Escape to the French Riviera

View from GourdonImagine a retreat in the French Riviera, an area of such beauty and not just that; a place to unwind totally, learn meditation, yoga and discover a whole new lifestyle. With life on a downward spiral, since my husband’s mum ended up in hospital, we were lucky to get a chance to go back there…

So what drew us there in the first place?

In 2009 we met a lady named Penny Burns who needed help setting up a website. Penny is one of the most inspirational people I have met and not only teaches Meditation and Yoga in her gorgeous retreat in the mountains but has developed a holistic healing program to combat the stresses and strains of modern day living. Having beaten an aggressive form of skin cancer (in which she was told she had a 10% chance of survival), Penny is living proof that a change in lifestyle can work wonders for the mind, body and spirit.

You can read about Penny’s personal journey on her website: https://meditate4life.co.uk/introduction/

Penny’s villa is located at the top of a narrow and unbelievably steep road, which twists its way into the mountains, but has a view to die for. What a joy to begin each morning on the balcony, feasting on French bread, cheese, eggs, ham, gazing across a vista of wooded peaks, stretching all the way out to sea. If that wasn’t enough, the villa has a private pool and is beautifully furnished with colour and art all around.

Balcony at the villa

View from the villa

In the time we spent with Penny we enjoyed several dinners (I love cooking abroad) but in addition, she took us on a local walk. Drawn up shady, wooded paths, scattered with boulders, to reach the top of the mountain, we found the views up there even more stunning. Last but not least, we enjoyed a session of Amrit Yoga, which involved much stretching, followed by Nidra Yoga, where Penny guided through breathing and relaxation techniques, to enter a deeply relaxed state.

Furthermore, she offered us plenty of advice with regards the best local markets and places to visit, so here are our favourite beauty spots.

Highly Recommended

Tourettes-Sur-Loup: we visited for market day but explored the Medieval part of town with its winding labyrinths, lovely gift shops and flower-filled courtyards.

Tourette-sur-Loup

Stopping at the supermarket, we stocked up on fresh fish and shellfish to make our very own ‘Marmite de Poissons’ and garlic bread using a leftover baguette.

Marmite de Poissons

Gourdon: a winding ribbon of road draws you through outstandingly gorgeous scenery with stops to enjoy the views.

Gourdon mountain village

Gourdon itself is a pretty hilltop village with amazing views across the mountains and a great place to shop for for gifts.

Gourdon

Valbonne Market is huge! Being a wonderful place to browse, rich in sights and smells, it is impossible to resist such temptations as air-dried ham, honey, herbes de Provence, chimney cake and local wild mushrooms. I was in my element.

Mushrooms from Valbonne

We visited Grasse on the same day. You can visit the Fragonard Perfume Factory for free but we enjoyed exploring narrow alleyways, lined with tall houses in colours of pink, peach, cream and yellow, not to mention shops packed pottery and delicacies.

Grasse in the French Riviera

My favourite place was Paul-St-Vence, a haven for art lovers and stuffed with galleries. This little village winds its way up the mountain and with so many secret alleyways, luring you to hidden treasures.

Added to lovely views we discovered beauty in every corner. This a place I would be happy to revisit again and again and as far as places go, it ticked all the boxes.

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On the writing front, I found time to tinker with my new book and even started editing it. Stumbling through the first chapter, the sun rose at 7:00am and cast its fiery rays across the mountains, filling my environment with a warm orange and pink glow… and suddenly I was on fire, where I couldn’t hammer the keyboard fast enough, at the same time getting a complete re-write planned. It was a good feeling while it lasted but now we are home, the same pressures prevail. I am sure I will get back to it one day but for now it is nice to relive our memories of France, a most beautiful retreat, away from the trials and tribulations of normal every day life.

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From Autumnal Beauty to Life Changing Fears

Today feels strange. This time last week, we were enjoying a beautiful autumnal walk in West Sussex, picking blackberries, chatting to friends and I was telling my friend, Maureen, (who has worked in the NHS as a nurse and an allergy consultant) how worried I was about my in-laws. Now one week later their lives have been turned upside down.

A Stressful Year

To summarise, Peter’s dad, Tony, had to give up driving in May. He was unwell. No-one knew this but after having his diuretic medicine withdrawn without explanation, he was suffering from excess fluid retention, then had two car crashes in a single afternoon and wrote off his car and one other. Thank God no-one was hurt. But he has a permanent catheter now and with social services and nurses stretched to breaking point, it is Peter’s mum, Joyce who has taken on 100% of his care. Sorting his catheter bags out, day and night, would be stressful for anyone but at 91 years of age, she has found it hard to cope since no assistance is available. We do everything we can to help, from trips out to taking them shopping and to the doctors but I asked Maureen if there was anything else we could do to alleviate Joyce’s burden. Last week she developed a rash, only to be told she had shingles (hardly a wonder considering the stress in her life).

She gave us the number of One Call, based at Bognor Hospital, where all the community nursing team are based. Suggested we spoke to one of the Bersted Green District Nurses. Despite our explanation and pleas though, they could not help. This was despite Maureen’s concerns: “It needs sorting before mum ends up in hospital too.”

Sadly things have taken a turn for the worse. Joyce was given a strong codeine based pain killer which made her dizzy and sick. Later that afternoon, she tripped over and hit her head, resulting in a swollen egg sized bruise. As if this wasn’t bad enough, she suffered another fall two days later and was admitted to hospital with a fractured hip. The bruising on her face is horrific but one cannot imagine the impact the surgery has had. In the meantime, Tony is at home, a 91 year old man with dementia, complex health issues and there is still no help available, despite all One Call’s reassurances, (given their extenuating circumstances). Needless to say this has been a traumatic week for the whole family.

All the while Joyce is in hospital, she is being looked after but the thought of her coming home terrifies me. Peter and I are lucky to live a few doors away. But they are two vulnerable elderly people, who have no help, left very much to the mercy of fate in the hours we cannot be there. With the current state of affairs, it is unlikely she will even get a nurse popping by to check up on her in the aftermath of her surgery.

We will have to await the outcome…

Am I Still Writing?

Yes and no. Rosebrook Chronicles is currently being produced as an audio book which I am really excited about. The recordings have been done and I am listening to the stories. The voices, the conflict and the way my own fiction is coming to life is quite surreal.

My newer work of fiction, however, is definitely on the back burner. Earlier this month we lost our faithful dog, Barney, our gorgeous white cat, Theo, in June and with this latest crisis concerning Peter’s parents, my mind is too clogged with sadness to find any inspiration. There simply isn’t room for creativity at the moment.

I did however, manage to get some more research done, thanks to an author friend, Dan Jones. Dan worked in a number of children’s homes in the 90s (the same era my book is set) and was happy to share lots of anecdotes relating to his experiences. Furthermore, I had a chat with his friend, a man who lived in and out of care before suffering problems such as alcohol, drugs and homelessness. How strange this mirrors my character, Joe Winterton, who endures much the same fate (with the addition of getting into crime and serving time in prison before ending up on the streets.) My other main character, Maisie, is a young woman who bumps into him 20 years later and helps him back on his feet. Yet in the back of their minds lurks the mystery of their friend, Sam. In 1995 Sam disappeared and nobody knows what happened to him, an answer they pledge to solve.

Trees at night time taken on a journey through Climping, part of the research for my new book.

I am looking forward to integrating these new insights into the story but only when the time is right. I was hoping to have a first draft in place by the end of the year, but can’t make any promises. We just need to get our lives back on track first.

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Guest Post: Isabella Muir

The good, the bad and the ugly

Isabella Muir author of the Janie Juke series of Sussex crime mysteriesToday it is a pleasure to invite author, Isabella Muir as a guest writer on my blog. Like me, Isabella writes crime fiction and we are both members of the authors networking group, CHINDI. Isabella is the author of the Janie Juke series of Sussex crime mysteries, featuring a young librarian with a passion for Agatha Christie. Celebrating the lead up to Agatha’s birthday, she is joining me today to talk about her research.

So over to you, Isabella.

When I chose to set my Sussex Crime series in the 1960s I knew I would need to do plenty of research to get a sense for what life was like back then.

Life in the 1960s was great, wasn’t it? It was easy and happy and full of brilliant music, fashion and possibilities. Sure enough, that might be our first thought, but then when we look at the decade in more detail it doesn’t take long to uncover some aspects that weren’t all ‘good’. Let’s take a glance at the ‘good’, the ‘bad’ and the downright ugly of that iconic decade.

The good

Every week, almost every day, new pop stars emerged with music that would transform listening for decades to come. In January 1964 BBC TV launched a brand new music show, called Top of the Pops, which remained in its weekly slot for 42 years. Every musical taste was catered for – pop and rock from the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to blues and folk from talent such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and Janis Joplin.

Teenagers were desperate to hear it all and many went to sleep with their transistor radio under their pillow as they listened to the pirate stations – Radio Caroline and Radio Luxembourg, among others. By the middle of the decade between 10 and 15 million people were tuning in.

UK Top Ten Records from the 1960s

It was a time for young people to enjoy – fashion was transformed by designers such as Mary Quant who popularised the mini skirt, and at the age of just sixteen, Twiggy became a fashion icon, with her cropped hairstyle and streamlined figure.
Plenty to celebrate, but some of those celebrations created their own problems…

Twiggy fashion icon of the 1060s

The Bad

Casting off conservative values was all well and good. The ‘flower-power’ hippies embraced the ‘summer of love’ with 100,000 young people arriving in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco to experiment with drugs and sex. Unfortunately the realities of ‘dropping out’ meant that ‘free love’ was used to excuse something else entirely. Many thousands suffered from serious drug addiction and mental problems, or became homeless. San Francisco was overrun with drug dealers and teenage runaways, and the Haight-Ashbury scene deteriorated through overcrowding, homelessness and crime.

Back in the UK it was politics that hit the headlines as a result of the ‘Profumo affair’. After a brief sexual relationship in 1961 between John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War in Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government, and Christine Keeler, a 19-year-old would-be model, Profumo resigned from the government and from Parliament. The repercussions of the affair severely damaged Macmillan’s self-confidence, and he resigned as Prime Minister on health grounds in October 1963, possibly contributing to the defeat of the Conservatives by the Labour Party in the 1964 general election.

Public interest in the affair was heightened by reports that Keeler may have been simultaneously involved with Captain Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet naval attaché, thereby creating a possible security risk – just at the time when the Cold War was gathering momentum.

The ugly

Politics continued with its negative impact throughout the sixties, energising people to protest. The decade started with thousands joining the ‘Ban the Bomb’ march, with similar marches taking place over the next ten years. The Vietnam war, which lasted from 1955 for twenty years, was the focus of many protests as people learned about the dreadful death toll – more than a million deaths of civilians and military personnel. Lennon sang out ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and many followed him, chanting the same message.

Then, as people looked forward to a bright future, the world came close to disaster as President Kennedy and Kruschev decided if they were going to obliterate the entire population in a nuclear war. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 filled people with fear and must have darkened the otherwise bright memories of the sixties for many.

A brighter note

It is that fascinating mix of the good, bad and the downright ugly of that decade that has always held an attraction for me. It is the reason I chose to set my Sussex Crime series in the sixties and why the period features in several chapters of my newest novel, The Forgotten Children.

Alongside my love of the sixties, I am a passionate fan of Agatha Christie. Sussex Crime’s amateur sleuth, Janie Juke, follows in the footsteps of Agatha’s wonderful detective, Hercule Poirot, as she solves the crimes and mysteries that besiege the sleepy seaside town of Tamarisk Bay.

Books by Isabella Muir from the Janie Juke series of Sussex crime mysteries

This blog post is one of a series, which leads up to Agatha Christie’s birthday and national #cozymysteryday on 15th September, as I enjoy the opportunity to be Chindi’s ‘Author of the week’. Chindi is a network of authors, both traditionally and independently published, based largely in West Sussex. Between us we publish a wide range of books, from historical and crime fiction to romance and children’s books, from humour to self-help.

To find out more about the great Queen of Crime and to help celebrate Agatha Christie’s birthday, then look out for the other blog posts in the series:

Agatha Christie and Isabella Muir https://isabellamuir.com/blog/

Agatha Christie – a child of her time https://lexirees.co.uk/mums-book-blast/

Agatha Christie and the sixties https://patriciamosbornewriter.wordpress.com/daily-blog/

What is a cosy mystery? https://www.carol-thomas.co.uk/blog/

Investigating the past https://rosemarynoble.wordpress.com/

Agatha Christie and Janie Juke https://isabellamuir.com/blog/

And as a present to you, on Agatha’s behalf, I am pleased to announce that the first book in my Sussex Crime series – The Tapestry Bag – will be available on Kindle for just £0.99p for one week only – grab it while you can!

Isabella Muir is the author of the Sussex Crime Mystery series:

BOOK 1: THE TAPESTRY BAG
BOOK 2: LOST PROPERTY
BOOK 3: THE INVISIBLE CASE
Her latest novel is: THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN

She can be contacted via:

Twitter: @SussexMysteries
Facebook: www.facebook.com/IsabellaMuirAuthor/
Website: www.isabellamuir.com
Or on Goodreads

And there’s more!

Receive the FREE Sussex Crime novella, Divided we Fall when you sign up to receive Isabella’s newsletter, with cozy mystery news and views, special offers and so much more. Just click here.

Divided we Fall by Isabella Muir

Thanks, Isabella, for a most interesting article. Isabella’s books are a great choice for those who enjoy an Agatha Christie style mystery, entertaining and light, perfect for a holiday read or curling up on a chilly autumn night; we wish you the best of luck with your books!

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Eulogy to a Special Friend

In loving memory of Barney

Scotland with our beloved border collie, Barney

You were one of two brothers in need of a loving home. When we met you at the rescue Centre in Liss, the moment you trotted through the door, your chocolate brown eyes met mine and I felt an instant bond. What a wonderful day that was when they told us said we could adopt you.

Eleven years later, it feels hard to imagine where that time has gone but these are just a sample of the memories we hold in our hearts for you.

You loved your walks, especially on the beach. Winter took on a special meaning, the days getting shorter, as you bathed in the sunset.

Gorgeous winter sunsets on Bognor Beach.

Then came the snow, a thick white carpet in West Park where you played football with other dogs. I’ll never forget how much you loved that baggy old football!

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In the summer you became a big part of our holidays. Our first was in Dulverton with my family, days when you loved kids throwing stones in the river and we watched with pleasure as you dived in to retrieve them. I never met a dog who so much enjoyed swimming either, seeing your little head bobbing along in the river when we stayed at Sandy Balls in the New Forest.

Barney after his swim. We sourced a doggy bathrobe (though I was reminded of the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood dressed as Grandma.)

Our favourite holidays were in the UK as you were a very special part of them. Ever since you became a part of our life we explored new places; Scotland, Cumbria, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, the Cotswolds, Cornwall and Wales.

Barney got to ride on a steam train in Yorkshire.

Securely nestled in a holiday cottage.

In a dog friendly cafe in Hebdon Bridge.

Fun and games in Camarthen, Wales.

The best ideas for my novels arose when we were walking along the beach. I still write. Yet this morning I was aware the huge empty space on the floor where you should have been lying. I’ll forever cherish the companionship you gave me in the morning.

It seems strange not to hear your incessant barking when people knock on the door. You always yearned to protect us, a devotion that manifested itself in the way your eyes used to follow us.

The silence in our house feels very deep right now but your presence resonates in our thoughts.

We miss you dearly old friend. You gave us eleven wonderful years and we will treasure every single one of them.

Taking a well earned rest in Ferryside.

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Fundraising Book Stall at Arundel Festival

Oh, how life has changed this year and I am yet to rise to the biggest challenge ever! Organising of our annual CHINDI event at Arundel Festival, selling signed paperbacks to raise funds for Cancer Research UK.

CHINDI Authors at Arundel Festival 2017

CHINDI Authors Arundel Festival 2017 (managed by Carol Thomas, top left, and Dan Jones, bottom right)

Our stand at Arundel Festival began in 2016 with the authors networking group, CHINDI (Celebrating and Helping Indie Authors). It was launched by fellow author, Carol Thomas, who writes heart-warming romantic comedy, and turned out to be our most successful venture to date. CHINDI not only smashed their target to sell 100 books but raised an amazing £308.63 for Cancer Research.

Carol has successfully run the event for 3 years with the help of her husband and author Dan Jones but decided to step down this year to enjoy a well earned break with her family. Taking on the role of a director last year however, we agreed that if CHINDI was to repeat the event, it was up to us,  the new directors to organise it.

I have a new title out this year, Rosebrook Chronicles the Hidden Stories, so this is a chance to publicise it and sell some signed copies, alongside my other 5 books. Yet in another it is nice to do something worthwhile, to get together with a bunch of like-minded authors and raise a bit for charity. Arundel Festival itself is a wonderful event, a week in August when the streets come alive with colour, live music, arts and crafts, and many other attractions. As far as selling books this has always been a most fruitful event for CHINDI Authors so let’s hope that we are in for another good year.

Books by Helen J Christmas on sale at Arundel Festival

Brand new Paperbacks, Rosebrook Chronicles and ‘Same Face Different Place’ books 1-5 ready to be signed.

The Festival runs from August 16th – 26th 2o19 and you will find us outside the Cancer Research Charity Shop, as you come into the town. I am there on Saturday 17th, Monday morning, August 19th, Thursday 22nd and Bank Holiday Monday 26th.

Apart from the Festival, Arundel is an idyllic Sussex town with a beautiful old castle, a cathedral and along the banks of the river Arun, you will discover Swanbourne Lake (for boating and picnics) as well as a Wild fowl and Wetland Centre. The festival itself in an extra attraction with entertainment for all the family, lovely pubs, tea rooms and plenty of tantalising street food.

Am I looking forward to it? Of course! But I won’t deny I am a bit nervous.

I would therefore like to extend my gratitude to all the volunteers who are helping me, especially Carol Thomas, Rosemary Noble, Gunvor Johansson, Patricia Feinberg Stoner and Julia Macfarlane. For a full line up of authors attending and their books, see the blog on our CHINDI website: https://www.chindi-authors.co.uk/chindi-authors-return-to-arundel-festival-for-their-4th-year/

UPDATE: after a very successful week with plenty of sunshine, CHINDI Authors helped raise over £286 for the charity. Thanks to all who supported us.

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Rosebrook Chronicles #BlogTour Update

What can I say? With so many promotions for new title, ‘Rosebrook Chronicles The Hidden Stories,’ it has been an intense week but added to the promotional posts, there were some amazing reviews.

Banner for the Blog Tour of new book Rosebrook Chronicles The Hidden Stories

I dedicate this post to all the hard working book bloggers who gave up their time to spread the word and for the reviewers for their honest appraisals. Last of all a big shout goes out to Rachel’s Rare Resources for organising it.

I was always interested to know how others would perceive my newest work of fiction but one of the most inspiring reviews appeared Ami-May’s Blog, Reading Through The Pain.

“This book contains abuse in all forms from mental, emotional, sexual and physical abuse and everything in between. How three young people living back then was trying to survive there childhood and fought it well into there adulthood.”

Rosebrook Chronicles: The Hidden Stories is a very emotional, shocking, thought-provoking, moving, absorbing, and awe-inspiring book. Which covers a vast amount of topics adoptions, religion, politics, childhood abuse and lots more.

It sums the book up really well; a work of fiction that covers the lives of three abused teenagers, three stories interwoven into one.

More of the dark subject matter behind the book was exposed in Cheryl M-M’s Book Blog, who’s insightful review highlighted the topic perfectly.

In essence these stories are about the children and young people who fall into the black holes of an inadequate system. Inadequate due to the job stopping at the door, children being counted as statistics rather than human beings, and all of them having no real voice. That’s what their representatives are for, to give them a voice, and yet sadly that doesn’t seem to be case in the majority of cases.

She finished by saying “it’s an emotional and heart-wrenching contemporary read.”

Much as I would like to include every review, every single one of them touched my heart. Thank you so much and I dedicate the rest of this post to the bloggers by including all their links (interwoven with a few review snippets of course.)

Splashes into Books

The Magic of Worlds

Dash Fan Book Reviews

So if you a looking for a Dark Domestic Noir, that has a touch of Suspense, gripping storylines, is Emotive, yet Engrossing then you will love Rosebrook Chronicles The Hidden Stories.

Curled Up with a Good Book

In de Boekenkast

Jazzy Book Reviews

Ellesea Loves Reading

I was moved by the way the author told a touching and sometimes hard story. From the first sentence she creates lively personalities with an intriguing past and a complex character.

Radzy Writes

All in all, this is a sensitively written, engrossing tale of survival, chock o block of technique and style. Fans of ‘true’ stories will love this, as will anyone interested in checking out unusually written books.

K T Robson

This was such a powerful read – Helen Christmas has managed to navigate the complicated worlds of abuse, politics and religion expertly, weaving the stories of her three main characters seamlessly together. 

A Story About a Girl

B for Bookreview

TheBookReader

When I finished the book I was left wondering how on earth our society is able to screw over some of its citizens in the amount this book portrays, and I realized that it is quite possible because there will always be some slimeballs out there who knows how and when to take advantage of the system and people within and outside the system. Credit to Christmas for portraying this in an excellent way!

Book Lovers’ Booklist

One of my pet hates is people who complain things were better in the old days.
Because they weren’t.

Celticlady’s Reviews

Terror Tree

This story was well researched, with the historical facts running through the book, you really feel as you are following these characters throughout their lives.

Just Books

Jessica Belmont

Gripping, dark, and emotional, Rosebrook Chronicles is an incredible novel. The sensitive material is handled well, and the stories merge beautifully together. I highly recommend reading this.

Booksandemma – The Twist and Turn book blog

This book is one of those that I couldn’t put down, at times it was shocking to read and utterly heartbreaking but I just had to keep reading.

Donnas Book Blog

A very well written story with some excellent characterisation and a gripping plot – very highly recommended!

Rosebrook Chronicles The Hidden Stories by Helen J Christmas

AVAILABLE ON AMAZON IN KINDLE AND PAPERBACK

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#BlogTour Rosebrook Chronicles The Hidden Stories by Helen J. Christmas

via #BlogTour Rosebrook Chronicles The Hidden Stories by Helen J. Christmas

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