Extracts

Letters from Lebanon – Caroline Karkoutli with Sue Kelso Ryan

I was recently speaking with Sue Kelso Ryan about a lovely lady who is suffering from dementia and who wanted to get her story down on paper for future generations whilst she was still able to do so. Keep reading to find out more about her inspiring tale.

BLURB:

Caroline is a headstrong young woman looking for adventure, who quits her job in London for a challenging teaching career in Lebanon. Living and working in the mountain villages near Beirut, she develops two great passions. One is for Fathi, a mysterious and attractive older man, who is Muslim; a complete contrast to her own upbringing. The other is the country itself – the cosmopolitan ‘Switzerland of the Middle East’, with its exotic food, beaches and mountain resorts.

Soon her peaceful existence is shattered by civil war and the bitterly fought international tensions of the 1970s and 80s. When the first shells fall on her village, Caroline has some painful decisions to make that will change her life forever. How will she protect her new-found happiness and the lives of those she loves?

Caroline’s description of Lebanon is nostalgic for the country that welcomed her, a stranger, as one of its own.

You can order your copy of this book here.

If you want to find out more about Sue’s experiences of working with Caroline, please head over to her website where you can read all about it.

https://suekelsoryan.co.uk/uncategorised/how-do-you-ghostwrite-a-memoir-when-your-client-has-dementia-you-crowd-source-the-delightful-and-entertaining-letters-from-lebanon-is-on-sale-now/

To tempt you further into purchasing this book, I am delighted to be able to share an extract from the prologue and first chapter with you.

LETTERS from lebanon Cover_23.7.19

PROLOGUE

Cheltenham, 2019

Dear Fathi,

Look what I found today, hidden among a collection of photos, in a carton that once contained Turkish cigarettes – an old black and white photograph of you in your Syrian cavalry uniform. That was a lifetime ago. What a handsome chap you were. Seeing it again, I’m not surprised I fell for your almond-shaped eyes and your smile that seemed to be only for me. Of course, I never saw you in uniform; that was when you were young. By the time we met, your face showed the creases of age and experience. Come to think of it, it’s a miracle that we did meet – a Turkish journalist who lived in Syria and was straight out of prison, and an English schoolteacher, who both happened to be on the same bus to Turkey. Neither of us knew then what was in store for us together, but I’m grateful for that chance encounter every day.

With all my love, Caroline

I glance back at the black and white photograph of the young man and turn over another. Here’s Fathi again, a slightly older man with a beard and wearing swimming trunks, posing unselfconsciously on a beach. A third picture is in colour and shows him on stone steps in front of a building with a balcony, railings, and bougainvillea growing wild everywhere. Without meaning to, I sigh, recalling our life together.

Looking back, my own adventures began because of my philosophy, “I like to travel; therefore I will teach.” I don’t know what career choices you were offered when you were about to leave school, but we were told, “Well you can be a teacher or a secretary.” That’s all we were offered. There was nothing that suggested adventure. Nothing that involved getting away from home and exploring whatever the world might offer me. Nothing appealing at all. Certainly, nobody mentioned living abroad, marrying a political activist who spoke Arabic, and raising my children in the midst of a civil war. Come to think of it, that might not have sounded too appealing to the young me either. I was rebellious but not at all familiar with the ways of the world.

I turn again to the photograph in my hand, holding it to the light and gazing again on the handsome man it depicts. Middle-aged, smiling, bearded – it is my husband and everything about him is familiar to me. But where was the photo taken? Did I take it? Maybe it was taken by a friend or family member before we met. I struggle to remember, cursing the dementia diagnosis that means my memory is ebbing away, little by little, carrying with it the memories I treasure.

A deafening crash nearby. I flinch, turning my head to locate the source of the danger, even though it is 30 years since I lived in a war zone. Realisation dawns. It was just the children next door playing. No bombs; no threat of imminent injury or death. Just my mind playing tricks on me again. My heartbeat gradually returns to normal. I let the photo slip onto the table in front of me, take a sip of my tea and take up my pen. Well, this book is hardly going to write itself, is it?

CHAPTER ONE

October, 1970

Dear Mum, Dad and Sheila,

This is just a quick line to let you know that the plane was on time yesterday and I arrived safely.

The school is in a small village called Choueifat, about six miles south of Beirut, and there was a driver waiting at the airport to take me there. I was introduced to Mr and Mrs Saad, the school’s owners, and had a meal with them last night. Mrs Saad talked a little to me about the school and what I would be expected to do.

I met the other teachers today. They are very kind and friendly. The kids are an excitable bunch, but I think we’ll get on OK. It has been very wet here, so it’s lucky I brought my big coat. I’m hoping to get out and explore and maybe see Beirut soon. Apparently, we can ring the UK from a local shop, but we will need to arrange a time. Shall we say Sunday at five, your time? I think this letter will reach you before then. 

I hope everything is well with you. I will write again next week with some more news.

Love from Caroline.

I peered out of the window of the aircraft as it descended towards Beirut. We flew over the port area, low-rise office buildings, blocks of flats, hotels and boulevards, all seemingly squashed between mountains and the intensely turquoise-blue sea. A surge of excitement rose in me, as the ground rose to meet the wheels of the aircraft, and we bumped along the runway. After disembarking the plane, I made my way through the bustling terminal building to the exit, clutching my small suitcase tightly. I searched the crowds outside for the driver who should be there to meet me. Someone touched my arm and I turned to see a small, slim, dark-haired man, meeting his wide grin with my own enthusiastic smile. He had a placard with my name on it.

“Miss Begbie?” he asked, taking my bag without taking his eyes from mine. “I’m Ahmed.”

“That’s me! Are you taking me to Choueifat?”

The driver nodded his head solemnly. He seemed to recognise my poor attempt at pronouncing the village name and as far as I could tell he wasn’t judging me. He popped open the boot of his gleaming black Mercedes and loaded my bag, before helping me into the back seat of the car. If anything, the interior of the car was hotter than the humid air outside and I was grateful when he rolled down the windows. The driver swung the vehicle out into the traffic, and I lost my breath as he accelerated and swerved, heading north, then doubling back onto a highway heading south. In no time, we left the city behind and the busy, two-lane road cut through farmland. My impression was that most villages in Lebanon seemed to be at the tops of hills. We passed small houses in valleys, vineyards on the terraced hillsides and an abundance of fruit and vegetable plots in the farmland at the side of the highway. But what struck me especially was the backdrop of vast, arid, mountainous hillsides that dominated the skyline. I saw what seemed like whole families working in fields dotted with vast ranks of olive trees, where they spread sheets out under the trees, beating the branches with sticks until the olives dropped down in a cloud of leaves. Others were gathering vegetables and loading reluctant donkeys with burdens that their slim legs seemed ill-equipped to bear. Before long the driver threw the car off the highway and onto a smaller road. As the road began weaving up into the hillside, I looked back at the turquoise-blue of the Mediterranean.

I leaned forward, gripping the bench seat that divided the front from the back of the car, “Is this the way to the school?” Ahmed caught my eye in the rear-view mirror and nodded and slowed very slightly, as he negotiated the hairpin bends. We still passed houses occasionally, set in the pine-forested hillside and I caught glimpses of the sea again, now bathed in an orange glow of the setting sun. Gradually, more houses and the odd shop began to cluster around the edge of the road, and we entered a village. Soon we swung left, past a gateway and along a short drive.

“Welcome to Choueifat School,” Ahmed announced, springing out of the taxi and depositing my suitcase on a rough-cobbled courtyard. Leaping back in, he departed as fast as he came, leaving me in a haze of blue diesel fumes, gazing after him. Then silence. Or rather, not really silence; there was a cacophony of bird song and cicadas as the local wildlife began to settle for the night. I looked around. In front of me was a two-storey building with a balcony and graceful arches, with two single-storey, flat-roofed buildings forming a u-shape on either side of the main block. The pines surrounding the courtyard had faded to black silhouettes as the sun set. My eye was drawn to the only source of light, which was coming from a large, square building to my left and up a steep set of steps from the courtyard. Someone appeared to be waiting for me there, so I set off towards them.

“Miss Begbie? Welcome to Choueifat. Let me take your bag and I’ll introduce you to Mr and Mrs Saad right away.” The neat, middle-aged woman took my bag and led me along a path beside the buildings, then up a flight of steps to a large stone villa with a balcony and shutters. At the door, I was handed, relay-style, to a young man, who led me along a dimly lit, stone-floored corridor. I blinked as we entered a large, grand living space and smiled as an elegantly dressed woman approached and offered her hand.

“Welcome to Choueifat School, Miss Begbie. I am Leila Saad,” she said.

“Caroline,” I said, “and thank you. It’s good to meet you in person.”

Mrs Saad did all the talking; a beautifully presented woman, she was slim, elegant and stylish. Almost without realising, I found myself trying to tidy my hair and brush down the creases in my travelling clothes with my hands.

“And this is my husband, Charles Saad.”

Casting my eyes to one side, I saw that Mr Saad had settled in an armchair and was content to let his wife do the introductions and tell me about the school. In stark contrast to his wife, he was a heavily built man, whose stomach hung down over the belt of his trousers. Evidently, he liked his food! He smiled slightly and nodded in my general direction. He seemed preoccupied with some paperwork, so I turned once again to his beautiful wife.

“I hope you had a good journey, Caroline?” she enquired. “Let’s get you settled and then perhaps you’d like to join us for supper?”

Shortly after, I found myself sitting at a dining table, chatting to Mrs Saad and being waited on as though I was the most important of guests, rather than a young, inexperienced teacher, taking up a post in a foreign country for the first time and ever so slightly out of my depth. The food I was presented with was completely new to me but delicious and I ate hungrily everything that was served. I’d not had anything like it before – what the hell was it? “Thank you,” I said, as each dish arrived. I remembered my table manners and tried to make polite conversation, though I had no idea what passed for polite conversation at a Lebanese dinner table.

Looking around as we ate, I saw that the Saad residence was tastefully and expensively decorated, with gilt-framed works of art on the stone walls and rich rugs and soft furnishings. Our food was served on delicate china and we drank from crystal glasses, which twinkled in the subtle lighting.

Darkness had fallen swiftly. Soon after we’d eaten, Mrs Saad found a torch and we took a short walk around the school site, with Mrs Saad pointing out the dormitories, the kindergarten and primary classrooms, and the buildings where the older children were taught. Then the housekeeper took me to my room, where I had time to reflect a little on what I had discovered so far. The Saad family were welcoming, and their western dress was familiar, so that was a good start.

Settling into my new surroundings, I thought of my parents, back home in London, and the plain English cooking that my mum prepared there every day. I wondered what they would make of my new surroundings. I remembered my parents waving me off at the airport just a few hours earlier. In those days, communications weren’t anything like today – no internet, no instant messaging and not much chance of hearing from each other for weeks at a time. I knew I wouldn’t get news from home for a while but if I’m honest, I was ready for a break from being accountable and looking for an adventure.

If you know me now, you might be surprised when I say I was quiet and shy in my early twenties. If you’d met me then, you would probably describe me as a listener; someone who observed life, kept their ambitions for adventure and their passions inside. When things didn’t go my way, I would accept that and deal with it, but I wouldn’t walk away.

What did my parents think, when I announced that I was heading to Beirut to teach? I hardly know now whether they were afraid for me, but I suppose they put up with the idea, realising that I was going to have to go and work things out for myself. They still had my younger sister Sheila around, after all. Like most young people, I don’t suppose I considered them while making my decision. All I knew was that I wanted to travel, and this was my chance.

I wasn’t set on going anywhere in particular, as long as it was past Europe; further away. I didn’t want to go to France or Germany or anywhere like that. Somewhere where they were likely to want a teacher. I wasn’t aiming to do good or anything; I was purely satisfying my own aim of going abroad to find out what the rest of the world was like. I was looking for travel and excitement. Most people said, “What are you doing that for? You could get a job here. I’ve got a nice job in Brize Norton,” or something similar. I suppose they were surprised that it was me who was the one going on an adventure. As I say, I was fairly quiet and shy as a youngster when I didn’t know people; quite happy to listen and comply, rather than putting my oar in. Teachers would say, “And what do you think, Caroline?” And I’d jump in surprise and give some sort of feeble response. But underneath it all I’m one for adventure, even though I don’t expect to know what will happen. I just accept things and deal with them. So, I applied for various jobs overseas and before long my appointment to a school in Lebanon was arranged. I couldn’t wait.

It wasn’t my first trip overseas; that was to Sweden, when I was in my teens. Dad had relatives of some sort in Stockholm and I was invited to visit them. I found that quite frightening, as everything was in a foreign language. I had thought that I might try to learn Swedish, but I didn’t. I am not a linguist, I don’t absorb languages easily at all, so I found Swedish hard graft. The country itself wasn’t like England; everything – including street names, food, clothes styles and architecture – was slightly different and new to me. I had a really nice time with my hosts, who were welcoming and took me to a whole variety of interesting places, such as the city of Uppsala and along by the lakes. It was a great holiday and it kick-started my determination to travel to foreign lands.

On my first morning in Choueifat, I woke early, to heavy rain and wondered what to expect. I was looking forward to it but had no preconceived ideas about teaching in a different country. I had been recruited to teach English to all the infant classes at Choueifat school, and Mrs Saad had said that meant I would be moving between classrooms at the end of each class, indicated by the ringing of a bell. All the other classes were taught in Arabic.

I was taken down what seemed like endless, slippery steps to be shown the staff room and where I would teach. The classrooms were in the u-shaped courtyard I’d seen the night before – four rooms in what I had at first taken to be some dilapidated stables. This was the infant section of the school, and as I opened the door to one of the classrooms, I spotted that the roof had already begun to leak, and buckets had been found to catch the water. I’d arrived in October and this, it seemed, was the rainy season.

The children began to arrive; a complete mixture of European and Middle Eastern complexions, dress and languages. Some were local but the majority jumped down from expensive foreign cars that seemed barely to hesitate near the driveway before swishing away through puddles on the rutted road. Many of the kids were wet by the time they reached the classroom.

The morning passed in a blur of introductions, new classrooms, noise and excitement. When the bell rang for the end of the final session, I followed some of the other teachers to the staff room and plonked myself down in a chair, feeling weary already. Soon Mrs Saad was at my elbow, introducing me to my colleagues and arranging for one to take me to lunch.

Over the meal table, I asked one of my colleagues, “How come the kids are soaked when they arrive – do they come far?”

“You’ve seen the ones in the Mercs and limos?” one replied. “They’re from rich Beirut families and their family chauffeurs bring them up the hill from the city. Then there are the expat families, and some of the other kids are boarders from Middle Eastern families who have got wealthy from oil money. They just have to come down from the dormitory buildings. The others are village kids, and many of them have walked some miles to get here. The school’s reputation is good, and the families are desperate to have their kids educated, even if that means they get soaked on their way here!”

“Have you noticed that the Saads don’t spend much of their fat school fees on roof repairs or heating?” chipped in another teacher. “You can’t fail to notice the buckets on the classroom floors, collecting the rainwater that gets in. And of course there’s no glass in the windows. Just you wait until the winter. We all huddle together for warmth!”

“I wondered about that,” I replied. “I’m already cursing myself for not bringing enough jumpers or gloves, but I thought this was a warm country.”

“Ah,” they glanced at each other, and one gave me a big wink. “Just you wait until it gets snowy. None of the kids will come at all; they can’t get up the hill to the school because of the ice and snow.”

“How long does that last?”

They laughed, obviously enjoying my surprise.

“It varies. Sometimes it’s quickly over and other times you seem to spend your life clumping about in it and trying not to fall over. It can last for weeks high up in the Lebanese mountains, even when it is long gone from the hillsides around the school. It makes for beautiful views. But eventually spring comes around again, it gets warmer and we get back to full classes.”

Back in the first lesson of the afternoon, the contrasts with teaching in England were becoming plain. One of those came in the person of a certain Miss Dalal. She had greeted me with a small smile and a silent handshake when I arrived, but without any impression of warmth; this woman was discipline on legs. At first I had thought her main job was to ring the bell that indicated the end of a lesson. On my way to a class, I saw a small child being led away by Miss Dalal and realised he must have been naughty by the expressions on both their faces. So her role also included discipline, I reasoned. Other teachers later shared with me that Miss Dalal had a fearsome reputation for beating the children, which came as a shock. This was at odds with the liberal teaching methods I’d just been taught, and it wasn’t the way I liked to do things at all.

“She has a selection of sticks and rulers, some with a metal edge to them – they cut! She is a vicious woman,” I was warned. I checked my colleagues’ expressions for any signs of teasing – half expecting them to take advantage of me as the new girl – but they were deadly serious.

“You think Miss Dalal is bad!” A Lebanese teacher confided. “At the secondary school I attended, we had supervisors controlling the corridors, making sure everyone behaved. They’re like glorified teaching assistants, mostly Palestinians without papers, and because they don’t have work permits, they are easy to get rid of. They’re afraid of losing their jobs and the kids are afraid of them.”

Now that I knew what to expect, I noticed that Miss Dalal would walk around outside the classrooms, and occasionally you would hear the whack from her stick and a child’s yell. Then one day my class was enjoying a rather rowdy singing session, and the door creaked open. The singing stopped, replaced by complete silence. I turned to see what the interruption was. At the door was a tiny, fierce creature; Miss Dalal. I soon realised the reason for the effect Miss Dalal was having on my class; she might be slightly built but she had indeed come armed with a sturdy stick. I had no intention of letting her beat any of my kids with her big stick, so I got my courage up and said firmly, “I’m teaching!”

Miss Dalal never did get her hands on my children. However, I wasn’t above taking advantage of their natural reluctance to be sent to see her. Just a single mention of “Miss Dalal—” in a voice laden with foreboding would deter any child contemplating disrupting my class.

At the end of my first day, the children dispersed. I went to take a closer look at the commotion at the end of the driveway, where you couldn’t move for all the big, posh cars collecting the children who had come up from Beirut. Who knows how their parents became so wealthy? Asking around among the other teachers, there were rumours about a lot of black-market activity, but I can’t be sure it was that. Finally, the last car door slammed, and the last Mercedes shot off down the hill in a blue haze of diesel. Walking back through the school grounds I watched, fascinated, as shrieking, laughing and squabbling children played games, many of which were unfamiliar to me. These children boarded at the school and they were allowed some freedom to play after supper and before being herded into their dormitories for the night.

My first day was over and I made my way to the staff room, where other teachers were gathered at a dark wooden table, sitting on formal sofas or chatting in groups. Some of the teachers were Lebanese locals and they had gone home to their families; others were resident, like me. It seemed that most of their leisure time was spent quietly in the school itself, with the other staff and perhaps with the odd book or a game of cards and a chat. As is usual in any workplace, there was also some grumbling about how the school was run and any problems that had arisen during the day. The teachers were mostly female, especially in the primary school classes. They were all sociable and friendly. We were a mixed bunch, from a variety of different backgrounds and countries, though we tended to fall naturally into two groups – the English gathered together and the others, which included Iraqis, Iranians and several Germans, mixed together. The English teachers taught English and the others taught everything else. It was interesting to hear their views on the school and the teaching methods we were expected to employ.

“How did your first day go, Caroline?” asked one.

“It was different!” I said, seeing some wry smiles and nods from the others.

“Yes, it’s unlike any school that most of us have taught in before. One of the main problems is the lack of basic resources to do any teaching with. I don’t know how they expect the kids to learn.”

This was something I agreed with immediately. “Yes, is it right that the only text book I’ve been given is American? The topics and illustrations don’t seem to mean much to any of the kids, whether they are Lebanese, Austrian, German or French pupils. The characters – Anita and Tony – live in a huge American house, on a farm on the prairies. It’s nothing like the village houses or city apartments that the kids here are likely to be familiar with. Are we expected to sit there repeating phrases like, ‘What can the dog see? It can see Tony. What is Anita doing? Anita is reading a book’ all day long?”

“I’m afraid so,” came the reply. “The approved method here is repetition and rote learning. Forget any creative ideas you might have!” The speaker looked jaded and sighed as he slumped down into a chair against the wall.

“The books we used at my previous school in Wembley and at my teacher training college were pretty tedious but I’m beginning to miss them already!” I said. “At least with those books you had the sense that these were real people and the kids could identify with them, but I really feel that they are going to struggle.” I looked around to see whether anyone was shocked and felt braver as I saw that nobody was disagreeing. “Isn’t it possible to adapt our methods – to teach the children, not the book, as someone once said?”

But my colleagues were wary. One whispered, “Better not to risk it. The Saads have their methods and it pays to stick to them.”

‘Hmm,’ I thought, ‘What’s the point, if they aren’t learning anything?’ I am a strong believer that young children learn best when they’re having fun and so I resolved to inject some excitement into my lessons, whether the Saads liked it or not.

The next day, we did some singing and tapping rhythms – whisper it, we even told some jokes! I soon discovered that they could learn, they just had to be taught properly. Some of the children had one English-speaking parent, so they managed the language more readily. I quite quickly recognised the children that I had to give something a bit harder to and the ones I’d have to sit with, when I could, for longish periods of time. And so I began my time at Choueifat, confident that I could make a difference by bringing in some different methods and that I could keep my young charges in order. After all, we had Miss Dalal outside…

Extracts

Pink Ice Creams – Jo Woolaston

When I read the blurb for Pink Ice Creams, I was disappointed to realise that I wouldn’t have time to read it in time to review it on the blog tour, so you can imagine how happy I was when Jo Woolaston kindly provided me with an extract from the book to share with you all. Many thanks to Jo, and to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be a part of the blog tour.

BLURB:

Intent on fixing her broken marriage and the alcohol-fuelled catastrophe that is her life, Kay Harris arrives at her grim and grey holiday let, ready to lay to rest the tragedy that has governed her entire adulthood – the disappearance of her little brother, Adam.

But the road to recovery is pitted with the pot-holes of her own poor choices, and it isn’t long before Kay is forced to accept that maybe she doesn’t deserve the retribution she seeks. Will the intervention of strangers help her find the answers she needs to move on from her past, or will she always be stuck on the hard shoulder with no clear view ahead and a glove box full of empties?

Pink Ice Creams is a tale of loss, self-destruction, and clinging on to the scraps of the long-lost when everyone else has given up hope.

Pink Ice Creams - eBook Cover

EXTRACT:

Kay’s excessive drinking brings its own set of problems – memory loss and drunken encounters with strangers who she must then try to extricate herself from. But not all strangers remain so. Pete is not exactly the catch of the century but, if she lets him into her ordinarily closed world, perhaps he could be the diversion that leads her away from it for the better, who knows. But for now, he is just a pair of unfamiliar feet sticking out of the end of her bed…

So do the feet belong to Sanctimonious Sean or Brother Bollock-Head? Maybe neither, there was that toothless old geezer who drew a cartoon of my arse on the bar with spittle and a split finger nail.

‘Not seen you around these parts.’

‘Is that the same as ‘do you come here often’?’

‘On your holidays are ya?’

‘Yes, but not looking for romance.’

‘Drink?’

‘No thanks. And my arse is not that big.’

‘Well, a peanut here and a peanut there and you’ve got yourself a cracking pair of tits.’

People with so few teeth shouldn’t eat peanuts, I can barely read the answers on his quiz sheet under the debris. Quito, whatever that is. Question nine.

I knew Beachy Head was in Sussex not Dorset, and I would have said something but felt such an idiot after saying Di Caprio when I meant Da Vinci so whoever is in my bed I haven’t exactly lured here with my sparkling intellect. I need a plan. If I sneak out of bed and go out, he might get up and leave, avoiding any morning after awkwardness. But then if I move he might wake up. How old are his feet? They’re a bit manky but the toe-nails aren’t yellow and curled up, just a bit unkempt. If I stay still and pretend to be asleep then when he wakes up he can sneak out. But what if he’s pretending to be asleep and waiting for me to sneak out of bed and go out, so that he can get up and leave? Bloody hell Kay, just get up

There, he didn’t even move a muscle, where are my clothes? Quiet, quiet… Eeeeee… sssshhh ssh, ow ow ow, what a stupid place to put a radiator! Same toe as yesterday too, no wonder it hurts, the nail is split right down the middle.

Whoever he is he’s a heavy sleeper, that clang was loud enough to wake the dead. Is he breathing? My God, is he alive? Waking up with a stranger is one thing but waking up with a corpse is another thing entirely, what was that? Oh thank God, thank God! He farted, hallelujah! Jesus, oh for heaven’s sake get out of the bedroom quick, that is quite ripe. Stale ale.

“Mornin’”

Oh no, he’s the conversational type.

“Got any Marmite?”

“No.”

“Bacon? My mouth tastes like a sewer, that landlord ain’t cleaned his pipes for years.”

But you just have, and in my bed you stinky-arsed cretin.

“…Sean..?”

“Pete. The other Bollock-Head. The handsome one.”

“I’m Kay.”

“Oh I know. I know all about you, Jesus, I got your life story last night, over and over and over again.”

What was I worried about? No awkwardness here. Just simple, polite conversation taking place amidst the rancid stench-fog of a complete stranger’s innards.

“Well if a bacon butty is off the cards you can just make us a cuppa.”

“No I won’t. I’m sorry, but… I’d like you to leave.”

“Charmin’! You wouldn’t have got home if it wasn’t for me. I only stayed to make sure you didn’t choke on your own vomit, which incidentally is all down my Sunday best. My soaking wet Sunday best from jumping in the brook to save your bloody mobile phone.”

“You should have slept in the bunk room.”

“I’m not six! I was tired and I was pissed, it was the best option available even if it did mean sleeping next to a jabbering crackpot. And I may be neither Leonardo Di Caprio nor Da Vinci, but I can assure you I wouldn’t offer you a walk home again for all the thanks I get.”

He is clearly more adept at manoeuvring around a tight space than me, and is clothed and taking his leave far quicker than I thought imaginable.

“I’m sorry… about the Marmite.”

“Lost my appetite, you don’t get much ventilation in these places, eh? Fuckin’ reeks in here.”

I follow him to the door, all thanks and sorrys and questions about what may or may not have occurred between us sticking in my throat. The sooner he goes the better. I can put this out of my mind, whatever this was. He hesitates at the door. No, please, just go. GO!

“We didn’t… you know”

“Know what?’”

“Me and you. There was none of… that.”

“Oh thank God!”

“Steady on, I’m not that bad!”

“I didn’t mean it like that. I’m married. Happily married.”

“Ha!”

“What do you mean, ‘Ha’?”

“He’s left ya, or if he hasn’t – he will.”

“We had a row, but it’s just temporary.”

“You reckon? After what you’ve done I wouldn’t go near you with a barge pole.”

PURCHASE LINKS:

Hopefully that little snippet has sparked your interest as much as it has mine. If it has you can order your copy of the book here:

Amazon UK – Paperback

Amazon UK – Kindle

Amazon.com – Paperback

Amazon.com – Kindle

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Pink Ice Creams Bio Pic

Jo Woolaston lives in Leicestershire, England with her extreme noise-making husband and two lovely sons. She tries to avoid housework and getting a ‘proper job’ by just writing stuff instead – silly verse, screenplays, shopping lists…

This sometimes works in her favour (she did well in her MA in TV Scriptwriting, gaining a Best Student award in Media and Journalism – and has had a few plays produced – that kind of thing) but mostly it just results in chronic insomnia and desperate tears of frustration. Pink Ice Creams is her first novel, she hopes you liked it.

SOCIAL MEDIA:

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To find out more about Pink Ice Creams, why not head over to the other blogs taking part in the tour.

Pink Ice Creams Full Tour Banner

Extracts

Just Rose – L.T. Marshall

The wonderful L.T. Marshall has kindly let me share an extract from her book for my stop of the Just Rose blog tour today. Thank you so much Leanne for inviting my to get involved.

BLURB:

The unexpected death of Rose’s beloved aunt ends up being a driving force in her uneventful life. She gives up her lonely, unfulfilled big city existence for the country home and life from cherished childhood memories.

But can it live up to them?

All she wants is to find her place in the world; the happiness and independence she has been searching for. With her little dog Muffin by her side and a much-needed new friend, it does seem possible – until an encounter with the handsome local Laird of the Munro Estate sends her spiraling from young professional woman to hormonal bundle of goo.

Their chemistry is undeniable, but with him not seemingly on the market, this might not be the place for her after all.

Thrust into the world of country living, will Rose ever find true love?

In this roller coaster of emotions and a whole lot of country charm, one thing is for sure: Rose is certainly not going to be bored anymore!

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EXTRACT:

‘You sound like Rob. He lived in Glasgow for a couple of years when he went to uni to study business, he said he couldn’t wait to come home and just get back to home life, the town, and the manor.’

It hit Rose then, that one tiny word at the end of a sentence. Manor. This was Abigail Munro. She was the Laird’s sister!

Running through the scene earlier in her head and piecing the fragments together in a split second, she felt her stomach lurching as it clicked into place. That familiar smile. That black hair, and although the eyes were not grey, she had his eyes. That same cheeky look when he smiled. The hint of dimples when she smiled. Just like his. That flawless skin and attractive bone structure. The easy confidence and the upper-class dialect which wasn’t common around here.

Surely, he couldn’t be? Could he?

He’d been leaving the Munro estate, and he did say, ‘Most people know I have a bad view of the road.’ Or something along those lines. Rose felt the colour drain from her face as it sunk in that her first encounter of the day with the asshole, had not been just any asshole, but this lovely girl’s brother and the Laird of her new home town. The Laird, who had invited her to his ball!

‘Are you okay?’ The look of concern on Abby’s face only struck it home, so alarmingly like his.

Damn!

Even the same question as he’d yanked open her car door. They were so alike it was traumatising; Rose feigned a smile and then let her head drop into her palms, groaning aloud. She felt like a moron, prize ‘A’ idiot, and this sudden dawning of events had her reeling with regret. She felt Abby’s hand touch her arm, concerned her new friend was having some sort of mental breakdown.

‘I met him,’ she mumbled, covering her face, and trying to rub away the realisation. The urge to pour her own hot chocolate over her head swiftly coming over her.

‘Rob?’ She could almost hear the surprise in Abby’s tone.

‘Yes. He almost killed me with his car this morning and then …’’

If that has caught your attention, you can purchase a copy of the book here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Author Leanne Marshall, better known as L.T.Marshall, is an aspiring romance writer from the UK who is fast scaling the charts as an Author. She has a passion for telling stories filled with dramatic twists and turns, deep emotional issues and gripping characters.

An advocate against all forms of abuse.

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GIVEAWAY:

Coming soon!June 2017 Release! (5)

Win one of 5 eBooks of the standalone Romance Just Rose by entering the giveaway using the link below.

Just Rose is a cosy romance set in the highlands of Scotland with undertones of mental health awareness and well worth a read. Five chances to get the book so don’t delay and click away.

ENTER HERE!

Don’t forget to pay a visit to everyone else who is taking part in this fab tour.

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Extracts

Gap Years – Dave Holwill – Extract from Chapter One

I am so excited to have a second stop on the Gap Years blog tour, and absolutely thrilled to be able to share an extract from the start of chapter one of the book with you all. Thank you so much to Dave Holwill for allowing me to share this.

Gap_Years_Front

Shit, Dad was right.

Why does Dad have to be right?

Why am I so annoyed that I am wrong?

That’s not what’s important here.

Priorities Sean, that car just came out of nowhere, and your twelve year old stepsister is in a hedge.

Not on her bike, in the hedge, upside down and not screaming anymore. It’s been less than a month since we met, and I’ve killed her.

Brilliant.

Why didn’t they stop? The car should have stopped, pulled over and checked we’re alright before apologising – and helping. It didn’t, it swerved round me, the dog’s lead went completely taut and my bike stopped (I didn’t, I am soaring over the car in a slow, graceless arc). Dad told me not to tie the dog to the bike, and not to take Melody on the road. He loves all three of us – I assume, he hasn’t mentioned it to me – but he will probably love them a little more than me when he hears about this.

I look down at the flattened dog, and Melody’s legs poking from the hedge. With a twitch of toes and squeal of joy she leaps out in a single bound.

‘Come on Whizzy, get up.’ A crackle of green light streaks from her finger. The blood pooling in the road regroups and streams back into the dog, who re-inflates, runs a few circles around Melody then sits next to her with his best good boy bark, tail thumping against the pot-holed lane.

‘Sean, come down from there and let’s carry on,’ Melody groans, as another flash from her fingers turns our bikes from mangled wrecks to two new, perfect specimens. I try to land but am unable, I am soaring ever higher, floating on a gentle summer thermal towards the sun, the sun has a face, it is smiling at me, beckoning me closer with short stubby yellow arms. I feel its warmth across my face, it smells like hot tarmac.

Tarmac, I remember now.

I am unconscious.

Melody is not a wizard.

The dog is almost certainly dead.

I landed on my head.

The balance of my life is now dependant on whether or not the helmet I hope I am still wearing was worth the extra twenty quid it cost. I suppose this flying towards the sun is some kind of rubbish visualisation of me clinging to/escaping from life. After all these contactless years I finally get to spend some time with Dad and his family and I’ve killed most of them/us. Well played Sean, well played.

I am metaphorically dragged back down to the road and reality. I open my eyes to a wheel flashing past. It’s a big wheel and very close. This is a truck, I am still lying in the road, why is nobody stopping? I pull myself to my feet, and check my limbs. All moving, a bit achy, probably just bruises. Good news, I walk towards the dog, at least I try, before my right leg gives way and I cascade to the ground.

‘Hey, are you alright man?’ A voice, finally somebody has stopped.

‘Apparently not, how many fingers am I holding up?’ I ask, waving my hand.

‘Three, but that’s not how it works, how many am I holding up?’ He thrusts his hand in my face.

‘Oh yeah, that’s true, three?’ I venture, I can see three, I hope I’m right.

‘Three it is,’ he laughs. ‘You’ll be fine, come on then.’ He picks me up off the road and helps me over to the verge. I recognise him now. I’ve seen him around. He looks like he came straight from a Grateful Dead concert, all long hair, beard and tie-dyed shirts. I see him quite a lot when I’m cycling about, he goes everywhere on a big old heavy dutch bike – which in Devon is madness, these hills are hard enough work on my super-lightweight road bike – usually with a basket full of cider, in a big floppy straw hat and flip flops. I don’t think he’s a serious cyclist, but I do think he can’t afford a car.

‘My sister,’ I say, ‘she’s… she’s…’

‘Already seen to her,’ he says, ‘in the recovery position and breathing, you got a phone I can use? Or you want to call it in yourself?’

‘You haven’t called an ambulance?’

‘Hey man, I needed to check you were both breathing.’ He looks offended, I feel bad now. ‘And anyway, I don’t have a telephone, no need for one, happier without.’

‘Okay, I can do it,’ I say, fumbling in my back pouch for my phone. I make the 999 call, my companion proving invaluable in pinpointing our location.

‘And the dog?’ I ask, once I know the ambulance is coming, I don’t think I want to hear the answer.

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If that has grabbed your attention, you can find out more about Gap Years, and Dave Holwill over on my review from 15th February here. Don’t forget to have a look at the other blogs taking part.

Extracts

Isolation Junction – Jennifer Gilmour

I am sure most of you have realised by now that I am a huge fan of Jennifer Gilmour and all the amazing work she is doing. If you haven’t already realised, where have you been??? (Also, you can find my previous posts regarding Jennifer here, here, and here. I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Isolation Junction today, and thrilled to be able to share an extract of the book with you.

IJ - NEW COVER Isolation Junction

EXTRACT FROM CHAPTER SIX:

Sat back downstairs, Darren was muttering to himself. Rose could hear some of what he was saying but was trying her hardest to ignore him and zone out but when he said his behaviour was Rose’s fault because they hadn’t had sex for ages, she was devastated and disgusted all in one. He just loved sticking the knife in, over and over again. He was relentless.

Darren carried on, ‘I mean … we’re meant to be married, but that doesn’t mean anything these days.’ Rose’s heart was starting to race. ‘All my mates are getting it.’

That was it, Rose couldn’t listen to him anymore, she stormed into the kitchen and started to wash the pots. A distraction was needed and keeping busy was therapeutic to Rose.

Darren gave it just the right amount of time before following her – just long enough for Rose to think that she was going to get away with her defiance.

‘How dare you walk out when I’m talking to you?’

‘Talking at me, more like.’ Not caring about his reaction, Rose bit back at him.

‘Sorry, what did you say?’ he grunted. ‘I didn’t quite hear that; do you want to say it to my face?’

Rose was giggling inside, this was so pitiful and felt like they were in the playground at school bickering over the smallest of things. Rose carried on washing-up and ignored him. Then, as she leant over to grab a tea-towel, he gripped Rose’s wrist and pulled her towards him, something Rose wasn’t expecting.

‘Sorry …’ he said, taking a long pause, ‘…what … did … you … say … to me?’

Her heart was racing, and her breathing became erratic, his eyes filled with something akin to mania and Rose was terrified. Pulling her top in his fist he dragged her towards him and screamed in her ear, ‘Do I need to ask you again?’

Rose closed her eyes as he spat at her. Holding her breath, she didn’t want him to know she had a shake in her breathing and she looked around the kitchen, anywhere other than his eyes. There was a knife block on the sideboard right beside her, it would be over in minutes and it would be so easy if only she could grab the knife and stab him.

She’d thought about this plenty of times before, the opportunities would present themselves, but she’d never take them. However, if she had to do something in self-defence she’d do it, and this situation felt more concerning than others had. Rose knew it was because she’d tried to stand up for herself for once and he was trying to put her back in her place.

Darren was pressing Rose up against the fridge-freezer, holding her wrists tight by her sides. He could do anything he wanted to, and Rose would powerless against his force and he knew it.

As much as he belittled Rose’s body, he still wanted to abuse it – Rose had lost count of the nights she’d wake up to find him having sex with her. There would be a bit of a struggle as she tried to stop him, but he carried on – Rose was his wife and sex was his right, what Rose wanted, or didn’t want, was irrelevant.

The way he was breathing, the way he was holding her, the way his eyes flashed made Rose realise this time, there was something different about him.

ABOUT ISOLATION JUNCTION:

block the road

First published in 2016, Jennifer has republished a second edition with the changes in Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

This is the republication of Isolation Junction and what a difference it is. A make over with a new book cover, new content, with Pict Publishing, third person only (as opposed to third and first in first edition) and the incidents in correlating order.

BLURB:

Rose is the mother of two young children, and finds herself living a robotic life with an abusive and controlling husband. While she struggles to maintain a calm front for the sake of her children, inside Rose is dying and trapped in ‘Isolation Junction’.

She runs an online business from home, because Darren won’t let her work outside the house. But through this, she meets other mums and finds courage to attend networking events, while Darren is at work, to promote her business.

It’s at one of these events that Rose meets Tim, a sympathetic, dark-haired stranger who unwittingly becomes an important part of her survival.

After years of emotional abuse, of doubting her future and losing all self-confidence, Rose takes a stand. Finding herself distraught, alone and helpless, Rose wonders how she’ll ever escape with her sanity and her children. With 100 reasons to leave and 1,000 reasons she can’t will she be able to do it? Will Tim help her? And will Rose find peace and the happiness she deserves? Can Rose break free from this spiralling life she so desperately wants to change?

Based on true events.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

IJ - Jennifer Gilmour

Born in the North East, Jennifer is a young, married mum with three children.  In addition to being an author, she is an entrepreneur, running a family business from her home-base. Her blog posts have a large readership of other young mums in business.

From an early age, Jennifer has had a passion for writing and started gathering ideas and plot lines from her teenage years.  A passionate advocate for women in abusive relationships, she has drawn on her personal experiences to write this first novel. It details the journey of a young woman from the despair of an emotionally abusive and unhappy marriage to develop the confidence to challenge and change her life and to love again.  

SOCIAL MEDIA:

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Make sure you stop by the other blogs taking part in this amazing tour.

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Extracts

A House Divided – Extract from Chapter One

AHD ebook cover (small)

Hayley Price was dead, and Jennifer Sinclair was going to get the blame.

Never mind that Hayley took her own life. Never mind that someone in Bronzefield Prison had provided her with the tool. And never mind that the prison staff had taken their eyes off a woman on suicide watch.

As far as the media was concerned, Hayley’s death was the fault of Jennifer Sinclair, Prisons Minister.

Today Jennifer would be making a statement in the House of Commons, explaining why Hayley had been allowed to die. And it needed to be good. The prison governor’s job was at stake – of course – but so was her own.

It was five am, and Jennifer was up early, taking advantage of the quiet of her London flat. Little disturbed her from outside: the milkman making his way along the street below, a couple of late night revellers ending yesterday instead of beginning today. Inside, all was quiet. Her husband Yusuf hadn’t stirred when she’d slipped out of bed and her two sons were fast asleep in sleeping bags on the living room floor, staying in London for a special occasion.

She sat on the floor of the kitchen, the only uninhabited room, and stared at the sheet of paper. Her civil servants had insisted on drafting a full speech, but she knew she’d do better with notes. Thinking on her feet had got her this far; hopefully it wouldn’t fail her now.

She glanced at the oven clock. Not long before Hassan would wake to realise it was his tenth birthday. She didn’t want him to find her sitting on the floor.

She pushed herself up, rubbing her cramped legs, and crept towards the bedroom. It was a treat having the whole family here – normally they’d be at home in her Birmingham constituency – but the timing of this crisis was far from ideal.

She reached the door to the bedroom and heard movement behind her.

“Mummy?”

She looked round. Hassan was sitting up, rubbing his eyes. His older brother Samir was still snoring.

She pushed the speech from her mind. “Morning, darling. Happy birthday.”

His eyes widened and he let out a shriek. He threw off the sleeping bag and jumped up, pushing past her to wake his dad.

“Daddy! Wake up!” he cried. Jennifer followed him into the bedroom.

Yusuf sat up in bed and feigned a yawn.

“Hello? Why would anyone want to get up this early on a Wednesday?”

“Daddy!” Hassan repeated, and jumped on him. Grunts came from beneath the duvet. Jennifer sat on the end of the bed and gave Hassan a hug. 

Yusuf leaned in and wrapped his arms round both of them. “Anyone would think it was a special day,” he groaned, pulling back and throwing Jennifer a wink.

Hassan shrieked. “Daddy! It’s my birthday!”

Yusuf threw back the quilt, grabbing Hassan in one swift movement and tickling him. Hassan shrieked with delight. 

Yusuf laughed. “Go and get your brother, Mr Early Waker.”

Hassan nodded and sprang for the door, confident in the knowledge that when he returned, there would be presents.

Five minutes later he dragged Samir into the room.

“Alright, alright, I’m coming,” Samir moaned, yawning.

“You can’t sleep in on my birthday,” Hassan replied.

Samir shrugged. Four years older than his brother, he was becoming skinny, gangly even. His skin was pale with fatigue and he had dark circles under his eyes. He would have been up late watching YouTube videos on his phone, Jennifer knew. He tried to hide it but the glow from beneath his duvet – or sleeping bag – was a dead giveaway.

“Hello, love,” she said, reaching out towards him. “Come and sit with us while Hassan trashes the place.”

She shifted into the middle of the bed, making room. Samir glanced at her then perched on the edge of the mattress. He pulled his sleeping bag around his shoulders.

Jennifer pushed aside the stab of rejection and shifted her attention to Hassan, who was scrabbling under the bed for presents. Samir dived onto his brother, pretending to grab the presents first. Hassan pushed him off.

“Come on Samir,” said Yusuf. “It’s Hassan’s day.” 

Samir scowled and Hassan emerged from under the bed, his face flushed. He passed a present to his brother. “It’s OK. He can help me.”

Jennifer threw Yusuf a smile. That was just like Hassan, always wanting to share with his brother.

“Go on then,” she laughed. “Get ripping.” Yusuf lifted her hand to his lips and kissed her fingertips, his eyes fixed on her face. The boys ignored them, intent on tearing open wrapping paper. Yusuf squeezed her hand, then dropped it and joined in with the boys, pushing wrapping paper to the floor. Jennifer sat back and watched, smiling to herself. Seeing her boys enjoy moments she’d never had as a child felt like an accomplishment.

Then her eyes glazed over and she turned away, the boys’ cries fading. 

She couldn’t stop thinking about that damn speech.

Thank you so much to Rachel McLean for allowing me to share this extract with you all. I hope it has tempted you to check this great book out for yourselves.

PURCHASE LINKS:

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