Twenty-four Days – A Thriller by J. Murray

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I am delighted to be part of Jacqui Murray’s book launch of her latest exciting thriller, Twenty-Four Days.

It is only nine months since Jacqui Murray released her first book, To Hunt a Sub, which I featured hereTwenty-four Days promises to be an even more intense and thrilling read.

Some familiar characters return in this sequel novel including the ever popular albeit quirky Otto,  a sentient artificial intelligence robot. Along with its handler, Kali Delamagente and brilliant scientist, Zeke Rowe, the unlikely team becomes America’s only chance to stop a terrorist attack that threatens the nation.

First here is some information about the book itself before Jacqui kindly answers some questions that came to my mind whilst reading this and the sample first chapter.

‘World-renowned paleoanthropologist, Dr. Zeke Rowe is surprised when a friend from his SEAL past shows up in his Columbia lab and asks for help: Two submarines have been hijacked and Rowe might be the only man who can find them.

At first he refuses, fearing a return to his former life will end a sputtering romance with fellow scientist and love of his life, Kali Delamagente, but when one of his closest friends is killed by the hijackers, he changes his mind. He asks Delamagente for the use of her one-of-a-kind AI Otto who possesses the unique skill of being able to follow anything with a digital trail.

In a matter of hours, Otto finds one of the subs and it is neutralized.

But the second, Otto can’t locate.

Piece by piece, Rowe uncovers a bizarre nexus between Salah Al-Zahrawi–the world’s most dangerous terrorist and a man Rowe thought he had killed a year ago, a North Korean communications satellite America believes is a nuclear-tipped weapon, an ideologue that cares only about revenge, and the USS Bunker Hill (a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser) tasked with supervising the satellite launch.

And a deadline that expires in twenty-four days.

As America teeters on the brink of destruction, Zeke finally realizes that Al-Zahrawi’s goal isn’t nuclear war, but payback against the country that cost him so much.’

To the interview – Jacqui’s answers are in italic.

Firstly, I am interested in the research you must have undertaken for this book? It is technically, scientifically and militarily detailed. What did your research entail? Do you have a background in the Navy/submarines/AIs? Have you any personal experience of submarines?

I have been onboard a submarine, but (of course) couldn’t visit many of the parts I had to describe because they are classified. For that sort of info, I turned to working submariners. They shared what they could without crossing the security line. I also did a ton of Googling under the assumption that if I could come up with it in a Google search, it probably wasn’t classified. Any time I worried I might step over the line of revealing secret details, I stepped back, either obfuscated or deleted. This was true not only for those few sub scenes, but the many cruiser scenes.

Next, I’m interested in your writing process? What is it like writing a fiction book as opposed to your factual tech books? Did you write it whilst still editing the first one? How long did it take you to write this?

My first effort at fiction (called Born in a Treacherous Time–it will come out next year–it has been a long long process) was inspired as an effort to humanize dry facts. I wanted to present real-world events in a way people would enjoy rather than a textbook which tends toward the pedantic. So, I used fiction’s traits of developing characters, story arc, and crises-resolution. This is typical in historic fiction and creative non-fiction, but I didn’t know that when I started twenty-five years ago. I am a devotee of that approach now. 

This book is the sequel to To Hunt a Sub. When I finished that book, I sent out query letters, waited, got nibbles and waited some more. To keep myself busy, I wrote Twenty-four Days. I finished it before the query process for the first book ended. That’s frightening to think about. When I went through the same slow, tedious process (which included acquiring and losing an agent) for Twenty-four Days, I decided I’d prefer to self-publish. The material in Twenty-four Days (a partnership between North Korea and Iran, a North Korean nuclear weapon, and an attack on a US warship by North Korea) is somewhat time-sensitive and spot on for today’s geopolitical events–I didn’t want to miss that opportunity!

Following a discussion with another blogger, do you prefer to write straight on the computer or in longhand first? Do you think it makes a difference?

I have rheumatoid arthritis so I definitely must type. I’m looking to the day when I’ll replace typing with speaking. Anyone out there write their book entirely with vocal commands? I’d love to hear how that goes.

How do you find the editing process? Did you write many drafts first?

I like the editing process. I probably read through the entire book a dozen times, to be sure of flow, pacing, that sort of stuff, but in between, I edit in chunks. I find it very effective to have my editing software (I use Autocrit) identify pieces they have a problem with and then dig into it to fix it. There will be thousands of those–too many passive sentences, repeated words, or any number of other reasons. 99% of the time, after I’ve fixed these and then reread the entire draft, I am much happier with the story.

I was wondering if this book can be read as a stand-alone or best after To Hunt a Sub? Are you planning a sequel to Twenty-four Days? Are you working on any other fiction book?

It is a stand-alone though I’ve peppered in details from the prior book where needed. I am planning the sequel. I want to feature Otto (the sentient AI) more centrally and move away from warships and submarines. I’ll know more in a few months!

I’m also working on a spin-off series that revolves around the ancient female Lucy who appeared several times in To Hunt a Sub. Her story of resilience, strength, and pain is motivating. This will be historic fiction rather than thriller. The first is titled Born in a Treacherous Time and is due June, 2018.

With reference to the title – Is there any particular significance of 24 days?

The story starts with the good guys having only 24 days to save the world. Typical thriller fashion, innit? I count down the days as the reader moves through the book, to build drama and keep the action centered.

What is the hardest part of self-publishing? Are there any elements in indie publishing that were easier than you originally thought?

The hardest part of self-publishing is believing I’m worthy. When an agent knocks on your virtual door and says they want to represent you, that tells you you’re a good writer, You’re worthy of being published. It’s difficult to do it without that cheerleader, to put my work out there because I believe in it (and my husband–he always believed in me). 

The easiest part of self-publishing is the second book. Once I built a template for how to do it,  all I had to do was replicate it for the second book. That’s not to say it wasn’t frightening, time-consuming, and stressful. But I did have a model to follow that worked once before. That made a big difference. 

Finally, here are a couple of extracts from Twenty-four Days to whet your appetite:
'Obeid was stunned. His gut said Run! He risked his future—his life—staying a moment longer with this crazed zealot, but Obeid did little more than croak a strangled, “If I succeed, I will also die!” His University friends called it a Sophie’s Choice.

The Kenyan shrugged. “But less painfully.”

…..

Across the yard, limned against the grey sky, towered the domed shape of the HMS Triumph, its deck slick with rain, sail glistening in the early morning light. The warheads it carried could reach the vast majority of the planet but the bustling sailors, some in oil-stained uniforms, others nattily dressed in white with jaunty officer caps, greeted each other, oblivious to the danger approaching them in the uniform of shipmates.

What had he done?

“Keep going,” the scar-faced Kenyan hissed between clenched teeth.

Obeid balled his fists to stop their shaking and forced his steps to be slow and measured as if in no rush to start what would be a three-month deployment.'

Jacqui, many thanks for your honest and informative answers in this interview. Tempted to read more,  Twenty-four Days is now available to purchase at  Kindle US,  Kindle UKKindle Canada,

Monster – A Children’s Story

The successful author of several fantasy books, D. Wallace Peach takes a break and surprises us all with these wonderful illustrations to one of her children’s stories. With its sense of magic, humour and a lesson learned this brightened up my day in the midst of a week of darkness.

Myths of the Mirror

My writing break is busy with little projects, and new book ideas are happily simmering. The rain lingered through most of May, so I spent a couple weeks playing at other kinds of creativity. I thought I’d try to illustrate one of my children’s stories. Here are the first six pages. A  couple still need some work, but it’s a start. The verse is hard to see at this mini size, so I added it below.

Monster

In a dim and distant galaxy
Due east of dusty Mars
Spins a tiny greenish planet
Nestled in a spray of stars.

Its rivers teem with fishes
Its fields grow golden wheat
And fireflies light its lanterns
Along every nighttime street.

The sun smiles at its dawning
Rain only drips at night.
Even prickly woodland beasties
Hardly ever raise a fright.

“Life is grand in Alderdoof,”
The elders often say.
“Could a soul…

View original post 709 more words

WHAT’S IN AN ALE NAME?

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Everyone loves a story! Everything holds a story within itself and that is true of names too…of all names, even ones of beers!

I was reminded of this the other day as my husband wistfully started reading out the label on the back of his beer…at times I tune out his mutterings but this time my interest was piqued and I just had to learn more.

Bottles of beer were duly bought and following research and photo gathering, I’m ready to unveil the story behind six beer names – who knew it would take me on a virtual pilgrimage to Canterbury, to 17th-century navy battles and to 12th-century court cases of brawling and swearing. Not forgetting the ride in an old motor car! 

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Old Speckled Hen has a wonderfully rustic name, reminiscent of the countryside glowing in the dappled sunlight similar in colour to the amber golden ale. As my mind is peacefully drifting among the meadows, hens pecking on the grass I’m brought back to the modern world with a shock whilst researching this beer.

The name owes nothing to the bird, speckled or not, rather it refers to a car!! The vehicle was a paint-splattered Featherweight Fabric Saloon which was the factory run-around car used by MG and fondly referred to as ‘Owld Speckl’d Un’ owing to its mottled appearance after years parked under the paint shop.

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The beer itself was brewed by Moreland on special request of MG in 1979 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their car factory in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.

Old seems a popular word when it comes to beers and appears yet again in the name of Old Peculier!

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This Theakston’s famous ale takes its name from the seal of the Peculier Court of Masham in North Yorkshire. In the 12th century it was the custom of the church to administer the law but this proved too an arduous task for the Archbishop, who was based in York.

Therefore he set up a Peculier Court which was independent of the diocese and headed by the Peculier of Masham.

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The court’s jurisdiction was varied and included dealing with offences such as not coming to church enough, not bringing children in for baptism, drunkenness, swearing and brawling.

Broadside, a dark red beer brewed in Southwold, Suffolk, has a fascinating historical connection and commemorates a famous but little-known Battle of Solebay in 1672.

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Solebay, nowadays known as Sole Bay,  lies near the brewery in Suffolk and was the site of a naval battle in the Third Anglo-Dutch War.

IMG_0324Broadside is the battery of cannon on one side of a warship and there were ships in abundance in the early morning of 7th June 1672 as a fleet of 75 ships from the United Provinces, present-day Holland, surprised the joint Anglo-French fleet of 93 ships anchored in the bay.  Across the two fleets, there were over 55,000 men and nearly 11,000 canons.

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The battle ended inconclusively at sunset after a whole day’s fighting with both sides claiming victory despite the heavy losses.

In all the Dutch lost two ships and 1800 men whilst the English lost two ships and over 2000 men.  The local people of Southwold cared for the 800+ injured and dealt with the bodies that washed up on its shores for weeks afterward. According to the historians, the Dutch had more justification to claim victory as the English-French plan to blockade the Dutch was abandoned.

Not all beer names have such interesting history as Broadside and are rather more lightly amusing!  One such is Badger’s ale of Fursty Ferret.

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This famous ale is brewed by Hall & Woodhouse which was founded in 1777. The name is thought to come from the inquisitive ferrets which used to sneak a taste of the local brew. I was baffled by the actual meaning of ‘fursty’ and one of the google responses was interesting: ‘The meaning of the given name Fursty represents innovation, independence, determination, courage, sincerity and activity.’ Just like a ferret, then! Or it might just be a  Fursty is local dialect for thirsty, being Dorset!

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Bishops Finger is a classic strong ale from Kent and its name has strong connections to the Pilgrims’ Way. Along the walk from Winchester towards Canterbury and the shrine of Thomas Beckett signposts called Bishop’s Fingers showed the pilgrims the way.

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The Pilgrims’ Way is a historical route which originally used in 500-450 BC and has been in constant use for 3000 years.

The last beer to be featured is called Bengal Lancer and this is another ale that has historical connotations, this time to India during the time of the British Empire.

20170510_093420As it was too hot to brew beer in India the only solution was to ship it to the troops out there. However, all the beers at the time were unsuitable for the six month trip and eventually a prototype Indian Pale Ale (IPA) was brewed which gradually became paler and more refreshing for the Indian climate.

Several brewers made IPA and this particular one, brewed by Fuller’s, is named after the regiment of Bengal Lancers in the army.

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The six beers bought for this post have been tantalisingly on display in our kitchen for the last week and my husband had to be reined in a couple of times as he’s tried to snag a bottle or two at night! At last, his patience will be rewarded and the bottles are duly released from duty. As he pours a glass of beer tonight, I’ll join him with a glass of … wine! I dislike the taste of any ales with a vengeance!

NB. Small segments of this post are taken directly from the labels attached to the beer bottles describing the origins of the beer names.

LASTING SANCTUARY

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Back and forth. The chair rocked gently, back and forth. Years, decades even, I’ve sat here on and off, rocking calmly, the squeak a welcome friend, the worn wood of the arms soft to my caress. Even as a child I sought solace here and closing my eyes, I drifted into a restful doze….

’Williams! Stop that rocking! I swear, I can see grooves on the oak floor. Williams!’

I’d only sneaked in ten minutes earlier and made straight for the rocking chair in its usual gloomy nook beneath religion and travel, navigating my way by memory with my spectacles grasped uselessly in my hands. Those bloody glasses! Bad enough they fogged up a hundred times a day, even worse they were NHS ones.

‘Caught any fish today, Snorkel face!’  That was the kindest thing anyone ever said to me at school. Even my name was a shout and a demanding, irritated one at that.

At last, the glasses cleared and my gasp of awe puffed audibly across the room. A gentleman in the opposite corner tutted disapprovingly, glared at me before returning his eyes to the book in his hands.  ‘Perfume’ if I wasn’t mistaken and one I could recommend to him. Books galore! My usual heavenly delight. The afternoon light shimmered through the windows, the dust danced around the bookshelves, the words within a promise of new worlds, of escape.

The coins in my blazer pocket clinked against each other as I reached for them. Two pounds altogether and well worth saving my 50p weekly pocket.  Who needed sweets anyway? For me it was all about the books. With a push the chair lurched forwards, depositing me on my feet with a satisfying creak and groan. I edged left around historical fiction, turned right at thrillers then stopped by biographies. 

‘What do you want to read them for?’ Dad always asked. Not waiting for an answer he’d reach for a beer from the fridge, his head lost within the cold vault as the muffled one-way conversation continued.

‘You should be out playing football with your mates. Out do you, hear? None of this bookshop rubbish.’

Why did he never realise that the bookshop was my haven, the dark wooden shelves my sanctuary, the books my guardian?

‘Mr Williams! Thank goodness, you’re awake. There was another complaint about that chair yesterday.’ I continued to rock, groggily, trapped in time, my Ralph Lauren glasses on the wonk. I straightened them slowly. ‘It will kill someone, one day, Mr Williams. That young lad, Joe, the one you always tolerate, who’s constantly here, was thrown off the chair yesterday when its arm broke right off. Yes, that one. I fixed it but it nearly killed him. Fell onto the floor, he did and banged his head. Nearly killed him!’

The laughter within me built up gradually, begrudgingly, relentlessly. 

‘Mr Williams, as the owner you’re responsible…’

‘For keeping things just as I want them! As I’ve done for over thirty years. Don’t change a thing! Now, where’s my laptop…’ Still chuckling I nudged it awake and started to tap on the screen whilst inhaling the muggy scent of books with satisfaction.

 A chair that takes people’s fate in its own hands is a story waiting to be published! And added to my bookshelves.

©Annika Perry, 2017

This piece was written in response to a prompt issued by my creative writing group – the options were eclectic and consisted of Lemon Tree Grove, Book Shops or Graveyard. I was tempted to write a short story including all three elements but fear this would become far too long for the group!

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Images courtesy of pixabay

BOOKS I READ ON MY HOLIDAY

I’m a sucker for lists of all kinds. To do lists, places to visit list, present list but surely the best type of all is that of books! Books are always a huge part of my life and even more so during a holiday.

This Easter in Sweden was no exception and thanks to ebooks I’m no longer restricted by weight to the number of books to take along – just as well as together my son and I read sixteen books.

It was a literary fest and here are a few of the varied mix I read…with just a brief overview and the effect they had on me.

51zIoSmxGJLThe book that carried me across the North Sea was The Legacy of Lucy Harte.  I need a good, no, make that a great book, to ensure that I am distracted from the fact I am 30,000+ feet up in the air with only two engines keeping me safely there and a thin sheet of metal is all that protects me from the airless minus 50 degrees centigrade outside.

‘Maggie O’Hara knows better than most that life can change in a heartbeat. Eighteen years ago she was given the most precious gift- a second-hand heart, and a second chance at life.

Always thankful, Maggie has never forgotten Lucy Harte – the little girl who saved her life. But as Maggie’s own life begins to fall apart, and her heart is broken in love, she loses sight of everything she has to live for…

Until an unexpected letter changes Maggie’s life..’

The Legacy of Lucy Harte is a gem of a read and I was desolate when I finished reading it. I had immersed myself in Maggie’s, her family’s and friend’s lives and it was a wrench to say goodbye to them. The book was wonderfully written and at no point a maudlin story.

LIONA good friend here on WP recently recommended the film Lion. I was all set to go to the cinema when it was removed from the schedule. That is so typical! l! However I saw the book available on Amazon and once I reassured myself that the book was written before the film, I just couldn’t resist this true-life story.

‘As a five-year old in India, I got lost on a train. Twenty-five years later, I crossed the world to find my way back home.

Five-year-old Saroo lived in a poor village in India, in a one-room hut with his mother and three siblings… until the day he boarded a train alone and got lost. For twenty-five years.

This is the story of what happened to Saroo in those twenty-five years. How he ended up on the streets of Calcutta. And survived. How he then ended up in Tasmania, living the life of an upper-middle-class Aussie. And how, at thirty years old, with some dogged determination, a heap of good luck and the power of Google Earth, he found his way back home.’

Lion is a wonderfully sweeping human real life drama; it is lovingly told, heart-breaking, tense and astutely emotionally honest.  The main characters in Saroo’s life are wonderfully captured. The whole book is cinematic in its scope, brilliantly written and by the end I felt I’d seen the film! This is a book that caught hold of my heart from the very start and had me reaching for the tissues. Surely a sequel will be written soon.

GO SET THE WATCHMANGo Set a Watchman has been on my shelf for a year and after the, at times, vitriolic, discussions across the news and social media I had decided to leave this. However, my curiosity was piqued and at the last minute this is the only paperback that made it into my suitcase.

‘Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch – ‘Scout’ – returns home from New York City to visit her ageing father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past – a journey that can be guided only by one’s own conscience.’

The book is brilliantly written with the first part beautifully capturing Jean Louse Finch’s return to Maycomb and meeting up with family and friends, including her potential fiancee. However, about half way the whole book takes a sudden dramatic turn…and stays there. Whoa! Despite the comments I’d read I hadn’t expected the remainder to be a whole discourse on race in the 1950s and before. Like the slap she received from her uncle, I felt equally winded. As she argues for her beliefs I begin to feel her helplessness. I’m glad I’ve read it but can see why her publishers advised her to write To Kill a Mockingbird instead as indeed the first part of the book contains a lot of her memorable events which later find a central place in TKMB.

BRITT-MARIEFrederik Backman is very popular at the moment and he found success after writing a blog for many years (there is hope for us all!) I had thoroughly enjoyed his A Man Called Ove. I was less fond of My Grandmother sends her regards and apologises.

However, Britt-Marie Was Here is my favourite of his books and as far as I’m concerned Backman has totally redeemed himself!

‘For as long as anyone can remember, Britt-Marie has been an acquired taste. It’s not that she’s judgemental, or fussy, or difficult – she just expects things to be done in a certain way. A cutlery drawer should be arranged in the right order, for example (forks, knives, then spoons). We’re not animals, are we?

But behind the passive-aggressive, socially awkward, absurdly pedantic busybody is a woman who has more imagination, bigger dreams and a warmer heart than anyone around her realizes.

So when Britt-Marie finds herself unemployed, separated from her husband of 20 years, left to fend for herself in the miserable provincial backwater that is Borg – of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it – and somehow tasked with running the local football team, she is a little unprepared. But she will learn that life may have more to offer her that she’s ever realised, and love might be found in the most unexpected of places.’

Britt-Marie Was Here is deceptively simplistic in its style with a hidden far-reaching depth. The character of Britt-Marie and all whom she encounter are wonderfully crafted although it does take time to become engaged with them on a literary level. Britt-Marie’s world is odd, particularly with her OCD which dictates her life (I could identify with the obsession with lists, though!).

Do stick with the book as it is worth the initial effort and very soon her life and the lives of the inhabitants  of Borg will win a place in your heart and mind. As they are changed by her presence of Britt-Marie, she is equally affected by their disarming behaviour. Hers and their lives will never be the same. I just loved this book and at times found myself cheering along for Britt-Marie, at times screaming at her (silently of course); Britt-Marie evokes a reaction from the reader throughout until the touching and deft finale.

My final three books all have one element in common – Sisters. At last it seems that the era of ‘Girl’ titled books are on the wane only to be replaced by a proliferation of ‘Sister’ related ones.

THE LOST AND THE FOUNDI hadn’t even realised The Lost & The Found was about two sisters, one snatched as young, until I started the book.

‘SHE WAS LOST…

When six-year-old Laurel Logan was abducted, the only witness was her younger sister, Faith. Faith’s childhood was dominated by Laurel’s disappearance – from her parents’ broken marriage and the constant media attention to dealing with so-called friends who only ever wanted to talk about her sister.

NOW SHE IS FOUND…

Thirteen years later, a young woman is found in the garden of the Logans’ old house, disorientated and clutching the teddy bear Laurel was last seen with. Laurel is home at last, safe and sound. Faith always dreamed of getting her sister back, without ever truly believing it would happen. But a disturbing series of events leaves Faith increasingly isolated and paranoid, and before long she begins to wonder if everything that’s lost can be found again…’

This is  YA book was recommended to me by my son and mostly so for its ending. The story is superb, well told, full of suspense building to a crescendo of twists. Wow! The first I was sort of expecting, not the second nor the heart-stopping third. I had to re-read it a few times…just to take it in. Finishing this book late at night is not recommended as a sleep eluded me for next few hours. This is an extremely powerful and one  I finished within 24 hours!

51AmnHYNpzLSister Sister is in many ways eerily similar to Cat Clarke’s book and alas only highlights its weaknesses.

‘Alice: Beautiful, kind, manipulative, liar.

Clare: Intelligent, loyal, paranoid, jealous.

Clare thinks Alice is a manipulative liar who is trying to steal her life.

Alice thinks Clare is jealous of her long-lost return and place in their family.

One of them is telling the truth. The other is a maniac.

Two sisters. One truth.’

In all honesty I would say this is the weakest of the books I read during the Easter break. A psychological thriller with few thrills. There were a moments of danger, but the story was clearly signposted, the characters deliberately vague to add to the confusion. It had me hooked to a certain degree however in the end I finished it as I wanted to read the end, see how the writer got there and if I was right. A good read overall, just not great.

Sister Sister also had the misfortune of using the same technique for one of the characters as Sometimes I lie in that one of the character is not telling the truth.

SOMETIMES I LIESometimes I lie is another book recommended to me by my son and this is a compulsive read which such intricate twists my son and I ended up discussing them at length, referring back to the book to double check details.

‘My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me.

  1. I’m in a coma

2. My husband doesn’t love me any more

3. Sometimes I lie’

This brilliant psychological thriller had me guessing until the end, satisfying in its twists and drama, great hold on the characters which are fully developed. My personal pet hate is the very final sentence which I know is supposed to be tantalising but it just isn’t logically possible!!

I read an article on Mslexia  magazine about Twitter length stories and for fun I wrote the following loosely based around the themes of the last three books mentioned.

My long lost sister’s tatty teddy hung limply in the stranger’s hand, her gaunt eyes fixed on me.

‘Where did you get that?’

‘From Lucy…years ago. I managed to escape.’   ©Annika Perry, 2017

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my Easter book binge. Have you read any of these? Are you tempted to read any of them?  I look forward to reading your comments.

TRANSITION

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It’s less than a week since I arrived back from Sweden and the transition to everyday life has been harder than ever. The break was perfect on all levels and once home I realised that my body made it across the North Sea whilst my soul was still residing in the summer house, wandering blissfully on the land, clambering on the rocks.

Senetti with Petunias and Flowering Chives

Senetti with Petunias and Flowering Chives

To aid the unification of body and soul I set out to do what often helps in these circumstances. When I was younger that would have meant a splurge at a bookstore after hours of browsing. As an adult and keen gardener I headed to the local garden centre and spurred on by the rare warm sunshine the temperamental trolley was soon filled to the brim. Muttering at the trolley under my breath I steered the plants to the car and kept my fingers crossed for a sunny Sunday.

Senetti with Petunias

Senetti with Petunias

Today I woke to fair weather and keen to get started I left the housework and headed out to the garden. Quickly a new solace took hold of me, gently pulling or cutting the plants from the tight pots and planting with joy. Childlike glee swept over me as soil spilt onto the grass, the patio; little granules of compost sneaking their way into my shoes. One old and tired plant needed to be replaced and proved particularly stubborn on being pulled out. I tried digging it out with a trowel. No luck. Then it was time for the fork and with satisfaction I attacked the rock hard roots, hacking away! At last, I managed to replace it with a beautiful new flower. I could feel my spirits lift.

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A few hours later everything was in place…happily including my soul! 

Nemesia 'Wisley Vanilla'

Nemesia ‘Wisley Vanilla’

That is when the idea for this post struck me…another book-style post is partially written but just didn’t feel right at the moment and I had initially left comments on my last post on Bert Håge Häverö but turned them off at the last moment as I was dazed and exhausted upon my return to the UK, feeling overwhelmed to respond.

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Thank you all for being patient; I’m slowly catching up on your blogs and look forward to easing into normality in the coming week. Meanwhile, I want to finish with one poem featured on Brainpickings this morning. Maria Popova is a gifted writer and her articles are always a treat and consist of interesting, informative and thought-provoking essays on writers/artists/philosophers and it was:

‘Founded in 2006 as a weekly email that went out to seven friends and eventually brought online, the site was included in the Library of Congress permanent web archive in 2012.’ *

Today’s feature on poet Jane Hirshfield is particularly relevant as it was Earth Day yesterday. Enjoy.

ON THE FIFTH DAY
by Jane Hirshfield

On the fifth day
the scientists who studied the rivers
were forbidden to speak
or to study the rivers.

The scientists who studied the air
were told not to speak of the air,
and the ones who worked for the farmers
were silenced,
and the ones who worked for the bees.

Someone, from deep in the Badlands,
began posting facts.

The facts were told not to speak
and were taken away.
The facts, surprised to be taken, were silent. 

Now it was only the rivers
that spoke of the rivers,
and only the wind that spoke of its bees,

while the unpausing factual buds of the fruit trees
continued to move toward their fruit.

The silence spoke loudly of silence,
and the rivers kept speaking,
of rivers, of boulders and air. 

In gravity, earless and tongueless,
the untested rivers kept speaking.

Bus drivers, shelf stockers,
code writers, machinists, accountants,
lab techs, cellists kept speaking.

They spoke, the fifth day,
of silence.

* From Maria Povova on https://www.brainpickings.org

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Senetti with Petunias

Senetti with Petunias

ON SOLITUDE AND LIFE

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This is the last in a series of Bert Håge Häverö (Swedish artist 1932-2014) paintings which I will feature during my holiday break this Easter. These delightful photographs were taken from our company calendar which we gave out to customers many years ago. Never having the heart to throw our copy away I came across this recently and wanted to share the beauty he saw of the Swedish landscape and people. Accompanying the paintings will be various quotations /sayings/poems that have inspired me or touched my spirit.  Comments have been turned off for this post.

 

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‘When I am feeling dreary, annoyed, and generally unimpressed by life, I imagine what it would be like to come back to this world for just a day after having been dead. I imagine how sentimental I would feel about the very things I once found stupid, hateful, or mundane. Oh, there’s a light switch! I haven’t seen a light switch in so long! I didn’t realize how much I missed light switches! Oh! Oh! And look — the stairs up to our front porch are still completely cracked! Hello cracks! Let me get a good look at you. And there’s my neighbor, standing there, fantastically alive, just the same, still punctuating her sentences with you know what I’m saying? Why did that bother me? It’s so… endearing.’

Amy Krouse Rosenthal (1965-2017)

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‘Reading it that evening was like having someone whisper to me, in elongated Germanic sentences, all the youthful affirmations I had been yearning to hear. Loneliness is just space expanding around you. Trust uncertainty. Sadness is life holding you in its hands and changing you. Make solitude your home.’

Rachel Corbett on Rainer Maria Rilke

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PERFECTION / IMP OF AN IDEA

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This is the second of three posts on Bert Håge Häverö (Swedish artist 1932-2014) paintings which I will feature during my holiday break this Easter. These delightful photographs were taken from our company calendar which we gave out to customers many years ago. Never having the heart to throw our copy away I came across this recently and wanted to share the beauty he saw of the Swedish landscape and people. Accompanying the paintings will be various quotations /sayings/poems that have inspired me or touched my spirit. Comments have been turned off for this post.

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‘I am lying on a hammock, on the terrace of my room at the Hotel Mirador, the diary open on my knees, the sun shining on the diary, and I have no desire to write. The sun, the leaves, the shade, the warmth, are so alive that they lull the senses, calm the imagination. This is perfection. There is no need to portray, to preserve. It is eternal, it overwhelms you, it is complete.’ Anaïs Nin

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‘It is a silver morning like any other. I am at my desk. Then the phone rings, or someone raps at the door. I am deep in the machinery of my wits. Reluctantly I rise, I answer the phone or I open the door. And the thought which I had in hand, or almost in hand, is gone. Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.

But just as often, if not more often, the interruption comes not from another but from the self itself, or some other self within the self, that whistles and pounds upon the door panels and tosses itself, splashing, into the pond of meditation. And what does it have to say? That you must phone the dentist, that you are out of mustard, that your uncle Stanley’s birthday is two weeks hence. You react, of course. Then you return to your work, only to find that the imps of idea have fled back into the mist.’  Mary Oliver

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THE FIRST POET / THE MUSE WILL COME

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This is the first of three posts on Bert Håge Häverö (Swedish artist 1932-2014) paintings which I will feature during my holiday break this Easter. These delightful photographs were taken from our company calendar which we gave out to customers many years ago. Never having the heart to throw our copy away I came across this recently and wanted to share the beauty he saw of the Swedish landscape and people. Accompanying the paintings will be various quotations /sayings/poems that have inspired me or touched my spirit. Comments have been turned off for this post.

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‘The first poet must have suffered much when the cave-dwellers laughed at his mad words. He would have given his bow and arrows and lion skin, everything he possessed, just to have his fellow-men know the delight and the passion which the sunset had created in his soul. And yet, is it not this mystic pain — the pain of not being known — that gives birth to art and artists’  Kahlil Gibran

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‘I start all my books on January eighth. Can you imagine January seventh? It’s hell. Every year on January seventh, I prepare my physical space. I clean up everything from my other books. I just leave my dictionaries, and my first editions, and the research materials for the new one. And then on January eighth I walk seventeen steps from the kitchen to the little pool house that is my office. It’s like a journey to another world. It’s winter, it’s raining usually. I go with my umbrella and the dog following me. From those seventeen steps on, I am in another world and I am another person. I go there scared. And excited. And disappointed — because I have a sort of idea that isn’t really an idea. The first two, three, four weeks are wasted. I just show up in front of the computer. Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too. If she doesn’t show up invited, eventually she just shows up.’   Isabel Allende

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EASTER AWAKENING

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The plonk of a parcel landing on the hall floor startled me from my writing reverie and with the eagerness of a child I dashed downstairs and fetched the promised package – these wonderful Easter creations knitted by a dear friend. During the winter months she’s been beavering away in the evenings with family and two lively cats around her and finally her collection was complete! What a lovely and kind idea to share these chicks, bunnies and carrots with family and friends! What a beautiful way to spread Easter sunshine to us all! 

For two weeks I’ll be enjoying the peace and beauty of our ‘retreat’  in Sweden, away from the busy bustling world, barely connected to its digital being. 

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I look forward to walking the land in the cold mornings, the freshness of the air biting my lungs – a sting I welcome as I inhale the crisp ozone air scented from the surrounding pine forests. The dew on the grass will be bathed in sheer white frost, crackling underfoot and dotted around I’ll spot tracks of nighttime visitors of rabbits, badgers, foxes and deer. This early communion with nature has been sorely missed! 

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Whilst on holiday I will heed the words of Thalia Gust’s latest poem, rejuvenating in the beauty of the natural world, bringing my full awareness to the sights and sounds…leaving those ‘Musts’ behind.

MUSTS

What is a Must 

when Cherry blossoms shimmer,

What is a Must

when the skylark sings,

 

What is a Must

when garden turns

        yellow, white and blue;

 

What is a Must

when the wind plays in the Willow

What is a Must 

when I sit on favourite bench,

 

Wren and Robin nesting

in bushes that surround.

 

I left Musts behind today

threw them in the river.

© Thalia Gust

I hope to be on Twitter some, a little on WP but otherwise want to wish you all an enjoyable and peaceful Easter!

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