Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Christmas Candle

Last night I declared the beginning of my festive holiday which meant leaving my work on a new novel in a good place so that I can take it up again after Christmas. The question is: Will I be able to ignore it that long?
Once I'm fully immersed in new characters and their story then it is a difficult thing to do but... I have family commitments and my calendar is full for next week too.
My characters are whispering to me to join them in their journey and there is a kind of magic in that. At this time of year in particular the magic of being able to step into a literary world of "anything can happen" appeals to the parts of me that are still a seven-year-old child sitting on a window ledge and reading. My one wish then? To be able to make someone else feel exactly how I felt at that moment when reading about Mrs. Pepperpot's adventures. A wish I wasn't able to see realised until much later in life.
At my recent book launch of Crushed in Ireland a member of the audience said that I was like two people - one was the older woman benefiting from a long business career and the other was the seven-year-old. Her observation intrigued me. She was correct. My older side is nurturing the little girl who still sits on the window ledge. An example of this is in the brief story I wrote for the Dec/Jan edition of The Link magazine. I hope you enjoy my last Christmas story of the month. Merry Christmas!
The Christmas Candle by Denise Greenwood, The Link Magazine

Thursday, 17 December 2015

St. Nicholas - this weeks Xmas story by Peggy Kopman-Owens

This week's Christmas story comes from author Peggy Kopman-Owens. Peggy's experience as a crew-member on commercial airlines, private jets and her years in Paris provided inspiration for her Paris Mysteries series.

Arrives in Paris
 An excerpt from the original:
"Entre ciel et terre, il ya Paris."
"Between Heaven and Earth, there is Paris."
© 2015
Peggy Kopman-Owens

The thought of home tugged at my heart, leaving the last crumb tasteless on my tongue. Those in the city mused about the weather, but not with the intensity that we in the countryside had dissected and chronicled it. Every sunrise held promise, every sunset a mystery. Clouds carried clues we learned to read carefully as our fathers and our grandfathers taught us. Our lives depended upon our understanding, our interpretation, our acceptance of powerful things outside our reach, and therefore, of the benevolent blessings or unavoidable curses upon our lives.
This year would be wet, dry, cold, hot. Tomorrow a crop would rise, drop, thrive or die, and with it our hopes for a more abundant life. With each season, we prayed we might rise from our humble status - serfs upon the land of free men. But most often, we found ourselves bowed to God's rejection of our labor and forced to humble ourselves under the yoke of our Earthly masters. We accepted our condemnation and continued as peasants, marionettes pulled and contorted by invisible hands whose will we did not understand or question aloud.
With my childish heart I dared, but in silence. Why was such hard work our lot in life? I looked to the village priest for answers, as those much older than I seemed drawn in the direction of the church at times such as these. In the dark of the confessional, he warned that my place in this world was not for me to question. To accept God's will was 'enough.' 
The walk home was long for a young soul as hungry for understanding as the stomach growling for bread. In the firelight of supper, my family whispered of that time, when 'enough' might be hidden away and freedom for at least one among us might be obtainable; a brother's freedom might be bought and with it - a learned skill. A sister might be given 'enough' of a dowry with which to entice a free man to husband her. For more generations than I could count, such had been our family's earthly purpose for waking, working, and continuing in the face of what seemed to me to be hopelessness.
The priest had said, 'Think not of your hunger. The pain of earthly toil is but a season. The reward for those things which God asks of us lasts forever... in a place called Heaven.’ With that, he dispatched this child on that well-worn path. Enough was never enough. The hopes of the family would go unfulfilled, but in fire lit dreams. The unknown world beyond our village would exist as little more than a vanishing point at the end of a long, dusty...and for us, untraveled road
For these and other reasons, the least of which being the occasion of my twelfth birthday, I executed the heroic act of removing one mouth from my Father and Mother's table and took to the open road that singularly led out of the village. It did not occur to me that I might never see my family, ever again. However, it would be God's will. I had yet to learn that every choice in life held an equal weight of consequence. In giving us free will, God bestowed His blessing. We were the ones, who chose to see the consequences as a curse, not knowing this was of our own creation.
At first, I walked boldly into the silence of the moonless night accompanied by a lone dog, far too fixated upon the tiny bundle of worldly possessions resting upon my shoulder. The small sack woven by my sister contained a shawl, two mismatched socks one being my brother's, a hairbrush gifted by my maternal grandmother on her deathbed, and an apron made by my own hands less than a season earlier. The dog had hoped for food, but I had denied us both even one morsel, and so, he left me as all strays leave those seen as more pitiful than themselves.
Deprived of the dog's company, I gratefully accepted an old man's offer to ride to wherever he might be going - tucked safely in among his vegetables destined for the markets. From the higher vantage point of his wagon, I could see what earlier I could only hear - wolves walking a parallel path not more than a hedgerow away from me along the road. Having walked more than I had ever before walked, I quickly fell asleep in the pre-dawn light, half-hidden by large mounds of cauliflower and cabbage, and lulled like a baby by the comforting rhythm of hooves and wheels.
With the advent of daylight, the familiar scent of potatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants surrendered to a strange, new pungent stink. Rejecting such putrefied city air, my country lungs produced a snort and with it a startled awakening. I sat up quickly, utterly amazed, that in my midnight escape I had met success in the brilliant first light of dawn. This time, I had traveled all the way to the end of the road, not arriving into a new country, but rather into what would become a new life.
‘Out, child,’ the old man said, before handing me an apple and asking my name.
‘Merci,’ I said hungrily accepting the treasure from his hand. ‘My name is Gaston,’ I answered.
‘For you, Monsieur Gaston,’ he said, handing me an entire bag of apples. ‘You may eat them, sell them, or give them away. Your choice will determine your future here, as it once determined mine.’
I had never known such generosity from a stranger and wanted always to remember him. ‘S’il vous plaĆ®t, Monsieur, may I know your name?’

‘My friends call me Nicholas,’ he replied with a broad smile that denied the many miles and years traveled, borne true witness by his white hair and beard.
‘Merci, Monsieur Nicholas,’ I said. ‘Truly, you are a Saint.’
‘No, not a Saint,’ he laughed, ‘but once, long ago, a boy like you.’ And then, he was gone.
I had awakened in Paris. Here, my dreams would never be the same. God had answered my prayers. I had prayed for freedom. He had answered, 'Go.'
…and finally,
It was ‘enough.’



Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Christmas Story - SCRUFFY by David McAdam

This week's Christmas story was written by David McAdam, an artist and also the author of Unlocking Carol's Smile. David spent six years working with the socially marginalized and brings his life's experience alive in his novel and in this short story.

by David McAdam

It was Monday, Scruffy didn’t understand why he suddenly felt different about Annie. They had enjoyed the usual playground games on Friday without him feeling like this. As an eleven year old Scruffy was experiencing puppy love’s first stirrings. He didn’t just want to be one of Annie’s pals; he wanted to be her best friend but realised his chances of this were slim.
Dressed scruffily in odd socks, split plastic sandals, moth eaten sweater and hand-me-down short pants held up with twine had earned him the mocking nickname of Scruffy. Annie, on the other hand, was affectionately nicknamed ‘Granny’ though never by him because of her thick, black framed spectacles, pulled back hair and pinafore dress. A real Georgy Girl. However, what she lacked in the 1966 fashion stakes she made up for in personality. Scruffy also had rivals in Kenny and Derek whom he, because of his heavily freckled face, drooped bottom lip and pudding-bowl haircut, felt were better looking than him. They were certainly better dressed. Along with this different feeling was the awareness if he wanted to be Annie’s best friend he had to impress her. His opportunity came at the pool.
Scruffy was swimming by the diving boards when he saw Annie at the shallow end. He looked up at the boards and was struck by an idea. He ascended the top board three metres above ground. It appeared higher still when Scruffy looked down at the water. ‘Gulp!’ Barely able to dive from the poolside never mind this height he nonetheless determined to impress Annie. ‘C’mon, Annie, please look this way,’ he pleaded under his breath as he stood trembling. She finally did. Taking a deep breath he plummeted landing with a belly flop: ‘Ouch!’ Clutching his stomach underwater with one hand he surfaced hoping to meet with an impressed Annie only to discover she’d left the pool. ‘Tch.’ The next opportunity was the rope swing by the river.
Seeing Annie draw near the tree Scruffy swung out and let go one hand from the rope. Unable to hold on any longer he dropped into the shallow water landing feet first then falling back onto his bottom: ‘Ooh!’ Meanwhile, Annie walked by unimpressed. Scruffy had one more card left to play.
He and other boys were making flatulent sounds in the playground by flapping one arm over the hand of the other held under the armpit when he caught sight of Annie. ‘Annie!’ he shouted running towards her, ‘Listen.’ Scruffy stopped before her and with a beaming smile repeatedly flapped his arm. ‘You’re rude,’ Annie retorted and pushed past unimpressed. ‘Uh?’ Scruffy gave up.
The school Christmas party had arrived, the minister had finished preaching the Christmas message and the game of Pass the Parcel had ended. The Scottish dancing segment was now in full swing. ‘Girls’ choice!’ the headmaster’s voice suddenly boomed. ‘Girls line up on the right side of the hall, boys to the left. When I give the signal girls will choose the boys for the St Bernard’s Waltz.’ Scruffy, dressed no differently than usual except for the addition of an elastic bow tie stood between Kenny and Derek.
Annie stood directly opposite the three. Conscious of his failed attempts to impress her earlier in the year Scruffy feigned a cavalier posture. ‘Right, girls! Choose!’ the headmaster’s voice boomed. ‘Me, me!’ the boys, including Kenny and Derek, began pleading again and again to the approaching girls. Scruffy stood silently, his head tilted back as if admiring the garlands hanging from the high ceiling.
The girls strode across each taking a boy’s hand of her choice and led him to the dance floor. From the corner of his eye Scruffy saw Kenny’s being taken but dared not look by whose. He also saw Derek hold out his prompting him to thrust his unchosen hands deep into pockets already made deeper by the holes in them and lift his now glazed eyes back towards the ceiling. The ‘Me, me’ pleading had now stopped. Suddenly Scruffy felt a tug at his arm. ‘Give me your hand, Peter,’ the accompanying soft voice said. Wiping his eyes with frayed sleeve as he lowered his gaze Scruffy’s eyes lit up when he saw who the voice belonged to. ‘Annie!’ he uttered in wide-eyed disbelief. She smiled, took his hand and led him to join the rest. 
Glimpsing the minister as they waltzed, Annie guiding them through the dance steps, reminded Scruffy of the theme of his message: ‘The most precious Christmas gift came wrapped in coarse swaddling cloth. It’s not the outward appearance but what’s inside that matters nor is it what we do but who we are that counts. Together these make for the most precious gift we can be to each other.’ ‘Thanks, Annie.’

David McAdam's Book

"Homelessness is not only the abscence of a roof, it is the absence of love"


Music, Lights.... Action!

So much for thinking a writer's life is one of introverted focus!
When I wrote my first novel Temptation, a personal exercise meant for my eyes only, little did I think a few years later I'd do half the things I've recently been asked to. A couple of weeks ago I'd returned from my ten-day book launch in Ireland knowing that I had just my commitment to the Outsiders On The Fringe Festival to fulfil and then? I could step back into the shadows and get back to writing my new novel. Instead, I've felt like I was standing centre-stage waiting for a director to shout: "Music, lights.... action!" It's a strange experience to see my name in magazines and newspapers and even stranger to see people sharing the details of my new thriller online.

This week I've seen a full page feature about me appear on page 44 of the Winter Style magazine. Steve Cooke, the director of All Across The Arts wrote a piece about me in my local newspaper and a review of CRUSHED appeared in The Local Link magazine. My Irish readers are already posting reviews of CRUSHED online so I now know that all the hours of editing and perfecting my latest novel were worth it.
Rochdale Observer - Denise Greenwood + Steve Cooke
The Local Link magazine, review of CRUSHED

Saturday, 5 December 2015

The Innkeeper's Children - Xmas Story by Elizabeth Housden

To get us into the Christmas spirit I've asked a few of my author friends from varying genres to write a Christmas story. I'll post one each week leading up to the Big Day.

My first author is Elizabeth Housden. Elizabeth worked as an actress for many years before starting her own theatre company and becoming a novelist. 

The Innkeeper's Children
Elizabeth Housden

The inn heaved with people, quite ten deep in front of the bar.  In spite of the chilly evening, the landlord's children had taken themselves outside.  The two of them, plus their smaller cousin, Benjamin, were bundled into coats playing Fivestones, a present from a soldier of the occupying forces.  He missed his own children and these three mischiefs were engaging youngsters. 
"Ruben!  Red wine!"  Inside, even above the noise, their mother's voice was heard.  "Imbecile!  Get another barrel!"  It was always the same but tonight was so crowded, she shouted louder.  They went on with their game. 
"Children..."  An exhausted man stood before them, supporting his pale, sweet-faced wife who appeared on the point of collapse.  "Are there any rooms here?"
They stared dubiously.
"You could ask."  Sarah, the eldest, indicated the bell-pull.
Hopelessly he tugged.
More shouting and the door was flung open.  "Right, who rang?  Ben?  Was it you?"  The landlord glared.
"No, uncle! Course I didn't..."  His outraged innocence was utterly unbelievable.
"I'll take my slipper to you if..."
"Sir, it was I who rang."  The man spoke wearily.  "Have you a room for my wife and myself?"
"You've gotta be joking!"
"A closet, even, just somewhere she can lie down."
"Not a cat in hell's chance, mate."
"She's pregnant.  The baby is"
"So?  There's nothing here, got that?"
"Are you sure?" 
Behind Ruben another voice spoke and he turned.  In the door frame he was flanked by two tall men, the hoods of their floor-length cloaks lumped behind them on their shoulder blades.  He had just served them with wine.
"Bloody sure." 
But they weren't talking to him.  They were looking past him at the children.
"Rube?  Wine!  NOW!"  His wife's voice, raised in increasing frustration, yelled at him again.
"No room in this inn, so shove it, mate!"  The door slammed.  He was gone.
The young woman, groaning, sank down onto the doorstep.
One of the strangers squatted beside the children.  "Can you kids think of somewhere this lady might stay?" 
They stared.  They had never seen anyone as tall as these two.
"What's your name?"  Benjamin regarded him curiously.    
"Michael.  You can call me Mike."
"What's his?"
"Gabriel."  He smiled.   "Gabe, if you prefer.  Is there anywhere for this lady to have her baby, would you say?"
Silence briefly.  Then...
"There's the stable."  Rachel spoke slowly.
"Ooo, yessss!"  The others approved.  It would be fun to sleep in the straw.
The husband leaned against the wall.  "Thank God."
"Brilliant."  Mike stood up.  "Come, Mary.  The children have found you somewhere."
She stared as he helped her to her feet.  "You... know my name?"
"Mmm.  You met my brother once, remember?"
"I did?"  She searched the other's face.  Recognition registered.  "Oh... yes."  She twisted sharply in sudden pain.  "Aaaagh!"
 "Come.  Kids, show us where.  This stable is much needed."
It was warm and dry and the children forked down more straw from the loft, laughing, as it fell onto sleepy animals and the heads of the adults.  The lady sank into it with thankfulness.   She caught Rachel's hand.  "Thank you, sweetheart.  You'll never know what you've done for us."
Rachel touched the bulge of unborn baby gently.  A strange tingling warmth spread through her fingers.  It was an extraordinary sensation.  Unforgettable.  "Oh!  That'"
The husband spoke.  "All those adults and not one to help.  Just children to save us..." 
Gabe watched him.  "This world can always be saved by the children, Joseph, if they are allowed to, that is."  He indicated they should leave. "Come.  You’ll meet the new baby later."  He commanded respect and obediently they followed but Rachel hung back, unwilling to go.  "Rachel, you too.  All is well."
"Will I see you again?"  Rachel caught the edge of his cloak as he moved outside.
"One day, yes - a long time from now.  But later tonight, too, if you look."
"Look for you?  Where?"
"When the sky fills with light and voices fill the heavens." 
Mike pointed.  "Up there, see?"
The three gazed upwards, puzzled. 
"How?  Nobody could..."  Rachel turned.
But she was talking to an empty space.  The men had vanished.
Benjamin nodded. "HE could.  He had wings."
"Wha'chew talking about?"
"When you pulled his cloak.  I could see his wings sticking out."
"You're a liar, Ben Shultz!"  Sarah was contemptuous.
Later that night glorious light and sound filled the skies.  The children gazed, entranced.  Apart from a handful of shepherds, no one else seemed to notice.
Benjamin was smug.  "Told you!  There's Gabe.  Mike's in the middle.  They've BOTH got wings.  That is soooo cool." 
And the children waved and shouted and danced and the archangels leaned down from the heavens and delivered each an ecstatic high five.

Adult Fiction by Elizabeth Housden

Children's Fiction

Elizabeth's children's book, The Jade King and the Animals of Destiny published by Shimran is available in paperback from any book shop - ISBN No: 978-1-910819-49-4.
Her paperback version of The Gentlemen Go By published by Housden Publishing is available through any bookshop ISBN 978-0-9934104-0-6.
Only the ebooks are available on Amazon at present.