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That Green Man Again

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The Green Man Cometh

I’ve just read a wonderful new mystery, Greenwood Tree by B. Lloyd. If you like them laced with the supernatural and legend, you’ll love this.

‘Well, what do all mysteries have?’ said Aunt Isobel. ‘Money, mistresses, and murder.’

1783 – and Lichfield society is enthralled by the arrival of dashing ex-officer Orville; he charms his way into the salons, grand houses and even a great inheritance from extrovert Sir Morton.

1927 – and detective writer Julia Warren returns to her home in Lichfield to work on her next novel. Initially she hopes to find plot material from the past and set it in the present. Aunt Isobel, while making preparations for the annual midsummer ball, has managed to root out an old journal from 1783 which might prove a source of inspiration. Once Julia starts reading her ancestor’s journal she becomes absorbed in solving the mystery surrounding officer Orville. Detective fever takes over, and she moves from reality to legend as events from the past seem set to re-enact themselves in the present, and she finds herself unravelling more than just the one mystery. Who was Orville? Who was the agent, Oddman, set to spy on him? And who is helpful Mr Grenall ?

Pagan gods don’t walk away just because you stop looking at them. The Gronny Patch sleeps. Perhaps it dreams. Or perhaps not …

A complex, multi-layered story unlike any other, full of whimsy, horror, and mystery, shifting between the centuries and from source to source, until all the threads are finally drawn together by the imperturbable Miss Warren.


A Bustle attached to a keyboard, occasionally to be seen floating on a canal …
After studying Early Music in Italy followed by a brief career in concert performance, the Bustle exchanged vocal parts for less vocal arts i.e. a Diploma from the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia.
Her inky mess, both graphic and verbal, can be found in various regions of the Web, and appendaged to good people’s works (for no visible reason that she can understand).
At present exploring the mysteries of Northumberland, although if there is a place she could call true home, it would be Venice…while the fields of Waterloo hold a certain resonance for her as well…
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For those who enjoy Twittery:
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as she enjoys a chat
(Warning: Please expect occasional bouts of nonsense).

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Butt Out and Mind Your Own Business

 If you were asked to name a country where holding certain opinions could prevent you from earning a living, how many of you would name Britain? Yet recently we heard of a man removed from his job on the council because of his opposition to gay marriage. Apparently how we vote is no longer exempt from penalty either – at least if you want to foster children and happen to vote UKIP.

 I don’t know about you but I demand the old-fashioned right to say anything I please and if it offends someone – well, that’s the definition of freedom of speech. The same with freedom of conscience: I expect be able to vote or not, in whichever way I like, without comeback. It’s no one else’s business: in fact, they’ve no right to know.

 It used to be a truism, didn’t it? That’s how it used to be. But no more. Our sneaking towards fascism is all of a piece with that other current phenomenon disguised as public-spiritedness: accusing people of crimes – whether it’s of racism or paedophilia – without proof.

 Where does this leave writers, especially those of crime? Crime novels reflect society and its changes more widely than other genres, which in the present political mood makes them more vulnerable to censorship, not least from writers themselves.

 In the area of race, for example, do you as a writer feel free to show not just crime but racist crime being committed by blacks as well as whites? It’s something we hear very little about in the media, so much so that the majority of people probably feel racist for just thinking it happens. But aren’t writers supposed to be more honest and less timorous than that, more than mere propagandists?

 In my own novel I touch upon arranged marriages. I’m against them. I think they lead to forced marriages and for that reason should be illegal. Much to my surprise my editor let what I’d written stand. But supposing this amongst other subjects which some would construe as unacceptable had been cut? Would I have defended them to the point of ultimatum? As a first novelist I know the answer is ‘no’. I’d have convinced myself they were unimportant as far as the plot was concerned, even though they completed the picture of the world I was writing about, its cause and effects.

 I feel bad about it. I feel a cheat. Novels, even when they’re not great ones, have always been the place where the truth about society can be found while the press and polticians are lying through their teeth. But that’s only in a democracy, where writers weigh their words for no more than artistic effect. And I don’t feel I live in a democracy anymore.

 Cant and humbug – according to Byron these are what would be the ruin of Britain. What we’re seeing now is the start. As writers, dare we stand up against them, fight against the prevailing culture of words not to be uttered and opinions not to be countenanced, and maybe in the process make jobsworths everywhere think twice before they bully and sack whomever they disapprove of? In future I’m going to have a go at doing so – as long as my editor agrees, of course.


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The First Cut Is The Deepest

In the village where I was born there was a cottage hospital and here, between finishing A levels and going to drama school, I went to work as a pre-student nurse. The work was mainly menial – making beds, emptying bed-pans and feeding patients. Since the ward I was on was Men’s Surgical, I was also expected to shave the patients. (Before you men get a fit of the horrors I’d better say I’m talking about their face.)

Why these lovely, mainly elderly gentlemen weren’t to be trusted with a razor I couldn’t say and never thought to ask. Maybe it was the absence of mirrors, considered by the ward sister an unnecessary frivolity. Whatever the reason, I was ordered to shave these old gentlemen and can still see their mild, benign faces striving not to register despair as I approached with water and shaving mug.

They never complained. They even thanked me. There they’d lie when the job was done, with as many patches on their face as a Restoration fop, except that these were bits of white tissue soaking up blood. Resignation, that’s what I remember most clearly, and a faint embarrassment when their visitors arrived.

Some of them went home after a while and no doubt wallowed in returned health and a flawless shave. Others died, usually at night, their empty morning bed made up so neatly it seemed to deny ever having had them as an occupant.

I can still remember them: Mr Peele, Mr Noel, Mr Broadbent, and others whose name escapes me though their faces are clear – always stuck about with bits of bloody paper, of course. Peace to you, Men’s Surgical.


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Second Sight

My mother used to spend much of her time visiting the old people in our village, the ones no one else seemed to bother with. She’d pack a basketful of baking, wait for us to get in from school, then off we’d go to visit Grandma This or Grandad That.

Grandad Greaves was our favourite. He lived on the edge of the village, next to the farm where a turkey, feathered like an African chief, seemed to spend all its time doing a war-dance in the farmyard.

Grandad Greaves would be waiting for us in his kitchen, the white-washed stone walls like a lot of banked-up floury loaves and the black range reaching almost to the ceiling. The table would be laid for tea with (if they were in season) a plate of home-grown raspberries at each setting, smothered in sterilized milk, which our mother had insisted beforehand we drink without complaint. Outside the hens stepped as cautiously on the cobbles as if they were hot coals and watched us warily through the open doorway with their head on one side.

Then, while my mother cleaned the kitchen and my sisters explored the old-fashioned garden, I’d read Grandad Greaves’ books. Here I first set eyes on The Complete Works of Shakespeare, scrutinising The Tempest with as much urgency as if I had to perform it, though that was two decades away, and I’d only just learned to read.

There was also the works of Byron, illustrated. One picture, Manfred on The Jungfrau, filled me with dread. I’d look at it again and again, not from schadenfreude but to try to discover why it affected me so much. I think it was because even then I knew what falling would come to mean for me.

Years later, two weeks before it happened, I dreamt in almost complete detail of the fall which would kill my mother. But I thought it was just a dream. As on previous occasions, it was only with hindsight, when it was too late, that I realised I’d seen the future.

But this implies that life is pre-ordained; that certain things are destined to happen. And I cannot believe it. I believe existence to be random to the point of pointlessness. Still, I’ve pondered often on the premonition of my mother’s death and the particular dream-smile she gave me, which it took me months to interpret as the smile of goodbye.


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Have you ever read Le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’? It’s one of the most frightening vampire books I’ve ever come across. I first read it several years ago when I was an actress. The company was touring with ‘Wuthering Heights’, spending a week in almost every town in Britain.

For the week in Malvern I was sharing digs with an actress called Helen Dorwood, who was playing Nelly Dean. It was the ground-floor flat of a sizeable Edwardian house, where the landlady, when she didn’t have guests, lived alone.

On the second night Helen had to drive to London after the perfomance to attend an audition the following morning. She came back to the digs to collect a few things and, the landlady being in bed, I locked up after she’d left. It was well after midnight but actors take a long time to wind down after a performance and I was intending to read ‘Carmilla’ till the small hours.

My ground-floor bedroom was over a basement and roughly ten feet above the front garden. The night was so quiet, the house might have been in the middle of nowhere rather than a country town. I’d just got to the bit in the book where the narrator senses something in her room, creeping towards the foot of the
bed, when there was a scratching on the window.

In my experience, when you’re terrified you don’t go cold but hot. I remember the blood pounding in my ears as the scratching came again. What was it that could reach my window by standing ten feet below in the garden? For the life of me, I couldn’t open the curtains to look. In horror I ran to my landlady and woke her up. We could hear that scratching as we approached my room.

I’ve forgotten her name, but she was made of sterner stuff than I was. She dragged back the curtains to reveal Helen Dorwood standing on the front steps, leaning over the parapet and scratching on the window with a stick – the only way she could reach it. She’d forgotten her phone, and not wanting to awaken the landlady by ringing the doorbell, had lighted on this brilliant alternative for getting my attention.

They both poured scorn on me, of course, for my cowardice and I had to apologize to the landlady profusely. But when that infernal nuisance Helen Dorwood had finally gone and the landlady was back in bed, I put out Le Fanu’s masterpiece the way one puts out a cat, and left it on the doorstep till morning. I kept my light on, too, though I’ve a feeling I didn’t sleep till sunrise.


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It’s The Way I Tell ‘Em

I used to be a terrible maudlin romantic. I was thirteen when I discovered Far From The Madding Crowd, and since then I must have read it twenty times. As for Jude The Obscure, I’ve lost count. Was there ever such a tragedy? – children being hanged, heroines going mad in graveyards – I thought all my Christmasses had come at once. Whoever said ”Nothing is so sweet as lovely melancholy” was speaking my language.

I still think they’re two of the greatest books ever written, yet I can no longer bear to read them. In fact, that goes for all the classics. Is it age? As we get nearer death do we become more superficial? Or is our understanding too close for comfort? I now realize what Hardy wrote was true, and I don’t want to know.

But for all you romantics out there, here’s an eighth century Chinese poem from Li Po:

”I had gone aboard and was minded to depart,
When I heard from the shore your song with tap of foot.
The pool of peach blossom is a thousand feet deep
But not so deep as the love in your farewell to me.”

‘Farewell’ – the most terrifying word in the English language. The time comes when you don’t want to be reminded of it. I’m afraid the following is about my level now:

Little Boy: ”Mummy, Mummy, Daddy’s been run over by a steamroller!”

Mother: ”Oh, don’t make me laugh, you know my lips are chapped!”

(It’s the way I tell ’em.)


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