Samantha Henthorn and Lindsay McKinnon give an interview on Rossendale Radio about ‘My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister’.
It was a cold and frosty evening when Lindsay McKinnon and I ventured north to Rossendale for an interview at the fabulous radio station Rossendale Radio (104.7 FM ). Fortunately for us, we were chauffeured to the studio by a handsome and charming man – that’s why I married him, Mr Henthorn has a good sense of direction.
We were invited to talk about my psychological fiction ‘My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister’ with Marie Baistow who hosts a weekly show called ‘Mental Health Matters‘. The novel explores the emotional well being of the protagonist, Epiphany (Pippa for short), a forty-year-old woman who has held an unhelpful belief system for the past twenty years. She has suffered in silence with depression and has made little progress with her life. As the novel unfolds, readers learn how a strange visit by her half-sister’s half-sister, Sadie, changed her life.
Rossendale Radio presenter Marie Baistow works as an Occupational Therapist for the NHS and at the start of the pandemic began presenting the weekly show which offers a much needed voice for anyone in the Rossendale Valley who is thinking of improving their mental and emotional well being.
My novel My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister opens with Pippa’s memory of a school swim class when she was around seven years old. There she meets Sadie, her half-sister’s half-sister. Sadie is confident, care free, and immediately becomes Pippa’s hero.
This girl never seems bothered that she can’t swim. I think she is a year older than me and from a different school. Different, except we all get banded together. The different ones, the ones who can’t swim.
Lindsay treated us to a reading of this prologue, it will make you cry and laugh at the same time because it is the moment that epitomises Pippa’s belief system – she wants to be someone else.
Unfortunately, a playback of last night’s interview is not available currently. The audiobook of My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister is due to be released this spring.
We spoke about the use of language in the novel. As a former RMN, I was able to confidently use phrases associated with mental illness in a favourable way for the protagonist. I feel that this discourse is useful to promote understanding and makes Pippa relatable.
We spoke about the novel’s ending – the twist (Pippa is an unreliable narrator so this plot thread is essential). I won’t give away the ending here, only to say that your half-sister’s half-sister could be you. Sadie is everything Pippa wants to be so is able to persuade Pippa that her mother and sister are witches.
Lindsay gave another reading of Pippa’s experience as an inpatient of an acute psychiatric unit, she trusted in one health professional (a psychologist called Dr Schofield) who helped her to come to terms with her heavy drinking and completed a recovery – sort of. The final chapter of My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister is bitter sweet because although Pippa is well enough to live a happy and safe life with her boyfriend, Ben, she continues to lack insight into her magical thinking. OR DOES SHE? I intentionally created an open ended narrative – what she believes about her mother and sister could be true. They could be witches, and as this would feed into Pippa’s ruminations about being left out of the family circle it puts her at risk of possible relapse.
If you are interested in My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister click HERE
If you are interested in joining my mailing list to find out the moment the audiobook is released click HERE
If you are interested in Rossendale Radio click HERE
Lindsay McKinnon I believe is available for voice-over work (provided she is not narrating one of my books 🙂 ) Lindsay’s website is HERE
Happy reading everyone, and positive vibes for your emotional well being, Samantha
Merry Christmas from me and everyone at Curmudgeon Avenue, I hope you have a fun and festive time.
Books make great presents, don’t they?
Here is my present to you, TWELVE FREE BOOKS!
Click HERE to download a free E-copy of any (or all of these Christmassy winter tales).
I will keep this post short and sweet (I’m sure you have mince pies and Christmas TV to be getting on with). I’ve been feeling tired probably because of MS, the time of year, and I’m still getting over the publication of MY HALF-SISTER’S HALF-SISTER!
When I was a child (about four or five), I remember visiting two ‘aunties’ who lived in a marvellous house with a big bay window on a road that my dad had called ‘Millionaire’s Row’. These two women were extremely glamourous, with mauve and grey-toned clothes and knee-high boots. I don’t remember their names. ANYWAY, years later I asked my mum who these two women were; she had no idea. Maybe I dreamt them, or maybe they were Jacquetta and Heather – two of the main characters in My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister.
‘Epiphany! Epiphany!’ Mummy shouts from downstairs. I hear her key turn halfway, and she’s muttering to herself, inviting all kinds to unlock the door to my flat.
‘Epiphany, what’s wrong with your front door?’ Mummy shouts.
Yes. Epiphany is my name – Pippa for short, strictly Pippa for short. I don’t mind Pip but definitely not Epiphany. When Mummy was pregnant with my older sister, she intended to name her Hazel. Right up to the last minute, Hazel. Then a midwife told her that Hazel is a witch’s name, and this put her off. So, Mummy chose the name Heather. It suits her because my sister’s eyes shine hazel when she’s excited.
In the above words, you have met Epiphany (Pippa for short) and her mother, Jacquetta. I hope you have picked up that Jacquetta is a demonstrative busy body, letting herself in at her daughter’s front door. ‘Inviting all kinds to unlock the door’ and changing her mind about the name ‘Hazel’ because of something the midwife said.
Read Jacquetta, and think Geraldine McEwan in Mapp and Lucia circa 1985 – but include paranormal persecutions.
Has Jacquetta changed her mind about witchcraft? – I do love a conflicted character.
Pippa’s sister Heather is a confident and content green goddess. Think Courtney Love in the biographical drama Beat (insert an English accent).
No doubt Heather would have been filled in about my holiday at home. And if John can stop watching the news for once, the cat will be out of the bag about Ben and me separating.
Today was meant to be a good day, but now I can see Heather walking across my imagined moat.
I miss Sadie.
‘Sweetie, are you alright?’ Heather has let herself in via the door (the same one that Mummy has trouble opening).
‘In here,’ I answer Heather without answering her.
‘I’d love a cup of tea if you’re making one.’
I wasn’t, but I am in the kitchen, mainly to look out of the window onto the road below. I usually have to stay here a while until I have spotted a second magpie.
‘So, how are you?’ I ask Heather. I never quite know what to talk about with my sister.
‘No! How are you? I never did like that freeloader, and I’m glad he’s dumped you.’
‘Thanks?’ I answer Heather with a question.
‘I’m not glad for you, obviously. Breaking up is hard to do, Pippa. It happens to the best of us, even me.’ Heather helps herself to two mugs from my cupboard and gazes longingly at the kettle. It seems Mummy’s bitter coffee has not quenched her thirst.
I hope that the above exchange illustrates Pippa’s strained relationship with her sister Heather.
Pippa has not seen Sadie since school swim class. Sadie visits unexpectedly and turns Pippa’s life upside-down.
You must be tempted to meet Sadie. I spent a year waiting to write her story, and when I did, she took over my life as much as she did my protagonist, Pippa’s.
We learn very little about Sadie’s existence. She doesn’t seem to have a job, relationship or home. What she does have is Pippa’s attention and she takes her round the mulberry bush many times, on many mornings throughout the novel. Sadie takes no prisoners, yet she is fun and supportive.
Sadie is everything Pippa wants to be.
Pippa’s boyfriend telephones her at work, letting her know that her sister has called round. Pippa finds this strange because Heather is always visiting – why would Ben contact her at work to tell her something that happens regularly? When Pippa arrives home, Ben is on his way out and Pippa sees someone sitting in her front room that is not her sister.
‘Were you expecting the Pocahontas of Pendle?’ Sadie grins.
‘What! You can’t say that!’ she meant Heather, who lives in Pendle and does look a bit like she’s descended from America’s past.
‘Why not? Look.’ Sadie performs a centre parting in her lengthy black hair and two plaits appear (in record time). ‘Heather and I have our dad’s genes. You know as well as I do that Oswald’s great-great, however-many-grandads was one of the Salford Sioux, so if I was teased at school about it, then it’s fine for me to say it about Heather.’
I had to make Sadie the opposite of Pippa, this is why her father (not the same person as Pippa’s father) is descended from the Salford Sioux (I’ve added a handy link for you to check out). I worked in Salford for twenty years as a nurse. I learnt that Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show visited Britain at the request of Queen Victoria and they arrived via The Manchester Ship Canal. This was in the winter of 1888 and some of the Salford Sioux stayed in the area (making their home on the banks of the River Irwell). Imagine yourself a Salford woman in Victorian times – descendants of this fabulous story live in the area today, and as my community boss once said to me ‘they say that if you think you’re descended from the Salford Sioux – you probably are.’ I think it was then that I decided I would weave this thread into something I wrote.
Sadie is not all good…
I’m not telling you any more than that. You’ll have to read it.
Even though I knew that by the time I had written my ‘sister book’ publishing trends would have progressed, but I couldn’t get ‘sister’ out of my head.
Siblings never go out of fashion.
One of my favourite books (and my own sister’s teasing stick) was My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards (illustrated by Shirley Hughes).
‘Sisters’ are not the only trope that has been swirling around my writing for years. I’ve been obsessed with witches since I was little. If you’ve read my blog before you will have seen how I was named after the protagonist from 1960s sitcom Bewitched, you will have seen how I read books such as Witchdust by Mary Welfare and The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy and met and was baptised a witch at age 6 on a family day out to Pendle.
(Or was I?)
Pippa, the protagonist of My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister is not a witch, she is a forty-year-old woman trying to make sense of her life. When Sadie visits (her sister’s half-sister), Pippa starts to think that her mother and sister Heather are witches. All the evidence is there; Heather is a green goddess and Jacquetta (Pippa’s mother) is obsessed with the patron saint of keys. You would have to read on to find out the details – I want readers to either believe in Pippa’s breakdown or that her family are actually a nest of vipers.
If you’ve ever read or seen Fight Club or read Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih you’ll be well versed with books that leave you not knowing what to believe. Plus, we have all lived through some uncertain times recently, so I think mind-bending is on its way in literature.
There is a debate going on (I’ve heard it in pubs, I’ve read it in reviews and I’ve tormented my own thoughts) about lockdown in literature. If you saw the Channel 4 drama Help earlier this year then you’ll know that this kind of pandemic narrative must be highlighted in any genre it can be. I am of the opinion that literature has a job; if stories are about people then people should be about stories. We are all wondering if the pandemic has taught us anything, and we should be reading books to help process the volume of information, emotions, bereavement, culture shocks and psychic storm-trooping we’ve all been through.
I’m not saying My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister is the answer to any and all pandemic woes; what I am saying is it HAD to be set at the end of the lockdown… it just had to be. Pippa needed to have an epiphany.
When writing My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister, I had to come up with an occupation for Pippa. I had also been reading and rereading Good Morning Midnight by Jean Rhys (for my creative writing degree). I really wanted to include an intertextual reference, and before I knew it, Rhys’s Mr Blank became Pippa’s Mr Bland; and Pippa became an accountant ‘doing sums’ (Sadie’s words).
Actually, my darling daughter is an accountant. We text each other every day and have our own little ‘text speak’ language. A while ago, I started asking her if she had ‘done any really hard sums’ at work… obviously I was teasing (that’s just our sense of humour) but it stuck. I asked my daughter, and she didn’t mind if that Pippa also ‘does sums’ at work (creative licence applied – I know that accountancy is a complicated occupation).
I used to be a psychiatric nurse until it was made impossible for me to continue working (my RMN career ended after I was diagnosed with MS). Reading and writing saved my mental health when faced with the vast culture shock of retiring at 39. That was almost eight years ago, and I’ve come a long way since. The older I get, the easier it becomes to face up to the serious side of life (especially when you write). It all fitted into place, and the protagonist of My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister started to shape into a character who could inspire hope (or at least seek help).
Because Pippa loves reading, I had to make literature part of the narrative. I achieved this with plenty of intertextual references, starting with the nursery rhyme ‘Here we go Round the Mulberry Bush’ (said to be written by female inmates of HMP Wakefield in the 19th century), and fitting because Pippa is stuck going round in circles with her female relatives.
Pippa compares herself to two of Hardy’s protagonists, the forsaken Tess Durbeyfield and the confident heroine Bathsheba Everdene. In the story, this reflected Pippa’s journey.
During writing, I was concerned about overdoing the references to other texts, then I remembered reading and loving the modern classic ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’ by Jeanette Winterson. There is almost an intertextual reference on every page, and Jeanette Winterson is a genius.
By this stage of writing My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister, Pippa had taken over and told me what to write (see my other posts about my writing being powered by witchcraft).
If I really dig deep, this book started with a memory. When I was a child (about four or five), I remember going to visit two ‘aunties’ who lived in a marvellous house with a big bay window on a road that my dad had called ‘Millionaire’s Row’. These two women were extremely glamourous, with mauve and grey-toned clothes and knee-high boots. I don’t remember their names. ANYWAY, years later I asked my mum who these two women were; she had no idea. Maybe I dreamt them, or maybe they were Jacquetta and Heather – two of the main characters in My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister.
Pippa has a secret, will you believe what she has to say?
I do have an older sister, and no the book is DEFINATELY NOT about her. However, this is why I chose the hyphenated way of writing half-sister for the title – there are actually five ways to write the title My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister:
My half-sister’s half-sister My Half Sister’s Half Sister My Half-sister’s Half-sister My half sister’s half sister My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister
I recently had a conversation with my sister-in-law about enjoying books with a quirky and different plot (like mine) so I dedicated the book to her.
Deeper inspirations flow through My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister that I can’t reveal because that would be a spoiler!
Thank you for reading my blog today, My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister is available to pre-order from Amazon now (release date 30/11/21). See my Facebook Author page for #BlackFridayDeals. Audiobook in production.
In chapter nine, we find out why Halloween was once banned at Curmudgeon Avenue, and how Harold and Edith brought it back with their comedy-drama style.
Chapter 9: The Halloween Party
On this particular week in Whitefield, the streets were filled with the colours of Halloween. Orange pumpkins both produce and plastic, the ghostly whites of costumes, and skies of purple and grey before (bonfire night delivers a modern-day fog). Say what you like about the people of Manchester, they know how to enjoy themselves, (particularly in Whitefield, where as you know, it is any excuse to get wasted).
‘I should have let Patchouli have this party. I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for when I said yes to our Ricky,’ said Edith, from under a pile of fake cobwebs. (Erm, yes, you should have Edith, and yes, you did know). ‘Edna would not have allowed this. No way. She would not have allowed a party at Curmudgeon Avenue.’
(I miss Edna).
‘Edna?’ said Harold while pretending to carve a pumpkin. ‘It’s a shame your sister isn’t here, Edith, she could have answered the door to the trick-or-treaters. She wouldn’t have had to get dressed up! In fact, Edna could have gone trick or treating herself!’ Harold laughed at his own joke while spraying the kitchen with stringy pumpkin flesh and sticky seeds. Edith did not like Harold’s teasing about Edna, but was unable to make it stop.
‘Be careful, Harold, I’m going to make pumpkin soup with those insides… Put them in the bowl, will you?’
‘Yes, boss,’ said Harold. (Oh dear, that is another annoyance).
After another trip to the off licence, (with Edith’s purse), Harold insisted on making his signature dish – Radcliffe Hors d’oeuvres (mini cheddars with a blob of Primula cheese spread on the top). Number One Curmudgeon Avenue was ready for its very first Halloween party. But first, Harold and Edith had to eat their tea – Manchester speak for the evening meal. Edith had made the pumpkin soup she had been talking about. Edith was quite capable of preparing food, as you know, her previous husband Reg was very well fed. But pumpkin soup was something she had never tried before. You see, Halloween was not popular in Edith’s family up until today.
Now, I have a kitchen, but I’m no cook (why would I be? I’m a house). However, I do know that folk should be careful with fibrous starchy squash fruits (especially if the person eating them has a delicate digestive system and shares a bedroom with you, such as Harold).
‘It was my mother’s birthday on Halloween,’ Edith said in between orange slurps.
‘Oh, really? I expect you had lots of fun growing up then?’
‘No Harold, I mean don’t forget, Halloween wasn’t as popular back then as it is now.’
‘I blame the Americans,’ said Harold.
‘When Ricky was little, it got popular, but it was still Mother’s birthday.’
‘Oh, I’m sure you had a grand old time bringing him round to see his grandmother.’
Edith felt a bit guilty thinking about her own mother in this way. The truth was her mother had been a real narcissist and Halloween was banned. She would manipulate the entire situation months in advance so that her birthday was all about her, and nothing about Halloween. Fair enough you might be thinking to yourself, it is probably the same for the folk whose birthday is on Christmas Day or any other such festival. But Edith’s mother never returned the favour. Even her own daughters had their birthdays purposely forgotten by their vain mother.
And you thought Edna did not do birthdays anymore for age preservation reasons? No, it was because Mrs Payne had been a bit of a cow about them. But Mother was dead, and Edith was having a Halloween party in her house.
‘Edith, are you alright?’ Harold said. ‘You haven’t said anything for ages, it’s not like you!’
‘Oh yes, I was just thinking about Mum… and Dad…’ Edith put her spoon down, and looked into Harold’s googly eyes, wanting to confide in him about her parents’ tragic end. She had never discussed the shock before. ‘Harold did I ever tell you …?’ But her voice trailed off, drowned by the sound of singing in Manchester voices, ready to party, and ready to get their Halloween on.
‘Halloween’s coming. Halloween’s coming… concrete chips! Concrete chips!’ then Wantha turned to Toonan, slapping her on the arm.
‘What’ve concrete chips got to do with it? You’ve got it mixed up with the school dinner song!’
‘OW! Well, what are the words then? Know it all!’ Toonan’s words were lost amongst the sound of Harold prizing the back door open. He had done too much of a good job sticking the fake cobwebs up.
‘Oh! Come in!’
‘What’s up with youse?’ Wantha said, from behind Toonan (part of the costume). ‘It doesn’t look like a party in here, c’ mon get some tunes on!’
‘Oh, come in, come in, I haven’t had the chance to put my costume on!’ Edith said, and then she took in the Halloween vision before her. ‘Oh! Patchouli! What have you come as? You look very…’
‘Goth. I’ve come as a Goth Ediff,’ said Patchouli from behind a fishnet veil and lashings of black eye makeup. ‘They do my head in, well they used to before the Banshee got bulldozed uptown. Ever go in there Ediff?’
‘Can’t say I did, no.’
‘Thinking they were better than everyone, dressing ‘alternative’ but looking like their best mate! Horrific! That’s why it makes a good Halloween costume.’ Patchouli, the ultimate old rock chick, obviously had a grudge to bear.
Edith noticed something else, Wantha and Toonan wearing a combination outfit.
‘Sorry Ediff, we asked for a horse, but they only had this left,’ Toonan’s eyes studied the kitchen floor in shame. Edith took in the image of Wantha and Toonan in their elephant costume. It was like a pantomime horse, but it was an elephant.
‘Sorry Ediff,’ said Wantha. Ricky Ricketts pushed past the two straight to the fridge.
‘Did Harold get the beers in Mum?’
‘No, I did,’ said Edith. ‘Aren’t you getting dressed up?’
‘No. I don’t get dressed up, out of respect for Granny.’
‘Good man,’ said Harold (it had nothing to do with him) then let out one of his first pumpkin fuelled farts. Edith reappeared downstairs wearing a sheet with two eyeholes cut into it, she was the token Halloween ghost. ‘Little Ghost’ Wantha and Toonan kept calling her.
Then it was Harold’s turn to reveal his costume; a second hand Beetlejuice with matching grey wig. Harold’s spectacles threw his audience. ‘Harold, why have you come as Doc from Back to the Future?’ said Toonan.
‘I thought you were doing the food for tonight, Toonan?’ Harold diverted while letting another fart out.
‘I did!’ Toonan narrowly missed the offensive smell. ‘Look!’ Toonan ripped open a bag of jelly worms. ‘See, Halloween food!’
Harold let out another fart, this one reached Toonan’s nostrils. ‘Ew Harold, have you just farted?’
Harold, of course, denied it.
Well, the night proceeded with as much Manchester merriment and Halloween high jinks that you can imagine. They ran out of beer, and Toonan and Wantha went together to the nearest off licence in their elephant costume. Amongst the tomfoolery and fun, Edith sought Prosecco fuelled confidence in Patchouli, who remained dressed as a Goth and was unlikely to remember what Edith had said. She flopped down on the leatherette settee next to Patchouli, who was minding her own business and having a disco nap.
‘The thing is,’ Edith hiccupped. ‘My mother wouldn’t have liked this. A party on Halloween…’ Edith hiccupped again in Patchouli’s face, disguising the silent but deadly wind released from Edith’s bottom.
‘Why ever not, love?’ Patchouli asked with concern.
‘Oh, because she didn’t like this sort of thing, not on her birthday, anyway… Did you know… Did you know how she died? How she and my father died?’ Edith’s eyes were wide, and Patchouli was doing her best to listen. ‘She got squashed by an elephant. They both did, in their static caravan.’
Of course, Patchouli already knew, but she had to entertain Edith, in her ghost costume, partially discarded in favour of her standard floral head to foot ensemble.
‘If Halloween was her birthday, why didn’t she like it? Patchouli asked.
‘Well, she wanted it to be just a birthday, it had to be all about her,’ Edith revealed the pattern of behaviour she had fallen into. Patchouli touched her forearm.
‘Your mum would have wanted you to be happy like all mums do.’ As Patchouli spoke, Edith shut up and listened for once. ‘Now your sister isn’t here at the moment, so you have to embrace the people around you, right here, right now. You’re happy with Harold, aren’t you?’ this mention of Harold to Edith sent her right back to her ruminations.
‘Yes, but he doesn’t know about the elephant incident, or at least I didn’t think he did… And in any case, I’m not altogether sure if Mum would have liked me being with Harold.’
‘Now Edith, come on, time is precious, just enjoy the here and now. And Edith, everyone knew about the elephant incident, it was on Granada Reports.’ (What a lovely woman Patchouli is; though it was probably the here and now that caused the hob incident).
Edith started a lengthy, gushing speech about how Patchouli had been right and their new friendship. As you can imagine, there was a lot of ‘so anyways’, she didn’t stop for breath. Edith nearly exhausted the room of oxygen she was talking so much. Patchouli patiently listened, but eventually returned to her disco nap in the living room. Edith carried on talking for longer than was reasonably necessary.
‘Oh, there you are!’ Harold said, rather too loudly as he barged into the living room.
‘WHAT! Where’s the fire?!’ Patchouli woke and jumped out of her skin with a face more Alice Cooper than Siouxsie and the Banshees.
‘I didn’t know where you were Edith, Toonan and Wantha want to get the apple bobbing going,’ Harold looked more like a mad scientist than a rambunctious spirit.
‘Harold!’ Edith said in uncharacteristic assertive tones. ‘I want to speak to you about a huge shock I had when my parents died.’
Harold expelled the remaining pumpkin gas from his gastrointestinal tract. His head wobbled, and his eyes bulged out so far that they touched the inside of his spectacles. Harold and Edith stared at each other for longer than was reasonably necessary. He was saved by the person least likely to save anyone.
‘Harold, get your arse to the shop, will you? We’re running out of sweets for the trick-or-treaters,’ Ricky shouted from inside a plume of cigarette smoke and stolen aftershave.
‘I thought Toonan brought all those jelly worms?’ said Harold, but Ricky ignored him. Harold did as he was told, but only because he needed to get away from Edith and further mentions of elephants, parents and massive shocks. There would be another huge shock for Edith if she found out the truth. Harold had lived this lie for too long. He had already resigned himself that it would do more harm than good if Edith knew the truth. It was the elephant’s fault, not his. The front door slammed behind him.
‘See,’ said Edith. ‘He’s not interested in talking to me,’ Edith sighed in Patchouli’s general direction. (Typical Harold, it could have been the carpet’s fault, as long as it wasn’t his).
‘Oh, Edith, lighten up love, will you? And help me get this corpse bride hat off before people start accusing me of being into The Chameleons,’ Patchouli was back in the land of the living.
‘Oh, it’s stuck to your head!’ Edith said. ‘What’s it stuck on with?’
‘Superglue I think,’ said Patchouli. Well, Edith (still wearing her white sheet) started tugging, fussing and pulling Patchouli’s hat. Then, more trick-or-treaters knocked on the door.
‘Don’t worry, we’ll get it!’ Toonan and Wantha said.
‘Quick put your head on! Ow, watch me trunk!’ they opened the door, not to a trick-or-treater but to a very tall, very handsome, smartly dressed man.
‘Oh Haha, what’ve you come as?’ Toonan said, from behind an elasticated elephant’s trunk.
‘Pardon?’ the man said, with very slight tinges of a faintly French accent. Wantha could not resist stepping away from Toonan to have a proper look at this fine specimen who had rattled the door knocker of Number One Curmudgeon Avenue. She was wearing the back half of the elephant. Braces held up the baggy grey trousers, (skin-tight around Wantha’s voluptuous hips), Wantha smoothed down her hair.
‘Hello, would you like a gummy worm?’ Toonan asked as the smart-looking handsome and tall man took in the scene before him. Two parts of an elephant, one with hair like a lion’s mane and a backside like a rhinoceros. The other still wearing the elephant’s head and holding what appeared to be confiscated Halloween treats. Then he heard it, well, they all heard it…
‘Push, no pull,’ said Edith. ‘No, stay still Patchouli. You try and sit in the chair, and I’ll pull.’
‘PUUUULLLL,’ shouted Patchouli, which was followed by a nauseating ripping sound. ‘Ow! Ow, you got my scalp, Edith!’
The tall, handsome man took a step back to look at the door number. ‘Sorry, I think I have the wrong house.’ And with that, he got back into his expensive-looking car and drove away down Curmudgeon Avenue into the Manchester night.
‘Who was that?’ said Harold on his way back from Mrs Ali’s with sweets and gossip that he had already forgotten.
‘Yeah, Wantha, who was that?’ said Ricky Ricketts with sudden interest.
‘We thought it was a trick-or-treater, but it was just some posh bloke who got the wrong address,’ Toonan spoke with jelly worms hanging from her mouth underneath her elephant trunk.
‘What’s going on?’ Patchouli and Edith appeared out of the living room, and everyone burst into laughter. Edith was still wearing her ghost costume, but Patchouli, not only had black eye make-up running down her face but a nice round bald patch where Edith had ripped off her Halloween hat.
‘Oh, Mum I’m sorry, you look like a cross between Uncle Fester and Friar Tuck!’
I am so proud of my home town, Bury in North West England. Especially on August bank holiday when the town is taken over for a charity event called Glaston-Bury.
Taking their name from the bigger festival in the south, Glaston-Bury fills the streets of Bury with heavy metal, cover bands, poets, and this year a book reading of Curmudgeon Avenue (I wrote that) by my talented voice over friend and colleague Lindsay McKinnon.
Those who know me know that I have MS and can’t stand up for long. And to be honest, I’ve been unwell ever since the event and that’s why it has taken me seventeen days to write this blog post. #MSsucks and fatigue is doing my head right in!
Anyway, back to the event. The reason we were welcomed to appear at this mostly music festival is because part of book four of the Curmudgeon Avenue Series is set at the Glaston-Bury festival!
Above is a sneak peak of a new cover – I’m always messing about. I just need to make the final decision about if Harold’s spectacles should be wonky.
Gil Von Black nearly broke Facebook when it was realised he would not be appearing on stage with his magic fingers this year. Gil Tweeted a photograph of Patchouli and himself with the caption #AugustBankHolidaychillin’. As soon as this was noticed on Facebook, there were many comments on the Glaston-Bury page. ‘Please can someone tell me which stage and what time is Gil Von Black on?’ several people asked. All with the same answer from the festival organisers: ‘He’s not performing this year’.
Ahh, the life of the actual real-life session musician rock star; he will attend the festival along with the crowd (including Wantha, Toonan and their respective men). After Wantha had attended to her Instagram duties (doling out advice about what to wear at a local charity festival), she found her lip liner and was ready to go. Zandra and Gordon Bennett prepared themselves for their first Bury day out since arriving at Curmudgeon Avenue.
Our stage (actually the poet’s stage) was upstairs in a very cool record and coffee shop called Wax and Beans
It was actually tricky to prepare for the event. I am NOT a performer, fortunately, Lindsay is. Lindsay McKinnon has loads of acting experience and is the most talented person I have in my phone (or have met in real life). If you are reading this, and are looking for a narrator for your audiobook I would recommend Lindsay. Click HERE for her website.
It was difficult to choose passages from a book I started writing seven years ago. Especially as my head is full of my current work in progress. I suppose all authors go through this (laughing face emoji). I am yet to attend a (traditionally published) author talk since lockdown ended in the UK. I’ve been to loads in my time and they are usually full of an eager audience wanted to know the question that no one can answer; how can I get published?
Fortunately, Todmorden Book Festival has come to my rescue. I have tickets to see one of my favourite authors, Joanne Harris. I have so many questions for her but I know I will be too shy to ask any of them.
Sorry, I went off on a bit of a tangent there. I was just trying to explain that I intend to attend more author talks and do more of my own.
I just need to get better first (I usually have a good management of my illness but I’m just weary at the moment – or as my window cleaner puts it ‘you look fr****d today’)
Speaking of tangents, one way that I look after myself is physiotherapy. When I was first diagnosed with MS I started doing yoga. Here’s the tangent, one of my oldest and dearest friends Carla (we met during nurse training, that’s how long we’ve known one another) gave me the tip off about the Todmorden Book Festival. Carla is now an excellent yoga teacher; she has just the right voice for it. If you are in or around Todmorden, you should definitely attend her yoga class click HERE for her link.
WELL I have gone round in circles today haven’t I? You could say I’ve gone round the mulberry bush – which would segue into a hint about my work in progress. I’ve decided not to reveal the title until the manuscript has been polished(I cannot wait to start sharing this book I am really enjoying writing it).
I haven’t blogged for a while, or participated (properly) with social media. It’s all been for a good cause – I concentrated all of my energies on my BA (Honours) English Literature and Creative Writing degree, of which I have now completed the first half of my third year.
I used to be able to do more – either my MS is getting worse, I’m getting older, or the course is getting more demanding. Probably mostly the latter but also (probably) a combination of the three.
I have still been reading for fun, of course but all the other things (book promotions, reviews, adverts) have had to take a back seat.
I plan to use my summer to write my next standalone novel – I am too anxious to reveal the title today, although I’m not sure why.
You know, someone hurt my feelings about this cover earlier this year and I could really have done without it. There’s a long story behind the cover, my dad didn’t want his face on the cover (!) and the person I gave the photograph to to draw a picture from didn’t illustrate an image of the bike. Amazon KDP were not happy with the original cover (too blurry) until eventually I was forced to change it. The cover you see above is aiming to be an old Penguin.
Anyway, I plan to change the cover when I relaunch.
One advantage of being an indie author is that I can make these kind of decisions and change things whenever I fancy it. (Although it doesn’t provide protection from busybodies)
Thank you for understanding, I hope everyone has a fabulous summer, Samantha 🙂
Bleak House and Curmudgeon Avenue both written about houses.
Imagine my surprise when this years first book of my creative writing and English literature degree was announced as Bleak House by Charles Dickens.
I had never read this book before, and it rolled onto my Kindle with an estimated reading time of twenty seven hours (I think they guess these times on your personal reading speed). The first thing I did (not for academic purposes) was to have a quick nosy on Wikipedia… Then I read this sentence ‘The novel has many characters and several sub-plots,’
Let’s just have a look at that again The novel has many characters and several sub-plots,
Remind you of anything?
Yes, Curmudgeon Avenue – the six and a half part series also has many characters and several sub-plots but I promise… or as we say in Manchester I swear down I had not read Bleak House before I started writing Curmudgeon Avenue.
When the multi talented Lindsay McKinnon of Theatre of The Mind Productions narrated the audiobooks of Curmudgeon Avenue, she wrote a post on her website ’50 Shady Characters & More’ which you can read and see her contact details (if you are looking for a narrator) by clicking on the words in bold.
I didn’t realise I had written 50 characters, but with all the supporting extras they do add up! Especially if you include all six and a half books.
Bleak house has 52 characters.
Incomplete sentences, some reviewers (in the US) have picked up on this. Yes I write with British English grammar and spelling, this includes a creative turn of phrase. My character Wantha Rose likes to refer to herself in the third person – particularly if her boyfriend Ricky has upset her (as so often he does).
‘Nobody upsets Wantha Rose. NOBODY.‘
See what I mean?
Charles Dickens was also a fan of incomplete sentences. The opening to Bleak House starts with the one word sentence ‘London.’ Say what you like about Curmudgeon Avenue but even George Eliot’s fancy-piece George Henry Lewes (famous philosopher and literary critic) was unable to review Charles Dickens into submission – even though they were ‘dear friends’.
Charles Dickens, the Victorian literary genius and me (I can’t say and I – I’m from Manchester) both like incomplete sentences in our books.
That’s books about houses, Bleak House and Curmudgeon Avenue.
Bleak House is set in London and Lincolnshire – there is an actual Bleak House in Broadstairs, Kent
Curmudgeon Avenue, is of course, fictional. This street could be anywhere in Whitefield, which as you know is a real life town north of Manchester.
Bleak House and Curmudgeon Avenue both have unusual narration choices.
Dickens’s Bleak house was serialised and the finished novel version appeared in 1853. The serials published in three or four chapters. The novel is narrated by a third-person omniscient narrator and the first-person limited account of character Esther Summerson. Though these narrative voices greatly differed, Bleak House worked because the narrations were not mixed within the chapter, (so readers either got Esther or the omniscient narrator speaking to them). This meant that Victorian readers of Dickens’s Bleak House knew what was going to happen next before the narrator Esther Summerson.
I’m about to write a long explanation… wait for it…
The Curmudgeon Avenue Series is written from the point of view of the first house on the street. The house becomes an omniscient character and so, the name Number One Curmudgeon Avenue has capital letters. This means that the books are second person witness narrated.
Very unusual, most books are either first person ‘I’, third person ‘they’. Second person is hardly ever used, the reader is addressed ‘you’. I couldn’t help it… I wanted the house to tell the story, and this technique allowed me to satirise the people who lived in the street:
‘Edna’s costume jewellery jangled like tinnitus’ [Who said this? Number One Curmudgeon Avenue, of course]
There is a review on Goodreads that explains it all from a reader who ‘got’ the Curmudgeon Avenue Series. The reviewer said something like ‘I wondered at first how the house got to know everything. But then I remembered I was reading a book where the house told the story, so why wouldn’t the house know everything?’
As writers, we must trust our readers to make what they will of our books. Otherwise, we would write books that TELL rather than SHOW. And although I am not against telling a little, it is much more fun to show the reader what you mean, that there is a house with a personality with eyes and ears watching every move and making fun of it (for our benefit).
A bit like Charles Dickens having fun with his readers when Esther Summerson doesn’t know what we know because we’ve already read about it when the omniscient narrator was having a turn. (I was going to pop a spoiler in here because Bleak House is a famous book, and if you were to Google it, you can read a plot summary, but I decided not to because that is cheating!) All I will say is the book is about Esther Summerson’s parentage and the long running Jarndyce and Jarndyce legal case.
Charles Dickens used repetition to remind his readers which character or location they were reading about. (Ideal for those early readers who caught the serialised editions in Household Words). Fog is mentioned thirty times as a literary device, a curtain of fog… readers must wait for the fog to clear before they get to know the plot. Mud is mentioned thirteen times, ‘mud and mire’, all a bit grim around Chancery and Tom-all-Alone’s. Mrs Bagnet’s domestic dinner-times. Grandfather Smallweed who does not go out without his Grandaughter, Judy who he speaks to as though she is his servant. And Mr Krook’s bottle shop and lodgings are said to symbolise ‘rock bottom’.
Repetition in Curmudgeon Avenue is just for fun really, I suppose I could say that I was trying to reflect the house’s disdainful personality. Repeated phrases (that I slotted in wherever I could) are ‘For longer than reasonably necessary’ or ‘quite some time’. Both probably reflect that Curmudgeon Avenue has been hanging around since Victorian times.
Yes, both Bleak House and Curmudgeon Avenue are social satires.
Bleak House was written as a contemporary novel in 1853, Curmudgeon Avenue is a contemporary novel of current times.
Dickens wrote Bleak House is a social commentary. The upper middle class characters are very well spoken ‘Anything to vary this detestable monotony. Oh, go on, do!’ This is Lady Dedlock, she sounds very posh to me. Dickens’s poorer characters have a colloquial vernacular which Dickens wrote in non-standard English grammar. ‘I know wot she’s come for!’
Curmudgeon Avenue is a bit of fun… All the characters are Northern, working class and speak with a Manchester turn-of-phrase. Using this technique aims to bring character to the… characters. Nobody ever says ‘and I’ in North West England. When we greet each other, we say ‘Alright’ sometimes, the exuberance of a hello sounds like ‘Alrite’ . These are not typos – it is how things are round here. ‘I knows someone called Ricketts‘ (from The Terraced House Diaries)
I regularly watch a film or read a book and think ‘that reminds me of’ another film or book. Reminds doesn’t mean the same as. I love it.
Have you read a book/watched a film that reminded you of another story?
A Curmudgeonly Christmas (Curmudgeon Avenue #6) is the final instalment of the Curmudgeon Avenue series and will be published on the 27th of December. Available to pre order from today!
Curmudgeon Avenue has been going on for quite some time. Some would say for longer than is reasonably necessary.
Feeling proper emosh! I have finished writing the Curmudgeon Avenue series with a Christmas special.
Gordon Bennett is obsessed with the size of potholes on the street, Wantha and Ricky may or may not seal the romantic deal. Christmas is coming, and Francesca is getting fat. Patchouli’s past comes back to haunt her – will Gil Von Black be able to cope?
Oh – and the ghosts are immune from any and all pandemic restrictions.
A Curmudgeonly Christmas is intended to provide a bit of light relief during the week between Christmas and New Year. You know the one, that week we are all fed up with eating, drinking and each other!
The book started with Harold Edith and Edna, and the story of how they ended up living together. The series evolved into a social satire about a group of neighbours and their intertwined lives. Gossip, romance, dramas and laughs follow all written with British English spelling and grammar and narrated with a voice typical of how folk say ‘stuff’ in the Northwest of England.
All lighthearted, all easy reads, all a bit of fun.
Audiobooks narrated by the hilarious and talented Lindsay McKinnon.