Taking a break

It’s a strange time…coming to the end of the first draft of a novel; I don’t want to say ‘finishing’ because it’s very much an unfinished work.

For months I’ve been waking up and thinking about the next scene in the book, how to move the story forward, worrying about plot holes and whether or not the storyline as a whole hangs together.

Anyway, I reached an end point two weeks ago and the print out is sitting in a binder waiting for me to do another read through which is usually when I think – will anyone else really want to read this?

Taking advantage of this time when I’m not obsessing over characters and story developments, my wife suggested we take a trip to Liverpool. We decided to make it an overnight stay so we could have a relaxing evening. It’s about 55 miles from where we live and the driving time is about the same as taking the train, even with making a change at Manchester. So we took the train.


Sunny start from Mytholmroyd train station

The sunny day came with us and we walked through the shopping area of the city, passing a large Waterstones bookstore on the way. We knew if we went in there we would come out with books, so decided to save that for the next morning on our way back to the train station. Around the corner from Waterstones we came across a delightfully created seating area with shelving for book swapping.


Book swap seating area

We found the Albert Dock easily. Our main aim for the afternoon was to wander around there and visit the Merseyside Maritime Museum. Lots of fascinating stuff in the museum depicting stories of the Titanic, the Lusitania, plus World War II memorabilia – and lots of models of ships. We arrived at the same time as a school outing, a large group of eight year olds. Shades of Joyce Grenfell with the teacher constantly saying things like…”George, DON’T do that!”


At the Albert Dock

Our trips usually revolve around finding good eating places. And we succeeded for all three meals in Liverpool. Lunch was taken at the Salt House – a tapas restaurant that we had spotted on the way to the Dock.

My wife had done an extensive online search beforehand to seek out a restaurant for the evening meal. The one she settled on was called Puschka – an independent, family-owned restaurant. Finding our way there was a bit of an adventure as we hadn’t invested in a map of the city and only had a vague idea of where it was in relation to the hotel.

We were about to give up on our search for Puschka when we spotted a whisky bar. The restaurant was a few doors further down the street but it was too much to ask for me to resist going into the bar first. I sampled a Canadian rye called Whistle Pig…it would have been rude not to try one of the many whiskies available from all over the world. Unfortunately I could only manage one.


Enjoying a shot of the delightfully named Whistle Pig rye

The food at the restaurant was lovely and we had a Yealands wine with it. When the waitress told us the story about the short-legged sheep, we thought she was having us on. But it turns out to be true. The vineyard uses Babydoll sheep to keep the weeds down. The news item on YouTube explains what a wonderful environmentally friendly innovation this is.

We found a less roundabout way back to the hotel and met a friendly cat called ‘Scruff’ on the way.


A friendly Liverpudlian – Scruff

After a good night’s sleep, we had a relaxing morning…breakfast at Bill’s, a browse around Waterstones (yes, we did buy books) and a smooth train journey back home.

As often seems to be the case with short breaks like this, it feels like you’ve been away longer. And now I feel ready to take on the task of re-reading the first draft of the manuscript and see what needs more work.

Book links for The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks/Amazon US / Amazon UK / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Ebook links for The Starling Hill Trilogy (still available on Kindle Unlimited):

Starting Over: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Arc Over Time: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Carved in Stone: Amazon US / Amazon UK

A Dedication

As a reader I never used to pay much attention to dedications in books. It was likely to be the author’s wife, husband, children…maybe just a name, maybe a few words of appreciation.

Now, that I’m seeing my work in print, I do give these more consideration. With my first three published novels, I followed the usual pattern…Book 1, my wife, Book 2, my mother, Book 3, my best friend. Book 4, however, was different. It’s dedicated to a cat. I haven’t run out of close relatives or friends but there is a reason for this departure from the norm.

The Circle Dance is a lesbian romance but there is one very important male character, Stevie. He’s a black cat and very much loved by the couple he owns, Jamie and Sasha. However, when they split up, Sasha gets everything…new girlfriend, new house, and Stevie. Jamie has nothing and is attempting to rebuild her life in a different town living in rented accommodation, low-paid job, riding a bicycle to work (Sasha took the car as well).

As one of the other characters notes, Jamie would probably have coped better with the whole breakup trauma if she’d been able to keep Stevie. (SPOILER ALERT: Jamie and Stevie are reunited during the story.)

Anyway, back to the story behind the dedication for this book. I was standing in line at the GCLS 2015 conference waiting for the registration desk to open and someone said “Hello”. When I turned around I was face to face with Sandra Moran. I’d never met her before, only via Facebook, but there she was… the tallness, the hair, the smile…in person. Amazingly, she recognised me as well. After exchanging comments about the weather (she must have had some British genes), I offered my condolences for her cat Spencer who had died only a few weeks earlier. She was quite moved that a virtual stranger would have remembered Spencer but, like many other people, I was a “friend” of Spencer’s on Facebook and enjoyed the banter Sandra created between them.

What came out of my mouth next was a surprise to me as I hadn’t planned to say it. I told her that my latest novel, due to be published in early 2016, featured a black cat and that Spencer had been the inspiration for him. I went on to say that if she didn’t mind I would like to dedicate the book to Spencer.

Now, I’d only just met this woman and already caused emotional upset. Luckily, in a good way. Not only was she delighted with this idea, but she offered to let me use one of Spencer’s poems in the dedication.

When I talked to my publisher about this, they said that was fine as long as I obtained Sandra’s written permission to use the poem.

To make a long story longer, when I got back from New Orleans, I emailed Sandra to check she was still okay with this idea. She replied right away and sent me three poems so I could choose the one that I thought most suitable.

During our email correspondence I mentioned that the couple in the story had named their cat after Stevie Nicks, thinking he was female when they picked him up from the cat rescue place. She then told me that the same thing had happened with Spencer who spent the first month of his life with them being called Annie. (Another amazing connection – one of the characters in the book is called Annie.)

Anyway, I selected a poem and she duly sent me permission to “reprint Spencer’s truly awful poetry”.

This exchange of emails was in August 2015. Neither of us knew then that Sandra’s life would come to an abrupt end just over two months later. Whatever fates led me to that moment in New Orleans, I’m grateful that I had the chance to make that connection with Sandra, albeit briefly. The dedication in the book is as much for her as for Spencer. (And also for black cats everywhere.)

In doing some research for another book I read that in Norse mythology, Asgard, the home of the gods, is accessed by crossing the rainbow bridge. I like to think that both Sandra and Spencer made that crossing and are enjoying each other’s company again. Sandra will have introduced Thor and all the gods and goddesses to the art of moraning and Spencer will be free to continue writing “truly awful poetry”.

Note: My wife and I don’t have any pets as we’re both highly allergic. However, we have at times enjoyed the company of cats who have visited. As Sandra demonstrated with her photos of Spencer, black cats are quite difficult to photograph well. When we lived in London our neighbour’s cat, Sooty, was a regular visitor and I delved into our old photo albums to find these only two pictures we have of him.


Sooty in the garden


Sooty on the window ledge

Book links for The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks/Amazon US / Amazon UK / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Ebook links for The Starling Hill Trilogy (still available on Kindle Unlimited):

Starting Over: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Arc Over Time: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Carved in Stone: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Love me, love my cat!

Finding different ways to promote my book is quite a challenge. So I decided today to let you know – in case you haven’t read it yet – that there are two cats who feature in Starting Over. The cats are called Soames and Fleur. Fleur is the mother of Soames (just to mix things up a bit – Forsyte Saga fans will appreciate this). She’s a tabby cat and is more active than Soames, the ginger one, who can generally be found resting on top of the Aga cooker in the kitchen. I imagine he looks something like this:


Here’s a quote from the novel featuring the two main characters and Soames:

“Ellie was in the kitchen, sitting at the table, Soames sat contentedly on her lap enjoying the sensation of her fingers stroking him; long, leisurely strokes, starting at the top of his large ginger head continuing down his spine and caressing the length of his tail. Both Ellie and the cat had their eyes closed, but only Soames was purring.

Robin watched from the doorway. Lucky Soames. It had been a long time since Ellie had stroked her with such tenderness.”

So, come on, cat lovers – get the book and start reading!

Starting Over is available from: Affinity / Amazon / Bella Books / Smashwords