Barefoot On The Cobbles – Guest Post by Janet Few

Dr Janet Few.JPG

When Chantelle kindly offered to allow me to pay a visit to her blog, she said that her own writing was gritty, contemporary and non-conformist. I reckoned that I could manage at least two out of three. Then I discovered that her blog was called Glorious Outsiders and that certainly had a resonance. I am here to talk about my new novel Barefoot on the Cobbles and my slightly eccentric life; Glorious Outsiders abound!

Before I was any sort of published author, I was and still am, an historian. As such, I am not particularly interested in politics or tales of the great and good. I am fascinated by ordinary people, how they lived and the influences that underlie their behaviour. If I say that the presentations that I give on historical topics include aspects of witchcraft, mental health, non-conformist religion and the role of women, you might get the idea. It is the marginalised who intrigue me the most; truly the outsiders.

I am also a keen family historian. I seek out my ancestors and pay tribute to all those from whom I descend. These are not rich people, nor are they anyone who is well-known but they are those who, if it were not for me, might be forgotten. I have several non-fiction books in my portfolio; books about social history, genealogy and local history. I had reached a lull in ideas for more non-fiction topics, so I thought it was time to turn to fiction. I hadn’t written ‘stories’, since I was an angst-ridden teenager. I was all set to craft a very different novel, when the tragedy upon which Barefoot on the Cobbles is based came to my attention. It was a story that was not recalled in local folklore, which piqued my interest. So, in a way, I still haven’t written fiction, as this is the retelling of a true story. I did find that my historian’s instincts had to be suppressed at times. Although very little in the book is pure invention, there were occasions when I had to create plausible scenarios to fill in the gaps in the historical record. At first, I found it very difficult to convince myself that I really could just make it up!

Barefoot is set, in the early years of the twentieth century. This era provided me with plenty of scope, encompassing as it does, the First World War, the fight for women’s suffrage, the influenza epidemic, the dawning of a social conscience and medical care in pre-NHS days, all of which feature in the book. So, from that point of view, the novel is not contemporary, yet the emotions that my characters experience are recognisable today; the psychological make-up of human beings does not change.

3d

In Barefoot on the Cobbles you will find a narrative set in the beautiful Devon landscape; communities whose lives were shaped by the sea. So not just real people but real, recognisable places. There are scenes in the local asylum, on a battlefield, in court and on deathbeds. I think that qualifies as gritty. It isn’t all doom and gloom because the characters’ lives shaded from joy to despair, as do our own. As I struggle to answer the question, ‘What is your book about?’ I often say it is about people and the incidents in their pasts that led to the tragedy that is the culmination of the novel. It is a ‘why-done-it’.

Who then are Barefoot’s non-conformists, the Glorious Outsiders? The person who became the main character is a fisherman’s wife, who is past middle-age and described by some of her neighbours as ‘odd’. On the surface, her behaviour seems unconventional and the novel seeks to explain why this is so. Apart from this desperate mother, you will meet the troubled daughter, the reluctant soldier, the traumatised engineer, the militant suffragette, the alcoholic bankrupt and others on the side-lines.

I will leave you with the blurb and if you want more information, it can be found on my own blog The History Interpreter http://bit.do/bfotc

“In the euphoria of the armistice a young woman lay dying. Daisy had grown up, barefoot on the cobbles, in a village on the rugged North Devon coast; she was mindful of the perils of the uncertain sea. Her family had also been exposed to the dangers of disease and the First World War but for Daisy, it was her own mother who posed the greatest threat of all. What burdens did that mother, an ordinary fisherman’s wife, carry? What past traumas had led, inexorably, to this appalling outcome?

Vividly recreating life at the dawning of the twentieth century, Barefoot on the Cobbles is based on a real tragedy that lay hidden for nearly a hundred years. Rooted in its unique and beautiful geographical setting, here is the unfolding of a past that reverberates unhappily through the decades and of raw emotions that are surprisingly modern in character.”

Barefoot on the Cobbles – a Devon tragedy ISBN: 978-1-911438-54-0 is published by Blue Poppy Publishing https://bluepoppypublishing.co.uk and paperback copies can be obtained from them. It is available on Kindle from Amazon, in various English-speaking countries. The link for the UK is https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07K3YMYRV

 

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Christmas Guest Post; Anna Lock

A few weeks ago I set my writing group a prompt, which was simply ‘Christmas Is…’ I was hoping they would come up with either a memory, a rant, or a piece of fiction based on the prompt which I could then use as a guest post on my blog. I had some amazing responses, and as usual, all very, very different! But I had to go with this one by the wonderful Anna Lock. A poignant piece of fiction on the fragility of family life at Christmas…

Christmas is …

I looked through the box of photographs the other day Dad, the ones from that last Christmas. It was difficult but I made myself do it. There you were, sitting on that shiny blue settee smiling at the camera whilst Janet and I played with our new toys at your feet. I can see it now, of course, the illness, the portents of death that were written into your face, but then, we were children and unaware. Do you remember that Christmas Dad?

The next photo is the one with Joe wearing a hat from a cracker and blowing a silly whistle – it must have been taken after lunch. I don’t recall. It’s strange that isn’t it? The way when you look at a photo you can convince yourself that you can remember that very moment in time even if that isn’t true? He looks really happy; so youthful and unworried, God, he was so young then, my big brother and I was totally oblivious of how difficult that period of his life was for him. He was rarely at home –that was the source of so many rows and bitter fights between you wasn’t it? Janet and I used to pull the blankets over our head in bed to block them out, that and the sound of Mum sobbing and pleading with you both.

Joe is pretending to be tipsy; so ironic when I think of him now, and wonder where he is. How is he spending Christmas this time? Another year in some remote godforsaken land, keeping us all at arm’s length, and in that place he goes to in his head, where the hurt can’t penetrate. He’ll be wasted and alone. I could always try texting him again, although he probably won’t reply and then I’ll get sad and worry that he’s dead somewhere and the cycle of anger with him, you, Mum, God and the world will start again and cripple me. That unbearable burden that each of your children carry, because you left us too soon.

In this photo, Mum and Auntie Audrey are clinking sherry glasses and laughing at the camera. Audrey always spent Christmas with us didn’t she; all those years, before she finally married in her 40s. How she made us laugh! Her exuberance seemed to fill the house, revelling in everything, even Julia’s dreadful mince pies and inedible Christmas cake. Looking back I can see now that we were her surrogate children but at that time, all I knew was that she was such fun to be around; the loud bubbly extrovert and contrast to her quiet sister. Mum looks okay, given the circumstances. Did you know, she mentioned that Christmas to me a few years ago? I can’t remember the context but unusually for her, the rose tinted specs were off, and she told me how Joe had lost yet another job a few weeks before, and that she had given him some money to buy his sisters a present each. Money was so tight then, and she could ill afford it, poor love. But I remember what he bought us, Dad. We had a bottle of bubble bath each and the stopper was like a Barbie head! Janet’s was blond, mine was brown and Julia had a red head.

Mum said that because you had been so ill that autumn, and hadn’t been in work for such a long time, she had been rushing around and consequently neither of you had been able to get a present for Joe – it is difficult to find the right present for an 18-year-old whose only interests are T. Rex, Slade and Manchester United I suppose. So you had decided to give him a cheque. But what with one thing and another it didn’t get written, so you had tried to do it secretly on Christmas morning and hide it in the tree. But somehow that hadn’t happened. Mum was still so sad about that after all these years you know? She had tried to tell Joe later that it wasn’t because you had forgotten him or didn’t care, but deep inside she knew that his pain that day, just added to all the other hurts he was collecting in his heart. She didn’t know then how to handle him – after all her life was so busy with the relentless struggle to make ends meet and look after four children in addition to an increasingly ill husband. And so time ticked on, and Joe gradually dropped off the edge of the family until one day, he slipped beyond our reach.

But none of this is visible in that photo. Maybe in that fleeting moment, Auntie Audrey had succeeded in resurrecting her fun-loving older sister and Kevin had captured it with a “click” – proof preserved forever that the happy, smiling mum once did exist. After you had gone Dad, that mum vanished too. Oh, I’ve seen a similar smile on occasions, when she looks at a new-born grandchild, or when they climb onto her lap for a cuddle but it’s never quite as full, never whole or secure, never quite complete again.

In the photo of Julia, I can see the tree behind her. Ah, the tree; our one luxury, always a real tree, no matter what eh? And the excitement of the trip to choose it! Do you remember Dad, the fun we had fixing it to the car roof and the drive home again singing Christmas carols in the car all 4 children squeezed in tightly in the back? Mum kept this ritual, despite the financial frailty – did you know that? We tried hard, but with just Janet and me at home, and little money the tree became thinner, subdued and less robust – a bit like us.

Do you remember the Christmases before that Dad? How you and Joe would carry the massive tree through the house and upstairs to the cosy lounge, where Mum had lit the fire in the huge Victorian fireplace, scattering pine needles in your wake. The annual drama of wedging it into the bucket and the “it isn’t straight yet” arguments between Joe and Julia, while Janet and I danced around gleefully, full of anticipation, picking up on wafts of excitement and cheer from the conversations between the adults, happy, for once, that there were no rows or slamming of doors, or tears. We inhaled the wonderful pine scent that meant Christmas was really here as the fire crackled cheerfully, impatient for Mum to finish untangling the old fairy lights, traditional red, green yellow and blue, with a nursery rhyme motif that mysteriously tangled themselves in their box each year.

For two weeks the tree shone in the huge bay window, and on Christmas morning it was surrounded by a sea of wrapped presents quietly waiting for the 6 of us, Auntie Audrey and Godfather Kevin. Oh, the anticipation of that moment, the build-up was almost unbearable for us then. I can’t find any photos of the tree Dad. I suppose that’s because only Kevin had a camera, and he liked to take pictures of people. Thank goodness he did, otherwise, we’d only have our memories and that would be unbearable. It was thoughtful too, of him to send us the photos, or bring them with him when he came to stay the following Easter. He knew of course; he was your best friend and confidant. He stayed loyal to us Dad – but you’d know that wouldn’t you, why would you have doubted that?

We found loads more photos from Christmas when we cleared his flat – he kept them all you know; we hadn’t recognised our value to him then when we were children. But we loved his expensive gifts from Harrods and Selfridges. The trip to the station to collect him from the London train on Christmas Eve was the start of Christmas proper. He was the one who bought Mum the lovely presents, perfume, expensive chocolates and silk scarves because he could see what the rest of us could not, her selflessness, and the grim future that lay ahead.

Do you remember Dad, those endless monopoly games with him that lasted the whole week between Christmas and New Year? All the arguments and negotiating that went on – that time when Auntie Audrey stood guard of the board over night because we were convinced that Kevin was cheating! It was all put on of course, for Janet and me; adults conspiring in the great adventure, and jolly larks, and, oh, how we revelled in that! Leftover turkey with bubble and squeak, cosy afternoons with the telly, satsumas and Christmas chocolates and that protracted game of monopoly. Those were the best Dad, really happy times, for us all I think because everyone joined in, battles forgotten, money worries, sickness and impending loss and grief suspended momentarily. A family united and sharing good times with a friend.

That was over 40 years ago Dad, such a long time ago, yet it’s as fresh a memory as if it was last year. The grief is less raw now of course, but it never goes away; all those other Christmases stolen from us, future photos that were never taken and happy new memories that could not be born. Just memories of that last Christmas, kept alive through those photos, and made so poignant by the knowledge that 3 of the key players were keeping a dreadful secret, and hiding it from the children. Do I wish we had known? I don’t know Dad; how could an 8 and 6-year-old handle that knowledge? You all meant well I realise that; you thought you were doing the right thing.

But each Christmas became harder to get through than its predecessor, for fifteen years. The tree lights that didn’t work and were cracked or broken came out of their box only to be put back – no money to replace them. The Chinese lanterns that we repeatedly sellotaped together and resolutely stuck to the ceiling were eventually thrown away when they became beyond repair and the decorations that we fixed to the tree using paperclips grew fewer each year. It was good that we had learned at school to make 3 d shapes. Janet and I would spend Sunday afternoons each December making a batch and eking out the remaining glitter in the Christmas decoration box, to hang on the tree when the time came to cover its bareness.

So here I am, with these photos and memories, planning Christmas with my children Dad. I shall check the boxes of decorations surreptitiously to reassure myself that everything is intact and working, so that when they open them to start decorating our tree, and I watch their excitement at discovering favourite treasured memories again, when they exclaim aloud at the ones they had forgotten, I shall know that we will not have to put things back in the box quietly and go without. I will check, double check and then check again, that everyone has been accounted for with presents and cards well in advance, and that I have some spares tucked away just in case, so no one can feel the hurt of being overlooked.

And there will be the real tree. We’ll all go to collect it, and we’ll pick a huge, bushy, scented evergreen – all of us together; my children, their boyfriends and cousins and the dog, all crammed into the car. There will be shrieks of laughter as we try to fit the tree into the car, around all the bodies and the bags of Christmas veggies, while Pip the Christmas tree man joins in the fun giggling at them all while he secures the half open boot with rope. Then we’ll drive home, boot slightly ajar, with two feet of Christmas tree trunk sticking out behind, children clutching the dog, and complaining merrily of pine needles ticking their ears and everyone will sing along loudly and exuberantly, to my old Christmas cassette tape that is saved just for this occasion each year, and marks the start of Christmas proper. Faces will be suffused with happiness and smiles at the golden oldies, groans will be heard at the corny cheesy songs and, then we will get to track seven. In that moment I will look back in the mirror and watch as my children exchange glances, nudge their boyfriends, and my nieces grin at their cousins, and, then, surrounded by the heady pine scent mingled with that aroma of satsuma that epitomise Christmas as one, we will take a deep breath and sing. We will sing at the top of our voices and slightly out of tune, to accompany Wizzard with “I wish it could be Christmas every day” and everything will be all right Dad.

Thanks so much Anna! Now, don’t forget, I am always on the lookout for guest posts and submissions for my blog! I’m looking for anything to do with writing or reading, as well as essays/articles/rants etc on being an outsider, and any short fiction or extracts from novels which are along the same theme. 

Guest Post by Author Joel R Dennstedt

This month’s guest post comes from my good friend and indie author Joel R. Dennstedt. When I asked Joel if he would like to write a guest post for my blog, I told him it could be anything from fiction, to an opinion piece, as long as it was somewhat along the lines of my glorious outsiders theme. If you don’t already know what a glorious outsider is, think about the kind of person who doesn’t fit in and never tried to. Someone who turns their back on the mainstream in order to think for themselves. Someone who speaks their mind and stands up for what they believe in, even if this makes them unpopular or ignored. Joel wrote me this fantastic and emotive piece, and with the US election about to take place, this seemed the perfect time to post it. Note, these are Joel’s opinions from his own experiences in life. I admire him greatly as an author and as a person. Thank you, Joel.

As I write this from my hostel in Rancagua, Chile, the United States is but a fading memory.

I grew up in the States. I was born there. I was an American.

Although my passport says differently, I am no longer a U.S. Citizen.

I claim the world as my place to be; I claim to be a man-at-large within the world.

I have no home.

Everything I own I carry with me in a backpack and a duffel.

How did this situation come to be? Why did it come to be? Why am I to die while traveling across this vast and awesome globe called Earth? Why am I – at sixty-seven – finally a contented man?

In the fall of 2011, my older brother came to me and said, “I am leaving the United States to live in Merida, Mexico.” He was recently retired and not-so-coincidentally divorced. He is a traveler at heart, with the soul of a 19th Century explorer. He was off to see the world. “After Merida,” he said, “I am going everywhere.”

Take me with you,” I said.

We both worked for a bank. The worst of banks. The one perhaps most responsible for the huge financial meltdown of 2008. The one resulting from the most egregious and criminal corruption I had witnessed in a lifetime.

In the spring of 2012, we left.

More than 4 years later here we sit in Chile, waiting to make our next move – a foray into Argentina. He has made himself into a superb photographer; I have made myself into a writer. We have no intention of returning to the States to live. Ever. That is not a country to make me proud. That is not a country where I can afford to live. That is not a country for an old writer. If you read the news, you know that ignorance and corporate power now rule a country once proud to be most free and democratic. You know that an entire generation is mind-locked to its phones. You know that a national philosophy rests on pre-emptive war-making and virulent anti-immigration. Self-indulgence, self-assertion, and selfies rule the day. My oldest friends have become monsters. Not one person in a thousand could tell you where Merida, Mexico is located; I did not know, until we left to go there. Americans – as they arrogantly call themselves – do not know much about other cultures. They do not know the histories of the world, much less their own. They do not believe they come from genocidal forebears. They live in a fantasy of someone else’s making, which very few resist. Simply, I cannot be with them anymore.

That does not make me a better man than they.

That does, however, make of me a most contented one.

When I was a young child, almost in prophetic foresight of the man I would become, I refused to say the obligatory pledge of allegiance to our flag. I like to believe I felt the country had to earn my allegiance, not demand it. And if I ever had it, I left it far behind. The country has certainly not earned such blind allegiance, if ever it had the right to claim it. And those who now claim to be patriots disguise their lack of insight and discrimination (not the kind they act out) with shallow phrases, mindless affirmations, and aggression as a virtue in itself.

That is not a country meant for me.

And so, tetherless in a world defined by rampant nationalistic pride, where every unit of humanity defines itself by origin and would hope to rid the world of every other, I move about with conscious non-allegiance to anyone but myself – a severely selfish act of vanity and pride; no better than the rest.

Except … the country I am looking for is nowhere special.

A world as witnessed by early humans – the indigenous people.

And maybe by long-term travelers.

And especially by those who read a lot.

Author-Journalist-World Traveler

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Thank you Joel! Don’t forget, The Glorious Outsiders is open to submissions for guest posts! I am looking for anything to do with writing or reading, or opinion/blog style pieces as well as stories/poems etc on the theme of being an outsider!

Guest Post: Anthony Morgan Clark

Hello lovely followers, it’s time for another guest post! This month please let me introduce you to British indie horror and sci-fi writer Anthony Morgan Clark. Anthony  has just recently released a spine chilling short story collection The Soul Bazaar, (cover designed, incidentally by the wonderful Justine at Jakeart1 who has also designed some of mine!) and he is also the author of the epic The Complete Tor. Here he talks about why he chose the indie path and why it’s what works best for him at the moment…

 

“So when are you getting a book deal, then?”

Many people to whom I’ve spoken about my writing assume that writers fall into two categories: the ‘serious’ writer who spends months or years slaving over the perfect manuscript to use as a tool to pursue a publishing contract; or the hobbyist who writes occasionally, is more interested in self-expression than success, who publishes their work on their website or Facebook page and throws out a Kindle book every so often because, well, what else do you do with all that writing – and who knows, it might even make a few quid. The digital equivalent of vanity press authors.

Of course, the advent of the e-reader and print-on-demand services has thrown this reality (if not the perception) into disarray. Self-publishers now exist in a mixed-up spectrum rather a single category, ranging from the aforementioned hobbyists to the top-level pros who essentially constitute small presses themselves through their outsourcing of editors, proofers, cover designers, formatters and advertisers.

Me, I sit somewhere in the middle of that. I’ve learned to proof and edit my own work, though am happy to take feedback from beta readers. I possess none of the artistic skill needed to create the visuals on my book covers, but do assemble them myself using paint.net (a free Photoshop equivalent) or Canva. I have a very limited marketing budget at present, but use my writing and copywriting knowledge to draw attention to my books. I am far from being a hobbyist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but my goal is for my writing to be my main source of income. But does that mean I would welcome a publishing contract? After all, I have four titles already published. All of my published work has received strong reviews. I’ve two further horror novels outlined and am working on a third. As a horror author, I have an existing market a well-funded and well-connected marketing department could tap into.

So, given that my existing releases have not garnered the sales I’d like, it would make sense chase a contract with my upcoming manuscript, right? Maybe. Maybe not. Aside from the hurdles involved, from finding an agent to the insistence of some agents and publishers that a script is ‘professionally’ edited (whatever the hell that means), to the unbearable turnaround times, there’s also the amount of control I’d need to give up.

More often than not I’m a horror author. Any publisher would market me as such. Given the content of The Tor and The Soul Bazaar, that would be sensible. Even more so, if they asked to see my unpublished outlines for Swarm or my current untitled WIP, a supernatural horror. The problem is, I’m not just a horror author. Reformed may have horror elements, but it is mostly a sci-fi. The same is true of The Graveyard, another plotted WIP (that will be having its title changed!). I also have enough short stories for another collection, covering a range of styles from sci-fi to comedy to social commentary to literary/speculative fiction. The entire publication will be a tangential sequel-of-sorts to the final short story in The Soul Bazaar.

How many publishers would be comfortable marketing a collection of shorts, none of which crossover but are still collectively a sequel to a short story which is itself an offshoot of a trilogy of novellas? Or would be happy to spend time and money promoting non-genre (or different genre) works by someone they’ve pegged as a horror author? Even those that would are likely to insist on a pen name. Which I won’t do. Because all my works are interlinked. For example, several characters from The Tor appear in other short stories in The Soul Bazaar, including Symeon. Symeon is an archivist and a collector of stories, and it is this idea which binds together all the stories in my as-yet-unpublished collection. The Krahe family from The Tor appear in Tremere, a novel existing only in a notebook on my shelf. The Rutenger Corporation own the technology driving the majority of Reformed, but also run the vivisection clinic from Swarm, the deep-space tech of Graveyard, and the AI tech in some of the stories from that future collection. In addition, there’s ‘5304’, a code that crops up more than once in Reformed, The Soul Bazaar, The Tor, Swarm, and a number of other short stories. I can’t even begin to tell you what that’s about… Then there’s the length of the product.

I enjoy working quickly, and after the four hundred pages or so of The Tor I’m looking forward to working through all those ideas and outlines I constructed whilst editing The Tor. A few of them (Swarm, Graveyard) I expect will run to the length of shorter novels such as Herbert’s The Dark, or King’s Salem’s Lot. Other ideas, such as my story about a female serial killer, or the sequel to Reformed, I’d expect to become novellas. How many publishing houses market books of that length anymore?

As an author, I want to push and test my writing abilities. I want to experiment with different genres, styles, and techniques. If I fall on my face doing so, then so be it. I want to choose what I write, how much I write, when I release it. I want to choose how long I spend promoting my release before moving on to the next project. I want to choose who does the art for my covers. I don’t want to be a manufacturer, penned in to my own little niche, making product after product for the marketing department. So I choose to self-publish. Ultimately publishers are gatekeepers. And who needs gatekeepers now there are no gates? I may have started out as an indie by default, but I think I’ll choose to remain one for a long while yet.

Thanks Anthony! You can find out more about Anthony and his books by following him on Twitter  and Facebook

Over to you! Writers, have you chosen the indie or the traditional path, and what has led you to this decision? Perhaps you have tried both? What do you think are the pro’s and cons of each publishing path?

Don’t forget I am always looking out for new guest posts on my blog! If you have something to say that is related to writing or your writing journey, then please get in touch. Alternatively, if you have something to say which relates to my theme of glorious outsiders, then let me know! I am happy to consider blog posts, poems, short stories, novel extracts and more!