Tag Archives: olympic torch

Day 68 Harrow to Haringey – a London life

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When I left University many aeons ago now, I moved to London, not too far from Haringey actually, and started work in my first permanent job. The city was a complete culture shift for me and even now I’m not really certain I ever found my feet. I’d been brought up in the countryside, and then in the suburbs outside Colchester, so finding shops that were open to 11pm and people who didn’t dress or even act like everyone else was a real eye-opener.

And, my dears, so many buses and all going to a hundred places I’d never heard of, at least!

I enjoyed the few years I spent there (and also met my husband in the Big City, so it was so definitely worth it!), but I was always very conscious of the dark and gloomier sides of city-life. It didn’t shock me at all but it had a huge effect on me. Looking back, I think I’d led a very sheltered existence in the countryside and suburbia.

So when it came to writing my second novel, gay psychological thriller A Dangerous Man, I found the deeply disturbed voice of my main character Michael was inextricably linked with his London setting (and the way I’d reacted to it) and there was no way I would ever be able to separate the two of them. In some ways, the city developed a voice and character of its own as I wrote the book.

Here’s the blurb:

Michael Jones, a young gay artist and part-time prostitute will do anything to stage his first exhibition. When he falls in love with rich financier, Jack Hutchinson, he seems set to achieve his goal. But as Mikey becomes caught between the unforgiving territory of smoky-bar Hackney and the green-garden luxury of upper class London, he finds himself having to fight for all he holds dear and in the only way he knows how …

And here’s an extract for you:

The quickest way to the City from Hackney was by bus, though given a choice I would have preferred to walk. It always cleared my head. But I had no time for doing what I wanted so I jumped onto the first bus that came along, finding a seat by myself and staring hard at anyone who looked as if they might want to join me. While the London pavements and people flowed past the window, scaled down through the streaks of dirt on glass to impressions from the side of my eye, I went through in my memory what was in my portfolio—it was way too big to open up on the bus—and tried to think what might work best.

It mattered so much. Drawing was the one thing I’d been able to do all my life. It had got me through some bad times, and some not so bad times, and I wasn’t intending to let go of what I spent long nights and longer days dreaming of. Not ever. So I considered in my mind the pictures I’d done, one by one.

First, a street in Hackney, near where I lived. I’d drawn it as if I was on fire, I remembered, hand ranging over paper as I sat in the tiny box garden at the front, the breeze making me shiver, and brought into the tips of my fingers the road I walked so often. Wild pencil strokes showing the untamed boundaries of tarmac, litter shifting in the acrid spin of traffic fumes, here and there a hunched figure shuffling towards an unknown destination, and always and everywhere the cars. So many cars, sometimes I felt as if they’d never stop. You could always hear them, even at that point in the night between today and tomorrow. Other London scenes followed as I continued to track my portfolio, such as it was; the South Bank, Westminster Bridge, the Embankment on a night when I’d got lucky twice and gone home richer than when I’d arrived.

Sometimes London could be easy money if you were prepared to flaunt it a little. More so on a Friday night with commuters spilling like wild dogs out of the late bars and heading home to their wives and families. Some of them had no idea what they were doing, but who cared? As long as they paid for it, and I always made sure they did, that was fine. Probably most of them didn’t remember me the next day they were so rat-arsed. Then I thought again of that night at Embankment. No, some of them would remember. No matter what they liked to tell themselves in the morning.

You can find out more at: http://www.gayreads.co.uk/novels/a-dangerous-man/

In the meantime, enjoy the London torch parade!

Day 63: Maidstone to Guildford (a personal journey)

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During my 20s, I lived in Chatham for a while, so Maidstone was my nearest big town, and I used to pop in for shopping now and again. One of the really fun things I remember was that over Christmas, instead of having a Park and Ride facility, they had a Park and Sail on the River Medway into town. It was bliss – so very relaxing and easy, and THE way to do your Christmas shopping if you can manage it.

Ah, happy memories!

Then, after two or three years, I met my husband-to-be and eventually we moved to Godalming, which is near Guildford, to start our married life. So while the Olympic Torch jogs along from Kent to Surrey, it’ll be following in my footsteps pretty closely.

We’ve been in Surrey ever since. Guildford’s got great shops, some fascinating history and some really haunting (ha!) ghost tours, so definitely somewhere to visit if you’re in the area. The cobbled High Street is a particular draw, though, believe me, in the snow and ice, it’s NOT good!

Part of my bisexual thriller, Thorn in the Flesh, is set in Guildford – my heroine Kate lives in Godalming (in my old house actually – well, it’s easier to describe …) and works in the University of Surrey in Guildford, so she’s a local lass through and through. The blurb for this particular novel is:

Bisexual Kate Harris, a lecturer in her late thirties, is attacked in her Surrey home and left for dead. Continuing threats hinder her recovery, and these life changing events force her to journey into her past to search for the child she gave away. Can she overcome the demons of her own personal history before time runs out?

It was longlisted in the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Awards 2006. Here’s a very brief extract:

As soon as Kate Harris closed the door behind her, she knew the house wasn’t empty. She dropped the students’ test papers on the hall table and all thoughts of marking them, or having the evening off and spoiling herself with a hot bath and a glass of Chablis, disappeared. It was not that the signs of another person were obvious; on the contrary, the narrow hall revealed no hint of disturbance. The telephone was in its usual place on the half-moon rickety table. Her address book was on top, open at the M slot where she’d left it in her rush to get to work and, underneath, she could see her soft green pumps nestling side by side in regimented innocence.

So she could see no physical clues of any intrusion, or even a surprise visit by her best friend, Nicky, but still she knew. It was a knowledge that tingled its way into her skin. As if an unseen but not unfamiliar presence were beside her, moving back each time she turned her head.

She took three steps along the plain blue carpet. As she passed the hall mirror, she realised that the sudden downpour had turned her hair a darker shade of red.

‘Hello,’ she called out. ‘Nicky? Is that you?’

Then she remembered. Of course it wouldn’t be Nicky. Her friend was, lucky indeed for her, away with her family on holiday in France for her usual spring break. So she took the remaining five steps down the hallway and pushed open the kitchen door.

The first thing she saw was the broken window pane. The second thing was the young man. He was sitting at the table. She couldn’t see his face, which was covered with a black mask, but his hands, long-fingered and elegant in a way she would always remember, were already stroking one of her own kitchen knives.

He looked up.

‘Hello, Kate,’ he said.

 

More details can be found at: http://www.gayreads.co.uk/novels/thorn-in-the-flesh/

Happy torch spotting!

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…

Read the rest of this entry

Day 5 – Bristol to Cheltenham

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The Matthew

Bristol – home to the Matthew, John Cabot’s tiny ship. In 1497 he was supposed to sail to Asia and trade there. Instead he reached Newfoundland, beating Columbus.

SS Great Britain

Then there’s the SS Great Britain, the great iron ship – the first of its kind, created by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the man who also designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge, an engineering marvel of its time.

Bristol was a thriving port for centuries, and with a history stretching back into the mists of time. Stone Age hunter/gatherers left traces behind, in the pre-Roman Iron Age the local Dobunni tribe created hillforts around the area, the Romans built a town – Abona. But Bristol itself began round about 1000 AD as Brycgstow, meaning The Place at the Bridge in Old English. The Rivers Avon and Severn, and the Severn estuary made it one of the most important maritime towns in Britain for nearly a milennia. Today it is a huge, sprawling metropolis, and it’s the UK’s eighth biggest city.

 

 

 

 
Okay, enough with the factual. I used the city in The Psychic’s Tale – Mark Renfrew works as a researcher for The Dominic Waldron Experience, a reality TV show in the stable of Goldstream Media, based in Bristol. Mark himself lives in Staple Hill, a suburb of Bristol, and Jack Faulkner, his lover, studied archaeology at Bristol University.

The Psychic’s Tale – First part in The Fitzwarren Inheritance Trilogy by a trilogy of authors – Chris Quinton :: RJ Scott :: Sue Brown

from Silver Publishing

“I curse you and your children’s children, that you shall all live out your allotted years, and that those years shall be filled with grief and loss and betrayal, even as you have betrayed and bereaved me.”

Four hundred years ago in rural England, a mob burned two men to death, but not before one of the victims, Jonathan Curtess, hurled a dreadful curse at the mob’s leader, Sir Belvedere Fitzwarren. The curse has followed the family through the centuries, bringing grief and loss to each generation.

Mark Renfrew is a closeted psychic and openly gay. When his grandmother discovers a family link to a 17th century feud and a still-potent curse, she insists he investigates and do his best to end it. He travels to the village of Steeple Westford, and meets and falls for Jack Faulkner, an archaeologist. He also meets the Fitzwarrens, who are facing yet another tragedy.

Then Mark learns that the man who cursed them had twisted the knife by leaving three cryptic conditions that would lift the curse, and he knows he has to try to break the curse his ancestor had set.

 

 

The Pump Room, Cheltenham

Cheltenham Spa – the discovery of mineral springs in 1716 brought royal patronage in the 18th centuary, though it never quite overtook Bath as the fashionable choice, and Spa was added to its name. It seems to have taken that name from the River Chelt, but the actual meaning of Chelt is lost. The town was a thriving community long before the Regency period, receiving a market charter in 1226.

 

 

 

Cheltenham Racecourse

The town is possibly most famous for its racecourse – the Cheltenham Festival draws the finest racehorses and jockeys from around the world, and huge crowds flock there.

 

 

 

 
My story, Home and Heart, is set in the area – the business base of Home-Safe Pet and House-Sitting is in the town itself, and Ben Elliot lives above his uncle’s shop in Charlton Kings, a suburb of the town.

Home and Heart

From Silver Publishing

Deep in the Cotswolds in the heart of England, Ben Elliot settles in for a quiet Christmas house-sitting and caring for an elderly woman’s two dogs while she’s away. When her black-sheep grandson, Adam Prescott, turns up on the doorstep, Ben takes in the human stray as well. Destitute and betrayed by family, boyfriend, and Fate, Adam has lost all faith in others, and in himself.

Determined to help, Ben soon loses his heart to the other man and believes Adam has feelings for him, too. Then Adam’s ex shows up, offering him the world if only Adam will come back to him. Now Ben must choose whether to step aside, or reach for the only gift he wants this Christmas.

Christmas may not be a time of celebration for Ben.

Olympic Blog: Exeter to Taunton – the joy of cream teas …

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I’ve always loved Devon and have had some of my best ever holidays there. The pace of life is much slower than here in Surrey where I live, and of course the Devon cream teas are to die for.

I can honestly say that the best cream teas I have ever tasted can be found in the Cathedral Café in Exeter Cathedral, and teach me more about the joys of heaven than any number of pitch-perfect choirs and stunning stained glass. And I say that as a committed Anglican too.

Exeter also has the best public toilets I’ve ever experienced – I do believe that a society can be judged entirely on the standards of its public conveniences – so the Olympic procession will have a lot to enjoy in their journey from Exeter to Taunton. Then again, I must admit that I did happen to be in the city on the first day of opening the new facilities, and it was a joyous occasion of flowers and cleanliness, and they even had very chatty staff who were happy to show you around. I went back three times, and I didn’t even need to …

So when it came to writing my gay thriller The Bones of Summer, realising I had a significant back story to tell when it came to my hero, Craig, I knew I had to set it near Exeter. This is where Craig grows up, in a farming household traumatised by the narrow religious faith of his father, and where he meets Michael, the first man he falls in love with.

Even later on when Craig is settling in to his new life in London, the memories of what happened in Exeter and why he had to leave are never too far away. When a threatening letter arrives, Craig knows he must return to his childhood rural home in order to face and overcome his past if he’s to have the chance of a future at all.

Bearing our Olympic theme in mind, I’m also proud to say that The Bones of Summer was Commended in the UK Writers’ Conference in 2008, and placed third in the 2009 Rainbow Mystery Fiction Awards. So not quite a Gold, hey a girl can dream …

Anne Brooke
Gay Reads UK