Friday Night Drinks with… Heather Martin

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Tonight I am delighted to be joined for Friday Night Drinks by an author whose authorised biography of Lee Child has just been published in paperback, so we are enjoying a big celebration tonight. Please welcome to the blog… Heather Martin.

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Heather, welcome to the Little Book Problem  virtual bar and thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Thank you for the invitation! Since we are celebrating the launch of The Reacher Guy in paperback, I thought I’d crack open something bubbly, but a rosé, because when not drinking coffee, black, my biographical subject Lee Child has a sneaking preference for pink drinks. If he’s eating a hamburger he’ll wash it down with strawberry milkshake.

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If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

I think I would whisk you off to Balthazar on Spring Street in downtown Manhattan. I lived just round the corner from there for a year while I was working on the biography, in a New York University complex on Bleecker Street known as Silver Towers. Weirdly and by complete coincidence, my apartment number was the same as Lee’s on the Upper West Side. It’s noisy at Balthazar, but irresistibly glamorous – full of beautiful people and gleaming with brass and mirrors. On our way out we might pick up a loaf from the bakery, or stop by the deli counter at Dean and DeLuca on Broadway. Except I fear it may be a casualty of COVID …

If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

I think immediately of my all-time literary hero the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who already inhabits my head, but I doubt I’d be able to lure him out of the library. So I’ll probably go for Pep Guardiola or Arsène Wenger: they’ve never heard of me, so they don’t realise how much we have in common, but I think we’d hit it off. And then Toni Morrison. I was supposed to meet her at a literary gala in New York, but sadly she was unwell on the night. The intensity of writing in Beloved rivals that of Nina Simone live at the Montreux Jazz Festival.  

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

In some ways it started a year ago, when The Reacher Guy was first published in hardback. But really it started five years before that, when I first met Lee Child over dinner at the old Union Square Café in New York. Or maybe even earlier, when I picked up my first Reacher book and couldn’t put it down. Or when I learned to speak Spanish in London last century, since it was when I read Reacher in Spanish that Lee and I first started talking seriously about his work. Origins are always mysterious: who knows where things begin? Right now I’m exploring some of the more literary angles of my subject, themes I couldn’t pursue in the original book. I’m not looking too far ahead.

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What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

Many proud moments, but I think I’ll go for the time Lee Child interviewed me for The Big Thrill, which is the monthly magazine of the International Thriller Writers organisation. That was pretty cool, and is all thanks to the lovely Kimberley Howe and editor Dawn Ius. The hardest thing has been signing books: I always worry I’ll spoil them. And overcoming the multiple disappointments of releasing my book during (virtual) lockdown.  

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, it’s just us talking after all!

I’m happy with what I’ve achieved. And I’m not sure I have an arena. But bearing in mind my answer to your last question, I suppose I still dream of doing just one big live event with Lee, so we can celebrate my story of his life in the same room, and so I can finally rise to the challenge of signing books for people in person! I’ve had so many heartwarming messages from readers: I’d love a chance to meet them. Otherwise my biggest personal ambition is to help my two musician sons buy a place they can convert into a rehearsal and performance space …

Two great things to aim for there, and not unrealistic! What do you have planned that you are really excited about?

I think many of us have got out of the habit of making plans. I’m looking forward to seeing my first short story in Everyday Kindness, an anthology edited by the amazing L. J. Ross in aid of Shelter – that’s coming out in November, and my story, inspired by an act of compassion within a local community, is called ‘Goodbye, Wendy’. And I’m excited about the first ever Lee Child Symposium at the University of East Anglia next spring and the official opening of his archive at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing. That should be pretty special. 

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Everyday Kindness is a charity anthology of short, fictional stories of kindness, edited by LJ Ross. These uplifting tales of hope and of small, everyday kindnesses are intended to support wider, positive mental health goals and foster wellbeing through the act of reading tales of goodwill inspired by others. Featuring authors across the spectrum of literature, some international bestsellers and award-winning writers amongst them, this is a unique collection of words.

All proceeds from the book will be donated to Shelter, a charity that helps millions of people a year struggling with bad housing or homelessness.

Authors include: LJ Ross, Adam Hamdy, Alex Smith, Alexander Gordon Smith, Alison Stockham, Anne O’Leary, Barbara Copperthwaite, JD Kirk, CL Taylor, Caroline Mitchell, Chris McDonald, CK McDonnell, Claire Sheehy, Clare Flynn, Darren O’Sullivan, David Leadbeater, Debbie Young, Deborah Carr, Emma Robinson, Graham Brack, Hannah Lynn, Heather Martin, Holly Martin, Ian Sainsbury, Imogen Clark, James Gilbert, Jane Corry, Jean Gill, JJ Marsh, Judith O’Reilly, Kelly Clayton, Kim Nash, Leah Mercer, Liz Fenwick, Louise Beech, Lousie Jensen, Louise Mumford, Malcolm Hollingdrake, Marcia Woolf, Mark Stay, Marcie Steele, Natasha Bache, Nick Jackson, Nick Quantrill, Nicky Black, Patricia Gibney, Rachel Sargeant, Rob Parker, Rob Scragg, SE Lynes, Shelley Day, Casey Kelleher, Sophie Hannah, Victoria Connelly, Victoria Cooke, Will Dean.

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

I always find favourites tricky, as I’ve been fortunate to experience many wonderful things. I’ll always have a soft spot for Aix-en-Provence in France, where I spent two seemingly blissful years as a very young child, and more than once I’ve dreamed of going to live in Sevilla, in Andalusia. I love Hawaii’s Waimea Bay, especially if I can stay again at the house on the point and watch pods of dolphins at play from my garden. But right now I’d love just to go home to Perth, and sit on Cottesloe Beach listening to the rainbow lorikeets as the sun sets over the Indian Ocean, and fall asleep to the sound of the waves, then maybe drive 250 miles north up the coast to Geraldton to visit the place where I was born. It could be a round trip, come to think of it: Oahu to West Australia via a stopover in New Zealand … 

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

As a young teenager I was a member of the West Australian Junior Ballet Company. But then I gave up ballet for music and spent a year in Paris taking lessons with two famous Latin American guitarists, the Brazilian Turibio Santos and the Uruguayan Óscar Cáceres. I had a guitar made for me by legendary Paris luthier Daniel Friederich. I still have it today – a true collectors’ item.

Wow, that sounds like a fascinating period of your life. Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

Right now my big recommendation is The Sound Mirror, by Heidi James, the exquisitely interwoven tale of the wounded Tamara and her two grandmothers, one a first-generation immigrant from India and the other of Italian descent. It’s a long time since I read a book that blew me away from the opening page, the opening sentence, even. This story is both instructive and deeply moving, accommodating not just one but three distinctive voices, each of equal authenticity. It’s a true tour de force and a reading experience of almost violent intensity. After that you’ll probably want to read her previous one, So the Doves, also published by Bluemoose Books, which is an equally gripping read and was featured as a Sunday Times Crime Book of the Month.

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Tamara is going to kill her mother but she isn’t the villain. Tamara just has to finish what began before her, and put an end to the damage encoded in her blood.

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Hey, the conversation has been so enjoyable, and I’ve been nibbling on these delicious canapés from the menu I had planned for my 2020 launch party at the Groucho Club, so I think a hangover is the least of my worries. 

Great news. After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

I think you’ve set the tone, so there will be books, and chat about them, and music. A bit of sunshine if I’m lucky. Maybe I’ll walk across London Fields to All Saints in Haggerston to hear my son play the organ on Sunday morning; perhaps the younger one will cook lunch or dinner. Is Endeavour still showing on television? 

Haether, I have had an absolute blast, you are a fascinating drinking companion and I only wish we could have done this for real. Thank you so much for joining me tonight.

Heather’s biography of Lee Child, The Reacher Guy, is out now in all formats, including paperback, and you can buy a copy here.

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Lee Child is the enigmatic powerhouse behind the bestselling Jack Reacher novels. With millions of devoted fans across the globe, and over a hundred million copies of his books sold in more than forty languages, he is that rarity, a writer who is lauded by critics and revered by readers. And yet curiously little has been written about the man himself.

The Reacher Guy is a compelling and authoritative portrait of the artist as a young man, refracted through the life of his fictional avatar, Jack Reacher. Through parallels drawn between Child and his literary creation, it tells the story of how a boy from Birmingham with a ferocious appetite for reading grew up to become a high-flying TV executive, before coming full circle and establishing himself as the strongest brand in publishing.

Heather Martin explores Child’s lifelong fascination with America, and shows how the Reacher novels fed and fuelled this obsession, shedding light on the opaque process of publishing a novel along the way. Drawing on her conversations and correspondence with Child over a number of years, as well as interviews with his friends, teachers and colleagues, she forensically pieces together his life, traversing back through the generations to Northern Ireland and County Durham, and following the trajectory of his extraordinary career via New York and Hollywood until the climactic moment when, in 2020, having written a continuous series of twenty-four books, he finally breaks free of his fictional creation.

Heather Martin is a lapsed guitarist, a linguist and literary critic, and the authorised biographer of legendary thriller writer Lee Child. She writes regularly for CrimeReads and her short story ‘Goodbye, Wendy’ will appear in Everyday Kindness edited by L. J. Ross and released on November 13 by Dark Skies Publishing. She lives in London and tweets @drheathermartin. 

The Reacher Guy was published in 2020 by Little, Brown UK and Pegasus Books (US) to critical acclaim from The Times, The Telegraph, The Irish Times and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is due out in paperback on October 21. Kenilworth Books have pristine first-edition hardbacks with double-signed bespoke book prints; Blackwell Books have the paperback with double-signed bookplates. Ian Rankin writes: ‘Here is a biography as gripping as one of Lee Child’s own bestsellers. Heather Martin digs deep to uncover nugget after nugget. Trust me, this is gold.’ 

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Friday Night Drinks with… Sverrir Sigurdsson

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Tonight, my guest for Friday Night Drinks is currently on a trip to his home country of Iceland. However, as these drinks are virtual, and thanks to the wonders of technology, he is still able to join me for our chat. Welcome to the blog, author… Sverrir Sigurdsson.

authorsSverrir Sigurdsson and his wife and coauthor, Veronica Li, in front of an Icelandic volcano

Sverrir, thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

I’m drinking red wine. It’s good for the heart. They say one glass of red wine is worth an hour at the gym. So now I’m having my hour at the gym.

If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

I live in the Washington, DC area, but right now, I’m visiting Iceland. By the way, there’s no “night” out in the land of the midnight sun.

I’ll take you to a place called Perlan, which is on a hilltop in the capital, Reykjavik. This is a restaurant inside a glass dome that gives visitors a panoramic view of the city. Aside from being a tourist attraction, the site also serves a practical purpose. The glass dome sits on top of six hot water tanks. The geothermal water in these tanks is piped into homes for heating.

PerlanA trip to Iceland is high on my bucket list. If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

I’d like to invite Winston Churchill, so I can ask him how he decided to invade Iceland back in 1941. What went on in his head?  Although Icelanders eventually welcomed the occupiers as their saviors from the Germans, it was a shock to the nation when British warships arrived in Reykjavik harbor without warning. British soldiers poured out of them and took over the country.

The second person is Hedy Lamar. Her gorgeous looks aside, I want to discuss her inventions with her. I, too, love to concoct new gadgets, though nothing as noteworthy as hers. During World War II, she and a coworker in the film industry invented a remote-control system for torpedoes. It’s still an important part of what we today call WiFi.

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I’m now in Iceland to promote my book, Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir. The English edition was published in the U.S. in November 2020. The Icelandic edition, which I translated myself, will be out in the fall of this year. 

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The book is my memoir and starts with my memories of growing up in Iceland. They say Iceland was discovered twice, the first time by Norwegian Vikings who settled on the island in 874 A.D., and the second time by the Allies during the Second World War. As German troops pushed west, Britain, Canada, and the U.S. realized the strategic importance of Iceland, located right in the middle of the North Atlantic. They invaded the country to pre-empt the Germans from using it as a stepping stone to North America.

As the Second World War raged on at my doorstep, I became very aware of a larger world out there. With my Viking heritage goading me on, my heart was set on traveling the world from a young age. At nineteen, I left Iceland to study architecture in Finland, and from thereon I set out to conquer the world. I pursued an international career that took me to the Middle East, Africa, Asia, North and South Americas, and Europe (including Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union).

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

My proudest moment was holding a copy of my book in my hands. Since there wasn’t much else to do during the pandemic lockdown, I dedicated myself to finishing the book with my co-author and wife, Veronica. Advance copies arrived at our home in June 2020, and the quality of the layout and graphics was everything we’d hoped for. We were very happy to receive a prize from the Wishing Shelf Book Awards in January, 2021. 

The biggest challenge has been the pandemic. Our plan was to carry the advance copies to Iceland. A few days before our trip in July, 2020, Iceland closed its door to Americans. I had to put back in the closet the box of books I’d packed for the trip. The local public library canceled the book launch event it had scheduled for me. Instead of book-signing in person, I met readers online. My book tour went virtual.

But a crisis also creates opportunities. My adventures on the internet have yielded a number of book blogger friends, such as yourself, Julie. I’ve made friends with readers in places as far away as India and Australia. The literary world is truly borderless. 

That’s the great thing about books! What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, it’s just us talking after all!

I’d love to see my Viking Voyager rise to bestseller rank!  I believe it has appeal to both the old and the young. My story is a reminder of how far the human race has progressed in the twentieth century. From the ashes of the Second World War, the world’s nations went through a period of reconstruction and renaissance. The advancements we enjoy today are fruits of the hard work and resilience of that era. This should instil present and future generations with hope that they too can deal with their challenges. 

I also hope my book will inspire young people to travel, not just as a tourist, but to live and work for a spell in a foreign country. They’ll be surprised what kind of opportunities they’ll find. Most of all, they’ll be surprised to find out who they are and what they’re capable of. 

What have you planned that you are really excited about? 

I’ve traveled to 60 countries during my international career, but my favorite place is still Iceland. 

As I said, I’m there right now. Assuming the volcanic eruption is still ongoing and open to the public in the next weeks, I hope to hike over and watch molten lava spew out and flow down the valley. Eruptions are usually dangerous, but this kind is what Icelanders call a “tourist eruption.”  Instead of explosions, this flare-up is as safe as fireworks and as dramatic. Spectators have been able to walk up to the sizzling lava and cook hot dogs in it.

I’m also excited about my trip to south Iceland, where I spent summers working on a farm from age nine to fourteen. This is part of the volcano belt that gave Iceland its nickname, “land of fire and ice.”  Here, glaciers lie atop volcanoes gurgling and biding their time to erupt. My book cover shows the scenery of this area: a mountain that was once an island, a cliff with a doorway carved by the sea, and in the background the volcano that erupted in 2010 and shut down trans-Atlantic flights for a week. 

The Icelandic landscape is the wild and wonderful creations of violent volcanic activity. Each of the outcroppings mentioned above once sat on a fissure and was formed when fire met ice or seawater, causing the rapidly cooling lava to turn into a rock formation called “tuff” or palagonite. Iceland is full of such fantastic landscape, and despite the many times I toured the country, I haven’t seen them all.

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

The place I rave about (aside from Iceland) is the Chesapeake Bay in the U.S., about 120 miles from Washington, DC. This is the largest estuary in North America, where more than a hundred rivers and streams meet the tide of the Atlantic Ocean. The bay branches into hundreds of creeks. They’re like fingers gouging into the land and turning them into long and narrow strips, like chicken necks. On one of these necks sits my cottage, which I designed and built with my own two hands. This was my retirement project, a culmination of a lifetime of experience as an architect, builder, and carpenter. It’s a humble cottage designed to give people a comfortable place to enjoy the spectacular view of sky, water, and birdlife. I enjoy it so much I go there every weekend. 

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House on the Chesapeake Bay designed and built by Sverrir

High on my bucket list of places to visit is the Shetland Islands off the north coast of Great Britain. I’ve read about them in the sagas. About 1000 years ago, a Viking chief tended to his farm in Iceland during the summer, and in the fall, when his farm work was done, he and his men sailed to the Shetlands and on to Ireland to rape and plunder. They returned home as heroes. I’d love to see the archeological sites on the islands that show Viking dwellings and longboats, and meet the people who are my relatives. Genetically, Shetlanders and Icelanders have much in common.

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Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

Readers would be surprised that I didn’t become fluent in English until well into my twenties. I was well-versed in several Scandinavian languages—Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, and Finnish—and my German was passable. But I’d always viewed English as a scrappy, undisciplined language that jumbled bits and pieces from the Romance and Germanic schools, with neither the ardor of one nor the structure of the other. I didn’t take English seriously until my last years in Finland, when I realized English was the lingua franca of the twentieth century. To prepare for my travels around the world, I gave myself a crash course by consuming every Agatha Christie mystery. It worked!

Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?  

Since I’m in Iceland and can’t take my mind off it, I’d recommend Independent People by Halldór Laxness, the Icelandic Nobel Laureate for literature. Veronica says she never understood why I was so strange until she read the book. The main character, an Icelandic farmer, is so stubbornly self-sufficient that it’s comical. He’d rather let himself and his family starve than ask a neighboring farm for help. When he’s out in the frigid wilderness looking for a lost sheep, he pushes a boulder around until he warms up and catches a few hours of sleep. When he’s freezing again, he goes back to pushing the boulder. That about sums up the Icelandic character.

Laxness’s writing is concise, sharp witted, sometimes outright funny, and his characters are so vivid they remind me of people I know. His books have been translated into many languages.

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Bjartus is a sheep farmer determined to eke a living from a blighted patch of land. Nothing, not merciless weather, nor the First World War, nor his family will come between him and his goal of financial independence. Only Asta Solillja, the child he brings up as his daughter, can pierce his stubborn heart. As she grows up, keen to make her own way in the world, Bjartus’ obstinacy threatens to estrange them forever.

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Drink lots and lots of water! Stay hydrated. It works for me.

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

My cousin Agnar has organized a family reunion for me. It would be like old times. We were six boys who terrorized the neighborhood: my brother and I and my uncle’s four sons. We lived in the same apartment building, played hide and seek in our neighbors’ yards, and held stone-throwing contests, sometimes with disastrous results. It’s most satisfying to see we’re all grandfathers now and comfortably retired. Except for me and one of my cousins who lives in Norway, they’ve all returned home after a stint studying and working overseas. That seems to be the Icelandic pattern since the old Viking days. 

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Sverrir is second from right

Sverrir, thank you for joining me, this has been an entertaining and informative chat and has increased my desire to visit Iceland soon.

 Sverrir’s book, Viking Voyager won a prize at the Wishing Shelf Book Awards. You can buy a copy here.

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This vivacious personal story captures the heart and soul of modern Iceland. Born in Reykjavik on the eve of the Second World War, Sverrir Sigurdsson watched Allied troops invade his country and turn it into a bulwark against Hitler’s advance toward North America. The country’s post-war transformation from an obscure, dirt-poor nation to a prosperous one became every Icelander’s success. Spurred by this favorable wind, Sverrir answered the call of his Viking forefathers, setting off on a voyage that took him around the world. Join him on his roaring adventures!

From Rosie Amber’s review site: “Until we are once again able to travel as freely as we did before the advent of Covid 19, we have the joy of books like Viking Voyager to entertain and inform us.”

Sverrir Sigurdsson grew up in Iceland and graduated as an architect from Finland in 1966. He pursued an international career that took him to the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the U.S. His assignments focused on school construction and improving education in developing countries. He has worked for private companies, as well as UNESCO and the World Bank. He is now retired and lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and coauthor, Veronica.

You can connect with Sverrir via Facebook and Twitter.

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Day The World Came To Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim Defede; Narrated by Ray Porter #Audiobook

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When 38 jetliners bound for the United States were forced to land at Gander International Airport in Canada by the closing of U.S. airspace on September 11, the population of this small town on Newfoundland Island swelled from 10,300 to nearly 17,000. The citizens of Gander met the stranded passengers with an overwhelming display of friendship and goodwill.

As the passengers stepped from the airplanes, exhausted, hungry and distraught after being held on board for nearly 24 hours while security checked all of the baggage, they were greeted with a feast prepared by the townspeople. Local bus drivers who had been on strike came off the picket lines to transport the passengers to the various shelters set up in local schools and churches. Linens and toiletries were bought and donated. A middle school provided showers, as well as access to computers, email, and televisions, allowing the passengers to stay in touch with family and follow the news.

Over the course of those four days, many of the passengers developed friendships with Gander residents that they expect to last a lifetime. As a show of thanks, scholarship funds for the children of Gander have been formed and donations have been made to provide new computers for the schools. This book recounts the inspiring story of the residents of Gander, Canada, whose acts of kindness have touched the lives of thousands of people and been an example of humanity and goodwill.

Category 10 in the Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021 is ‘Read a book with a vehicle on the cover,’ so I chose this non-fiction book from my TBR pile, bearing the image of a plane. I have been meaning to read The Day The World Came To Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim Defede for a long while, and this provided the perfect opportunity, although I actually ended up listening to this as an audiobook.

No one who was alive and of sufficient maturity to understand what was happening on 9/11 will ever forget where they were when the planes struck the World Trade Centre. A day on which the evil that man was capable of wreaking on their fellow man was terribly evidenced to the eyes of the world. Well, this book displays the other side of that coin and demonstrates the love, generosity and selflessness that humans can lavish on one another at times of great need. Whilst the world reeled in the face of absolute, unbelievable horror, the airline passengers who found themselves stranded in Gander, Newfoundland on that terrible day saw the antithesis of this is the welcoming people of this tiny place.

I had never really thought about what happened to all the hundreds of planes that were in the air, bound for the USA, when the terrorist attacks caused the closing of US airspace until I came across this book but the story of what happened to those planes, or a small proportion of them anyway, is unbelievable and fascinating as laid out in the pages of this book. How the hundreds of stranded flights were handled by the air traffic controllers, then at the over-whelmed airports, then by the places they ended up, is all laid out here as shining examples of what can be achieved by good-hearted people rallying to the cause and performing amazingly under pressure. Everyone was united in the horror at what had been done in New York and determined to support people affected by showing them that goodness still existed in a world gone mad.

I have to tell you that I spent nearly the whole of this book on the verge of tears (not great when you are listening as you drive!), because all the stories are so moving. I have visited the WTC site and 9/11 museum since that awful day and seen the aftermath of the horror. It is something that will never leave me – and rightly so because it is only by remembering these things and understanding (as far as it is possible to understand such evil and madness) why they happened that we can take steps to ensure we personally act in a way that tries to ensure they don’t happen again. So, to read stories of the opposite side of the coin, that reassure you that good still exists in the world, that most people are basically decent and loving – well, it restores your faith in humanity. Given some of what is going on now and the rhetoric we see, we need reminding of this from time to time.

I really loved this book, it moved me in a way I wasn’t expecting and that doesn’t come often in non-fiction and I will definitely come back to it again when my soul needs a lift. It is strange to say that any book dealing with the events surrounding 9/11 can be uplifting, but it is definitely true of this book. I can’t recommend it enough if you are feeling jaded and need reminding that good people exist in the world.

The Day The World Came To Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland is available in paperback and audiobook formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Jim DeFede has been an award-winning journalist for sixteen years, first with the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and then with the Miami New Times. His work has appeared in TalkThe New Republic, and Newsday. He is currently a metro columnist for the Miami Herald.

Connect with Jim:

Facebook: Jim DeFede

Twitter: @DeFede

Instagram: @jim_defede

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Desert Island Books with… Diana Jackson

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I am delighted to be hosting a special extra edition of Desert Island Books this week. I normally like to leave a week between guests, just so I can pop over and have a tidy around, change the palm leaves, plump up the sand dunes, air out the driftwood shack, replenish the coconut supply… the usual type of thing. However, I’m squeezing in an extra castaway this month, as she had to postpone her shipwreck earlier in the Spring. So let’s maroon author, Diana Jackson, on the island now and see what she has taken with her.

Book One – The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

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Sauron, the Dark Lord, has gathered to him all the Rings of Power – the means by which he intends to rule Middle-earth. All he lacks in his plans for dominion is the One Ring – the ring that rules them all – which has fallen into the hands of the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins.

In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as the Ring is entrusted to his care. He must leave his home and make a perilous journey across the realms of Middle-earth to the Crack of Doom, deep inside the territories of the Dark Lord. There he must destroy the Ring forever and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.

I’ve only read this twice in my life. The first time was so memorable. My sister and I read it aloud to each other between Christmas and Easter one year, as teenagers three years apart. It was a time when we really bonded; a friendship which has lasted a lifetime.

Being a large tome; three books in one really, I don’t think I would tire of it.

Book Two – The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis

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C.S. Lewis’s dazzling allegory about heaven and hell – and the chasm fixed between them – is one of his most brilliantly imaginative tales, as he takes issue with the ideas in William Blake’s ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’.

In a dream, the narrator boards a bus on a drizzly afternoon and embarks on an incredible voyage through Heaven and Hell. He meets a host of supernatural beings far removed from his expectations, from the disgruntled, ghostly inhabitants of Hell to the angels and souls who dwell on the plains of Heaven.

This powerful, exquisitely written fantasy is one of C.S. Lewis’s most enduring works of fiction and a profound meditation on good and evil.

This is nothing to do with divorce but is an allegorical account of heaven and hell, along the lines of Pilgrim’s Progress, but easier to read. It is a meditation that challenges the way we look at life. I love books with messages in picture language, pilgrims or journeys. I know that this this would inspire me to write if I was set on a desert island, because each time I’ve read it a different ‘truth’ leaps out at me.

Book Three – Skallagrigg by William Horwood

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Skallagrigg unites Arthur, a little boy abandoned many years ago in a grim hospital in northern England, with Esther, a radiantly intelligent young girl who is suffering from cerebral palsy; and with Daniel, an American computer games genius.

Skallagrigg – whatever the name signifies, or whoever he is – will come to transform their lives. And William Horwood’s inspired, heart-rending story of rescue and redemptive love will undoubtedly touch his readers’ lives, based as it is on a real-life story.

For some reason this is my favourite book of all time. Why? It had such an impact on me, leading to understanding and embracing the truth that all people should be valued. I had always been a strong upholder of equality but, following reading Skallagrig, I looked at folks I met in a different way. It is the quest of a young girl with cerebral palsy who searches for the origins of Skallagrigg, tales which she heard in hospital as a child. Esther has an extremely supportive father who was in the IT business in the 1980’s and ensured that she had every opportunity to reach her potential and explore her dreams in spite of her disabilities. Her link with Arthur, a lad with cerebral palsy who resided in a grim hospital in the 1920’s contrasts with Esther’s life. It is not an easy book to explain in one paragraph. My copy is dog-eared but that doesn’t matter. It is precious nevertheless.

Book Four – Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

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Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries.

The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.

Oh, this was a difficult one! So many of the classics, from Jane Austen to Thomas Hardy, have influenced both my love of reading but also my writing too. Set in the wilds of the windy Yorkshire moors, it is the vivid descriptions, the intensity of passion and feeling, the supernatural element that love transcends our time on this earth; all these elements bring this novel into sharp focus today, even though I have not read the book since I was a young adult. 

Book Five – The Bible

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The Bible is the most important book in the history of Western civilization, and also the most difficult to interpret. It has been the vehicle of continual conflict, with every interpretation reflecting passionately-held views that have affected not merely religion, but politics, art, and even science.

So many books in one. History, songs, prayers, stories, parables, messages, memoir, witness statements; familiar tales known throughout my life but opening The Bible still has the ability to surprise me and it would take me a long while to read it all, or I could just dip into it.

My luxury item

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A pencil. I reason that I would be resourceful and find dried leaves, bark or even rocks and stones to write on, but a pencil would be a life saver emotionally, enabling me to write letters to family, friends and others (even though I knew I couldn’t send them) and a diary. I could also disappear into another world in my own imagination and scribe novels, escaping from my own precarious situation for a while.

About the Author

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Diana Jackson now lives in Fife where she and her husband have become deeply committed to community life in Kinghorn. Before this pandemic curtailed some activities, Diana has enjoyed volunteering; working with the ‘Kinghorn in Bloom’ crowd, ever improving the beautiful areas of Kinghorn and Pettycur; a volunteer at Kirkcaldy Foodbank and also helping her husband at various Rotary events through the year. Her book The Healing Paths of Fife’ tells her story of relocating to Fife in the form of an allegory ~ a walk along the beautiful coastal path.

Diana released the second novel in her ‘Mystery Inspired by History Series’, MISSING, Past and Present just before the lock down overtook life in the UK, back in March 2020.

Until winter 2015 they lived in the heart of Bedfordshire, UK, where Diana was a teacher of English and Business Studies. Having been made redundant, (probably due to being too old at 55 years!) Diana decided to launch a writers’ collaborative publishing company and through this she is still in touch with many authors back in Bedfordshire. She took eighteen months off to settle into her new life in Scotland, but now she has taken up the mantle once more, both in writing and publishing.

Diana’s initial inspiration to write her first novel ‘Riduna’ was her great grandmother, an Alderney girl, leading to the conception of the ‘Riduna Series’. Having said this she stresses that her novels are purely fiction. She takes the reader from the mid Victorian era through to 1920 and plans a third in the series to the mid thirties.

Her other projects include compiling a memoir and writing a murder mystery, ‘Murder, Now and Then’ which was inspired by a true story ~ an unsolved murder in Bedfordshire in 1919. The first novel in Diana’s ‘Mystery Inspired by History’ series.

What links Diana Jackson’s projects? ~ Her fascination for social history, her love of research and using her imagination to create believable characters living in the periods she is studying.

You can buy a copy of Diana’s latest novel, MISSING, Past and Present here.

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Betrayed by her husband’s disappearance and almost destroyed when her foster son vanishes, Dorothy is left almost destitute. With little hope she trudges the countryside, reflecting on all she had left; her memories. Squatting in an empty farmhouse she is haunted by the ghost of an 18th Century aspirant nun, whose presence stirs her out of despair.

Will Dorothy’s resilience win through? Will she find peace and more importantly will she ever learn the truth?

MISSING Past and Present is a captivating, genealogical mystery with a ghostly presence. If you like compelling, emotionally charged British mysteries then you’ll love Diana Jackson’s ‘Mystery Inspired by History’ series.

She is also the author of Search for the Pearl Inside Yourself, a recently published book of encouragement for young adults, school and college leavers who have lost their way in life a bit. Especially pertinent following this pandemic. It was published in March 2021 and is available here.

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Do you know a young person or young adult who needs some encouragement to find their way in life?

It may be a pupil or student, your son or daughter, your nephew or niece, grandchild, neighbour or a friend.

The person you have in mind might lack self-belief, but all they need is a nudge to guide them to think more positively about themselves. 

Here is a book of encouragement with quotations and ideas to help them to let go of those things which are holding them back and

 to discover the pearl inside …

Connect further with Diana:

Website: www.dianamaryjackson.co.uk

Blog: dianamj.wordpress.com

Twitter: @Riduna

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Friday Night Drinks with… Todd Wassel

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Friday has come round again, so it is time for another celebratory drink and chat with an interesting author. Tonight I am delighted to be sharing Friday Night Drinks with… Todd Wassel.

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Todd, thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Coffee. It might be evening for you but it is Saturday morning for me!

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If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

To a cool little container bar on the banks of the Mekong in Vientiane, Laos. It is called LaoDi and it is run by a Japanese and Lao that have their own Rhum factory that they use to mix with Japanese liqueurs. 

If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

The Buddha and Janis Joplin. 

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

Beside my 9-5 job trying to save the world and help people, I’m in the middle of writing a 3 book memoir series. I’m on book two now and I want it to lead to more happiness, doing what I love, and telling others about it. 

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing/blogging and what has been your biggest challenge?

The first time someone commented on a blog piece I wrote, and I realized that I had something to say. My biggest challenge was believing that I had something to say and finishing my first book. 9 years of thinking about before I was finally able to get it out into the world. 

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

I’d love to earn a decent income from having adventures, writing about them, and having enough people read them that it just keeps going. 

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

In a few years I plan to buy an old Japanese farmhouse and spend a few years moving it, and renovating it. 

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

After 45 countries and 21 years living abroad that is a really difficult question! I’d say hiking into Machu Picchu was on my bucket list and deserves to be near the top. Bhutan is at the top of my current list. That and hiking the 100 highest peaks in Japan. 

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I was born in San Diego California, while my Dad was going to Top Gun as a navy pilot. Yes, the place is real. From there we moved every three years of my life as I followed along. My day job was for a long time working in conflict and war zones with Non-profits. Despite all of that, I considered myself to be timid and not adventurous 😊

Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

I’m actually a Fantasy nerd at heart. I’d say the Brandon Sanderson Stormlight series. A great new take on the genre. 

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Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilisation alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soil-less ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armour that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by over-powering visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.

Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

The result of more than ten years of planning, writing, and world-building, The Way of Kings is but the opening movement of The Stormlight Archive, a bold masterpiece in the making.

Speak again the ancient oaths:

Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before Destination.

And return to men the Shards they once bore.

The Knights Radiant must stand again.

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Sleep as long as possible, and have a beer to even things out around 11 am. 

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

Spending the day rock climbing or hiking and then the evening on a porch with a BBQ, a beer and a view

Thank you for joining me this evening (or morning in your case), Todd, it has been a fascinating chat.

Todd Wassel is the author of Walking in Circles: Finding Happiness in Lost Japan and you can buy a copy here. The book is available for free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

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Far from the lights of Tokyo. A 1,200 year old pilgrimage. A life changed forever.

Guided by a wandering ascetic hiding from the Freemasons; naked Yakuza; a scam artist pilgrim; and a vengeful monk, Walking in Circles is a fun, inspirational travel memoir set in a Japan few outsiders ever get to see.

Award-winning writer Todd Wassel draws on over twenty years in Japan to retell his epic journey through the contradictions of a contemporary yet traditional Japan while trying to overcome the barriers to happiness modern life throws up.

Over half a decade after first landing in Japan Todd is lost, unable to go home, or move forward. Convinced there is more to life, he risks everything to return to the one place he found answers years before: the ancient Shikoku Henro pilgrimage. Walking the 750-mile henro path, sleeping outside each night, Todd is armed with only a Japanese map and the people he meets along the way.

Todd Wassel is an international development professional, author and traveler. He has worked across Asia and Europe for the past 20 years as an English teacher in Japan, a human rights advocate in Sri Lanka, a conflict management specialist in Timor-Leste and Kosovo, and has worked in and traveled to over 40 countries. He has worked for the United Nations, small local NGOs, for the US government, and is currently the Country Representative for the Asia Foundation in Laos. Todd won the People’s Choice Award in the Southeast Asia Travel Writing Competition and has been featured in Lonely Planet, the Diplomat and ABC Australia.

Todd has hiked into Machu Pichu, watched the sun rise from the top of Mount Fuji, dived the reefs of the Maldives, honeymooned in Bosnia and Herzegovina, danced for three days at weddings in India, hiked from Montenegro to Albania, through Kosovo and into Macedonia, and walked the 900-mile pilgrimage to the 88 temples of Shikoku Japan, twice (the topic of his new book). He likes adventures and strong coffee.

Fluent in Japanese, Todd has a B.A from Colgate University in Asian Studies and Comparative Religion as well as a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher school at Tufts University. Todd met his wife Kaoru during a security crisis on the tiny half island of Timor-Leste and they have been traveling the world together ever since.

They currently live with their two children, Kaito and Sana, in Laos along the banks of the Mekong.

Connect with Todd via his website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Desert Island Books with… Fran McNicol

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Today I am transporting another fortunate/unfortunate soul to my desert island with nothing to keep them company except five books of their choice and one luxury item. This week I have stranded author… Fran McNicol.

Book One – Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels

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Jakob Beer is seven years old when he is rescued from the muddy ruins of a buried village in Nazi-occupied Poland. Of his family, he is the only one who has survived. Under the guidance of the Greek geologist Athos, Jakob must steel himself to excavate the horrors of his own history.

A novel of astounding beauty and wisdom, Fugitive Pieces is a profound meditation on the resilience of the human spirit and love’s ability to resurrect even the most damaged of hearts.

The first time I read Anne Michaels I was transfixed. She is a poet before a novelist and her use of language is precision and perfection itself. No word out of place, beautiful rhythm and intonation and a vocabulary that is rich and varied without ever being intimidating. It’s a Holocaust story, a story of loss and survival, that also takes a tour through archeology and ancient history. The beauty of the language and the depth of the sources somehow soothes the horror of the story, and the despair that the lost can never leave us, and yet never come with us.  Ever since I first read this book, it is THE book I recommend – every lover of words should read it.

Book Two –The Stonor Eagles  by William Horwood

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Cuillin – last of the great sea eagles of Skye. For her there will be many bitter years of exile, sustained only by a belief that one day her offspring will return to her abandoned homeland.

James MacAskill Stonor – a lonely, bewildered child growing up in a storm-racked English coastal town… but destined to be one of the greatest and best-loved artists of this century. ‘The Stonor Eagles’ – his beautiful and haunting sculptures, whose creation and final unveiling are recounted in this deeply moving saga of life, suffering, and the courage to love… of dreams that die, and dreams that can come true.

A tale of exile and redemption. Two stories intertwined, the story of the last sea eagle high in the jagged Cuillin Hills and the tortured artist toiling to bring a sculpture to life. It’s a book I never truly manage to pigeon hole or completely understand, but each reading brings another layer or a different emphasis. It’s written on an epic scale, and brings out the wildness of the Black Cuillins as well as the despair that seems to lie at the heart of much creativity. Mostly the description of the eagle battling the wind and learning to fly the true horizon, as befits her kind, is a brilliant, wild and savage metaphor for the quest to find our own true nature.

Book Three – A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

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Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth.

Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.

In fact the copy I have is the Earthsea Trilogy- to pick one story without knowing the ending now seems strange.

I love fantasy, and tales of the perennial battle between light and dark. This is the original brilliant story of a boy with wizardly powers who foolishly opens a rent into the dark underworld. The magic in Earthsea is dependant on knowing the true names of things- when you know the name of a creature, it must do your bidding. The art of magic therefore is the art of finding out the true name, of dragons and wraiths. It’s a beautifully written, dark and complex book that I first read as a teenager and yet still stands the test of time.

Book Four – This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann

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At the turn of the twentieth century, Nathan Walker comes to New York City to take the most dangerous job in the country: digging the tunnel far beneath the Hudson that will carry trains from Brooklyn to Manhattan. In the bowels of the riverbed, the workers – black, white, Irish and Italian – dig together, the darkness erasing all differences. But above ground, the men keep their distance until a dramatic accident on a bitter winter’s day welds a bond between Walker and his fellow workers that will both bless and curse three generations. Almost ninety years later, Treefrog stumbles on the same tunnels and sets about creating a home amongst the drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes and petty criminals that comprise the forgotten homeless community.

Calum McCann is another favourite author for his use of language. I find McCann’s style can be deceptively clean and simple, but with surprising layers, and in this, my favourite of his books, it’s as if the spaces in between the words let the light in. It’s the story of the tunnels of New York, the men that built them, and the others that have now re-purposed them. When I read this book, I can feel the light shining, and I always find hope and clarity.

Book Five – Thunderhead by Mary O’Hara

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Flicka’s colt Thunderhead is an ugly white throwback, but Ken believes he can turn the colt, wild as it is, into a champion racehorse. 

This book tells the story of every pony mad child’s dream. An ugly unwanted foal that turned into a quirky horse, dangerous, difficult and magnificent. It’s a story of belief and perseverance, of following your instincts, and listening to your inner voice. In the end it is a story and of working with the nature of the animal not against.  And there is no false reassurance or cliched promise of ease. There is no capitulation. It’s one of the seminal books that has shaped how I think about horses and our relationships with them. It’s another sweeping epic, set in the mountains of Wyoming, where love and loss and challenge and heartbreak are the backdrop to joy.

My luxury item

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A Book of Stars, to learn the secrets of the universe while i had nothing else to do.

About the Author

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Fran McNicol is an amateur equestrienne living in the UK. She is a full-time doctor, specialising in surgery. Her MD thesis was an examination of the inflammatory cascade in sepsis. As a surgeon, MBChB, MD, FRCS, she obviously knows a huge amount about the human animal. But the most useful product of medical training, from her horses’ point of view, is that she learned how to research, evaluate evidence and then apply theory to optimise the care of her horses. Her writing is, therefore, a mix of opinion and her current state of learning from 25 years of doctoring, time spent working around the world as a polo groom and many years of keeping her own horses. Fran loves training young horses and focuses on riding the sport horse both classically and holistically. She competes regularly for her local riding club, especially in One Day Eventing. Nelipot Cottage started life as an educational blog, to share learning and best practise, to promote the benefits of a barefoot and holistic herd lifestyle for whole horse health, and to reflect on life lessons learned along the way. Fran believes that horses exist to bring out the very best in humans. It is her hope that sharing these tales will bring new friends, kindred spirits, exchange of knowledge and lots of positive energy into the lives of the Nelipot herd.

Fran’s book is called Bare Hooves and Open Hearts: Tales from Nelipot Cottage and you can buy a copy of the book here.

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I am a consultant surgeon and a keen amateur equestrian. Paddy, my first event horse, was as cheap as chips and came with a fearsome reputation. Part of that reputation was that he hated the farrier. His feet were weak and crumbly, wouldn’t hold shoes, and he absolutely hated the whole process of being shod. When he kicked our “horse whispering” farmer across the yard, and we had to sedate him to get the shoes on, I wondered if there could be another way.

I did some reading and took the plunge, taking his steel horseshoes off for good, and he went from strength to strength, growing incredible rock crunching feet. We went on to qualify for several riding club championships, and he was still sound and eventing aged 20.

My second horse, Cal, had terrible feet when I bought him, and he broke his carpal bone tripping over his long toes out in the field. Once he was rehabbed back into full work, I was determined to avoid the concussive effects of metal horseshoes. I knew from my experiences with Paddy that barefoot eventing could work.But Cal is a sturdy Irish Sport horse with flat dinner plate feet, and getting him sound and comfortable on all surfaces was a challenge. All the learning, the emotional, psychological and intellectual investment, the changes in lifestyle and horse husbandry that I had to make to get Cal’s feet functional, became the subject of this book. I wanted to share the learning, to spare others the pain and the expense.

When I took Paddy’s shoes off, I chose to challenge accepted dogma and tradition. I chose to put my horse’s needs before my own aspirations. I listened to my horse and Irelinquished my agenda for the health of my horse. On that day, my relationship with all my future horses changed completely. There is no recognition in law, or indeed in Equine Science, that these magnificent animals might actually be sentient beings, capable of communicating with us if we could only listen. Once you start listening, once you offer the animal a voice, an opinion and a say in the relationship, the bond you forge is like no other.

Bare Hooves and Open Hearts tells the story of my chequered journey from traditional eventer towards a more thoughtful and holistic type of equestrianism. The book includes stories and guidance based on experience around barefoot performance, healthy diet, sustainable horse keeping, mindset and horse-human connection.

Connect with Fran:

Website: http://www.nelipotcottage.com/

Facebook: Fran McNicol / Nelipot Cottage

Twitter: @FranMcnicolUW

Instagram: @nelipotcottage

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Guest Post: Viking Voyager by Sverrir Sigurdsson with Veronica Li

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This vivacious personal story captures the heart and soul of modern Iceland.

Born in Reykjavik on the eve of the Second World War, Sverrir Sigurdsson watched Allied troops invade his country and turn it into a bulwark against Hitler’s advance toward North America. The country’s post-war transformation from an obscure, dirt-poor nation to a prosperous one became every Icelander’s success.

Spurred by this favourable wind, Sverrir answered the call of his Viking forefathers, setting off on a voyage that took him around the world. Join him on his roaring adventures!

Today I am delighted to be hosting a guest post by Sverrir Sigurdsson on the process of co-writing his book, Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir with his wife, Veronica Li. Over to Sverrir to share his piece.

Husband-Wife Collaboration by Sverrir Sigurdsson

When I told stories of my travel adventures to friends, their reaction was often, “Why don’t you write your memoir?”  I never thought I was important enough to do that.  At the same time, I did have many fond and exciting memories of growing up in Iceland and later traveling the world for both work and pleasure.  So, I started jotting down memorable recollections and saving them in a folder called Episodes on my hard drive. 

In my retirement, after I’d done everything I ever wanted to do, including designing and building a house with my own hands, I got more serious about writing down my memories.  I now live in the U.S. and am watching my all-American grandson grow up with little knowledge of his heritage.  The desire to leave him a cultural legacy became more urgent.

I showed a few of my “episodes” to my wife for feedback.  Veronica is a former journalist and published author who had taken a “Glad he has something to occupy him in his retirement” attitude toward my project.  But one day, she looked up from reading one of my episodes and said, “Sverrir, you’ve really had an interesting life.”  From then on, my project became hers too.

The first step was to decide on a focus.  This was easy as we both knew what I was about.  The theme would be my life as a modern-day Viking, traveling the world like my forefathers.  The memoir would hark back to my childhood in Iceland, which shaped my outward-looking worldview.

We hit an impasse in chapter one.  Veronica wanted to start with the present and from thereon traverse a flexible timeline between past and present.  I wanted chronological order, beginning from my grandparents and working my way linearly to the present.  After several rounds of verbal fistfights, I threw in my knockout punch.  “This is my life.  I’ll write it the way I want.”  She lay down and surrendered, or more like played dead.

Thus I started my story with the tragedy that befell my maternal grandfather.  I believed this was the root of who I was and felt compelled to get it out on the first page.  I dumped it all out, everything I knew about the incident and the life of Icelandic fishermen.  Veronica and I worked and reworked the chapter several times, and the final product was, to our surprise, everything we both wanted.  In the middle of the distant past, she sneaked in time-traveling to the present and made me introduce myself as an old man writing to leave a legacy to future generations.  This became the blueprint for the rest of the book.  The chapters are chronological in order, but within the chapter, the story flashes backward and forward to other time zones, offering a rather kaleidoscopic dimension.

No two people can be more different than Veronica and I.  She’s a people person and calls me a “thing” person.  Being a passionate carpenter and a professional architect, I’m in tune with wood, brick, and mortar but a moron with regard to human emotions and signals. She, on the other hand, can sniff out emotions like a dog but is blind as a bat to the world of machines and hardware.  Her nagging question, “So how did you feel?” annoyed me to no end.  But as she pushed me to probe into myself, I unearthed emotions I didn’t know I had.  Such as the Christmas my father traveled to a London hospital to undergo life-saving treatment for his kidney disease.  As a ten-year-old, I said goodbye to Dad one bleak, cold morning.  The family doctor had warned my mother to be “prepared.”  I don’t remember feeling anything at that moment, but I do remember the sadness that spilled out when Mother brought out the previous year’s Christmas tree from the attic.  Because of Dad’s illness, my parents pinched every penny, including money for a tree.  The poor tree looked like a mangy animal, with its needles brown and half gone.  Writing about it seventy years later made me realize I had feelings after all!

Veronica’s ignorance in mechanical matters also forced me to a new level—hers.  I’d assumed everyone knew the mechanics of a car engine, a block and tackle pulley system, or a carbon arc lamp.  When I realized she had no clue, I had to draw it out in diagrams for her.  Once she understood, she popularized my techno-jargon into a flowing narrative for every audience.  She was happy for the new knowledge and I was happy to be saved from my geeky self.

Our disparate talents also came in handy in describing scenery.  Veronica drew from her poetic instincts, comparing rock pillars rising from the sea to “spikes on a dragon back,” and well-fed glaciers to “paunches of sleeping giants.”  My contribution was my knowledge of geology, something all Icelanders learn as children.  In a country where glaciers sit like lids on volcanos, the dramatic reaction of fire meeting ice causes fast-cooling lava to turn into a rock formation called tuff or palagonite.  This is the stuff that forms much of the spectacular landscapes Iceland is famous for.

I’d thought the gap between our personalities would cause contention, but it turned out to be our strength.  And when friends ask, we answer yes, we’re still happily married.

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Thank you for sharing that with us Sverrir, it sounds like each of you brought your strengths to the writing of the book and I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir is a prize winner of The Wishing Shelf Book Awards organized by a group of UK authors.
“Not only a well written memoir, but an interesting take on Icelandic history from post-World War Two until present day. A RED RIBBON WINNER and highly recommended.” The Wishing Shelf Book Awards

About the Authors

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Sverrir Sigurdsson grew up in Iceland and graduated as an architect from Finland in 1966. He pursued an international career that took him to the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the U.S. His assignments focused on school construction and improving education in developing countries. He has worked for private companies as well as UNESCO and the World Bank. He is now retired and lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and coauthor, Veronica.

Veronica Li emigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong as a teenager. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and her masters degree in International Affairs from Johns Hopkins University. She has worked as a journalist and for the World Bank, and is currently a writer. Her three previously published titles are: Nightfall in Mogadishu, Journey across the Four Seas: A Chinese Woman’s Search for Home, and Confucius Says: A Novel.

Connect with the authors:

Facebook: Sverrir Sigurdsson

Twitter: @Sverrir_Sigurds

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Book Review: The Man in Black – Peter Moore: Wales’ Worst Serial Killer by Dylan Rhys Jones #BookReview

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The true story of former criminal defence lawyer Dylan Rhys Jones’ experience of defending Rhyl serial killer Peter Moore, found guilty in 1996 of murdering four men and seriously assaulting many more, and referred to by the judge when sentencing as as dangerous a man as it is possible to find.

I am happy to be posting my review today of The Man in Black by Dylan Rhys Jones. My thanks to the author for inviting me to review his book and providing me with a digital copy for that purpose. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I don’t read true crime books. It’s not something that interests me, reading about the depravity that some human beings are capable of and I’m not in the habit of celebrating or glamourising these criminals until they become some kind of twisted celebrity. However, when I was approached by Dylan to review his book, I agreed because this is a different type of true crime novel. It focuses on the experience of a solicitor who is called upon to represent a serial killer in his legal case. As a non-practising solicitor myself, I was really fascinated to read about this experience first hand in a non-fictional book. It is something that every law student imagines when they are studying criminal law at university, but very, very few ever experience.

I first decided I wanted to be a lawyer aged 13, because of the TV show, Crown Court. I don’t know how many of you will remember this programme (if you’ve never seen it, Google it), but I was obsessed with it. At the time, I was convinced it was real, I didn’t realise it was fictional, and I was determined I was going to become a criminal barrister. At university, I found the criminal law module of my degree fascinating but, as I studied and then began my training contract in a firm, it became clear that I was no advocate and that my talents lay in the non-contentious area of corporate law and mergers and acquisitions. The practice of criminal law is not much like the portrayals you see on TV. It is much darker, dirtier and depressing than you see, but so, so necessary for the justice system to operate fairly and I have nothing but admiration for the people who make this their vocation – because this is what it is. They are not in it for the fame or fortune, but because they are called to help people.

All of this becomes very clear when you read this book by Dylan Rhys Jones, as he describes to you his experience of being the solicitor charged with acting on behalf of serial killer, Peter Moore in the mid-1990s. The book focuses on his emotional reaction to dealing with this depraved man, the long term effects it had on him personally and his impressions of Peter Moore as an individual. It is absolutely riveting. Very, very few of us will ever have such close, personal contact with someone accused of such evil acts, and to read about how Dylan interacted with this man, accused of some totally heinous acts, what effect having to become so intimately acquainted with the horrendous crimes he committed, the long-lasting psychological effects it had on him – well, it will open the eyes of anyone who has ever wondered how criminal lawyers can represent such criminals and how it feels to be ‘taking their side.’

Despite the fact this is focused mostly on the legal side of the case and the solicitor, and does not portray things from the killer’s side or try to get in to his mind, there are still some graphic descriptions of the crimes and parts of it are deeply disturbing. For me, the toll that representing someone like Peter Moore takes on his legal team is possibly the most disturbing part and just confirmed to me what heroes these people are. Criminals need robust legal representation, regardless of what they are accused of, for our adversarial legal system to operate fairly, but criminal defence lawyers are regularly scorned and maligned. Anyone reading this book should come away with a much clearer and fairer understanding of why their job is vital and what they sacrifice in order to do it. If you don’t come away with massive sympathy for the author at the end of this book, I would be amazed.

This book is really honest, well-written and compelling. I was gripped from beginning to end by Dylan’s vivid descriptions of what he went through in representing this man, and I came away with so much admiration for him. I have never been more sure that I made the right decision not to become a criminal law solicitor, I would never have been robust enough to survive it, and also reminded me why I don’t read true crime books. This is a must read for anyone who wants to see the story of a serial killer from a unique and completely different angle.

The Man in Black is out now in paperback and ebook formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Former criminal defence lawyer Dylan Rhys Jones has also lectured on Ethics and the Law at medical conferences, and is a regular lecturer on Law and Criminology. He is not only a marker and moderator for the WJEC Criminology examination, but was also co-writer of the examination as well as contributing to the inception, writing and thereafter presenting of the Criminal Justice and Offender Management foundation degree course at Coleg Cambria and Chester University.

He is a regular contributor on radio news programmes and programmes about politics and the law and has also worked on numerous TV programmes. He is currently working on a TV documentary about the Peter Moore case.

Connect with Dylan:

Twitter: @drjdylan

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Blog Tour: 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal And Planner Volume II by Marielle S. Smith #GuestPost

52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner Vol. II

I am happy to be taking part in the blog blitz today for 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner by Marielle S. Smith. Thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part and to the author for providing me with the guest post.

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‘With this book by your side, anything feels possible.’ Jacqueline Brown

Tired of not having a sustainable writing practice? You, too, can get out of your own way and become the writer you’re meant to be!

52 Weeks of Writing:

  • makes you plan, track, reflect on, and improve your progress and goals for an entire year;
  • helps you unravel the truth about why you aren’t where you want to be; and
  • keeps you writing through weekly thought-provoking quotes and prompts.

With this second volume of the 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner, writing coach and writer Mariëlle S. Smith brings you the same successful strategies to craft the perfect writing practice as she did in the first journal. The only difference? Fifty-three different writing quotes and prompts and a brand-new look!

Interview with Marielle S. Smith

Who are you and where are you from?

I’m Mariëlle S. Smith, a writer, writing coach, and editor. I was born and raised in the Netherlands, but I moved to Cyprus almost two years ago. I needed a change of place and pace and Cyprus had inspired me in the past, so… I packed my bags and got on a plane.

Why do you write? What are you hoping to achieve?

The ultimate end goal for me is to leave a legacy that I’m proud of. For me, this means I try not to work on anything that doesn’t feel a hundred percent right to me. I don’t want to look back one day and have to admit to myself, ‘Yes, that book… I wrote that for the wrong reasons.’

Have you always been writing or is it a more recent thing?

No, I’ve been writing for as long as I remember. I don’t know when I started doing it; it was always there. The more recent thing is that I now admit to doing it, while it used to be more of a secret. I didn’t admit that I was serious about my writing until I was twenty-eight, and I only admitted it to one person at the time. Now, I introduce myself as a writer, so I’ve come a long way.

What do you write and why are you writing in these genres specifically?

I’m writing a lot of non-fiction at the moment, but I have co-written a lesbian romance series under a pen name, and I’m working on a young adult fantasy series.

Why do I write these things…? The romance series because we were both fed up with what that genre had to offer and wanted to add another kind of story to the pile. It was about writing more realistic love stories. It was a fun project and I would love to return to that world someday.

The YA fantasy series feels like it’s THE story that I need to tell. I’ve been working on it forever, slowly figuring out what it is I’m trying to say. I’m currently working on the sixth draft of the first book and I’m falling in love with it all over again.

As for the non-fiction, that’s about helping other people create. It’s all inspired by my coaching and editing work and the journaling I do about my own creative practice.

Is that what inspired the 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner, Vol. II?

Absolutely. 52 Weeks of Writing is directly based on the material I use in my coaching practice, the worksheets I have clients filled out. Of course, when working one on one with someone, I’ll personalise the worksheets to fit my client’s specific needs or struggles. 52 Weeks of Writing offers my coaching material in a more universal way so that any writer can work with it.

Will there be a Volume III?

Yes! It won’t be out until 1 December 2021, but the cover is already done. I’m currently testing new writing prompts and exercises for it on the members of my Facebook group, the Accountable Wordsmiths. I never intended to create a second volume, let alone a third, but once someone asked about it, the thought wouldn’t leave me alone. I tend to take that as a sign, so I can’t wait to put it all together later this year.

Thanks for sharing that with us Marielle.

You can buy a copy of 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner Volume II here.

A printable PDF is available through: https://payhip.com/b/0YgJ Get 50% off until 31 March 2021 by using the coupon code 52WOW during checkout.

About the Author

52 Weeks Author

Mariëlle S. Smith is a coach for writers and other creatives, an editor, and a writer. Early 2019, she moved to Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, where she organises private writer’s retreats, is inspired 24/7, and feeds more stray cats than she can count.

Connect with Marielle:

Website: https://mswordsmith.nl/en_GB/

Facebook: M. S. Wordsmith

Twitter: @MSWordsmithNL

Instagram: @mariellessmith

YouTube: M. S Wordsmith

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: Tall Tales and Wee Stories by Billy Connolly #BookReview

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In December 2018, after fifty years of belly-laughs, energy and outrage, Billy Connolly announced his retirement from live stand-up comedy. It had been an extraordinary career.

When he first started out in the late sixties, Billy played the banjo in the folk clubs of Scotland. Between songs, he would improvise a bit, telling anecdotes from the Clyde shipyard where he’d worked. In the process, he made all kinds of discoveries about what audiences found funny, from his own brilliant mimes to the power of speaking irreverently about politics or explicitly about sex. He began to understand the craft of great storytelling. Soon the songs became shorter and the monologues longer, and Billy quickly became recognised as one of the most exciting comedians of his generation.

Billy’s routines always felt spontaneous. He never wrote scripts, always creating his comedy freshly on stage in the presence of a live audience. A brilliant comic story might be subsequently discarded, adapted or embellished. A quick observation or short anecdote one night, could become a twenty-minute segment by the next night of a tour.

Billy always brought a beautiful sense of the absurd to his shows as he riffed on his family, hecklers, swimming in the North Sea or naked bungee jumping. But his comedy can be laced with anger too. He hates pretentiousness and calls out hypocrisy wherever he sees it. His insights about the human condition have shocked many people, while his unique talent and startling appearance on stage gave him license to say anything he damn well pleased about sex, politics or religion.

Billy got away with it because he has always had the popular touch. His comedy spans generations and different social tribes in a way that few others have ever managed.

Tall Tales and Wee Stories brings together the very best of Billy’s storytelling for the first time and includes his most famous routines including, The Last Supper, Jojoba Shampoo, Incontinence Pants and Shouting at Wildebeest. With an introduction and original illustrations by Billy throughout

The fourth category in the Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021 is ‘Read a book by an author you would like to meet.’ I could not choose between two authors for this challenge, so I decided to do one in paperback and one in audiobook format. The first book I have chosen is Tall Tales and Wee Stories by Billy Connolly. As an interesting aside, this was the last book I bought in an airport, on a trip to New York in February 2020. Remember the days of buying books in airports? I  wonder when they will come around again!

I’ve been a massive Billy Connolly fan for many years. I’ve got lots of DVDs featuring his standup and travelogues, and I was lucky enough to see him live twice. He never fails to make me laugh, even just on a chat show. So it was with great sadness I heard about his retirement, although entirely understandable in his circumstances.

I was looking forward to reading this book in which he has gathered many of his most famous stories for posterity. Billy never really told ‘jokes,’ they were always funny anecdotes and tales, often poking fun at himself or other absurdities he saw in every day life. He often talked about sex and bodily functions, and was very sweary and he makes no apology for that, so the book would not be for anyone who did not like this in his live shows because Billy is exactly the same in the book as when performing. If you did love his humour though, you will find many of your favourite stories within these pages.

The book is split in to chapters on different, loosely connected topics, but otherwise it is fairly randomly organised with just little anecdotes and longer ones interspersed with comments, thoughts and musings on his life and career. Some people won’t like it because it isn’t a particular linear format, but then Billy’s comedy was never like that. He would start on a topic and then wander off at a tangent when other things occurred to him before looping back round to the original story (or sometimes not!), so the book is a good reflection of his style and really brought him to life for me.

I could hear his voice telling these familiar, and some unfamiliar, stories very clearly. Parts of it made me laugh out loud and I had to keep stopping to read bits aloud to The Irishman who kept asking me what I was laughing at. It was a book that really cheered me up during this lockdown. However, it is not the same as watching Billy perform, and you realise how much his expressions and gestures and movements added to the comedy of his story-telling. The ‘Wildebeest’ example illustrates this best. It is many people’s favourite story of Billy’s, but it just isn’t as funny when you can’t see him doing the vacant expression of the wildebeest and the actions of the lions as they plan their attack.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this but it can’t replace Billy’s performances, and I for one will miss him terribly. I wish I could have met him in real life just once before Parkinson’s started to take effect. I’m sure it would have been great craic.

Tall Tales and Wee Stories is out now in all formats except audio and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Sir William Connolly, CBE is a much-loved Scottish comedian, musician, presenter and actor. He is the recipient of a BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award and is regularly voted the nation’s favourite stand-up comedian. Billy was born and raised in Glasgow and now lives in America. He announced his retirement from live performance in December 2018.

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