Mysteries Abound

It sometimes strikes me as curious that ‘mysteries’ are so prevalent in our reading matter, most particularly in our choice of novels. Whether we’re reading on Kindle, or on the printed page of a battered old paper back from the charity shop, mysteries are not only among my favourite reads but those of my friends and students too. So some years back, I came to the conclusion, that since I loved to read them, it might be an enjoyable exercise to try my hand at writing one. I created a female accidental detective – a retired astrologer, living in West Wales – and brought a young woman to her door whose father had disappeared. The novel grew to completion over a period of about a year, and I called it The Rules of Heaven, my first Grace de Savira mystery. I had loved writing it, and was confident that it was a page-turner, a good read. Then came the endless months of sending it off to publishers, during which time I wrote the second one, A Thorn in the Flesh. By the time the first one had been roundly rejected by every publisher I could think of sending it to, I was half way through the third book, From High Places. My disappointment about the first one meant I never sent the next one out, and none of them was ever published. I wrote the Dreamstealers trilogy for children, which did get published (YLolfa), then historical novels, also published (Llanerch Press), but the mysteries remained in the filing cabinet. Until recently when the first two Grace de Savira mysteries became available on Kindle, and to my great pleasure people have found them, and have actually bought them and read them. So I am now in the process of working on the unfinished book. The biggest mystery in the world of literature is how the choices are made to publish or not publish. And I have an even more exciting mystery up ahead, and this will come to light at the annual Penfro Book Festival. More of that again.

Reading and Writing

When I first came across Alexander McCall Smith’s books, it was not the African mysteries which I fell for, but the Isabel Dalhousie Philosophy Club books, and the Scotland Street series. In part I loved them because they put me in mind of the style of writing I had been aiming for when I wrote my Grace de Savira novels in the 1990’s, stories of an elderly astrologer intent on sorting out peoples’ problems. I’m not sure whether I hit the same style, but I finished two of them and duly – after a number of years of keeping them in a cupboard, put them up on to Amazon’s Kindle. Slowly people are beginning to read them, and I’m quite pleased about that because I loved writing them. Then I discovered writing for children, in the early 2000’s and had my Dreamstealers trilogy published, and following that I fell in love with history and have had two historical novels published : A Court in Splendour and The Bardic Monk. Much as I enjoyed the process of research and writing history, nothing quite matched my experience of writing about Grace and the characters in those early books. So I got out the third unfinished one recently, and began to work on it. Unfortunately I had lost the pace, the style, and was stuck in the twelfth century, floundering. Then I remembered Scotland Street and how it had been an inspiration to my style. So I listened to Scotland Street in the car, then read Love over Scotland and the World According to Bertie and loved them all over again, and the amazing thing is that the detail of them is so rich I found new things as well as  all the bits I remembered and have laughed and sighed my way through them. He is a total genius. So I also read all the Dalhousies again (and the new one) and even Von Inglefeld and his many uses for Olive Oil, what a clown…so thanks to Alexander McCall Smith and his brilliant life-enhancing dramas, for getting me back in the mood to write my Welsh Astrologer stories. Reading and writing do, after all, go together like peaches and cream, salt and pepper or rock n roll! And am I on a roll….

The Lucknow Ransom

You may think you have seen a review of this book in the Tivyside, written by myself. You may have done, but if you read this one you will see the extent to which ‘editing’ goes on in the areas of arts reviews of any kind. Not just the Tivyside does this, but all newspapers, so some of the best bits of writing, the nicest compliments etc never see the light of day. So here is the full review as written by me, before the subs got their hands on it..ha ha.

Lucknow Ransom, the new book by Glen Peters is the second outing for the charming heroine Mrs Joan D’Silva, and unlike the first book in which it is Mrs D’Silva’s detective instincts which lead us through the story, this one is less a single detective’s whodunnit, more a crime mystery which is ultimately solved by  an ensemble of characters. As the story runs, each one of them adds a distinct, vibrant thread  to a multi-coloured tapestry portraying India during the 1960’s.

This is a novel with the recognisable flavour and visual sense of  a Bollywood Movie; full of passions, pleasures, dastardly deeds, wicked anti-heroes and of course,  a final romantic rescue for the heroine. The most exhilarating aspect of a really excellent Bollywood  Movie is of course the fact that however serious the plot, or however many wicked deeds are planned and executed, it can all be set aside for at least a short while, in order to allow for some fun, some loving  and some music and dancing. This is accurately depicted here, in a tale of ransoms, murder and poisoning, where every so often there are moments of relief from the dark side of life, with generous descriptions of delicious food, romantic flirtations and gorgeous attire. And all of the detail at every point in the story reassures the reader that the author knows well the place and the mores of those who live there.

The filmic quality of the book continues as the story of the ransom at Lucknow, where Ms D’Silva finds herself with her small son Errol seeking refuge and a new life, is written from a multi-viewpoint perspective. This takes the reader from  experiencing scenes as viewed merely through the eyes of the main character, and adds an immediacy to the whole thing , just as in a movie, we look through the eyes of each of the characters on to the happenings, and see them differently. The single viewpoint, which is often used in detective novels would not necessarily offer this lively, exploratory format, and though at moments the wonderful cavalcade of characters involved in the finding of the guilty party can be confusing, the life and colour in the writing keep one gripped, and the bonus is that we are taking a journey to a time and place unknown to most of us, that of post-colonial India in the 1960’s and the lives of the Anglo-Indian community.

The insights into the position of this shrinking group, the ‘A1’ members of a society, as they see themselves, in times of unsettling political and social changes are fascinating. The language, is wonderful, redolent of England in the fifties and sixties but with its own idiosyncratic usage,  and in the midst of upheaval somehow these strong characters manage to hold on for a while to a way of life which they have enjoyed during their lifetimes. This elite circle has its own rules, and a formality in its image, that brings for  them the valued respect and even admiration, of others.

Keeping up that front of respectability is hard for Mrs D’Silva, who is a thoroughly modern heroine, forward-thinking, independent and despite a lack of money with a desire to achieve things for her son. She moves with beauty and good humour through almost everything, wisely listens to her own dreams, has a care for the underdog,  is a good loving mother, and does not stand for bullying or dishonesty in others.  The reader is moved to like her spontaneously because she acts from her own beliefs, so when she suspects things are going wrong they usually are doing so and, when she falls in love with a man who is not what he seems, just like in Bollywood, there is plenty of song and dance before the final twist in the tale.

The Rhod Annual at Melin Glonc

Small World and the Rhod Show

A talk at the Small World Theatre last Friday evening created a brilliant introduction to  this year’s week long celebration of art by the Rhod Collective at Melin Glonc,  Drefelin, Drefach Felindre.

Speaking at Small World were Sara Rees, curator of this year’s show, and also Maria Rebecca Ballestra the Artist in Residence for the duration of the show, who talked about the work she has been bringing together from around the globe with an ecological significance. All of it having influenced her planned contribution to this year’s Rhod.

The speakers introduced the theme for the show; Future NatureCulture which is the  title and the subject matter of the work being assembled by a number of international and local artists. By Sunday, when the event opened there was an enthusiastic crowd gathered at the site of the show, many having been drawn to the event by the talk at Small World.

Within the grounds of the mill were some wonderfully imaginative installations and sculptural pieces, Johana Hartwig’s Catapult Tree, with its colourful and eye-catching reach, brought a small round of applause from several people seen admiring it; Pascal-Michel Dubois’ Nowhere to Hide your Horsepower’ where the interior of the car with its  black and white freesian style seats sat beside the river, was both witty and interesting and Stefhan Caddick’s Mothmusic which lit up with noises at night, was quite beautiful. The installation by Rebecca Ballestra, the artist in residence, was an important addition to the international work she has been constructing and compiling during her travels round the world and her Gold Bullion and Art Sowing were thought-provoking and imaginative.  In an exciting departure from the material world into the virtual one, local film and animation artists Sean Vicary and Steve Knight created a virtual sculpture which for the exhibition was embedded in the landscape, visible only via the app on screen, and a fabulous surprise to see such a futuristic piece of work in place. There was more, much more, artists like Jo Lathwood, Rawley Clay, Helen Clifford, Fern Thomas and Matthew Smith, all contributed so much to what was a remarkable array of excellent work, and in spite of the weather promising less than fair, spirits were high, and the general atmosphere was one of appreciation that such a strong showing of artists from both Urban and Rural environments should once again feel drawn to display their work at Rhod this year.

Reviewing Roadrage

I must say that I do not often read a thriller – and I had no idea whether I would enjoy this one when my editor passed the info about it to me. When the book arrived and I began to read it was a surprise to find myself immersed in it very quickly. This is the review I wrote for the Tivyside – it’s a great read for a lazy week-end, one of those where you want to do nothing else, but sit around reading. Maybe it’s only me that does that….is it? Can’t be surely.

Book Review

A Gripping Tale

Anyone who reads ‘Roadrage’ the thrilling first novel by M J Johnson, will never see the cosy rurality of a  holiday cottage in Llangranog, in quite the same light again. Just released from Odd Dog Press, this is a truly gripping tale which, even from the earliest pages creates a shiver of fear, so strange and unsettling are the opening shots with their promise of the incomprehensible terrors to come.

The first stirrings of  what lies ahead occur in a late night journey on the motorway, when everyman Gil Harper, is driving home from spending Christmas with the family of his dead wife.  It’s a dark night with driving rain, he is dwelling on his solitary state and memories of his lost love, and becomes aware that his is the only car on the road. His feelings of loneliness are exaggerated by this, and it is almost a relief to see another pair of headlights coming up behind him. The fact that his dog Spike suddenly offers a growling warning of something unpleasant  to come is initially ignored by Gil. But then things start to happen which are very far from normal or comfortable. The behaviour of the second car as it tries a number of tactics which threaten to drive him off the road, or give him heart failure,  at first induces panic, the thought of a drunk out of hand, but soon escalates to something infinitely more threatening and ultimately terrifying.

Though Gil somehow manages to get away, believing he has escaped the threat, it is actually far from over as the reader recognises when offered an insight into the mind of the perpetrator. The interesting combination of observing the thoughts of both tormentor and tormented is a clever device and continues throughout the story as things get worse and worse.

Though the reader is privy to the voice of the criminal mind, they cannot identify him any more than Gil himself can. Despite that they are taken into the planning of the mysterious and unpleasant happenings, and even murder,  the motivation which drives it all remains in deep shadow, and this is the most terrifying aspect of the story. Who is he and why is he doing these things? While Gil struggles to explain what is happening to the police, things simply deteriorate around him with no clue as to what he has done to be targeted with such venom. In his private life he is making efforts to begin a new life, with a new relationship, but consistent terrifying attacks on those closest to him, and on his property continue, as does his bewilderment about why.

This is a really well-written thriller, with a tight scary plot, that carries some genuinely original ideas, and cleverly builds terror and tension, finally bringing a real ‘edge of the seat’ denouement and dramatic conclusion on the cliff top at Llangranog.

Roadrage by MJ Johnson is due out on 3 June, and is available from good bookshops; on Amazon as hardback or ebook, and is available online from price £12.99