‘Taking Steps’ on Enjoy Radio

Would you like to hear my poem ‘Taking Steps’ read by a professional? It’s featured on this episode of Lesley Atherton’s ‘Words and Music’ show on Enjoy Radio. The show’s theme is ‘Bad Man’ and she’s chosen some cracking words and music. She reads my contribution from 1:45:20 and it’s just a minute long. Enjoy!



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June 2021 book blog

‘Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang’ is a Kate Wilhelm book that I’ve wanted to read for decades. It was one of the books that I bought with my December gift vouchers and I wasn’t disappointed. It looks at the survival of a family after a creeping apocalypse has destroyed civilization. The family gathers their considerable resources together and retreats to a remote homestead where they make their plans and hope that future generations will hold to the dream.

And then I gave in that itch that ‘The Vampire Tapestry’ had planted in my brain. The protagonist of that book is called Weyland, and the name had reminded me of the tales of Weyland / Wayland Smith, and the first time I encountered the name, back in the 80s. So, I dug out Julian May’s ‘Saga of the Pliocene Exiles’ which I’ve not read for at least fifteen years. When the saga was first published, a friend bought me the second book. Which, of course, meant that I had to buy the first book, and subsequently the third and fourth as they were published. I’ve read them many times, and certain scenes are firmly embedded in my brain. They also take me right back to the kitchen of the student flat that I shared with some very close friends. We were all reading that saga, along with the Thomas Covenant books and the Belgariad. Anyway, the books deserved another read and they got it. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the saga, the premise is that a significant percentage of the human race has developed psychic powers that were strong enough to attract the attention of other species in the galaxy; and Earth and its colonies are now part of a pan species spiritual and mental unity. As with any paradise, there are misfits, and luckily for them a curious scientist has succeeded in opening a one way gate into the Pliocene, six million years in the past. A trickle of discontented citizens of Earth, a few dozen a week, pass through the portal into a world that has already been colonised by a dimorphic race of alien beings, the Tanu and the Firvulag. And the fun begins.
As I’d bought half a dozen brand new books in June, I’ve sent the set to a charity shop. I hope they don’t get pulped, there’s a couple more reads left in them at least.

I rarely buy books from supermarkets, but I’d noticed ‘Later’ by Stephen King on the shelf at Sainsburys and couldn’t resist. It’s one of his ‘Hard Case Crime’ stories, and a stable mate for ‘Joyland’ and ‘The Colorado Kid’. I wasn’t expecting a reunion with the entity formerly known as Pennywise. I loved this book, and pretty much devoured it in two sittings. It’s going back on the shelf for a future re-read.

Speaking of shelves, they need purging, but I don’t like to say goodbye to a book unless I’ve checked it first. ‘Song of Kali’ by Dan Simmons has been waiting for a read for several years, I bought it secondhand but hadn’t got round to reading it. It’s well written, but not quite what I’m looking for. I could see a certain scene looming and realised that I didn’t want to read it, so I abandoned the book part way through. I don’t often do that, although maybe I should. So many books, so little time …

So, in summary, June was a bit of a nostalgia fest. The Wilhelm took me back to the sf of the seventies, when I first started reading the genre. The May took me back to the eighties, and the King, as always, dragged me into his world and reminded me that it’s high time I re-read IT. Maybe sometime this year ?

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Some poetry …

My poem ‘Taking Steps’ was awarded 2nd place for the Pomfret Cup section of Lancashire Authors Association 2021 competition.

My poems ‘Surety’ and ‘Time for a Cuppa’ were commended in the Batty Cup section of the Lancashire Authors Association 2021 competition.

Taking Steps

A thousand and three up to the tree
That blankets the pavement with gold
A hundred and two to the house with a view
Of your yard, or so I’ve been told

Two thousand more takes me to the door
Of the pub where you tell all your lies
A dozen or less to the bar where you spar
With the fools who believe you are wise

It’s less than two miles to the root of your smiles
A distance I’ll cover with ease
I’ll watch and I’ll wait by the rusty old gate
And I’ll grin when I see your smile freeze.

Time for a Cuppa

Fascination. A silver plated spout with lines
Engraved forever in my mind
A pale drop lingers then falls to the
Floral cup. A splash, a quiver, then milky stillness.
‘Tea’s ready, father.’

Anxiety. A novelty pot, caution orange
Cheap and uncheerful, leaks and splashes
Hot cheap brew on yellow formica
Chipped mugs await
‘Three sugars, luv.’

Friendship. Five mugs crowd together
Sharing space in happy clutter
Screaming steam’s a promise now
Of well earned rest
‘Is that for me?’

Patience. A trembling saucer
With cup awash with tea
Too bitter, harsh and dark
From that sweet child
‘You clever girl!’

Happiness. A favourite mug
Brew just the right shade
Every day and night
To be known so well
‘Thank you love.’

Surety

As sure as the sky is blue
She says
On a midnight plain with velvet skies
As sure as the sea is green
He says
As grey waves pound the shore
As sure as the silver moon
They say
As a blood red crescent sets
As sure as my love for you
I say
As I turn and walk away



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The Young Man and the Sea and The William Baron Cup

I suppose it’s quite unusual to get to the grand old age of 57 without winning a cup, but I’m pleased to say that I’ve finally broken my duck. My flash fiction ‘The Young Man and the Sea’ was awarded first place in the flash fiction section of the Lancashire Authors Association annual competition.

I wrote the story several years ago, during a writing exercise at a Chorley Writers meeting, and it’s always been a favourite of mine.

Here it is.

The Young Man and The Sea

He is back in the town where the sea curls round on three sides; where it draws away and darts back in, twice a day. The waves nibble at the cliffs, and throw back pebbles and sand. The tide takes away dead gulls and rats, and leaves behind shells, seaweed, and sun bleached driftwood.
It’s been seven years since his last visit. He’d tried to forget, but today, he is back. He is kneeling on the beach and stroking polished gems of green sea glass. He is remembering the wine bottle, and the storm, and he is remembering the girl.

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May 2021 book blog

I tried out a new author in the first week in May, I’d been promised sf, but I don’t think it was. Not my thing, but it was well presented and I’m sure other people would like it, so I won’t comment further.
So I picked up a book from my December pile, this was a gift from my husband. ‘The City in the Middle of the Night’ is the first book I’ve read by Charlie Jane Anders. I really liked it, proper science fiction, interesting characters, intriguing world building and an engrossing story line. It set the tone for a great May reading list, and I moved on to Widowland, by C.J.Carey. This had been sent to me for an honest review, which you can find in my previous blog post. I’d say that it falls more into the ‘thriller’ category than sf, but I did enjoy it.
Now and again I’ll read a YA novel, because why not. ‘Sweet Erin’ by Sian Turner is one that I’d definitely recommend for a teenager. Two girls are connected by a mysterious app, and they develop a friendship that helps them through their adolescent troubles. An enjoyable read, but it put me in the mood for something a bit meatier. The next book on the December pile was another Charlie Jane Anders novel, ‘All the Birds in the Sky.’ I read it in two days, which pretty much speaks for how much I enjoyed it. Magic and advanced technology collide in an intriguing way that suggests that they are separated only by differences in approach and intent. Definitely recommended.
I like to re-read books, there’s a pleasure in revisiting old friends. When I was in my teens and twenties I re-read a lot, especially in my twenties when I didn’t have easy access to a fiction library and was dependent on my relatively small collection of books. Things are different now, and I have a lot of books. Too many to re-read, to be honest, but as I don’t know which ones I’ll want to re-read, it’s hard to cull them. Despite the high pile of new books that I have to look forward to, I was drawn to the Stephen King shelf, and I picked up ‘Revival’. It came out in 2014, and my copy was a birthday gift from my parents. I know I read it, probably in early 2015, but I realised that I couldn’t remember a single thing about it. So, pretty much, I was holding in my hands an unread King novel. Fantastic! Having a rubbish memory has its rewards. ‘Revival’ isn’t the best King novel that I’ve ever read, but he’s the master, and I read it in three days and didn’t begrudge a minute of it. Something about the villain’s charismatic power over others led me to revisit ‘The Vampire Tapestry’ by Suzy McKee Charnas. Her vampire, Weyland, is a lone figure whose vital emotional isolation from his prey is threatened by a series of interactions with humans whose lives intersect with his. It is one of the greatest vampire novels I’ve ever read and I’m glad that I took this chance to read it again.
May’s reading experience was a pretty good one. Two re-reads, one new author that I’ll definitely seek out again, a couple of stand alone novels that have certainly given me something to think about in my own writing, and a ‘dud’ that reminded me that not everyone likes the same thing, but every writer needs to write their own truth.
What will June bring?

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Widowland by C.J.Carey – a review by Jeanette Greaves

Image of the front cover of the book

Widowland is a alternate history thriller set in a dreary 1950s South East England. The story unfolds in dull monochrome, the only splashes of colour come from red Nazi flags, yellow flowers of resistance, and a vintage blue dress that makes its appearance at the end of the book.
The baseline for this alternate history is that the UK caved in to Germany in 1940, signing a treaty that gave the fascists complete control of the country. A Stasi style system of mutual surveillance has led to a society without trust. The Imperial state controls the media and the message, and has teams of natives literally rewriting history.
One of the pet projects of the regime has been the implementation of a caste system for women, based on looks, fertility, intelligence and obedience. Our heroine, Rose, has been placed in the highest rank, the Gelis, with access to better nutrition and housing than the lower ranks. Rose has a job … rewriting beloved and popular novels to censor anything that presents intelligence, defiance or rebellion in girls and women as a good thing. She’s been given the job because she’s trusted, but then again, she’s being exposed to a lot of interesting characters and ideas. How can you meet Jo March, Jane Eyre and Dorothea Brooke and escape unchanged?
In contrast. the very lowest rank is the Friedas, unmarried childless women who are past childbearing age. They have been stripped of their homes and possessions and forced to live in slum housing on the edges of towns. These areas are the Widowlands of the title. And they’re breeding grounds for insurrection.
The story focuses mostly on Rose’s socialite life in London, I would have liked to see a lot more about the older women in the Widowlands, but their world is left mostly to our imagination. This is perhaps a lost opportunity. Widowland borrows heavily from The Handmaid’s Tale regarding the caste system, even going as far as to use popular women’s names to label the castes, but Atwood told the story from the point of view of the downtrodden, and meted out the background in tiny doses. Widowland is drawn with thicker lines, and there is plenty of exposition to let us know exactly what our heroine is dealing with.
Widowland is an alternate history thriller that speaks as much to 2020s Britain as it does to the 1950s. It’s a great read, and recommended to fans of the thriller genre.

Thank you to Quercus Books for the review copy.

ON SALE: 10th June 2021

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April 2021 book blog

Another book blog. These aren’t reviews, as such, more of a log of why I chose to read the book, and how it made me feel.

I kicked off the month with Familiar Spirit by Lisa Tuttle. I’ve been a fan since the 1980s, when I found her work in The Womens Press SF books, and then found what I thought was her first novel, Gabriel. Then the internet came, and I found out very recently that her first novel was, in fact, Familiar Spirit, a story of possession set in Austin, Texas. Of course, I had to read it. It’s very much a 1980s story of demonic possession, with lots of sex, gore and a dark, lonely house. I enjoyed it a lot, and wish that I’d first read it thirty or forty years ago, I’m sure I would have re-read it as often as I read ‘Gabriel’
Then, from horror to contemporary fiction, and from Austin to Southport, just down the road from me. I first met Carys Bray when she was a special guest at a spoken word event that I used to go to in Preston. She read a short story from her first, prize winning, collection, and I was struck with envy by the power of her story telling. I made a stab at disliking her, but it’s frankly impossible, she’s far too nice, and I’ve bought a copy of every book she’s written since. Sometimes two copies, to spread the word. ‘When The Lights Go Out’ is the story of a marriage that is changing as the world changes, It’s a great story, well told. This book was a gift from my husband, and yes, he did check with me before buying it, in case I already had it.
‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St John Mandel was another December gift from my husband. The book starts with a global pandemic that wipes out most of the human population. Cheers mate, great choice. It follows the paths of a group of people who were connected to an actor who died (of non-plague causes) on the first night that the plague hit the US. There are no supernatural or horror elements, but it reminds me a little of The Walking Dead, in that it has groups of people trying to keep civilisation and culture alive in a dying world.
Now, the chapbooks, two from Claire Dean, another local author, and six from Nicholas Royle’s Nightjar series.
The Claire Dean chapbooks are under the Curious Moss imprint, they’re handmade and gorgeous and I bought them because I love Claire’s fables. I read ‘Old Snow’ and ‘DiscountWonderStore’ in one sitting, and then put them aside to read again. They are modern fairy tales, and absolute gems.
I’ve been buying Nicholas Royle’s Nightjar Press chapbooks for years now, sometimes they introduce me to a new author, sometimes they provide a little treat from an existing favourite, and sometimes they’re just an exotic treat from a literary world that I rarely venture into. ‘Like A Fever’ by Tim Etchells is very much in the latter category. It’s a stylistic piece that hints at an underlying story. It made my brain tingle a bit. I moved straight on to ‘House Calls’ by Vlatka Horvat. This was another stylistic piece that at the same time managed to be a rather creepy horror story. I loved it. I’ve really let those chapbooks build up over the last few months, and the next one on my list was ‘Shannon’ by Angela Goodman. I really enjoyed the way that the first paragraph established a strong sense of the time period in which it was set. I’ve been treating this pile of chapbooks as an anthology, and the next story was ‘Signal’ by Michael Walters, a creepy tale with hints of the supernatural. The main character was a very sympathetic one, making for a memorable story. From the cityscape of ‘Signal’ I moved to the bleak hillside of ‘On Blackfell’ by Tom Heaton, an ill prepared hike in winter sets the scene for an exploration of family relationships. The last chapbook for April (I still have one left for May) was ‘Cocky Watchman’ by Ailsa Cox. I’m hoping for more from this writer, I really enjoyed the short story, which explored themes of alienation, exclusion and long buried crimes.
And after reading six stories from previously unknown authors, I reached for an anthology bought with my December book tokens. ‘The Inheritence’ is a bit of an odd anthology. It contains stories by Megan Lindholm and Robin Hobb. Now, they’re the same person, but the introduction makes it clear that they are not the same author. I’m a fan of both of them though, and was so, even before I knew that they are the same person. I had a lot of fun reading this anthology, and for the sake of Robin Hobb fans who haven’t yet read the whole of the Realm of the Elderlings, it’s OK, there are no spoilers.
I had every intention of moving on to another new book, but I was tidying my shelves (hahaha) when my copy of Graham Chapman’s ‘A Liar’s Autobiography, vol VI’ stared me in the face. This book was a gift from a close friend when I was in my late teens, and I probably read it a couple of times, then it disappeared into a box somewhere. I spent two or three decades wondering where on earth it had got to, then it suddenly turned up. It’s definitely my original copy, it bears signs of being dropped in the bath, for one thing, and the edition is the right one. Anyway, it was very much the worse for wear, and loathe as I am to destroy a book, this one was ready for the recycling bin. I couldn’t do it though, not before one last ‘pity read’. It’s entertaining, informative about a lifestyle that now seems disturbingly hedonistic and outdated, but it still holds touches of pure humanity and love. It’s a story of its time, but that time, hopefully, is passing. By the time I’d got to the last page, the middle had fallen out. I hope its pulp finds a noble purpose in its next reincarnation.

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March 2021 book blog

Ah yes, Rotherweird. I spent half of March reading Lost Acre. I admit it, I struggled. I’ve been wondering what went wrong, for me, with the Rotherweird trilogy, because it all started off so promisingly. Don’t get me wrong, it’s staying on the shelves because I want to re-read it again in a few years to see if it’s an easier read when I don’t wait a year or two between book 1 and book 2. I love the concept of Rotherweird, as a town. It’s got Gormanghast written all over it, and I bloody well love Gormanghast. I love the idea of secret places where those in the know can move between dimensions. I love the idea of the mixing place, and of the near immortal mixed. The villain and his plots are genuinely horrifying, and the idea of taking over a life by shapeshifting is great. There are lots and lots of intriguing characters. And I think that was my problem, the ‘lots and lots’. There were just too many irons in the fire and too many fires, and I really shouldn’t have left that gap between Book 1 and Book 2, because I lost the momentum and my grasp of the story. I’ll try again in a few years, because I do think it’s worth another go.

So, on to one of my book token impulse buys, ‘We Have Always Lived In The Castle’ by Shirley Jackson. I read it in 24 hours, and finished it with a feeling of elation at how great the story was, and mounting fury that NOBODY has ever told me to read it. Nobody. You utter bastards. There needs to be a foundation somewhere that gives copies to everyone on their fifteenth birthday.

The rest of March’s reading was filled out a little by the urge to read the pile of magazines that had piled up over the months, so I was only reading Becky Chambers ‘Record Of A Spaceborn Few’ for a few minutes every night, and it took a while to hit that spot two thirds of the way through where I just could not put it down. If you’ve not yet read any of the Wayfarers series, and you like SF, then I respectfully suggest that you save some pennies or make an order at the library, and treat yourself. The books are all set loosely in the same time period, with a human diaspora scraping a living in a multi-species galactic culture that has only recently voted to admit us as members. If you like guns and battles it’s probably not for you, but if you’re interested in exploring ideas of what it means to be a person and how a fractured race with little to offer can survive in a largely indifferent galaxy, then Wayfarers is for you.

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February 2021 book blog

And so, on to February, when I finished Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ‘Echoes of the Fall’ trilogy by binge reading ‘The Hyena and The Hawk’. This series pushed all my buttons, strong female characters, children estranged from their parents, shape shifters, and a band of unlikely friends. Reading it was like eating a three tier box of my favourite chocolates. I suppose that ‘Shadows of the Apt’ is now on my 2021 Christmas list.

Moving from ‘Echoes of the Fall’ to a re-read of Joanna Russ might seem like an odd move, but it was February, it was lockdown, and I was missing friends and family. Tchaikovsky’s books were distracting, but Joanna Russ books are old friends, and if I can’t have a cuppa with a human friend, then at least I can curl up with couple of paperbacks that I bought when I was young … either from Grassroots in Manchester, or News From Nowhere in Liverpool, I can’t exactly remember, but I do remember the thrill of discovering the Women’s Press Science Fiction imprint. Both books were published by The Women’s Press in the mid 1980s, but weren’t new to me, I’d read them in previous editions from my local library. Reading them again was both comforting and disturbing, in that whilst it’s nice to remember my younger self reading the same books, nothing has really changed since they were written, and the fight goes on. I think ‘Picnic on Paradise’ is a brilliant short novel.

From the nineteen sixties to the twenty twenties, from Russ to Fahey, and there’s joy to be had in knowing that the torch is still burning. Fahey’s collection of body horror stories, ‘I Spit Myself Out’ addresses several of my own obsessions … twins, interfaces, and loss.

Looking back on February, I really did indulge myself, I didn’t try anything new, I had a wonderful time reading a great fantasy trilogy, two old friends, and a fantastic new collection of short stories from my anthology sister Tracy Fahey.

Then, right at the end of the month, I returned to Rotherweird …

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January 2021 book blog

Goodreads is a useful way of logging what I’ve been reading, but I thought I’d start a more personal reading blog here. I’ll start with January just gone, and aim to catch up with the rest of the year soon.

January is my favourite month of the year for reading. I have a December birthday, so by the end of December I usually have a fairly hefty pile of new books, and a nice armoury of book tokens to deal with any sequel emergencies. This year I started out with a fair number of sequels, some stand alone novels by new to me authors, a trilogy that I’m really looking forward to, a couple of collections of short stories, a nice haul of chapbooks, and a poetry collection. Where to start?

The book that ticked over from 2020 was Wyntertide, the second book in Andrew Caldecott’s Rotheweird trilogy. It had been on the shelves for at least a year, but it’s a complex tale with many characters, and I wanted to delay reading it until I had the third book ready to read. Christmas brought me Lost Acre, the third book, so I settled down with Wyntertide. As I thought, the complexity of the plot and the wide cast of characters made for slow going at first, but eventually I got back into the spirit of the story and was ready to plunge straight into Lost Acre and finish the trilogy.

But hang on. My lovely husband, knowing how much I’d enjoyed Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ‘Children of Time’ and ‘Children of Ruin’, had bought me a quite beautiful paperback by the same author. ‘The Tiger and The Wolf’ has a gorgeous cover that tempted me away from ‘Lost Acre’. It also has a first chapter that had me so rapt that I broke away only to order the second and third book in the series, spending some of my lovely book tokens. Luckily for me, most books arrive quite quickly these days, and I pretty much just got to the end of ‘The Tiger and The Wolf’, and plunged straight into the sequel, ‘The Bear and The Serpent.’ I’ve realised now that there’s an entire series that I should, perhaps, have read first, but the Echoes of the Fall series does stand alone perfectly well.

So, just three books in January, but to be fair I was spending quite a lot of time getting my own first book, (Fight for the Future), ready for publication. I was also dipping into Rosie Garland’s poetry collection ‘What Girls Do In The Dark’. I’d been reading it, on and off, since the start of November, and I’ve probably read each poem three or four times, and I’ve kept the book close at hand in case I need to dip into it again. The collection is life affirming and magical, and I love it to bits.

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