Why don’t you sling your Hook elsewhere?

Toy_pirate_2 pirate rowing awayWith yet another storm howling past the windows of my local library and more hail and torrential rain spoiling the great British public’s weekend, I’m beginning to see what it must have been like being a 17th century pirate.

As some of you may remember, I’m publishing my Giles Gimingham pirate adventure “Sweet Charity” chapter by chapter on www.jukepopserials.com. In the interest of historical accuracy I’m therefore researching into the ways of the Caribbean Brethren around the time Jamaica’s Port Royal was all but destroyed by a nasty earthquake and tidal wave in June 1692.

I discovered a wonderful book about Welsh pirates and browsed through 17th century pirate vocabulary and slang last night, marvelling at how many modern English language terms actually stem back to the Age of Sail. Every day phrases that we use quite unthinkingly and take as “modern” expressions were the language of buccaneers, pirates, smugglers, merchants and Royal Navy men.

Pirates without the mess...just chapter by chapter

Pirates without the mess…just neat chapter by chapter cut throats

Did you know that “sling your hook” refers to unpopular ship mates, who were told to go and sling their hammocks elsewhere?

Since space was scarce on overcrowded 17th century ships, nobody wanted to sleep next to an unpopular shipmate. How I’d love to tell the Welsh weather to sling its hook and let off steam, storm and rain elsewhere…but there…it’s already done that and my former haunts in the counties of Surrey and Kent are also being buffeted and deluged as I’m writing this!

Or how about the expression “show your true colours”? 

This refers to the Brethren’s habit of hoisting their pirate flag only when reaching firing distance to a merchant or Spanish treasure ship.

My personal favourites so far?

“Shake a cloth in the wind”, which means to be slightly tipsy or drunk but not helpless (or legless!).  I’m also rather fond of “yoh-ho-ho, heave to and a bottle of rum”  which would do nicely right about now!

Admittedly, these pirate expressions come a close second to:

“Catgut Scraper”, which would describe any of the fiddlers hired to keep the men entertained aboard a ship. Pirate captains would recruit musicians into their crews because pirates got easily bored on long voyages, so disputes and fights would often break out over the smallest disagreements. Getting them to sing a sea shanty on deck during working hours was good for moral; even in Sir Henry Morgan’s and Captain Kidd’s day the entertainment value of “Britain’s Got Talent” couldn’t be ignored.

Vocabulary with Captain Kidd will cost ye just six pieces of eight!

Vocabulary with Captain Kidd will cost ye just six pieces of eight!

I like the expression because it reminds me how my beloved Bunny The Cat would wander about the house, seemingly singing to herself:) Almost as scary as meeting Captain Edward Teach himself!

and my absolute favourite is…

“The Doctor”, which in the Brethren’s day didn’t mean TARDIS captains Tom Baker, Christopher Eccleston nor doctors Matt Smith or David Tennant, but simply the cooling trade wind in the West Indies, which brings relief to seafarers when the dry season sets in.

If only a dry season would hit the UK this afternoon!

I could forgo lusting after the “Doctor” and quite endure a little hot air instead, if only it would dry out the long gallery of damp socks, shoes and coats accumulating back home! Nothing dries in this weather…and that brings me neatly back to where I began, namely what it must have been like living in the Age of Sail…and as a good little writer who paid attention in William Stadler’s and Richard Asplin’s class, I mustn’t forget to incorporate weather and its effect on people when I write the next chapter for my Giles Gimingham yarn!

The ship's artist takes a day off...with fatal consequences as captain makes writer MT walk the plank for this meritless daub.

The ship’s artist takes a day off…with fatal consequences as captain makes writer MT walk the plank for this meritless daub.

Wishing everyone in the UK “Bon Voyage” and a dry season to start soon!

(original artwork by Maria Thermann – animation sourced via heathersanimations.com)



How homely can a northern Castle be?

St Fagans Castle rear entrance

St Fagans Castle rear entrance

In my recent blog post about St Fagans, the National Museum of Wales, I promised to tell you a bit more about St Fagans Castle, which is a Grade 1 listed building and ranks as one of the finest examples of Elizabethan manor houses in Wales – or anywhere, really.

Unfortunately, one isn’t allowed to take pictures inside, so all I can offer you here are some pictures I took of the outside and the lovely gardens. It’s a truly inspirational place for writers of fantasy and historic fiction, for it represents a real Welsh family home rather than the great fortresses built by the English to keep the Welsh from transgressing across the border and revolt.

The original manor house was constructed in 1580 on the site of a much earlier castle that dated back to the 13th century but was destroyed in 1536.

St Fagans Castle front entrance with cistern

St Fagans Castle front entrance with cistern

Like all aristocratic families, the manor’s Victorian owners followed the motto “if you’ve got it flaunt it” so they spent much of their income on remodelling and refurbishing their manor in the 19th century, when Cardiff’s high society grew fat and rich on the proceeds of mining and shipping. Inside the manor house visitors get to see collections spanning four centuries, including original furniture dating back to  when the house was first constructed.

Italian Garden urn

Italian Garden urn

St Fagans walled gardens

St Fagans walled gardens

Upon entering St Fagans Castle one feels that this has always been a family home – it doesn’t feel like a museum’s piece or one of those grand country houses, those stately homes of England, many of which were erected with money from the slave trade and adorned with Adams fire places and gilded Venetian mirrors that were paid for with the lives of thousands of African men, women and children. One could, of course, argue that the manor houses of Wales were built and paid for by virtual slave labour and exploitation of Welsh miners, for most  aristocrats based in Wales seem to have had a finger in the mining-pie at one time or another and loathed to spend money on improving living and working conditions of their “subjects”.

While most medieval castles and 18th century country estates are cold, echo-y and cavernous, St Fagans is a cosy country house, a family home that once belonged to Lord Robert-Windsor, who later became the Earl of Plymouth. He kindly donated St Fagans Castle along with 18 acres of land to the National Museum Wales in 1946. Perhaps trying to make up for past wrongs done to the Welsh mining public?


A Welsh cottage kitchen centuries ago

A Welsh cottage kitchen centuries ago

Come on a lovely spring day – choose the middle of the week or you get trampled by the crowds – and stroll through the gorgeous gardens that surround the castle on all sides.

The Italian Garden was created in 1902 and features several ponds. It was restored – to much acclaim – in 2003 and still contains many original features. So far I’ve yet to discover the thyme garden, but I have located the secret walled rose garden, an absolute delight on a hot summer’s day, as one can escape both the crowds and the hot sun for a quarter of an hour and recover in this tranquil and shady place.

Throughout the grounds of the museum there are wonderful man-made landscape features to explore; the real beauty is that one seems to come upon them unawares, as if by magic they had just appeared out of the mist. From fish ponds and mill streams to pretty fountains, from covered walkways and mulberry groves, to vinery, cottage gardens and vegetable patches from WWII, from woodland areas and farmyards to Anglo-Saxon round-house villages and 19th century shopping mall – soak up St Fagans’ past, breathe in deeply and inhale every-day-Welsh-history and when you get home, let it flow out of your fingertips and populate your laptop’s memory.

St Fagans Castle duck

St Fagans Castle duck

Gardens tell us so much about the Welsh people who once lived in these homes; rich or poor, Elizabethan castle dwellers in their embroidered finery and furs or humble prefab bungalow citizens in their 1950s petticoats, they all have one thing in common: they are part of Welsh history and equally important, when a writer needs inspiration for their characters!

St Fagans Castle is not imposing, not even that richly furnished. It has nothing of the grand regal gesture of Caerphilly Castle about it nor is there a whiff of Castle Coch’s romance and memories of courtly love present at St Fagans Castle. However, for my money St Fagans Castle is a real homely northern castle, one where I could envisage having been part of a busy household – perhaps as medieval seamstress pricking an amorous squire with my needle to put him in his place or maybe as cook preparing the master’s spit roasted piglet or plucking pheasant’s feathers after the hunt. Not unlike a modern day writer plucking the best bits from ordinary people’s past and using their lives to create a new hi-story.

Don't forget to bring some bread for the pond life in the Italian gardens

Don’t forget to bring some bread for the pond life in the Italian gardens

If folklore, heritage and locations like this one influence and inspire your writing, be sure to visit St Fagans Folklore Museum one day, but if you can’t visit, here’s a virtual tour:


(copyright for all photographs: Maria Thermann; animation gif source: heathersanimations.com)

A Homely Northern Castle Revisited

Come and warm yourself by the fire

Come and warm yourself by the fire

I redesigned and renamed this blog to honour the age-old Welsh tradition of storytelling, usually done when the harvest was in and people gathered by the fireside or hearth after a good feast. Where’s this particular splendid fireplace from?

Ages ago I promised you a return visit to this castle because the pictures I’d found at the time didn’t really get across how vast the site and castle really are. This is a fireplace from one of the master chambers and I guess it’s big enough to roast a medium sized wild boar or goat, if you don’t fancy climbing down draughty stairs to reach the kitchens (right next to the smelly dungeons).

It was just fantastic to see the room proportions, the height of the ceiling, the narrow winding staircases and enormous fire places – it will all find its way into my very own take on the Arthurian legends soon, so watch out for those to appear at a Jukepopserials outlet near you!

For once we actually had a summer in Wales so one fine day in early September I went happy-snappy to one of the largest castle-moat complexes in the world (the largest in Britain, if I’m not mistaken): Caerphilly in Wales.

I won’t bore you with the background data in this post – just feast your eyes on medieval architecture that’s just so “awesome” as our American friends would say. And yes, bits and pieces from the BBC’s hit series “Merlin” were filmed here!

Approach from the townside

Approach from the townside

The castle complex may look abandoned, but you’ll soon find it’s not unprotected:

Castle guards asking for your credentials

Castle guards asking for your credentials

If you cannot prove to these sentinels that you are there for entirely honest purposes (such as feeding them titbits of tasty bread or taking pictures of their glorious feathered-ness), you’d better buck up your ideas.

WHAT - No Bread? Let's get the castellan at once!

WHAT – No Bread? Let’s get the castellan at once!

Having committed the grave sin of not arriving with bribes, I watched these sturdy Canada geese rush off in search of the castellan.

Should I risk a swim across the moat before the guards return?

Should I risk a swim across the moat before the guards return?

I didn’t hang around and hurried along the path through the park, snapping away at the castle as I went.

Quick, there's nobody manning the bridge!

Quick, there’s nobody manning the bridge!

Finding one of the entrances unguarded – it was fairly early in the morning, the castle guards were probably still enjoying their bacon and eggs – I rushed through the park and up to the gate.

Sneaking past the guards and their breakfast kippers I stole up the tower

Sneaking past the guards and their breakfast kippers I stole up the tower

To show you how vast the complex is, here’s a picture taken from top of the tower:

View towards the town

View towards the town

Deciding that perhaps I might be allowed in if I paid my dues, I strolled confidently up to the main gate and demanded entry. Here you can clearly see the famous “leaning” tower.

Eat your heart out, Pisa!

Eat your heart out, Pisa!

An honest traveller with a bona fide ticket is eventually allowed into the great hall – sadly, the breakfast feasting was already over and a servant was clearing away the debris (NOT Merlin, before all you Merlinians get over-excited).

Great Hall as seen from the ramparts

Great Hall as seen from the ramparts

Great hall after the first breakfast sitting

Great hall after the first breakfast sitting

A harassed servant clears away the left-over baked beans

A harassed servant clears away the left-over baked beans

Next time I’ll show you a few of the fortifications, reconstruction war machines and chambers reserved for lesser members of the household. Hope you didn’t mind revisiting this homely Welsh castle:)

Cardiff revisited Part 2

What else did I get up to last summer – when I had promised you all to finish my Merlin fan fiction? We-e-e-ll, among the exciting events I attended, the Cardiff ComiCon stands out as a highlight…especially, because it had two “Merlin” actors from the BBC’s stable attending.

Dr Who's Parking Issues

Dr Who’s Parking Issues

Camelot’s “King Uther” aka Mr Anthony Head was there and the shy and very cute little “Mordred”, aka Mr Alexander Vlahos, so naturally this writer had to go along. Wee “Mordred” walked right past me, as I stood in the long, long queue waiting for the doors of the Cardiff venue to open.

Cardiff ComiCon 2013

Cardiff ComiCon 2013

He’d arrived early to get “a feel for the place” it seems.

At first, painfully shy and hiding much behind his floppy hair, he soon relaxed and a couple of hours into the event he seemed to really enjoy himself, chatting happily to fans and having his picture taken with a multitude of fan girls and boys of all ages.

Mr Anthony Head, of course, was a seasoned hand at such an event and seemed as relaxed as a man can be.

Last year’s event was held at the end of August, but there’s another one this March, 1st and 2nd, so if you happen to be in Wales, do stop by. Ticket prices are going to be £6.00 in advance and £12.00 on the door on the day (see http://www.cardiffcomicon.com/).

It was complete mayhem on the first day, as literally thousands of people attended with a queue on the Saturday that wound right around the building and down the road…and then some more…

I wisely decided to go on the Sunday instead, when the first excitement had died down a bit. It was much better, especially when going first thing in the morning. By lunchtime though, the Cardiff Motorpoint Arena had filled up considerably, making it quite difficult to see or hear what the stars of the event were saying.

Main Stage Mayhem

Main Stage Mayhem

Thankfully, I managed to miss Mr Hasselhoff’s appearance…

Apart from inspecting some amazing stalls that sold pretty much anything from comic books to posters, memorabilia and autographs, I also saw many stars from some of the most famous fantasy and sci-fi TV shows and movies…squeak, I stood right by the friendly and very nice Tom Baker aka Dr Who, who was besieged by fans. I gawped at various Star Trek actors and was shocked to realise that I’ve practically been a Trekkie for the better part of my life.

Cardiff ComiCon queues 2013

Cardiff ComiCon queues 2013

In an upstairs part of the Motorpoint Arena various comic book artists, writers and producers of various shows held 30 minute talks, so if you’re a real nerd…erm…fan…be sure to be more organised than I was and get your tickets well in advance. For some of these special events you’ll need to buy additional tickets, while others are free.

Main Hall Comicon Cardiff 2013

Main Hall Comicon Cardiff 2013

At one point I got chased along the aisles by a “real” Dalek, which was a thrilling if somewhat frightening experience. I admired and tried to photograph the many fans who’d dressed up – not very successfully, as the hall was very dark and bathed in some horrid orange light. Most of my pictures didn’t come out at all, so here are the few that I did manage to go home with.

Who do you think this is?

Who do you think this is?

Actually, one of the reasons I attended the event was to check out if writers could use this type of event to connect with potential readers and fans of genre literature. As it happens, there were a few writers trying to showcase their books, some with their own artwork, so it seems an idea to turn up with a picnic table, a thermos of hot chocolate and my books at some future Cardiff and London events.

Maybe see you there?

Up close & personal with Mr Dalek

Up close & personal with Mr Dalek

As for my “Merlin” fan fiction, for those of you who are interested, I have uploaded what I’ve already written to Goodreads.com and archiveofourown.org. Once I’ve done the ending, I’ll upload it to these two sites, where it’s much easier to read chapter by chapter than here on WP. I’ll keep you posted!

Cardiff revisited

xmas turkey and wineI really must apologise for my long, long absence from this site – I have missed blogging and catching up with what everybody else is doing. Now I’m back I can’t wait to get started again…and yes, I still owe everyone another instalment of Merlin fan fiction! Sigh, there are just not enough hours in this writer’s day.

What have I been up to all this time?

Apart from completing a huge amount of client work, landing not one but two jobs with big writing teams in the US and several other clients to boot, I’ve been beavering away at writing my first adult murder mystery, “Mrs Arbuthnot takes a Trip down memory Lane”, the first chapter of which is currently awaiting editor approval for publication on http://www.jukepopserials.com, where I had already published the first 3 chapters of my Giles Gimingham adventure “Sweet Charity“.

It’s a great site that’s gone from strength to strength over the past year and a perfect place for an author like myself to publish the traditional chapter by chapter way…and get paid for it, yay! Mrs Arbuthnot’s plot is set in WWII, 1941, at the Kentish coast and is part 1 of a series of books. Doing the research has been hugely enjoyable, as this is about British people and their every day WWII  experiences; it’s not about politics and certainly not about war-mongering, murdering lunatics from my own country, although naturally Germans receive a few well-deserved curses throughout the book. I’m really exploring how police officers deal with crime during a difficult time when bombs fall all around them; does one sordid murder really matter or should a police officer concentrate on the bigger picture: looters, the black market, deserters and enemy spies?

Rediscovering Cardiff

Writers will know this: we spend so much time in front of the laptop screen inventing worlds of our own, we forget what the real world looks like. One day I opened my eyes, blinked and looked around me, and what I saw horrified me.

I moved out of my horrible mouse and Gunter-infested home and took on an artist studio as my place to work and grow my freelance writing business from. However, the studio proved less than adequate for my needs. I had extended my work activities to include editing fictional books, which is enjoyable but time-and space-consuming. In addition, I decided to build several websites of my own, hoping that over time I’d make a wee bit of money with affiliates. So all in all, I’ve been pretty busy.

One of these websites is all about visiting the Welsh capital on a budget. I’d lived in Cardiff for a number of years and had almost forgotten how much there is to do and see for free or for very little money. So here are a few impressions of what I’ve been up to – a happy-snappy review of what Cardiff has to offer visitors on a budget:

There was the Cardiff Country Fair held at Cardiff Castle…Welsh breadcomplete with 200 varieties of cheese cake …and Welsh organic bread…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAabout 50 or so vintage tractors…and antique stalls…


and then there were the fantastic events at St Fagan’s Castle, located in the open-air Welsh National Museum…

St Fagan's Castleand the great Extreme Sailing event in Cardiff Bay, which is also the home of the Dr Who Exhibition…

Extreme Sailing 2013as well as a very successful Summer Festival held at Roald Dahl Plaza in Cardiff Bay that attracted thousands of families this year:Mermaid QuayOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And just when you think it can’t get any better, you can join boat cruises in the Bay for a fiver or explore the River Taff by river bus, followed by a free guided walk in Bute Park…I know, I know: you all want to visit me now next summer!



Homely Northern Castles (Part 7)

Deutsch: Hamlets Schloss – Schloss Kronborg in...

Today’s candidate for homely Nordic castles only made the list because

a) I stumbled across it by accident while I was researching ghost-related places for my blog site willowthevampire.com and it’s got ghostly goings-on AND

b) because in a round-about way it relates to Merlin and the Arthurian legends…AND

before you ask…no, I haven’t had a chance to rewrite the ending for my Merlin fan fiction thanks to my lovely clients all wanting their work ASAP the last couple of weeks; hopefully, I should be able to finish the story over the next few days (famous last words!).

Kronborg Slot on the Zealand peninsular in Denmark – or Castle Kronborg – is situated a mere 4 km from the Swedish coast, just a hop and a skip from Helsingborg. Serving as the focal point for the Danish town Helsingør, Kronborg Castle is famous for a number of things, including spooky things, but mostly for being the inspiration for Elsinore, Hamlet’s legendary castle in William Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

Kronborg Castle, Helsingør, Denmark

As one of the most important Renaissance castles in Northern Europe, Castle Kronborg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the early 1400s, when the first stronghold called Krogen was built on orders of King Eric VII.

It was part of a number of coastal fortifications that served to protect and control the entrance to the Baltic Sea. It wasn’t until 1574 and the reign of King Frederick II that the fortress was transformed into Kronborg Castle, a splendid Renaissance residence fit for a moody princeling like HAMLET.

But we’ll forget what’s above ground for a moment and have a peek under the casements, where one of Denmark’s most important national symbols resides: one Holger Danske or as he’s also known, Ogier le Danois – a name that dates back to the crusades and the Song of Roland, a French poem that describes the gruesome derring-dos of knights and Saracens.

Ogier the Dane in Krongborg Castle

Deemed to be invincible, Holger or Ogier the Dane returned to Denmark after the crusade and a major battle in France. Upon arrival at Kronborg, he promptly fell into a long and deep slumber. Legend has it, should anyone threaten the Danish kingdom, Ogier or Holger will awake instantly and set out to fight for this country and king. Sound familiar, my loverly Merlinians?

Oddly, this Nordic hero is linked to the Arthurian legends and just like Arthur, he became a king of the mountains, a protector who would awake when his country needs him most. I’ve been all over Denmark and I’ve yet to discover mountains…so where does this medieval error in map reading spring from, I wonder?

Is this our friend Merlin trying to befuddle our brains with a bit of Camelot magic? Is this reference to mysterious mountains an attempt to hide his beloved ARTHUR’s real resting place until it’s time for Arthur to wake and have his breakfast after a millennium of sleep?

According to legend, Ogier the Dane was also taken to Avalon by Morgan le Fay, which makes the link to Arthurian folklore even more interesting.

Holger Danske (Ogier the Dane) in a 16th centu...

The 11th century Song of Roland – or Chanson de Roland – is part of wider rhyming chronicles that chart the times of Charlemagne and is known to be the oldest surviving major work of French language literature. It was so popular during its own time that several different versions survived in manuscript form throughout the 12th and 14th centuries. The oldest of these manuscripts (dated to between 1140 to 1170) can be found in Oxford (UK) and is usually referred to as the “Oxford manuscript”.

In around 4,004 lines the poem describes the notorious battle, spawning many more heroic adventure stories of its kind throughout the middle ages. Therefore, the Song of Roland and our bearded friend Ogier have to be seen as part and parcel of the Arthurian legends we know and love today.

The Chanson de Roland or Song of Roland is essentially a heroic poem that relates the Battle of Roncesvalles in France in 778, which took place during the reign of Charlemagne. There are various references to Olgier/Olger/Holger that date back even earlier than the Chanson de Roland, such as a chronicle held at St Martin’s monastery in Cologne, where a reference to pillaging Saxons in 778 links directly to an Olger, Leader of the Danes, who helped – in the words of the monkish chroniclers – to rebuilt the monastery after the Saxons burned it to the ground (756 to 1021, Chronicon Sancti Martini Coloniensis).

Kronborg Castle

The monastery, incidentally, served as a Benedictine monastery for monks from Scotland and Ireland and was once Cologne’s main church (Groß St Martin), but it had been erected on a much earlier place of worship that dates back to Roman times.

What the Song of Roland also demonstrates is the power of story telling…if told well, a story can survive against all the odds.

Just think, minstrels all over Europe braved the ravages of Black Death, boils, starvation, plague and constant medieval warfare to turn up at whatever manor or castle would pay for their keep – and in return they recited their poems about heroic deeds and beautiful maidens…capturing our imagination more than 1,200 years after Olger the Dane allegedly threw a bucket of water over the smouldering remains of St Martin’s monastery.

It convinces me good storytellers are here to stay, no matter how hard Amazon seemingly tries to destroy the booktrade and deprive authors of a decent wage!

elf-smelling-flowersShould you ever find yourself at Kronborg Castle be sure to visit the enormous Knights’ Hall. At 62 metres length it is one of the longest in Europe and contains a statue of Holger Danske/Ogier the Dane. If you’re a Merlinian at heart, why not indulge in a little daydream of minstrels singing at Arthur’s court…

Canons at Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, Denmark

Canons at Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, Denmark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…and if you’re Shakespearean at heart…RUN, for Elsinore’s moody owner Hamlet is bound to have another murderous temper tantrum soon.

More Trouble with the Grunters

Caerphilly Castle in Wales

I haven’t had a chance to do research on Castle Bratislava in the Czech Republic, so today I’m just heading down the road to Caerphilly Castle in Wales instead.

I truly wished over the past week I owned a castle, since it would keep everyone else out and me safely in.

For those of you who have been following my blog for a while now, the term Grunters will probably ring a bell…

Actually, bell-ringing is how it all started last Tuesday night at 11.50 pm, when I was woken up by persistent ringing and hammering at our front door.

As I was completely alone in the house at the time, I didn’t switch on the lights or answer the door. Eventually the nuisance callers went away and I fell asleep once more…only to be woken up again at 1.30 am by more bell-ringing and fists on the door.

English: Caerphilly Castle in Caerphilly, Wales

English: Caerphilly Castle in Caerphilly, Wales (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This time the callers had brought their very own helicopter which circled over the area and woke up the entire neighbourhood.

I shut my eyes and started dreaming of buying Pierrefonds Castle, pulling the duvet over my head until the callers went away.

I fell asleep only to be disturbed for the third time at 2.18 am, when more bell-ringing followed, this time unaccompanied by helicopters or fists.

The next morning I went down to check with the business located on the ground floor of our building, if anything was missing or if someone had tried to break in, only to be told that my upstairs neighbour’s boyfriend had made a nuisance of himself there by turning up repeatedly with the police, trying to get into the building when I was out and my flatmates were also away.

Was the nocturnal nuisance caller dressed in blue uniform or just in his customary dirty shirt and jeans?

English: Caerphilly Castle

English: Caerphilly Castle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Turns out, the middle aged lady living upstairs has gone missing, just like in the Hitchcock classic “The Lady vanishes” (1938, starring Michael Redgrave and Dame May Whitty as Miss Froy). Perhaps it was the Gestapo at my door or Hitch himself reminding me to always expect the unexpected in my prose?

The vamoosed lady left more than a month ago, conveniently forgetting to tell her boyfriend she’d be staying elsewhere – her post has been re-directed, so I’m assuming she’s safe with her daughter or son.

Meanwhile, on Sunday morning at 10 am I was once again disturbed by more bell-ringing, this time via an imposing ring-finger belonging to one of 3 police people, who couldn’t give a flying fig about vanished ladies but quizzed me about….YEP, THE GRUNTERS who moved out in March!

I had to identify the chief Grunter from a picture and tell the plain-clothes detectives everything I know – which is precisely zilch – about the whereabouts of this most nauseating of former neighbours.

Now, you would think that this interview represented the pinnacle of a public spirited performance from a foreigner living in the UK – but no, this morning (Tuesday) I was allowed to show a repeat performance to two uniformed officers, who came ringing and hammering at our door at 8 am. Yep, the knave Grunter strikes again. Did I know of his whereabouts and had he been seen near the premises and when did he actually move out…?

Hang on, didn’t I tell that already to the plain clothes detectives on Sunday morning? It must be me – I’m clearly going prematurely senile with all these night and day-time disturbances.

English: Scaled-replica siege weapons at Caerp...

English: Scaled-replica siege weapons at Caerphilly Castle, south Wales (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Where are my knights, my soldiers, my castle guards and crossbowmen you might ask? Where are the archers who’ll put an arrow into the paininthearse that is Grunter and Co?

Caerphilly Castle

Before everyone jumps to the conclusion I live in the slums of Cardiff and therefore only have myself to blame, well, I don’t. At least I didn’t until the Grunters moved in…and out again. Now our house has a police reputation and is probably under surveillance as I’m writing this.

My new flatmate S. and her small dog B., who only moved in on Saturday afternoon, will probably spend today sniffing through my kitchen cupboards in case I’m involved in a major drug deal or gold bullion heist. Meanwhile, I’ve fled to a university library, which is currently free of uniformed menaces in blue but full of men in white coats…they are painters and decorators the librarian said, but I don’t believe in the tooth fairy anymore so why should I believe a librarian with gold dust on her nose?

English: Interior of the Great Hall, Caerphill...

English: Interior of the Great Hall, Caerphilly Castle, south Wales (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In fact, I’m no longer sure, if I shouldn’t simply throw in the towel and head for the safety of a padded cell. Reading through Caerphilly Castle’s estate agent blurb I find it requires far too many repairs to be of interest to me.

When Earl Gilbert de Clare (1243 to 1295) built Caerphilly Castle, he apparently forgot to add a keep, a pretty stupid thing to do when you live in Caerphilly town centre – I worked there – I know what the local peasants get up to come sunset!

You want to head straight for the keep and let down the portcullis the moment school’s out, not hang around by the fire in the great hall, watching half-naked minstrels perform your favourite bit from Blackadder or cheer your jesters jousting in the corridors.

Caerphilly castle - another western view

English: Caerphilly Castle in the early evenin...

Come to think of it, the Grunters would fit right into Caerphilly, a run-down little town surrounded by hills, where even toddlers are likely to carry knives I’m told (by Welsh people). Earl Gilbert built the castle because nearly one half of his revenues were derived from the south of Wales and as a consequence he needed to defend his agricultural realm from rebellion by the Welsh and a jealous King Edward I, who was after Gilbert’s wealth.

Caerphilly Castle

Caerphilly may have concentric defences and major reinforcements at its gatehouse that would keep out even the most determined of boyfriends, but the east front defends the dam that holds the waters of the moat in place and that makes the whole place rather damp and not to my taste. Just imagine the mess, if somebody broke through that curtain wall! You’d never get the stains out of the carpets.

Also, Caerphilly train station is right opposite, a cesspool of rebellion if ever there was one and a favourite hang-out for Edward I, when he’s been to a rugby match.

Caerphilly Castle is in fact an early example of the keep-gatehouse principle of defence, meaning there’s an entrance passage that can be closed at either end by letting down a portcullis and shutting a heavy door. This means my imaginary knights could defend the castle against besieging boyfriends entering the courtyard and against any detectives knocking at the other door from the outside.

The keep-gatehouse was constructed far higher than a normal gatehouse would be, affording my armed guards excellent views over the undefended back of the wide southern platform and the whole of the outer ward in that part of the castle complex – in the event any Grunters should try to sneak in, you understand.

Caerphilly Castle relies mostly on its impressive water defences, which nowadays include floating dead pigeons, used condoms, plastic bags and drinks cans;  no doubt these were put there by the local tourist board to repel any fan-girl visitors, who arrived hoping they’d get a signed photograph from Merlin’s Colin Morgan or Bradley James once the fearless fan-girls get across the stretch of water and past the BBC’s own crossbowmen.

English: Took this picture of Caerphilly castl...

Having worked in Caerphilly I can honestly say it’s not worth attacking – I wouldn’t waste a single arrowhead or bolt in its defence should any Welsh person rebelling against taxes imposed by their big-eared overlord come knocking at my portcullis or swim across my moat.

Grunters on the other hand should watch out for flying chamber pots, left-over lances from the Merlin production and Earl Gilbert’s toasting forks!

(source of animation: heathersanimations.com; photographs Wikipedia)

Life is a Journey: the Places we visit are not accidental

Whether you are Doctor Who and engaged in time travelling adventures or just a plain, earth bound foot soldier like me, the places we end up spending time at are not chosen at random or even by our own “free will”.

Life is a journey, somebody once said, and the places and people we come across along the way are not thrown into our path by accident. Our lives go through several stages and at each stage we find ourselves exactly where we are meant to be with the kind of people we are supposed to be with at that precise moment in time.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my brush with cancer, it is that all things happen for a reason. If I hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer, I wouldn’t have quit my boring job and become a full time writer. If I hadn’t moved to Wales, I would never have met the real Willow and her Mum, both of whom I regard as the granddaughter and daughter I’ve longed to have all my adult life. If I didn’t blog on WordPress, I’d never have “met” my virtual and very real friend Michelle Barber (author of Will Blyton and the Stinking Shadow; proud owner of Mildred the Cat, dominatrix at the LoonyLiterature Laboratory)

I’ve lived at many different places, which prior to cancer I regarded as insignificant stop overs. It wasn’t until I got to Cardiff – and later to Leipzig – that I felt a sense of home coming. Our homes are so important to us that they gives us roots to settle down and be content as well as wings to spread and fly off into the world, because the happiness we experienced in our homes gave us the confidence to brave the unknown.

Be there dragons, pirates, sea monsters or mischievous fairies, having our roots hooked firmly into a place that anchors us physically and emotionally gives us strength to cope with whatever might come along. When we lack happiness at home, we feel lost, emotionally and quite literally, unable to settle anywhere for long.

I have come to believe that we “choose” the places and people we come across our life journey not by accident, but by instinct. Somehow deep down inside of us we know that we are very much at the right place at the right time. Stevie Brown and Hamish Fensterlein might be hunting for run-away houses, but deep down they know where their true home lies. Giles Gimingham grew up on the streets but has found his home on the sea, as cabin boy on the ship The Good Intent. Willow the Vampire felt unhappy, alone and abandoned in London, but instinctively knew that Stinkforthshire’s countryside was going to be her real home. Inspector Beagle and his Sergeant Beanstalk would never consider a transfer away from Kentish Mumsgate – for a start, who’d look after Roddy Winters, their elephantine colleague?

As I’m working my way through the research for my various WIP projects, I am reminded of all the places that I have lived at, all of which are in one way or another contributing to my writing. If some people I’ve met along the way are occasionally recognising their own traits of characters in my protagonists, my apology, but I just can’t help it.

You are as integral to my writing as the places I’ve known so well: my home town Lübeck, the small Baltic seaside resort I grew up in, Guildford, where I was happy, London, where I was so miserable I wanted to die, Ramsgate where I discovered I wanted to live, Cardiff, where I found a home and Leipzig, where I intend to end my long journey for good. I needed you all, even if I didn’t love you all.

Lübeck in 1641

Lübeck in 1641 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(source of animation: heathersanimations.com)

No Place like Home

So what actually happens to the three child protagonists in The First Intergalactic Dating Agency? Where do they come from and where are they headed?

In the first adventure the children find themselves at a birthday party held at the entirely fictitious Copernicus Space Centre in Wales. Leroy and Peter were both born in Cardiff, are living with their single fathers and have their work cut out keeping their dads on the straight and narrow. Molly is a foster child at the beginning of the adventure and is a fairly recent arrival to Wales. One of her parents originates from Germany, which is how the children end up time and space travelling to Schwäbisch Hall’s past.

In the first adventure they find themselves kidnapped by devious robots and transported in time and space some 50,000 years into the future. Where do they land? On Mars! The planet has by now been colonised by some not terribly friendly beings, who are happy to welcome Molly but not so keen on “mutants” Peter and Leroy.

Who is to blame for this calamity? The children’s hapless astronomer dads, who were trying to find new wives…or at least attract a female for a date, even if she’s from outer space and has got three heads…a date is a date, right?

Dating is a serious business – never understimate the power of advertising your charms…

Coloniazation of Mars

Coloniazation of Mars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the second adventure Peter, Leroy and Molly have stolen the time travelling space ship that resembles an upturned teacup and are plunged headlong into a treasure hunt through the ages. Why are they going through all the trouble? Well, there’s the little matter of men being extinct, Earth being no longer inhabitable and Molly’s dad having gone missing a couple of years before the adventure starts. What happened to him is one of the mysteries the kids must solve. Dating the parts of the puzzle they find correctly will help them to unravel the mystery and help them to get back home…to Wales…to Cardiff and those they love.

For Molly, Leroy and Peter it’s quite a change of scenery travelling from Cardiff in Wales to Mars – and 50,000 years into the future at that. How has mankind evolved? Are robots running the universe and if so, can Peter and his dad still buy fish and chips on Fridays? Are girls really from Mars and are boys really…Raspberts…whatever that might be?

Copied from Image:MarsTransitionV.jpg: "....

Copied from Image:MarsTransitionV.jpg: “…” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those who think history is boring and is only ever happening to other people, think again. We are all part of history – where we come from matters as much as where we’re headed to. If we don’t understand our origins, how can we understand the reason for our journey?

Some people think nothing ever happens in their lives, it’s dull and humdrum every day…always expect the unexpected…because one day you might be blowing out the candles on your 11th birthday cake and suddenly you’ll find yourself in a time travelling spaceship with a talking gorilla at the helm!

Finding Inspiration in the smallest of Bars

Having finally decided that this blog is best used for my musings on locations and buildings influencing my writing, I push the on-going Grunters saga to the back of my mind and look at a few pictures I took in my beloved Schwäbisch Hall instead.  I used to own a flat there, until cancer put a stop to my happy nesting.

Before some of you, who have just received my Willow the Vampire blog, start groaning, please don’t panic, I’ll only update this blog every Thursday from now on!

Just prior to being diagnosed with cancer I attended a writing class at Cardiff University’s Lifelong Learning Centre and there I met my two best friends, a couple of accomplished lady writers and two of the kindest souls one could ever hope to meet. Another member of our small class, Ollie, later became a friend of one of the lady’s husbands.

Young writer Ollie, who by now has probably graduated from his film making/scriptwriting course, was the reason I took this first photo. While in Germany, that very morning I’d received an email from my friend in Wales, telling me of Ollie’s various exploits…later that day, strolling through the town centre looking for a place to have a meal, I came across a small establishment I hadn’t noticed before. Picture my surprise when I looked up and saw the name: Olli’s Bar!


Sunday (Photo credit: ex.libris)

Initially I only took a photograph of the bar to send it to my friend. Later, however, the discovery of the small bar in the heart of historic Schwäbisch Hall prompted me to go around and take lots of pictures on an icy cold Sunday morning, when everybody sensible was tucked up in their warm bed, still dreaming of breakfast and a Sunday paper that contained only good news for a change.

It struck me how the narrow layout of the streets and courtyards could be used to great effect in a story and how compiling a scrapbook of my own pictures and detailed descriptions of historic houses could help me turn the location and its buildings into another “character” in my sci-fi novel about three time-travelling kids.

The great thing about using historic towns or cities as a background to a story is that often there’s a plethora of fascinating stuff one can find out at the local library or Historical Society. In some cases, where a locally prominent family dynasty had lived in a building, there was a whole family tree available with anecdotes and drawings, early photographs and family letters into the bargain.

How better to bring a time-travelling novel to life than using real life events that happened during the time in which the story is set (suitably altered to protect the innocent, of course…)?


Even better, these are stories about real people, who led ordinary lives, not kings and queens or emperors and their Machiavellian mischief, courtly intrigue and political machinations.

If you wanted to write a story about time-travelling into the past, which historic town or city would you choose for background inspiration?

(NB: Please don’t all choose VENICE!)