Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Town Travel - Las Vegas, USA


Town Travel - My favourite town by Barbara Gaskell-Denvil

OK, so I am cheating because this isn’t my favourite city in the world – not at all! My favourite city is probably London, but writing about London would take me a week and a few thousand pages.

So, here’s something a little different. Let me introduce Las Vegas.

The U.S. not only contains many different States, it almost seems to contain many different countries, and the most unique is those is Las Vegas where gambling is the principal obsession. But it contains a good deal more than that. Vegas sparkles with colour and charm, it breathes friendliness and dazzles with humour. The whole city laughs at itself, with the clash and clank of slot machines, the endless decorations and the crazy combination of terrible taste and blinding beauty.

The hotels rise into that clear blue sky, parading their hilariously gorgeous imitations, such as the Venation which surrounds itself with tiny canals, Italian style bridges, and small gondolas plying their trade. The New York hotel sits next to a huge model of the  Statue of Liberty, the Excalibur is built as a giant replica of a medieval castle complete with turrets and drawbridge, The Paris displays a model  Eiffel Tower alight with glitter and romance, the  others welcome everyone with the most stunning decorations models and music, and most beautiful of all, The Bellagio is fronted by a great shining lake which springs into amazing movement every half hour or so (the timing varies according to day and to season) when a sweep  of several hundred fountains rise, dancing with  a glorious rhythm  to whatever music is playing. 

Not only is gambling of all kinds legal, so is the smoking of recreational cannabis, and the perfume of that floats like an eager advertisement within every hotel, and every street.  This is not, however, the principal source of happiness. Nor are the winnings at the card tables or the slot machines. Happiness simply seems to abound and dances like the fountains into every sunlit corner. The weather is an abounding delight of dry and invigorating warmth and welcome. Food is cheap and abundant, and everyone is smiling as though their lives have reached a peak and no worries remain.

Worries, however, remain in the shadows. Poverty leads to blatant sexual invitation, half of which is entirely for entertainment, and half for desperate prostitution. As the lights glitter against a black night sky, pairs of young girls walk the streets, some in gorgeous almost non-existent costumes of glittering feathers and the tiniest of bikinis, offering you a paid photograph beside them. But there are other more desperate offers, especially from the Mexican refugees, both legal and illegal, who have nothing for themselves. Indeed, there are many homeless men wandering the streets, sleeping where they fall, or huddling hungry beside the roads. There are extremely grateful for any help given, but they need more than a few dollars for tomorrow’s food.

Surrounding the entire city and its outlying estates, is the vast and spectacular Mohave desert. Vast stretches of sand spread to the horizon in every direction, but that horizon zooms up into the crags and cliffs of mountains, valleys and incredible peaks. patterned by centuries of wind, rain and blazing heat, these hills are spectacular. The rocks change colour, creating pictures and ridges of contrasting design, and some are breath-taking. Death Valley and eventually the Grand Canyon bring the ultimate amazement, but the entire countryside, cacti and the sudden appearance of the beautiful wild animals brings as much delight as does a win on the slot machines.

Vegas was originally created with crime rather than delight in mind, and the Mafia was behind much of the original idea. Some of that remains, but very secretive and usually unseen.  What can be seen is the amusement, the imagination, the comfort and excellent service, the wide smiles and polite friendliness, and most of all the stunning beauty, both within and without. So much haunts the heart after departure and the inspiration of man remains in the mind just as much as the glorious miracles of nature.

AMAZON UK ======

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Other Town Travels to visit...

Leiden, the Netherlands with Pauline Barclay

Somerset, UK – with DizzyGreenfield

Hexham, UK with Annie Whitehead on 5th February

In the coming weeks and months you can visit these fabulous places... Click HERE to find out where you are going

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Town Travel - an exciting journey around the World


Hello and welcome to my exciting Town Travel feature where over the coming weeks and months we will packing an overnight case and heading to some fabulous places.

Featured on Town Travel are Chill Awardee Authors who talk about their favourite place or maybe not such a favourite, but somewhere special.

You don't need to miss any of the adventures simply click on the links below and away you go...

Leiden, the Netherlands with me
Barnstable, UK with Helen Hollick
Lectoure, France with Michael Reidy
Somerset, UK with Dizzy Greenfield
Las Vegas, USA with BarbaraGaskill-Denvil
Hexham, UK with Annie Whitehead 
Assos, Greece with Gilli Allan

Find out where Town Travels is taking you by clicking HERE

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Town Travel - Somerset, UK

Town Travel - My favourite town by Dizzy Greenfield

I’ve never been one to stay at home - always happy to get on a flight to anywhere – so I thought it would be difficult to choose where to write about. I started jotting down snippets about the far-away places that I’d visited and then I stopped. I realised that I’d never spent long enough in any to really know them.

So, my place isn’t in a town or a city, and not on the other side of the world – it’s in a tiny hamlet, hardly on the map. But this is the place I have loved for twenty four years, and forever.

The farmhouse nestles in front of a wood, protected by trees on three sides and sited on a remote country estate on the Somerset/Wiltshire border. I remember every inch of it, from each room of the house, to the fields and hills which lay beyond our tiny windows. From the warmth of the kitchen, my back against the Rayburn, I watched the season’s change.

Overlooked by the site of an ancient hill fort, way up where the ground rises above the farm, the oak tree had been a natural playground for our daughter. The sheep and lambs used its branches as a shade from the sun, and sheltered from storms and snow in its hollowed-out middle.

Although the woods weren’t an original plantation (new beech tree’s had been planted after the Second World War), it always felt as if the landscape had changed little.

Frequent power cuts and winter cold made it easy for me to imagine the history of this place: the people and animals that resided there long ago. The ground floor of the house had once housed cows, and I could picture the people who’d lived upstairs and benefitted from the warm of the beasts as central heating. The back house, that used to be the milking parlour, still smelled of the past -  the brick floor worn to a channel down the middle, where the spilled milk and water of generations had washed the red brick’s to nearly pink – reminding me of the days of labour that had gone on there. Gradually, through the house, I absorbed a strong sense of those who had gone before me. A continuity that felt vital.

My partner’s family had lived and worked this farm since 1947. Even as a naive twenty-one year old, new to the landscape, I soon realised - along with the growing love I felt for the place – that we were living in a house which future inhabitants would probably decide was quirky and outdated. People now prefer central heating, clean lines, a reliable stove, and no lurking ghosts from a former age - but my blacksmith partner and I liked things to be freer. The farm suited our personalities.  Maybe the ancestors welcomed this - they only twice threw a tin off the larder shelf to remind us that we weren’t the first there. But even though it had a history of several hundred years, circa something or other, the farm didn’t feel troubled.
We moved there in 1989, with just a handful of donated furniture. We had a somewhat unreliable Rayburn called Daphne for company, no heating, a small flock of sheep, and hope.

This was the place where we brought home and raised our child. Kittens and lambs arrived – plus two greyhounds that brought joy to our walks. Between them all, they filled our lives to bursting.
Shortly after the foot and mouth outbreak, though, we stopped farming. The decision was already out of our hands. We diversified, started a blacksmith’s forge and clung onto our dreams and tiny farm.  We did all these things. We gained wrinkles, a bit of wisdom, but mainly an overdraft.

Steady and unchanging, our beloved home housed us while we went through twenty-four years’ and three and a half months worth of events – there were celebrations, deaths, births, and  even an entirely new clan of people to get to know, when my birth family made contact with me.

 When we got the news that we could no longer secure a permanent lease, the blow was devastating. Reluctantly, we began to search for another forest dwelling.
Although we are now settled again, with two enthusiastic whippets rushing about our heels, our much¬-loved greyhounds are buried in the garden of the old farm, in unmarked graves that we are unable to visit. The girl that played in the hollow tree is grown up and living her own version of a country life, with sheep and forty-three hens.

Although we can never return, my daughter captured the memory of my favourite place in a drawing that sits above the fireplace in our new cottage. The trees show a winter’s day, their branches stark against a colourless sky. I look at the picture and am transported back again. The snow will be here soon.

Book: Strays and Relations, Dizzy Greenfield

Twitter:  @DizzyGreenfield

Other Town Travel to visit...

Leiden, the Netherlands with Pauline Barclay
Barnstable, UK with Helen Hollick
Lectoure, France with Michael Reidy

Next Town Travel is Wednesday with ... Barbara Gaskel- Denvill to Las Vegas

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Town Travel - Lectoure, France

Town Travel - Favourite Places by Michael Reidy

I never understood the fuss about a room of one’s own as I can write just about anywhere. Station platforms, airport terminals, inside, outside; but sitting in the sun in a French café with a suitable drink is hard to beat.

Asking for a favourite place is like asking which is your favourite child; so many places are loved equally. Having had the good fortune to see much of the United States and Europe only makes the task more difficult. It’s easy to wax eloquent about London’s history, Paris’s glamour or Barcelona’s eccentricity, and one’s hometown, no matter how unappealing to others, is still home.

However, to come to the point and choose, I’m going to plump for Lectoure, France.

Lectoure is in the department of the Gers in what was known as the Aquitaine. The region is also known as Midi-Pyrénées, and Nouvelle Aquitaine, Gascony and the local area La Lomagne. While Lectoure has few literary claims, D’Artagnan hailed from nearby Auch.

I came to know Lectoure about 25 years ago while on gîte holidays. Technically, with a population under 5,000, it’s a village, but Lectoure was once a city of 20,000 with its own massive cathedral, fine public buildings and stunning setting.

Lectoure is on the same latitude as Cannes and Nice so the summers are very hot. However, its proximity to the Pyrénées gives the area more rainfall. It’s possible to reach both the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts in under three hours, and in the winter, skiing is only two hours away.

Lectoure has a history reaching back to Roman times and some evidence remains. There are thermal springs (unusual on a hilltop), and the town has commanding views of the surrounding countryside and fortified walls. Essentially, there are four streets that run more or less parallel until they meet at opposite ends of the town. These are linked by streets and alleys of varying steepness.

At one end is the grand – though not enormous – former residence of the Ducs d’Armagnac, and at the other is a park with a grid pattern of chestnut trees under which old men play pétanque (boulles). There is a bandstand, a bar and views to the south across a vast, fertile plain to the Pyrénées.

I had been visiting Lectoure for about 10 years before I saw the Pyrénées, for in the summer a heat haze and the angle of the light make seeing them impossible except for very early in the morning. However, in the winter months, they are right there in front of you with a size and clarity that makes you wonder how they could possibly be invisible at other times of year.

In the mid-1990s, Lectoure looked like a village still in the 1950s. While there was a lively weekly market filled with wonderful local produce, there were many vacant shops and houses, and the roads were full of potholes. The market features local foie gras and other duck and goose products; delicious Lectoure melons that look like a honeydew on the outside and a cantaloupe on the inside; Agen plums, local and Pyrénéan cheeses, and garlic. The region is known for garlic and it is featured in  dishes that one could not imagine elsewhere. Garlic soup is one of them, and is delicious and warming on a chill autumn or winter’s day.

The market has rotisserie chickens and potatoes cooked in schmaltz, giant paellas, and churros that fill the street with wonderful smells.

Today, while Lectoure retains all its previous qualities, it has been the recipient of vast amounts of EU money which have repaved the roads, built attractive areas for parks and parking, invested in the thermal spa and raised the overall ambience of the village. It is now far busier in the summer and while the same local produce can be found in the market, there are now the fake Ray-Bans and carved African figures that mark the coming of chic in French holiday resorts.

Lectoure’s character, however, has not been spoiled and the post-tourist season sees a return to the close, friendly small-town feeling with many of the new restaurants and antique shops closed until spring.

For a writer, the appearance of new cafés and wine bars not only provides local colour but also a place for undisturbed writing with a good coffee or glass of Arton red, or Colombelle. The French still make good paper which is a joy for dinosaurs who like fountain pens. A local tabac has an excellent supply of stationery and I stock up on thick Clairefontaine bound notebooks to write in.
No one bothers a writer except to see if more wine is required.

Michael Reidy
The Rock Pool
Lost Lady
Undivulged Crimes (short stories) (winner of a Reader’s Award)
Entrusted in Confidence
On the Edge of Dreams and Nightmares (winner of a Premier Award)
The Countess Comes Home
Portland Place
The Camels of the Qur’an
Nantucket Summer

Other places to visit...

Leiden, the Netherlands with Pauline Barclay
Barnstable, UK with Helen Hollick

Next Town Travel is Wednesday with ... Dizzy Greefield, Somerset, UK

Monday, 13 January 2020

When Stars Will Shine - Help For Heroes

I am honoured to be featuring When Stars Will Shine. This is not any ordinary post, it is a post about many authors who have come together to create this wonderful collection of short stories to help raise money for Help for Heroes so every copy sold will go to this wonderful charity.

With true war tales that will break your heart, gritty Christmas crimes that will shake you to your core, and heart-warming tales of love lost and found, this anthology has something for everyone. And, with every penny made being sent to support our troops, you can rest assured that you’re helping our heroes, one page at a time.

From authors such as Louise Jensen, Graham Smith, Malcolm Hollingdrake, Lucy Cameron, Val Portelli, and Alex Kane, you are in for one heck of a ride!

When Stars Will Shine is the perfect gift for the bookworms in your life!

A Note from Emma Mitchell:

As the blurb tells us, When Stars Will Shine is a multi-genre collection of Christmas-themed short stories compiled to raise money for our armed forces and every penny made from the sales of both the digital and paperback copies will be donated to the charity.

Working closely with Kate Noble at Noble Owl Proofreading and Amanda Ni Odhrain from Let’s Get Booked, I’ve been able to pick the best of the submissions to bring you a thrilling book which is perfect for dipping into at lunchtime or snuggling up with on a cold winter’s night. I have been completely blown away by the support we’ve received from the writing and blogging community, especially the authors who submitted stories and Shell Baker from Baker’s Not So Secret Blog, who has organised the cover reveal and blog tour.

There isn’t a person in the country who hasn’t benefited from the sacrifices our troops, past and present, have made for us and they all deserve our thanks.

It has been an honour working on these stories, and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have.

Full contents:

Fredrick Snellgrove, Private 23208 by Rob Ashman
Four Seasons by Robert Scragg
The Close Encounter by Gordon Bickerstaff
Believe by Mark Brownless
What Can Possibly Go Wrong? by Lucy Cameron
Mountain Dew by Paul T. Campbell
The Art of War and Peace by John Carson
A Gift for Christmas by Kris Egleton
Free Time by Stewart Giles
Died of Wounds by Malcolm Hollingdrake

The Christmas Killer by Louise Jensen
The Village Hotel by Alex Kane
A Present of Presence by HR Kemp
The Invitation by Billy McLaughlin
Brothers Forever by Paul Moore
Girl in a Red Shirt by Owen Mullen
Pivotal Moments by Anna Franklin Osborne
Uncle Christmas by Val Portelli
Time for a Barbeque by Carmen Radtke

Christmas Present by Lexi Rees
Inside Out by KA Richardson
Penance by Jane Risdon
New Year’s Resolution by Robert Scragg
Family Time by Graham Smith

When Stars Will Shine is available in digital and paperback formats.

For more information, please contact Emma Mitchell:

Emma Mitchell
Freelance Editor

Friday, 10 January 2020

Town Travel - Barnstable, UK

Town Travel - My favourite town by Helen Hollick

Until 2013 I would have said that York was my favourite town, because it has quaint alleyways and is steeped in history (it has some very interesting ghosts as well – if ever you go there, do join in one of the York Ghost Walks!)

However, when I moved to North Devon I fell in love with several of our towns. Exeter is our County Capitol, but it is my local South Molton I prefer, and above that, North Devon’s biggest town – Barnstaple.
(For Americans – say it Barnst’ple not Barn Stayple.)

 Situated on the River Taw, a few miles upriver from the coast, Barnstaple is a quaint old town, mostly Georgian, but with the remains of a Norman Motte and Bailey castle. Some of the alleyways (‘drangs’ and ‘opes’ as they are called in Devon) are narrow and cobbled, with a distinct air of the past about them. Until the river silted up, Barnstaple was a busy trade port, with many a tall ship sailing upriver with goods from the American Colonies, France and Spain. Thanks to exporting wool, by the 14th century it was the third richest town in Devon behind Exeter and Plymouth.

Our eighteenth century farmhouse, situated quite high on a ridge above Umberleigh, overlooks a section of the Taw – our own little piece of the  beautiful Taw Valley.

eighteenth century Barnstaple

Eighteenth century view of Barnstaple (right) and Pilton (left), divided by the small River Yeo, flowing into the broad River Taw (foreground). Right: St Peter's Church, Barnstaple, with spire; Barnstaple Long Bridge (un-widened) over River Taw. Left: St Mary's Church, Pilton; Pilton Bridge over the River Yeo. 18th century (?) oil painting now in the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon. The original oil painting is now in Barnstaple Museum.

Queen Anne's Square 
attribution: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Barnstaple (Devon, UK), Queen Anne's Walk -- 2013 -- 0994” / CC BY-SA 4.0
The name ‘Barnstaple’ comes from 10th century Anglo Saxon and is thought to mean
‘battle-axe’ (bearde) and pillar (stapol) a term to mark a religious or meeting place. Shakespeare mentions it as ‘Barum’, a Latin contraction of Barnastapolitum, and in Victorian times, Barum was mentioned in several novels.

Officially, Barnstaple dates back to a circa 917  Saxon settlement, but I am convinced that the Romans were in the area. It doesn’t make sense that the Romans would not ensure they had adequate defences along the River Taw within a few miles of the estuary and the Bristol Channel – especially as the Taw rises down in South Devon on Dartmoor. Would Rome really leave almost all North Devon undefended? There has been no Roman foundations or artefacts found but most of present day Barnstaple is early Georgian – who knows what is underneath! Also if you are a believer in the Akashic Records (spiritual research) then yes – the Romans were there!

Barnstaple might have been attacked by Vikings circa 893, and it had its own mint well before 1066. King Harold II (Harold Godwineson) had a connection with North Devon (and therefore probably Barnstaple) through his mother, Gytha, who held land here  in her own right. In fact my daughter was married at Northcote Manor which was, originally, a monastery built on land given to the monks by Lady Gytha.

It is also thought that Harold’s sons fought a battle with the Normans in a rebellion attempt in 1067 or ’68 at the confluence of the rivers Taw and Torridge, about seven miles downriver of Barnstaple. (Alas, the English lost.)

Passing through several notable families, (Geoffrey de Montbray, who is recorded as its holder in Domesday Book and the de Braose family among others, ending up in the ownership of Margaret Beaufort (died 1509), mother of Henry VII.

In 1588 five ships from Barnstaple joined the fleet sent to fight the Spanish Armada. Although the Taw had started to silt up by the mid-1600s, so that the larger ships could no longer sail upriver, trade importance had shifted from wool and Virginia tobacco to lace, glove making, sail-cloth, fishing-nets, tanneries, shipbuilding and pottery.

Pannier Market
Barnstaple Pannier Market 1907 - apart from the clothes very little has changed!

Today, it is still very much a thriving, rural market town with a  ‘farmers’ market’ on Tuesdays and Fridays. The High Street carries some of the ‘big’ stores (Marks & Spencer, for instance,) but also has what I call ‘old fashioned’ shops – which I enjoy  browsing.

Barnstaple Bridge 
In Ripples In The Sand, Jesamiah would have moored his boat alongside this bridge (attribution: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Barnstaple (Devon, UK), Long Bridge -- 2013 -- 3” / CC BY-SA 4.0

I have several scenes set in Barnstaple in the fourth Sea Witch Voyage, Ripples In The Sand, where my ex-pirate, Jesamiah Acorne, takes a few men of his crew up-river to Barnstaple in order to break some men out of gaol.

River Taw 
The River Taw at Umberleigh, North Devon
Attribution: Forester2009
I love walking by the river Taw at Queen Anne’s Square, looking towards the old Barnstaple Bridge and seeing, in my mind’s eye that scene where Jesamiah steals ashore in the dead of night and sends his second-in-command, Claude de la Rue, off to create a diversion of blowing up the doors to a bank, while he himself gets ready to blow a hole in the gaol wall. Of course, they all make a clean getaway!

© Helen Hollick
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Other places to visit...

Leiden, the Netherlands with Pauline Barclay

Next Town Travel is Wednesday with ... Michael Reidy in Lectoure, France

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Town Travel - Leiden, the Netherlands

What better way to start a new year than to go globe-trotting!  This month I am starting a new and, I hope, exciting new feature on my Blog: Town Travel.

Throughout the coming weeks, award winning authors will be talking about their favourite town and what makes it special for them. It could be any were in the world and even some of the places will surprise you. I say this, as I admit to taking a peek at a few posts ahead of the launch. Oh yes we are in for some wonderful treats. So dust of your laptop passport and let’s go on a special journey and please come back on a regular basis to see which part of the world we are visiting.

I am kick starting our globe-trotting journey with a trip to Leiden in the Netherlands. Leiden is in the Dutch province of South Holland and lies between Amsterdam and The Hague (Den Haag) We lived and worked there for a number of years; the office we worked in is just outside the Oude Singel and our home overlooked one of the many canals.

Leiden is a city with a rich cultural heritage, not only in science, but also in the arts. One of the world's most famous painters, Rembrandt, was born and educated in Leiden. Other famous Leiden painters include Lucas van Leyden, Jan van Goyen and Jan Steen.

Leiden is also known for its centuries-old architecture and for Leiden University, the country’s oldest, dating from 1575. The university houses the Hortus botanicus Leiden Botanical Garden, founded in 1590, where the tulip was introduced to Western Europe.

Museums are a plenty in Leiden where you can soak up culture and history…
The National Museum of Antiquities is housed in an old monumental building and ‘Begijnhof’. It is the Dutch centre for archaeology. Naturalis Biodiversity Centre has a large natural history collection of over 37 million objects. The National Museum of Ethnology is housed in the monumental, former academic hospital. It owns more than 240,000 objects and 500,000 audio-visual sources from around the world. Stedelijk Molenmuseum De Valk, a mill from 1743. The museum features the only preserved mill house in the Netherlands, from 1900. Hortus Botanicus Leiden, of the Leiden University is the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands, from 1590. Museum De Lakenhal is the municipality museum of Leiden and is housed in Leiden’s old cloth hall. Rijksmuseum Boerhaave is the Netherlands’ treasure chamber of science and medicine. You can find out all abut these museums and more by visiting this web site - The Best Museums in Leiden.

Like many Dutch villages, towns and cities, windmills are part of the landscape. Both of these windmills were on our daily travels to and from work.

During the middle ages, Leiden had eight city gates, today only two survive, Morspoort and Zijlpoort. The photo is of Morspoort, we cycled through this magnificent arch each day on our way to work – everyone cycles in Holland, well almost everyone!

Leiden has a wonderful selection of restaurant serving local and international dishes. It is a wonderful place to eat out in. As Leiden has so many canals, during the summer months many of the restaurants organise flatbed barges to be moored up to the front of their building and throughout the long warm days of summer you can sit out to eat and drink. We spent many hours sitting on these summer day barges, with friends, enjoying al fresco dinning.

Visiting / living in Holland means you cannot miss the magnificent bulb fields. The colours and fragrances from acres of brightly coloured flowers is a sight not to be missed. During our years there we cycled and rollerblading round the many of these wonderful sights and never ceased to be in awe. And a visit in March / May to the famous, Keukenhof Gardens is an absolute must.  You can find out more these fabulous garden by clicking on the Keukenhof Gardens.

One event I must include and that is Sinterklaas (Saint Nicolass) on December 5th. Dutch children put out their shoes by the fireplace so that Sinterklaas and his helpers, Zwarte Piet, deliver presents. The tradition is strictly kept in the Netherlands with parades in towns and cities. The office we worked in also celebrated Sintaklaas and each year a member of staff dressed up as Sinterklaas and other volunteers played the part of Zwarte Piet. One year I was a Zwarte Piet! Special makeup is plastered on your face, smink, and with traditional outfits we walked around the office delivering sweet to the rest of our colleagues. The picture is of me as Zwarte Piet. I did not recognised myself in the mirror and OH had no idea it was me. The makeup was amazing and took me forever to remove it!

I hope you enjoyed your visit to Leiden. It is a wonderful city and we loved our time living there. Please come back as there are many more fabulous places to visit…

Next Town Travel  take us to Barnstable, UK with Helen Hollick