Today's the day!

Excuse me while I bounce off the walls with excitement and unparalleled joy. I am now a published author, thanks to Extasy Books. My novel went live today on Amazon Kindle today in the UK. I've also had the pleasure of seeing in on Barnes and Noble and Kobo websites, as well as Extasy's. It's a great feeling. 

This is the moment I've dreamed of since my schooldays. I'm going to savour it.

From pen to print. The journey.

I started writing the beginnings of the story earlier this year and shared it with some members of The Leakey Pens, the local writing group. They thought it had legs so I carried on writing. We were in lockdown so I had more time than usual. I had the storyline in my head and I soon transferred it to my laptop.

Paul Haynes, founder of the Leakey Pens, read the final version and encouraged me to try for a publisher. I don't have an agent so I spent a while researching publishers accepting direct submissions, and finding those I thought were a good fit.

I sent the manuscript off to six publishing houses in mid May. I was amazed to get three offers almost immediately. I thought long and hard about them and signed in mid-June with Extasy Books.

Three and a half months later and My Father's House is out there in the big, wide world. It's been amazing. Working with Extasy has proved a pleasure and a privilege.

The editing process was a joy. I'm amazed at how much I enjoyed it. I know from other writers it can be painful. My editor, Larriane Wills, was really supportive, patient and had an amazing sense of humour. She was a pleasure to work with.

The proofing process was another brilliant experience. The support Bri Yries gave me for my writing was astonishing. I knew it had to be proofed, but I didn't expect to get encouragement too. It's good to have someone in the professional sphere believing in your work.

The cover design was done by Martine Jardin and I owe her a debt of gratitude. It's amazing and way beyond my expectations. She was so patient and tried so hard to deliver a cover that we were happy with. My ideas weren't working and I was out of inspiration when an email came through with this fabulous image, all her own work. I cried with relief and joy.

The book went live on the Extasy site on 26th September. It had taken Jay Austin and her brilliant team just four months to get me from submission to publication. I salute them all. They've been supportive, helpful and superbly efficient.

So, today, I had the pleasure of seeing the novel available on Kindle here in the UK. A day I've dreamed of since I fell in love with books all those years ago. I hope you'll buy it and enjoy it. I'd love to see your reviews.

Thank you, extasybooks.com, with all my heart.

 

 

My book gets published this wek.

My Father's House is going to be published on Friday by Extasy Books, an amazing company in Canada..

It has been hectic since my manuscript was accepted in June. I have been supported every step of the way by Jay Austin and her team. I can't believe how hard they have worked on my behalf, and with such good grace.

Even the editing process proved enjoyable, thanks to an amazing lady with a tremendous sense of humour. There were some changes to make to eliminate confusion. The everyday language of the East Midlands is not readily understood by trans-Atlantic readers.  

The cover design is amazing. I cannot tell you how closely the design concept captures the image I hoped for.

So, stomach churning, I await the arrival of 24th September, when my novel is released. Strange to think how much I owe to the Leakey Pens, the writing group I joined when I moved into the village in 2017. They gave me the confidence to write seriously and encouraged me to seek a publisher. A truly amazing bunch of people I am proud to call my friends. (Check out their page for details of the 2021 Yearbook just published.)

Trust me, on Friday I shall sip champagne. Cheers!!

 

 

This strange life of mine.

It struck me today that I'm leading a strange life these days, but, apart from the lockdown and the virus, I wouldn't change it.

One minute I'm in my at-home persona, diligently mopping floors and scrubbing toilets. The next minute, I'm chatting online to Bryan Quinn, the Canadian author who agreed to do an interview about his brilliant new novel.

I do hope you'll enjoy the interview. He talks about his latest novel, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. I honestly think it's one of the best interviews I've done. We really learn about how the novel came to life.

I launched my debut novel, Redemption, this week. That was momentous for me and it was thrilling to see the first sales going through. Real people are going to be reading my book! A book with my name on it!

It doesn't get more exciting than that. Or does it? A trip to the Co-op to restock salad ingredients and fruit (lockdown has seen the pounds pile on) restores reality.

Last Sunday I spent an hour on the phone discussing my new novel with my mentor, the amazing poet P. M. Haynes. Have you read his poems in The Wish Eyed Dove? I recommend it,  though you'll go from laughter to tears at the turn of a page.

Anyway, we discussed sentence structure, characterisation, plot development and it was brilliant to talk to someone who really gets it. Do you know what I mean? I even sipped on chilled Chardonnay as we talked. Bliss.

The next minute I was stuffing a chicken and peeling potatoes! You can't beat a bit of contrast.

Stay safe all

Sandra

 

Back to normal in the new normal

How is your new normal going? 

What is keeping you motivated in these strange times?

My salvation in this current lockdown is my writing...and I have been in hyper-productive mode since I emerged from my post-surgery creative block. What a period of mental stupor that turned out to be! I'm not really sure why having a new hip caused brain fog, but it did.

Redemption was released in early March and is being well-received. It is notching up 5* reviews. My Father's House has just gone through its first edit and will soon be completed.

Two new novels are now being polished and made ready for publication. I say two new novels, but I should have said my first two novels. My debut novels!!!!! How exciting is that?

Now, to be honest, they would not exist without the encouragement of the members of our lovely writing group, the Leakey Pens. It's impossible to overstate the value of the advice and feedback I've had on these two tomes during their gestation period. (It really does feel as if they are my babies.)

There was a big decision to be made on the way. Should I accept the publication offer from the US or should I self-publish? It's been great to have had their wise counsel as I wrestled endlessly with the decision. I hope other writing groups are as great as ours! And as patient!

In the end, I opted to self publish but I must admit it was good to have had the choice on my very first novel. Champagne was sipped when that offer arrived!

 

You can read all about the novels in the new titles section. I'll be letting you know when they are released.

The new hospital normal...... second-hand newspapers, custard creams and no visitors.

My hip replacement was due in April, just as Covid struck and the lock-down was imposed. It was delayed until last week, so I had to spend two weeks in splendid enforced isolation in advance of it and then deliver a negative Covid test result. I was then declared good to go.

What an alien world a hospital is under Covid restrictions. I felt like a refugee as I was dropped off with my suitcase at the door. No family member was allowed in to see me settled. I followed the nurse up to my room like a dejected child. I understood one tiny atom of what war time child evacuees must have felt.

Of course, it's great that everything is super-scrupulously clean, and it's a given that all staff will be wearing masks and, at times, full PPE, but the sterile anonymity of it all is strangely chilling yet reassuring at the same time.

I was always apprehensive that the replacement was going to be done under epidural, but even more so when, in conversation, the anaesthetist told me he would never be prepared to put me under a general anaesthetic. I wish I'd asked him why not. Anyway, the sedative he gave me rendered me totally senseless, so it was win, win!

I would have loved a bit of consistency. I almost swooned with delight when the anaesthetist checked me over in recovery and told me all was good and I could have tea and toast when I got back to the ward.

I heard the tea and toast being served in the adjoining rooms. "You can't have tea and toast," the young care assistant told me when I asked. "It would make you sick!" and she slapped down a grey cardboard sick bowl on my table to prove her point. I proved my point by never needing it. That showed her!

"Who told you that?" the ward sister asked, some hours later.

She brought me a cup of tea and a packet of custard creams and I declared undying love and devotion on the spot.

 

 

The custard cream that made me cry with joy.

After surgery the absence of visitors was a mixed blessing. I could drift into a doze in the afternoon, rather than struggling to keep up conversation with kindly friends and neighbours. But I needed hugs from the special ones: the ones who would understand if I was too tired to chatter away. Thank heavens for smart phones: at least I got to see their smiling faces when we talked.

I'm not sure why, but the hospital had abandoned their newspaper service. I'd planned to place a daily order. The extrememly kind meal lady was sympathetic when I tried to add a newspaper to my breakfast order, and explained it had all stopped because of Coronavirus.

She returned half an hour later with a decidedly second-hand newspaper that she'd found in a bin. Thankfully, the crossword on the back page was filled in so I declined the offer, with immense gratitude, saying I only wanted it for the puzzles. I guess she'd been absent for Infection Control 101.

The nursing staff want you to go home as soon as possible, which is totally applaudable and understandable. The physios want you to be safe when you go home. Conflict was inevitable. The nurses wanted to discharge me after a day, the physios insisted I prove I could walk on crutches and manage stairs.

What did I think? I had no idea, but the pain killers were making me feel very zen and I thought that the brief lean I'd had on a zimmer frame when they'd got me out of bed the previous day had been pretty spectacular. I think I answered with a cosmic smile.

The physios prevailed and tutored me in walking and stair ascents and descents for the rest of that day, and I was wheel-chaired out to the car park early next morning to be met by my husband.

I'm home now and I've discovered anew that my husband is a special sort of man. He is waiting on me hand and foot, cooking, cleaning and supervising the daily schedule of physio sessions.

We learned our county was going into tighter restrictions from today. No visitors in the home from now on. I'd only just finished my post-op isolation, so I still don't get those hugs from the special ones!!

Beyond that, my only concern at the moment is how to the achieve elegance and sophistication I crave when I'm waddling about like a limping duck on crutches, with one very fat thigh, whilst wearing compulsory bottle green compression knee socks for six weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Striving away for elegance and sophistication whilst wearing green knee socks.

We will talk again soon. 

Take care and stay safe.

Sandra

Noble ancestors, Henry VIII's underwear and finding genuine respect. A fascinating week in lockdown.

I'm in isolation for 14 days, awaiting surgery, and cannot leave the house so I decided to interweave family history research with my usual allocation of writing time.

I'd forgotten how addictive genealogy is. I haven't done much writing this week!

I haven't touched the tree for a few years. I used to work on it with my dad, but I lost interest when he died.

Now, my dad always had a hunch there was aristocracy in the line, somewhere, and so we followed his grandmother's line back until we ran out of leads. I know he was disappointed, especially since my mother and I had great success on her side of the family, romping through the great and good of Jersey..

So, I followed his grandfather's line back and hit a seam of gold. Our ancestors came over to England with William the Conqueror in 1066 and were rewarded with titles and land. My dad would have been vindicated and thrilled and my only sadness is that he never knew.

So, here they are. A few of our noble ancestors. Firstly, Sir Thomas and then, the rather naughty Sir Piers.

 

 

Sir Thomas

Sir Piers

One thing I soon learnt. To be an aristocrat is not necessarily to be noble. Sir Piers was in gaol at one time, accused of murder. He also got his hands dirty in the dissolution of monasteries and used a magnificent door, sacked from an abbey as his new front door in his rebuilt stately pile.

I have to admit, the boy did good. His old lady knew the illustrious Thomas Cromwell,  ( played by the amazing Mark Rylance in TV's Wolf Hall) and rose to the dizzy height of Knight of the Royal Body to Henry VIII. His job? To pull his majesty's pants down! (Not randomly. He wasn't the court jester, for goodness sake!)

He became Sheriff of Chester. Some of his actions bring to mind the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham, but we move quickly on.

Spare a thought for the ancient noble ladies who were married off at thirteen or fourteen to these men and went on to produce as many offspring as they could..  Should they die on the childbed, there was always another heiress to replace them.

Some in our tree had as many as twenty children. Not all babies survived, nor did the mothers. Some of their lordships, as did Henry VIII, struggled to produce a male heir and their title passed on to younger brothers. Their daughters got overlooked.

So, what have I learnt? Noble ancestors were there at Hastings, Crecy, Agincourt and at the side of the King in the Civil War. (I'm glad. I didn't really want to be descended from a Roundhead!)

I also learnt that the lines come through the ages and start to encompass ordinary, but good, working men and women who played their parts in World War 1 and 2. I'm more proud of Harry Richardson Beck, POW in WW2, than I am of Sir Piers: and Harry, bless him, never got near the King's pants. RIP H R Beck. I wish I'd known you.

Please read on.

Stay safe and be happy.

 

 

Harry Richardson Beck.

Published this week on Amazon

22nd August.......absolutely drained!

What an emotional and hectic week I've just experienced. I am absolutely drained and exhausted, but in a very good way.

It all started last week when I took temporary custody of my grandfather's letters home from the German prisoner of war camps during  WW2. There was also a collection of telegrams and official letters .

I read them in one go. They completely drew me in. The documents alone enabled me to piece together his harrowing experiences in a way I'd never known before.

It starts with a letter from November 1940, saying he was setting off for Jamaica as a Royal Navy gunner on board a Fyffes merchant ship, SS Mopan. Of all things, they were going to fetch bananas!

SS Mopan was the first merchant ship to be taken by the Germans.He was captured and his family received the dreaded telegram.....he was missing, presumed dead. I held that paper in my hands:  80 years old, and so fragile it felt as if it would disintegrate with the gentlest breath, and felt the hairs on my arms rise. 

There were the letters from the Admiralty and from Fyffes telling of the loss of the ship and the loss of my grandfather.....all coming apart at the fold lines, all as thin as gossamer and all carrying the tear stains from all those years ago.

The letters and cards he wrote home from Stalag XB began in April 1941 and contnued through the war years. Reading them, on a superficial level, they carry none of the detail of life in camp that his family would be anxious to hear. Strict censorship prevented anything but the blandest of news being sent home.

I knew at once they have to live on to respect the memory of this remarkable man. They had turned up so unexpectedly in 2020 and could never be lost again. There are three surviving children of Harry Richardson Beck, 13 grandchildren and countless great and great great grandchildren.This story had to be accessible to us all, so I started transcribing the letters, and then decided that they needed to be published so we could all pass on this story into the future. I produced the book after six days of intensive, emotional obsession.

Grandad was always cheerful in his letters and declared he was either alright or O.K. There is no mention of hunger, ill treatment or deprivation. There were requests for razor blades, Lifebuoy Toilet soap, photographs of the children and repeated pleas for tobacco. Tobacco was being sent regularly but not being received in camp. The requests for photos are the most poignant ones: at one point he asks in  if all the cameras in Derby are broken.He wanted to see his children as they grew up without him.

This was a man who was imagining home life as he remembered it. He would not have been able to conceive what it was like for Dolly; keeping the children fed and clothed and constantly sending food parcels and letters to the camps, knowing many of them would not arrive. Her perseverence, capability and fortitude emerge every time he acknowledges receipt of a letter or parcel from home.

There is mention of boils, abcesses and carbuncles, but no other indication of suffering. The fact that he was to emerge as a very sick, emaciated man reveals the amount of information he held back from them.

What there are are endless endearments for his beloved wife, Dolly, and a constant quest for news of the eight children growing up in England without their father. He was writing to them in turn, and was angry with himself that he could not always recall their birthdates.

There are queries about the state of the garden, the allotment and the yearning for everyday life. He was longing for a pint of beer at the local pub, and a game of dominoes. He was anxious to be reassured that the Admiralty were paying Dolly her allowances and that she was looking after herself.

They are not love letters in the sense of lines of sentimentality and an outpouring of emotion. They are love letters because of the concern for Dolly and the welfare of the children that are expressed time and again and those words carry his love for them through the last 80 years, and preserve it for the future.

The Christmas letters home are the most poignant. The longing for home is so painful in these, and the wishes that the family have a good time and that Santa Claus visits the children are heart-rending.

The letters to the individual children are cheerful, loving and funny. "My dearest brown eyes", he writes. "Are you still my Teddy Bird?" The fatherly query about Santa's visit, and a letter to be given to a teacher spread the warmth and love and reassure the children that their dad was still there, just as he'd always been.

The family were shielded from the brutal realities of life in the Stalags in these loving letters, which were written by a brave man who endured a living hell for nearly five years.

The letters stop suddenly. Harry goes home. There is no detail. The archive comes to a complete halt. The story of the cruel march homewards lies in the records of the time and was never shared with home.

My grandfather came home in 1945, emaciated and very sick. He died prematurely in 1954 from the tuberculosis he caught during his years of captivity. I was honoured to read his words and feel the very essence of the man. I will always remember this week.

This was the grandfather I never knew but have always loved.

Look after those you love, and make sure they know how much you care.

We'll talk again soon,

Sandra.