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Two’s Company …

They were eleven years old when they met for the first time. My mother, Ruth, told me she could remember waking to a lavender scent of freshly laundered linen and the crash of angry waves on a windswept beach. My Aunt Nicola once revealed to me that she, too, remembered waking up that first morning at my great-grandmother’s house, feeling claustrophobic in her tiny bedroom and counting the depressing drip, drip, drips of raindrops plopping from a broken drainpipe onto a concrete ledge outside.

Mum and Nicola are cousins. I can just imagine them eyeing each other up across the breakfast table, making wary conversation about school, hobbies and the latest stories in girls’ comics.  Mum says she felt self-conscious in her home-made, shapeless gingham blouse and shorts, her hair in plaits as her new cousin tucked her loose, blonde hair behind gold-studded ears. Aunt Nicola once showed me a photograph of them on that first day. She had worn a pretty white sundress with an embroidered bodice and although they both had plimsolls on their feet, Mum’s were scruffy, black lace-ups while Aunt Nicola’s were unblemished and pure white.

On that first day they had played Monopoly because it had been too wet to play outside or go to the beach.  Mum had shook her head in disbelief as she told me that Nicola had never before played Monopoly. She had spent nearly all her life living in Singapore, where her father worked, and she hadn’t even heard of it. In fact, Aunt Nicola hadn’t known much about anything, other than the names of old men who sang in old-fashioned pop groups such as the Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

Although enchanted by Aunt Nicola and her cosmopolitan lifestyle, Mum confessed to being bored on that first holiday together at Great-Grandma’s house.  Once Nicola had been taught to play Monopoly, all she wanted to do was play indoors.  Mum has two brothers and so she was a bit of a tomboy when she was a child – I know she loved being outside in the fresh air and still does. For the rest of that week, even when the weather had brightened, Aunt Nicola had pleaded to stay in and play Monopoly with Mum or bake cakes with my Great-Grandma. Mum says she supposes it was the type of thing she had never done before, with being an only child and brought up abroad.

My mother had not known the meaning of the word claustrophobic at the beginning of the week, but by the end of it she had certainly learned how it felt. Aunt Nicola laughs her head off when she tells me how she had cried and sobbed so much when she had to leave after that first holiday with Mum, it had made Mum put her fingers down her throat and pretend to throw up.

Although Nicola’s parents had the wealth to put the world at her feet, she only ever wanted what belonged to my mother. Now I suspect she wants the most precious thing of all and I am dreading hearing what she has to say to us tomorrow, when we meet up in the seaside town where it all began, forty-five years ago.

***

The glorious summer sunshine kisses Mum’s newly highlighted hair with warmth, blown almost immediately away by a slight cooling breeze as gentle waves suck the sand from beneath her toes. Her new hairstyle makes her look younger and suits her. I’ve been saying for ages that she ought to get her hair cut shorter in a more modern style.

“The cry of seagulls always reminds me of the time I stood on this beach holding hands with your father for the very first time,” she says. “We were fifteen – very young, I know – but we had known each other since I started coming here with Nicola. It was on the day of my grandmother’s funeral and the three of us had gone to the pier for an ice-cream after the wake.”

The gulls screech and call to each other, soaring way above us. Circling. Watching. My dad, Dave, lived in the house next door to Great-Grandma’s house. I look over my shoulder to where his parents – my grandparents – still live. Whenever Mum talks about her childhood with Aunt Nicola she always puts herself down by saying things like “she was much cleverer than me” or  “she was the pretty girl with the glamorous name while I was just a Plain Jane.”

“I still don’t know why your dad chose me over Nicola,” Mum says with a grimace as she pats her new hairstyle into place. “I was nothing special.”

My dad tells me how much he loves mum all the time, shaking his head in frustration because Mum has never quite believed him. I often wonder if all this trouble is because he tells me how much he loves her, but doesn’t say it to her any more. He always asks me to buy birthday and Christmas presents for her. It’s me who chooses the cards with soppy words – not him. He’s a man of few words, my dad, but I know he loves Mum, despite Aunt Nicola’s simpering manner when she is around him, gazing up at him with adoring puppy-dog eyes. I think she’s leading him astray, headlong into a mid-life crisis. Up until the last few weeks, Dad never seemed to notice this behaviour. It all went straight over the top of his head. He’s never encouraged Aunt Nicola, no matter how much she flirts around him. It always used to make me smile when he pulled away slightly when she kissed him goodbye on the cheek, like a schoolboy straining to escape from the peppermint-scented kiss of an elderly aunt. Just lately, though, he hugs her tightly and doesn’t pull back. Last night he even stroked her hair. I saw the special, shared look between them. There’s something going on – I just know.

Mum pulls her feet from the suction of the sand, licks the salt from her lips and steps back from the water’s edge, her sandals swinging by her side.

“You go on ahead,” she says, with a sigh of resigned sadness lurking around the edges of her voice. “I’ll meet you and Nicola in the cafe in a few minutes – I just need to fetch an old book from the car.”

Reluctantly, I walk away. I don’t want to leave her. I want to stay by her side and protect her.

***

Ten minutes later Mum joins us at the café on the pier.

‘So … did you finally get him to agree?’ Aunt Nicola quizzes as she dabs a tiny crumb of chocolate cake from her lip with a serviette wrapped around an immaculately manicured red fingernail.

Mum lifts the lid from the pot of tea before swirling it around with a shiny teaspoon.  She looks up and smiles and my heart fills with love for her. I know she is trying to drive down horrible feelings of fear and anger that are bubbling beneath her calm exterior. My eyes prickle and water. I hate what is happening to my lovely Mum.

‘The trouble with my Dave,’ Mum replies, ‘is that he is too conventional. He doesn’t like being in the sun and says he won’t like the food. He has always hated the idea of a foreign holiday.’

Aunt Nicola stretches her neck a little, casts her eyes momentarily towards the ceiling and then shoots Mum a thin smile.  When she does that, I always wonder what secrets that little smile betrays. I know Aunt Nicola and Dad share a single, dog-eared page in the book of his past that doesn’t include Mum, but that was years ago when they were teenagers. My parents have been married for nearly forty years now – it really doesn’t matter that Aunt Nicola tried, unsuccessfully, to steal Dad from her all those years ago. Well, it wouldn’t matter – if only she wasn’t still trying.

‘Dave is a wonderful man,’ Aunt Nicola gushes, ‘but I think he might be scared of flying and won’t admit it.’

I can’t stop my lip turning up slightly into a sneer. There’s little room for any doubt or explanations about what they have been up to for the last few weeks behind Mum’s back. I know Mum knows something is going on, too, because she hasn’t been herself just lately.

Mum pours the tea, not looking up at her as she speaks.

‘It was just a pipe-dream, this idea of a cruise.  We’ll have a couple of weeks in Devon instead.’

Mum’s voice dissolves shakily into a sigh as she tries to hold herself together. She bites her lip as Aunt Nicola subconsciously twizzles the wedding ring on her finger. Mum slides the tea across the table towards her.

‘Do you remember when we were sixteen,’ Mum says. ‘And you dyed your lovely fair hair black and told everyone your name was really spelt with a ‘K’ instead of a ‘C’?

Aunt Nicola laughs, and her face transforms in my mind’s eye to the girl in an old photograph: the smouldering, darkly alluring ‘Ni-koh-lah’, whose pale skin, heavily made-up eyes and thick dark fringe had made her look like an Egyptian goddess. The closest Mum ever got to teenage rebellion was wear hot-pants, cut her hair indecently short and call herself Ruthie.

Aunt Nicola turns to me. ‘Thank goodness you can’t do anything with your name, Dee. I’ll never escape from the Nicola with a ‘k’ jokes, and your mum will forever be Ruthie, even though you hate it, don’t you, Ruth?’

‘We didn’t even get a proper honeymoon, so I’m not surprised he won’t entertain the idea of a cruise,’ Mum says absent-mindedly with a sad, faraway look in her eyes. ‘He doesn’t really like going on holiday.’

Aunt Nicola continues to talk to me. I want to ignore her, but instead I look at a point just over her shoulder and force a smile through my teeth. My lips start to quiver.

‘At the time I felt so sorry for your mother with her register office wedding, sandwich reception in a pub and rain-sodden honeymoon weekend in a dreary hotel. I might have had the white satin and diamond-studded wedding every girl dreams of, but my first marriage was a complete disaster and life with your Uncle Rodney wasn’t much better, God rest his soul.’

I look at Mum. My heart is doing somersaults and I feel a physical ache because I love her so much. Why on earth is Aunt Nicola talking about Mum’s wedding when she is about to tear her marriage into tiny pieces?

Mum sighs and cups her chin in her hands. ‘We don’t even have any proper photographs. My parents said we could either have a professional photographer or a cooker for our tiny flat, so we plumped for a cooker and my Uncle Reg took photos, but they didn’t turn out properly’

‘I remember your flat,’ Nicola says with a giggle. ‘Didn’t we have some fun? And what about your parents’ faces when we painted the walls purple and orange.’

‘It wasn’t their fault we couldn’t afford a photographer,’ Mum continues defensively. ‘They were quite hard-up. They couldn’t afford to give me a big wedding, but we did appreciate the cooker.’

‘Oh Ruthie,’ Aunt Nicola says as she grabs Mum’s hands over the table. ‘Until we met, I was so lonely. You are the sister I never had.’

I have to get away. I just can’t bear to hear any more of this. They are trying to show solidarity in front of me, so I will accept the break-up of my parents’ long and previously happy marriage. It’s absurd. I feel so much anger towards Aunt Nicola. I don’t trust myself to speak.

I jump up and my chair scrapes rudely on the wooden floor.

‘I’ll be back in a minute … I just need the loo,’ I mumble. Mum looks up at me, concerned.

***

“I need you to be with your mum tomorrow afternoon when she meets Nicky on the pier in Westsea,” Dad had said to me when I called round with my children after school yesterday. “I’ll be there, too, but I’ve got an appointment and will probably be a bit late.” He shook his head and wouldn’t tell me why he wanted us all to meet at the café on the pier. “Thanks Dee,” he had added awkwardly as I reluctantly agreed. “I’ll join you all as soon as I can.”

Aunt Nicola spent yesterday morning with Dad while mum was at work. I know this because I was spying on them from my friend’s house over the road. Then they had blatantly gone off somewhere in the car, giggling like teenagers, not even bothering to hide their affair from the neighbours.

He’d also called her Nicky. He’s never called her Nicky before. It’s obvious the three of them have arrived at an amicable agreement and have asked me here today because they want to be civilised about it all. I am an only child and Aunt Nicola has never been able to have children, something that caused her great pain in the past. She’s doted on me all my life. Now I am married with children of my own, she dotes on them, too.

I know Mum has let herself go and doesn’t fuss too much over her appearance, but she is growing older gracefully while Aunt Nicola is forever clutching back at her fast receding mis-spent youth. Mum has always been the rock in our family and Aunt Nicola the seagull that perches on it from time to time. Now the seagull has turned into a predator, wanting to steal away everything that belongs to Mum, just like she did when they were children.

***

The atmosphere is so tense you could play a tune on taut heartstrings. I sit back down, feeling like an intruder. If Dad doesn’t arrive soon, I don’t think I can take any more. They are still talking about weddings.

‘There are some things money can’t buy,’ Aunt Nicola says to Mum, who I can see has been crying while I was in the loo. ‘I might have had the new house, the car and the rich husband, but you not only married a wonderful man, but you had the love, laughter and the family I always craved.’

I begin to feel quite sick and light-headed. Mum reaches into her handbag for a tissue, but pulls out a tatty old hard-backed book instead. ‘Do you remember this?’ she asks Aunt Nicola. ‘You borrowed it from me on that first day at Grandma’s house and couldn’t put it down.’

The book is ‘Five are Together Again’. I’ve seen it before because it’s personally signed by Enid Blyton and Mum used to show it to me when I was little. It’s one of her most treasured possessions.

As Aunt Nicola opens up the book her face brightens. I follow her gaze. Dad has just walked into the café.

‘Hello,’ he says, his eyes fixed on Mum. ‘Sorry I’m a bit late. Had some stuff to sort out for work.’ He puts his hand on Mum’s shoulder and squeezes it.

‘You OK?’ he whispers, thinking I can’t hear him. Mum nods. She has found a tissue in her bag and is holding it to her nose.

Aunt Nicola jumps up. ‘I’ll get you some tea,’ she trills, fussing over him. ‘And a cream horn to go with it.’

When she returns to the table, she takes the book from my hands. I’ve been studying it intently while my parents make polite conversation with each other about the weather, the state of paint on the pier railings and the lack of dog poo bins on the sea front, and silently seething that Aunt Nicola knows Dad’s favourite cream cake.

‘Oh, this does bring back memories. Didn’t we have a great time here when we were kids,’ Aunt Nicola says, stroking the cover of the book. ‘We were the …

I stare at my reflection in the window as the three of them reminisce about their childhood adventures, deliberately not listening to their conversation.. They say I look like Great-Grandma. I don’t remember her, though. She died before I was born.

‘Dee,’ Aunt Nicola says, and I pay attention again. ‘I … we … have something to tell you.’

I swear I am going to die right here in the café on the pier. I feel light-headed and my heart is pounding so fast in my chest it is hurting. I look at Mum. Her eyes water, and a solitary tear spills over her eyelid and disappears into the fine lines around her eyes. Dad reaches across the table and grasps Aunt Nicola’s hand tightly in a grip of solidarity. Mum looks away and I try to gulp down a lump that has materialised in my throat.

‘But before we tell Dee,’ Aunt Nicola continues as she withdraws her hand from Dad’s grasp, ‘I have something for you, Ruthie.’

She pulls an envelope out of her bag and slides it across the table to Mum. In the envelope is a torn out page from a cruise brochure. ‘I’ve bought you both a two-week cruise in the Caribbean to celebrate your Ruby wedding anniversary. You’ll have to cancel that guest house in Devon.’

My thumping heart flips. What on earth is going on?

‘Nicky …’ says Mum, wiping her eyes which are now filled with shock and disbelief. ‘We can’t … it’s too much. Are you sure? And what about you, Dave? I thought you didn’t want to go on a cruise.’

Dad grins. ‘I have a confession to make,’ he says. ‘I knew yesterday, when Nicky popped by with some brochures. She managed to convince me. I told her it was far too much money, but she insisted, didn’t you Nicky, and dragged me down to the travel agency to book it there and then.’

I smile a huge, fat smile as my parents pore over the page, their heads together, giggling like children reading something they shouldn’t.

‘Of course I’m sure,’ Aunt Nicola says. ‘Which brings me onto the real reason we are all here.’

I look up, puzzled. I now have absolutely no idea what is going on.

She turns to look at me. ‘Dee, my lovely, ‘ I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. I have cancer – something I’ve shared only with Dave and Ruthie since I found out. They have been fantastic and your dad has been taking me to the hospital for radiotherapy appointments. We thought it could be cured, but last Friday, I learned it is a little more serious than I first thought. There isn’t much more that can be done, so sadly, I might …’

Her voice fades and her voice crumbles. My brain seizes up. I can’t think of anything but screaming out: “No. No. No” but nothing comes out.  I want to swallow but I can’t. I have got things completely wrong and I feel ashamed, shocked and scared for Aunt Nicola, all at the same time.

Aunt Nicola grabs my hand and grips it tightly.

‘But please don’t be sad for me, Dee. I need us all to be happy and to carry on as normal for as long as I can. You are the only family I have and I need you to be strong for me. Please?’

Dad puts his head in his hands, covering his eyes.  He takes a deep, shuddering breath before smoothing back his hair with both hands, something he does when he is deeply worried and trying to maintain his composure.

I hear myself speak. I want to cry but can’t. I have somehow stepped outside of myself and have shoved the wailing, weeping woman under the table out of sight until she can be alone with her emotions.

‘I knew something was wrong,’ I say, shaking my head. ‘I am so, so sorry, Aunt Nicola.’

My parents look at each other with a mixture of love and pain in their eyes. Dad puts an arm around Mum’s shoulder and grab’s Aunt Nicola’s hand over the table. The three of them are in a world only they share – a special tripartite world that spans the last forty years and it doesn’t include me, even though I have been a big part of it.

‘Thank you for this, Nicky,’ Dad says simply. ‘You know we will all look after you. We can fight it together. Everything will be fine.’

‘I love you both so much,’ Aunt Nicola says to my parents. ‘I always have, all my life. I just want the two of you to have one, special holiday to celebrate forty happy years together.’

I suddenly understand. Something happened here, on this pier. I remember back to the dog-eared page in Dad’s life that has never been a secret and know that, on this pier all those years ago he made a very difficult choice between two lovely young women, and he chose Mum.

‘And anyway,’ she says, winking at Dad. ‘I had to get you to give me a kiss somehow, Dave, even if I did have to buy you a luxury cruise.’

© Annie Ireson, 14.2.13

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Seven

A while ago I wrote a post about the number three. Every time I looked at the clock, there was a three in the time. You can read it here.

Just lately it’s the number seven.

A couple of weeks ago I had a very unsettling experience with social media, which I won’t go into. I decided to keep away from it for a while. After all, Facebook and Blogging are not real life, and real life is what matters. This is where social media is quite dangerous, I think. We should never forget that social media is not always a nice, fluffy place, and there are always people who will poke around the edges of propriety and good manners.

This morning my faith in social media was restored with an absolutely brilliant review of The White Cuckoo by Jo Skehan (you can read it by clicking on the link to Jo’s blog). I have made some lovely friends through social media, most of them writers. It never ceases to amaze me what a cohesive and supportive world there is out there when you are a writer.

After the bad experience, despite remaining totally silent, I received seven supportive e-mails and messages, six of them from people I have never met in real life.  I felt the warm, fluffy band of lovely facebook and blogging writing friends surround me, but still I shied away from it, afraid to open up even my own blog in case there was a nasty comment there.

Then, one day last week, after taking my grandchildren to school, I had a brief conversation with my son-in-law. A friend had commented about how polite and well-mannered my eight year-old grandson was. “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man,” I said to Lee. I couldn’t remember where the quote had come from, though, although having googled it to find out, it is allegedly attributed to St Francis Xavier, the founder of the Jesuits.

All the time now, the number seven has kept cropping up.

At lunchtime yesterday I had a peep to see how many e-books I had sold so far this month. Yes – it is seven!

And today is the 7th February and Jo Skehan has fully restored my faith and enjoyment in social media, so thanks Jo. You are a star!

Meeting my Readers

It’s hard to describe the emotional impact of publication on a writer. To me, knowing that readers were investing their precious time in ‘The White Cuckoo’ made me feel anxious and elated all at the same time.  I hoped they would feel my novel was good value for the money they had invested, although my motivation for writing has never been to make money from it.

Last Thursday night, I was lucky enough to meet a group of my readers – the lovely ladies of a Kettering Book Group – Adelle, Linda, Janine, Cheryl and Ann-Marie. They had asked me along to their meeting, having chosen ‘The White Cuckoo’ to read over Christmas.

I was very nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. I think the most startling revelation was that the group talked about my characters in great detail as if they were real. I had always thought only writers did this, but I was clearly wrong. Readers are incredibly discerning and writers shouldn’t ever under-estimate their capacity to tease out the tiniest details about characters.  I was so glad I had been obsessive about less-significant character attributes and made sure I cross-referenced everything throughout the novel.

When I read a book, I tend to read it for pleasure first and then go through it again, sometimes adding some notes in the margins about technical details. There are endless ways of constructing a novel – for that is what we do, as writers. We construct. Our novels are like buildings – they can be tin huts, magnificent cathedrals or miracles of modern architecture. They can be badly constructed by cowboy builders or built with the dedication and care of a master craftsman. They can be thrown together in a matter of weeks or rise gracefully from the ground, taking years before the final topping-out.

I never really knew if readers analysed books in this way, too. I know from talking to other writers that we all tend to deconstruct the books we read to some degree.  I think I learned last night that readers do it subconsciously, and if I have learned one thing from the evening it’s the importance of writing well – not just creatively, but technically, too.

The group were fascinated to learn about back-story, avoiding head-hopping and creating minor characters without ever putting the reader inside the character’s head. They wanted to know where I got my ideas from, and I used the example of a short story I have just written, which was inspired by a wind turbine that never seemed to be working at Burton Wold Wind Farm. (‘Melody, Unchained’ was submitted to My Weekly just before Christmas, but I suppose it will be months before I hear whether or not it has been accepted for publication.)

I didn’t know how much I knew about writing until I started talking about it. Then I found I just couldn’t stop. All those writing books I read five years ago, the two writers’ holidays at Caerleon, the excellent advice in Morgen Bailey’s writing tips and on Sally Quilford’s blog – it had all been carefully stored away in the folds of my brain. Several times I felt I was talking too much, but the ladies were eager for all these tiny details and asked loads of questions.

Earlier in the day I had asked other authors in Morgen Bailey’s Novel Writing Group on Facebook if they could give me any advice about their own experiences and people took the time to give me some pointers, preparation-wise.

I was glad I’d taken that advice and had a quick skim through my novel before the meeting, Familiarising myself with the plot, sub-plots and structure was helpful when I was asked about how I came up with ideas and plotted everything before starting to write the novel.

The group were interested to hear how I use mind-mapping to plan a novel or story. Also they wanted me to give a general synopsis of my other books, especially the trilogy.

Last Thursday was, I think, one of my highlights of 2013. I loved talking to my readers and I feel I have made new friends, both in real life and in the authors who took the time and trouble to give me advice through Morgen’s novel-writing facebook page.

It has been a difficult journey to publication of ‘The White Cuckoo’. There is almost enough material for a novel in itself, which I shall never write about publicly, but anyone who knows me is fully aware of. Last night, it stood squarely on its own feet before skipping and hopping out of the door, its feathers pure and clean as it flew off into the cold, still air.

Journey to Infinity and Beyond

Buzz lightyearWay back in September 2012, I was like Andy in Toy Story, standing on the edge of the windowsill arguing with Buzz Lightyear, who really believed he could fly to infinity and beyond.

Now, having taken the leap of faith with The White Cuckoo tucked under my wing I have launched myself off the edge, just like Buzz.

Having been invited over to Morgen Bailey’s blog to talk about my experiences (click here to read the post) I am about to embark on Phase Two of my marketing plan.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me: either through social networking, by downloading The White Cuckoo, purchasing a paperback, posting a review on Amazon or even just wishing me ‘good luck’. I can honestly say the experience has been uplifting and, at the moment, I am flying.

To download The White Cuckoo from Amazon just click on the book cover image on the sidebar. So far, eleven lovely people have left reviews on Amazon.co.uk and one on Amazon.com.

Meet Kevin Machin – The Next Big Thing

Kevin_Machin_SI’d like to introduce you to Kevin Machin, alias Captain Black, a talented writer whose favourite genres are science fiction and crime/thrillers. Just click on the link to browse Kevin’s blog, which is entitled ‘Cloud Base’.

Kevin doesn’t restrict himself to reading sci-fi and crime/thrillers, though – far from it. He reads pretty much anything, though he does profess to having a few “rules”. He says he tends to avoid literary fiction in favour of direct story-telling and, despite having a Y chromosome, he also read romances, although he does prefer them to have a strong comedy element.

Kevin has always dabbled with writing, but in 2007 he took it up seriously. Well, more seriously anyway. Since then he has written over half a million words, including: two trilogies, three novels, three novellas, two serials and over twenty short stories. He also co-wrote another novel with a friend.

A couple of years ago Kevin radically rethought his strategy for getting published. He came to realise that he didn’t respond well to the kind of frantic pressure that some writers put themselves under. In any case, the publishing world is in a rapid state of flux at present. Kevin relaxes comfortably in his chair as he says:

“Now I’m happy, for the time being, to sit back in the sidelines and work on my “hobby”, racking up material for when I decide to find an agent and/or publisher. With a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, there won’t be tha pressure to produce the dreaded second book, since I’ll already have many in the bag.

So, I’m probably not “the next big thing”, but more like “the next big thing after that”.

In the meantime I shall keep my day job as a freelance/consultant software developer.”

On Tuesday, 18th December Kevin will be joining me for breakfast, when I am proud to be interviewing him as my very first guest blogger on The Write Eye  Don’t miss it – you will guaranteed to learn a few interesting facts about Kevin and his writing, and there may even be bacon butties and fresh orange juice to spare!

Seasons Garden Centre

If there’s one thing that presses all the right buttons for Kettering folk it’s a family-run business, and Seasons Garden Centre in Burton Latimer is a great place to go and meet cheerful (local) staff who are always ready to have a laugh and a joke with their customers.

It’s a place my daughter, daughters-in-law-to-be and grandchildren go on a Sunday. They have some lovely gifts at reasonable prices, a cute pet section with two resident parrots (or ‘carrots’ as Sophie used to call them) gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, birds and fish, and some resident Chipmunks in a cage behind a hand-written notice telling people not to stick their fingers through the bars. They are also a garden centre with an impressive stock of plants at very reasonable prices. At Christmastime, Santa pays a visit and stays a while, chatting to children and their mums while gathering information on who has been good and who hasn’t been good, and what people want for Christmas. He also hands out some impressive-quality gifts to the children for only £3 a visit, and the kids get to choose what they want, too!

Their pots of tea for one are big enough for two cups, their toasted teacakes are yummy and they do a great lunch for kiddies with toys in the boxes. Last week Sophie got a pen that lit up, blew bubbles and stamped little flowers all over her hands and arms, a ham sandwich with proper ham, a kit-kat, a carton of apple juice, and a packet of quavers, while Tyler had the most enormous piece of chocolate cake I had ever seen.

For a book lover though, the best part is the book section. If you believe the best things come in small packages, then you need to pay a visit to Seasons’ little book section. They sell books by local authors, children’s books, unusual books, hobby and gardening books, stationery boxes, audio books, dvds, a small selection of paperback novels and jigsaws.

Last week, with my heart pounding, I plucked up the courage to ring the manager and ask if they would be interested in stocking my novel, to nestle in with other local authors’ books. Without any hesitation at all the manager said, ‘yes, of course we will. We are proud to support our local authors at Seasons.’

I haven’t been in yet, to take a photograph of The White Cuckoo, but I’ll post on my Facebook page when I can get over to Burton Latimer.  I’d like to say a big thank you to the manager and staff for supporting me and wish them every success for the future.

The Next Big Thing – Annie Ireson (with make-up, shooting star fingernails and hideous badly-plucked eyebrows)

Many thanks to Jane Risdon for nominating me for The Next Big Thing. Please do pop over to Jane’s blog by clicking on the link above. You can read all about her work in progress which is a crime novel featuring the inimitable Mrs Birdsong, her home in the shadow of the White Horse and who knows, you might even get some clues to help Mrs Birdsong solve her next crime in the varied and intriguing articles you will find there.

Those of you who know me in person will know that I’m quite likely to chop my fingernails off with paper scissors so that they don’t annoy me when typing. I hate wearing make-up and I am disproportionately squeamish and cowardly about plucking hairs from the tender skin above my eyes. I’m afraid I am one of those WYSIWYG type of women who can’t be arsed with glamour and the word ‘elegant’ shouldn’t be used to describe me in any way shape or form.

However, for this post I have full slap on my face – yes, even lipstick! I have put on my best clothes, had my hair done and have perfectly manicured fingernails with tiny shooting stars on the little fingers. All this is just in case, you understand … because, just for one day, I am The Next Big Thing.

Righty ho, here we go. Jane has asked me ten questions about me and my work in progress.

What is the title of your next book?

I am currently working on the first draft of my sixth novel for NaNoWriMo, which has the working title of The Fourteenth Traitor. However, I think my next published novel will probably be my fifth novel – Horns of Angels – which is complete, but needs a bit of work before it is publishable.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I was watching a documentary from the series ‘Heir Hunters’ on television. I was fascinated by the reaction of some of the potential heirs when they were told they may inherit money or property from a distant, long-forgotten relative. I wondered what mayhem would ensue if someone was the sole beneficiary of a large estate bequeathed to them by a perfect stranger, and so Horns of Angels was conceived.

What genre does your book fall under?

This novel is a family saga, featuring two very different families – that of the beneficiary and that of the man who has left his entire estate to someone completely unknown to his grieving relatives. The story is set over one week in October 1962 when the Cuban missile crisis was at its highest state of alert, and then alternate chapters flashback to the period from 1938 to 1962.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Now this is where things really start to get weird. When I wrote the first draft about eighteen months ago, the main character in the 1962 part of the story was called ‘Ella Henderson’. I am now going to have to change the name because of a previously-unknown Ella Henderson becoming a celebrity through the X factor. But the peculiar thing is that she would make a perfect actress for the novel. When I first saw her on TV, not only was her name the same as my character, she looked like her, too!  The main character in the 1938 part of the story is a wealthy man of Greek descent called ‘Geno Petralia’, and I can see see Liam Neeson in that role.

What is a one sentence synopsis of your book?

When a man’s wealth exceeds the number of heartbeats spent yearning for a woman he can never have, the equilibrium between hope and despair can never be restored.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I don’t know. I like to keep dreaming it might be traditionally published and represented, but who knows? I have recently self-published The White Cuckoo following a bad experience with so-called independent publishers. I am glad, now, I followed this route, which was challenging but not difficult. If I decide to self-publish again, Horns of Angels is the most likely candidate. I still worry that I have sold the Cuckoo’s soul to the devil by self-publishing, but that worry is diminishing day by day as so many people are telling me they are enjoying my novel.  I have invested in paperback copies, which cost a lot of money, but I have not only broken even but made a small profit, and sold quite a few Kindle versions, too.

I am really bad at promoting myself, so if any of the readers of this blog who have read The White Cuckoo could find the time to post a review on Amazon, I should be eternally grateful, as I need to build up the number of reviews, apparently. Also, I could do with some exposure as an author. I promise I will wear make-up, do my hair, file my nails and not show anyone up if you invite me over to your blog to do an author interview, but I can’t promise not to laugh inappropriately or trip up the step on my way in.

How long did it take to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Not long. Probably six months or so. The first draft of The White Cuckoo was written in a month. However, I see my first draft as a pencil outline on a huge canvass. It takes many more months to bring the canvass to full colour and perfection.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

‘The Memory Keeper’s Daughter’ by Kim Edwards or ‘Constance’ by Rosie Thomas. I like my books to be multi-layered and thought provoking, whilst being easy to read. I strive endlessly for the elusive ‘unputdownability’ as I call it. Both these books have the ingredients I strive for and I can recommend them.

Who, or what, inspired you to write this book

As I said above, I was watching ‘Heir Hunters’ on television when the inspiration to write Horns of Angels tapped me on the shoulder. Generally, my inspiration to write comes from being a serial daydreamer. It’s a wonder I ever manage to concentrate for long enough to get my minutes down in a Council meeting. I constantly analyse everyday situations and ask myself “what if …”

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s everyone’s dream to win the lottery, or come into a large inheritance, but is it worth all the chaos, innuendo and trouble that goes with it?

Well, that’s it folks. This is Annie Ireson – the self-published author who said she would never self-publish. As Annie says, though, changing your mind or direction is a sign of strength, not weakness. Never be afraid to admit you were wrong because people will respect you, even though you feel they are pointing sarcastic, I-told-you-so fingers in your direction. Everyone makes errors of judgement or mistakes – it’s part of being human. ‘Human’ by the Killers is one of Annie’s favourite songs. Now I bet you didn’t know that!

I am nominating five other talented people to be The Next Big Thing. Not all of them are authors, though, but they all have one thing in common – TALENT.  For details of who these talented people are, please check-in again later this week. I hope you have enjoyed my interview and thank you for popping by and leaving a comment.

Annie
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