Jenny Kane: Coffee, cupcakes, chocolate and contemporary fiction / Jennifer Ash: Medieval crime with hints of Ellis Peters and Robin Hood

Tag: chatter

End of the month: A glimpse of autumn

OK, so who said it could be almost September already? No one asked me! I have far too much to get done this year for it to be time to knock on September’s door.

However! As it is the end of the month, I’m flinging the door open wide to the wonderful Nell Peters.

Over to you Nell…

Guten Morgen meine Freunde, and anyone else who just happens to be passing. Here we are at the end of August – how on earth did that happen? The school summer holidays are all but over and we are standing at the edge of the slippery slope that descends into cold weather, short daylight hours, Halloween, Bonfire Night and *whispers* Christmas. Yikes!

There is already Christmas stuff in our local Tesco …But before we start hanging up our stockings and buying earplugs as protection against Slade, there’s the OH’s birthday to celebrate. On the day he was born (1961), the Dutch National Ballet was formed through a merger of Netherlands Ballet (Dance Director, Sonia Gaskell) and Amsterdam Ballet (Dance Director, Mascha ter Weeme). This put an end to the rivalry or ‘ballet war’ between the two companies – loaded tutus at dawn? OK, anyone else harbouring a stereotypical mental image of prima ballerinas noisily pirouetting their stuff across the stage in wooden clogs, with a tulip clenched firmly between their teeth? That’ll just be me, then …My paternal grandfather, Wilfred, was also born on this day way back in 1897 – he was the one who lied about his age to become a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps in 1914. Wilfred shared his date of birth with American actor, Frederic March, born in Racine, Wisconsin, who appeared in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Best Years of Our Lives, as well as German writer and poet, Marianne Bruns, born in Leipzig. They died in 1966, 1975 and 1994 respectively, so Marianne walks away a clear winner of the longevity prize. Also on this day in 1897, British General Horatio Kitchener’s army occupied Berber, North of Khartoum, and Thomas Edison patented the Kinetoscope (kinetographic camera), the first movie projector. Say cheese!

by Bassano, proof print, 29 July 1910

August 31st 1976 wasn’t a good day for either Mexico (their currency, the peso, was devalued) or George Harrison, when Judge Richard Owen of the United States District Court found him guilty of ‘subconsciously’ copying the 1963 Chiffons’ tune, He’s So Fine  and releasing it as My Sweet Lord in November 1970. The record reached #1, making George the first Beatle to have a solo chart-topper, but with nasty terms like ‘copyright infringement’ and ‘plagiarism’ thrown into the legal mix, the shine may have faded somewhat from that achievement.

Perhaps musical composition (and this is pure hypothesis on my part, since I am tone deaf!) bears similarity to writing a novel, in that everything is to a certain extent a re-mix? The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations (1895) is a list compiled by Georges Polti, to categorise every dramatic situation that might occur in a story or performance. He analysed Greek classical texts, plus classical and contemporary French works, along with a few non-French authors. In the book’s introduction, Polti claims to be continuing the work of Carlo Gozzi, who also suggested thirty-six basic plots.

However, in 1965, Kurt Vonnegut submitted a thesis to Chicago University, arguing that there are in fact only six scenarios that form the foundation of literary ‘shapes’. Much to his great annoyance (fair enough – anyone who has ever laboured over a thesis knows how much blood, sweat and hair-tearing goes into it) his work was rejected. But years later the dust was blown from the manuscript and the premise used as a springboard for researchers at the University of Vermont, who fed 1,737 stories from Project Gutenberg – all English-language fiction texts – through a programme that analysed the language for emotional content. They concluded there are ‘six core trajectories which form the building blocks of complex narratives’. Way da go, Kurt!

On this day in 1730, amusingly-named Gottfried Finger (sounds painful) died. You will all know he was a Moravian Baroque composer and virtuoso musician, the viol (of the viola/violin family) being his weapon of choice – many of his compositions were written for the instrument. Finger was born in Olomouc, the modern-day Czech Republic, and worked for the court of James II of England before becoming a freelance composer. Sometimes known as Godfrey, he also wrote operas and entered a contest in London to adapt William Congreve’s The Judgement of Paris as such, but after managing only fourth place he grabbed his bow and resin in a huff and moved to Germany, where he died in Mannheim.

Gottfried was preceded in death by one Ole Worm (snigger), Danish physician and historian, who breathed his last on this day in 1654, aged sixty-six. Ole was the son of Willum Worm (it just gets better!) a wealthy man and mayor of Aarhus, and Dorothea Fincke, the daughter of friend and colleague, Thomas Fincke. Thomas was a mathematician and physicist who invented the terms ‘tangent’ and ‘secant’, while teaching at the University of Copenhagen for more than sixty years. I really hope he was given a gold watch for long service. To give Ole his due, while he was personal physician to King Christian IV of Denmark, he courageously remained in Copenhagen to care for the sick, during an epidemic of the Black Death. Olé, Ole! So sorry …

More recently, Walter William Bygraves – better known as Max – died in Australia on this day in 2012. Born into poverty in Rotherhithe, London in 1922, he worked his way up to become a comedian, singer, actor and variety performer who had his own TV show. He appeared in the Royal Variety Show twenty times, as well as hosting Family Fortunes. Bit of a lad, was our Max – not only did he have three children with his wife, Blossom (real name Gladys), he added another three, born as the result of extra-marital affairs.

Exactly a year after Max, David Paradine Frost died of a heart attack while enjoying a life on the ocean wave, aboard the MV Queen Elizabeth – he’d been booked as a guest speaker. Born the third child and only son of a Methodist minister, Frost took the well-trodden Cambridge/Footlights route and, after graduating with a Third in English, went on to develop a hugely varied career in the media. He first came to the viewing public’s notice in the UK when chosen to host the satirical programme That Was The Week That Was in 1962, and his popularity led to work in US TV, plus a series of high-profile interviews, including Richard Nixon. A post mortem revealed that Frost suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a hereditary heart disease which affects roughly one in five hundred people – sadly, it also killed his oldest son, Miles, in 2015, when he was just thirty-one.

On the domestic front, August has been a time of upheaval and life-changing decisions. I can see a chink of light at the end of an eight year long tunnel, which began when my dad had a minor stroke. At that time, both my parents had already started to show obvious signs of dementia but weren’t diagnosed with the vascular variety until four years later. It was all downhill after that; even with some family members helping out and five visits a day from private care providers, we staggered from one crisis to the next.

After my dad died last year, my mother inevitably spent some time on her own and to counteract this as much as possible, #2 son – bless him – stayed at the house Mon-Fri, supplementing the care visits. This still left weekends and that’s when I would spend hours on end gawping at images from the CCTV system we had installed for my mother’s safety. Things came to a head during the recent hot weather, when she started to refuse both liquids and food – she quickly became so weak that she ended up doing an overnighter in hospital on a saline drip. We’d bent over backwards to adhere to both parents’ wish to stay in their own home, but after giving it our very best shot, #2 and I simultaneously decided that we’d come to the end of the road – hard decisions had to be made, and quickly.

Over four days we planned a military operation to get my mother out of the house she hasn’t voluntarily left for a very long time, to begin the four weeks of respite care I’d arranged in a rather swish care home – previously checked out for just such an eventuality. By stealth – the theme tune to Mission Impossible playing on a loop in my head – we got clothes, toiletries and a few personal items together and stashed them out of sight, arranged for one of the visiting carers who has a good rapport with my mother to stay on for extra time to act as escort, along with another carer borrowed from the home, we also borrowed a wheelchair from the home, booked a disabled taxi, managed to grapple through an assessment of needs with one of the care home staff, and crawled to the pub exhausted the evening before Evacuation Day.

Everything went like clockwork on the morning. My mother was sitting in the hallway, all dressed and fed and in the wheelchair – we’d told her she had an appointment and though protesting loud and long that she didn’t want to go, we steadfastly ignored her. It was a case of now or never – and never wasn’t an option. Then just as the taxi was due, there was a car accident at the end of the drive – no one hurt, but damaged vehicles blocking the road caused a huge tailback. When the taxi eventually arrived, the two carers swooped into action and had my mother out of the door and into the back in seconds – amid wails of outrage – and rode shotgun during the short drive to the care home. #2 and I followed at a safe distance, the burden of guilt weighing heavily on our shoulders.

As always, I’m writing this blog in advance so that Jenny has time to do the magic thing with it. There are six days to go until the respite period ends and we will know then if a permanent place can be offered – stressful, nail-biting times. So far, things have gone well. My mother is eating and drinking almost normally and interacting with others and staff and has had quite a few visitors. It’s a well-run, friendly home with a good atmosphere – her room has a lovely view of the gardens and one day she may even venture out there. The fees are eye-watering, but she has round-the-clock care from brilliant staff, in a safe and secure setting – you can’t put a price on that.

Wish me luck!

Thanks for having me, Jenny. Toodles.




Guilt is always such a nightmare- especially when you’ve done the right thing.

Thanks again for such a fab blog,

Happy reading,

Jenny xx


End of Month Blog from Nell Peters: Considering November

It’s that time again! The end of the month means it’s time to hand over to my good friend Nell Peters (aka Anne Pohill Walton), for a romp through November. Get yourself comfy – you’ll want time to sit down and enjoy this.


Only thirty-one days to the end of the year – yikes! Although many of us won’t be too sorry to see the back of 2016, as it’s been a sad and demoralizing year in many ways.

mork-mindyThose who have embraced the challenge of National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo (always makes me think of Mork and Mindy. Did you know that actor Mark Harmon – Jethro Gibbs in NCIS – is married to Pam Dawber, aka Mindy? Now you’ll be able to sleep at night …) have just hours left to clock up their target of 50,000 words. To achieve that total over thirty days, participants need to quit procrastinating on social media and bash out an average 1667 words a day, preferably in some sort of logical order – either as an opening to their novel or the completed work. This may seem a little on the stunted side, but The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Brave New World, and The Great Gatsby are all novels of approx 50K words.


Started in July 1999 by Chris Baty, with twenty-one participants in the San Francisco Bay area, the NaNo project was moved to November the following year to take place during the cooler season, when writers wouldn’t be distracted by the need to swat mosquitoes, prance around in embarrassing beach wear, slather themselves in suntan lotion, go for a dip (leaving oily slicks of suntan gloop in their wake), or eat copious amounts of ice cream to cool off. NaNo has since evolved into a huge annual global experience – let’s all listen out for the collective sigh at 23.59 hours.

November is also the month to grow a sponsored moustache for Movember, raising funds for research into prostate cancer and to generally boost awareness for men’s improved health. I guess it’s predominantly a male thing, but hey – it’s for charity, ladies, so you could always knit a moustache or go all Blue Peter and fashion one out of sticky-backed plastic. #3 son takes part every year, although I suspect it’s so he has a legitimate excuse not to shave for a month (he doesn’t worry about the tache thing, just gradually morphs into his stubbly tramp persona as the days go by.)


While males with mature follicles cultivate whiskers to fundraise nowadays, in America during the mid-to-late 19th century, they had a very different reason for growing facial adornments during November – which, as we all know only too well, is election month over the pond. As visual confirmation that they were old enough to vote, ‘virgin voters’ or ‘twenty-onesters’ (the age of majority at that time being twenty-one) would grow ‘facial foliage’, to prove they were adults and not mere ‘beardless boys’ – and were therefore entitled to scrawl their X in the box. Apparently the registration of births was an extremely random affair in those days, varying a lot from city to city and state to state – quite handy for identity theft and other things criminal.


At least the good folk at the Movember Foundation don’t turn a hair (sorry!) about how the money is raised, unlike some. I’ve contributed to two charity anthologies recently – the first a collection of horror/scary short stories (though mine wasn’t really either!) written in aid of Save the Children … except that after everyone was on board and a great deal of blood, sweat and tears had been spilt by the organisers, the charity decided it wasn’t something they wanted to sully their name with by association. They magnanimously agreed to take the money, though, as long as the book was advertised as benefitting ‘an international children’s charity’. Some of the authors – me included – ignored those precious corporate protestations and still flogged it for S t C. How fussy do you think the children who will gain are about the genre of stories in a book sold to get money to provide them with food, shelter, blankets, inoculations etc?


The second anthology features crime and thriller shorts and was originally intended to equally benefit UNICEF and Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. Guess what? First one, then the other decided the genre was unsuitable for their image. What? Again, huge amounts of work had gone into getting the project together before they dropped their ‘thanks, but no thanks’ bombshells. This insane scenario was repeated with other charitable bodies (who don’t appear to be that charitable) – who would have thought it would be so hard to give away money, with no strings attached, to worthy causes? I despair. Meanwhile, there was a release date set for 13th December and a launch party in London, all arranged and paid for by the authors, on the 17th. Eventually, a small, localised charity in Hampshire and a national organisation, Hospice UK, decided we weren’t actually too bad after all …

churchill-dogThis day in 1874, Winston Churchill was born in Blenheim Palace – I wonder how he’d feel about his illustrious name being taken in vain by an insurance company fronted by an annoying cartoon dog? Winston would have been 142 years old – that’s even older than Rolling Stone Keith Richards! (I was actually quite surprised to learn that Keith is only just coming up to his seventy-third birthday in December, because he seems to have been rocking {sorry again!} the pickled walnut look for some decades. You’d think he could afford a vat of anti-wrinkle cream?) There are many memorable Churchill quotes, but the one that might resonate with struggling authors is, ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’ Or maybe even more so, ‘Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.’ OK, if neither of those grab you, how about simply this; ‘Never, never, never give up.’ He possibly didn’t think that one up himself …

Before Winston’s father, Randolph, was even a twinkle in Pater’s eye, Samuel Langhorne Clemens entered this world in 1835. Unfortunately, his own father died prematurely and Samuel was forced to leave education to work in the print industry. Aged seventeen, he moved to St Louis to take a printer’s job, and while there became a river pilot’s apprentice, gaining his licence 1858. Samuel’s pseudonym, Mark Twain, comes from those days as a pilot – it’s a term meaning the water is two fathoms or 12-feet deep when sounded, and so it is safe for a vessel to navigate. I imagine Winston C would have known that, having been – amongst so many other things – First Lord of the Admiralty.


One hundred and thirty-one years after Mark Twain, another writer chose this as his birthday in 1966 – and (silly Billy) missed England winning the FIFA World Cup by a good few weeks! Step forward David Nicholls to answer your starter for ten – name at least four of the footie squad who beat Germany at Wembley. OK, ignore me!  I bet you could name ex-footballer Gary Lineker, though? He also shares your birthday, born in 1960.


David Nicholls was hatched on the very same day as funny man John Bishop and they are both (as the mathematically-inclined amongst you will have twigged) clocking up their half-century. Happy Big 5-0 birthday, guys! I wonder if either agrees with Twain’s sentiments, ‘Write without pay, until someone offers to pay.’ I’d hazard a wild guess, though, that Bishop got a pretty healthy advance for his autobiography, so didn’t have to worry about that – lucky thing. By the way, only one of the birthday celebrants is on my list of FB ‘friends’ – maybe I’ll give you a clue one day, but for now suffice to say it’s not Winston Churchill.

Strange that not one of the folk mentioned was called after Andrew, patron saint of Scotland – also of Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, San Andres Island (Colombia) and St Andrew (Barbados). My, he and his sporran got around. In 2006, St. Andrew’s Day was designated an official bank holiday by the Scottish Parliament and it’s also been a national holiday in Romania since 2015. Which rather begs the question, what is St George’s Day on April 23rd to the English, chopped liver?




In Scotland, and many countries with tartan connections, 30th November is marked with a celebration of Scottish culture and traditional Scottish food, music and dance – Highland Fling, anyone? It is the start of a season of winter festivals, including Hogmanay and then Burns Night, when you can knock yourself out with haggis, neeps and tatties – or not – and sink a few wee drams. Edinburgh holds a week of celebrations, concentrating on musical entertainment and traditional ceilidh dancing (a ceilidh being a bun fight with couples or sets of six or eight people dancing in circles. Especially after those few wee drams.) In Glasgow city centre, a public shindig with traditional music (bagpipes ahoy!) and a ceilidh is held – is that song Donald Where’s Your Troosers by Andy Stewart a tradition, I wonder? Hopefully not.

reindeer-socksRight – I’ve prattled on for long enough. I opened by saying there are just thirty-one days left to the end of the year, but that glosses over the big C; Christmas. In our house it’s an annual triple whammy, with our anniversary (thirty years? How can that be when I am only twenty-one?) on 23rd, #4 son’s birthday on Christmas Eve and the big day on 25th, with a houseful as usual. Since I won’t be here again before you all sit down to eat, drink and be merry, pretending to be the overjoyed recipient of musical reindeer socks from Great Aunt Aggie (again), I’ll wish you Happy Christmas and resist the temptation to bah-humbug about the whole ridiculous affair, that has got completely out of hand through overt commercialisation. There were Christmas cards in shops before the children went back to school, for goodness sake! And if I never hear Slade again, it will be far too soon.





Thanks again! Another brilliant blog-wonderful!!

Happy reading,

Jenny xx








Guest Post from Nell Peters: Birthday Sharing

Somehow we’ve reached the end of another month, so I’m handing over my site to the lovely Anne Polhill Walton- aka crime writer- Nell Peters. Once again Nell has provided a brilliant blog- although a certain Mr Connery may not think so…you’ll see what I mean!

I urge you my friends, to read right to the bottom of the blog today. Life is full of twists of fate, some kind, some not so kind…

Birthday cake

Thank you, Jenny – and hello again, everyone J

As I mentioned in my last post here, Jenny and I celebrate our birthdays in July – both on the 13th in fact. Unlucky for some – most especially me, as I was born on a Friday, according to my mother … which explains a lot. So, too late now for you to shower us with impressive gifts this year, but most definitely a red-letter date in your 2017 diary. We share our big day with Sir Patrick Stewart, who boldly went – although not being a fan of Star Trek, Captain Kirk was at the helm last time I saw the programme. Then there’s Ian Hislop of Private Eye, who has also on occasion boldly gone, but in his case into print, closely followed by a court appearance, defending a libel case. Harrison Ford joins the line-up too, he of Han Solo and Indiana Jones fame. I’ve never seen Star Wars – do I sense a theme here, as in I seem to avoid anything with ‘star’ in the title? I do quite like Starbucks however, but only for tea as I don’t drink coffee (just don’t tell coffee addict Jenny!)

With four sons, I was unable to avoid all the Indiana Jones films – did I really read recently they are making another? Seriously? Harrison Ford is well into his seventies and his on-screen father, Sean Connery, is more than ten years older than that! They’ll surely be cavorting around, wronging rights from their bath chairs? Probably pushed around by scantily-clad beauties, though, as Hollywood OAPs are somewhat more attractive than the common or garden variety – they perhaps don’t need their Winter Fuel Allowance either, in sunny California.

There is a Connery connection to Jenny – not Sean, but his nipper Jason (he of the long, flowing locks), who played the eponymous role in the last of the Robin of Sherwood TV series many years ago. Where does the Jenny link come in, I hear you ask – go on, please ask, or I’ll have to think of something else to prattle on about (imagine a sad, pleading face here – oh, and violins playing). Well, Jen has had a bit of a thing about Robin Hood since she was a wee gel – one of her books is even entitled Romancing Robin Hood (and a sequel is brewing) – you don’t get much more dedicated than that. After a gap of thirty years, surviving members of the original TV cast have reprised their roles in The Knights of the Apocalypse – an audio drama crowdfunded by fans. We could speculate that they went for an audio production because there simply wouldn’t be enough Polyfilla available for the cast to appear recognisably on screen, but that would be cruel. I have seen a pic of Jason C, however – gravity has taken effect with a vengeance and his only hair now is sprouting from his chin. Whatever … while our ardent groupie Madam Kane managed to blag a ticket and hobnob with the stars at the premier performance (I’ve seen those pics too!), for me the best thing is that the production company is called Spiteful Puppet – genius name!

I digress: our communal birthday was on a Wednesday this year, but both Jen and I had the main event the weekend before – in my case, a family invasion for a BBQ on the Sunday. #4 son arrived early with his family, acting quite strangely (not wholly unusual), and holding a large cardboard box. When I asked what was in said box, he said he’d brought a load of crisps along because it’s not something we ever buy (true) and guests might just fancy a scrunch or two. He then sat me down and told me to immediately open the gift he shoved under my nose – a large bag of Pavlova the chicken’s favourite bird seed was revealed. Card next; on the left hand side were the questions ‘Do you know who Svetlana Alexievich is?’ and ‘What is she famous for?’

I coaxed the long-dormant brain cell into life and gave him my answers, before being dragged outside (in my slippers! Tsk!) to inspect the crisp box … even I (Miss Hopelessly Naive 1802) was beginning to smell a rat by then. When the box was opened and tipped up gently on the grass, not a rat but a chicken emerged! A sister/playmate for Pavlova! Double trouble! And she had already been named Svetlana after the Nobel Lit Prize winner by #4 (maybe the school fees weren’t 100% wasted, after all?)


Svet is a magnificent Bluebell hen – her plumage has a definite blue hue in a certain light, and she was sixteen weeks old when she moved in. She is bigger than Pav with feet large enough to support a strapping 25 lb turkey, perhaps even a Pterodactyl. #4 lives more rurally than us and he chose Svet from a farm local to him, where numerous birds were housed in a large pen with a sandy floor. She was picked up on BBQ day and transported to her slightly more glamorous life – a third of an acre with grass underfoot – on the back seat, just as carefully strapped in as the GDs.

chickenPavlova was doing one of her nesting stints when Svetlana arrived and so they didn’t meet until the next morning, when Pav came to feed – she was a little put out, but feathers didn’t actually fly and since then, while not yet bosom (or chicken breast) buddies, peace has been declared and there is no battle of the beaks to rule the roost. They really couldn’t be more different in personality (yes, they do have personalities!) – while Pav is quite skittish and aloof, rather like a cat who tolerates our presence as long as we know our place and keep her well fed, Svet is really laid back and friendly and follows us around like an adoring puppy. She doesn’t even mind the Grands chasing her and also talks incessantly (which the old chick on the block has never done, apart from very loud crowing when she thinks it’s chow time) making sort of mewling noises, rather like a Moomin with feathers.

Finally, I have reached the conclusion that the OH has been around my warped sense of humour for way too long and has lost his immunity. When no one was looking, he retrieved one of those Nando’s chicken on a stick things (liberated from the restaurant years ago by one of the boys) and stuck it in the grass by the communal food receptacle. Really!

NandosToodles! NP



OK, that was my original post for Jenny, written a couple of weeks in advance.

I’m so very sad to report that both Pavlova and Svetlana have since been killed – most likely suspect a cat new to the neighbourhood, that I’ve spotted in the garden at all hours of the day and night.

I know this is a first world problem – that there is dreadful carnage and unimaginable human suffering globally, to which the loss of two spoiled chickens cannot possibly compare, but I do so miss them. For instance, there is no one to greet me when I take an early morning stroll in the garden – they’d spot me a mile off and speed toward me with their silly run-trot, Pavlova making the most unholy din. Of course, I realise they were after food and not my scintillating conversation, but they always made me smile. And Svetlana, being a cheeky young upstart, had taken to sitting on the back door mat if the door was open, a few yards away from me when I was using my lap top at the table – just hanging out.

Goodbye, and thank you, little feathered friends. XX


Many many thanks fro such a great blog Nell. I shall certainly miss hearing about your chicken friend’s adventures. Pavlova in particular had become a very definite character in her own right. Thank you for sharing so much of her mischief with us on this blog. Hugs. Jenny xxx

(I can’t begin to imagine what the very lovely Mr C junior is thinking if he is reading this right now!!)



Nell Peters writes psychological crime novels and is published by Accent Press. Her next protagonist is going to be a chicken.

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