Tag Archives: olympics

Day 68 Harrow to Haringey – a London life


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)


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 16 — Belfast to Portrush


Day 16, June 3

The Olympic torch passes from Belfast to Portrush today on its way to London. Irish athletes have qualified for events in track, gymnastics, judo, and cycling for 2012, but one hundred years ago, when Belfast was the world’s center of shipbuilding, Ireland produced a crop of athletes of unparalleled ability and appetite.

John Flanagan, Martin Sheridan, James Mitchell

John Flanagan, Martin Sheridan, James Mitchell

The “Irish Whales” ruled Olympic throwing events for more than twenty years—this group of enormous men with enormous hungers threw hammers, shot, and weights. They dominated the sport—their biggest competition was each other. Big in all ways: they stood 6 feet (1.8 m) or more, weighing 195 pounds (88 kg) to as much as 300 pounds (136 kg), and they heaved heavy objects far enough to take as many as 9 medals each.

John Flanagan , Simon Gillis, James Mitchell, Pat McDonald, Paddy Ryan, Martin Sheridan, Matt McGrath , and Con Walsh were all born in Ireland, but they competed on behalf of the United States.  They had day jobs as New York City cops—this was the era of the amateur Olympic athlete. Several arrived in the United States as small children, coming away from the hungry land that bore them—most were born slightly before, or slightly after An Gorta Beag, the “small famine” of 1879. Many of them continued to honor the country they left behind by wearing the winged fist of the Irish-American Athletic Club in competitions.

56 lb weight

56 lb weight

Every throwing event from 1904 to 1924 lists one or more of these athletes in the top three. Pat McDonald’s Olympic record throw for the 56 pound weight (11.265 meters, set in 1920) will stand forever unless the event is reinstated and another leviathan can better it. That seems unlikely: the Athletics Ireland record, set in 1998, is 9.16 meters.

John Flanagan with hammer

The hammer thrown by the Whales would be useless for driving nails. The modern throwing hammer is a 16 pound ball at the end of a 4 foot handle, though early events did feature a sledge hammer on a cane handle. Pat Ryan’s record throw of 57.77 meters stood for thirty years.

As much as for their athletic prowess and their enormous good humor, these men were known for their appetites. The Whales wore their shipboard waiter to a frazzle on the trip to Stockholm for the 1912 Olympics, requiring dinners with four or five bowls of soup and four steaks plus trimmings for each man. The Whales proceeded to win gold and silver: the waiter allegedly lost twenty pounds.  Another legendary meal took place when Simon Gillis called ahead for a meal, ordering 6 T-bone steaks and 27 dozen oysters. The waiters set the table for 33, and watched, aghast, as Gillis, Pat McDonald, and Matt McGrath ate it all.

Although the Irish Whales’ medals counted for the United States, they never lost their identification with the country of their birth. Some, like John Flanagan and Patrick Ryan, returned to Ireland at the end of their working lives. Others stayed in the United States, and only monuments erected by their home towns remain in Ireland.

Irish boxers have done well in the last several Games, taking at least one medal in every game as far back as 1956. Swimmer Michelle Smith did Ireland proud with her three golds and a bronze in 1996, and all the other competitors have given their best to their sports. Fine athletes all, but for sheer exuberance, accomplishments, and voraciousness, the Irish Whales will never be outdone.

In 1912, the year the athletes exhausted their waiter, travel by ship was the only way to cross the ocean. Sources do not record which liner carried the US Olympic team to Stockholm, but it could well have been fabricated in Belfast, where Harland and Wolff built hundreds of ships, including the Olympic, the Britannic, and the Titanic. Jimmy and Donal might have helped build that Norway-bound vessel, and would surely have cheered for the expatriate champions.


The best jobs in 1911 Belfast are in the shipyards, but Donal Gallagher’s pay packet at Harland and Wolff doesn’t stretch far enough. He needs to find someone to share his rented room; fellow ship-builder Jimmy Healy’s bright smile and need for lodgings inspire Donal to offer. But how will he sleep, lying scant feet away from Jimmy? It seems Jimmy’s a restless sleeper, too, lying so near to Donal…

In a volatile political climate, building marine boilers and armed insurrection are strangely connected. Jimmy faces an uneasy choice: flee to America or risk turning gunrunner for Home Rule activists. He thinks he’s found the perfect answer to keep himself and his Donal safe, but shoveling coal on a luxury liner is an invitation to fate.

A 5 star read at Speak Its Name—find Maroon: Donal agus Jimmy  at Torquere, or Amazon, or All Romance eBooks.

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


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