The Senator’s Assignment

2019 – MAY THIS BE A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL MY FRIENDS AND READERS.

And a special ‘thank you’ to all the reviewers who have given ‘The Senator’s Assignment’ such magnificent reviews. As any author will tell you, when you have spent so much sweat and tears on a project it’s wonderful to receive such excellent feedback. It has certainly spurred me on with the sequel, ‘The Senator’s Darkest Days’, which the publishers tell me is due out later this year.  I love that book – perhaps even more that I love ‘The Senator’s Assignment’, but thenI’ve always liked to see the underdog making good, haven’t you?

The speaking engagements are building up as well  which is nice. So please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have a group you’d like me to talk to.  I love meeting new people and telling stories.

God bless you all with health and happiness for 2019.

So what did happen to Pontius Pilate?

Yes, so what did happen to Pontius Pilate? I think that was one of the questions rattling around in my head when I set about writing, ‘The Senator’s Assignment’. The bible gives us a fairly accurate account of what was taking place in Jerusalem through records kept by the disciples, but the people that wrote it were Jews under Roman occupation and their letters, stories and writings centred around the Christian message. Their main objective was to point to Jesus, to invite, challenge, rebuke, encourage and comfort. The Romans and their political pressures played a relatively small part as far as the scriptures are concerned.

When Jesus arrived on the scene, Rome was the most powerful state in the world.
Rome ruled with an iron fist and with cruelty, but it wasn’t all bad. The Romans built roads, introduced technology and brought a more civilised way of living to the lands they conquered – as long as the sovereignty of Rome and the divinity of their emperors was acknowledged. Tough one, especially for the Jews.

‘The Senator’s Assignment’ is the story of Senator Vivius Marcianus who is sent by the Emperor Tiberius to Jerusalem to investigate the cruel and corrupt practices of Pontius Pilate. But Vivius finds his assignment obstructed by Jewish Zealots and unexpected and disturbing flashbacks from his childhood. The intelligent and resourceful Vivius finds he needs to use all his strengths if he is to survive the calculating Pontius Pilate, his conniving and seductive wife, Claudia and his ever deepening and dangerous mission.

Into this story comes Aurelia, who is left in Rome feeling like a woman of no consequence when Vivius postpones their marriage then leaves Jerusalem with barely a word of explanation. Through no fault of her own she finds herself thrust into the political intrigues of Rome and a world dominated by men.
This tense historical thriller is due to be launched by John Hunt Publishing on 26th October.

I’m so excited and I’m even more delighted that the reviews have been pretty good so far. You’ll find the book on Amazon and your local book store in the coming days. Do buy a copy.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

More than a passing fancy

It’s amazing how many people say to me, ‘I wish I could find the time to write. How do you do it?’

The answer is easy. You can always make time for the things you’re passionate about. Are you passionate about your writing? ‘Yes! Yes,’ you say. ‘But time is against me.’

Ah!

My own experience began when my three children were at home and I had a poorly mother to visit.

‘There’s no time to do what I want,’ I bemoaned to a friend.

‘What? Not even over half an hour’s lunch?’ she asked.

I didn’t answer. Instead I turned off the mid-day news and tried writing while I ate.  I discovered that worked reasonably well. Sometimes I only wrote a few lines of a story but found it was so badly written I had to alter it the following day.  Other days my fingers flew over the keys and my head was so full of ideas that I would forget what I’d had for lunch – or if in fact I had eaten at all. But over that half hour I didn’t answer my phone, I ignored my e-mails, stuck the ironing in the cupboard for another day – and simply wrote.

That was the key and it wasn’t long before that daily discipline soon became a habit. I did out my small study-cum-spare room that looks over the Tyne valley and from then on I kept writing.

These days that discipline has stretched to longer than half and hour. It’s a writing routine that has set like cement, so that if a speaking engagement or the family pops up I’m disciplined enough to move that writing block to another part of the day. I also give myself odd days or weeks off to rest, think, soak in, absorb the world at large and so keep my imagination active.

Writing may be creative, but if you’re waiting for inspiration – forget it. Writing boils down to discipline.  Once you’ve mastered that then you’ll have the trill of putting down on paper those inspirational flashes, and the joy of feeling those creative juices flowing into a story only you have to tell.

 

Facebook? Ugh!

But it does have its good points. Take for instance my friend Freda.
She was my best friend when we were at school, my giggling companion during our teens and my supportive bridesmaid when I was married. In fact,one of my fondest memories of her was when we travelled to Ireland with some grand notion of being able to trace her family. That was one of those holidays that I will always treasure, not just because we enjoyed ourselves but because for the first time I fully understood how much it would mean to my childhood friend to find her Danish natural father.
So why, I wonder did Freda and I ever lose touch? I suppose the arrival of children and moving away was partly responsible for us being reduced to the usual cards at Christmas, but there really was no excuse.
So imagine my surprise when struggling to find my way around Facebook (my publishers suggestion – not mine),when my friend Freda popped up accompanied by a stream of photographs. Suddenly I was back in her life again. I was catching up with over forty years of activity. But as I poured over the photographs it was the most recent that brought tears to my eyes. For there was Freda, wreathed in smiles, sitting between two Danish ladies, one of whom is the image of her. Sisters? Yes it was! Freda had found her Danish father’s family in Denmark, although sadly her father had died. I was so happy for her and so proud to have been part of that initial search. The second photo literally send shivers down my spine. It was of Freda’s grandson, a handsome boy of around sixteen or seventeen I guess. Next to it is a photo of Freda’s Danish father taken when he was in his early twenties. The likeness between grandfather and grandson is absolutely astounding. It could almost have been the same person. Freda had found her family.
So although I might not be Facebook’s greatest fan, it’s incidents like that that make it worthwhile for me.

When God created Mothers….

No idea where I discovered this lovely little story but I like it. Hope you do too.
God was creating mothers, and on His 6th day of overtime a puzzled angel, who had been watching the proceedings, came up to Him. ‘You’ve spent a lot of time on this one, Lord. Any reason why?’
God gave a sigh. ‘Have you seen the specification for the order? She’s to have 18,000 moving parts, run on black coffee, have a kiss that cures everything from broken legs to disappointing love affairs, and on top of that she’s to have six pairs of hands.’
The angel blew softly through his lips. ‘No way!’
‘But the challenging bit,’ God continued warming to His theme. ‘Is that she needs eyes in the back of her head and equally important, have eyes that can look at a child who has messed up and say with compassion, ‘I love you anyway.’
The angel shook his head. ‘If you ask me Lord, You need a break.’
‘No way,’ God said. ‘I’m very close to creating something so like myself that I can’t stop now. Already she can heal herself when she’s sick, feed a family on a pound of mince and get a nine-year-old to stand under a shower.’
‘Wow! Good work, Lord!’ the angel responded. He reached out and touched her. ‘She’s so soft.’
‘But tough,’ God answered. ‘You can’t imagine what this mother can endure.’
‘Can it think?’ the angel asked.
‘Not only think, but it can reason and compromise,’ God answered.
Running a finger down the mother’s cheek the angel said, ‘Ah! It’s got a leak.’
‘That’s not a leak,’ God said. ‘It’s a tear.’
‘What for?’ asked the angel.
‘It’s for joy, sadness, paid, disappointment, loneliness and pride.’
The angel clapped his hands. ‘Lord, You’re a genius!’

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

But don’t forget to give a thought for those disappointed in not having the mother that was intended for them; for those sad at missing out on the role of motherhood altogether, for those feeling the pain of a broken relationship with their mother, and for those mothers who feel the loneliness of not having their families around them on this day dedicated to them.

The Forum

Rome wasn’t my long suffering husband’s first choice for a city break, but having heard my book, ‘The Senator’s Assignment’ was to be published, I really wanted to see the area I’d been writing about.  I never dreamed Rome would be bathed in a heat-wave in October.

Regardless, I trailed a red-faced sweating husband up Palatine Hill, and while my imagination saw Praetorian Guards guarding a grand palace, wonderful gardens and the palatial villas of the equestrians, senators and the rich and noble, Colin’s imagination saw an icy cold beer in the shady garden of our hotel. Where I enthused over the magnificence of the Senate House, Colin saw a derelict building, rubble and a pile of old stones.

‘Just think,’ I said excitedly halfway up the hill. ‘My protagonist, Vivius walked up this very hill to receive his assignment from the Emperor Tiberius.’

That was when he stopped to frown at me. ‘Too much sun. Vivius is a figment of your imagination, remember?’

Whoops!

Seeing sights I had only read about when doing my research drew me back to those years of 30-40AD. But it was only when I gave in to the grumbles and joined my husband in an ice cold beer on the terrace of our hotel that evening, that I reflected how that wonderful city of Rome, which had been instrumental in persecuting and killing the early Christians, was now the centre of the Christian Church- the Vatican, the Pope.

Who would have predicted that?  What a strange world we live in.

 

 

A perfect home

In the summer we had a wasps nest.  It was rather inconvenient dragging our guests in by the scruff of their necks before the wasps got at them, although the dishy postman didn’t seem to mind too much. But as Christmas approached and the need for Christmas decorations grew more urgent, Colin, my husband, was forced to venture into the wasp infested loft bedecked in a builder’s hard hat, swimming goggles, a mask and muffled up with a scarf to extract them. What he brought down from the loft instead was a perfectly formed wasps nest, minus the wasps, the size of a football. It was beautiful, exquisite, almost like a tapestry with sections strategically overlapping each other.  It was so lovely I was reluctant to get rid of it. But what exactly does one do with an old wasps nest?

I left it in the garage for over Christmas while I set about decorating my own home; perhaps not as decoratively as the wasps did theirs, but with tinsel, lights and baubles on the tree it was cosy.

But now Christmas is over.  The tinsel lights and baubles are back in their box in the loft along with, I noticed, a number of dead wasps.  And the wasps nest?  Well I’m ashamed to admit that as I had given Colin a lecture on hoarding inconsequential stuff I felt obliged to throw it in the bin.

Happy New Year!

Joan

Your life matters

For some reason, Remembrance Sunday always reminds me of a cold, raw November morning over fifty years ago when I attended my Great-grandfather Bruce’s funeral.

‘I want each of you to remember Bruce as you knew him,’ the minister had said to the scattering of mourners gathered in the church. ‘And for each of you that memory will be different.’

In the silence that followed, I reflected on my Great-grandfather Bruce.  He was a quiet man, obscure almost, but with a warm disposition.  He had worked conscientiously behind the counter in the local Post Office all his life, and served faithfully in the church every Sunday, but I had a really struggle to find a personal memory of him because we’d never been close. Or had we?

My mind suddenly settled on a long forgotten childhood incident.

He’d pulled me on to his lap. Once again I felt the warmth from his flickering coal fire as it cast shadows around the room, heard the hiss of the boiling kettle, and smelled the rich aroma of tobacco from his pipe. His eyes had twinkled kindly at me when he said, ‘Now why are you worried about getting your tonsils out Joanie?’ He had banged the side of his leg with his cane and the sound of wood against wood filled the tiny room. ‘During the war they told me that if I was brave enough to get my leg off they’d present me with this fine new cane – and they did. Now I reckon if I can have a fine new cane, then you should have something for getting your tonsils out.’

I remember looking up hopefully to the mantle-shelf where he kept his sweetie jar and he had chuckled.

‘Aye. I reckon them there black bullets ‘ll be a pretty good cure for a gob missing its tonsils.’

Snuggling into his waistcoat, which had a smell of tobacco and peppermints about it, I realised I was no longer afraid but was comforted by our united experience of sharing a loss.

Perhaps when ‘we remember them’, every Remembrance Sunday, we should also remember the courageous, comforting and encouraging words spoken by our politicians to the people, officers to their men, doctors and nurses to their wounded patients, and thank God for the power of speech.

Perhaps it is also a timely reminder or how words hurt, wound and even start wars, so to be careful what we say.

 

Stop whinging Joan!

Isn’t it great when a publisher drops you that long awaited e-mail accepting your hard-worked manuscript?  There’s a sense of disbelief before your brain picks up that this isn’t another rejection slip. Somebody out there really likes your work. That’s when the euphoria sets in.

My manuscript, ‘The Senator’s Assignment’ has had quite a journey, I can tell you.  It was accepted twice by different publishers before being turned down at their final acquisition meetings. ( How I loathe acquisition meetings.)

Then I was invited to an event taking place in Newcastle run by ACW (Association of Christian Writers) of which I’m a member.  A playwright was the main speaker. Although I’d written a couple of sketches I can’t say they were very good and as play writing is not my first love my gut reaction was to say, ‘thanks very much but no thanks.’ But then began the niggle in the back of my head that I ought to go.  It persisted like a buzzing wasp.  I tried telling myself it was imagination. Why did I want to go to an event I wasn’t particularly interested in? Besides, it was on a Saturday and I don’t do Saturdays. A Saturday is traditionally for me and Colin.  I like my Saturdays.  The buzzing continued with irritating persistence. So much so that the Saturday in question found me standing on the railway platform at 7.55 waiting for the train into Newcastle. Five minutes before the train was due came the announcement over the loud-speakers.

‘Our apologies, but the 8.10am train into Newcastle has been cancelled due to industrial action.

I stood for about ten minutes whinging about the inconvenience to a fellow passenger, or who would have been a fellow passenger if the train had turned up, before realising that if I stopped complaining and got my butt into gear I might just make it to the bus station in time to catch the bus into the city.

Well I did, the event was excellent, but it was the authors I met who were responsible for recommending these publishers to me. I couldn’t help but reflect on my way home how glad I was to have followed these inner promptings. Wish I’d done it without so much grumbling though.

Joan

 

 

A chest of Gold

Guisborough; this old North Yorkshire town with its cobbled streets and tall trees is a delightful place on market day – unless it rains.  Water trickling down the canopies and on to our heads send Colin and I scuttling into a café.  It’s warm, steamy and busy inside. Peeling off our macs we slide into a corner snug.  A family of four dive into the snug opposite.   I run my fingers through my wet hair which hangs like a mop after tackling the kitchen floor.  After tea and toasties, Colin opens a soggy newspaper and engrosses himself in the football page.   That’s when I notice the picture on the menu.  I draw the waitress’s attention to it.

‘Ah! The Priory ruins,’ she says.

‘Worth a visit?’

‘Definitely!’ Her mouth quivers at the corners. ‘Legend has it that a large black raven stands guard over a chest of gold in one of the underground passages.’

An unexpected silence descends on the family snug.

She lowers her voice. ‘Legend also has it that a visitor ventured down the passage one day, came upon the raven and discovered …’ she hesitates, ‘…discovered it was no less than the devil himself.’

Sharp intakes of breath come from the family snug followed by a whispered, ‘Can we go, dad? Can we go to the Priory?’

As the waitress leaves I turn to Colin still absorbed in the football page. ‘Were you listening to that?’

He looks up. ‘Not really.’

‘Would you rather watch the football on TV or go in search of gold at the Priory?’

He glances out of the window to where a watery sun is drying out the cobbled square. ‘I’ve no idea what you’re talking about but as I’m not interested in the local team I guess it’s a trip to the Priory?’

There’s an ominous silence from the family snug as we rise to our feet. Colin catches the father’s eye and nods in his usual friendly manner then backs off sharply at the scowl.

‘Thanks a lot mate,’ the father snaps. ‘You’ve just put paid to my football this afternoon.’

I drag a rather bewildered husband out of the café.