her skirt, climbs nimbly into the cab. The driver indicates the seat belt and reaches over to help her. His hand brushes briefly against her left breast. She looks at him sharply but his attention is already focused on the road as he pulls away.

He eases the heavy vehicle out onto the busy highway, turning the radio up loudly. Albertina is grateful for the music; she doesn’t like to chat to strangers. She looks out of the window watching the sprawl of scruffy buildings give way to a patch of open land, then more buildings, this time huge, bland industrial buildings. She briefly wonders what goes on inside them. The truck driver taps on the steering wheel along with the music, apart from when he jabs at the horn or mutters an obscenity at some other road user. She winces inwardly at the words.

The truck turns off the freeway and onto the West Coast highway. The traffic is calmer and there is only bush and scrub beyond the edge of the tarmac. Albertina gazes out across the open country; the ocean is faintly discernible, a clear azure strip below the wide African sky. She winds down her window a little. The driver turns to her – they haven’t so much as exchanged names – and suggests they stop for a break. He needs to stretch his legs. Albertina nods and leans forward to reach inside the pocket of her holdall.

Roadside Rest Stop on the West Coast Highway (my photo)

There is a rest stop a kilometre ahead: three sets of concrete tables with concrete stools surrounding them, set back from the road under a stand of shady trees. There is nobody else there. The driver parks up and jumps out of the cab. He strides round the front of the truck and opens the passenger door for Albertina. Although she is perfectly capable of dismounting by herself, he offers her a hand to help her down. Albertina’s bright pink pumps hit the ground lightly; the driver keeps hold of her hand and pulls her gently sideways, away from the door. Their eyes meet as he takes a step towards her. She takes a step back. He smiles pleasantly. ‘Come now,’ he says, ‘a little something for my trouble.’ He closes in and Albertina is caught between him and the side of the truck.

Quick as a flash, she whips out her little steel knife and holds the point against the side of his neck. The man’s eyes widen. He steps back, holding up his hands up in surprise. It is now Albertina’s turn to advance. She sets her face in a steely glare and, although inside her heart is fluttering with fear, she takes a step forward, knife raised. A long minute passes. A couple of cars go by; a bird shrieks in the tree above them. Then all is quiet.

Loud music breaks the silence heralding the arrival of a bright red sports car. It draws up sharply behind the truck, raising a cloud of dust. The driver looks around. Albertina’s gaze remains fixed on him. Car doors open and the music blares out more loudly. High female voices call out to each other. Paying no attention to the truck or the two people beside it they unload a cooler box from the car and dump it on the nearest table.

The driver holds out his hands, palms upward. ‘Sorry, sorry,’ he says quickly. Albertina glances towards the noisy group of girls. She lowers the knife.

‘I’m getting your bags,’ the man says firmly. Albertina nods. Moments later her bags are on the ground and the truck is starting up. Albertina watches calmly as he drives away. She picks up her bags and goes to sit at the nearest table, looking across at the four long-limbed blonde-headed girls who are sipping from cans of cool drink.

‘Hey!’ One of the girls gets up and walks over to Albertina. ‘Ag, no! Did that guy just leave you here?’ She looks round at her friends and back at Albertina. ‘Shame, man!’ Another girl approaches and asks where she’s going. Albertina gestures vaguely up the road.

‘Lesley,’ the first girl calls out. ‘We can fit another one in the back, hey?’

Albertina now becomes the centre of attention. The skimpily-clad young women gather round, and one of them fetches a cool drink for her; they all mutter darkly about the ‘skelm’ driver. Albertina is a little overwhelmed, but happily accepts the offer of a lift. They can’t take her to where they’re staying, of course, but the nearest town will surely be fine. Albertina nods. It will surely be fine.

And so, after a whirlwind of a drive in the noisy little sports car, with its loud music and louder girls, and the howling wind which forced her to remove her second-best wig, so as not to lose it out of the open window, Albertina finds herself back on foot, carrying her two bulging bags into a busy little coastal town. By late afternoon, she’s found her way down to the harbour. She sets her bags down and stares out across the ocean. She breathes in the sharp, salty air and looks around. She has a good feeling about this place. Something will turn up, she thinks.

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Location, Location, Location #26

photo of castle street in Liverpool showing the town hall at the end of the street. Cafes and restaurants occupy the ground floors of these impressive 19th century buildings
Location No.26 – Castle Street, Liverpool City Centre

Welcome back to our literary tour through the pages of my novels. Once again, we’re in the centre of Liverpool, with a fine view of the Town Hall in front of us. The insurance office where I started my first ‘proper’ job is just around the corner on Exchange Street East. The building has been converted into a Travelodge, which I find rather weird. You can take a peek at it here – see the old company logo carved into the stonework over the front door? How strange to stay in a building in which you once worked!

Anyway, that’s not why we’re here. We’re just going to pop through one of the doorways on the right of the picture into a warm and slightly stuffy basement café, and take a peek at one of my favourite scenes from You’ll Never Walk Alone. The café will have changed beyond all recognition now, but the way I describe it was pretty much the way it was when we used to pop out from the office for a lunchtime tea and toasted teacake, long before the time when central Liverpool became a trendy, ‘go-to’ destination.

All done? Well, let’s jump on the No 82 bus and travel out to the leafy suburbs of south Liverpool.

1 Aigburth Vale, Liverpool 17

This rather sad-looking building is where my husband and I first rented a flat together (it was a little bit smarter back then). The house is at the end of a long driveway and there was a rambling woodland garden on one side, long gone now. The area is occupied by some rather nice retirement flats. You can just make it out in Google Maps Street View.

The house originally belonged to Sir Ronald Ross, the man who discovered that malaria was transmitted by mosquitoes. Later the building was sold and it became a nightclub, and so it gets a passing mention in my book excerpt below.

Now, onto the story – look out for my little ‘Hitchcockian’ cameo too!

Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone

Gina had almost finished her coffee. Mollie, her mother, was late as usual. She fiddled with the teaspoon in her saucer and stared around the gloomy interior of the subterranean cafeteria, at its brown banquettes and Formica-topped tables. Dreary pictures of sad-looking landscapes lined the walls. The place was stuck in the 1970s. Not a good decade for Liverpool, (not that the 80s were turning out to be much better so far). Gina wondered what it was about this particular establishment which made it her mother’s favourite lunchtime meeting place. Maybe some tie from the past. Well, that was apt, Gina thought, as she took the photocopied photo from her bag; the one with her mother, her long-time friend Marie and various members of the Kingston Jazz Cats, including Godrell Clarke, the man Mollie claimed was Gina’s father.

The sound of Mollie’s voice preceded her as she tottered down steps from Castle Street in her high heels. “Oh Marie, you know who I mean, the one with the face like a robber’s dog.” Gina rolled her eyes, glancing at the woman at the next table, who had been sitting pen in hand, gazing at the notebook in front of her. The woman looked up at the two women as they made their entrance and suddenly started writing.

“Here she is!” Marie started waving at Gina as she bustled her way through the tables. She was hard to miss in her bright pink coat. “Gina, love, sorry we’re late.” Marie plonked a couple of carrier bags down on the floor before easing her way between table top and banquette to sit opposite Gina. “Bargains,” she announced proudly, “you should get along to T J Hughes’s and have a look. I got a smashing skirt and a few little tops, all for a tenner.”

Mollie arrived more sedately and sat down next to Marie. “Ouch, my feet are killin’ me.” She slipped off her shoes under the table and flexed her stockinged toes.

“You didn’t walk from TJ’s in those new shoes of yours, did you, Ma?”

“No, love, of course not, we got the bus, but it’s still a tidy walk from the stop in Dale Street.” Mollie reached down and rubbed her left foot. “I think I’ve got a bunion coming.”

The waitress hovered beside the table. “What can I get you, ladies?”

“What’s the soup today?” asked Mollie.

“Mulligatawny.”

Mollie pulled a face.

“We’ve got sandwiches: cheese and ham, cheese and tomato, ham and tomato. Or there’s scones or toasted teacakes.” The waitress reeled off the limited menu.

“Toasted teacake and a tea, please,” said Marie.

“Same for me,” said Gina.

Mollie paused, screwing up her eyes in an effort of indecision. “Yes, I’ll have that too,” she said eventually. “And make it a pot of tea, for three.”

The waitress nodded and scribbled on her pad before wandering back to the serving counter.

“How’s Gary, love?” asked Marie, leaning across the table.

“Fine, thanks,” Gina smiled, remembering the wicked look on his face as they’d tumbled into bed the previous evening.

“Oh look at that. Isn’t that just the cat that got the cream last night,” said Mollie loudly,

“Ma, shush,” Gina said, glancing at the woman at the next table. Her head was bent over her notebook, busy writing.

“What’s the matter, love?” said Mollie innocently.

“You’re embarrassing me.”

“No ring on your finger yet?” Marie put in.

“Not yet, Auntie Marie,” Gina smiled sweetly, covering her irritation.

“Oh, I wish you’d drop the ‘auntie’, Gina,” said Marie, “you make me feel like a hundred years old.”

Gina laughed. “Okay, I’ll try to remember.” She picked up the photo and slid it across the table. “Now, look. Here’s what I wanted you to see.”

Both women leaned forward and peered at the grainy photocopy. There was silence for a full two minutes, probably a record for those two, thought Gina. She looked over at the woman at the next table; she was gazing into space again.

‘Well?” said Gina, impatient for a reaction.

“Oh my word,” said Marie. “Don’t we look young?”

“We were young. Younger than our Gina is now.” Mollie stroked the face of the man holding the saxophone. “Here he is, my Godrell.” She had a dreamy look in her eyes. “He was so gorgeous, and he fell for me.”

“…and then left you.” Gina put in.

Mollie ignored her. “What were the others’ names, Marie? This one with the trumpet?” Mollie tapped the photo with a red-painted nail, “Deon something…”

“No, Deon was the guitarist. That’s Dixon. Dixon Jones played the trumpet.” Marie smiled. “He had a bit of thing for me, remember?”

There was a pause while the waitress set out the cups and saucers. “The teacakes are just coming,” she said as she set down a large stainless steel teapot before heading back to the serving counter.

“Where was the picture taken?” asked Gina.

“It was a dance hall,” said Marie, “near Sefton Park somewhere, wasn’t it?” she turned to Mollie.

“I don’t remember…” Mollie shook her head.

The food arrived. Mollie poked her teacake with a knife. She looked up at the waitress and smiled. “Lovely. Thanks, love.” The waitress mumbled something as she turned away.

Marie continued: “It was up this long drive. A big white building, with French doors to the garden outside. You must remember. You’d disappeared outside with Godrell that time…”

Mollie’s face lit up with recognition. “Oh yes…”

Gina noticed a red flush travel up her mother’s neck. “Really, Ma?”

“You can mind your own business, my girl,” said Mollie. Although she spoke sharply, she had a twinkle in her eye. She busied herself buttering her teacake.

Gina took a bite of her own teacake and decided to change the subject. “What about you and the trumpet player, Marie?”

“Oh, that never came to anything, love. I’d met my Jimmy by then.” The three women cast their eyes down. Jimmy had been killed in an accident at the docks when Gina was nine. He and three other men had entered the cargo hold of a ship which was full of logs. One of the others had slipped and fallen into a gap between the logs. Jimmy had tried to rescue him, but he too had disappeared into the narrow spaces between the logs. When the two men were eventually brought out by the shore fire brigade, both had died of suffocation.

Gina smiled sadly. Her uncle Jimmy had been a great favourite of hers, always cracking jokes and bringing her sweets.

Marie rubbed her hand across her face and turned her attention back to the photo. “Just look at what we’re wearing… and your hairdo, Mollie.” She turned to Gina, “you know, your mother was the first girl to have a beehive in South Liverpool.”

Mollie laughed. “All that lacquer, it set hard like a bloody helmet.”

“You know why our handbags are all lined up on the table like that?” Marie looked at Gina. Gina shook her head. “We had those miniatures of gin behind them, but all you can see are the tonic bottles.” She threw back her head and laughed. “What a time, we had.”

an old photo taken c. 1960 showing four young women all dressed up sitting at a table with their handbags in front of them. You can see little bottles of tonic water, but the accompanying gin is hidden.
‘Hiding the gin’. Emma, my lovely late mum-in-law is the one winking at the camera.

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You’ll Never Walk Alone is available from Amazon in paperback, e-book & on Kindle Unlimited
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Photo credits: liverpool.echo.co.uk, boomin.com

Little Inspirations: Translocation from Greece

Pyrgi, on the island of Chios, Greece c. 1996

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!

Pyrgi, the ‘painted village’ in southern Chios

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.’

‘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?’

Sam and Jannie exchange glances.

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Location, Location, Location #25

Location No. 25 – Anfield, home of Liverpool Football Club

Welcome back to our literary tour through the pages on my novels and, in case you didn’t realise straight away, we’re back in Liverpool, so we must be dropping in on the characters of You’ll Never Walk Alone. Look up, the words are written above these wrought-iron gates, right by where we’re standing!

These are the famous Shankly gates, erected in tribute to Bill Shankly, the manager who brought huge success to the team in the early 1970s. It was during his reign that the club adopted its famous anthem, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. Hearing the fans sing the song at the start of a match or after a hard-earned victory, sends a shiver down the spine. It is that feeling of togetherness and belonging which really what inspired the title of my novel, as my ‘players’ stand together and support each other throughout the narrative. In fact, the book isn’t about football or Liverpool FC at all – just a few passing references and one character’s obsession.

Bill Shankly is famous for the quote: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.So it is for some in the city but not all, especially Gina, although Gary, her boyfriend is the die-hard football fan.. Here’s his view of the ‘beautiful game’.

Gina rolled her eyes at Gary. Well, what exotic location are we going to tonight?”

“Go for a couple of pints, chippy and back in time for ‘Match of the Day. My ideal night!” Gary turned to Tony Wong. “Here, Tone, have one of your crackers.”  Gary proffered the bowl to its owner.

Tony Wong giggled and took the bowl. “Two left, which will you take, Miss Gina?” he said, holding the bowl out to her.

“Mmm, which one predicts I’m going to do something other than watch football on the telly tonight?” She pointed to each of the cookies in turn. “Eeny, meeny, miny, mo.”  She picked out one of the cookies and chewed it open. “‘Your passions sweep you away!’ I think that should’ve been Lu’s.”

“Hey, I’m passionate about footy – you should be too.” Gary broke into song: “We’re on the way to Wembley, on the way to Wembley…”

Liverpool – South Africa Connection

Back in 2005, we were entertaining a little group of teachers from South Africa who were on an exchange visit to my husband’s school. As part of their visit we took an organised tour around the LFC ground. Our guide was explaining the importance of the Kop, the stand behind one of the goals occupied by the ‘Kopites’ – the home team supporters. At the time, I didn’t know what the Kop was named for. However, one of our party did. Carmen held up her hand and pre-empted him. You can’t keep a good teacher down!

The Battle of Spion Kop

Spion Kop (Spioenkop) literally means ‘Spy hill’. During the Second Anglo-Boer War, the town of Ladysmith, which was being held by the British, had been besieged by the Boers for a couple of months. The Spioenkop, which was occupied by the Boers, offered a view from the summit for hundreds of miles all around, so the British considered it important to attack and hold it. The British prevailed in the end, but they had lost 340 soldiers before they ended the four month long siege. The new Anfield stand, opened in 1906, was named the Kop as a tribute to the many local men who died during that battle.

It was that exchange visit and the friends that we made, that sowed the seeds that would lead to us moving to South Africa 5 years later.

The Other Team in Town

Before we get swept away by an outpouring of love for Liverpool FC, I must mention the other local soccer team, Everton Football Club, whose ground is only a mile away from where we’re standing. It’s another fine football club, with a long history which goes back even further than LFC’s. Obviously, there is strong rivalry between the two clubs, although it is genial for the most part. In the interests of balance I did introduce a Everton-supporting character: Bob’s Nan. It’s pretty clear where her loyalties lie, even if we never actually meet her.

It’s in the scene below that we first meet her little monkey, Fingers.

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Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone

Gary and his mate, Bob, had evidently come into the sitting room as the sound of the pre-match build-up on the TV started blaring out from the other side of her door. Liverpool were playing away to some team or other deemed by the boys to be too far away to attend midweek. It was a regular ritual: Bob would always come round when Liverpool were playing away because followers of Liverpool FC weren’t tolerated at his Nan’s where he lived, his Nan being an ardent armchair Everton fan.  On these occasions Lucy and Gina would usually go to the local wine bar or spend the evening downstairs with Cynthia. Tonight they were planning a quiet drink at the nearby Alicia Hotel as Cynthia was out with Connor at some ‘poetry slam’, whatever that was.

She heard the door to the flat open.  Even above the sound of the TV Lucy couldn’t mistake the characteristic squeal of the hinges.

“All right, Gina!” Lucy heard Bob’s voice, loud and cheery as ever.

“G, luv!” (Gary) “We got any more crisps?”

There was a pause.  Lucy visualised Gina’s expression.

“Fingers ate them.” (Gary again).

Just then Lucy heard something crash to the floor

“What the..?” Gina’s voice rose an octave.

Lucy opened her bedroom door to see Bob plucking a small monkey dressed in a grubby red waistcoat from the coffee table. The large metal bowl which they habitually used for snacks was upturned on the floor in front of the TV surrounded by a halo of crisp fragments.

The creature in Bob’s arms struggled and shrieked in alarm. “Shush lad, easy now.” He turned to Gina, “you’re scaring him.” He stroked the monkey’s head, who’d calmed down considerably in the safety of Bob’s grasp.

“Meet Fingers, girls!”  Bob looked from Gina to Lucy and back to Gina.  “Sorry about that. Bad manners. Gets excited over food, like.”

“You have a monkey?” Asked Gina, eyebrows raised.

“He’s me Nan’s. She found him down Paddy’s market. She was off to the bingo, like. Couldn’t take him, cos he’s been banned.”

“I wonder why,” said Gina, picking up the bowl.

“It’s a long story, like.”  Bob looked down at Fingers and chuckled.

Lucy leant over the back of the couch and stretched a hand out towards the monkey. “Oh, but he’s sweet.”

“Sort of.”  Bob grinned at her.

Fingers wriggled a paw from beneath Bob’s grasp and reached towards Lucy’s outstretched hand. He gently grasped her finger in his little paw, looking up at her while chattering softly.

“Looks like you’ve made a friend.” Bob winked at Lucy.

“Can I hold him?” Lucy stretched over to take Fingers from him.

“Okay, but be careful. He bites.”

“I’m sure he won’t bite me.” She took Fingers who snuggled in her arms, his delicate little paws playing with her long hair.

“Why’s he called Fingers?” Gina asked.

“Me Nan named him.  I wanted to call him Robin.”

“Why Robin?”

Suddenly Fingers wriggled out of Lucy’s arms, dropped onto the couch and started rummaging between the cushions, chattering away to himself. He had almost disappeared when he popped back out again. With a loud whoop he skittered under the coffee table and disappeared behind the TV. Bob frowned. Moving surprisingly quickly for his sizeable build, he rushed to the TV. Pulling it aside on its casters he grabbed Fingers by the waistcoat and hauled him out. Wrapped around his neck was Lucy’s necklace.

“Because he’s a robbin’ bastard!”

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You’ll Never Walk Alone is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook & Kindle Unlimited
USA UK ~ CAN ~ AUS IND ~ the rest of the world

Image credits: playupliverpool.com, lfhistory.net, Mike Pennington