The things you do for love.

Exhauted!

I don’t think Rome would have been Colin’s first choice for a city break, but I really wanted to get a taste of the area I was writing about. So, we booked a short break in October. Nice and cool for walking around, or so I thought. 

On the day we visited the Forum, Rome was in the middle of a heatwave.

And so, I found myself trailing a red-faced, sweating husband up Palatine Hill to the Caesar’s Palace.  I loved it! In my imagination I could almost hear the tramping boots of the elite Praetorian Guards as they marched up and down this hill; see the colourful parades celebrating the Caesars; and the magnificent palatial villas of the rich and noble.

‘Just think,’ I panted halfway up the hill. ‘My hero, Vivius walked up this very hill to get his assignment from the Emperor Tiberius.’

He used this as an excuse to stop and frown at me. ‘I thought Vivius was a figment of your imagination?’

Ah! Yes!

It was no cooler when we trailed back down the hill to explore the market places, I swear I could feel the hustle and bustle of ancient Rome, smell the meat, the fish and vegetables and …

Wonder if there’s anywhere we could find a nice cool beer?’ he said wiping his brow.

I dragged him towards Mamertine Prison. It was dark, suffocating place. I explained that that was where the Roman authorities threw their political prisoners.

He examined it enviously. ‘Looks nice and cool in there.’

The Senate Building, the heart of the Roman Empire, stood tall and proud!

‘I can just imagine the crowds gathered around those huge doors waiting for the Senators’ to fling them open with important announcements,’ I enthused.

 ‘Yeh! Shame! All that’s left now is a derelict old building and a rubble of old stones’

He has no imagination. But then he wasn’t writing my book, was he?

‘What a strange world we live in.’ I mused later that night as we relaxed on our hotel balcony. ‘Who would have predicted that the Emperor Nero would persecute all those Christians in this city and years later it turns out to be the centre of the Christian Church – the Vatican – the Pope?’

There was no answer. He was enthusing over his ice-cold beer.

God is never beaten

Anyone remember Kingsley Terrace Methodist Church in Newcastle.

I was devastated when it closed down in 1960-1 as it had been the church of my grandparents and parents, my Sunday School and youth club etc. It really knocked my faith. I couldn’t believe God would let such a thing happen.

It wasn’t until l reached a point in my life where l didn’t just believe in God but had a deep and meaningful relationship with him that l realised God is far bigger than any institution.

For me that’s one of the good things that’s come out of Covid-19- . I’ve discovered the pleasure of praying with friends further afield via Facetime. I’ve found new – and dredged up a few old preachers via U-tube. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed singing the worship songs I like and singing them as often as I want. Zoom I’m not too keen on but I’ve found friends who aren’t comfortable with church absolutely love it so that’s a bonus. Then, when lockdown began to lift, we had our bible study in a garden with tea and scones with strawberry jam. Never enjoyed bible study as much.

God’s never beaten, is He?

The benefits of being bullied.

They called her Leonora, hardly a fitting name for the school bully but she was my walking nightmare from day one when I crossed the school playground.

‘Hey you! New eh? Where’d you come from?’

She was big for her age and dwarfed her two companions.

I stopped. ‘I went to school in Croydon,’ I said. ‘We’ve just moved up here.’

Hard blue eyes stared unblinking into mine. ‘Croydon eh! Where’s that then?’ Obviously anything south of Sunderland was foreign territory.

‘It’s in Surrey,’ I said. ‘Not far from London.’

Her upper lip curled in disgust and big buck teeth moved frightening close to my face. ‘Get lost posh pants! We don’t want no foreigners here. We’re sending you to Coventry.’

I wanted to retort, ‘I’m surprised you know where Coventry is – it being south of Sunderland,’ but my hands were shaking and the lump in my throat threatened to give way to a sob.

Leonora’s bullying tactics continued…..

The benefits of being bullied? They came many years later when the idea of writing was but a seed in the back of my mind. “Write what you know,” I was told and being bullied was something I knew about. And so began a long outpouring of the heart, the fears, the loneliness, the pain that comes with being bullied. But oddly enough, as I wrote and rewrote that same incident, I discovered not just a healing process but that humour was creeping in. In fact, by the time I’d finished it I felt confident to send this, my first piece of writing, off to a published. Two weeks later the local newspaper published it and paid me! Yeh!

Thanks Leonora!

The Writing Journey

Thinking back over too many years that I care to count, I have a vague recollection of where my writing journey started. It was in Croydon, in Surrey, and I was about six.  We’d moved from Newcastle upon Tyne. The house itself was a three storey monstrosity with lodgers on the top floor called Mary and Harold, and it stood opposite a derelict piece of land where a doodle bug had fallen during the war – not that I can remember it I hasten to add. It was a few years before my time. The site was now a factory that made stands for the forthcoming coronation of the Queen. It wasn’t in a particularly nice area but it was the only house my parents could afford at the time – and the only one available.

The main problem with moving from the north to the south of the country was no-one at school seemed to understand my ‘Geordie’ accent so I was forced to endure catty remarks and teasing.  I found it really hard, especially when all I wanted to do was make friends. But then two remarkable girls appeared in my life.

Beverly Anastaner and Lavinia McLauchlin.  They were the same age as me – six, and you’d never believe the warmth of friendship I formed with these two dear girls and how grateful I was for the way they eased my loneliness. They never teased me, and were never catty or made snide remarks.  They were perfect – because they came out of my imagination.

Of course, at six, there was no great awareness that I wanted to write. That emerged gradually as I began to achieve top grades for English, compositions and reading and wallowed in the praises of my teacher, but found myself scraping across the floor in the maths and sciences and having to endure detention. That was when I realised I’d be better off sticking to the things I was good at.  Isn’t it strange how discovering your role in life can come out of painful experiences?

Pixie Potter – the scatter-brain

Many years ago, I took the plunge and joined an amateur dramatic group.

The problem began when, having had such rave reviews in the local newspaper, we decided our next production simply had to be the sequel to that play. Delighted, I picked up my previous role again.

Halfway through the performance, I was throwing myself into the part of Pixie Potter, a scatter-brained hippy with my fellow thespian, Jim, when to my horror I found myself reverting back to the lines of our previous production. With a packed house I had no other option but to keep going. Actually, I was unable to stop. I was stuck fast in the lines from the previous play and I had no idea how to get out of them and back into this one.

I saw Jim’s eyes widen in disbelief – then panic – as it dawned on him what I’d done. The expression on his face never wavered but I could see his brain scrambling back over the months and through the pages of the previous play – until he realised where I was. Calmly, and without hesitation, he replied – from the previous play – and page for page we followed the old script.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see the prompter in the wings flicking frantically through the pages trying to find our lines, and I thought, ‘She’ll have a job! We’re in the wrong play.‘ Gareth, our producer – a man we were proud of; a man of great experience having produced a London show and only retired because of a heart condition, was standing behind the prompter gradually turning grey. Fortunately, years of experience stood him in good stead. Grabbing a member of the cast he placed his hands on her shoulders ready to push her on if we didn’t recover. The poor girl looked terrified.

By now we must have covered a page and a half of the previous play. Although, oddly enough, not a soul in the audience appeared to have twigged on.

The quiet prompt from the wings came suddenly and without warning. It gave Jim the line he needed. He leapt on it, caressing each word with relief as though it was a long lost friend. Generous actor that he was, he gave me a subtle hint and I was able to follow with the right response. Of course if he hadn’t … ! Amazingly, we received a standing ovation.

Yet despite the shambles, and Gareth having to take a pill, I learned an important lesson that night. It didn’t matter whether I was the leading lady, the prompter in the wings, making tea or was just an ‘extra’, the important thing was to do my part as best I could. And if I messed up? Then I had the rest of the production team to rely on.

Teamwork made us successful – despite our faults and inadequacies.

And that’s how we’ll beat this bug and anything else that comes our way as individuals, as families, or as a country. Teamwork! Each of us doing our bit and picking each other up when we mess up or fall down.

Fear not!

It was a grey and drizzly afternoon during the Covid-19 lockdown so I decided to treat myself to a coffee, a doughnut and a sprawl on the couch watching a chick-flic – or something.

The ‘something’ turned out to be a science fiction film. Not my favourite genre but the message really impacted me.

It is a time when earth’s atmosphere is so polluted mankind has been forced to live on another planet. But it’s a planet of giant locusts. They can’t see you but when they smell your fear – they attack. (Yes, I know – silly – but stay with me!)

Will Smith, a fearless commander, sets off on a routine trip with his teenage son Jaden, and a handful of passengers, but the space ship crashes and on impact breaks up, and everyone is killed except Will and Jaden.

With two broken legs, Will is unable to reach the rescue beacon situated in the other half of the spacecraft scattered some 25 miles away, so the task is left to his son, Jaden. This is a dangerous mission, as there are only a limited number of air capsules, the climate is foul, the animals wild, and there are these giant locusts to contend with.

As the terrified Jaden sets off, his father speaks to him through his wrist TV screen.

Son,’ he said. ‘Fear is not real.  The only place that fear can exist is in our fear of the future. Fear is a product of our imagination causing us to fear things that at present are not real and may never even come into existance. To fear them is insane. Danger, on the other hand, is very real and should not be ignored. But fear is choice. In fearing, we’re telling ourselves a story.’

Jaden reaches the scattered spacecraft. He finds the crew dead and a giant locust hovering nearby. Jaden is terrified. But then he hears his father’s voice in his head.

Fear is not real. It has no substance. Choose NOT to fear.’

Jaden regroups within himself. Staying perfectly still, he closes his eyes, and turns his fears into positive and hopeful thoughts. A peace fills him.

The giant locust, who is only destructive when it smells fear, is thwarted. It cannot harm him because it cannot smell his fear. Jaden wins the day.

Yes, I know, silly little story, but is it?

Let’s not ignore the danger of Covid-19, but let’s not live in fear of it by listening to stories over-sensationalised by the news media, or friends or colleagues who like to dwell on negativities. So much good can come out of this monstrous virus. Like …. Go on! List them.

Climate change … electric cars … review of NHS ….

Stay well – stay safe – stay positive – and be not afraid.

How about a sequel?

When the publishers asked for a sequel to ‘The Senator’s Assignment’ I was so excited – until I actually thought about it.

 I had just finished reading one book only to discover the author kept making reference to events that had occurred in a previous book. It was most frustrating. Too many films and literature expand on previous work, so I was determined my book would stand on its own merit.

I asked myself what the readers liked best about ‘The Senator’s Assignment?’ The reviews tell me they loved the atmosphere; the noise, bustle and smells of the Jerusalem markets; the lofty imposing buildings in Rome, the historical facts and the clashes of the different cultures.  Yes! I’d keep those. 

And characters? My protagonist, an austere senator by the name of Vivius, was popular but everyone seemed to love a lesser character, Dorio Suranus. A decurion who, having suffered the loss of an arm in battle, had become a womaniser and drinker. I’d always had a sneaking liking for Dorio myself. They would have to stay central to the plot.

Ah! The plot! The reader would want a fresh new plot – but so did I! Then I had it! My first book had taken place a year after the crucifixion, when Tiberius was Emperor of Rome, and who should follow him but the mad and colourful Caligula. Wow! Loads of material there! I began to rake crazily through my historical research notes.

It was only as the plot began to take shape in my head that I discovered a great new character emerging. A gutsy Jewess who wasn’t afraid of these Romans who had barged into her country. I took to her immediately. But to raise her profile I had to release someone else, otherwise I would end up with an excess number of characters. This was the sad part; having to work out who had outrun their usefulness.

Now I was ready to pick up my pen – well open my laptop – and allow my austere senator to step on to my pages. And whoops! A drunken Dorio charged after him. As my fingers pounded the keys, I discovered I knew them so well, I knew exactly what they would do in every situation I opened up for them. It was wonderful falling in love with my heroes again! in ‘The Senator’s Darkest Days‘.

How to be an over-comer.

Yeh! What a thrill to have my book launched!  Actually, I’m not sure where John Hunt Publishing have launched it to as the shops are all closed, or who they’ve launched it at, as everyone’s in lock-down, but at least it’s out there – somewhere – and they’ve even got it in e-book.  

Of course, the title, ‘The Senator’s Darkest Days’ is uncannily topical for the current situation. But in fairness, there wasn’t a hint of a virus when I wrote it.  However, on the positive side, it is relevant to what’s happening today. One of my main characters, Dorio, a young disabled decurion who spends more time drinking, messing up and failing in life than doing anything positive or memorable, is faced with a terrifying situation. Can he turn the tide and make good, not just for himself but for those around him?

This historical thriller is well researched and a real page turner,’ said one of my reviews. Yeh! (again)

Yes, I confess, this is a plug for my book. I had to do something, didn’t I?  But in fact, it’s more than that. “A real page turner” suggests the reader is engrossed and that’s exactly what we need at this present time.  Something to engross us, something to take our minds off the present state of affairs, for a while at any rate. Something to transport us into a world where coronavirus is non-existent, and characters have other obstacles to overcome – and they do.  So, you’re not a historical thriller fan? That’s fine.  I’m not offended. There’s nothing wrong with a chic-lit or a Jack Reacher or a Jane Austen.  Whatever makes you feel good and engrosses you. That’s the secret to easing tension, lifting depression and chasing away those fears.  Go on!  Spoil yourself. Be an ‘over-comer’ like the character in my book.

Links:

The Big launch

So here it is – the big launch. Yeh!

What I should be doing is signing and selling books but my book signing ventures have been put on hold as the book shops are closed and all the speaking engagements I’d had lined up are cancelled! Even the newspaper has cancelled my interview. And you don’t need to guess why. Yes! This awful coronavirus has me well and truly locked down, so the only thing I’m launching today is my very good neighbour with my credit card who has offered to get my shopping in.

But in the midst of all this bad news let’s keep positive, shall we? At least this virus is having an impact on the environment. Carbon emissions have reduced drastically throughout the world. In some places as much as 50%. Wow! We’re doing in a matter of weeks what was expected to take years. There are now fish in the canals of Venice and even swans have turned up the grace its waters. Fighting around the world diminishes as enemies suddenly find a common foe in a virus, and a wonderful community spirit has emerged. All our neighbours placed a candle in their window Sunday night as a sign of hope and the effect was lovely – especially for those living alone. And as I write this the sun is shining and bright yellow daffoldils adorn my garden.

The other good news is that we’re all doing more reading. In my previous post I told you all about ‘The Senator’s Darkest Days’ which is the sequel to ‘The Senator’s Assignment‘. If responses so far are anything to go by, I promise you’ll enjoy it.

Links : https://www.amazon.co.uk/Senators-Darkest-Days-Joan-Histon/dp/1789042224/ref

https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/tophat-books/our-books/senators-darkest-days

‘The Senator’s Darkest Days’

Yeh! So excited! The second in my ‘Senator’ series is to be launched on 24th March.

The story takes place in 40AD.

Despite the threat of bloodshed, Senator Vivius Marcianus travels to Jerusalem to investigate the delay in erecting the Emperor’s statue in the Jewish temple. Failure is not an option. But when Vivius is wounded and imprisoned, it is left to Dorio, his brother-in-law, to rescue his heavily pregnant sister and her children and set about proving Vivius’s innocence.’

I loved the idea of Dorio, the underdog messing up but coming good despite all odds. That, and the political intrigues of the time, are two of the reasons I wrote The Senator’s Darkest Days’, and from the few who’ve had a sneak preview of it the response is even more positive than for the first book.

Joan Histon has created another engaging page-turner as she revisits the ruthless and often brutal political world of ancient Rome in her sequel the Senator’s Assignment’. Once more her attention to detail and ability to craft a tale of conspiracy and intrigue against this seditious period in world history are perfectly aligned in this gripping thriller.”

The Senator’s Darkest Days” is a captivating and compelling thriller. Joan Histon weaves her story with well imagined descriptions of the people and places of the time immersing us in the political intrigues of Caligula’s Roman Empire

So I shall be doing my bit and bombarding social media news of the launch at the end of March. So please wish me ‘God speed’ because you know how I struggle with technology.