Pause….. Breathe…… Open Your Eyes

Sometimes you need to hit “pause” and just escape into the great outdoors.

It’s no secret – I love the sun, regardless of how hot or cold the air temperature may be. While I much prefer a hot sunny summer day, I can’t resist the crisp cold sunny days of Autumn.

Recently one such day lured me out for a long walk with my camera.

We spend so much of our lives rushing from A to B, glued to our laptops, or browsing social media on our phones that we forget to hit “pause” and actually look up and appreciate the world around us.

It’s amazing what you see when you just open your eyes ….. here, take a look!

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Dead In A Day….. introducing a new “whodunnit”

 

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To those of you who follow this blog regularly, you may recall I introduced you to a fellow indie author at the start of this year – PF Gregory.

To those of you who missed the introductions, here’s the link to that post https://coralmccallum.wordpress.com/2018/01/15/introducing-pf-gregory/

Well, Paul has been busy this year and has recently published his third crime novel, Dead In A Day.  I finished reading it at the weekend and loved it!

As a fellow author, I take my hat off to crime writers who can weave such an intricate plot and keep their readers guessing. I took the opportunity to ask Paul for a little insight into the book that I could share here along with my review of the book.

“I guess the spark of inspiration came from the ‘WHAT’ would kill a person? Readers of this book – and of a certain age, will likely know a high profile murder was committed with the same WHAT in London, decades ago. I then needed an ingenious and original way for the HOW? Having devised this, I next needed to build a plot and storyline around these points.”

So, having decided the WHAT, how do you decide on the WHERE?

“In terms of setting, then – and sticking to my ‘Ten Commandments of Davieson’ I wanted another rural village setting and a handful of quintessentially English elements. We start, then, with a village Open Gardens and a good excuse to have all my list of characters in the same place together.

As a lover of real ale, I also included a real ale/homebrew and Microbrewery element – and the traditional village pub with its weekly quiz night.

Another influence was witnessing an English Civil War re-enactment at an Open Farms event with the family in 2017. I now had a nice backdrop in which to set sinister events.”

There’s a colourful cast of characters in Dead In A Day and a couple of familiar faces.

“Davieson and Kent are the key protagonists again but (with almost equal billing) so is a village gossip and stereotype nosey busybody. In some respects, this character is a little like one of my literary heroines ‘Miss Marple’ but hopefully my character comes across as a lot more annoying and somewhere between the well-intentioned Marple and the annoying deaf old lady in Fawlty Towers!

As in my previous novel there are links, over-and-above Davieson/Kent, to my other novels so we share a character and building with ‘The Evil From Among You’ as I continue to build and develop my fictional world.”

And that leaves us with the HOW and the WHO………

If you want to discover more about that then you’ll have to read Dead In A Day for yourself as you’re not getting any spoilers here.

You can pick up a copy via Amazon. I’ll even make it easy for you. Here’s the links:

Amazon.com :  https://www.amazon.com/Dead-Day-P-F-GREGORY-ebook/dp/B07FS6X68G/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1541967746&sr=1-1&keywords=pf+gregory

Amazon.co.uk: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dead-Day-P-F-GREGORY-ebook/dp/B07FS6X68G/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1541967814&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=dead+in+a+day+pf+gregory

 

Oh and as for my review of Dead In A Day….well, here it is.

Dead In A Day is PF Gregory’s third crime novel and, in my humble opinion, his best work to date.

Set in the quaint English village of Folestree Parva, PF Gregory introduces us to a colourful cast of characters.  Due to the creative twists and turns of the storyline any one of them could easily have been the murderer. I particularly liked Mrs Richards, Folestree Parva’s answer to Dot Cotton.

Once again, this novel features veteran crime reporter Merv Davieson and Chief Inspector Kent. An unlikely pairing on the face of it but, in fact, a very likeable pairing. Think Watson to Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Great characters who grow stronger and more believable with every outing.

On a personal note, I do hope Phillipa Shales was not based on any romantic novelists that the author knows!

PF Gregory captures all the key elements of a great murder mystery in Dead In A Day. Like his previous two novels, Kindly Invited To Murder and The Evil From Among You, this book will keep you guessing right to the bitter end.

Already looking forward to the next one!

 

I’d like to thank Paul for the insights into Dead In A Day. If you want to keep up to date with Paul and his work you can find him here:

https://www.facebook.com/Kindly-Invited-To-Murder-a-novel-by-PF-Gregory-1837097583236305/

 

paul gregoryPauls books

 

 

Re-learning the A-Z of Music

There are some jobs around the place that you keep putting off and putting off. There is one I have been putting off for years….
And what is it?
Sorting the family’s CD collection back into some semblance of order.
Once upon a time, a very long time and a few hundred CDs ago, they were all stored neatly in alphabetical order. Finding the CD you wanted to play was easy and took seconds.
Then we moved house…. and then moved again…. so for the past nineteen years the CDs have been stuffed randomly on a shelf.
As time passed and the kids grew and music tastes evolved, the collection has grown and grown…. and has never been put back into order.
Hours have been wasted scouring the shelf in search in search of a particular album only for the search to be abandoned in favour of an album that you found while searching that you haven’t heard for years!

CD collage 1Finding myself with a free morning last week, I decided to bite the bullet and tackle the chore.

After the first half an hour, I was questioning the wisdom of the decision.

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After the first two hours, I was questioning my sanity!

 

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Methodically, I lifted bundles of CDs down from the shelf and split them into the letters of the alphabet by artist name.

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Slowly the piles grew.

B proved to be the most popular letter of the alphabet, closely followed by S. But what to do with the growing pile of compilation CDs?

With all the CDs now off the shelf and stacked all over the study floor, it was time to sort each letter’s bundle into alphabetical order and to return them to the shelf.

I reached N and decided it was time for lunch. This was taking a lot longer than planned!

Finally, I was left with the large pile of compilations. How best to arrange these? ….. hmm….

I split out all the musicals/film soundtracks and put these in alphabetical order. I put the NOW CDs ranging from 44 to 81 into numerical order. The rest I split by genre and placed them back on the shelves.
(The High School Musical and Disney CDs were stashed in the awkward corner where they will no doubt lie untouched forever…. Hannah Montana is there too!)

It might have taken me over three hours and, at first glance, look exactly the same as when I started but it’s a job well done.

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Some useless musical trivia about the 600 strong collection:
-Stars by Simply Red was the first CD purchased (before we even had a CD player!)
-Bob the Builder actually belongs to The Big Green Gummi Bear
-Boney M also belongs to the The Big Green Gummi Bear
-No one is claiming ownership of the Boyzone and Westlife CDs!
-I’ll confess, the Status Quo ones are mine

It’s an eclectic mix of music and just highlights that we all have differing tastes in music. No one’s taste is better than anyone else’s – it’s just different. (Well, the rest of us might argue we have better taste in music than The Big Green Gummi Bear) There truly is something to cater for every taste on that shelf!

CD collage 6

Eviction Notice Served ……

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Two weeks ago I was served with my eviction notice from my creative corner in the family kitchen by The Big Green Gummi Bear.

It came as a bit of a blow……

For the past five plus years I’ve used the kitchen table as my desk. (Well, used it when the weather meant I couldn’t write outside) I shudder to think how many hours have been spent sitting plotting, writing or typing at it. I’ll admit 99% of the time it looked as though a bomb had gone off on it. It was cluttered and messy but it was MY creative clutter and mess. MY space.

 

Long story cut short, after a major re-arrangement of the garage to accommodate The Big Green Gummi Bear’s new car, the freezer was brought into the kitchen and placed in MY writing corner. While I was out, the table was moved into the centre of the room.

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This blow was beautifully softened by The Big Green Gummi Bear- Santa was going to bring me a present. Santa was even going to bring me my present two months early. Santa was going to bring me a writing bureau!

For the past two weeks, I’ve sat at the kitchen table, in the middle of the floor, and felt like I was in the middle of No Man’s Land. Everything was still on the table, but away from it’s corner position, I felt exposed! Creative progress was slow…very slow!

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On Tuesday 23rd, two months and two days early, Santa came!

My writing bureau arrived!

 

By the time I came home from the salt mine, it had been positioned snugly in the corner of the family living room. I had a new creative corner home.

But….. would it feel the same?

I am a terrible creature of habit. I’m not even going to try and deny it. I hate moving house, moving rooms around, rearranging the furniture etc. I understood completely that I needed to move out of the comfort zone of the kitchen but would the living room feel the same?

After dinner on Tuesday, I moved all of my creative “stuff” out of the kitchen and into the living room. I made it a swift clean break. However, I took my time setting up the top portion of my new desk, satisfying myself that everything fitted into one of the small storage spaces and remained within easy reach. I never sat down to write anything – not one word.

On Wednesday, I spent the morning sifting through the contents of the two plastic storage boxes that had lived under the kitchen table. (Did I mention that I have kept every word I have written for the past five and a half years plus some older stuff I found too? I can’t bear to part with these old notebooks!)  I did clear out some old junk, stuff that had found its way into the crates over the years – two trash bags of junk (ok, two small trash bags of junk)- then set about stowing my notebooks away in my small cupboard space. I was quite pleased with myself that I managed to totally empty one crate. (Don’t tell The Big Green Gummi Bear but the other one is now stashed in the cupboard under the stairs.)

My new work space was finally set up.

 

But, would I feel comfortable sitting writing at it?

To be honest, I had no choice but to sit at my new desk to write. There was nowhere else to go!

I already knew what I was going to start with….. but would the creative juices flow?

I needn’t have worried. I’ve settled right into my new corner. It’s cosy. I can burn my candles with minimum complaint from The Big Green Gummi Bear. There are no cooking smells disrupting my train of thought. I’ve even brought Alexa with me so I have my music too. It feels like creative home sweet home.

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However I do feel like a bit of a traitor as I look at the bare kitchen table sitting forlornly in the middle of the room…..

 

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Red Wine and Candlelight (flash fiction)

red wine and candle

The creamy white candle flickered in its glass votive holder on the low coffee table. Two glasses of red wine sat beside the jasmine scented votive – one full; one half empty.
He was late. Thirteen minutes late.
Fidgeting restlessly, she tugged at the hem of her little black dress then adjusted the deep neckline, pulling the dress down to reveal more of her cleavage, conscious that she had a photo to live up to. For the fiftieth time, she re-read their message chain from earlier in the day to reassure herself that he was definitely coming.
It would be the first time they would actually meet face to face. Since they’d met online thirteen days before, they had messaged each other constantly. They had exchanged photos. They had talked on the phone late into the night.
He was late. Twenty-six minutes late.
Lifting her glass, she took another mouthful of cabernet sauvignon then sat down on the couch, stretching her long, bare, slender legs out in front of her. Her heart was pounding. Where was he? Why was he late? Why hadn’t he called or messaged her? What if he’d changed his mind? Imagining all sorts of scenarios, she watched the time tick by……
He was late. Thirty-nine minutes late
The doorbell chimed.
Taking a deep breath, she got up from the settee. She checked her dress was sitting properly then walked slowly in her stiletto heels to the front door. With her heart pounding, she reached to open the door.
There he was. All six foot two of him. Tall, muscled, close cut hair. He was holding a bunch of red roses and a bottle of wine. He smiled; her heart skipped a beat.
“I’m so sorry,” he apologised as he stepped into the hall. “I got held up at work.”
“I was getting worried. You could’ve called.”
“Sorry. Phone’s flat.”
Together they entered the candlelit lounge. An awkward silence hung in the air as they stood face to face for the first time. He towered over her. His grey/blue eyes looked her up and down, slowly undressing her as a small smile formed at his lips.
“You look amazing,” he complimented, presenting her with the flowers and wine. “These are for you.”
“Thanks. I’ll just pop them in some water,” she replied, inhaling the heady perfume of the blood red roses. “Take your jacket off. Make yourself at home. There’s a wine for you on the table.”
As she stood at the sink, filling her only vase with cold water, her hands were trembling. He was here. He was as hot as his profile pictures had led her to believe. He was everything she had imagined and then some.
When she returned to the living room, he’d taken off his jacket and draped it over the back of the chair. Sitting on the couch, she could see the outlines of his tattoos through his crisp white shirt.
“Will I put some music on?” she suggested, trying to sound calmly confident.
“Sounds good,” he agreed as he lifted the full glass of wine.
Within a moment or two, she had plugged her phone into the speaker and had one of her favourite Spotify playlists playing. Smiling at him, she crossed the room and sat beside him on the couch.
“So, how was your day?” she enquired as she lifted her own glass to her lips.
He was here. Thirteen minutes after he arrived they were deep in conversation.
Three songs later, he set his glass down, took hers from her and said, “Let’s dance.”
“Here? Now?”
No one had ever asked her to dance in her own living room.
“Here. Now,” he repeated, taking her hand.
He was here. Twenty-six minutes after he arrived they were dancing a slow dance in the middle of the living room.
As the last notes of her favourite song faded out, he bent down and began to kiss her. Placing his hand on the small of her back, he drew her towards him. She could smell the exotic spice of his aftershave. Lifting her hair back, he slowly and sensually kissed the sensitive spot behind her ear. She moaned softly as he ran the tip of his tongue down her neck. Teasingly, he ran his tongue along the length of her collar bone then resumed kissing her hard on the lips. She could feel his tongue forcing her lips apart as he kissed her harder. As she parted her lips a little further she felt him bite the inside of her lower lip hard. The fresh ferrous taste of blood filled her mouth as he continued to kiss her. Putty in his hands, she became aware of a tell-tale twitch deep inside her. Suddenly, she felt wet and ready for him to take her right there on the living room floor. From the bulge in his jeans that was pressing into her, he was experiencing the same desires. Her mind began to fantasise over what would happen next. Was he as long and hard as she hoped? She felt his hand cup her breast firmly then felt the pressure of his thumb as it moved in a circular rhythm. Through the fabric of her dress and padding of her bra, she knew her pierced nipples were erect.
Oh, she could surrender herself to this guy in a heartbeat.
He moved his hand from the base of her spine and, before she had time to wonder where he was going to caress her next, she felt a fiery, hot pain thrust up through her ribcage. She felt the coolness of the sharp blade as it plunged deep inside her. She felt her own warm blood flow freely to soak the silky fabric of her little black dress. Around her, the living room began to fade out.
He was gone. Thirty-nine minutes after he’d arrived she lay dead on the floor, stabbed through her romantic heart.
The candle flickered and guttered as the flame died.

 

(image sourced via Google – credits to the owner)

A Gift From New Orleans……

New Orleans with its vampire and voodoo associations has fascinated me for a long time. After all, who could resist Louis and Lestat?
New Orleans, among many other destinations, is on my bucket list to visit at some point (Lottery win required first!)
A friend, however, was lucky enough to spend a few days there last month and I asked her if she would mind picking something up for me. She drew me a quizzical look when she heard my request but promised to see what she could do.
She returned to work after her trip and presented me with a small package, neatly wrapped in two pages from an old New Orleans phone directory.
I opened it carefully and instantly fell in love with the contents. Something that highly amused her!
So, what had I asked for?
A protective voodoo fetish/doll.
Here he is. Isn’t he cute?

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There’s a common misconception that voodoo is all about black magic, sticking pins in effigies or dolls and wishing harm on your enemies.
Louisiana voodoo has a different heritage altogether.
It dates back to the early part of the 18th Century. Between 1719-1731, the majority of the slaves brought to the French Colonial city of New Orleans were Fon people from West Africa. (The area is modern day Benin). They brought with them their spiritual beliefs and traditional knowledge of medicinal herbs, potions, charms and amulets. This ancient knowledge was used primarily for healing and for protection, although it could be used for darker purposes. These protective, healing practices became the core elements of Louisiana voodoo. (Haitian voodoo adopted a darker more sinister route.)
In Southern Louisiana, the sense of family was strong and efforts were made to keep members of the same family together within the slave community. This familial bond helped to ensure that their cultural heritage, religion, beliefs and practices were preserved and passed on. Under the French Code, and with influence from the Catholic church, the sale of children under that age of fourteen away from their family was prohibited. This goodwill towards the slave community helped to form strong bonds of solidarity.
The practice of Louisiana voodoo was accepted and the wearing of charms and amulets for healing and protection was not an unusual sight among the citizens of New Orleans.
In 1792 there was a revolution in Haiti. It was reportedly started by slaves who had supposedly been possessed by a deity during a vodou ritual (different from voodoo.)
Life became difficult for the voodoo practitioners in Louisiana as a result. The French Colonists in Southern Louisiana became aggressive towards the previously accepted voodoo rituals and practices. The Louisiana slaves, however, to their credit, did not fight back and peacefully continued to use their voodoo beliefs for healing and protection and to maintain connections with their loved ones.
Gradually voodoo became re-accepted into day to day life.
With the introduction of the US Embassy Act of 1808, the importation of all African slaves to the USA was ended. Around this time, within the slave communities, voodoo kings and queens began to emerge as prominent figures.
The most famous of these was THE voodoo queen, Marie Laveau.

Marie Laveau

Born in 1801, Marie Laveau was a Louisiana Creole practitioner of voodoo and a hairdresser to the wealthy families of the city. Her spiritual gatherings drew huge crowds. In fact, one gathering on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain in 1874 attracted a crowd of 12000. Marie Laveau was non-discriminatory in her practices, treating rich and poor alike. Her reputation soon spread far and wide. A practicing Catholic, she actively encouraged her followers to attend mass. It was largely due to her extended sphere of influence that Louisiana voodoo and Catholicism became so closely intertwined.
Upon her death in June 1881, Marie Laveau was interred in a tomb in St Louis Cemetery No. 1. The mausoleum attracted many of her devoted followers who marked an X on the walls as part of a ritual to request the voodoo queen’s support from beyond the grave. This mausoleum was refurbished in 2014 following an act of vandalism and now can only be visited as part of an organised tour. It is no longer possible for voodoo followers to graffiti the tomb.

 

Marie Laveau’s name and her legacy have lived on and are kept alive through songs, TV, films and fiction.
In fact, the voodoo doll I was so kindly gifted came from Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo, a store in the city’s Bourbon Street.

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Time will tell as to whether he offers me protection or not but for now I need to decide on where to display him. Traditionally these dolls were hung in doorways or hallways.
For some reason, The Big Green Gummi Bear is less than comfortable with him being around……  😉

 

(images sourced via Google- credits to the owner)

World Mental Health Day 2018 – it’s ok not to be ok….

 

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Research shows that 1 in 4 of us will experience some form of mental health issue in our lives.
That’s quite a scary statistic.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), health is defined as follows–
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
WHO define mental health as –
“A state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution or his or her community.”
Sometimes the stresses and strains of 21st Century life take its toll on our general mental well-being.
So, how is mental well-being viewed?
I checked the NHS website and found the following explanation-

“Sarah Stewart-Brown, professor of public health at the University of Warwick and a wellbeing expert, says: “Feeling happy is a part of mental wellbeing. But it’s far from the whole.
“Feelings of contentment, enjoyment, confidence and engagement with the world are all a part of mental wellbeing. Self-esteem and self-confidence are, too.
“So is a feeling that you can do the things you want to do. And so are good relationships, which bring joy to you and those around you.
“Of course, good mental wellbeing does not mean that you never experience feelings or situations that you find difficult,” says Professor Stewart-Brown. “But it does mean that you feel you have the resilience to cope when times are tougher than usual.”
It can help to think about “being well” as something you do, rather than something you are. The more you put in, the more you are likely to get out.
“No-one can give wellbeing to you. It’s you who has to take action,” says Professor Stewart-Brown.”

Perhaps, if you’ve experienced a time when it’s been difficult to cope, you’ve described yourself as being “stressed.” I’m sure most of us have said it and experienced it at some level.
So, where does stress fit into the jigsaw of mental health and well-being?
According to http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk stress is described as follows-
“At the most basic level, stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event. What contributes to stress can vary hugely from person to person and differs according to our social and economic circumstances, the environment we live in and our genetic makeup. Some common features of things that can make us feel stress include experiencing something new or unexpected, something that threatens your feeling of self, or feeling you have little control over a situation.
When we encounter stress, our body is stimulated to produce stress hormones that trigger a ‘flight or fight’ response and activate our immune system 2. This response helps us to respond quickly to dangerous situations.
Sometimes, this stress response can be an appropriate, or even beneficial reaction. The resulting feeling of ‘pressure’ can help us to push through situations that can be nerve-wracking or intense, like running a marathon, or giving a speech to a large crowd. We can quickly return to a resting state without any negative effects on our health if what is stressing us is short-lived 3, and many people are able to deal with a certain level of stress without any lasting effects.
However, there can be times when stress becomes excessive and too much to deal with. If our stress response is activated repeatedly, or it persists over time, the effects can result in wear and tear on the body and can cause us to feel permanently in a state of ‘fight or flight’. Rather than helping us push through, this pressure can make us feel overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Feeling this overwhelming stress for a long period of time is often called chronic, or long-term stress, and it can impact on both physical and mental health.
Stress is a response to a threat in a situation, whereas anxiety is a reaction to the stress.”
Allow me to be open and honest for a few moments here.

I’ve written before about being stressed and the effects it had on me so I am not about to repeat myself. However, I’m human (no, I am, honestly!) and, despite my best endeavours at looking after both my physical health and mental well-being, there have been times lately that have left me in a state of “fight or flight”.
I’ve no intention of revealing the details of the various factors that contributed to these feelings. This isn’t that kind of blog….at least that’s not my intention. Suffice to say, I could see the cracks beginning to open up. I began to recognise the signs and the emotions surrounding them. These were threatening not just to overwhelm me but to swallow me whole.
Like everything that’s put under enormous pressure or strain, I had a bit of a meltdown.

I imploded.

It didn’t last long, a few hours probably, although at the time it felt like forever. Those few hours were at a point in the day when I had to paint on the “Disney smile” and keep going, while inside I was in bits. (To the friends who helped pick up the pieces that afternoon, thank you. To the one friend that I broke down in front of…. sorry, but thank you for being there at the right time and place.)
As I drove home that day feeling miserable and defeated, I reflected on the events of the day and the previous few weeks and months. I dug deep and retrieved my “pot” of resilience and, to echo my friend’s philosophy, thought, “Fuck it, life’s too short. Life’s too short to take all this shit so seriously. It’s not worth letting it have such an effect on me.”Fortunately, the “pot” of resilience wasn’t empty.
I  banished “flight” and reconnected with “fight” (not literally, you’ll be relieved to hear. I’m not a violent person.)
But how to subtly show the world that life was too short to take things so seriously? How to carry a reminder with me not to let things impact me to my physical and mental detriment? The answer was simple…….

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So, if you happened to see me that day or meet me on some future day when I need a reminder, I’ve not lost the plot. In fact, I’ll have actually found it again.