Tag Archives: England

Book Recommendations-

Jillian here!  I was going to do a book review today and I know we all have massive TBR piles so I decided just to throw a few titles of books I’ve read lately and either really enjoyed or didn’t like so much.

For the not so much crowd, I offer I, Ripper.  It’s by Stephen Hunter. It’s another Jack the Ripper lore story and although I am intrigued by the legend, this one was a new take on it that was both interesting and dull at the same time. Kind of weird, I know. It didn’t move fast and thus it took me a while to read it. A chapter here, a chapter there. It wasn’t compelling but it wasn’t bad – so I give it a Meh rating.

The Other Daughter, by Lauren Willig was poignant and I cried a lot about the last third of the book.  That always means a good read to me- UNLESS I’m crying because it’s so awful and I want it over.  Not the case here. It’s set in the 1920s in the UK and just a nice tale.

Royal Street and River Road are by Suzanne Johnson. They are the first two books in her Sentinel series and even though they are marketed as Urban Fantasy, something I never, ever thought I would like, I love, love these books and have ordered the next two in the series. They are set in New Orleans and the author, having lived there many years, has absolutely captured the city in her descriptions. The first one takes place at the time of Hurricane Katrina and the author nails the way the city was hit and how it was for many months post storm.

So, if you have room on your TBR list, here’s a few choices. If anyone wants me to send you any of these, let me know. I try to donate when I’m done so I can have room for more!

Leisure

Today I’d like to introduce a new regular blogger here at Over the Backyard Fence. My dear friend Jane Smith will be posting on the fourth Wednesday of every month. I met Jane when we were both studying for our BA degree with The Open University here in the UK. That was, ahem, a very long time ago, and we’ve been friends ever since. Jane is well travelled, enjoys many interests, and has a great sense of humour. I know she’ll be treating us to some really interesting posts along the way, and she’s chosen to start with a subject we can all relate to in one way or another. So welcome, Jane, and over to you…

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Several of your blogs I’ve read relate to the topic of leisure in one way or another. Do we make time in our lives to spend time on leisure activities? What do we, each individually, consider leisure? One person’s idea of spending time differs greatly from another. I have been thinking about this concept a lot lately, because I am doing too much. But not work as Jillian was talking about earlier this month, since I am retired! A poem I read at school constantly pops into my mind, is it a reminder from my inner self to slow down I wonder? “Leisure” by W H Davies opens with the lines:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare …

jane choirReading through the rest of the poem starts a chain of thoughts for me about my life. I am sustained by love of friends and family. I take two yoga classes a week which ground me and sing with a community choir which gives me a sense of well being, achievement and friendship (that’s me in the photo in a black dress with a purple scarf). I also attend a book group which stretches my mind as well as being another source of friendship and fun. Regular contact with my close friends offers all these things too: grounding, fun, conversations on a wide range of topics and relaxation. Good friendship is a mutual support system, one to the other – especially in difficult times. My grandchildren are another source of delight, a child’s view of life makes grown ups stop and stare in a different way. The continuity from my own children through their children, the family rituals which get passed down repeated at birthdays and Christmas. A pattern resembling a huge tapestry which shapes our lives.

I meant this first blog of mine to be light hearted but a piece of writing for me often takes on its own path. Most of you are published authors, I am an avid reader. I have read through your current blogs and the range of topics is fascinating. The humour and love in your lives shines through and the wide breadth of activities too. Your Country Shows resemble our summer fetes and county shows here in UK, but the family aspect and pride in one another’s achievements, whether showing animals or baking, is again a valuable layer of our lives.

Recently my choir did two concerts. One to help raise money for a 19 year old tragically killed. Max was in a car, as a passenger, racing against his friends on a county lane, unofficial of course. A van came unexpectedly around a corner and wham. The impact on many lives, including the van driver and his family, was devastating. We were invited to perform, nervously on our part as it was open air, to a mainly young audience (most of us are over 50!), and our main song was a request from the youngsters of Bob Marley’s 3 Little Birds. I forgot to mention we are an A Capella choir. We arrived to find a Reggae Band performing “our song” which threw us totally! But we rallied one another, got on the stage and sang our hearts out. Two other songs, one Hawaiian another African, led to the climax of the main song. Well, the reaction was amazing – the youngsters whistled, clapped and sang along with us. It was a wonderful feeling to cross generations in tribute to Max and a worthy cause to educate other youngsters in the risks of five minutes fun.

The second concert was this week in a local church. Family and friends of the choir bought tickets, so did other members of our local community. The pressure was huge to do a good performance. Again it was wonderful. The audience sang some songs with us, we raised money and we all felt great. Both these examples illustrate aspects of my leisure. Enriching, loving and fun. A sense of community. Our lives.

In Search of Dracula

The Joneses have been away on their travels again. In our quest to see as much of the UK as possible we booked a trip to Whitby, a seaside fishing town on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors.20150608_144051This is a very historical town, with the founding of its iconic Abbey dating back to 657AD. It was once one of the busiest ship building ports, and produced ships that sailed the high seas under the command of Captain James Cook. The harbour is now filled with privately owned craft, and a bell sounds on the half hour to signal the opening of the swing bridge to allow boats to pass through.

Whitby also has an association with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Ever since as a teenager I snuck a copy of Dracula beneath the sheets and all but frightened myself silly reading it, I’ve been fascinated by the paranormal. So on hearing that Stoker spent several months in Whitby, where he got many of his ideas for the story, I have wanted to visit the town. It’s taken me…ahem, quite a few years to get up there, but this year I was determined to make it.

So, during one of the most glorious weeks of the year so far, we set off. After a night’s stay in Derbyshire, we travelled onward and eventually made it to the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. We took several stops along the way for coffee and cake, as you do, and eventually glimpsed Whitby. It’s hard to miss, with ruins of its Gothic Abbey sitting atop a cliff and beckoning the visitor ever closer to the quaint and picturesque town.20150610_124241

We stayed in a lovely guest house, and our hosts knew all the places to see both in Whitby and its surroundings, but there was only one thing I really wanted to do and that was go in search of Bram Stoker’s inspiration for his seminal work. Being a writer, I’m always fascinated by the way fellow writers are inspired to write plot, character and use setting. So, following the directions in the little pink book of the same name, we set off on The Dracula Trail.

20150610_110942We started at the memorial bench, then headed up the 199 steps to the Abbey, the steps that Stoker had the ill-fated heroine of his novel ascending in the dead of night beckoned by the dreaded Count. The Abbey ruins are stunning and very atmospheric. Once a Benedictine abbey, it fell into ruins after the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry V111 in 1540. 20150610_111049

We also took a trip down to the old harbour which inspired Stoker to use the bones of a true story for the scene in his novel where the ship Dementer, carrying wooden boxes filled with earth from Dracula’s homeland in which he could rest, was shipwrecked. The old cobbled streets are still very similar to the way Stoker would have seen them and the whole area is incredibly atmospheric.

To end the trail we visited the Dracula Experience, which was a sort of wax museum which told the story from start to finish. No sooner had we entered the darkened building when I knew it wasn’t such a good idea. Now, I love to be scared but this took it to a whole new level. The wax models were far too realistic for my liking and at one stage, deep into the museum when all the lights went out, I actually screamed. Clinging to AJ for dear life, he told me not to look down. Of course I did, only to see hundreds of holographic spiders skittering across the floor. It was my worst nightmare come to life. So, with AJ pulled so tight to me that we could barely shuffle along (and not helped when he thought it would be fun to nibble at my neck) I hurried him through to the much-welcomed exit sign.

Our last day was spent in a more sedate manner and we took the old steam train onto the moor. Since we both love trains, we were in our element. The journey took about an hour and a bit, and we passed through Goathsmead station which became Hogsmead Station in the Harry Potter films. Great fun. Excuse the tilted photo, but I was hanging out the window at the time.20150611_105326

We had such a great time in Whitby, that we’ve put it on our places to revisit at some time in the future. So far the decision to explore the UK and see more of our own country has proved extremely fruitful, and as far as Whitby goes, I’m so glad I got to visit even if it took me more years that I care to admit to make it happen.

Landscapes, Legends and Literature

Earlier this month, we took a trip down to Cornwall in south west England. This was partly because we made a decision to start exploring parts of the UK we have never visited before, but mostly because I’m writing a new paranormal series based in the area and wanted to get a real feel for the place.

SAM_0736We’d visited Cornwall once before when we were much younger, but I’d never really appreciated it then and this time I was stunned by the beauty of the area. We based ourselves in Bodmin, a town on the edge of the hauntingly beautiful Bodmin Moor. Having expected a largely barren vista, I was surprised that the moor’s landscape is so diverse. At eighty square miles, we only scraped the surface. For starters, we decided to follow The Copper Trail, a sixty mile circular walk along footpaths and tracks which take you through the remains of the hard rock mining industry and 5000 year old prehistoric monuments.

SAM_0728We began by driving to Golitha Falls, a nature reserve on the southern edge of the moor which is home to otters, great spotted woodpeckers and grey wagtails. So lush, and incredibly peaceful. Just the sound of birds, water and our gasps of awe at the beauty to be found there. Moving onward, we visited the Minions, an area dotted with old copper mine engine houses and tors, which are weathered granite rock towers. Then onto the Bronze Age monument, The Hurlers, a group of three great stone circles. The name derives from a legend in which men were playing a Cornish game called ‘hurling’ on a Sunday. As punishment they were magically transformed into stones. SAM_0747

On our way home, which took us straight through the middle of the moor, we made a stop off for morning coffee at Jamaica Inn, the place where Daphne du Maurier set her famous novel. She is said to have been riding on the moor and sought refuge at the inn when a thick fog set in. While she was there, she was entertained with smuggling tales and ghost stories, which obviously provided much inspiration for her novel. Built in 1750, Jamaica Inn was originally a coaching inn and a staging post for changing horses. It is said to be one of the UKs most haunted places, and during the year several ghost hunting weekends take place there.SAM_0757

SAM_0759We had a really great time during our first trip to Bodmin, and are already planning a return trip this summer. There is so much to explore. Oh, and Daphne du Maurier wasn’t the only one inspired to write while on Bodmin Moor. I came back with ideas buzzing, not only for the current series I’m writing but a future one too. I can’t imagine anyone visiting this beautifully eerie, rugged and intriguing place without having their imagination fired.