Diamonds and churches

I’ve been busy lately and keep forgetting to post on this blog. However, I’m rather chuffed to post this banner – and boast a bit! – because The House at Ladywell has been chosen as Book of the Month (August) in the Discovering Diamonds award, which is for historical novels. And, even more exciting, that means it’s on the shortlist for Book of the Year! I’m delighted that so many people have fallen in love with my book and there are now lots of 5* reviews on Amazon and Goodreadsd too. (Reviews are always welcome, potential readers usually check them out before buying!)

In other news, the Resident Engineer and I have been exploring old churches. The Church of St. Mary Magdalene at West Tisted, near Ropley in Hampshire, is tiny, peaceful and fascinating. There are ancient yew trees in the churchyard and

 

in the porch hangs the memorial for the 1914-18 war. There is also a letter, unlike anything I’ve ever come across: it’s a signed plea from the Vicar and the Parish Council at the end of WW1, addressed to their counterparts in 2014. For some reason they were not allowed to hang the war memorial plaque inside the church and they hit on this idea of asking the future generation to put this right. (Unfortunately the plaque and the walls are too fragile to comply with their request.)

A week or two later we had a couple of days in Hereford and between visiting relatives and having coffee, lunch and tea in various National Trust and English Heritage castles, etc, we drove the Black & White Villages Trail in pursuit of the setting for Phil Rickman’s series of mysteries featuring the Reverend Merrily Watkins. (Heartily recommended, by the way!) We also visited the tiny, ancient church at Kilpeck, south of Hereford. It’s featured in one of Phil’s books and it was magical – and not in the least sinister as it is in the book! Once a thriving mediaeval village beside a Norman castle, Kilpeck was incredibly peaceful when we saw it on a sunny September day. There wasn’t a sound, even from the neighbouring farm, only the birds twittering and small rustlings in the grass.
The church is renowned for its carved corbels all round the outside, particularly a rather cheerful, but explicit, Sheela Na Gig. I’m not posting her picture on here but just say that she looks a very happy and generous lady!

This is a Wikipaedia photo of the church as mine was a bit pathetic:

KilpeckChurch(PhilipHalling)Feb2006.jpg

Tuesday, 20th November is now the official launch date of my cosy and domestic mystery, The Convalescent Corpse. Set in 1918 it’s A story of life, rationing, and inconvenient corpses.’

Last weekend the local rec played host to a display of vehicles from both WW1 and WW2 with re-enactors on hand to explain what was happening. My particular interest at the moment is WW1 and with a convalescent hospital featured in the new book, I was delighted to snap this nurse: I asked her to look stern, and she tried, bless her, but was far too jolly to keep it up for long.https://amzn.to/2v0gQnX This is the Amazon UK link to buy The House at Ladywell (tell your friends!) and in the meantime, this is the blurb for The Convalescent Corpse:
It’s 1918 and the War has brought loss, grief and hardship to the three Fyttleton sisters. Helped by their grandmother (a failed society belle and expert poacher) and hindered by a difficult mother (an author and armchair suffragette) – plus an unruly chicken-stealing dog and a house full of paying-guests – they now have to deal with the worrying news that their late and unlamented father may not be dead after all. There’s also a death that might be suspicious, and on top of that there’s the body in the ha-ha…

 

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A New Book – About Life, Rationing, and Inconvenient Corpses!

This year is proving to be all about books! No surprise there – my Granny used to say, ‘That child always has her nose in a book,’ and so I did, and still do. However, 2018 is different in that six of my books are being republished and – drum roll, please – Crooked Cat Books have just taken on my NINTH BOOK! the very cosy mystery, The Convalescent Corpse. The ebook should come out around the end of the year, followed shortly afterwards by the paperback.

This is the publisher’s announcement, not the actual  cover for The Convalescent Corpse, it’s too soon for that. Set in 1918, in Ramalley, the same fictional version of Romsey as The House at Ladywell, this book charts the efforts of three young sisters to cope with WW1 wartime shortages, difficult parents, lack of money, a houseful of lodgers – and inconvenient corpses practically on their own doorstep!

I’ve always loved Romsey, ever since I spent all my summer holidays visiting my aunt who lived quite near. My cousins and I used to cycle to Romsey and I’d drag them into King John’s House and the Abbey, to make sure they were still there, so it was a particular delight to find myself living only about five miles from the town. It’s still one of my favourite haunts and I drop in to say Hello to the poignant relic of a young Saxon girl buried in the Abbey. How strange that the only acknowledgement of a life should be her hair in a glass case – who was she? Nobody knows, but I loved her at first sight when I was about seven (I was a weird child, I admit) These days I wander round town, conscious of Freya, from The House at Ladywell, talking in one ear, and now Christabel, whose diary forms The Convalescent Corpse, in the other ear. They’re good company though.

As if that isn’t enough excitement, I’ve also signed with Endeavour Media to republish my first-ever novel, Scuba Dancing, as an ebook, probably early in the New Year. The first book I set in ‘Ramalley’ – this was first published in 2005, followed in 2013 when I self-published  it as an ebook, slightly tweaking a few inconsistencies. I’m delighted now, to have a chance to introduce this very quirky novel to a new audience and was very touched recently, to receive a message from a reader, that Scuba Dancing had ‘helped her through a bout of serious illness.’ 

Earlier in the year I posted that Williams & Whiting were to reissue my first five mysteries – previously published by Robert Hale Ltd – and they’re now all available as ebooks and paperbacks: all three Charlotte Richmond Victorian mysteries, and the firstt two Harriet Quigley contemporary tales. (The third Harriet book was published by Endeavour Press in 2016) Amazon link – https://amzn.to/2uI7UEi

And finally, something non-book related. In January this year The Resident Engineer and I celebrated our Golden Wedding. Fifty years in which we’ve achieved three children, eight grandchildren, lots of travelling, and a great deal of (mostly) cheerful bickering! This is a typical photo, him beaming at the world and me watching to make sure there’s no catastrophe looming. It’s not hard to- guess who is the cautious Capricorn and who the optimistic Leo! (I must have been standing oddly, I’m not really that weird shape!)

I know I make jokes about him, and he winds me up all the time, but my heart still lifts when I hear his key in the door! He drives me mad, but he keeps me sane – which is a pretty good testimonial.

 

Armistice Day

A highlight – one of many – during our month-long Australian trip last month was a brief visit to Canberra’s Australian War Memorial. It’s an imposing building in extensive grounds and an amazing view into the city.

 We were there in the school holidays and it was very crowded; even so, it was very quiet indoors, a mixture of awe at the sheer volume of numbers killed, and reflection on their sacrifice. I was glad to see how many children were engrossed in the stories on display, people need to remember. Find out more:https://www.awm.gov.au/

I like sculpture and was impressed by this memorial to Private John Simpson who served at Gallipoli. Using one of the donkeys brought in for carrying water he transported wounded men under fire, day and night from the fighting in Monash Valley to the beach at Anzac Cove.  He was killed while carrying two wounded men on 19th May 1915 and buried on the beach at Hell Spit.

Here’s another animal memorial ‘Explosive Detection Dog and Handler Sculpture’ ‘In this sculpture I have sought to express the close bond that exists between dog and handler….’ (Artist Ewen Coats)

At the heart of the building is the Hall of Memory above the Pool of Reflection  and on either side, the lists of the fallen – endless lists you think at first, 102,000 names. One of the first names we saw as we slowly walked along and looked at the World War I memorials was a man called Slade and after that the Resident Engineer photographed them all. We found fourteen of them and wondered if they were relatives as we know at least one mid-19th century Slade went to Australia.

The Gallipoli Campaign was commemorated two years ago and the Australian and New Zealand soldiers’ part is well-documented, and rightly so.What I hadn’t really taken on board is that although the campaign is linked to the Anzacs in the public mind, just how many men died in total.

Gallipoli casualties (not including illness)
Dead Wounded Missing
or
POW
Total
Ottoman
Empire
56,643 97,007 11,178 164,828
United Kingdom 34,072 78,520 7,654 120,246
France 9,798 17,371 27,169
Australia 8,709 19,441 28,150
New Zealand 2,721 4,752 7,473
British India 1,358 3,421 4,779
Newfoundland 49 93 142
Total Allies 56,707 123,598 7,654 187,95

When I was a child I was very much aware of WWI because I had great-aunts galore who remembered it vividly. The story that stays in my memory is of my favourite great-aunt who, in 1916, was lying awake at night with her very new fifth child when she looked up and saw her eldest son, Clive, standing at the end of the bed. He had lied about his age and enlisted when he was sixteen and when she saw him she knew what it meant. When the telegram arrived he was still not quite eighteen.

I thought about Aunt Liz and Clive at the AWM when they played someone singing Waltzing Matilda and that got to me. It’s a song I love and I always cry when I hear it, remembering that it’s the theme music for ‘On The Beach’, the film of Nevil Shute’s post-apocalyptic novel – still the best film in this genre. Here’s the original trailer – worth watching. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAwI5ONywME

 

One Man’s Story…

With hindsight it probably wasn’t a great idea to go to Avebury on the day of the summer solstice. We knew better than to go near Stonehenge because of the crowds that gather to see the sunrise, but it hadn’t occurred to me, when I decided I wanted to walk down the avenue of monoliths in nearby Avebury, that there’d be an overflow of stone-huggers from Stonehenge.

avebury

Read about it on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avebury

Anyway, we set off across idyllic countryside – England in June on a brilliant hot summer’s day, what could be nicer? Somehow we missed the turning for Avebury and as it was coffee time we stopped at a nice-looking pub. A pub with shelves full of books – it took the Engineer some time to drag me away. When we left, I had two books with me; as he  said: ‘Oh good, more books, just what we need.’ As indeed we do, you can never have too many books.

One of the books is called ‘Mrs Green Again’ by the elegantly named Evelyne E Rynd and it was published in 1915. I paid a pound for it solely because of a pencilled inscription inside the front cover.bookinscription1915haddoncropped

It’s dated 1915 and written in very faint pencil: A copy of this book was one of the last things Esmond acknowledged receiving. He said, “I was glad to see dear Mrs Green again: I think she’s funnier than ever.”

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that something happened to Esmond in 1915 and it doesn’t take a genius to suspect what that could have been. I suspected that M Haddon was his mother and I felt that she would have wanted to feel that he wasn’t forgotten.

Thanks to the wonders of Google, I found him.

Capt Harold Esmond Haddon  born in India, 29th December 1888, Killed in action in Kut-el-Amara, Mesopotamia, 24th December 1915

He was very brave, was Esmond, mentioned in despatches, and he was only five days away from his twenty-seventh birthday when he died. He’s  buried in Kut War Cemetary which is in Baghdad and  I found his army record:

Rank: Captain, Regiment: 119th Indian Infantry (Mooltan Regiment)

Honors/awards: 3 Times Mentioned In Despatches

I also found a family history page but there are discrepancies, for one thing he’s credited with a wife whom he apparently married at the age of twelve! but the basic facts seem to agree.

Harold Esmond HADDON was born on 29 Dec 1888 in India. He died on 24 Dec 1915 in Kut-el-Amara, Mesopotamia.  Letters of Administration granted to his wife, Margaret Haddon, on 4 Jul 1916 in London (This has to mean his mother whose name was Margaret). Harold’s (known as Esmond to his mother) effects were valued at £300.3.10. He was a Captain in 119th (Mooltan Reg) Indian Infantry during World War 1. He was buried in Kut War Cemetery, Iraq. There is an inscription in Langham Baptist burial ground to Harold: “Lieut Temp Capt 119th Infantry (The Mooltan Reg) Indian Army, younger son of T.W. Haddon, born Dec 29th 1888. Killed in action at Kut et Amara, Mesopotamia on Xmas eve 1915. Mentioned in Dispatches.” Prior to going to war Harold was living at 4 Hervey Road, Blackheath, Kent. (Taken from a genealogy site)

I’m quite sure that the M Haddon who wrote the note in my copy of the book was Esmond’s mother Margaret and I hope she would be glad that another mother, a hundred years after the Great War began, found her book and thought fondly of Esmond.

I haven’t read the book yet – it looks hard going, tales of a cockney charlady’s wit and wisdom as told by a lady visiting the vicarage where she chars. But I’m glad it cheered Esmond up – he probably needed a few laughs.

As for Avebury – we couldn’t park anywhere near it and it was full of earnest-looking people communing with the stones: hugging them, holding hands in circles round them, and a few people actually picnicking round them. We thought we’d try again another day and went off to find another pub for lunch instead.

And finally, a nice 5* star review for The Dead Queen’s GardenCharlotte Richmond, young widow with a shady past, has settled down in Hampshire living with her late husband’s grandmother and close to her brother and sister in law Lily and Barnard. It is Christmas and Lord and Lady Granville have moved to their country house nearby when Lady Granville’s lady’s maid is found dead in the grounds of their home. Then a young woman dies after being taken ill following a Christening party held by Lily and Barnard and Charlotte’s nose for a mystery starts to twitch.

I found this book entertaining reading. Charlotte is far from being a conventional Victorian heroine as she is resourceful and curious and interested in things which no well bred young woman should be interested in. She finds plenty to occupy her curiosity over the Christmas period, though her enjoyment is dampened at times by the impending death of her friend Elaine Knightley.

I had worked out what was going on though not who the murderer was quite early on in the story though I still enjoyed finding out exactly who was responsible. I recommend this series to anyone who likes historical crime with an unusual heroine. The series can be read in any order.