I promised a few days ago to tell you about the short story that won the hearts of all four judges at the Cambridge Autumn Festival short story competition. The word limit was 2,500 words and the subject was ‘Favourites’, open to whatever interpretation the writers wanted to put on it. There were about seventy entries and the organisers split them into two piles, two judges read one half and two judges the other half. We came up with a short list of six and then all four judges read the final twelve. There was a clear winner and we were all quite emotional about the story. It was called ‘Princess Belle’ and was written by a Christchurch writer, a woman in her fifties. It’s an intergenerational story set around a grandmother reading her granddaughter a bedtime story, her favourite, Cinderella. The grandmother is the narrator and through her we learn about her relationship with her own mother and the questionable job she made of parenting her daughter, the little girl’s mother, who is not there. Jail or rehab, we never quite know. It was simple, stark, poignant and yet ended with a note of hope. It moved us, informed us and entertained us. It was a joy to read.

Today I want to talk about one of the most important things in my life. One of the things that keeps me sane (relatively) and drives my onward journey. And that is Music. As regular readers know, I refer to my grief for my Mum (who died three months ago next week) as my ride on ‘the ocean of grief.’ Most of the time it has settled down to a manageable swell and I’m coping well. A few days ago it suddenly turned into a storm for an afternoon. In the middle of it, when I cried out for help, God directed me back to my music.

I dug out a concert DVD I hadn’t seen for about two years and watched it. That drove me to my computer and I compiled some playlists of songs I’ve neglected, put on the headphones and, ever since, I’ve spent a part of every day singing my little heart out. I can’t hear myself but I’m betting it isn’t pretty. Don’t care. I’m rocking my world to The Killers, Jace Everett, Alison Krauss, Air Supply, Scouting for Girls, Abba, Robbie Williams and Michael Ball among others. And every-so-often I throw in a dose of Placido Domingo, Noah Stewart and Luciano Pavarotti to remind myself that my top notes have gone.

I can’t adequately explain how great it makes me feel to hear and sing along and how soothing music is to me. It helps me express my emotion and it lifts me up when I’m down, it is a big part of how I praise my God, it lets me pretend I’m an opera singer or a rock star. When I make up my own lyrics I’m a poet, when I hum a tune I almost know but can’t remember I’m a songwriter and when I hear a new talent (like the first time I heard Noah) I am awe-struck.

Little quiz, you will recognise this man. When a singer is largely remembered for the end stages of his career, people forget how handsome and incredible on stage he was in his prime. He is sadly missed by millions, including me.

handsome 1

My very favourite song at the moment is called “My arms are Strong”, it begins:
Come to me my darling child
Is the world upsetting you?
I’ll hold you in my arms a while
Nothing so bad
Don’t you know that I will protect you, protect you?

And in the spirit of sharing, here are some of my favourite clips, the ones that make me smile. I hope you click-through and watch them and enjoy them. These are some of the people who (unbeknownst to them) are keeping me afloat on my ocean as the time passes and it becomes easier. Their vocal gift is my life jacket and they are the soundtrack of my life. I thank God for each and every one of them. “Thank you for the music…and in some cases the laughter and in some cases the incredible acting.”

Names and Ships

Names are funny things. As a writer I name ‘people’ all the time and there’s an art to finding the correct name for a character. Many things influence your choice and they include nationality and occupation, gender obviously, personality and perception. Unlike when you’re naming a baby, a writer knows what the character is like and can choose a name the suits.

Sometimes you’ll come across names in real life which stay in your mind. Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberpatch is a name so wonderful you’d swear it was a stage name, but it’s not. Another one I like is Ramin Karimloo, Mum says it sounds like an exotic dessert, and you pronounce his first name Ra-MEAN not RAM-in. I knew twins called Rose Bud and Briar Bud, and my brother went to school with a Christopher Cross (no, his name was never shortened) and a Mike Paykel (no, his name was never lengthened). Who in their right mind calls a boy Michael Paykel??

Talking about names and associations, does anyone EVER think of anything other than a ship when they hear the name Titanic? In the dictionary it’s listed as an adjective meaning pertaining to, or characteristic of, the Titans. In other words, enormous size, strength, power, etc.; gigantic.  BUT as a noun it’s listed as “a British luxury liner that sank after colliding with an iceberg in the North Atlantic on its maiden voyage in April, 1912, with a loss of 1517 lives.”

What’s a ‘Titanic gin?’ A drink that’s ‘easy on the ice.’ When an action is hopeless it’s sometimes described as ‘shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.’ Has any other disaster entered into our vocabulary in such a fashion? Has any other disaster entered into the international consciousness in such a way? The 100th anniversary of the sinking has just passed and unless you live on Mars, you will have been made aware of that fact.

I’ve seen the movie, too much running around the corridors when the water was rising and we knew they needed to get ‘on deck’ and THERE WAS room for two on that board she was floating on. She prized his frozen fingers off the wood and said, “I’ll always love you, Jack.”

It was tragic and criminal and negligent and a terrible collision of circumstances and the unthinkable happened and when that happens, when natures proves to be so much more powerful than the endeavours of mere mortals, we tend to remember the outcome. Forever.



A Busy Few Days

Well hello, reader! I do apologise for the delay in adding another blog post but it has been a busy four days. Today things are back to normal and I’m catching up with chores, emails, promotion etc. so I thought I should let you know what’s been happening in my world. Lots.

Good Friday
We had cooking and preparation to do for two parties over the weekend. Then at midday we went to our lovely little church for the three hour Easter Vigil service. Both Mum and I read aloud as we followed six characters in the Easter story. I read a Gospel reading about Pontius Pilate and a Psalm for the story of Caiaphas and Mum read two closing prayers. It was a solemn, quiet, meditative service and it was lovely to be part of it.
At around 5pm I took a carload of things over to Lucas’s farm for the party the next day. We examined everything in detail, footprints, bags, dino eggs, dino dig, volcanoes, bone bowling, pin the tooth in the T-rex’s mouth etc. and he was so excited he kept jumping up and down. I’d made chocolate-chip cupcakes with vanilla frosting and chocolate dinosaurs on them, so I took those over then.

Easter Saturday
Up early and off to the supermarket for bread and last minutes things I’d forgotten, then made dinosaur shaped sandwiches in peanut butter and cheese.

Today was the day of the three birds. Whilst I was in the shower Chloe (the cat) brought me in a little present, a finch, we call them white-eyes. It was perfect, but dead. I couldn’t bring myself to put it in the rubbish so I buried it deep in the garden and said a little prayer. When I came home from the supermarket I found Chloe had brought me another little bird, exactly the same, but with less feathers and a little open head surgery. This one I did put in the rubbish. When I came back into my room after making the sandwiches, I found another little bird, this one had had open chest surgery so it went in the bin too. I can’t be angry with her, she’s doing what comes naturally and if she’d bought me mice I’d have been thrilled. She doesn’t know that mice is good, birds are bad. I didn’t see her again until about 11.30 that night when she came in my bedroom window and ever since she has been very frightened, which is unlike her. She is recovering now, but someone, or something, gave her a scare.

At around midday I went to Lucas’s and we had a sixth birthday party. Yes, it went splendidly, the kids loved every moment and the games were all as I hoped they would be. They loved the dino dig (digging in individual sand pits for fossils, gold coins, painted bones and rock crystals etc) so much we did it twice. Sitting on the balloons to pop them and get the gummy dinosaurs inside was a huge hit, as was pin the tooth on the T-rex. Lots of yummy food and a bouncy castle and dino egg goodie bags to take home….very happy kids.

Easter Sunday
Up for church at 8am and it was a lovely service, great sermon, lots of glorious hymns and we were given a wee easter egg as we left.
Home to more cooking, sweetcorn fritters and marinated chicken and meatballs and more dino sandwiches. The most fantastic creation was the alien landscape with a tray painted with green and brown icing, spaceships made from chocolate chip muffins, edible rocks and meringues with red food colouring swirled through them and chocolate dinosaurs.
I had brought all the games home and saved bags and dino eggs etc for party mark II. My niece and her husband were down from Auckland with their two gorgeous boys and Ben had turned 7 on Monday. And another niece came with her two gorgeous little girls. We played lots of games and dug in the sand and sat on balloons and put things in their bags and ate yummy food. A very good time was had by all and they each got a dino egg goodie bag.

Yesterday I watched the final round of the Masters golf (go Bubba!! Not something I thought I would ever say) and ate an Easter egg and put away weeks of craft materials and toys etc.

Book news: I got asked for a Kindlegraph. Someone wanted me to send them an electronic inscription for their copy of ‘The Secret Keeper”. How cool is that? First time I have ever ‘inscribed’ one of my own books to a reader.

I have a four star review for “in Vino Veritas” on Smashwords which is lovely…”Thank you, Julie Thomas. This book is fun. It’s fast-paced, has great characters, the love story is done very nicely, and there’s enough technical input about the wine and wine-growing to make it sound authentic.” It goes on a bit more but modesty forbids me. Books sales almost passed 35,000.

Music news. A couple of extremely talented young men have released Cds lately. They are musical theatre performers, but they are so much more and their musical skills cross many genres. They are Ramin Karimloo and John Owen Jones. They both have extraordinarily beautiful voices that are capable of bringing tears to your eyes. Check ‘em out, you won’t be disappointed.

Here’s Ramin talking about his new CD. It has a mixture of a couple of musical theatre, some rock and some brand new. The single “Coming Home” is exquisite.

So parties are over and it is time to focus back on writing, much to do. New things in the wind, watch this space!

To Infinity and Beyond

Apparently the All Blacks won the World Cup because they were “able to find their flow.” And all these months I thought it was because they scored more points in the last game of the tournament!

Years ago I had an idea for a science-fiction kind of novel, but I never wrote it because it isn’t my genre and I don’t think I’d write it very well. Besides, I’m not really sure it is a premise worthy of a novel.

In my sci-fi idea, the world was about to come to a sudden end, probably a meteorite that appeared out of nowhere and we had about three days to live. The US had been secretly funding a project and had a massive spaceship ready to go and find other planets. For reasons I hadn’t worked out I (the narrator) was allowed to go and take 10 people with me. They were not people I knew, they were people I chose. And the powers-that-were-at-the-time would ‘kidnap’ them from their lives and take them to Washington DC where they’d be told that the earth had three days left, BUT because I (the narrator) had chosen them, they were allowed to live for as long as the spaceship managed to stay aloft and start afresh on a new planet…since watching Terra Nova, maybe it would be more realistic to go through a worm-hole to another time on earth, but if earth was going to be destroyed that doesn’t really work. No, these people were going to find a planet with gravity and water and food and animals but no humans.

The interesting part of the idea was who I chose. Did I choose sensible people who knew how to build things, kill things, cook on wood fires, people like Bear Grylls? Did I heck as like. I chose opera singers, actors, writers, some of my handsome friends who’ve probably never held a hammer in their lives…and THAT is what makes the idea appealing. A narrator who has no survival skills and lives a 21st century life but would like to start life again and makes 21st century choices.

I could see all the chapters where they were ‘kidnapped’ and then the truth was revealed and they had to choose to accept or decline. If they declined they couldn’t be allowed to go home to family, because once the truth was out, the population would panic. What would your natural instinct be, to have a chance of life or face certain death? So who would you choose? It can’t be family and you have to justify your choices to the powers-that-were-at-the-time. I bet you think you’d make sensible choices…Personally I think Placido Domingo, Ramin Karimloo, Michael Ball, Bradley Whitford, George Clooney etc. are perfectly reasonable choices. We’d be in that spaceship for a very long time and they’d keep us entertained.

A dinosaur day

Twitter is a mine of information this morning. Ramin Karimloo tells me he has designed two T-shirts for his upcoming tour of the UK and the USA, creative, talented, gorgeous man.

The Dali Lama tells me that the root of true happiness is to have a concern for others, Rick Bakas tells me to remember to breath, Barak Obama tells me it is the last day to get a free Obama/Biden bumper sticker and Dr Vino tells me that a study has proved that sex-starved fruit flies turn to alcohol.  And I needed to know all that stuff.

I am about to embark on Project Paper Mache. I like having a creative project, I write more freely when I’m doing something artistic at the same time. Some of my long-term readers will remember that last winter I had The Big Blanket Project. I knitted a rather large blanket with over 200 squares of all shapes, sizes and textures and this winter it will be spread over the 3 seater sofa in our lounge.

March 31st is the day Lucas turns six and Gemma (his Mum) and I are giving him a dinosaur birthday party. So this means I have to start now with the paper mache. I am making dinosaur egg goodie bags. You paper mache a half blown-up balloon and when it’s hard you make a slit and put in the party favours and goodies, then you paste up the slit and when it’s dry you paint it and speckle it and you have made dinosaur egg goodie bags.  I have also researched some rather cool dinosaur games and food. How about this? You make up jelly and pour it into ice-cube moulds then when it’s had about 10 minutes in the fridge, you push a gummy dinosaur into each block and then refrigerate fully = dino in a rock. I have some silicone moulds to make dinosaur shaped little cakes and cookie cutters and chocolate moulds already…meat balls will be dinosaur droppings, Cheerios in pastry will be Brontosaurus bones. We’ll play a hatching dinos relay game by sitting on balloons that have little wee dinosaurs in them and will excavate a large paddling pool full of play sand and fossils….ah, yes I know what you’re thinking, who’ll have the most fun? 16 kids or Gemma and I. Well that’s a debatable point, but I shall take a picture of the finished egg goodie bags and I’m sure you’ll agree they’re masterpieces.

After a morning spent writing I shall allow myself to spend the afternoon cutting out dinosaur footprints and painting them with silver claws and painting pictures of dinos to go up on a string to make a banner……not a T-shirt, but not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Creativity is a wonderful thing

From Happy Feet to Ramin Karimloo via Les Mis

Each morning, when I wake up, there’s a whole world in cyberspace that waits to be explored. I have a routine, I check email, twitter, Facebook, books sales (yes, I am funny I don’t go there first) and comments/reviews etc.

I give you some examples from this morning’s discoveries:

Two random tweets that amused me, they’re from a writer who is very witty.
“I spent the day at my husband’s grave today. He isn’t dead – he thinks I’m digging a pond.”
“My husband said I was the perfect wife today. Or it might have been something about never listening to him properly. One of the two.”

Then I discover the ‘twitterverse’ is all of a…twitter…about the decision of First Night Records to stop paying royalties to the original London cast of Les Mis. Apparently, in 1985, it stated in their contracts that royalties would stop after 25 years. They were young and inexperienced and they signed. It may be legal, and that is debatable because the work is not in the public domain, but it is hardly moral. These are people like Rebecca Cain, Frances Ruffelle, Michael Ball, Colm Wilkinson – the people who have contributed so much to musical theatre. Hopefully the fans will become outraged and will email First Night Records and express this. Rebecca summed it up in her tweet, “Do you hear the people sing. Singing a song of angry men? It is the music of the people who WILL be paid again.”

Moving on, there is a clip from Ramin Karimloo’s new album available on his website. It is out in March. Eagerly awaited, yum.

Book sales/downloads are nudging 15,000 and ‘The Secret Keeper’ is past 10,000 and Amazon makes up over 13,000 of the total. Hey ho. I have a week of no little people to look after and lots of writing ahead. I’m organising a paperback version of ‘The Secret Keeper’ to sell on Amazon, print on demand.

And I think it is time to stop making jam and lemon honey, strawberry, plum, plum and rhubarb, and four containers of frozen stewed plums in the deep freeze. In time I will turn my attention to golden queen peaches, stew them and freeze them. The vege garden is growing like an Amazonian rainforest because it rains almost every day. The beetroot is resplendent and the lettuces are delicious, the Asian cabbage look like triffids.

Thursday Lucas and I went to “Happy Feet 2″ and we both loved it. All dancing, all singing penguins and lessons about life. He sat on his booster seat and watched transfixed for 90 minutes, whilst other children ran riot down the back of the theatre. I was very proud of him. Now, when we play the tickle game, we do penguin dances too.

You Tubing into 2012

Today I am going to share with you some of the wonderful things I found in 2011

This is one of my favourite You Tube clips, love the song, love the singer, could listen to it every day…*sigh*

By far my favourite transformation for 2011, from this: (the middle “sister”)

To this

This is Comic Relief does Masterchef 2011….Miranda Hart, Ruby Wax, PM David Cameron, all the Masterchef judges. Brilliant

Part One

And Part Two

I finish watching it and I am smiling, from ear to ear, and the world is a good place.

My favourite words for 2011
All Blacks
homemade lemon honey

“We have the elephant of surprise, they’ll never see us coming!!”

Ramin Karimloo, John Owen Jones, Nicole Scherzinger, Tony Bennett and other famous singers

Just this morning we were watching the rain falling and discussing that most people go on holiday at the wrong time of the year here. Businesses have to close over Christmas and New Year so the bulk of people take their holidays to coincide with the statutory days off. Late December through to early January…and often the weather is as it is today, wet, windy and unsettled. About mid January it settles down to a hot summer and is gorgeous through to early March. Could we start a petition to move Christmas and New Year?  I do so love tilting at windmills.

The 2011 Royal Variety Performance was on telly the other night. A few too many comics who didn’t make me laugh, a couple who seriously did and some interesting musical acts. The two gymnasts were amazing, the drummers who opened the show were cool and many of the singers were too ‘screachy’ for me. Tony Bennett is a force of nature, Barry Manilow is so unwrinkled it was hard to concentrate on his song and I kept wishing he’d sung something of his I loved more….but there was one-act that blew my socks off, metaphorically speaking. Earlier in the evening we had seen Nicole Scherzinger sing. All I knew was that she used to be in a girl band and she is Lewis Hamilton’s girlfriend. Apart from that we had the sound on mute. THEN they had Phantom of the Opera with four Phantoms and she was Christine. Two of the phantoms were Ramin Karimloo and John Owen Jones, two of my very favourites of all time. Wish we could have had more of them, much much much more of them. Nicole Scherzinger was sublime as Christine and we sat there with our mouths open. Who would have thought it?

My brother has two horses racing in a big race at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day, both in the same race. The draw is made completely randomly by computer and he has drawn barrier draw 21 and 22, what are the odds of that? He’s having a good run at the moment, quite a few winners. One on Wednesday won by five lengths going away from the field. 

 One of the cool things about having books in the public domain is the people you meet along the way. A lovely 85 year old ex-RAF engineer sent me a tweet yesterday to tell me how much he enjoyed Dad’s book of letters home during WWII. He worked on Spits and loved them and much of the book touched him deeply. This morning I got a tweet from the author of the number two ranking book in Jewish fiction on Amazon, sending his greetings to the number one ranked author, me! Ha!

Today I shall spend most of my day, as I did yesterday, in the world of Vinnie and his difficult path in life. I do love having a W.I.P. I love it most of all when people don’t know that it stands for Work In Progress and you can say, “I’m just off to my WIP” and they look at you with a new respect. Well, a new something anyway.



Music and the singers wot sing it

I read an interesting retweet yesterday. John Owen Jones had retweeted someone else’s tweet comparing his singing and acting to that of Ramin Karimloo. He did it only to point out how pointless it is to compare one with another.

Preference is one of the things I find most fascinating about music. People hear things differently, they experience a live concert, or musical theatre performance, differently from the person sitting next to them. Well, I guess it would be a dull old world if we all perceived things the same way.

I love opera. I love the voice of Placido Domingo. I remember twenty years ago being genuinely astonished that anyone could consider Jose Carreras a better singer. Not that I didn’t like him, delightful man, I just couldn’t see it, or hear it. Then someone gave me a recording of Tosca from 1977, before he got cancer, and it was absolutely sublime. I think one of the sad things about Luciano Pavarotti is that, because of the Three Tenors phenomenon, so many people only heard him towards the end of his career. If you really want to hear genius, listen to recordings made in the ’60s/70s/80s. A La Boheme with Mirella Freni that just takes your breath away it’s so glorious, a Wether that still reduces me to tears.

My point is, if you love a particular genre of music, be open to listening to new voices. Loyalty is one thing, ignoring all other talent is something else.   

Classical cross-over. Strange genre. It arouses much conflict and argument. I remember in the early days of the genre,  people who expressed suspicion were branded elitist snobs. I am all for the bringing of classical music to the attention of the masses. People don’t seem to realise that opera WAS once the music of the masses. Verdi kept the music of Rigoletto secret until the night of its premiere because he knew it would be sung in the streets from the next day, there are stories of hundreds of people gathering outside his hotel after the premiere of Otello, chanting his name until he had to make an appearance on the balcony. Neapolitans, wrongly classified as ‘classical’ by some cross- over singers, was the music of the people of Naples for centuries.

Opera singers have made popular recordings over the years, some with more success than others. But the singing of arias and classical religious music (Panis Angelicus is NOT an aria)  by people with no classical training is something relatively new. I have two points to make about this and if it makes me a musical snob, then I apologise. Actually, I don’t, but never mind.

I believe when an aria is sung it should be done so within the context of the story, the singer should understand the words and the place the song has within the story of the opera. As a listener you get far more from the experience when you understand the feeling behind the words, even if you don’t actually understand the language. It’s more than having read a translation, it’s what was the composer and the librettist trying to tell the listener?

Secondly, opera singers sing operas in opera houses. They can sustain a complete performance, they can act a character, they can tell a story, they can project their voices to the back row of the opera house. They know what they’re doing. Alfie Boe is an opera singer, Russell Watson is not. Kiri te Kanawa is an opera singer, Katherine Jenkins is not.

Doesn’t mean the classical cross-over singers don’t have every right to be heard and to record and add considerably to the coffers of the recording companies and to have fan clubs etc. just don’t call them ‘opera singers.’ It’s a job description that is earned, that’s all.

So my music tastes range from Beethoven to The Killers, from Renata Tebaldi to Alison Krauss. The more music you listen to, the more you’ll come to love.

Updates: Going to dig more potatoes from the garden today, can’t wait, LOVE digging potatoes out of the ground. The Big Blanket project is up to around 160 (knitted) squares of all shapes, sizes, colours and textures. I can (modestly) say, it rocks!  I am three-quarters of the way through the first draft of my next novel and am considering making Vinnie the basis of a series. He makes wine and he solves murders. He is cool. It’s a glorious day in Cambridge, a cloudless indigo blue sky and the sun is beaming down, a long, hot summer is on the way. Bliss.

Ramin Karimloo, John Owen Jones, Alfie Boe and Michael Xavier

Today I am going to blog about one of my favourite subjects, music! And specifically, a form of music some of you may have paid little attention to, musical theatre. There is a quiet revolution happening in musical theatre. In the past  it was the shows, the composers and lyricists and the stories that were the stars. Yes, we knew the names of some of the performers, Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Julie Andrews, Rex Harrison, Michael Crawford etc. but few of them had careers as singing stars outside of theatre and film.

The new breed of musical theatre star is releasing Cds and doing tours and many of them have stupendous voices. You don’t need to be a fan of the shows to appreciate them and enjoy their talent. And they are all over You Tube, hundreds of magnificent clips.

Today I am going to show you some of my favourites and I encourage you to click-through and have a listen. You might find you want to hear more and you find a new singer to enjoy. I do hope so.

Firstly Ramin Karimloo. He needs no introduction to those who know Phantom of the Opera and it’s sequel, Love Never Dies. And he is about to star as Jean Valjean in Les Mis in London. But he has another career writing and recording popular music. And he is simply brilliant.

This is a video of ‘Till I hear you sing again’ from ‘Love Never Dies:

And this is Ramin singing in a shop in London called Dress Circle with his guitar:

Secondly, John Owen Jones. He is Welsh and he is known as one of the best Jean Valjean’s of all time and his rendition of Bring Him Home is exquisite. But he also has two Cds out.

This is ‘Someone to Fall Back On” from the 2009 CD

And this is John singing a capella in the Dress Circle Shop

Thirdly is Alfie Boe. Alfie is a scream. He is a trained opera singer and sang Jean Valjean in the 25th anniversary performances of Les Mis at the O2 last year. He stayed with Matt Lucas and he warbled a bit for the camera. I loved the comment below it that said “I searched all over the kitchen department of Ikea and I couldn’t find one of these.”

Classic. And this Matt Lucas and Alfie sort of singing The Impossible Dream

And lastly the lovely and talented duo Michael Xavier and Emma Williams singing from “Love Story” at the 2011 Oliviers. It is such a sweet song and they are fantastic together.

So I hope you have a listen to some of them, they will reward you. And here’s to music and glorious voices and people with a passion for singing and telling a story with emotion.

Past genius and present genius together, 02 October 2010


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