Publication Day!

The Heights – a beautiful cover from the team at HQDigital.

Today is the best day of a writer’s calendar… it’s publication day for a new book.

It’s also the birthday of a new writing identity… Juliet Bell.

The book is The Heights – a book I’ve been wanting to write for a very long time. It’s an adaptation of Wuthering Heights, which is one of my all-time favourite books.

Wuthering Heights is one of those books that people tend to either love or hate. It’s dark and disturbing and the characters tend to also be dark and not particularly likeable. Many, many people die in Wuthering Heights and it doesn’t exactly have a happy ending. While it’s often referred to as romantic novel, I don’t think it is. It’s a look at the darker side of relationships, and for me is totally compelling. I’ve read it many times, and no matter how familiar the story is, it always captivates me.

Wuthering Heights is also one of those books that everybody ‘knows’. Even people who have never read it know it’s about the relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy, and a lot of people have seen film and TV adaptations that focus on that relationship, quite often painting it as love, when I think it’s really a dark obsession that destroys everyone it touches. That’s what I always wanted to draw out – the tragedy in the novel. But I hesitated to try and that’s where Juliet Bell comes in.

I wanted to set this exploration of the story in the same place as the original and I wanted to set the story of isolation and alienation and obsession against the turmoil of the Thatcher years and the miners’ strike. Being Australian, I didn’t think any amount of research could give me the right voice for Yorkshire and that time of great social upheaval. But a casual conversation at a writer’s conference led to a more serious lunchtime conversation and a collaboration with Alison May. Alison is a friend, a fine writer and a northerner. She also loves Wuthering Heights and is interested in heroes who are not that heroic.

It took several months, a lot of lunches and some cloud storage but The Heights was born. We’re both very proud of the book and there is another Juliet Bell novel already underway.

We chose Bell for our collaborative name as a tribute to Emily Brontë, of course.

That’s Juliet’s story – and here’s The Heights…

The searchers took several hours to find the body, even though they knew roughly where to look. The whole hillside had collapsed, and there was water running off the moors and over the slick black rubble. The boy, they knew, was beyond their help. This was a recovery, not a rescue.

A grim discovery brings DCI Lockwood to Gimmerton’s Heights Estate – a bleak patch of Yorkshire he thought he’d left behind for good. There, he must do the unthinkable, and ask questions about the notorious Earnshaw family.

Decades may have passed since Maggie closed the pits and the Earnshaws ran riot – but old wounds remain raw. And, against his better judgement, DCI Lockwood is soon drawn into a story of an untameable boy, terrible rage, and two families ripped apart.

A story of passion, obsession, and dark acts of revenge. And of beautiful Cathy Earnshaw – who now lies buried under cold white marble in the shadow of the moors.

Today the book goes out into the world – and I’m sitting here hoping the world will think we’ve done the original justice.

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Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni only 99p on Kindle Countdown

drunk chickens - web ready99p spent on Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni will bring hours of reading pleasure as you journey through Afghanistan becoming caught up in the day-to-day lives of women like Sharifa, Latifa and Marzia, sharing their problems, dramas, the tears and the laughter: whether enjoying a good gossip over tea and fresh nan, dealing with a husband’s desertion or battling to save the life of a one-year-old opium addict. You can buy the book here.

The short excerpt below is from the journey and arrival at the clinic where I spent the following months establish a health volunteer programme with village women.

“The dramatic, rugged mountains of the HiDSCF1048ndu Kush formed a constantly changing backdrop – their kaleidoscopic colours varying from slate grey through earthy brown to rosy pink – as we travelled towards Bamiyan, the capital of Hazara Jat. This small, nondescript town and its surrounding areas, is steeped in history. Once, it was part of the ancient silk road, covering the route that led between Balkh and Tashkurghan, to Taxila, far away in Pakistan’s province of Punjab. Caravans laden with luxuries stopped to rest in Bamiyan’s fertile valley before continuing their arduous journeys.

We arrived at the clinic shortly before dusk DSCF1071on the fourth day of travelling. … It was utter bliss to stretch out after dinner, glass of tea in hand, relishing the fact that I would not, at four o’clock next morning, have to clamber, bleary eyed, into my corner of the jeep for another bone shaking twelve hour journey. The prospect of being able to sleep for as long as I wanted next morning was wonderful. I had forgotten that two year olds have much more efficient recuperative powers, and next morning David, thoroughly refreshed and ready for action, woke at dawn. Excited about seeing cows and calves, sheep, goats and donkeys – all within reach – he couldn’t wait to be out exploring his new world.

Iqbal’s clinic was a small, dilapidascan0002ted building on the edge of the village. The mud walls were a foot and a half thick, while the flat roof was constructed of straight, poplar tree trunks, interwoven with branches, topped by several layers of mud. The tiny windows were designed more for keeping out the bitter cold in winter, than for allowing in light. A large room where we gathered to eat, drink tea and entertain guests doubled as sleeping quarters for the staff – driver Abdul Ali, cook Ibrahim, field assistant Hassan, and Iqbal.

DSCF1061After a few days, I stopped reaching for a light switch when it grew dark, waiting instead for someone to light the pressure lamp, known as the gaz. To my shame, I never learned the knack of lighting these temperamental things and I was useless at keeping them alight when the pressure began to fall. If the light dimmed, furious pumping was required to raise the pressure, followed by some mysterious twiddling of a red knob. Whenever pushed, by necessity, to attempt any of this myself, I invariably plunged the room into darkness, or set the entire contraption alight.

In time, too, I remembered the pit latrine, a hundred yards from thscan0001e clinic, had no flush. It had no door, either. A curtain made of old sackcloth – full of holes – suspended over the entrance gave only the illusion of privacy. The occupier was expected to cough loudly at the approach of another party.

When I was in occupation, no amount of coughing prevented women – who, amongst themselves, had none of the men’s sense of modesty – from joining me. Many a medical consultation was conducted while I squatted, flushed with embarrassment, over the hole.

‘Go and see Dr. Iqbal,’ I’d plead, but in vain. The women who followed me to the loo did so because they were too shy to mention gynaecological problems to a man. They would be clutching little packets of paracetamol, prescribed because, overcome by horror at discussing such personal matters, they had instead complained to Iqbal of headaches.”

And if you are wondering about those drunk chickens – well, you can find out by buying the book here.

The Rosie’s Book Review Team (#RBRT) awards. VOTE NOW for your 2017 favourite.

Absolutely thrilled to find Donkey Boy & Other Stories is a finalist in Rosie Amber’s book awards for 2017.

Rosie Amber

The Rosie’s Book Review Team (#RBRT) awards are back! 

Now in their third year, I’m delighted to open the public vote.  The books were chosen from the hundreds submitted to our team for review in 2017.   My team of reviewers were asked to nominate their favourites; here are those that made the final cut.

You may vote for one book in each category.  Please only vote for books that you honestly feel deserve an award, in accordance with the authenticity of my team’s reviews.

Voting closes on December 15th and the results will be announced  on Tuesday December 19th.

Meanwhile, huge congratulations to all the finalists!

Fantasy /Scifi

General Contemporary Fiction

Historical

Mystery / Thriller

Non-Fiction

Romance

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donkey boy & other stories out now in paperback

donkey boy book-cover-k v1I’m delighted to announce the paperback version of Donkey Boy & Other Stories is now available.

I had a launch event recently along with fellow author Lynn Otty who has also brought out her own collection of short stories called Having a Ball & Other Stories.

It was a lovely evening and great to see so many friends who came along to share in our celebrations with fizz and nibbles, a couple of short readings, lots of sales and a lot of chatter. Only, we forgot to take any photos apart from one Lynn’s son took before our guests arrived.

having a ball front coverDonkey Boy has already started to collect some fabulous reviews on Amazon and on review sites such as this one, which had me dancing round my desk, on Linda’s Book Bag:
“With under 80 pages, Donkey Boy and Other Stories can fit into any reader’s busy life.

What a little gem this book is. There’s a super variety of stories packed with atmospheric and entertaining writing containing both pathos and humour. Mary Smith manages to convey clear and distinct voices for each of her brilliant characters, from a Pakistani boy to an elderly Scottish woman. What I liked so much about every one of them is at I felt I knew them instantly and understood them completely but without the author imposing her own judgement on them as they make their way through life.

I loved the unifying themes across each of the stories too. Whilst each story has its own unique identity, Mary Smith explores themes that encroach into all our lives, from poverty in third world countries, through domestic abuse to mental health, grief, fear, love and disability. She does so with skill and finesse, never preaching, but conveying a wonderful sense of humanity for the misrepresented, lost and lonely and for those living unconventionally or outside social norms. I enjoyed every single tale, but especially the last in the book, The Thing in Your Eye, with its slightly supernatural undercurrent as Molly sees ‘Nasties’ in strangers’ eyes. The opening story, Donkey Boy, set in Pakistan also made me think about my own behaviour as I shall be travelling to India next year and will obviously be tipping those I come into contact with.

I really appreciated Mary Smiths wonderful craft in creating a sense of place, time and person so that although these are brief stories, each has a completeness and there’s real satisfaction in reading them.

I found Donkey Boy and Other Stories a moving, engaging and beautifully written collection that has the ability to touch the reader, make them thankful for their own life and to make them think. I’m delighted to have read it.”

And this ‘little gem’ of a book is an absolute bargain, if I say so myself, at only £4.50.

Buy it here: www.smarturl.it/dbaos

lynn and mary