Saturday, 10 October 2015

You Never Know the Minute. PART 58


I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the above words spoken when something unexpected has happened but I heard it more often recently because at the beginning of September I had a stroke. The charity The Stroke Association have Four letters  to help people if they suspect someone is having a stroke FAST which not only means fast action is necessary but F for facial weakness, A  for arm weakness, S for speech problems and T for time to call 999 or to get the victim to hospital right away. I was fortunate in that I was at home  with my husband and two grown up sons and I had some signs- the lower right side of my face was dragged down and my husband said I was talking gobble de kook. I just thought I was talking slowly. So he and Son no 2 wasted no time driving me to Fazakerley hospital straightaway. I saw a doctor immediately and then a stroke specialist, I had a brain scan, as well as a deep scan on my neck, as well as a chest x-ray and a heart monitor thingy, this after various tests to check the strength in my arms  and legs. During my time in the hospital I had my pressure, temperature monitored regularly and had blood tests.  I was fortunate in that I only had a slight weakness in my right arm and I was able to talk almost normal by then but the stroke had affected my swallow muscles. I was admitted and in a short while was taken up to Ward 33. I had a room to myself off the main ward which surprised me, with a toilet and shower off it, as well as a television in a straight line with the bed. Maybe this was because the main ward was full up.

     Anyway, I can’t fault the care and attention I received including the meals I was served, This despite I could only eat food that could be mashed with a fork or served in gravy, sauces or custard or yoghurt.  Much is written and said about the National Health  and of course, no organisation is without its faults but I consider we are so blessed in our country having such a health service.

During my life as a writer I have not only had to research certain illnesses but needed to know the names and situations of hospitals in Liverpool and various other places. I also had to be certain that they existed during the period the book was set. Fortunately I remember a little about life before the Health Service although I was only a small child at the time. I also have used stories my mother and mother-in-law told me. E.g. my eldest brother, Ron, caught scarlet fever when he was only a toddler and was taken to the fever hospital. My mother had to step in a bowl of disinfectant before she could approach him but was not allowed to get really close to him to give him a hug but could only talk to him from behind a curtain soaked in disinfectant. My brother lost his hearing in one ear as a result of the scarlet fever.

Interestingly my son’s best friend since primary school lost his hearing in one ear recently and was sent for a brain scan. IAvailat was discovered that he had suffered a mini stroke and it was that which had caused the deafness. 

I was in hospital for five days and since being home I have had visits from the speech therapist and an occupational therapist, as well as a volunteer from the Stroke Association. I have kept up with facial exercises for my swallow muscles and my son who has done acting but now has his heart set on being a film director/ writer put links to voice training exercises on my computer. My swallow muscles are now strong enough for me to eat a normal diet but having discussing my writing with the occupational therapist, we came to the conclusion that it would be sensible for me to take a break and not begin work on the next novel for a couple of months. Fortunately I had finished the novel I had been working on before my stroke. The thing is that my brain is going to be busy repairing itself for a while and needs all the help it can get from me, so I need also to rest and relax.

One of the ways I relax is by going to a couple of meetings the Stroke Association organise in Crosby and Orrell. One is a music meeting where we sing a mixture of songs which include a fair number from the fifties and sixties, good for strengthening the voice and face muscles. The other meeting we have quizzes, the kind where you have to recognise and name faces of famous people and also tunes, good for the memory. Both meetings are fun and one is meeting other  members of what I call the SS, STROKE SURVIVORS.  A writer’s working life is a solitary one, so it has proved good for me to get out and meet people I wouldn’t meet normally and I’m finding it interesting as a novelist because I’m spotting characteristics that I can use in my writing, not that I put real people in my books, too risky, bit the odd interesting characteristic can colour my writing.

Well, I think that’s all for now as I can’t type as quick as I used to be able to.

Please check my new website: www.junefrancis.com for news of my books being issued next year .

Available now: A  DAUGHER’S CHOICE   pb  EBURY PRESS

 LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND  hb  SEVERN HOUSE’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 21 August 2015

CITY OF MUSIC: PART 57


Liverpool has been in the news a lot lately due to one of her most famous daughters returning home to her final resting place. We saw a lot of Cilla Black on the telly in her early days when she was famous for her singing, rather than her appearances on “Blind Date” or “Surprise, Surprise. She really could belt a song out and my all time favourite is “Anyone Who Has a Heart”. Cilla never lost her Scouse accent and yet I’ve never caught a hint of it when she sang. This despite there are those who have been heard to say she laid the accent on a bit with a trowel. If she did then that was most likely because her being a Liverpudlian was so very much part of her persona. Last time I saw her in the flesh was on at the Empire theatre in Lime Street a few years ago when she played the fairy godmother in “Cinderella”. Despite touching seventy as one might expect of a fairy, she flew down onto the stage (on wires, of course), looking extremely glam in a white and sparkly gown. She had come a long way from the young girl who wanted to sing and worked at the Cavern.
     Now I’m not going to go on about Cilla because you’ll have read and seen enough about her life since her unexpected accidental death in Spain. Rather I want to say that it seemed odd to me that Cilla should be so in the news, just as I’d emailed the manuscript of my latest book, (Many A Tear Has to Fall), to my publisher. One of my characters, Monica, sings with a group and appears at the Cavern and is hoping to sign a recording contract with an agent. The year is 1960 and I remember it well. I never set foot in the Cavern myself but my husband went there as a teenager, so he was able to describe it to me. I also have a cousin who later was to work at the Iron Door, a place that never became as famous as the Cavern.
      The Cavern started out as a jazz club and Maggie, the heroine of my story, goes there with a jazz enthusiast who is not all that he seems, but that’s all I’ll say about him at this stage. Music was very much part of my life as a teenager growing up Liverpool, even though I was never at the centre of the music scene. But me and the boyfriend would visit the music stores, Cranes, Hanover Street, Rushworth and Draper’s, Whitechapel, and Nems also on Whitechapel, to buy records or sheet music. At the time I had no idea that Nems was owned by the family of Brian Epstein, who was to become the Beetles’ manager, as well as that of other famous musicians and singers on the Liverpool scene. I was also aware of where the smaller store, Hessy’s was situated near Dale Street, where would be pop stars, bought their instruments. I never passed through its hallowed doorway but only gazed through the window at the guitars, saxophones and other instruments on show. Although both of us had sung in choirs, neither of us ever played an instrument, although John’s mother had a piano in the parlour as did many a household in those days.
    It wasn’t until we were married and much older that John bought his first guitar and taught himself chords and the like, purely just for fun. At one time he even purchased a mandolin. Our two elder sons never showed any real music bent, although Iain was in the school choir and later the church choir. We had to wait until Daniel, son no 3, requested a keyboard for a prezzie one Christmas before discovering that there was some real musical talent in the family. He taught himself, not only to play keyboard but to read and write music. He was eventually to play the organ at St Mark’s Methodist church in Netherton, as well as our local C of E, St Paul’s, Litherland. He even had a go at playing various organs around Merseyside, including the magnificent one at the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral whilst doing an organ course. As well as that he has written the music for several short films written and directed by son No 2, Tim. http://www.timjfrancis.com/slate.html

So where does this love and talent for music come from? I remember whilst doing research for one of my earlier books FRIENDS AND LOVERS reading that it could be due to the number of Welsh and Irish who settled here, as well as Liverpool being a port and so it being a haven for sailors who always enjoy a good tune. If that’s true, then it’s certainly in my family’s blood. Although, I don’t like to discount the part played by the English, Manx, Scots and Norwegian in my ancestry and a whole host of other Liverpudlians who enjoy a good singsong.

P.S.  I noticed this morning that my book MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS is selling at the reduced price of £1.78 in ebook format on Amazon.

   

      

   

 

 

Monday, 10 August 2015

Big News! Big News! : Part 56

When I wrote the above title I couldn’t help hearing Cliff Richard singing the song from “Summer Holiday” which came out in 1963 in my head. The film filled me with a desire to go abroad, so fortunately due to my father-in-law having a win of several hundred pounds on the pools that year, John and I were able to spend a fortnight in Majorca for our honeymoon the following year. There was a popular song around then called “Majorca, the Isle of Love.”
But I digress. My big news is that my new website is up at www.junefrancis.com. Alleluia!
   My son Tim has worked like a Trojan getting it done in just over a week. I played my part in typing up all the blurbs from my books, as well as various other items that I hope readers will find interesting. Also I had the task of choosing photographs for the background of the various pages.

   We decided not to go for the obvious when it came to photos by having beautiful shots of the Liver building and the waterfront. Instead we chose other lovely places in Liverpool’s fair city. Such as Newsham Park lake with the Seamen’s Orphanage hidden amongst the trees. The orphanage gets a mention in Flowers on the Mersey, Tilly’s Story and Sunshine and Showers and the park features in several of my books.

    There are also shots of Abercrombie Square gardens as background on the saga pages. A couple of scenes from The Pawnbroker’s Niece took place in the gardens and one of my main characters buys a house in the area. It is now part of Liverpool University and during the Thirties when the book is set there is a scene where students are collecting money for Rag Week. An event which I remember as a teenager during the Fifties. If I remember aright the money went to support local hospitals. 
   There were several members of the Abercrombie family that achieved some fame,  including Sir Ralph Abercrombie who fought in the Napoleonic Wars. 
   On the About June page there is a background photo of a row of merchants houses built during a time when trade made Liverpool affluent for some and resulted in workers from here, there and everywhere flooding into Liverpool seeking their fortune that many sadly did not find, including several of my ancestors. There are also several photographs of me taken at various stages of my life, including one that appeared in the Liverpool Echo in 1949.  
    For my historical novels we decided on a photograph of part of the ruined Ludlow Castle in Shropshire which my husband and I visited when researching The Man Behind the Fa├žade which was set in Tudor times.

Having finished my latest ms Many a Tear has to Fall which is with my agent, I’m hoping to get back to the ms I started writing last year about my family, ancestry and Liverpool history, as well as hopefully have some time away from my desk and enjoy the summer, weather permitting. I’m also hoping to catch up on some reading and have taken up the latest craze of colouring books for adults! 

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES WHEN WE HURRY: PART 55


I was in the ladies changing rooms at Total Fitness this morning getting ready for my swim and one of the women said, ‘So how are you?’

‘Fine,’ I said, ‘Finished my manuscript and sent it off to my agent.’

‘How many is this now?’ she asked.

I had to think. Was it 35 or 36 books I’d had published? So this one must be number thirty-seven. I found it hard to believe that I could have written at least a million words over the years.

‘So what will you be doing today?’ She wanted to know.

‘I must do my blog and then I’ve got to start getting stuff ready for the new website my middle son Tim is going to design for me. The one I have now hasn’t been brought up to date for over a year as my youngest son Daniel who designed and looked after it for me is still on his travels somewhere and as we haven’t heard from him we can’t get into it.

Big Mistake was not asking him for a password!

Anyway, back to the changing rooms. I was telling the women how the draft I had sent off was my fourth and one commented on the spelling mistake she had found in a book.

I said, ‘Some mistakes slip through. In my case this happens despite reading back every day what I’ve written the day previously before continuing with the story. Then it gets read right through again. Then my agent will go through the ms more than once, then I’ll go through it once more, taking note of her comments, then my editor at the publisher’s will read it and I will go through her comments, then it will be printed and we’ll both go through every page checking for mistakes, note any printer’s errors and then go through the final copy as it will appear in book form. By then one would think any errors would have been spotted but as we all know that aint necessarily so.

Take my last blog for instance. I was reading it through this morning to remind myself of what I had written and there at the very bottom I had made a glaring error. I can only apologise to Bob Stone and Holly Bushnell of WRITE BLEND, book and coffee shop on South Rd, Waterloo, for typing WRITE BREND. I have to confess I was in a hurry to get the blog out there and as an old song goes We All Make Mistakes When We Hurry. Or should that be Worry?

Can scarcely believe it’s just over a month since I wrote that blog and so have been wracking my brains to come up with what to entertain readers of my blog this time.

The first idea that struck me was not the above (which I’m now wondering might have been a mistake) but something my husband read out of the Liverpool Echo to me. Apparently the River Mersey is now so clean that you can eat the edible fish you catch in its waters.

This reminded me of the times I’ve described the Mersey as being khaki coloured. I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers when it was a dirty oily greeny shade of blue. Although having said that many a crab survived in the rock pools washed by the tide at New Brighton and the same could be said of the jellyfish that could be seen on both sides of the river.

I confess to missing the sight of the old liners, tugs, cargo ships, dredgers and the New Brighton ferries that used to crowd the Mersey. Container ships and these huge cruise ships just don’t have the same magic in my eyes. Although, no doubt, my mariner ancestors probably had mixed feelings about the passing of the old sailing ships and the arrival of the steamer. Life before the Mast in Victorian times was no fun.

But at least every now and again there is a week when the modern tall ships arrive and there is something beautiful about a ship in full sail.

I can recall when the Liver building was blackened with the smoke from thousands of chimneys. When in winter the smog was so bad, you really couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. In a way it was thanks to the deadly Great Smog in London in the fifties which killed hundreds, that the Clean Air Act was passed.

Over the years some buildings which should have had just a face lift were demolished in Liverpool. ‘Whatta mistaka to maka’ as the Italian captain used to say in “Hello, Hello!”. But there were other buildings, such as St George’s Hall and the India, Liver and Cunard buildings that were given a good scrub and power wash to emerge from beneath the scaffolding and plastic covers to look as good as the day they were built and now give pleasure to thousands, if not millions, of visitors.

I am reminded of these things because of the manuscript I have just sent off called MANY A TEAR HAS TO FALL which was a hit for Cliff Richard in the sixties and before then it was a hit for Tommy Edwards, known as the silky-voiced crooner, in 1958. My story features characters, who like all of us, make mistakes but come through in the end.
        P.S. Must add that this Friday at 7.30pm I'll be going with John and Iain to Write Blend to A Midnight Nightmare to listen to the horror writer, Ramsey Campbell. Already I can feel a shiver down my spine.



 

Saturday, 20 June 2015

THE HAPPIEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE: PART 54

Early this morning I was getting myself geared up to write something for my blog about A DAUGHTER’S CHOICE which hit the shelves in paperback format a couple of days ago (it’s also available as an e-book). It’s the sequel to A MOTHER’S CHOICE but the action is set seventeen years later at the end of the fifties. But then I discovered there was a classic B&W film on BBC 2 called THE HAPPIEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE. Made in 1950 it starred those stalwarts of the British film industry of the times Alastair Sims, Margaret Rutherford and Joyce Grenfell, as well as other familiar faces to those of us who remember when a trip to the flicks several times a week was one of our prime entertainments.
    I plonked myself down on the sofa, glad that I’d only missed the first ten minutes and remained there until the credits at the end. The action takes place in a boys boarding school and, due to a mix-up at the Ministry of Education, on the first day of term the girls from St Swithin’s turn up, having been sent to the boys’ college due to their school having been damaged during the blitz. You can use your imagination to what happens next. It’s very much a film of its time so don’t be thinking St Trinian’s.
    Children’s books set in boarding schools were popular in the fifties. Despite a lot of the readers were ordinary working class kids like myself. For boys there were the Billy Bunter series by Frank Richards and the Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge. As well as Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventures stories, I read her boarding school tales set at St Mallory’s and St Clare’s, although some of the latter were written in the forties. Boarding school stories also appeared in comics such as the Hotspur and Wizard for boys and Girls’ Crystal and School Friend for the likes of me. Obvious the writers also believed that schooldays were the happiest of your life.
    When I was at Liverpool Girls’ College during the fifties, there were grownups who told us the same thing. Maybe they were remembering the long summer holidays when they were young. Once they started work at fourteen or fifteen, there were few holidays and no doubt they missed that freedom of wandering where they willed, playing in the street or losing themselves in a book or in films at the kids matinee.
When I was trying to learn Latin verbs in class I can’t say I felt happy and don't get me started on Mathematics. English and History I loved and the summer holidays. 

     But I have to admit and have probably said it before that I remember the latter half of the fifties with fondness and that is why I enjoy writing about that era. The scars of the blitz were beginning to disappear and rationing was over. When I left school in 1958 and got myself a job, rock’n’roll was all the rage as were net underskirts beneath flared skirts, waspie belts and pony tails. Dad bought our first telly even though the reception wasn’t always brilliant and I bought my first bike from my own wages.
     In 1959 Liverpool’s first mass X-Ray campaign took place and within a few years time the scourges of TB and polio would be almost eradicated from our country. Also in 1959 Bill Shankly became manager of Liverpool football club and Alun Owen’s NO TRAMS TO LIME STREET was shown on telly much to the shock horror of some of Liverpool’s citizens who complained to the Liverpool Echo that it had given the wrong image of our fair city to the viewers.
    Not that all these snippets get a mention in A DAUGHTER’S CHOICE, although just like myself, heroine Katy was at that age where clothes and music played a big part in her life and a night out at the Grafton dance hall was not to be missed. She also found a boyfriend. But Katy has problems that played no part in my life, one of them finding out that the couple she believed to be her parents weren’t and naturally this discovery was to change her life. I really enjoyed writing this book.

On Saturday 27th June at 1pm I will be giving a short talk and be available for signing copies of A DAUGHTER’S CHOICE at Write Blend, a new book and coffee shop on South Road in Crosby. You can find it a few shops down near the Liverpool Road end, on the left hand side











Sunday, 24 May 2015

I SAW THREE SHIPS COME SAILING IN: PART 53

It’s Whit Sunday and when I was a little girl this would be the day I’d be wearing a new frock and white pumps because Whit was a religious bank holiday when we celebrated Pentecost and the Holy Spirit descending. Some of us still do. But a lot of people in Liverpool will be are celebrating three ships sailing in to the Mersey.
     The last fortnight or so a lot of publicity has been given to Liverpool FC captain, Steven Gerrard, who is leaving our fair city for America. He’ll probably travel by jet but in the fifties most likely he would have gone by luxury liner. He could do the same now because over the last decade or so cruising has suddenly become extremely popular. So it’s not surprising that the Echo has given even more space in their newspaper to the arrival of the three Queens in the Mersey this weekend. They are the super duper liners, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria and it isn’t only the city that has been alerted to their arrival. Thousands and thousands of visitors are expected to invade the waterfronts both sides of the Mersey, jostling to get the best view of this unusual sight.
     My fellow Liverpudlian novelist Lyn Andrews is coming over from the Isle of Man to travel on one of the Queens. Her very first Liverpool based saga was called THE WHITE EMPRESS so it’s not surprising she has a strong link with Cunard liners. Elsie and Keith, a couple from my church, St Paul’s, Hatton Hill, are members of the Cunarders and will be sailing on the Queen Mary 2, having boarded the ship at Southampton and cruised to Cork and Dublin and then across the Irish Sea to Oban before sailing down the coast to Liverpool (if I have my facts right) before sailing to Guernsey. During the cruise they will celebrate their joint 87th birthdays. Even Carole and Norman, who own the b & b, in Ambleside where my husband and I stayed last week will be in Liverpool to join one of the Queens for a cruise.
      THE QUEENS: This leads me to question why isn’t one of the liners named after a King of the British Isles? Why no King George VI? Even Henry VIII’s ship that sank in the 16th century was named after his sister the Mary Rose and one of the ships that sailed with Christopher Columbus was called the Santa Maria. The queen’s erstwhile royal yacht was named Britannia that A at the end signalling that she was regarded as feminine.
     On the whole masculine names seemed to be used for fighting ships and aircraft carriers. My mother’s cousin’s ship was The Black Prince which was torpedoed during WW1 and sunk with the loss of hundreds of men.
     Naturally as a writer of Liverpool based sagas I have used shipping and sailors in several of my novels. The book I remember most is FLOWERS ON THE MERSEY. For research I paid a visit to the Maritime Museum down by the Albert Dock. It had not long been open when I went there. I was able to go on a mock-up of one of the emigration ships with sound effects. I also purchased a copy of a slim book that gave all kinds of information about voyages to places such as Australia. I was able to discover the kind of food that was served. For further information about liners I bought a book called FALLING STAR Misadventures of White Star Line ships. The Titanic was one of them but it was some of the other tales which brought tears to my eyes. The book was extremely useful when it came to describing a collision between two ships in the fog in FLOWERS ON THE MERSEY.
      I always try to use real names of ships in my books and so I was able to use the Corinthia in a recent novel IT’S NOW OR NEVER set in the fifties because my cousin, Maureen, had sailed on that ship to Canada.
      I have crossed the Mersey by ferry numerous times and even cruised along the river one evening on the Royal Iris. I have crossed the Irish Sea to Ireland and the Isle of Man, as well as visiting the Isle of Skye and the isle of Iona in the Hebrides. It took some time before I crossed the English Channel to France and sailed round part of the coast of Crete.
       But I have never been on a cruise on a big liner because my husband is a fell runner and so he prefers terra firma where there are mountains. If I did ever get the opportunity to go cruising I would choose to visit the fjords in Norway because that is the country where my mariner great-great- grandfather, Hance Nelson and his mariner son, Martin, my great-grandfather were born. Martin married a Liverpool lass from Toxteth. As it is for now I think I’ll just have to make do with gazing in wonder at the beautiful Queens of the Sea, Elizabeth, Mary 2 and Victoria. 
  http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/three-queens-liverpool-2015-queen-9319505



 
 

Saturday, 2 May 2015

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW THE TIME ASK A POLICEMAN: PART 52.


When I was a little girl the above words were often spouted because few of us in our neighbourhood had watches. In fact a lot of us had very little of this world’s goods and so it made sense to believe it was perfectly safe to leave your doors unlocked and sometimes open. But just as there were policemen on the beat in those days there were also thieves about. I remember our gas meter getting broken into and all the pennies in the wooden moneybox Dad had made me were stolen. 

      I doubt the crime was reported to the police but Dad set about creating his own deterrent that would chop their fingers off if they tried to get in our house again and rob our meter or my pennies.

       Growing up in the forties and fifties I developed what some called a healthy fear and respect for the police and other people’s property. Even walking along someone else’s wall and seeing a policeman approach would have me scrambling to the ground like lightening. When I found a ten shilling note amongst the autumn leaves on the way to the flicks I didn’t keep it but handed it in to the nearest man in uniform who just happened to be the retired soldier who was the doorman at the cinema. 

      My cynicism these days suggests that no doubt he pocketed it and bought himself a couple of pints when he knocked off work. My husband was also brought up honest. When he found a suitcase full of the old white five pound notes he took it home and showed his dad, who instantly ordered him to take it to the police station in Tuebrook and hand it in. This he did and that was the last he heard of it.  

The closest I ever got to a policeman was when one visited our primary school to give us a puppet show and teach us our kerb drill. Occasionally at home there would be mention of someone called Icky the fire bobby who would come and lock us up if we didn’t behave. But he never did make an appearance. Our neighbourhood was working class but reasonably respectable. Although I remember hearing of a punch up outside the chippy around the corner and a lad getting his eye gorged out. My eldest brother’s brush with the police would seem ludicrous today in that he was taken to court and fined for playing football in the street.

Why am I chunnering on about the police, etc.?  

Early yesterday my husband and I were doing our early morning walk. Normally we only meet dog walkers, cyclists and the odd jogger. We certainly didn’t expect to come across a very youthful looking policeman standing on the path. In the background we could see that tape one sees on telly in such programmes as Lewis, Midsummer Murders and George Gently which generally signals a crime scene. 

Jokingly I said, ‘I’m waiting for you to say “You shall not Pass” just like Gandalf does in the Fellowship of the Rings.’

      ‘Sorry, you can’t pass,’ he said apologetically.

So we had to retrace our steps and make our way home by a different route. It was not the first time we’ve encountered a policeman on our walk. A few years ago there was a naked body in the canal which fortunately had already been reported to the police by a couple of fishermen. The police arrived a few minutes after we did and we were quickly escorted away from the spot. Not a pleasant experience as it reminded me that one of my aunts had drowned in the Leeds-Liverpool just a few miles away beneath a bridge in Kirkdale. It was during WW2 and I was only a toddler at the time so was unaware of the tragedy.

 So where do the police figure in my writing?

My son, Tim, who has a degree in Screenwriting from John Moores University, had an idea to write a series about a police family. It never got to the screen because it was a period piece and he knew that it would be expensive to put on. He suggested I had a go at writing about a police family. I had already written a saga about the Liverpool’s police strike of 1919 a few years earlier called SOMEONE TO TRUST and enjoyed doing the historical research.

So bearing Tim’s idea in mind and I decided to do more research. In the library I was recommended a book called From Cutlasses to Computers - The Police Force in Liverpool 1836-1989. I found it fascinating and it gave me a respect and admiration for those earlier pioneers trying to bring law and order to Liverpool’s city streets and for those today, including policewomen who also helped with my research.

My police family can be found in MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS and IT’S NOW OR NEVER published by Severn House. Ask at your nearest library.

   
P.S. In today's Liverpool Echo it was reported that a man had allegedly been sexually assaulted in Rimrose Valley Country Park on Thursday night. The police were called to the crime scene. 

 

   

 

Saturday, 11 April 2015

WHAT'S THAT SMELL? PART 51

Back in 1958 I started work in Liverpool city centre. I’d toddle off to Lewis’s during my lunch hour. Entering by the doors near Central Station in Ranelagh Street - which in those days was on a bus route so the smell of diesel fumes was strong - was sheer heaven as one was almost immediately inside the toiletry, make-up and perfume department. Scented with the products of Goya, Cote, Yardley, Max Factor, Elizabeth Arden and even Rimmel I’d be almost giddy with delight. You name it and there was a counter for it. I doubt I was the only teenager who’d try out a free dab of this perfume or that. In those days I couldn’t afford to buy such luxuries so had to make do with soap and water and a wash down as we had no bathroom.

What sent me off down Memory Lane in this direction?

One of the women in the changing room at Total Fitness health centre was using moisturiser after her swim and we got talking about how we never put anything else on our skin these days. But she did love perfume and that comment reminded me of my mam and the little bottles of scent she had on her dressing table in the old days. Favourites were Evening in Paris and Californian Poppy. Being of the same generation as myself, the mention of them struck a chord with my fellow swimmer who also liked a touch of lippy. Her mother had been a great believer in lipstick as a morale booster. As for Mam she always used lippy as she called it come Saturday evenings when she and Dad went to the pictures.

One of my favourite shades as a teenager was Coral. In fact if my memory serves me right, it was probably the most popular one going in the late fifties.

Even then I never put anything on my skin, except Nivea or Astral sun cream when sunbathing. Mam’s favourite skin standby was Pond’s Vanishing Cream. I always presumed it was the cream that vanished once on her skin but thinking about it now presumably she used it hoping it would make any wrinkles disappear. I knew girls who used Max Factor’s pan stick which completely covered the skin like a beige mask.

When I did earn enough to splash out on perfume, I bought Yardley’s Lavender Toilet Water or Attar of Roses. Eventually I graduated to Sandalwood, Coty L’Aimant or Tweed by Lentheric.

In those days we used a lot of talcum powder. Is it only me who never uses talcum powder these days? Avon’s body lotion has taken its place in the hope that it will keep my skin from looking like a prune.

Yet I must be getting old because I remember when shampoo used to come powdered in packets called Amami and we rubbed it into our dry hair. Oh the joy when I switched over to liquid gold in a bottle called Sunsilk that left my hair squeaky clean.

I only ever expected my boyfriend and the men in my family to smell of Brylcreem, clean skin or sweat. It was to be a few years before they began to use Old Spice shaving soap and aftershave. As for deodorant that was a toiletry of which we gave little thought. The men used Lifebuoy soap and we girls used tablets of Lux, Camay or Pears translucent. I do remember Dad also washing his hair with the Sunlight soap Mam used to scrub the collars of his shirt. He being a plasterer he often came home with hair thick with powdered plaster.

Times change and these days a waft of fragrance can be left in their wake when one of my sons pass before me down the stairs on their way out. The male is no longer looked upon askance or asked with a suspicious look, ‘What’s that smell?’ They, too, have discovered they like a heavenly scent for themselves. And us women like it - in moderation. 







Saturday, 28 March 2015

FERRY ACROSS THE MERSEY: PART 50

I’ll never forget the feeling of being on an overcrowded ferry forging through the waters of the Mersey while the sun sank in the sky as the boat headed for the landing stage at the Pierhead. I had sand in my knickers, in my hair and between my toes despite all my efforts to get rid of every grain with a towel stiff as a board from hanging on the line in our backyard in the sun. No doubt we were on the last ferry from New Brighton to Liverpool and that’s why we were all wedged together like sardines in a Skipper’s tin and the boat seemed to dip heavily from side to side.

This was in the fifties, a few years before Gerry and the Pacemakers' record hit the charts or Liverpool became famous for its musicians rather than just its football teams, actors and comedians, the Grand National and being the second premier port in the country.

I might have mentioned it before but I doubt it will hurt to repeat what my mother often said about Liverpudlians having salt water in their veins. Most of us also prefer to live beside the seaside or at least within a short distance of it. Maybe that’s why when my eldest brother moved south he ended up living in Westcliffe-on-Sea and three of my cousins who crossed the Atlantic settled near the coast, one in Canada, and two in the US of A.

So maybe it’s not surprising that my very latest 50s hardback LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND has several scenes set on local beaches. A couple of characters reminisce about their memories of New Brighton and there is also a couple of scenes set on the ferry and the beach.

I also have lots of memories of beaches this side of the Mersey. From Seaforth Sands to the dunes of Formby. More recently Crosby has hit the headlines because of the Iron Men. I reckon it also has the best view of the Wirral coastline and on a clear day the mountains of Snowdonia that can be seen from such a distance. In the other direction even before one approaches Southport one can see Blackpool Tower further north.

Besides beaches being places of pleasure they can also be dangerous. I could not resist putting on one of my characters’ mouths the tale of my mother sinking up to her thighs in sticky black mud. I cried, thinking she was going to get swallowed up in a patch of sinking sand. Fortunately it did not happen but her brand new white sandals were ruined. We were also warned about keeping an eye on the tide and not to go wading out to sandbanks.

My brothers, my sister and I all learnt to swim at Margaret Street baths in Everton. My father’s method of getting us to lift our feet off the bottom and go for it was bribery. When I managed to swim a breadth he gave me a shilling. I was paid another shilling when I jumped into the pool. My husband learnt to swim by being thrown into Burroughs Gardens swimming baths at the age of four by one of the attendants. John’s father worked there as a stoker and the pool was empty of people at the time. My husband went on to enjoy skin diving as a hobby and I have never lost my love of swimming.

The book begins with a prologue which involves my heroine getting into difficulties in the sea. A scene I hadn’t really envisaged when I started writing. It started with a different opening altogether. Yet having decided on the Pat Boone song that was a hit in the fifties for my title, I realised I had to get a scene on a beach in somewhere quickly and that is why I eventually settled on the opening I did, praying that it would grip my readers. I also set a chapter or two in Blackpool where I was born in a hotel on the South Promenade during WW2.

LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND is out in hardback this week, 31st March 2015. Please, do consider supporting your local library if you have one by ordering it.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

If You Ever Go Across the Sea To Ireland: Part 49.

A few years back I remember going to the evening do of a wedding in Liverpool’s Irish Centre at 127 Mount Pleasant. I remember being surprised once inside the building because it was quite fabulous. Then I discovered that it used to be the old Wellington Assembly Rooms and dated back to 1815. Those who know their history will remember that the Battle of Waterloo was fought June that year. Some will also know that Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, was a native of Ireland.

Growing up in Liverpool I recall that two popular songs during those times were “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” sung by Josef Locke, who I remember appearing in pantomime at the Pivvie in Lodge Lane. Mam would take my brother, sister and me and we would meet her sister, my Aunt Flo and our Hawitt cousins there. As for the song “If You Ever Go Across the Sea to Ireland” that was generally more likely to be heard sung by a slightly drunk Irishman on St Paddy’s night.

Ships have been sailing across the sea to Ireland from Liverpool ever since King John gave Liverpool its charter way back in 1207. The first time I set foot on the Emerald Isle was during the summer of 1969 when I went with my husband, John, and friends on a diving holiday near Durras, not far from Bantry Bay on the Atlantic coast. They had been the year before and the weather had been fantastic but when John and I and baby son, no 1 went, Ireland lived up to its reputation and rained more days than the sun shone. I didn’t dive but it was still a holiday to remember in that John got caught in some currents and nearly got swept out to sea. As it was he had a long walk back after a heck of a swim, too, before we saw him again. That holiday was also memorable for the size of the crayfish, mushrooms and having potatoes in their jackets served from the pan in Kinsale. I remember thinking there was something mystical about that green land. That was also the year we saw headlines about explosions on the billboards in Dublin on our way to the ferry to catch the boat to Liverpool.

My second trip to Ireland was years later and I went by bicycle and ship with my youngest son, Daniel. It was the school summer holidays and I was planning on writing an historical romance set in the 14th century. I was going there to do research. We cycled into the Wicklow Hills and stayed in an old farmhouse where mice ran along the rafters and the toilet was a bucket with a seat in an outhouse covered in rambling roses. Water was fetched from a nearby river and the fireplace had a cooking pot like a cauldron that hung on a hook. We were made very welcome and met interesting people. It was also the perfect setting for part of my book FATEFUL ENCOUNTER. We didn’t stay there long because I needed to do some research in Dublin. Unfortunately the castle was closed for renovation but there was still the museum to explore and the Liffy to wander along and the Book of Kells to see at Trinity College.

I was to use that experience again a few years later when I wrote FLOWERS ON THE MERSEY set mainly during the early 1920s.

September 2005 was the year I returned to Ireland with my newly widowed sister who was doing the driving and we were on our way to a B&B in Naas. Our niece was marrying an Irishman and the weather was perfect. The church was actually in a small village in Co Dublin and it was quite an occasion. The bride looked beautiful and the food was fantastic, as was the music and the wine flowed.

My sister and I were to return to Ireland again. This time by coach and ferry and the journey was long as we were staying on the coast in Co Mayo. This was after the big monetary crash and there were many deserted looking newly built houses. What stands out for me is visiting Croagh Patrick, the mountain visited by many pilgrims. That and being asked by a taxi driver where in Ireland did my family come from. I told him we had no Irish blood. He didn’t believe me, saying that everyone in Liverpool had a drop of Irish in them.

Was he right? When it came to tracing my ancestry a few years later, there it was in black and white William Walker, born 1791 in Ireland. I know that he was a weaver by trade who settled in Manchester and it is via his daughter who married and came to Liverpool that I am related to him. My difficulty is that there were numerous William Walkers in Ireland. Only the other year on WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? that II discovered comedian Graham Norton had a William Walker in his ancestry.

But Walker doesn’t sound very Irish to me and when I looked it up, it says that the name originated in Scotland or Yorkshire and had some connected to the word fuller. Now way back in medieval times fullers were involved in the clothing trade. So if my Walker ancestry came originally from Scotland or Yorkshire, but some were born in Ireland, do I still have a claim to having Irish blood? Happy St Patrick’s Day!

Friday, 6 March 2015

I'LL START AT THE VERY BEGINNING: PART 48




 

 

Just sign here …and your name is?

 There was a time when a blank sheet of paper really scared me. I honestly believed I’d never be able to fill a sheet of A4 with words. But I had to try. In actually fact it took me a whole afternoon to write two hundred and fifty words on my old Underwood typewriter and not one sentence came from my imagination. Even so it gave me a terrible headache. What I had written was what I’ve heard so many beginners say when they’ve read their masterpieces out at our writers’ club in Crosby. “It was all true!” It’s as if they thought that what they had written was so incredible that those listening might believe it was rubbish.

 It took a while for me to draw on my imagination and at first I only did so because I seemed to have been given permission by the editor of the magazine I was writing articles for at the time. It gave me an overwhelming sense of freedom not only to discover I could make things up and embroider factual events but that fiction has a heck of a lot of factual events weaved into a novel.  Which is good because although my eldest son does some of my research, I used to do all of it myself in the beginning and even now I enjoy doing some as well.

 It seems a long time ago now since I did my very first talk. I remember standing in front of a group of people with my heart beating like a drum and feeling weak at the knees. I had never talked much about myself and my writing and I was worried about boring those gazing up at me waiting to hear what I had to say. These days I’ve done enough talking to enjoy sharing my love of writing and how I came to write my books not to worry about my listeners getting fed up of the sound of my voice. Even when some fall asleep before my very eyes.

My very first signing session had a similar effect on me except my fear was that no one would turn up. I would be left sitting there at a table in a bookshop and the bookseller and the publisher’s rep would decide it was a waste of time to promote me as no one wanted to meet me or read my book. I do remember being absolutely thrilled when the rep picked me up at my front door to take me on a tour of several Liverpool bookshops and stores. Some booklovers of a similar age to myself or even those in their forties will remember Wilson’s bookshop on Renshaw Street and Philip, Son and Nephew’s in Whitechapel. Today’s supermarkets had nothing on those booklovers’ havens. They had such character and I grief their demise. Having said that when W.H. SMITH’S took over the old Cooper’s building on Church Street it was a great place to visit for any dedicated booklover. How I miss that building!

 Although sometimes I would just go and sign stock in a back room, there were occasions when I also sat at a table near the entrance. Just before  Mother’s Day one year. I’ll never forget a man coming and buying a book for his mother. He returned twenty minutes later and bought another for his mother-in-law, saying to me, “I’m making you rich.” If only he knew what percentage an author gets of the published price he would have done a double-take and realised I’d have to sell a heck of a lot of books to become rich.

 I remember the arrival of Dillon’s on Bold Street, I recall sitting in a corner by the staircase waiting for someone to notice me and buy one of my books, not ask me where they would find Maps. Not long after Waterstone’s made an appearance further up Bold Street, except it had pillars either side of the entrance.

 In those days I remember even signing books in newsagents, one being in Central station’s precinct and another in Crosby village.

 My nearest bookshop is in Crosby, for those that don’t know the village it is about 5 miles from Liverpool to the north. I have spent many a happy hour in Steve Pritchard’s bookshop there. In the beginning way back in the 1990s the Crosby Herald used to print a BOOKSHELF compiling the top ten best selling books in Crosby. I still have the cuttings when my earlier books were at number one.

 Steve also had another shop and that was in Formby village a bit further north, nearer the coast. I remember my first visit to that Pritchard’s where Tony Higginson was the manager and how warmly I was welcomed. I have a photograph of me sitting outside in front of a window display of FLOWERS ON THE MERSEY.  Tony still gives me a warm welcome, although Pritchard’s in Formby has gone and Tony is now the owner of Formby Books situated in The Cloisters, near Marks & Spencer’s.

 This Saturday I will be visiting both Pritchard’s, Crosby, and Formby Books.  Between 11-12 I will be at Formby Books signing copies of A MOTHER’S DUTY  and at 1-2pm I will be at Pritchard’s in Crosby. Do come and say hello if you can. Love June.

 

 

 

Saturday, 21 February 2015

I'M JUST AN OLD-FASHIONED GIRL: PART 47

I was watching The Great British Sewing Bee the other evening and they were having a special fifties edition which meant the contestants had to use the sewing machines of the day as well as make a dress fashionable at the time. I can honestly say I can’t remember the style of the garment that was the first challenge but I put it down to the likelihood of it being popular at the start of the fifties when I hadn’t even reached my teens and was not fascinated by fashion.

My interest came later with waspie belts, net underskirts, crochet tops and tartan trews which were purchased from various shops in Liverpool. I was never much of a one for sewing, although for the first two years at Grove Street girls only grammar school sewing was on the curriculum. I made a pair of pyjamas, a skirt and an apron all by hand and never touched a sewing machine until years later when I was married. I did like embroidery and I became a great knitter when my boyfriend was at night school in Colquitt Street three evenings a week doing his City & Guilds for Printing. Knitting helped pass the time whilst watching programmes such as Emergency Ward 10 and Dixon of Dock Green on Mam and Dad’s black and white telly.

On the other hand, my sister’s first job was as a sewing machinist, not that I ever remember her sewing much at home but maybe that was because it was too much like work. When the subject of the Sewing Bee came up the other day at a family gathering in the Jubilee Arms, she admitted to never watching it. I was stunned as I find it similar to people watching when on holiday, great entertainment. My sister-in-law who is a brilliant dressmaker as well as maker of fantastic wedding cakes, said she enjoyed it as much as I did.

Knowing something about the fashions of different eras is part of my job as a novelist. Last night I couldn’t prevent my mind from drifting to those evenings when window-shopping in Liverpool city centre was such a pleasure during the fifties and sixties. Many a courting couple saving up to get married would pass the time, gazing in dress shops and furniture shops, book shops and photography shops, not to mention having a gander at what was showing at the six cinemas all within walking distance for that Saturday night out at the pictures.

One of my favourite dress shops was Nanette’s on London Road which in spring always displayed a wedding dress, as well as a couple of bridesmaid frocks in their window. Although I didn’t buy my wedding gown from there, I did purchase two frocks for my trousseau. Do brides bother with a trousseau these days? One frock was made from midnight blue chiffon and had three quarter sleeves ending in frills and there was also a frill around the scooped neckline. I could never have made that myself in a month of Sundays. The material was so sheer and would slip all over the place when it came to sewing it - just like the material in the third challenge in the fifties Sewing Bee.

Other shops popular with the female sex were Du Barry’s, Etam’s, Dorothy Perkins, as well as the posher dress shops along Bold Street where you went if you had a few bob so I can't remember their names. Then there were the departmental stores, such as T J Hughes, C&A Modes, Lewis’s, Littlewood’s, Henderson’s, Blackler’s, Marks & Spencer, Owen-Owen, the Bon Marche and George Henry Lees - the later two shops were to amalgamate and when they moved more recently to Liverpool One became John Lewis.

I did do some sewing, of course. As the saying goes A stitch in time saves nine and I would sew up a hem when my heel caught it and I could sew on a button and my mother did teach me how to darn, using one of those wooden mushroom shaped thingies. When I did eventually buy a second-hand Singer sewing machine and tried my hand at dressmaking, my favourite shop for materials was George Henry Lees. It was a magical place taking up part of the basement, it was filled with such variety and colour it was like wandering into Aladdin’s cave. As for their haberdashery department with its buttons, cottons, zips, hooks and eyes and lengths of bice binding and fancy edgings that was a fascinating place as well and I loved wandering through it.

For men there were several shops trying to attract their trade, such as Jackson’s and Burton’s who offered made-to-measure suits as well as the ready made sort, shirts, jumpers, overcoats and the like. My husband’s wedding suit was made-to-measure in black mohair from Burton’s. The jacket was lined in scarlet satin and it looked the gear. He wore it with winkle picker shoes and a dazzling white shirt and a beautifully knotted tie. No one I knew in those days would have dreamed of wearing a morning suit with a topper as so many do today.

I can’t finish without mentioned catalogues, we might not have had the internet and credit cards but we could peruse pictures of the latest fashions and purchase clothes for so much a week. Neither were there any charity shops. Most likely because most of us possessed fewer clothes and only got rid of them when they were suitable for the ragman.

         How times change! So thank you Great British Sewing Bee for bringing back so many happy memories.      




 

Saturday, 7 February 2015

I DIDN'T KNOW THAT! : PART 46


One of the things I love about being a novelist is discovering snippets of information about the places and times my stories are set. I remember publisher, Judy Piatkus, saying something along the lines that I have to create a world that readers enjoy escaping into. It is only by researching and using one’s imagination and feelings that bring the characters and a particular era alive. A MOTHER’S DUTY is a book I really enjoyed writing because it not only involved a storyline that was close to my heart but it was set in the Thirties and into the beginning of WW2 when so much was happening in Liverpool and the world in general.

Writing about one place in particular means that coming up with fresh storylines demands quite a bit of thinking about. Those involved in publishing and writing often advise Newbies to write about what they know. I always used to say and if you think you don’t know anything then find out as much as you can about what interests you. I write family sagas, so naturally I write mainly about situations involving families. For this book I wanted a mother with sons to be at the centre of the story. But I wanted their situation to be slightly different to the norm, so I decided that the mother, Kitty, would be the proprietor of a hotel. Where? Where else but Mount Pleasant which is not far from Lime Street railway station. I knew a fair amount about being a mother of sons but scarcely anything about running a hotel. So I plucked up my courage, took a walk along that thoroughfare, which before the arrival of the railway was called Martindale Hill and was set in countryside and I chose a place I liked the look of and rang the bell.

I was fortunate enough to be welcomed inside when I explained to the son of the proprietor my mission and flourished one of my books as my credential. Although his mother was too busy at the time to discuss the subject with me, we arranged a time convenient to both of us when we could meet. The information she gave me was invaluable in stirring my imagination and making not only my fictitious hotel real to me but also my character, Kitty. For instance I had never given much thought to how important the Grand National was to hoteliers and guest houses in my hometown. The same with Liverpool theatres, not only did people come into the city from Wales, Lancashire and from across the Irish Sea to see shows but the theatricals needed digs. Just as did travelling salesmen and those stopping off in Liverpool before taking ship to the U.S.A. Ireland, as well as Canada and other parts of the British Empire.

To help me visualise Mount Pleasant in the Thirties, I visited the Central Library and perused copies of Kelly’s Street Directories and so was able to pepper the Mount with a wigmaker, the YMCA, a dentist, and some nuns from the Convent of Notre Dame. Not far away was Georgian built Rodney Street with its doctors’ houses, as well as the workhouse on Brownlow Hill. Earlier that decade the maternity hospital on Oxford Street had been opened by a royal personage at a time when most mothers still had their babies at home.

Kitty is a widow so she pretty well has her hands full with running the hotel after her mother dies and then her brother-in-law decides to quit. She is left also doing her best to bring up her sons to be respectable and responsible. What she needs is a strong man to help her as well as to love while her sons are growing up.

Enter John McLeod wearing a kilt and carrying a violin case at a needy moment. He’s a bit of a wanderer without a steady job, who had been a medical orderly in the Great War. I provided him with a violin because I remembered how after WW2 there were those musicians who entertained the cinema and theatre queues and my mother told me it was the same in the Thirties. I also provided him with a monkey who also helped entertain the crowds. The monkey was on hire from a pet shop across the city near Netherfield Road. I had that information from my mother-in-law. It was a place she remembered well and loved, just as Kitty’s third son, Ben, did. It was my mother-in-law who told me the story about the white mice.

The reading of Liverpool Echos of the times, provided me with news about crime waves and protection rackets so there are moments of violence in the book. Some of the characters also travel further afield. I had the information about motorbikes and the incident with the pig in Wales from my dear Uncle Bill, who sadly is now deceased. For that about Oxford during the earlier part of WW2, I owe my son Iain who was a student there a few years back and was happy to return and do the research.

Most Liverpudlians of my generation know that Lewis’s and Blackler’s were almost destroyed during the Blitz but I never knew that there was a magnificent domed Customs House overlooking Canning Dock that was set alight with fire bombs during the May blitz until I began my research. It is there that Kitty’s eldest son, Mick, works before being called up and joining the navy. Sadly like many an erstwhile beautiful building in Liverpool, it was the city leaders who later completely destroyed the old Customs House. http://liverpoolremembrance.weebly.com/the-custom-house.html 

I could go on and on but for my readers in the South of England, I must add something I found out for myself on a visit to Brighton with my nephew, erstwhile professional football player, Garry Nelson, who inherited his love for the beautiful game from his Everton supporter grandfather and dad. I never knew that the lovely Oriental pavilion there built on the orders of George IV was to provide shelter and care for wounded Indian soldiers during the Great War. It is in Brighton that big John McLeod met his first wife.

And finally for those who have read FLOWERS ON THE MERSEY and remember Daniel and Rebekah, and the Quaker maid Hannah, they make a reappearance in A MOTHER’S DUTY which will be available in paperback and e-book the 26th February 2015.