Monthly Archives: May 2012

Day 13 – Stoke-on-Trent to Bolton

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A bit of a cheat this one, but then I’m stepping in at the last minute to fill an empty day. One of the places the torch passes through today is Macclesfield, and one road to Macclesfield from Buxton (a place I’m far more familiar with) is the infamous Cat and Fiddle road. The road has always been popular with bikers, and earned its reputation for dangerous curves back when speed traps were relatively uncommon and far less sophisticated than they are today.

One of my novels-in-need-of-editing is set around the area between Buxton and Ashbourne, taking in Bakewell and Matlock Bath (another popular biker haunt). In Searching for Julia, set in 1976, Linda has run away to Derbyshire after a tragedy, and finds herself strangely fascinated by a portrait of Lady Julia Peveril, who ‘ran away’ ten years earlier, never to be heard from again. In trying to find out what really happened, Linda is dragged into a series of secrets surrounding the aristocratic Peveril family, and our excerpt begins as she lurks in one Matlock Bath pub waiting for Edward, the Duke of Derwent Dale, to emerge from another.

Being so last minute, I’m a little lacking in photos of either Buxton or Macclesfield, but here’s a handy one of Little Moreton Hall in Cheshire, which is close to Congleton in Cheshire, one of the stops on today’s route.

Edward emerged from the pub when Linda was halfway down her drink. The man leaving with him appeared to be the one who had passed the cigarette to him earlier.

Linda sat up. Was she about to witness a drug deal? Was Edward buying, or selling? Should that matter? After making a point of glancing at her watch, she finished her drink. Then she got to her feet, pulling on her jacket as she walked out of the pub.

Unaware they were being followed, Edward and his associate strolled into the public gardens. Dusk was falling, and the paths had emptied of people. The gates would be locked soon, but the men presumably calculated on having a way out after that.

Linda hung back as much as she could without losing sight of them, until they stopped in the shadow of an oak tree. She edged forward, and found a tree of her own that gave her cover while still affording her a good view of the men.

Placing one hand against the tree trunk above his associate’s shoulder, Edward leaned forward, and whispered something in the man’s ear. The man nodded. Edward moved his other hand towards the man’s hip. Was this the point at which money would change hands? Did the man’s pocket contain money or ‘merchandise’?

Edward pulled the man towards him, and into a kiss.

Linda clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle her gasp. She should go. Leave Edward in peace, and talk to him tomorrow. Her feet stayed rooted to the spot, as Edward unzipped his companion’s trousers, then dropped to his knees.

She felt a niggle of disquiet that Edward had hidden this side of himself from her, all the while making snide remarks about her interest in Brigit. Remarks that had stopped, she now realised, once she had admitted the attraction to herself. What about his flirting? Had he been leading her on all this time, never intending to following through? But he’d loved Julia, hadn’t he? They definitely needed to have that talk tomorrow.

What was Edward thinking, anyway? This was a public place, for all that Linda was the only other person present. He was risking arrest, loss of reputation, blackmail even. Was blackmail the hold Reynard had over him? Had he been caught doing this before, in some other park? Had Reynard been his companion then, or an observer, as Linda was now, of what ought to be a private act?

She started to take a step back, and felt stones shift under her heel. She brought her foot forward again, unwilling to make any noise that might reveal her presence. There was nothing for it, but to stay right where she was. When the men left, she would leave.

Her eyes had adapted to the deepening gloom, and she could see more detail now. Edward’s hands were on the man’s hips, controlling his movements. That simple detail turned what Linda thought men regarded as a degrading act into something more dynamic. She knew so little of what homosexual men did together. She had heard all the locker room talk, all the snide remarks from Vice, all the ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ comments about certain prisoners. Her colleagues had implied something more brutal, more base, less… erotic.

Linda was becoming light-headed. She felt as if she was a part of what the men were doing rather than simply a voyeur. No blue-movie down at the station had ever had this effect on her.

The man threw his head back, arching his hips towards Edward.

Linda clenched her thighs, and took a deep breath. Now was her opportunity to leave, and yet her legs had turned to rubber. She put a hand against the tree trunk to steady herself.

Edward stood, pulling the man into another kiss. In a blink of Linda’s eyes, their positions had been reversed, and Edward was the one leaning against the tree. The man had one hand between them, and the other on the trunk level with Edward’s shoulder. He was shorted than Edward, whose eyes were shut tight as the man stood on the balls of his feet to whisper in Edward’s ear.

Linda was burning up. If she had dared move – if she had been that kind of woman – she would have hitched up her dress, and got her hand down inside her knickers. Anything to relieve the tension that was building up inside her. She needed to think. She needed to get away before Edward saw her here watching.

Slowly she reached down, and lifted her foot, to remove first one shoe, and then the other. Part of her wanted to keep watching, to see if Edward at the point of climax matched her fantasies. A greater part of her argued that she had intruded enough already. She edged around the tree until it completely blocked her view of the men. Then she turned and walked slowly, silently back to her car.

In case you’re still wondering about how the Cat and Fiddle fits in, have a small excerpt from a scene set the following day:

“How did you find me last night?” Edward asked. Not ‘why?’, which was interesting in itself.

“I knew you’d taken the bike. Matlock seemed the most obvious place to look.”

“I should have grabbed my tent and gone up to the Cat and Fiddle. You wouldn’t have thought of that, would you? Not being a local or a biker.” He picked up his glass. “In my defence, I’d just like to say that my plan only involved getting drunk. I told you when we met: what I do in London generally stays down there.”

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Day 12 – Chester to Stoke-on-Trent

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– Sandra Lindsey

Chester Rows, from The Cross

Chester Rows, from The Cross, c. 1895 (but it’s not changed much!) – image from Wikipedia, click to learn more there

The torch is taking the scenic route today. Travelling directly from Chester to Stoke is less than 40 miles, but instead of just going straight down the A51 and onto the A500 as Google would suggest, it’s got a lovely wander down the Marches, before heading east to Much Wenlock (first modern Olympic Games – I guess they couldn’t really miss it out) and Ironbridge (birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, or something like that – I’ve never been because the entrance fee makes my wallet weep although families seem able to get a good deal) and then back north to the most well-known of the Potteries towns.

It’s a journey with plenty of contrasts: from Chester with its Roman ruins, 13th century castle, and medieval ‘Rows’, through Wrexham – birthplace of Elihu Yale and full of other gems though the town seems determined to hide its history away behind bland modern shopping centres – then down through the market towns of Oswestry, Welshpool and Shrewsbury which serve the population of the rural Wales/England border. I get a bit hazy after that, as for me the torch passes out of my local area after Shrewsbury – maybe one of you can use the comments to educate me?

I’ve been amused, driving around this past fortnight, at the differences in signage along the route of the torch. In Wrexham, the signs state “Road closed for Olympic Torch Relay May 30th 07:30 – 08:00″; on the A483 it simply says “Road closed May 30th” (which had at least one colleague of mine spitting at the short notice for closure of a major trunk road), but my favourite is the one I drive past everyday in Welshpool:

Olympic Event - Delays possible

I love the vagueness of it: the way it doesn’t specify which Olympic event is happening in Welshpool on the 30th May. I guess they assume either we know already or we’ll work it out, but part of me is still hoping that it’s something ridiculous like hurdles down the high street, or kayaking on the canal!

I hope the team accompanying the torch enjoys their visit to Welshpool. I think it’s a fab little town. I can understand how people who’ve grown up there and never lived elsewhere might get tired of the lack of national chains, I am constantly amazed – four years after first visiting when considering moving to the area – by the range and variety of things one can buy in the many independent shops in town. It’s got its supermarkets too – big news last year was the arrival of a Tesco – but they’re on the small side and there’s even an independent greengrocer in the centre of town, which I had thought a thing consigned to history!

My daily commute to Welshpool, through 20 miles of Montgmeryshire hills, brought the inspiration for my story Shelter from Storms, in the forthcoming Lashings of Sauce anthology.

I hadn’t driven my new car in snow until the cold snap we had in early April, and I was focusing on staying a good distance from the car in front when I caught sight of this house on the hill before me:

Imposing red-brick residence at top of hill

I’d noticed the house before, though for such a sizeable residence it’s not as easily visible as you’d think – until the white-covered fields and snow-clad bare branches of the surrounding trees threw its red-brick walls into sharp relief, and suddenly I not only had to concentrate on my driving but also on ignoring the ranting of an eighteenth-century frenchman, frozen half to death and cursing the wintery weather and sparsely-populated foreign land he stumbled through.

Day 11: Take to the skies in Flintshire

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I’m taking to the skies as part of the celebration of the torch relay route today. My husband has worked in the aircraft industry for many years, and when I said I was covering this part of the country today, I lost him to a happy hour surfing the nearby Broughton aircraft factory! It’s located at Hawarden airport, and named for the local village of Broughton, only four miles from Chester. Hubby’s been several times, and taken the Sons with him – I’ve been once and wasn’t quite as invested as he was in the visit! – but it’s both a fascinating and sobering testament to our heritage and mastery of the skies.

Yes, I think his enthusiasm is catching on, all over again, just in time for summer visits 🙂

The factory (called Hawarden) was established early in the second world war as a shadow factory for Vickers-Armstrongs Limited. It produced 5,540 Vickers Wellingtons (left) and 235 Avro Lancasters. Post-war the factory was used by Vickers to build 28,000 aluminium prefab bungalows.

The RAF’s No.48 Maintenance Unit was formed at Hawarden in September 1939 and until July 1957 stored, maintained and scrapped many thousands of military aircraft, including the Handley Page Halifax, Wellingtons, Horsa gliders and DH Mosquitos. No.3 Ferry Pilots Pool/Ferry Pool, Air Transport Auxiliary, was based at Hawarden between November 1940 and November 1945, when its veteran pilots ferried thousands of military aircraft from the maintenance facilities at Hawarden to and from RAF and Naval squadrons throughout the UK.

On 1 July 1948 The de Havilland Aircraft Company took over the Vickers factory and over the years built many famoous aircraft including the de Havilland Mosquito (right) and Hornet and Sea Hornet. The company became part of Hawker Siddeley Aviation in the 1960s and the production of the Hawker Siddeley HS125 business jet, designed by de Havilland as the DH.125, became the main aircraft type produced by the factory for nearly forty years. Since the early 1970s the Broughton factory has been part of British Aerospace operations. It is now owned and operated by Airbus, and has continued to be the centre of wing production for all models of Airbus aircraft.

Maybe more of a historical than a geographical visit today! But a poignant one for us, as Hubby worked at British Aerospace for many years. There’s less manufacture in our (London-way) part of the country nowadays, but we still live in a house by an estate known informally as “Hawker’s”, even though the old factory was knocked down for housing many years ago.

And while we’re in the area, let’s take a look at the awesome city of Chester. Founded by the Romans in AD79, Chester still bears signs of its past with its Roman Amphitheatre, historic City Walls and Chester Castle all remaining intact. The City Walls were built back in Roman days and give Chester one of its nicknames as The Walled City. They have a rich history having been altered and extended during both the Saxon and Medieval eras. They circle the city and it’s free to walk the 2 mile (3km) track – I’m proud to say I’ve done it!

The Roman Amphitheatre is also free to view, located near to the River Dee. Only the Northern half is exhumed, with the Southern covered by Dee House and the County Court. Historic walking tours of the city are available – and ghost tours at night – while the Grosvenor Museum provides an in-depth look-back in to the history of the area.

Some facts about Chester:

**Chester was the last city in England to fall to William the Conqueror’s army- a full three years after the Battle of Hastings. In around 1086, the city was visited by William’s commissioners for assessment as part of the great Domesday Survey.

**Researchers exploring the legend of Britain’s most famous Knight believe his stronghold of Camelot was built on the site of a recently discovered Roman amphitheatre in Chester. Legend has it that his Knights would gather before battle at a round table where they would receive instructions from their King. But rather than it being a piece of furniture, historians believe it would have been a vast wood and stone structure which would have allowed more than 1,000 of his followers to gather.
(*hmmmm* I rush to say there’s no strongly held evidence of that theory)

**Daniel Craig was born there ^_^

And, adds Clare quite shamelessly, there’s some great shopping! Though I doubt that’ll turn the heads of the torch procession…

I have no specific fiction to share with you today, apart from some poems – not mine!

This one is inscribed on the back of an old clock in Chester Cathedral:
When as a child I laughed and wept- time crept.
When as a youth I dremed and telked- time walked.
When I became a full grown man- time ran.
And later as I older grew- time flew.
Soon I shall find while travelling on- time gone.
Will Christ have saved my soul by then?- Amen.

And this is brief, terse and to the point:
The church and clergy here, no doubt, Are very near akin,
Both weather-beaten are without, And mould’ring are within.

By renowned author and Dean of Dublin Cathedral Jonathan Swift, after having been ‘stood up’ for a dinner date by Chester Cathedral clergy 🙂

It’s been a treat to revisit this part of the country, albeit virtually.

Day 10: North Wales (via Deneb)

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Do you recall, if you’ve seen that movie, what Captain Kirk says in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, when asked if he’s from outer space? “I’m from Iowa. I only work in outer space.” Well Alyn Evans, one of the heroes of a work in progress of mine could say “I’m from Gwynedd. I only work in outer space.”

Yes, he’s a “Gog”, a lad from North Wales. For most of the story he’s going around being captain of a spaceship and having captainly adventures and, of course, a romance. But the story brings him in the end back home to Wales, where he takes the time to make his choices about love and life and how he goes forward.

It’s key, I think, to know about where characters come from, what kind of place they grew up in, because a person will always takes their culture with them, wherever they go, for the rest of their lives. This is true, even if they reject that culture, even if they are escaping from it when they leave. It will always shape them.

Alyn’s a man from a place of hard rock and few people. He’s tough and self-reliant. But he knows that no-one can survive alone, that his community is what keeps him going, however harsh life becomes. He takes that with him in his work, and in this story is rebuilding the community aboard the ship – the Indiaman — he takes command of.

Below is a sneak preview of a scene from the WIP. It’s a while away from being submitted anywhere yet, but I hope one day you’ll have the chance to read the book, and then the rest of the planned series! Because Alyn Evans and his lover Jarvez are not men I can write only one book about. I will definitely try to bring them back to Wales again. Maybe for the wedding…

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Day 9 More of glorious Wales.

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Which is looking lovely in the sunshine as I type (I can see it on the BBC’s live feed of the torch relay here). No wonder Sophia Deri-Bowen fell in love with it.

I’ve known Sophia since before she was Sophia, and before I was Charlie. She’s an American who’s fallen in love with Wales, helped, I suspect, by the national sport – which I might have had a hand in getting her interested in. She now lives there, poking old artefacts and chatting up rugby players. (Here’s one who plays in Swansea, where the torch is leaving from today!)

Last time I collaborated, writing wise, with Sophia was on British Flash, in which three Wales based writers featured. It was one of those wonderful, mad ideas which went from first seeds to fruition very quickly. It was produced as a free celebration of  the 2011 UK Meet for readers and writers of GLBTQ fiction (alongside the e-book/print anthology Tea and Crumpet). British Flash was intended to provide a taster collection of very short stories (no more than 1000 words) to illustrate the diverse range of talented writers who’d be attending the event.

I was lucky enough to be on the acquisitions team for both anthologies and was blown away by some of the submissions – especially Sophia Deri-Bowen’s “They who come after the Stories End”.  It’s unique in setting among the many short stories I’ve read down the years (go and see for yourself, it won’t cost anything!) If you like “Thursday Next” territory, you’d appreciate this.

Day 8 – You’re not in England any more.

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Monnow Bridge – built to keep people out.

Yesterday the Olympic Torch crossed the Monnow Bridge to enter Wales, as
so many invaders have done, via the soft lush borderlands of Monmouthshire, progressing through the south-east of the country to end up in the capital, Cardiff. Today the torch will be carried through the industrial heartlands of the valleys and down to the sea at Swansea. As it goes it will pass by all those scenes that spring to mind when one thinks of the country -clichés , perhaps, but clichés  become clichés  because they are, or were true.

Here are just a few of them in no particular order of importance:

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Day 7 – The Malvern Hills

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The Malvern Hills are said to be the oldest rocks in England, rising as they do from the Severn Plain on the east and sloping down into rolling Herefordshire countryside on the west. The Victorians did their best to quarry them away, but fortunately the Malvern Hills Conservators was formed in time to save them, and now they are fiercely guarded from the assaults of modern times. I lived on the slopes of the hills for seven years, and now I live within sight of them down on the plain. Some people say that it was on these hills that Tolkien based his Misty Mountains – I like to think so.

A metaphorical stone’s throw from the Hills is the lovely Madresfield Court, ancestral home of the Lygon family. There has been a house on the site since the twelfth century, and it has never been bought or sold throughout its long history! The Court has some amazing Arts and Crafts work, including a library by Clive Ashbee and a beautiful chapel decorated by members of the Birmingham Group, including Henry Payne.  Madresfield  is still a family home and is currently lived in by Lady Morrison, niece of the last earl. Tours are available by appointment, but not this year because they are renovating.

Madresfield Court is thought to be the house on which Evelyn Waugh based ‘Brideshead Revisited’, since Waugh was a frequent visitor. I read the book in my teens, reading avidly between the lines to try and decide what the relationship between Charles and Sebastian was.  Anthony Blanche didn’t really appeal to me – too camp. I remember that my interest waned greatly in part two when Charles falls for Julia.  Looking back, it was really more fun in some ways than today’s explicit novels, where you don’t have to guess at anything. I watched the ITV serialisation of the book when it became available on video much later, and found it rather disappointing. One of these days I shall watch the film!

K.C. Warwick