Christmas pic

Now that Christmas is upon us and we begin reflecting on the festive season from years gone by, what are your memories of Christmas past?

I find myself thinking nostalgically back to earlier times, reflecting on all those feel good memories of yesteryear. One memory that sticks in my mind is a snapshot of collecting holly laden with red berries with my grandfather on the frost-coated canal bank and taking it back to my grandparents’ home, where it was used as decoration above the eaves of the doors and above picture frames.  Back in those days, the winters were freezing cold and we had coal fires and no central heating at our house!  The snow often seemed to be up to my knees when we were sent home from school–the school milk having frozen solid in those tiny glass bottles and the boiler gone on the blink so deemed too cold for us to be there.

We didn’t seem to expect too much from Father Christmas back then either, [maybe a favourite ‘must-have’ toy or two, like a Tiny Tears baby doll which could both cry and wet herself! Or a new bike, toy pram, train set or doll’s house]. We were content with a selection box and a Christmas stocking filled with such delights as chocolate coins covered in gold foil, a chocolate Santa, a tangerine and a few small toys that would fit in the stocking.

Santa arrived at our house during the early hours of Christmas day. I knew he’d arrived as my legs felt heavy as the quilt on my bed was laden with gifts.  In those days we lived near a dairy and the milk floats passed the house on Christmas day.  So I would guess I must have woken at 5 am or 6 am as it was still pitch black outside.  The first port of call would be to wake my brother up and we’d both creep downstairs with our presents and make a start on our chocolate selection boxes, even before eating breakfast.  My parents would still be fast asleep upstairs for another couple of hours until my mother stirred to put the turkey in the oven and make other preparations for the day itself.  My father would have gone to the pub on Christmas Eve, so he’d have quite a long lie in to sleep off the effects. I remember him telling me once he’d see Father Christmas at the pub that Christmas Eve and he’d relay my message of what I wanted for Christmas to the man. Unfortunately, Mother Christmas (my own mother) didn’t realise I wanted a Sindy doll that particular year. So I never received one, but I still had some lovely presents and it was made up for as the following Christmas, I received a beautiful singing/talking and walking doll in a pink lace dress! My mother had ordered her from a newspaper advert and I’d spent ages scouring that advert reading what this doll would look like, the songs she sang (Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and London Bridge is Falling Down!) and the phrases she would speak. The doll was very tall and almost the same size as myself and she smelled so beautiful, I can still remember that smell. Her brown curled hair was so soft too and her eyes opened and closed. She was a vision of perfection to me and I took her everywhere!

Back then, if we were up early as a child, you watched an old black and white TV where a star like Leslie Crowther, visited a London Children’s Hospital.  The children there would be presented with gifts and the nurses made their uniforms look festive, decking their hats with tinsel. I used to feel so sorry for those kids being in hospital on Christmas day but they seemed to get some great gifts and plenty of attention, so maybe it wasn’t so bad for them after all!

My grandparents were early risers, so we’d run to their house which was just 3 doors away to show them all the gifts we’d got.  My gran usually gave me a Bunty annual every year which she’d sign and my brother got a Beano or Dandy annual.  She’d also give us money so we could buy what we wanted after Christmas. She was quite practical like that. Or other years, she and my grandfather would take us to a big store in Cardiff so we could pick our own presents. I remember having a small Singer sewing machine and my brother had a Liliput typewriter one year. Strangely enough, I was the one who used the typewriter the most as I loved writing stories and still do! But my brother did love the wooden fort our grandfather made for him one year. It was nice to receive homemade gifts as there was so much love, care and time put into them. I remember my uncle made me a lovely wooden doll’s house one year complete with furniture and wallpaper on the walls! It was treasured for many years.

Later on Christmas morning, my mother would get up and light the coal fire and set the table, which was moved into the middle of the room, for Christmas dinner.  We’d have things on the table we didn’t use the rest of the year, like a special red table cloth with festive prints and matching serviettes.  We always got to drink those miniature bottles of Babycham with the meal, which was usually turkey and the trimmings followed by Christmas Pudding, Mrs Peeks in the blue cellophane wrap which was boiled for a couple of hours in the already small, steamed up kitchen.

During the afternoon there’d be Christmas Top of the Pops, playing the Christmas number one for that particular year.  This was followed by the Queen’s Speech.  In the evening, the whole family would settle down to watch The Morcambe and Wise Christmas Show.  They always had a special guest on who joined in the fun, like Shirley Bassey or Tom Jones.  I’ll never forget the year, Ms. Bassey stood there singing ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ as Eric jammed her foot into a workman’s boot!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Xvln035znM

There would be so much eating and drinking that day we’d feel quite full by the time we got to our beds.  Of course the evening was usually an anti climax because for me the expectation of Christmas on Christmas Eve was always the best part of all.

The Ragged Urchin

 

The Ragged Urchin bookcover

Will this little orphan boy find a safe haven?

Orphaned at the age of ten-years-old, Archie Ledbetter, is forced to live with his uncle in his very grand house. Uncle Walter seems emotionless, exhibiting little feeling towards the young lad. If it wasn’t for some of the staff at Huntington Hall, Archie’s life would be a complete misery. There’s a dark secret that Cook hints at as to why Archie’s mother left her lavish lifestyle behind and ended up settling in the East End of London, scraping a living selling cakes and confectionery from the back of a barrow in the marketplace. Archie’s never known his father and wonders who he is. Just as he’s settling in at the house, someone comes along and seizes the opportunity to kidnap Archie, forcing him to work as a chimney sweep, navigating searing hot chimney breasts in an inferno of hell. As if life couldn’t get much harder for boy, he cries himself to sleep at night praying for the angels to take him so he can finally see his mother once again in heaven…

Will Archie finally find the love he’s looking for?

A heartwarming saga, perfect for fans of Dilly Court and Maggie Hope.

Read a chapter here by clicking on “Free Preview” at the bottom of the page!

Interview with author, Joy Wood

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Hi Joy, welcome my blog.

I’ve read and enjoyed your earlier books so much and now I see you’ve just published your fourth entitled, ‘April Fool’. Could you tell us a little about it, please?

Hi Lynette, first of all thank  you so much for taking the time to interview me, I’m delighted to be here again.

April Fool is a little different from my other books. I’ve purposely tried something different. It’s hard to explain without giving any spoilers away, but suffice to say it still has elements of romance in it, and the usual twists and turns I like to incorporate, but  there is a subtle difference from my other books.  The book is about April Masters, an undercover police officer with a remit of catching the dynamic Dylan Rider who the police suspect is behind the heists of valuable artefacts. April is a strong, determined young woman and I hope that readers admire her tenacity and are willing her on as she navigates her way through the criminal world.

How did you come up with the idea for the book?

I like police dramas when I see them on TV. I didn’t want to write anything too technical about police procedures with forensic detail, I wanted something a bit less intense. I hope this book delivers this.

Does your book have a particular theme?

I think ‘Subterfuge’ says everything!

Who is your favourite character in the story and why?

I love April, but there is a young man in the story, Henry. He is a troubled soul and I feel desperately sorry for him (as April does). He isn’t particularly endearing, but there is a vulnerability about him that tugs at your heart strings.

Is there a villain/antagonist in the story?

There’s Dylan Rider and his brother Victor, neither of them are the type you would cross. April knows that, so she has to tread carefully. She cannot afford for either of them to find out who she really is so has to be convincing as a cleaner working at the gallery.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?

I found the ending a dilemma. It could have gone one of three ways. I hope I’ve got it right!

What was your favourite part of this book to write and why?

Back to April again. I liked developing her. She appears as tough cop, but she has an Archilles heel and I think that’s what the readers will identify with and be willing her on.

How long did it take to write and how did you research for it?

You’d laugh, my “research” was a retired police sergeant I met on a cruise ship! I talked about the idea with him and he was a great help. It isn’t a particularly technical book about policing or anything like that. It’s more about April at the gallery and the interactions with Dylan Rider.

Do you have any plans for any future novels?

I want to write a murder/ thriller. My editor thinks my readers know me as a contemporary romance author (my branding) and readers expect that. So maybe if I write the thriller, I’ll use a pseudonym. The only trouble is, it will be like starting out again as a new author.

If you could give a new writer any advice knowing what you know now about the writing world, what would you tell them?

I’d tell them to stick at it. Writing is solitary so by the very nature of sitting on your own, you have a tendency to doubt yourself.  I actually think ‘doubt’ is a writer’s middle name. It is very easy some days to think, ‘I’m not good enough’ ‘everyone else can write better stories than I can,’ ‘this is rubbish,’ ‘nobody will buy it.’

I think my advice would be to turn those negative thoughts into positive ones i.e., “I’m trying my best to write a story people will enjoy”, “there is room for all of us and each book I write, I’ll improve”, “this has potential, I just need to work on it.”

Could you tell me a little about a typical writing day for you?

The day starts with an early morning walk along Cleethorpes sea front. It not only clears my head and gives me ideas, it also stops me feeling guilty when I’m sat most of the day at the computer! I like to write in the day time really when I have natural light in the conservatory. I don’t write every day, and I’m easily distracted with Facebook and emails!”

Are there any authors who have influenced you?

I’ve loved reading from an early age. I used to love Jackie Collins novels, and I remember a particular book I read when I was very young that certainly influenced me, ‘The Other Side of Midnight’ by Sidney Sheldon’. I’ll never forget the joy of that book and how the author had started it and finished it. Even now all these year later, I can still see the main characters in my head.

Who is your typical reader?

I would say middle aged women, however I’ve received an email from a man today saying he loved April Fool and has read all my other novels so that was rather lovely.

Where ideally would you love to write if money was no object?

The Maldives.

And finally, where can readers buy a copy of your latest book?

It does sell locally in Cleethorpes, but the vast majority buy from Amazon both paperbacks and kindle versions. Paperbacks can also be ordered from Waterstones and WH Smith.

Many thanks for an interesting interview, Joy!

You can purchase April Fool by Joy Wood here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/April-Fool-Joy-Wood-ebook/dp/B07K1MZNKS

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Black Diamonds [Season of Change book 1]

Heartwarming Historical fiction by Lynette Rees: perfect for fans of Iris Gower and Richard Llewellyn.

A tale of passion and compassion and most of all, one woman’s brave heart.

Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, 1865. When Lily Jenkin begins her first day working for the Morgans at their corner shop in the little village of Abercanaid, she has no idea of the calamity that lies ahead of that fateful day.

It is a day of tragedy at the Gethin Coal Pit that brings her into contact with the new handsome, chapel minister, Evan Davies, for the first time.

Although a dark cloud of death passes over the village, Lily and Evan draw close to one another as they help the villagers deal with the tragedy, forming a bond which could lead to love. However, there is a gossiping old crone in the village who will do her best to cause trouble for the pair by hook or by crook.

Lily has the opportunity to escape the valley of the shadow of death to make a new home for herself in Great Salt Lake, America. Will she take the chance to go to ‘Zion’, following her Mormon relatives, and more importantly, will Evan, a Welsh Baptist minister, go with her?

The Seasons of Change Series:

1. Black Diamonds
2. White Roses
3. Blue Skies
4. Red Poppies

Life in the Workhouse

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How I wrote about a young girl’s life at the local workhouse. My thoughts and the writing process.

I wrote The Workhouse Waif after reading old newspaper reports of the goings on at the local workhouse in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales. It’s a place that’s always fascinated me as I was actually born there on a Christmas time at the end of 1960. By then, it had become a hospital serving much of the community. In those days, they kept women in confinement for a couple of weeks, and so my mother has fond memories of the nurses dressed in those old-fashioned starch uniforms and navy capes, coming onto the maternity wing as they held lanterns to sing Christmas carols to the new and expectant mums.

Only a hundred years previously, things were very different at the St. Tydfil’s Union Workhouse. Those who were lucky enough to be able to manage without being interned there might have struggled outside of it to make ends meet, but they often feared that dark foreboding place with its high walls and strict regime, so much so they’d rather go without then go within.

A Christmas dinner back then, according to newspaper reports I’ve read as research for my book, was the best meal of the year when the inmates were treated to a roast beef dinner with plum pudding! The rest of the year though, their meals were very meagre, often consisting of a thin watery gruel for breakfast, bread and cheese or a thin soup with very little, poor quality meat the rest of the time.

Inmates were expected to attend daily prayers at the workhouse chapel and the walls of the workhouse were adorned with biblical quotes. They were forced into hard labour as after all it was thought that Idle hands made the devil’s work! And as a consequence, women often worked in the laundry, scrubbed floors, worked in the kitchen, etc, while the men bone-crushed, oakum picked or smashed rocks. It was back-breaking work on very poor food rations.

The worst thing for most families who were forced to live at the workhouse, often through no fault of their own, was that they were split up once inside and rarely saw one another afterwards.

What surprised me when I first wrote The Workhouse Waif and self-published it, was that Kindle sales shot up for it within a couple of weeks and it actually reached the number one spot for Victorian Historical Romance during November 2016. Sales remained steady, then in September of 2017, I received a message from someone I didn’t recognise to my Facebook author page. I couldn’t believe my eyes as to what I was reading. Instead of a SPAM message like I thought it was, it was the commissioning editor of Quercus Books who said she’d downloaded my book and had absolutely loved the story! She wanted to know if I was interested in a traditional publishing contract! Was I? I didn’t need asking twice. Quercus is a division of Hachette UK, one of the biggest publishing companies in the United Kingdom. I was floating on air to know that my story of little Megan Hopkins, the eleven-year-old orphan from my hometown, had travelled so far!

It was a story that came to me after reading old news reports about life at the Merthyr workhouse and I have a genuine love of local history, so it all seemed to flow nicely and the story appeared to write itself – I’ve always been the sort of writer who lets my characters dictate the plot! It works for me, so why not? I’m often surprised at the things they get up to!

And the coincidence of being of my being born in the old workhouse itself didn’t end there, as years later I worked there as a young student nurse and I’ve also attended meetings at the place when I worked for two charitable organisations. Maybe somehow the stories from the inmates came to me as their vibrations still existed somewhere within the confines of the old building. Sadly, the building has now been demolished and I hope, with the help of my story, people will appreciate what people in my home town and other towns up and down the country had endure once they set foot through the door.

I am astonished and humbled at the attention my book has received. The Workhouse Waif forms part of a series of standalone books to be published by Quercus over the next year or so: The Workhouse Waif [which has been recently published], The Matchgirl, A Daughter’s Promise and The Cobbler’s Wife.