The Monday Moan – Looks Like Christmas Has Come Early, Again

I know I’ve been banging on about the weather we’ve been enjoying in the UK recently, but it really has been unusually gorgeous. Instead of doing the usual ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ thing of rushing outside en masse on the rare occasions the sun breaks through the rain clouds, and ending up with third degree sunburn in an effort to achieve something resembling a suntan, we’ve been treated to day after day of beautiful sunshine – with a slight blip over the weekend when the tail end of Hurricane Bertha hit our shores. Even my normally gleaming white legs have a bit of colour to them. Yes, we Brits are enjoying a proper summer for once, and I’m loving it.

On Saturday I attended a wedding reception. No surprise there; after all, we are in the height of the wedding season. Naturally I didn’t want to turn up empty handed, so headed into town on a baking hot day, appropriately clad in shorts, T shirt and flip flops, to buy a card for the happy couple.

So, to reiterate:

  • It’s the beginning of August
  • The weather is hot and sunny
  • It’s the wedding season.

Bah HumbugCould I find the wedding cards in the card shop? Well, I did locate them after a couple of circuits of Clinton Cards, stashed away at the back of the shop to make way for – you’ve guessed it – Christmas cards.

Come December, when the weather’s cold and damp, it’s dark by 4pm, and hats, scarves, coats and boots are the clothes of choice, I’ll be dripping with Christmas cheer. To paraphrase Greg Lake, my eyes will be full of tinsel and fire. I love Christmas; it brightens up what would otherwise be the darkest, most dismal month of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, and it’s fun.

In December.

Not in bloomin’ August in the middle of a heatwave!

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Merry Christmas One and All

I’d like to wish everyone who follows my blog a wonderfully happy Christmas, and may all your dreams come true in the New Year. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, I hope you have some lovely days between now and the end of 2013, and that all your dreams come true next year too.

Dory's First Copies2013 has been an amazing adventure for me, and as I celebrate today with my partner Andy and our friends I will be looking back at everything that has happened over the last twelve months. The highlight of course has to be watching my debut novel, Dory’s Avengers, slowly take shape and turn from a MS Word document into a beautifully printed and bound hard back book which was finally published on Thursday 29th August. Wow, what a perfect day that was.

This year has also brought old friends back into my life, and I’ve made some fabulous new friends via Twitter and blogging. I’ve spent the last four months learning how to edit fiction, along with blogging and writing my second novel, and will be launching Alison’s Editing Service on 1st January. None of the work I’ve done this year would have been possible without Andy’s support; at the moment he is working seven days a week (although I have persuaded him to take today off) to support us while I try to realise my writing dreams, and I’d like to dedicate today’s blog to him.

Anyone who knows my taste in Christmas songs will have spotted one obvious choice missing from my blogs over December. It’s no accident – I’ve been saving my favourite for today.

The bells are ringing out for Christmas Day – it’s Fairytale of New York.

***Advent Calendar 004The last few advent calendar picture were all angels, apart from yesterday which was the baby Jesus.

 

Christmas Reads Day Five – LAST CHRISTMAS by Talli Roland

Welcome to day five, the final day of my recommended Christmas reads feature, and my choice for today is the light hearted, delightfully festive novella LAST CHRISTMAS by Talli Roland. Sorry guys, but this one is pure yummy, scrummy chick lit, and I loved it. Set in areas of London that I know and love – Borough Market and Covent Garden – LAST CHRISTMAS is everything you need to relax you after hectic weeks of Christmas shopping. A happy tale of a budding romance and a broken heart on the mend, with a loyal friend, a wedding, a huge party and a lot of humour thrown in for good measure, LAST CHRISTMAS is an essential Christmas indulgence. So go on; slip into something snug and comfortable, put your feet up, open the chocolates and enjoy. Oh, and I’ll bet the ending will bring you out in goosebumps. It’s gorgeous!

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Last Christmas - TALLI ROLAND - 1LAST CHRISTMAS by Talli Roland – Blurb

For Lucy, the best Christmas present is forgetting the past.

Eager to banish the ghost of Christmas past – when her boyfriend dumped her on the streets of Paris – Lucy is determined to make this the best Christmas ever. She rallies friends and family for an epic celebration that just happens to fall on the same day as her ex’s festive wedding. Furious at how she’s been treated, Lucy can’t help relishing the party v wedding smackdown.

But when the wedding is threatened and only Lucy can help, can she find the spirit inside to save the day, or will this Christmas be even more disastrous than the last?

***

Talli has supplied an excerpt for me to share.

I pushed back from the railing and away from the Thames. I was desperate to escape memories of last year; to flee the cheery Christmas market and the contented crowd containing my ex and his soon-to-be-wife. If I was a bigger person (in spirit, not arse; I already had that covered), I’d be happy Robert found true love. Instead, the hurt that lingered 24/7 blossomed into anger. How could he have met someone, decided they were right, and proposed in under a year? We’d been together for aeons and the closest I’d got to a proposal was when he’d asked to share my wardrobe space.

Robert certainly hadn’t wasted time separating our lives post-Christmas Day. After returning to London on Boxing Day – me crying all the way and Robert sitting awkwardly in silence – he’d packed a case, saying he thought we should each start looking for a new place to live. And just one week later, he’d come round with a van and removed the rest of his things to a flat in Finchley. Unable to make the rent on my own, I’d scoured Borough for something affordable, settling on the small studio. Leaving the home we’d built together and moving into my tiny cell was the second most depressing day of my life.

Unable to face the sympathetic stares of our mutual friends, my circle had shrunk to family, Mimi, and work. And after endless accusatory questions from my mother: ‘What did you do?’; ‘Was there another woman?’ (thanks, Mum, for putting that idea in my head); I rarely even ventured home.

What I needed now was one huge glass of wine, but the thought of chugging cheap alcohol in my dingy flat didn’t appeal. Digging through my handbag, I uncovered my mobile to call Mimi. Even Christmas karaoke was better than drinking alone.

‘Hello?’ In the background, Let It Snow was being massacred by what sounded like a herd of yowling kittens.

‘Mimi, it’s Lucy. I’ve decided to come out tonight. Where are you?’

‘Ooh, fab. We’re at the All Bar One by Waterloo.’

‘Perfect. I’ll be there in ten.’

‘Hurry, you might be able to catch me singing Santa Baby!’ Mimi clicked off.

I could hardly believe I was rushing towards a Christmas-themed party, but maybe that – along with some very strong drinks – would erase the past half-hour. Several minutes later, I pulled open the door of the bar, surveying the packed room.

‘Hey!’ Mimi raised a hand, antlers on her head bouncing as she pushed through the crowd towards me. ‘You look like shit,’ she said, scanning my face. ‘What happened?’

I sighed, shoving back my hair. ‘I just saw Robert.’ Mimi’s eyebrows rose. She was the only person who knew the whole sordid story – I  couldn’t bear sharing the pathetic details with anyone else. ‘And his fiancée,’ I added.

‘Nooooo!’ Her mouth dropped open. ‘Holy crap.’ Taking my arm, she propelled me to a semi-quiet corner of the room and plunked me down on a stool. ‘You sit tight. I’m going to get you a glass of wine and then I want to hear everything.’

I nodded as the crowd swallowed her up, then let out a long shuddery breath, trying to absorb the fact that Robert was getting married. Next week! When Mimi finally returned bearing a brimming goblet, I grabbed it and gulped.

‘So,’ she said when I was half-way through and already starting to feel lightheaded. ‘Tell me everything.’

‘There’s not that much to tell. I was walking on the South Bank when I ran into the two of them at a Christmas market.’ Even as I uttered the words, the anger inside flared into a burning fire.

‘What she’s like? What did he say? When’s the wedding?’

A corner of my mouth lifted as the questions tumbled from Mimi. This was why I loved talking to her – she craved the minute details you were dying to share but didn’t want to bore the other person. ‘Her name is Greta and she’s gorgeous,’ I answered, jealousy rushing through me. ‘Tall, long dark hair, skinny . . .’

‘And probably a huge bitch,’ Mimi said loyally. ‘What the hell kind of name is Greta, anyway?’

‘They seemed really happy.’ An image of the soppy look on Robert’s face came to mind, and I instantly realised what was different about him: he was in love, in a way he’d never been with me. My chest tightened and I tipped the glass to my mouth. I swear, if they served pitchers of wine, I’d be double-fisted at the moment.

‘Well, of course they’re happy now.’ Mimi waved a hand in the air. ‘They can’t have known each other long, and they’re probably still in the honeymoon phase. That’ll die out soon.’

I forced a smile, wondering if Robert and I ever had that phase . . . I couldn’t remember. We’d always known each other, right from primary school.

‘You’ll never guess when they’re getting married,’ I said glumly.

Mimi tilted her head. ‘Next summer?’

‘Nope. Christmas Day. This Christmas. As in next week.’

Mimi winced. ‘Ouch.’

‘And not only that, Greta invited me to the wedding. She had no idea who I was. Robert hadn’t even mentioned me.’

Mimi touched my arm. ‘I don’t know what to say, Luce. That’s just . . . terrible. But seriously, how selfish to make everyone abandon their own Christmas and attend their wedding! See, I told you she’s a bitch.’

I gave her a grateful smile.

‘What did you say?’ my friend asked. ‘I mean, you obviously aren’t going. Robert must have been shitting himself.’

‘Yup,’ I said, recalling the uncomfortable expression on his face. ‘You won’t believe what I told them. I said I was throwing a huge party with all my friends on Christmas Day, so I was already booked up.’

‘Well, good!’ Mimi gave an emphatic nod. ‘He’ll think you’re getting on with your life instead of pining over him and trying to forget Christmas. In fact, you know what? You should organize a big bash on that day! Get out there again and put this whole thing behind you.’

I raised an eyebrow, her words spinning around my alcohol-induced fog. In theory, a party sounded a million times better than hanging out on my own. I doubted all the cheap wine and takeaways in the world would block out my ex’s nuptials. Desperate measures were needed.

***

To discover more about Talli and her work you can visit her blog, follow her on Twitter or like her Facebook page.

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If you want to treat your Kindle, or someone else’s, to this delightful Christmas novella, here are the purchase links:

Last Christmas - TALLI ROLAND - 1

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Last Christmas - TALLI ROLAND - 1

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Last Christmas - TALLI ROLAND - 1

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Christmas Reads Day Four – Christmas Ghost Stories – Festive Skin Crawlers with a Twist

My recommendation for today is CHRISTMAS GHOST STORIES – FESTIVE SKIN CRAWLERS WITH A TWIST by Stewart King

Ghosts and Christmas seem to go hand in hand. Yesterday we had benign ghosts with a touch of the rock star about them, helping a fallen hero to find his way in life. Today, the featured ghosts are somewhat less benign. If, like me, you enjoy a good spine tingling tale, a creepy paranormal occurrence, a sinister spooky spectre, then you will love Stewart King’s collection of festive ghost stories. As the title suggests, each story has its own surprise, none of which I managed to predict. Here’s the blurb, and an excerpt Stewart is happy for me to share.

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christmas1Blurb

A remote Cornish village on Christmas Day battered by the howling seas.

An old house that needs emptying on a Boxing Day.

A woman who spends Christmas by herself every year.

Prepare to be scared out of your wits with this collection of Christmas Ghost stories from the macabre pen of Stewart King.

While Christmas is a time of crackling fires and roasting turkeys, it can also be a time of dark nights, howling winds, creaks on the stairs, and strange noises from the cellar.

And while it a time for re-unions and parties, for some people it is also a time of loneliness and memories.

And it is not necessarily just the living members of the family that come back for the festive season.

Written in the style of the traditional masters of the genre such as Charles Dickens and MR James, each story in this collection captures the essence of Christmas – except with a deadly sting in its tail.

So if it cold outside and you’re safe and cosy indoors watching the snow fall outside, throw a log on the fire, pour yourself a glass of something warming and snatch a few shiveringly good moments with these festive spine-tinglers.

But don’t forget to leave the light on.

Stewart King is the best-selling horror author of books such as ‘BLOODBATH ON THE TITIANIC’ and ‘THE ARCONA COVENANT’.

***

Excerpt

Even though it was only momentary something cracked when Mr Jacobson saw their faces.  It sounded like walnut shells being broken deep inside both ears.  He was held in the chair by what felt like a slab of wet stone across his bony lap and even though his eyes had rolled upwards, as if scuttling there from their reflection, his brain still held the impression of the expressions that populated the area behind him.  

A bunting of dead people faces with eyes open, the bulk of their bodies that he imagined were as emaciated as their jaundiced features, hidden in the gloom.  He couldn’t turn; his spine felt as if it had been screwed into the seat of the chair.  His nose filled with an overpowering smell of paraffin.

He felt their weak and dank breathing grazing his neck before a palm was slapped heavily against his chest.  He couldn’t open his eyes.  Even if he wanted to see them it felt like they’d been stitched shut.  The hand slid sideways so it covered his heart, overwrought muscle pounding rapidly under cupped fingers.

The odour saturated him and he felt nausea fizzing cold in his throat.  The hand slid up to his shoulder and to the frayed edge of his cardigan collar.  Would it touch his exposed flesh, his face?

Mr Jacobson briefly tore his eyelids open and through burning, watery vision saw in the mirror’s reflection the blurred faces behind him.  Fingers scrabbled at the back of his head.  He closed them again and heard himself wretch against the stench.

A bony palm scraped harshly across his scalp and the sound of its coarse abrasion rasped around the interior of his skull.

***

If you would like to take some time out from the festivities over the next couple of weeks and curl up with a good old-fashioned collection of ghost stories, CHRISTMAS GHOST STORIES – FESTIVE SKIN CRAWLERS WITH A TWIST is a must. Here are the purchase links:

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I’m delighted to say Stewart has another book of Christmassy ghost stories available, THE GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT, which definitely on my Kindle wish list.

Ghosts of Christmas Present

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Ghosts of Christmas Present

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Ghosts of Christmas Present

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Alternatively, THE FRIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS offers both books in one.

The Fright Before Christmas New

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The Fright Before Christmas New

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The Fright Before Christmas New

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Enjoy them, if you dare…

To find out more about Stewart and his work you can follow him on Twitter

***Advent Calendar 004Today’s advent calendar picture – An angel

Christmas Reads Day Two – HOUSE OF SILENCE by Linda Gillard

It’s day two of the recommended Christmas reads feature, and my choice today is HOUSE OF SILENCE by Linda Gillard. Set deep in the Norfolk countryside, and told sometimes in the first person from the point of view of lead character Gwen and sometimes in the third person from the other characters’ perspectives, HOUSE OF SILENCE immersed me in mystery. The intrigue surrounding Gwen’s boyfriend Alfie and his dysfunctional family kept me guessing right to the end – and I mean guessing! There’s no way I could have predicted how this story would turn out. For romantics, there is love interest running throughout the story, and the whole book is brought to life by Linda’s descriptions, particularly of the Creake Hall garden laid bare for winter but still beautiful in its starkness. The interaction between the characters is excellent, and always believable despite their very unorthodox lives.

Here’s the blurb, followed by an excerpt Linda has kindly supplied.

***

HoS FINAL coverBlurb

Orphaned by drink, drugs and rock n’ roll, Gwen Rowland is invited to spend Christmas at her boyfriend Alfie’s family home, Creake Hall – a ramshackle Tudor manor in Norfolk. Soon after she arrives, Gwen senses something isn’t quite right. Alfie acts strangely toward his family and is reluctant to talk about the past. His mother, a celebrated children’s author, keeps to her room, living in a twilight world, unable to distinguish between past and present, fact and fiction.

When Gwen discovers fragments of forgotten family letters sewn into an old patchwork quilt, she starts to piece together the jigsaw of the past and realises there’s more to the family history than she’s been told. It seems there are things people don’t want her to know.

And one of those people is Alfie…

“A country house mystery selected for Amazon UK’s Top Ten BEST OF 2011 in the Indie Author category.”

***

Excerpt

I don’t know what I’d been expecting. A ramshackle farmhouse. A Georgian rectory, perhaps. I certainly wasn’t expecting an Elizabethan manor house, a jumble of tall, barley sugar chimneys and crow-step gables, red brick walls and a battery of mullioned windows, winking at me as the car struggled up the pot-holed drive.

It was love at first sight. I knew even before I entered Creake Hall that it would be a House of Horrors, domestic, architectural and probably culinary, but I didn’t care. The house spoke to me, even at a distance. It looked neglected, wounded somehow – quite possibly by its present owners. But I determined to keep my eyes open, my mouth shut and my itchy, exploratory fingers to myself. I was not on a rescue mission.

I dragged my eyes away from the chaotic roofline silhouetted against the vast Norfolk sky and, as the car came to a halt in front of a massive double oak door, I turned to speak to Alfie, my excitement bubbling over. He sat braced, both hands still gripping the wheel, his chin sunk onto his chest. It occurred to me then that perhaps I was on a rescue mission after all.

HoS FINAL cover

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HoS FINAL cover

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HoS FINAL cover

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To discover more about Linda and her work please visit her website.

***Advent Calendar 004Yesterday’s advent calendar picture – A bowl of apples

Today’s advent calendar picture – A lamb looking up at a star.

Alison’s Advent Calendar Day Eleven – Two weeks To Go…

Earlier today I was talking to Rosa, a lady for whom I do a bit of cleaning. Rosa is 99 years young, is fabulous, and there may well be a post dedicated to her sometime soon, but that’s for another day. During the course of our conversation I mentioned the fact that two weeks today will be Christmas Day. Today is an ordinary Wednesday, next week will be a normal Wednesday, the week after will be anything but normal. This got me thinking about the way everything stops for one day of the year on Christmas Day – well, it does in the countries that celebrate Christmas. Even the furniture shops are closed, allowing overworked shop staff a day off before they’re required back, bright and early, for the Boxing Day sales. On Christmas morning people are out and about, driving off to see friends or family, the faithful heading for church, the less faithful (that’s me!) heading for the pub, but by mid afternoon all is calm. Quiet. Still.

I remember glancing out at the main road about five o’clock one Christmas afternoon, and there wasn’t a soul about. Normally the road is rammed at that time with people returning home from work, but on Christmas evening not one single car went by. Even the A14 was quiet, and there’s normally the sound of traffic coming from that ridiculously busy stretch of road at all hours of the day and night. The silence was astonishing, and really quite eerie. In two weeks time my calendar, my phone, my computer will all tell me it’s Wednesday 25th December, I won’t think of it as a Wednesday. It’ll be Christmas Day.

Of course I realise that some people have to work on Christmas Day. People don’t stop getting ill or needing care just because the rest of us have a day off. I wonder what Christmas is like for these dedicated people. Does it seem like Christmas Day? Or will it simply be another Wednesday? If you work on Christmas Day perhaps you’d let me know, and in return I’d like to take the opportunity to say ‘Thank you.’

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Advent Calendar 004Today’s advent calendar picture – a baby deer and a baby bunny.

Alison’s Advent Calendar Day Six – The Nerves are Kicking In

Unusually for me I have nothing to say today. Nothing whatsoever. This is due in no small part to the fact that I’m terrified! Tomorrow I’m going to be taking Dory’s Avengers to Mill Road Winter Fair in Cambridge, which is probably my best opportunity to date to market the hard copies of my book, and I’ve managed to sink into a rather negative mind-set. I now have nightmare images of lugging 100 hardbacks to the fair, only to endure the shame of not selling a single copy and having to lug them all home again. This mind-set is as unusual for me as having nothing to say; I’d certainly class myself as a ‘glass is half full’ sort of person generally, but not at the moment. I know I’ll be back to my usual optimistic self as soon as my first customer of the day arrives tomorrow – if they arrive. Then I’ll be okay. Then I’ll know I only have to lug 99 copies home…

I think I’ll shut up and stop moaning!

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Advent Calendar 004

Advent calendar picture day six: A child and a squirrel.