City of Secrets

Home or away, summer or winter, nothing beats a good book and I’m currently reading the latest book; City of Secrets by Misha Herwin. It’s a book in which you can lose yourself and become immersed in a tale where dragons and gargoyles gossip. I asked Misha, the author of the Dragonfire trilogy and Clear Gold to tell me more about her new book…

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First and foremost, thank you Barry for hosting me on your blog and giving me the opportunity to talk about my new book “City of Secrets”.

“City of Secrets” is a fantasy adventure aimed at the 8-12 market, but I think that anyone who reads Harry Potter or Philip Pullman will enjoy the book. Like the Oxford of “His Dark Materials” is a place of plots and dark magic, where dragons and gargoyles gather on the rooftops at night to gossip and exchange news.

Making a living in such a city is not easy, but Letty Parker is a resourceful girl who has learned to tread her way carefully through areas ruled by rival gangs and to avoid the Barbary eels who lurk in shadowy corners. Her business, selling pies, is going well − until the street children, who are her friends and customers, start to go missing.

Letty is determined to find out what has happened to them and when the authorities prove less than helpful, for no one about children who are poor, she gets together with her friends, Jebediah Hill, the leader of a gang of pickpockets, and the mysterious Gabriel and they hatch a plan…

This is the first of the “Adventures of Letty Parker” and I’ve had great fun writing it. Bristol is a city I know well and love. I was brought up there and have used some of my favourite places, like The Christmas Steps, in the story. Transferring streets and terraces that really exist to my fantasy world is something I enjoy as I can build on what I know yet make it darker and scarier with a touch of sinister magic.

What I like about Letty Parker is her courage and independence. She might be scared, but she’ll do it anyway and not let any so called authority stand in her way. She comes from a line of great role models, Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Green Gables, the Chalet School Girls, Katniss Everdeen and Captain Nancy of “Swallows and Amazons” to name but a few.

We need more of these girls out there. Girls who are prepared to stand up for themselves, say what they think, yet at the same time have a keen sense of what is right and wrong and a fierce loyalty to their friends. This, I hope is the essence of the “Adventure of Letty Parker” series.

And it is not all about the girls. Letty’s friends: Jeb, his side-kick, Mango and Gabriel, her half-human, half-Nephilim guardian, play their parts.

They are all characters that simply could not be ignored. My first view of Letty is at sunset on the wharf at the Bristol docks. “A dark tangle of masts and rigging was etched against the sky and the setting sun stained the water red.” A faint breeze lifts the hair at the back of her neck…

From that moment she was fully formed. The plot came next and needed refining and working on. Next came a great deal of editing and then, finally, Letty Parker was ready to go out into the world.

If you want to know more about her adventures then “City of Secrets” is available on order at bookshops, in paperback and e book at the following places, click the links below.

Barnes and Noble                                Amazon                                           Booktopia e-book

You can find Misha’s Blog here           For information about Penkhull Press click here

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Shadows On The Grass

In November I was pleased to asked by Misha M. Herwin to be part of her blog tour following the launch of her third novel, Shadows On The Grass. For those of you unfamiliar with Misha’s work, she’s a prolific writer who writes both young adult literature and mainstream novels. She’s better known for her YA trilogy, Dragonfire and the popular Clear Gold series. Her mainstream work has included the time-slip novel House of Shadows and the keenly observant Picking Up The Pieces and this month saw the release of her third novel, Shadows On The Grass..shadows-on-the-grass

My first observation of this new novel is that it’d be foolish to assume this is solely women’s literature, it’s most definitely not. Yes, the action is centred around several women but that’s where the similarity with other women’s fiction ends. Set in 1960’s Bristol the story segues easily from 1965 to past events in time building the characters piece by piece, while also drawing on historical events.

The narrative belongs to three generations of women struggling to come to terms with their desires, their identity and their Polish heritage. Mimi and Marianna grow up in turmoil, exiled by the Russians and desperate to retain their identities they end up in Bristol. Mimi is a character that’s difficult to warm to, she’s cold and demanding and throughout her life she shows herself to be a selfish mother. Her old friend and cousin, the Royal Marianna seems to be her saving grace but scratch the surface and there’s a darker side to the princess.

For me the star of the novel is Hannah, Mimi’s downtrodden daughter, all she’s ever wanted is acceptance from her mother and now Mimi is dying she spends her days tending to the ungrateful woman out of her sense of duty. Her husband doesn’t help things with his constant need to smother her and protect her, in his defence he’s so ineffectual that he really cannot comprehend that his cloying love is holding his wife in emotional chains.

Hannah’s daughter, Kate, is a rebellious teenager, trying unsuccessfully to throw off the , shackles of family life and her Polish heritage. Her young life is centred around her desire to become a woman. She’s flagrantly sexual in her demeanour but initially afraid to cast off the restraints of her Catholic upbringing. At times she’s as caustic as the bitter lemon she drinks and unforgiving in her attitude to her mother. Possibly this is a trait she’s inherited from Hannah as she in turn inherited it from Kate’s grandmother, Mimi.

Historically there’s passages in the text that stop you in your tracks and propel you towards Google, in a bid to research further the repression of the Polish people in Russia. Thus giving you a better understanding of Mimi’s internal rage and Mariana’s misplaced humility: she’s an enigma and although fictional I’d love to read her memoir.

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My favourite thing about reading anything written by Misha Herwin is her attention to detail and the ability to create sublime sentences. You’d be forgiven for thinking that she pondered over every line crafting and redeveloping it to make it perfect, but I doubt she’s that pretentious; she naturally has the knack of writing a line that makes the reader stop and read it again before continuing with the story. Lines like, ‘Exhaustion fed on her, like some malevolent spirit; it sucked the words from her mouth, the thoughts from her brain.’ and ‘Her fingers were laden with rings, huge stones set in gold, rubies like gouts of blood, sapphires dark as despair.’ make Herwin’s work a joy to digest. And my favourite , ‘she struggled to avoid using the surname that rattled like pebbles in a tin.’ perfectly sums up the inability of an English tongue to pronounce a Polish name.

If you’re looking for a good read, maybe this summer’s beach holiday book, check out Shadows On The Grass available from Amazon now.

For more information on Misha and her work, follow her blog here

Visit Tim Diggles’ blog here for more of his photography projects.

Christmas Past and Present

A few days ago I re-blogged a post by Misha Herwin about Christmas and the memories of her Polish family’s Christmas traditions that she still practices today. For those that don’t know Misha, she’s a very talented author and writer of the Dragonfire trilogy, the new, Clear Gold trilogy that’s had the first volume published this year and the haunting, House of Shadows; a novel that chills you in places that chills shouldn’t occur. (I’ll post links at the end of this post so you can check out Misha and her books).

As a child I remember Christmas as a day of getting up with the first light and with my sister and rushing downstairs and shivering in the front room; as back then we had no central heating and the previous evening’s coal fire would have died. We’d be allowed to open only one present before breakfast and would grumble and whine as we went to get washed and changed for the day. How unfair grown ups are when children just want to sit and tear off wrapping paper from boxes from under the tree.

After breakfast it’s be more present unwrapping and the obligatory Cadbury’s Selection Box would be opened followed by Mother’s stern warning that we were only allowed to eat one thing. (I always used to give away the finger of Fudge or at best try to swap it, but my sister was clever she knew I didn’t like it and didn’t need to swap as she’d get it anyway).

Dinner would be at my paternal grandparent’s where I’d be allowed to go into the garage and get myself a bottle of American Ginger Ale from my grandfather’s stock of mixers and guzzle it and stand outside belching as the bubbles exploded inside my stomach. (How simple things amuse small boys).

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Dick Whittington. Trinity Arts Centre. Gainsborough. 1998

As I grew up Christmas ceased to be a celebration and became a busy work period. I started young in pantomime and proceeded to have the next 30 plus years working every festive season. So I was always away and staying in digs from late November to mid January and the tinsel and decorations gave way to costume changes and song and dance routines. Christmas day was usually the only day off and was spent mostly resting the voice and having a break from a face full of stage make-up. So for years I didn’t bother with a tree or Christmas lights.

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A Christmas Carol 2000

Christmas here in Italy has been varied. Our first was during the house restoration so we didn’t dress the house as it seemed pointless as no amount of baubles and lights can make cement bags attractive. But we did have an amazing 6.5 hour marathon Christmas dinner at a local hotel. Another was with friends up in Roccascalegna entertaining ourselves as the broadband went down. Another was sat outside in the sunshine eating our festive lunch with 5 dogs running amok. However this year we’ve decided that as we’re spending the day having a traditional English Christmas with friends in Atessa, we’d get in the festive mood and have a tree. Which means I can bring out a bauble I remember from my childhood.

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This ball was from a set purchased around 1964 and always referred to as the ugly ball . I remember it being hidden at the back of our family Christmas trees, and I took pity on it many years ago and now 50 years on it has a prominent spot on on our 2015 tree.

As promised I’ll post the links, and wish you all a splendid Christmas as the iPod shuffles in its dock and Opshop (a New Zealand band I discovered whilst working there) play, Monsters Under the Bed.

Misha’s blog where you find information about all of her books.

Penkhull Press where you’ll find information about House of Shadows and other great books.

 

October Sunshine and a Kindle

Today I finished reading my book. An actual book. One with pages made from paper and a cover with artwork. I’m not a big reader, managing a book a year, but since arriving in Italy I’ve been gradually getting through the paperbacks I brought with me;. Nothing lends itself better to sitting in the sun than having a book to read, so my intake has increased. To feed this burgeoning new habit I’ve invested in a Kindle. I tried the Sony e Reader a few years back and couldn’t get on with it, so felt resigned to be one of the hard-copy book lovers rather than an e book admirer. But Kindle has changed my mind, yes I do still like the feel and smell of a printed book, but the convenience of a Kindle has so many benefits.

I can carry my library with me as the device fits into my bag alongside all my other gadgets and work related paraphernalia. I can put articles I’m working on onto it and read and review them when I’m away from my workspace and I can download a new book in an instant, no waiting for it to arrive via DHL or any other delivery service that take an aeon to  get here.

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Unpacked, set up and synched to my laptop I was ready to enter the digital literary age, my first task was to download my two favourite novels, that I like to have at all times; both unusual choices for man, I guess. The first is Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë’s novel of unrequited love and loathing amid the wild Yorkshire moors never fails to satiate my need for something dark and brooding, and I can dip in and out reading random chapters when the need takes me.  The second is the Charlotte Brontë classic, Jane Eyre, I was given a copy of this book as a child of ten for an excellent attendance record at Sunday school, and I found the characterisation and plot exciting: yes even as a ten-year old. This isn’t a book I can dip in and out of, so every now and then I re-read it. The last time was back in 1996 during a spell in Croatia just after the Bosnian conflict, I was reading as the plane took off from Manchester heading for Split, when a man in the aisle next to me leant over and thinking he’d be funny said, “He goes blind and his wife’s a mad woman who dies when she burns the house down.” Pretending I didn’t know the story, I remonstrated him him for spoiling my book telling him It was the only I brought with me. His wife then got involved and gave him a harsh tongue lashing and for the remainder of the flight I smiled inwardly as he spent an uncomfortable four-hours sat across the aisle from me.

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I continue to download a few other books and then decide to give the device its first outing. It’s a pleasant October day and the sun is shining, making it a sitting outside opportunity. I scroll through the books I’ve loaded onto my Kindle and select one I’ve been wanting to read for sometime. It’s by north Staffordshire author, Misha Herwin; someone I’ve had the privilege to have critique my work. The book is Dragonfire, a story for young adults, first published by Finstock Press in 2008 and for Kindle in 2012.

As I’m sat in the warm Italian sunshine reading I become transported into the world of two teenagers who by misfortune are in care. They have something different about them, gifts that normal teens don’t have: I won’t say here what they are as that would spoil the story. I’m taken down tunnels where strange beings lurk, there’s a great collection of characters including a strange talking creature who is always right, an asthmatic dragon and a small mute boy is thrown into the mix. The story introduces us to bullies turned good and an odd married couple with more OCD issues than I have.

The writing is superb, the pace is constant and written without any padding; those chapters that authors seem to write to get the word count up. Very quickly I find I’ve read a third of the book in one sitting, so I decide to put it down, to save it for another day, but this doesn’t happen and an hour later I’m sat outside, Kindle in hand with Alf asleep at my feet while Olive chases lizards. Suffice to say normally I don’t read quickly but I complete Dragonfire in three sittings. It’s a superb book for teenagers, with no patronising passages or overblown morals, it’s a romp through the realms of fantasy and reality whilst keeping its characters feet firmly upon the ground.

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Cover reproduced with permission. © Mick Walters of http://mjbookcoverdesign.wordpress.com/

So Today I finished reading my first e book and I’m inside the house, downloading more to store on my new electronic gadget. If you’d like to read this wonderful story here’s the link to Amazon and the Kindle version: Dragonfire on Kindle