My Top 10 Recommended Reads from 2022

Top image Photo by Susan Q Yin on Unsplash

I always like to start the new year with a post, listing all the good books I read over the year and choose my favourites. 

There are some really talented authors out there and I’m proud to say that many of my favourites are indies like myself. Don’t be fooled into  thinking that only those who have been signed up by a commercial publisher are worth reading, because it’s simply not true. Indie authors have to work a lot harder to market their books. Yet they undergo the same rigorous processes of editing and proof-reading as best sellers. Most choose self-publishing, because it allows them total control over their books, as opposed to being shoe-horned into whatever genre or topic happens to be popular.

But enough rambling… Here’s my top ten in the order I read them.

The Great I Am – Beryl Kingston

The Great I Am by Beryl Kingston

This really well-written family sage has a comic twist, an underlying political message and is filled with characters you will either love or hate. My favourite character was the politician’s mother, Ada, who was a real fighter, campaigning for all the things we care about. I enjoyed the references to Sussex too.

Beryl has written over 30 books and is a best selling author.

| Read my review on Goodreads | Download on Amazon |

The Bluebird Brooch – Rosemary Noble

The Bluebird Brooch by Rosemary Noble

This is quite simply one of the most beautiful stories I have read. The developing relationship between Laura and her Grandmother warms the heart as they embark on solving the mystery surrounding the older woman’s family. This is the first book I’ve read by Rosemary set in the present day with history woven into the pages.

I can’t wait to see what this she comes up with next.

| Read my review on Goodreads | Download on Amazon |

The Olive Grove – Eva Glyn

The Olive Grove by Eva Glyn

With intricate references to former Yugoslavia and the Bosnian war that destroyed it, this character driven contemporary novel is filled with secrets, soul-searching and romance. For me this novel ticked all the boxes. It is beautifully written, with characters you begin to really care about and is just an amazing story.

I see the book has a new cover now, but I really liked the original (above).

| Read my review on Goodreads | Download on Amazon |

What She Did – Alex Kane

After a respite from thrillers, in search of gentler reads, I immersed myself back into the genre in April when I found this on my Kindle. Alex is a new author for me, but I absolutely loved this book, with two memorable female characters and an absolutely gripping plot. A real page turner.

In fact, I’ve just downloaded another novel by this author (She Who Lies) and looking forward to starting it.

| Read my review on Goodreads | Download on Amazon |

The Village – Caroline Mitchell

The Village by Caroline Mitchell

I love the New Forest, a place we’ve spent holidays with it’s timeless, dreamlike atmosphere. But the focus of this novel is a crime journalist’s obsession with a family who disappeared 10 years ago. As the past and present merge, though, the villagers grow ever more malevolent… Then comes the twist and it’s jaw-dropping!

This was without doubt one of the best books I read in 2022.

| Read my review on Goodreads | Download on Amazon |

Say Her Name – Dreda Say Mitchell

Say Her Name by Dreda Say Mitchell

I chose the audible version for this book but what an absolute treat. The narrator did a fantastic job bringing the characters to life in this outstanding novel. The writing sharp and thought provoking, the characters well drawn and three dimensional. At the same time, I sensed a disturbing underlying message that drew my mind to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement in 2020. Another 2022 winner!

| Read my review on Goodreads | Download on Amazon |

Not Hers to Take – Keiron Cosgrave and Christine Hancock

Not Hers to Take by Keiron Cosgrave and Christine Hancock 

This novel had a very original plot and I’ve never read anything like it. It is the story of two sisters; Sara who is selfish and heartless, while Ruby the underdog, struggles to live a pure and normal life, having been cut out of the family will. Sibling rivalry lies at the heart of this engaging psychological thriller with some jolts along the way.

It’s one of those books that stays with you for a long time, thought provoking with a nice ending.

| Read my review on Goodreads | Download on Amazon |

Where There’s Doubt – Terry Tyler

Where There’s Doubt by Terry Tyler

I love Terry Tyler’s novels, mostly because of her characters, who feel like real people! This modern-day dark, psychological drama is no exception, spotlighting romance scammer, Nico. The author does a brilliant job exposing his dark thoughts and the contempt he has for his victims. Kate was the character I really gunned for but as the truth of her relationship with Nico unravelled, I felt her pain.

I highly recommend this.

| Read my review on Goodreads | Download on Amazon |

The Feud on Dead Lane – Robert W Kirby

The Feud on Dead Lane by Robert W Kirby

Twisty, edgy, vengeful, explosive, violent, humorous in parts and at times utterly heartbreaking, this is not just one story. It’s three! But the way these stories are linked make this an unforgettable saga. A story of two loathsome crime families and the innocent by-standers who are caught in the cross fire.

This book was so good I had to read it twice to take it all in.

| Read my review on Goodreads | Download on Amazon |

The Evidence – K L Slater

The Evidence by K L Slater

K L Slater has become one of my favourite authors and each book is unique. For me, this was the best so far, exposing the plights of two women. One is a convicted murderer (Simone), the other a podcast journalist who has pledged to reveal the true story behind her crime. If you want to know what coercive control entails, read this book! It was not only an education for me but an utterly compelling story.

| Read my review on Goodreads | Download on Amazon |

What to Read Next

Reading is such a guiltless, pleasurable past-time, I feel so grateful to the authors out there who never cease to delight me with their books. But to kick off the New Year I’ve downloaded a self-help book, Cherishing Me, Letters to a Motherless Child by Moira Dadd. 2023 is to be a year of self-improvement I’ve decided and reading Moira’s self healing journey will be a great start. My husband and I built Moira’s website, but after reading about the book the and author’s experiences I was intrigue to know more…

Cherishing Me, Letters to a Motherless Child by Moira Dadd

Happy New Year everyone and I hope that together we can make the world a better place this year!

A Year of Editing

This year I decided to take a break from writing. It’s not as if I don’t have ideas for further novels, I’m just not in the right frame of mind to attempt anything new. Consequently, I’ve stepped back and reviewed two of my previous books to see how they could be improved.

Visions (Same Face Different Place #2)

After receiving some good reviews for my debut novel, Beginnings (now free on all e-book platforms) it was time to take a critical look at the second instalment of my series, Visions.

Visions was always intended to be a slower paced, psychological thriller, drawing the reader into the 80s, where some radical changes took place across Britain. Visions is rich in 80s nostalgia, but I eventually realised that more was needed to hook the reader in and weave a little extra suspense into the pages. Since reading some excellent psychological thrillers by authors such as Caroline Mitchell, Dreda Say Mitchell and K L Slater, I began to wonder how I could turn my book into something more gripping.

Thinking about Visions, I feared it was overloaded with too many character backstories; first of all, James and his family, (owners of ‘Westbourne House’ a historic building in need of restoration). But after these introductory chapters, the reader had to wade through another character’s background.

Heroine of the series, Eleanor Chapman, consults her friend, Charlie, when James faces a dilemma about the restoration: should he leap into a risky partnership to save his home? Charlie’s first reaction is horror, but why?

This is where I want to keep readers guessing. So, I have broken Charlie’s story into smaller pieces and drip fed them into later chapters. This involved re-writing substantial chunks of the book, while at the same time, cutting down descriptions and shortening the chapters. I have taken on board some of my more critical reviews and as a result, would like to think Visions has more entertainment value.

VISIONS Edition 2 was re-published in April 2022, followed by a paperback version in May. Next I asked my author friend, Beryl Kingston, if she would like to read it, which she did. Beryl has been an avid campaigner in trying to save another historic building, Blake’s Cottage, in Felpham, Bognor Regis. I guessed it might appeal to her, since she was frequently embroiled in confrontations with some pretty odious characters! But I feel so strongly about her cause, I’ve included an extra dedication:

I also dedicate this book to my dear friend, Beryl Kingston, whose fight to save Blake’s Cottage in Felpham has inspired me. Visit her blog to read more about the deterioration of a historic house in need of repair.
berylkingstonblog.wordpress.com

Beryl has some wonderful stories to tell of her own and has written over 30 books, many of which are best-sellers, but do take a look at her blog. It is packed with information about her campaign.

VISONS CAN BE DOWNLOADED HERE

To get a gist of the story, take a look at the book trailer I made for YouTube

PLEASURES (Same Face Different Place #3)

Once Visions had been given a complete overhaul, however, I could not resist continuing the process by applying the same treatment to Book 3 of the series, Pleasures.

It was impossible to change the story, because parts of it resonated through the concluding books of the series. Same Face Different Place is a murder mystery suspense across 4 decades and I wanted to reflect some of the culture I experienced in my life. From the late 80s to the early 90s, the music scene as well as the political climate changed with the arrival of the designer drug, ecstasy. Then came illegal raves. Thus, with the 2nd generation of characters growing up into young adults, there was much focus on this in my story.

Like Visions, I embarked on some brutal editing as I felt Pleasures needed to be more tightly written. So I cut down on descriptions which seemed over the top, improved characters, worked on the dialogue and once again shortened the chapters. There are sixty chapters now, but the length of the book is reduced by about 30k words.

My next job is to re-produce a paperback version but the e-book went live today.

PLEASURES CAN BE DOWNLOADED HERE

For a flavour of the era and the story, take a look at my Pinterest Board for PLEASURES.

New fiction in mind

As often happens, I start thinking about my books long before I actually start writing them. But the next book I have in mind will be a psychological thriller, which brings back some characters from Same Face Different Place and is also a sequel to Lethal Ties.

I just need to get my writing mojo back!

Caru Cymru

A holiday in Pembrokeshire has left me wondering why some of our friends have escaped the rat race to embark on a different life in Wales. I am gradually falling in love with Wales myself and here are a few reasons why.

OPen Space

When close friends, Jason and Nikki, moved to Wales to start an AirBnB in 2018, we were among the first to visit. The first thing I noticed after crossing the Prince of Wales Bridge into Wales was how suddenly the traffic thins out. Maybe it’s because we live on the South Coast in Sussex, (which is hideously overcrowded!) that I could appreciate all this space. But for more information about our stay, I wrote this post: https://samefacedifferentplace.wordpress.com/2018/09/08/a-short-break-in-wales/

Ferryside in Carmarthenshire, Wales

The Scenery

Next, you absorb the scenery as the M4 motorway verges shrink away, revealing layer upon layer of undulating hills, woods and farmland. The Brecon Beacons (where we stayed in 2008) are spectacular – but exploring the countryside around Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, you discover coastal paths, wide sandy beaches, woodland tracks, surging rivers and waterfalls, up hills and yonder, to be met by break-taking views.

Driving through Pembrokeshire

Family Connections

My brother-in-law is Welsh and grew up near Llanelli, a few miles east of Ferryside, where our friends established their home. Yet despite his influence, how strange we’ve been lured back time and time again; not just to visit Nikki and Jason. In 2021, after several fruitless attempts to adopt a dog after lock-down, we finally succeeded in our application to re-home Autumn, a 12 week old puppy from ‘Many Tears’ in none other than Llanelli!

Given our busy lives in Sussex, we welcomed the chance to go back. So, imagine our surprise when my family invited us to spend a week with them in October – at a cottage in Nevern, an idyllic Pembrokeshire village.

A holiday cottage in Nevern, Wales

The Highlights

For every holiday, I like to include the best bits. To be fair the cottage in Nevern (with a lovely garden and apple trees, surrounded by woods with a stream running through the grounds) would be enough to simply chill… but we like to explore.

Garden in Wales holiday cottage

Day One: a coastal walk

Among the leaflets in our house we found a circular walk, which includes a coastal path around the bays of Aberhigian and Aberfforest. This stunning coastline reminds me of Cornwall with steep cliffs and rocky outcrops sculpted by the waves.

The Pembrokeshire coastal path

We didn’t manage the entire 15km walk, but drove to the last section, to see the standing stone monument, Bedd Morris.

Day Two: Cenarth, Coffee and Cheese

Cenarth Falls is spectacular, as is the walk along the river bank. This leads you along a wooded track, uphill, then back into the town of Cenarth.

Cenarth Falls, Wales

Not much was open, so we went on a cheese hunt; first to Newcastle Emlyn, which was another pretty town. After stopping for a coffee in Harrison’s, served by friendly locals, we endeavoured to find Caws Cenarth (a cheese farm only accessible via a network of impossibly narrow, winding roads!) But when we eventually got there, we could not resist sampling some of their delicious cheeses and had to buy some! For cheese connoisseurs I highly recommend them and they can also be purchased online.

Caws Cenarth Welsh Cheese https://www.cawscenarth.co.uk
Cenarth Cheese, from the website https://www.cawscenarth.co.uk/

Day Three: Narberth

Lots have recommended visiting this town. For me though, it ticks every box, packed with colourful shops, hippy clothes, a delightful cafe where we had lunch and is a haven for foodies… we even treated Autumn to a homemade Glamorgan sausage.

Narberth, Pembrokeshire, Wales

The weather in Wales is changeable, bright blue sky one minute, turning black before releasing heavy downpours, but driving back through the Pembrokeshire National park, not only did we see superb mountain views but a dazzling double rainbow.

Pembrokeshire National Park over the mountains

This seemed to mirror a rainbow sign we spotted in Narberth and not only that.

Sign in Narberth

Spotting a sign to Pentre Ifen burial chamber we visited the structure (which looks very much like Stone Henge) before glimpsing another rainbow in the sky further along.

Pentre Ifen Burial Chamber, constructed from Bluestone, like Stone Henge.

It’s enough to make you wonder if there really is a pot of gold is out here!

A rainbow over the Pembrokeshire HIlls.

Day Four: Poppit Sands

Poppit Sands, near Cardigan for a family day out.

To celebrate my brother-in-law, Garry’s, birthday, our trip to Poppit Sands, near Cardigan, was perfect. We enjoyed a relaxing stroll along the peaceful sandy beach with the dogs, followed by lunch in the Ferryside pub, overlooking the sea.

The Ferryside pub, Poppit Sands

After feasting on crispy seafood baskets and chips washed down with beer, we didn’t have the energy to do much else other than relax back at base and play games. But the menfolk tried their hand at fishing, from the stream running through the garden.

Family lunch in the Ferryside, Poppit Sands.

Day Five: Caws Cenarth and Newport

With gifts in mind, how could we resist more cheese? This inevitably involved a 2nd expedition to Cenarth, this time struggling up those muddy tracks under a deluge of torrential rain. At least we got there, tasted more cheeses and came away laden with three boxes. By the afternoon however, we were rewarded with sunshine and rounded off our holiday with a really pleasant walk around Newport Estuary. That the coastal path was suitable for Mum’s scooter was a bonus.

Newport, Pembrokeshire, Wales

Walking on the coastal path in Newport, Pembrokeshire

Nevern

The village where we stayed did in fact, have more to offer than we first realised. For example, the 13C church is famous for its legendary churchyard, containing a ‘bleeding’ yew that leaks red sap – and there is an ancient Celtic Cross. We also discovered the castle (took a short walk up there before the journey home). And it’s pub, the Trewern Arms, serves superb food, as we discovered on our last evening.

Nevern Castle sign

family and Friends

As I’ve mentioned, Garry is passionate about Wales and dreams to live there one day; but in addition to him (Nikki and Jason), two other friends have recently made Wales their home. On our return journey we met up with Paul and Mery (former residents of the New Forest) who in 2021 moved to Llanelli. It feels like an amazing coincidence – and yet another reason we might so easily find ourselves returning. Just minutes before the M4 motorway, near Swansea, we met them (and Jason) in Penllergare Valley Woods , a secret and magical place where we enjoyed a last walk.

Penllergare Valley Woods

Wales has plenty of positives and it makes sense to me why people are drawn here. The pure tranquility and spiritualism provide an escape from the stresses and strains of modern life – a sense of being close to nature, embracing the elements and getting away from clogged roads, noise, crowds to appreciate life’s simple pleasures.

Every morning I woke up to the hoot of an owl, a caw of rooks and trickling stream; sounds of nature I miss. For much as I love where we live near the sea, it made a change to the roar of cars speeding up and down our road at 50mph.

Sunset on the stream in Nevern

But most of all, I am thankful to my family for giving us such a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time with them and enjoy a nice relaxing holiday.

People power and communities

3 West Sussex authors at Bracklesham Summer Village Fair 2022.

What a very different year 2022 has been and after two years of restrictions, I’ve noticed a gradual return of the fairs and festivals that bring people together.

Back in 2011 when I started this blog, it was all about my writing. But in the aftermath of launching Lethal Ties, I needed a break. I felt exhausted, mentally drained and with a craving to sit back and absorb life. So, this year I’ve been people watching, soaking up modern culture and when I feel I have a voice that resonates with readers, only then will I attempt another novel (and I do have ideas for at least two.)

In the meantime, I’ve kept my blog going as an online diary to reflect on life. In 2020 I wrote a lot of stuff about lockdown and the effects of the pandemic. In 2021, I focused on mental health issues in line with the launch of my new novel.

I do miss writing; but without the drive to start anything new, I used my creative head space to do some editing on book 2, Visions (Same Face Different Place) and gave it a bit of an overhaul. More about that later. This post is about festivals and village events.

Oving Scarecrow Day

I’m not sure how long this event has been running, but this year’s was exceptional.

Never before has so much effort gone into the weekend, but it looked as if the entire village pulled the stops out to make it extra special. Everywhere you looked, there was hand-knitted bunting and decorated trees.

Oving Scarecrow Day 2022 a village community event

On Saturday we were rewarded with sunshine and the village came alive with music, from the steel band opposite the Jubilee Hall, to a Fisherman’s Friend’s style folk band, dressed as pirates. With tractor rides around the village and a medley of colourful scarecrows, this was a lively and happy event.

Crafty old crow, for Oving village Scarecrow day

Bracklesham Village Summer Fair

Last year I joined authors from CHINDI (a writers networking group), to run a book stall at the Siddlesham Maze Garden Open Day. Sadly, it was cancelled ‘due to unforeseen circumstances,’ which worried us a lot! I wish them well, but we will miss the wonderful days they put on over the years.

As an alternative, however, one of our group suggested sharing a table in Bracklesham, so I jumped at the chance.

Bracklesham is a seaside village in Sussex and I reckon this event would have drawn more crowds if it had been better advertised. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun, though, with a children’s fun fair, street food, charity stalls and a fantastic Artisan craft market. The weather wasn’t perfect but despite that, we really enjoyed our day together.

Beach Bum jewellery made with sea glass at Bracklesham Artisan Craft Fair

A big thanks to Lexi Rees, a best-selling children’s author who writes inspirational books to inspire creativity, for arranging this.

It was also nice to see Sue Wickstead, who has written a series of colourful picture books, based on a Play Bus and suitable for younger children.

I was there with copies of my Sussex based psychological thriller, Lethal Ties, and delighted to sell a few copies. I did also enjoy browsing the other stalls!

Arundel Festival of Arts

August bank holiday was a good excuse to enjoy a walk around the beautiful Sussex hills, surrounding this town.

Arundel Festival of Arts, 2022

The festival was a bonus, giving us time after our walk to soak up the atmosphere, relax to live music and enjoy some tasty snacks. Apart from a bit of people-watching, it was great to see lots of families out and about and enjoying themselves.

People enjoying themselves at Arundel Festival 2022

Conclusion

Festivals and fairs are important in every culture, a way of celebrating and mixing with people from all walks of life. They give small entrepreneurs and businesses a way of promoting themselves and attracting new customers, which in a world where virtually everything is online, comes as a welcome escape. I’ve always loved markets and supporting small businesses. Events like these bring communities together, something I wrote passionately about in VISIONS, since people matter more than money!

VISIONS was the book I always wanted to write, focusing on an era that in my mind, changed the face of Britain. Set in the 80s, under Margaret Thatcher’s government, we saw the start of privatisation, where nationalised public utilities were sold to investors and profits put before service. With energy prices about to sky-rocket, we are finally seeing the true cost of this change… but enough said.

I hope we can use our united people power to advocate change, stay strong, celebrate happy events like these that hold our communities together.

We Are Saul Book Launch

A Guest Post by Richard Dee

Book Launch: We are Saul by Richard Dee

Today it is my pleasure to introduce author, Richard Dee, to my blog. Richard writes cosy mysteries in a futuristic Sci-Fi setting, his characters engaging, adding a playful twist. After reading ‘The Hitman and the Thief’ & ‘Andorra Pett and the Oort Cloud Cafe,’ I’ve been wondering what to expect from his new book, ‘We Are Saul.’

Book Blurb

When Saul is paralysed in an accident, he thinks it’s the end of his life. In fact, it’s just the beginning.

While trying to come to terms with his injuries, the mysterious Dr Tendral offers him a way to make a difference. All he has to do is join his project. There are no other details until he agrees, he’s either in or out.
What choice does he have?
Agreeing is just the beginning. Saul undergoes drastic surgery, only then is the full depth of the project revealed.
Or is it?
As time goes on and he learns more about Tendral’s scheme, Saul’s new life becomes increasingly difficult.
In the end, he has to abandon everything as he learns the truth.

All second chances come with a price.

We Are Saul by Richard Dee 3D book cover

Links

Purchase http://mybook.to/We_are_Saul

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/60304988-we-are-saul 

So, that is a little about the book and at the end of this post, I have included an extract. But let’s hear a little about the author. Over to you, Richard…

Author Bio

I’m Richard Dee and I’m from Brixham in Devon.  I write Science Fiction and Steampunk adventures, as well as chronicling the exploits of Andorra Pett, a reluctant amateur detective. 

I spent forty years in shipping, firstly at sea, then in Port Control and as a Thames River Pilot, with adventures to match anything you could imagine. When I retired, I just moved them out into space, changed some of the names and wrote them down.

When I’m not writing, I bake bread and biscuits, cook delicious meals and walk the Devon coast.

My first novel, Freefall, was published in 2013, my eighteenth, We Are Saul, will be published in June 2022

I also contributed a story to the 1066 Turned Upside Down collection of alternative history stories. I’m currently working on more prequels, sequels, and a few new projects.

I’m an active member of Exeter Authors Association, attending events and giving talks on World-building for speculative fiction.

You can keep up with me at https://richarddeescifi.co.uk/ where you’ll find free short stories, regular features on writing, book reviews and guest appearances from other great authors.

There’s also an offer for a FREE novella, when you join my subscriber’s newsletter.

I can be found on Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/RichardDeeAuthor and contacted by email at richarddeescifi@gmail.com

Author, Richard Dee

Author Q&A

I’ve read a review copy of ‘We Are Saul,’ and what a very thought-provoking novel! I reckon it would be a good candidate for Book Club fiction as it raises some ethical dilemmas, which prompts me to ask Richard some questions:

What inspired you to write this book?

Richard: It all started with a novel that I wrote back in 2016, called Life and Other Dreams. In that story, a man had vivid dreams of living a different life, in another place and time. As the story developed, his dreams and his reality started to overlap, so that he wasn’t sure which existence was real, or even if, somehow, they could both be real. The fact that he lived one life while asleep suggested the idea of a character living while not moving. It was only a short step from that to the concept of We Are Saul. Also, the film Avatar may have had something to do with it, but only in a general sense, the way that I made this story work was totally different (and devoid of any aliens, although there might be an evil corporation).

Is it based on a real person/real story or is it entirely fictitious?

Richard: It’s entirely fictitious, although I hope that it seems real. If I can leave the reader wondering whether it could be happening, here and now, then I think I’ve achieved what I set out to do. There’s a quote, attributed to Isaac Asimov, that says, “nothing has to be true but everything has to sound true.” I like to apply that to everything that I write.

How much research did you do for your book? How did you research it?

Richard: A lot. Some of it was done for Life and Other Dreams but once I veered away from real people and had to start thinking of artificial life, I needed to understand the mechanics of nanobots and xenobot technology. I’m just enough of a geek to have to know all about the basic science behind things before I write about them. As well as the nano technology, I needed a thorough knowledge of robotics. I also had to research wireless communications, the latest advances in battery technology and so much more. It can take a long time working out how to do something that might only take up a single paragraph in the finished book. I use various scientific websites and Facebook groups, such as Neuroscience News and Research, to keep up to date with the latest thinking.

Do you imagine ‘We Are Saul?’ could be a TV mini series or film?

Richard: It would be nice to think so, although I think it would need to be a multi-episodic series to get all of it in and do the full sweep of the story justice. A two-hour film would need to rush, or risk having to lose too much important detail.

Review Snippets

“The concept for this novel is very clever as it builds on the achievements in a number of areas including robotics and human enhancement, taking them to a whole new level.”

“This is one of Dee’s best stories. The problems Saul has are easy to relate to, as are the hard choices he is forced to make—especially the last two. All of this results in one of Dee’s best novels with an ending that really took me by surprise.”

“A truly captivating, lingering story that will drill deep into your brain, spark your synapses and give you cause to consider what the future may really hold for humanity.”

Intrigued? Below is an extract from the book itself and if that isn’t enough, go grab yourself a copy and lose yourself in this incredible story.

Chapter One

I’m Saul and I’m paralysed. Thanks to a drunk driver my life stopped when I was twenty-five. When I woke up, the last thing I remembered was walking along the pavement on a glorious spring day, following the metronomic motion of a young lady in front of me. One moment, my mind was fixed on speeding up and getting acquainted with the rest of her, next thing, there was a loud noise behind me coupled with a scream. Before I could turn, I felt an impact, a burst of pain and it all went dark.

I opened my eyes to see a man’s face, complete with thick glasses and stubble, staring at me, very close. I blinked, tried to turn my head, failed. It felt like something was holding my neck still. I could move my eyes, that was about it. Flat on my back, my field of vision was limited. There was a lot of noise, machines bleeped and clicked, there was the hiss of compressed air.

“Where am I?” I said, my voice sounded faint and weak, like it was coming from miles away.  

“You’re in a hospital. Intensive Care, actually,” answered the man, moving back a little. “I’m Mr McGee, a consultant neurosurgeon on the staff. Do you know who you are?”

“I’m Saul,” I said. “Why can’t I move?” 

His eyes narrowed. “Saul, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you.”

I had sort of gathered that my situation wasn’t brilliant. “Go on then, tell me the worst.” I tried to sound brave, inside I was more than a little frightened. Beside his head, I could just make out a screen. It showed multicoloured flickering lines, a row of numbers. That was me, my life was reduced to mathematics.

“You’ve had emergency surgery to stabilise your injuries,” he said. “Do you remember what happened to you?”

“It’s all a bit hazy, I was walking down the road, there was a noise behind me.” I stopped, that was it. “How long ago was that?”

He looked at me. “This might be a shock: three weeks.”

“Three weeks!” My voice was definitely getting stronger.

“I’m afraid so. What you heard was a lorry mounting the pavement and taking out everything in its path. Six dead but not you, the good news is, you’ll live.”

His face was blank, what wasn’t he telling me? Perhaps I had broken bones, internal damage. I was being kept still while I healed. I tried to move my arms, legs. It felt like they worked but I couldn’t see the sheet moving, had no idea if anything was happening.

The bed suddenly moved, the motion felt strange, as if my head was being tugged by some dead weight attached to it, that I couldn’t see or sense. I felt nauseous. Somewhere below me, I heard a machine start up with a rattle.

“What’s going on? I think I’m going to be sick.” I must have sounded panicked.

“It’s what we call the Low Air Loss and Alternating Pressure Air Mattresses,” he said. “Technical name for a special bed. It stops you getting bed sores from lying in one position, as well as that, it helps takes moisture away from your body if you sweat.” 

Although it all sounded interesting, I couldn’t concentrate on his words. I was too busy thinking about the time I had lost. There were things I needed to do. There was clearly more, it was time to find out. “I’ll take your word for it. Tell me the bad news then.”

“Sorry,” he said, “I got distracted. You were thrown thirty feet in the accident. As well as a broken leg and arm, the impact also broke your neck. I’m afraid that it’s damaged your spine.”

“Oh, OK.” It didn’t register. “How long till I’m up and about?”

He shook his head. “I don’t think you understand what I’m telling you.”

Then it hit me, bones mended, spines did not. Panic set in. “What do you mean?” I shouted. “That I’m paralysed? That I’ll always be like this?”

“I’m afraid so,” he said. “We can’t fix you with the medical technology we have at the moment. In time, who knows? Your breathing and bowel function appears to be unimpaired, but your arms and legs don’t work. It’s called quadriplegia. Worst case, we can keep you alive and with care and expert attention, your life can carry on.” 

I realised that it was all just ‘doctor speak’ for aren’t we amazing, look at what we can do. McGee probably felt really clever that he was able to prolong my suddenly useless life. There could be a paper in it, recognition of his skill from other doctors. My attitude to medical miracles was different. I looked at the quality of the lives that had been saved, the cost to those who had to do the caring. Just because medicine had advanced enough to make it possible. And from my position of good health, I had often wondered about the benefits of so-called miracle surgery.  

I always thought that just because you could, it didn’t mean that you should. Now I was on the receiving end of the same ability to play God and cheat nature. Despair washed over me, my life had been full of adventure, extremes. I wasn’t used to spending time inside, with nothing to do. Immobility might not kill me but boredom would. Why hadn’t the lorry done a proper job, wiped me out in an unknowing flash; it felt like an additional cruelty to leave me like this.

We Are Saul, a novel by Richard Dee

Thanks for dropping by, Richard and best of luck with your launch.

#BookPromotion for Mental Health Awareness Week

Bluebell woods in West Sussex, location of novel, Lethal Ties, a psychological thriller promoted during Mental Health Awareness Week, by Helen Christmas

It’s been a year since I launched ‘Lethal Ties,’ my debut psychological thriller novel set in Sussex. But with memories of last year’s PR campaign, I want to focus on the underlying mental health message in this story and use it to promote awareness.

How many of us struggle?

Every day I hear of more and more people struggling with their mental health and it comes as a relief that we are finally beginning to open up. It’s been a taboo subject for decades but no-one wants to admit they feel depressed or they’re a failure, right?

Wrong.

It is important to become aware, to be supportive, encourage people to seek help and rebuild a sense of self worth in those who are struggling. Mental Health effects us all in society. The news of a man’s suicide in 2020 had a huge impact on me, never mind the grief for his friends and family. I interviewed Graham Levell in 2019 to learn about his experiences growing up in care and working in residential children’s homes. Yet never once did I imagine this seemingly confident, extrovert young man could be suffering with bi-polar disorder – nor that he would be in such a dark place he might ultimately end his own life.

What can we do to prevent such tragedies repeating themselves?

Mental Health Awareness Week runs from May 9th to May 13th in the UK and I have been keeping an eye on the website of MIND, one of the leading Mental Health charities.

This week they are sharing various stories to change the way we think and speak about mental health problems – to encourage people to reach out for support, whatever their experience of mental health. Here’s something that appeared in a recent newsletter.

“Taking some time out, to make time for a cup of tea with a friend or loved one, can be the opportunity to explore how we are feeling. With 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental health problem, it’s important we make the time to check in on those we care about. The good thing is you don’t need to be an expert on mental health to offer your support. Sometimes the simple outlet of a catch-up over a cup of tea can show you are there for them which can make a huge difference.”

Photo by Priscilla du Preez on Unsplash. With 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental health problem, it’s important we make the time to check in on those we care about.

No one really knows what goes on in another person’s mind but here are some of my own thoughts on the subject.

Is self doubt holding you back?

Talking to people, I wonder how many problems are exacerbated by our sense of self worth. Let’s face it society has become more competitive, especially with social media. Day by day it is impossible not to compare ourselves to others who appear more successful, be it their job status, the number of holidays they take – or constantly feeling judged on our physical appearance.

Being a writer, I struggle in the self-esteem department. I have always doubted my abilities in life and put this down to growing up with a father who was constantly boasting about the successes of his colleagues’ children, from their higher school grades and university placements (i.e. many got straight As and went to Oxford), to scoring brownie points on how much money they earned, what car they were driving etc. etc. Sadly, this is not uncommon with academics, but if only parents realised how much this constant comparison can damage us kids emotionally! 

Consequently, I have always considered myself a failure when in truth, I should rejoice what I have accomplished; a happy marriage, less work stress through managing our own web design business at home, enough income to enjoy a quality life. We are not rich but make the most of what we’ve got, cherish where we live, our dog walks on the beach, long walks in the countryside, a garden and reasonably good health. I tell myself to embrace everything good in life and that sadly, there are others far worse off.

Dog walks along the beach in Bognor, are one of the highlights of my life.

Writing books has been an achievement, although not that successful. And here is where that mother of all demons kicks in again: self doubt.

Recently, a friend (a successful published author, no less), told me I was a good writer and yet I couldn’t quite bring myself to believe this. 

Is it because I haven’t been accepted by a publisher? That despite her accolade, I don’t have hundreds of reviews like other author friends. Neither can I seem to achieve that all important ‘best seller’ badge on Amazon.

But it is nice to be told ‘I write well’, even if I lack confidence. I can say that last year sales of Lethal Ties were good; I had a successful blog tour and only this year did sales fall flat. Reason? Well, when it comes to book marketing I am pretty rubbish at it!

I know I’m not alone. Loads of self-published indie authors struggle, despite the high quality of their books. Yet it doesn’t make them failures.

A Book Promotion

So to turn things around, I am running a new book promotion. I tried to get onto BookBub, only to suffer more angst when they rejected my featured deal submission, thinking my book wasn’t good enough! But on further investigation, there is more work to be done, to be successful. I’ll just have to try again. In the meantime, I’ve submitted my novel to three different book promotion sites for which it has been accepted: The Fussy Librarian, Book Adrenalin and Bargain Booksy. The deal runs from 9th-13th May during Mental Health Awareness Week and for all 7 days, readers can download Lethal Ties for just 99p (or 99c in the US.)

Lethal Ties, a Psychological suspense thriller by Helen Christmas is 99p 99c during Mental Health Awareness Week, 9th-13th May 2022.

It’s hard work and costly, but the only way to get a book in front of more readers.

Going back to the subject of mental health there is no denying that negative thoughts hold you back in life. I’ve included a couple of examples in Lethal Ties:

Chapter 8

Jess was my best friend. Blonde, bubbly and as extrovert as I was introvert. At one point I even contemplated taking a walk down to the Waverley, since I was bound to bump into someone familiar. On the other hand, did I really want to risk being surrounded by strangers? It wasn’t the same without Jess, an expert in small talk and always the one to get the conversation rolling… How I wished I could be more like her.

Find out what becomes of Maisie and how she combats her fears.

Chapter 52

Stepping out of the shower, he rubbed the steam off the mirror. His reflection stared back through swirls of condensation, and pausing to take a look at himself, he wondered what Jess saw in him. His skin looked clear, stretched tautly over sharp cheek bones, his unruly dark hair in need of a cut. Jess insisted she liked it. Yet in the shadow of Sam’s radiance, he saw the same ugly little tearaway Mortimer had alluded to...

Why is Joe worried? Maybe his childhood memories of Mortimer are trivial, given what his enemies are planning behind the scenes.

With all this in mind though, I want to end on a positive note, which brings me back to the issue of self doubt and challenging negative thought patterns.

Learn to accept yourself for what you can do and not what you can’t.

Is self doubt holding you back in life? Mental Health Awareness Week 9th-13th May 2022

The Joy of Making Sourdough

Just for a change I’m writing a post about cooking. I began making sourdough over 2 years ago, when my Mum bought me a kit for Christmas. I had great results too, until the culture ran out… Then in April 2021 my sister grew her own sourdough culture and generously donated a jar full to me.

This culture has been a huge success and makes a great loaf every time.

So… as we were visiting friends in Wales this month, I took them a loaf. This recipe is for Nicki, as a thank you for being a wonderful host and giving us a most enjoyable few days in her beautiful house in Ferryside, Wales, which she runs as an Air BnB.

Sourdough Recipe

The recipe below came from BBC Good Food Magazine, (my culture ready made), but for those who want to create their own, here is the link. The next few steps demonstrate each step of this recipe, but with a few tweaks of my own.

Stage 1 Activating the Culture

The culture lives in our fridge (dormant state), but as this is a 48 hour process, it needs bringing out and feeding beforehand. If I’m baking a loaf on Sunday, I get the jar out of the fridge on Friday. This is a living culture that breeds. It’s advisable to pour half away first (or give it to a friend) but it looks pretty yucky! Expect to see a murky grey/brown liquid on the top and it smells like old wine. First it needs a stir, then feed it with 50g of flour and 50g of tepid water, mix well and cover loosely. As it wakes up, it forms bubbles so the jar needs to be big enough to accommodate it all.

The last picture is my active culture left at room temperature for 12 hours.

Stage 2 The Levain

After 12 hours the culture should be bubbly and light. Before you go to bed add a big dollop of the mixture to a bowl (1 large tablespoon will do), add another 50g of flour and 50g of tepid water. Mix well and cover loosely with a cloth. Then leave overnight.

Stage 3 making The Dough

By the following morning I have a bowl of levain which is soft, light and bubbly, the mixture I use to bake my bread. This recipe is for a single loaf but the ingredients may be doubled to make 2 as specified in the Good Food recipe.

In a large mixing bowl add 500g of flour and here, you can experiment. You can use all white flour but I like to use half white and half Sainsbury’s ‘Taste the Difference’ wholegrain seeded flour (250g each). Mix together and hollow out a well.

Add 300g of tepid water to the levain and mix gently to combine. The levain should foam on the surface as you add the water but use a plastic spatular to scrape all the gunk from the inside of the bowl, then pour this into the flour. I use a dough whisk to mix everything together, making a rough dough with all the flour incorporated evenly, so that there are no dry bits clinging to the sides of the bowl. Cover and leave somewhere warm for at least 30 mins or up to 4 hrs.

The sourdough mixture
The sourdough mixture

stage 4 Working the dough

After the dough has rested, it’s time to work on it and this is where the magic starts to happen! Uncover the bowl and sprinkle 10g of salt over the dough (I have artisan salt left over from my original sourdough kit). Next weigh 25g of water and sprinkle this over too, then with clean hands squish and scrunch the salty water through the dough. At first it goes wet, lumpy and stringy but keep on squelching away and gradually the texture becomes smooth and more even.

I made a short video for this. When the dough is smooth, roll it in a tight ball, cover with the damp muslim cloth again and leave for 15 minutes.

Next, wet your hands. Grab the dough on one side and stretch it up and fold it back over. Turn 45˚ and repeat on the other side. This helps develop the gluten.

Curl it right over itself into a ball, cover and leave for 20-30 minutes (not 15 as I said in the 2nd video).

Repeat the above stretch, fold and curl technique. Leave for another 20-30 minutes. Repeat these steps once more (do this 3 times in total).

The dough should be soft and smooth so after a 3rd repetition, it needs covering and leaving for a few hours in a warm place. Hopefully it will rise and start to form bubbles.

Sourdough left to rise
Sourdough left to rise

Stage 5 Proving the dough overnight

It is usually 8-9pm when I turn my risen dough onto a floured work surface and roll it into a ball. Ideally buy a proving basket. Mine came from Lakeland, (a birthday present from my kind sister) and has a lovely bamboo spiral. The basket needs dusting generously too, but with rice flour which doesn’t stick to the dough. The basket comes with a little hessian cap so I pop this on then leave it in the fridge overnight.

Stage 6 baking the loaf

Next morning I uncover my basket to find a risen and bubbly dough. So the final stage is to light the oven (gas mark 8, 230C/210C fan) and line a heavy lidded pot with baking paper or parchment foil. Dust the top of the dough with more flour and ease it out of the basket, turn it over and lower it into the parchment lined pot. The pot however, has to be heated, so lift it out, using the parchment and return to the basket for now – then place the pot in the oven to heat for a few minutes. Be careful, it gets very hot!

The pot I bought for this was a Velaze cast iron enamel casserole dish from Amazon (we were in lockdown, otherwise I would have bought it in the high street) but it’s been so useful, not just for making sourdough but as a nice cooking pot.

Take the heated pot out of the oven and using the parchment paper for handles, carefully lift the dough from the proving basket and place it inside the pot. Put the lid on and return the pot to the oven (middle-high shelf) and bake for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove the lid. The bread should be baked and beautifully risen with cracks on the top, but needs another 10 minutes in the oven without the lid.

Freshly baked sourdough

This extra time will brown the crust. Once done, remove from the oven and carefully transfer onto a wire rack. Delicious cut into thick slices with butter and honey, or with mushrooms and a poached egg. Mmmmm…… Heaven!

I hope your find this article helpful. Next time I’m posting some writing news, including a new edition of a previous book and a special promotion coming soon.

My Top 10 Books in 2021

Photo by Asal Lotfi on Unsplash

Each year I start my blog with either my first book review, or a list of books I really enjoyed in the last year. I will kick off with the latter, seeing as I never recorded my top ten reads. But these are the books that stayed with me, original and thought-provoking stories I can personally recommend...

Endless Skies – Jane Cable

Much as I like thrillers, I am a sucker for a good romance especially if it contains an element of suspense. The main character is an academic, but when she falls for mature student, Ben (who definitely sounds like a hottie), you cannot help but think this may not end well. The part that drew me in most was Rachel friendship with a retired lady, as together they endeavour to solve a romantic WW2 mystery.

Endless Skies - Jane Cable

| Read my review on Goodreads |

Diety – Matt Wesolovski

Matt has become one of my favourite authors for his original podcasts, creative plots and true-to-life characters. This episode of ‘Six Stories,’ in which the contrasting points of view of six witnesses, raking over the mystery disappearance of an enigmatic rock star, packs all the punches. From hysterical teenage fans to allegations of sex abuse, there is a plot twist that left me breathless.

I am currently listening to the audiobook and it’s great to revisit the plot.

Diety - Matt Wesolovski

| Reviewed on my Blog | Read my review on Goodreads |

The Second Wife – Sheryl Browne

A new author for me, Sheryl wowed me with this skilfully written and thought-provoking story. I felt terribly sorry for Nicole, who escaped an abusive marriage only to fall in love again. But what caused her suicide? When best friend, Becky, attends the funeral she yearns for answers. Slowly and painfully, she unravels a web of such cruel deception, you wonder if anyone can truly be trusted.

The Second Wife - Sheryl Browne

| Read my review on Goodreads |

The Hitman and the Thief – Richard Dee

This engrossing story is set in a future where humans inhabit other planets. Richard Dee has created a different world to the one we know, but with characters I quickly engaged with. Part mystery thriller, hit man, Dan Jones, is assigned the task of tackling a rival whose intent is to occupy the planet his boss is ruler of. But not everything goes to plan. An exciting romp in a sci-fi setting with a twist I never saw coming.

The Hitman and the Thief - Richard Dee

| Read my review on Goodreads |

Flesh and Blood – Caroline Mitchell

I am hooked on Caroline Mitchell’s Amy Winter series but this book touched subjects close to my heart; vulnerable victims, children in care, human trafficking, sexual exploitation and a highly organised criminal operation with someone in power at the top… There are even examples of regressive therapy, which I tackled in my latest novel, Lethal Ties. For those who like crime thrillers, Flesh and Blood is a gripping read.

Flesh and Blood - Caroline Mitchell

| Read my review on Goodreads |

The Girl in the Missing Poster – Barbara Copperthwaite

Forget the humans. It was the dogs that hooked me in from the start; main character, Stella, saving poor Fi-Fi from the thug she sees brutalising her, then the discovery of an illegal puppy farm… This however, is a sad, suspenseful tale. Stella has never given up trying to trace her missing twin and cannot move on with her life, until she knows what happened to her. Very well written too!

The Girl in the Missing Poster - Barbara Copperthwaite

| Read my review on Goodreads |

Megacity – Terry Tyler

I’ve been raving about Terry Tyler’s ‘Operation Galton’ series ever since it began. But if you take a moment to consider the future, this story is plausible. Already our lives are online, dominated by Facebook, Amazon algorithms, Smart Shop handsets and the like. But how more controlling could global organisations get? Most sinister is how the authorities genuinely believe they are doing society good! I was rapidly absorbed in Megacity; wonderful characters that stayed inside my head and the story is amazing. I recommend that everyone with a social conscience should read it. 

Megacity was my favourite read in 2021.

Megacity - Terry Tyler

| Read my review on Goodreads |

Voice of Rage – Kerry Barnes

Kerry Barnes breaks the mould with this series, which is so different from anything I have ever read. It combines genetic research with a psychological thriller. Harley and Hudson (born in the first book, Voice of Reason) are a pair of highly intelligent, scary, psychopathic twins. But are they truly evil? Or just curious to unlock the secret of the Gemini Gene? Gruesome in parts, but I did enjoy it.

Voice of Rage - Kerry Barnes

| Read my review on Goodreads |

I’ve been hooked on psychological thrillers since 2018 and K L Slater has written some magnificent ones. This book had me glued from the first page with well-drawn, authentic characters, some I absolutely loathed! The story is about a child who went missing, a woman reminiscing in a coma… and as I stormed through pages, I had my suspicions. Until the twist in the middle gave me a jolt.

Blink - K L Slater

| Read my review on Goodreads |

The Tests – Robert Kirby

The Tests popped up, time and time again, among the ‘Also Bought’ list next to my own book, Lethal Ties, so curiosity won me over. But what an amazing story! There is a mystery at its core, the writing gritty and strong, characters so horrible they jump off the page and smack you in the eye. Some scenes left me breathless but for anyone who likes tales of teenage gangs and dares, this I can recommend. 

The Tests - Robert Kirby

| Read my review on Goodreads |

So, those were the books I most enjoyed in 2021 and I wonder what fine reads I will discover this year. I started 2022 with some lighter reads, taking a break from thrillers and psychological fiction. This constant reminder how vile humans can be to one another has left me with anxiety issues, and even resulted in nightmares. Kicking off with Carol Thomas ‘The Summer of Second Chances,’ I could not have chosen a better book for demonstrating the opposite; people being kind, a lovely village and lots of doggies. That there was an animal based charity at the heart of it made me smile, inspiring me to read ‘Home in the Pays D’Oc which also features a dog, changing a couples lives. I have yet to review the delightful adventures of Patricia Feinberg-Stoner and her husband in France but I’ll get around to it. But I’ve just started ‘The Great I am’ by Beryl Kingston, and loving it, the same ingredients of warmth and humour.

Books on my Kindle
Books on my Kindle

Happy reading and thanks to the authors who have given me such joy.

Sunset on Bognor Beach

Farewell to 2021: The Best Bits

It seems hard to believe that this time last year we were in lockdown. Households could not mix, denying many people the opportunity to see their loved ones. At least this year ended on a high note with more families re-united at Christmas. Maybe we can look forward to a more optimistic New Year ahead of us.

Sunset at low tide in Bognor Regis

Looking back, I started the new year 2021 with a list.

10 THINGS I MOST LOOKED FORWARD TO DOING (AFTER LOCKDOWN)

Inviting my family around for a meal
Meeting up with our walking group and a pub lunch
A visit to a tourist attraction
To book a cottage in the West Country for a holiday
A trip to London and Covent Garden
Hugging people and cuddles
Planning a book launch (hopefully at the Waverley)
Getting another dog
Visiting our friends, Jason and Nicki, in Wales
Enjoying a proper family celebration at Christmas

I can happily say I achieved 8 out of 10 from that list! I’m a great believer in a lists. They help declutter thoughts, give me goals to achieve and ticking things off can actually be very satisfying, leading to an enhanced sense of positivity.

Staying Positive: THE HIGHLIGHTS

Meeting up with our walking group and a pub lunch

For the first quarter of 2021, we couldn’t organise group walks. With restrictions being slowly lifted though, our walking group was reinstated in April, starting with a lovely walk from Bury Hill. But one of the best highlights was seeing a most stunning display of bluebells around Slindon Woods. Then, as local pubs started to re-open, we enjoyed a long awaited meal at the George, Eartham, in June.

Bluebells in Nore Wood, Slindon, West Sussex

A Family Meal

The first time our family got together for a long awaited meal was at Easter. Mixing indoors was still forbidden, but given the fine weather, we enjoyed a fabulous lunch in my Sister’s garden on Good Friday. It seemed such a momentous occasion.

Hugs and Cuddles

I can’t remember the first time I hugged Mum, but it must have been March 2020 before social distancing measures were enforced. In the moment it happened, it felt strange. We clung to each other as if afraid to let go. The future still felt uncertain and with no-one really knowing what was around the corner, we knew Covid 19 had not gone, despite the vaccination being rolled out.

But with new variants evolving, will it ever be truly over? Such uncertainty causes anxiety. Just embrace what you have and live life for the present.

West Dean Gardens

First Getaway in Two Years

With this in mind, we took the bull by the horns and at the first opportunity, booked a cottage in Somerset. It was at the beginning of May, when social distancing measures were still in place and tourist attractions such as museums were not yet open.

At least it wasn’t too crowded. Making the most of this idyllic rural area, we explored the Jurassic Coast, took woodland walks and discovered some charming villages. The highlight was visiting Glastonbury, a magical place surrounded by hills. This much needed break certainly made us appreciate our freedom to travel again.

The Jurassic Coast, Dorset

Some Highly Recommended Tourist Attractions

As summer progressed, more tourist attractions finally re-opened their doors to the public and with a welcome spate of sunshine, we took delight in visiting West Dean Gardens in June. This year they had a spectacular display of Delphiniums.

Delphiniums at West Dean Gardens

Also in June, Sussex residents were gifted with a most amazing field of poppies at the top of Goodwood Trundle. They do say the best things in life are free but nothing could compare to the density and vibrancy of these blooms.

Poppy field on the top of Goodwood Trundle

On my birthday we visited Wisley Gardens in Surrey, one of the world’s great gardens, packed with horticultural inspiration; a variety of gardens from sub-tropical to educational.

Wisley Gardens, Surrey

On Peter’s birthday we ventured to Arundel Castle, which featured a Medieval festival in the grounds; market stalls, archery contests, food… wandering inside the castle was intriguing but most of all we loved the gardens.

Arundel Castle

It was a pleasure to return to Leonardslee Gardens in May, renowned for its ancient Rhododendrons and Azaleas in every conceivable shade; and the Sculpture Park, Surrey, in November, with its continually changing display of exhibits, set around lakes and wooded paths.

Planning a book launch

For me personally, getting my novel, Lethal Ties, in front of the eyes of the public was my best achievement. With my book published in April, I ventured down a thrilling path, starting with a radio interview in May, a book launch at Chichester Festival in July then a book signing event at the Waverley Pub in August. In November, I participated in the launch of a booklet, Fiction Set in Bognor Regis, alongside other authors, and in December joined forces with Gunvor Johansson, signing books and organising a fundraising raffle at the Waverley and at West Park Cafe, raising £105 for Stonepillow. I have never done much in the way of PR for my books but was grateful of the help and expertise of my author friend, Dan Jones. Lethal Ties was intended to be a dark psychological thriller set in Bognor and Sussex, but the writing and research also encouraged me to promote mental health awareness and positive thinking.

Getting another dog

Every now and again my husband I looked at websites with a view to getting another dog. The Dogs Trust, Mount Noddy, Battersea Dogs home… one would think after lockdown there would be hundreds of dogs in need of a forever home. We didn’t have much success and to our further aggravation, the price of puppies had tripled from when we first started looking in 2020. With several new charities popping up such as the Wild at Heart Foundation, we even applied to adopt a puppy from abroad. Nothing happened. But we didn’t give up. Then in August, Peter stumbled across a website, Many Tears Animal Rescue. A border collie who looked almost identical to our last dog, Barney, caught his eye. The only stipulation we couldn’t fulfil was not having another dog in residence. They did however, have a 12 week old collie cross puppy, where no such restrictions prevailed, so Peter made a first tentative application…

Imagine our joy when they phoned us before the August Bank Holiday, asking if we could collect the puppy the following Tuesday? My heart could have exploded!

Collie cross puppy adopted from Many Tears dog rescue

Driving to Llanelli in Wales and back in a day was a challenge but well worth it. Autumn moved into our home exactly two years after the day Barney died and I can honestly say, she is the best thing that’s happened in our lives this year.

Autumn the puppy in her new home

A proper family celebration at Christmas

This brings me back to the beginning, that long awaited family reunion. Thinking back to last year we had just one day to visit our families. Sadly we never got to see Peter’s brother or sister (and their respective families) as it would have involved more than three households mixing. But this year we made up for that: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and the day after, a raft of celebrations in different households, making it one of the best festive seasons ever. It was wonderful to exchange gifts, see happy faces, hear laughter and generally embrace the spirit of it.

Mum and my two nieces
My husband’s parents and their newest great grandchildren
Me and my sister
Me and my sister

What is left to look forward to?

Right, so I never took a trip to London and Covent Garden – nor did we get to visit our friends, Jason and Nicki, in Wales – but there is always next year. Who knows what 2022 will bring? I just hope life continues to improve for everyone, as we learn to reconnect as humans and cherish those things we took for granted.

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2022

Happy New Year 2022

A Little Christmas Cheer

Full moon at sunset, Chichester.

2021 has been an amazing year for me, so it’s time to round it off with a final post before Christmas, starting with an update on a Book Signing Event at the Waverley.

I won’t lie but attendance was disappointing. This could have been down to a number of reasons: a) people busy getting ready for Christmas with other outings planned b) the weather was damp, drizzly and miserable or c) few people knew about it. With the pub being quieter than normal, we were grateful to the handful of people who did wander through to the snug room to say hello, buy a book and support the raffle.

Gunvor Johansson, author
Helen Christmas, author

It is Not All Doom and Gloom

Gunvor and I made the best of our day and on a positive note, enjoyed a splendid Sunday Roast and a glass of wine. Our main concern however was the raffle to raise funds for the homeless charity, Stone Pillow, so we decided to extend it. Gunvor’s son, Paul, displayed it in his dental practice, almost doubling the amount we raised. But our biggest saviour, was Ann Hancock, manager of West Park Café, Aldwick, who very kindly invited us to do a an extra book signing on Saturday December 18th.

Ann, West Park Cafe, Aldwick

As a result, we sold more books and a lot more raffle tickets, swelling our total to £105.00! Needless to say, we were chuffed and I am looking forward to making the donation next week.

Gunvor Johansson and Helen Christmas at West Park Cafe, Aldwick

More Highlights

This is not the first time I have extolled the virtues of High Street Shopping but with so many local businesses hit by the pandemic and struggling to survive, I felt it was more important than ever. This year I took a train to Brighton and visited their Christmas Markets. Next I spent a lovely morning mooching around Bognor Regis and got well ahead with my Christmas shopping. But my last trip was Chichester. This year the lights everywhere are stunning but the icing on the cake has to be the Field of Blooms at the back of Chichester Cathedral. Definitely worth a visit.

Christmas Lights, Chichester
Trees by the Cathedral, Chichester
Field of Blooms, Chichester Cathedral

Merry Christmas

Thanks for reading my blog, everyone, and stay happy, healthy and positive. There is much in life to be cherished.