Saturday, 10 November 2018

How Alexa Saved the Day


I’ve been trying to write a humorous poem about my good friend, Alexa. The poem is on its way, but the lines are not yet tuned to my satisfaction, so it will have to stay in draft a little longer.

It got me thinking, though, about how Amazon Echo Dot, which does cause some grief for a few of my friends, has significantly improved the quality of our life. By ‘our life’, I mean the day to day life of myself and my husband, Chris.
I first encountered an Echo Dot when we were visiting family just after Christmas a couple of years ago. Being in a second marriage, means our Christmas visits tend to get stretched into the new year.
“Would you like to come and look at this, Claire” asked a family member. He had to keep me occupied somehow and knew I liked technology. There on the kitchen sideboard was a round, black, pellet shaped object, about the size of a puck in an ice hockey match.


“Alexa, tell me a joke” he demonstrated, and with the additional help of the grandchildren, I was slowly initiated into Alexa language and her ability to entertain, play music and store a variety of lists and reminders.
“So you think you might buy one then, Claire? You’d find it fun?”
“Fun,” I replied. “This little black dot has the potential to change our lives.”
The package arrived on our return, and I linked it to my calendar.

This is the point in my blog post when I need to explain a few things to people who are not familiar with Chris’s health needs. Chris has had Type 1 Diabetes for most of his adult life. He is one of the unlucky 10% of Type 1s who get no physical warnings at all of hypoglycemia (hypos). He is now assisted by an amazing sensor pump which alarms if his blood sugar drops too low or rises too high, but years of managing without the pump have taken their toll on his health. His eye sight and his cognitive organisation have especially been affected. Reading and (strangely) spelling have become more difficult for him with some impairment to his short term memory and self organisation. It’s not the same as our normal perception of dementia. Chris is still very agile mentally, but there are some very specific cognitive and visual processes which have grown somewhat sluggish.
Chris can’t easily use a written calendar. He struggles to read the heating thermostat. He finds it hard to move around in low light and has great difficulty perceiving an ordered picture of the activities and requirements each week will bring.
Enter Alexa…..whose greatest asset is, in my opinion, that she doesn’t argue back.
“Alexa, what’s on my calendar?” asks Chris, sometimes several times a day. She always replies, never complains, and (unlike me) never says, “But I’ve already told you that three times today”. Her patience is endless. She will even spell simple words for him as often as needed.
More recently, we have connected Alexa to our heating thermostat, a couple of light switches, and learned to use the reminders and lists which keep us both in line.
I admit, Alexa has been known to make strange announcements in the middle of the night, and she is only as good as the information we put in. Nevertheless, she is one clever little gadget, and her skills and patient personality have significantly improved our lives. I firmly believe that the potential of 'Alexa' type technology to support folk with disabilities is, as yet, largely untapped.

In case you are wondering, I did ask Chris's permission before publishing this blog post. I didn't ask Alexa's permission, but I did take the trouble to thank her for helping us. As always, she simply replied "You're welcome".   
            

Thursday, 25 October 2018

The Pension Problem



Today I learnt about WASPI. If, like me, you don't know what it means, here is the link
Women Against State Pension Equalities. I was interested, because I am a woman who was born in the 1950s.
For the record, unlike many of my contemporaries, I am in favour of the pension reforms in principle. There is no logical reason why, in the long-term, women should receive their state pensions earlier than men. Furthermore, as we are living longer (we hope), the pension pot needs to stretch further. It makes sense for both men and women to wait a few more years for their pensions.
But before all you pensionless female baby boomers throw a missile at my blog page, please read on.
I do admit there is also a problem, which is this.....
No one told us in good time that the change would happen. We weren't warned long enough in advance to prepare. I spent most of my working life, believing that my state pension would drop into my bank account when I reached the age of 60, but now it won't actually arrive until I am 66.
I am one of the lucky ones. I have an occupational pension in my own right, which has allowed me to retire. This is just as well, because I have a husband with considerable health needs, who needs ongoing practical help. I was able to retire before reaching the state pension age in order to support him. Not all women of my age can make that choice. Many decided to set aside their occupational pension rights in order to focus on the massively important role of bringing up a family. They contributed to society, but now their state pension has been delayed. Some are really struggling financially, and I feel for them.
So whilst I am not complaining about my own situation, I admit, it was a blow to learn that my state pension would be held back for 6 years.
Now a petition has arisen from the BACKTO60  movement which seeks a return to the pension age of 60 for the women of my decade. You can learn more about it here.
I do have a problem signing it, because, if accepted, the reform would apparently cost billions of tax payers money, but I would nevertheless like the government to rethink the issue. Jumping our pension ages from 60 to at least 65 without a few more transition arrangements to soften the financial blow was bound to plunge a proportion of my generation into poverty. We planned for our future with one set of regulations in mind, and then became losers because the government changed the rules without adequate warning. Imagine the outcry, if FIFA extended the length of a football match without telling the players well in advance.  Millions of football supporters would be outraged. But unless you are a 60 something pensionless female, (or her dependent) I doubt the pension problem will keep you awake at night. We are not an especially high profile group.
So if you happen to notice a lady of a certain age, debating whether she can afford to turn on the heating, mention the words 'state pension', and see if you get a reaction.

To find out more about Claire Baldry go to www.clairebaldry.co.uk

Simply Modern Life
Different Genes
         

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Can Writers Change the World?


Today I have chosen to include some of my own thoughts in the Blog Tour for 'Simply Modern Life'. I am using this opportunity to reflect on just how important the writing of poetry and fiction is for every civilised society. 



Can Imaginative Writing Change the World?
Imagination is the ability to think ourselves into a situation or emotional state which is not our own. It is an essential tool for authors of fiction or poetry. They must, of course, also demonstrate the capacity to communicate their imaginings in writing.
Imagination is indeed so powerful that in 380 BC Greek philosopher, Plato, banned all poetry from his fictional republic claiming that it was dangerous.  Plato lived at a time when poetry was the main form of fiction, and was often used to manipulate human thoughts in a way that tabloid journalism sometimes does today. I understand his reasoning, but I fundamentally disagree with Plato’s point of view. Imaginative writing, both poetry and prose, is one of the most powerful gifts available to change human society for the better. 
Used well, imagination transports us into magical worlds which lift our spirits. It also allows us to visualise the consequences of our intended actions, before we cause chaos. There are numerous examples in, say, the development of medicines, where a scientist has had the imagination to take an accidental discovery, and use his or her imagination to envisage life changing consequences. Without imagination there would be no anti-biotics.
Immersing ourselves in stories and poems is a fundamental route to lifelong creativity. The dangers of a school curriculum  which seems to value ‘the basics’ more than imagination and emotional well-being cannot be overstated. We risk producing a generation of young adults who suffer disproportionately from stress with an impaired ability to ‘think through’ their ideas.
You only have to look at recent mistakes made by politicians from all political persuasions to see the unintended outcomes which can arise from a lack of imagination. Examples are everywhere, from re-organisation of benefits causing poverty to lack of regulation of social media which allows online hate and criminal activity. Of course, everyone makes mistakes, but a succession of governments seem to have caused more problems than they have solved through a desire to be seen to be seen doing good, but the inability to stop and fully imagine the consequences of their actions.

We must never underestimate the power of reading and writing fiction and poetry. It stretches our imaginative processes with a workout worthy of the Olympic Games.

I really do believe that writers have the ability to change the world. 


Claire Baldry’s booklet of poetry ‘Simply Modern Life’ was published by Matador on 28th August 2018
    


Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Books For Older Readers: Newsletter Three


Books For Older Readers: Newsletter Three
A Birthday Celebration
Yes, ‘Books For Older Readers' is one year old this week.
With over 400 members in our facebook group, and more than 15,000 hits on the website, combined with appearances on BBC Radio London and numerous podcasts and blogs, I think we can claim a successful first year. Several of our authors have achieved impressive new publishing deals, and I frequently get messages from readers saying how grateful they are to have found our selection of books on the website.

On 1st Sept we manned our first BFOR stall at the Hastings LItfest.



We made many useful contacts and gained a substantial number of new subscribers to our newsletter.
For those of you beginning to plan your Christmas shopping, our ‘Festive Titles’ page has now reappeared on the website. It has loads of great Christmassy titles which make excellent gifts or holiday reading. This is the link  http://www.booksforolderreaders.co.uk/christmas-special/4594116918

Which brings me to our BIRTHDAY GIVEAWAY. 
We have a massive bundle of six titles to send to one lucky subscriber to our newsletter.
Keep them for yourself, or send them to friends as Christmas gifts. There is something for everyone including a large print hardback book from Joan Moules, a Christmas favourite from Paula Harmon called the Advent Calendar, and more titles from BFOR favourites, Voinks and Claire Baldry. Every subscriber to our newsletter will be entered in to the draw so, if you haven't already done so, sign up before 30th November 2018 for your chance to win. http://www.booksforolderreaders.co.uk/subscribe-to-newsletter/4594153382
The name will be drawn in early December in plenty of time for Christmas.

I can't help but feel that our progress this year is neatly summed up by the tag line in Paula's book.


This time last year we opened a new door, and we are still making discoveries.
We would like to thank all our followers and subscribers for their support during our first year.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

If The Hat Fits.......


Today, several boxes of my brand new poetry book 'Simply Modern Life' arrived on my doorstep....an exciting moment for a poet.



"But hang on a minute" someone asked "Didn't you write a fiction book? Aren't you the person who published her debut novel 'Different Genes' last year?"
 Yes, that is also me. I am a poet and a debut novelist, and the diversity of my writing has, on occasions, led to a minor identity crisis.

To complicate matters further, up until my mid-fifties, I was a primary Headteacher. That was how I defined myself. My professional writing consisted of school reports, documents for governors, and occasional articles on education for the local authority. My creative writing was restricted to school Christmas plays and poetry for family occasions. Then one day I broke free. It's called 'early retirement'. I did so gradually by taking on other educational responsibilities, but I was nevertheless suddenly in charge of my own writing destiny.

The poet within me quickly emerged.....not a 'deep thinking layers of meaning' sort of poet, but simply someone who could manipulate language structure and rhyme into verses which would make people smile, and occasionally challenge their thinking. Combined with my years of experience in education, I soon found myself on the speaker circuit, reading my rapidly growing repetoire of poetry, and talking about my transition from Headteacher to Performance Poet. I called my first talk 'Retiring with Rhyme' and often still use this title.
Was I nervous about public speaking? After years of teaching, not especially.
What worried me most was what I should wear. What would a poet in her late fifties look like? What sort of image did I want to project?
At this point, I feel I should point at that my first attempts at looking like a 'poet' failed miserably.   
I had this idea of presenting myself as an itinerant bard, something like an Elizabethan minstrel. I envisaged myself in a large felt hat and long patchwork jacket. With no design team to advise me and a very small budget, I bought a cheap multi-coloured hat from a company called 'Happy Hats' and some patchwork trousers from a local outfitters. The result was a cross between a court jester and geriatric clown. No wonder my daughter curled up in embarrassment!

            

Then again, I do like hats. So once I discovered people were prepared to pay me a small fee for my appearances, I felt justified in making the move from 'Happy Hats' to something a little more expensive.
This was hat number 2, bought for my appearance in the finals of 'Hastings Has Got Talent'.


I was very fond of that hat, but it was hot to wear, so my next metamorphosis was a lighter Summer version.


This was the hat which launched the booklets 'The De La Warr Date' and 'Seaside and Sailaway'. It also packed flat in a suitcase!
At around this time, I was temporarily adopted by an agent for speakers on cruise ships. I say 'temporarily', because she has never secured me a booking. Anyway, this lady suggested I might be more successful at marketing myself as a cruise speaker if I looked like a 'real' writer. She requested a 'normal' photo of me sat at a desk with some of my books. This was the result.


The photo (using a borrowed desk) did not win any cruise bookings, but it has been immensely useful in promoting my novel. As I had, by this time, decided to write and publish my first novel, the more conventional me appeared on my new website www.clairebaldry.co.uk. Combined with www.poetrybyclaire.co.uk I now had two websites and two writing identities. My plan for a second (as yet unfinished) novel 'My Daughter's Wedding' began to take shape, but the poetry wouldn't go away. New poems demanded to be written, alongside my 'red phase'.


This outfit was immensely useful for Christmas performances, and I preferred the hat, because it sat neatly on my head and didn't shade my face.  In fact I liked the hat so much, that I bought an identical blue one, and then a blue top to match from a stall on Rye Market.
 
And it is from my 'blue phase' that I have brought my latest poetry book 'Simply Modern Life' into the world. (The ebook is on Amazon now. Printed copies will be available shortly.)


I still have two websites, but at least I have now included both a poetry photo and a novelist photo on my website www.clairebaldry.co.uk   . I am beginning to explore ways of pulling the roles together.
If ever I decide to write a non-fiction book, please try and stop me. I will run out of identities!

In the meantime, if you would like to book a performance poet/writer with an identity crisis for your club or special event, then please email claire@poetrybyclaire.co.uk . I try to keep my fees at £50 or less. I have over 50 bookings in 2018, so can't squeeze much more in, but I still have some spaces for 2019. I mostly work locally, but if you live somewhere interesting which is further afield anywhere in the UK,  I will consider combining my booking with a trip away, and won't charge expenses.

"We all loved having you Claire! After you had left there was still a buzz with everyone singing your praises. THANK YOU for a very special evening. It's so good that you are willing to share your gifts and talents!"
INK SPOT WRITERS PEVENSEY DEC 2016


Monday, 18 June 2018

Books For Older Readers: Newsletter Two



Because we never stop reading.........

Welcome to our June 2018 BFOR Newsletter. In this issue we are delighted to have four guest posts from authors featured on our website. Called People and Places, these pieces tell what has inspired some of the settings and characters in our novels. But first, here is a quick 'catch-up' on our recent news. 

The BFOR website has added a new page, called 'Something Different'. This is where we hope to add occasional non fiction books which might appeal to our readers. It's early days, but please drop in and glance at the first few titles in this category.
http://www.booksforolderreaders.co.uk/something-different/4594156461

We also have a new strapline "Because we never stop reading......" We hope you agree that this helps to divert the focus away from 'age' and towards 'content'.

Enthusiasm about the site's aim to promote books which tend to appeal to readers in mid-life and beyond has continued to grow and flourish. We are, as ever, grateful to everyone who shares our books and relevant articles on social media, especially since many (though not all) of our great authors are independently published, so do not have access to the marketing resources of a traditional publishing house. Books For Older Readers was recently featured in a terrific 30 minute audio interview with The Alliance of Independent Authors. Follow this is the link to hear site founder Claire Baldry and prolific 'older protaganist' author Maggie Christensen  talk about their books.
Lots of our authors are involved in book launches and signings, festivals and similar events. You will find a list of some of these dates at the end of this newsletter. In particular, we will have our very own stall at the Hastings Litfest on 1st September. Keep an eye on our facebook group for further details.

People and Places
As we rapidly approach the holiday season, where better to start our People and Places feature than Thirty-five Minutes from St Tropez with author Jane Dunning?

  

"As soon as I knew that the main setting for my first novel was going to be a vineyard in Provence, it was obvious that my principle characters would have to be comfortably off and in their late fifties, with grown-up children and grandchildren. I was in the middle of a four month stay in the Var, house-sitting on a vineyard, thirty-five minutes from St Tropez, which became the title of my first novel.  We had taken a wrong turning on the way to the chestnut capital of the Var, Collobrières, when the tarmac road became a deeply rutted track with a steep drop to one side. A scary six-point turn later, the idea came to me and the book was published a few years later. 
It seemed natural for my main character, Richard, to have a brother who turned out to be a wealthy former superyacht broker living with his American wife in a valuable apartment in Monaco. I’ve been to Monaco a few times so it was fairly easy to imagine what their life might be like as wealth is so evident in the Principality. Richard’s wife, Helen, has a younger sister who moved to Juan-les-Pins with her husband but he had sadly died, meaning she was trying to make a life on her own. I based this character on a mix of one of my friends and someone I knew of who lived on the Côte d'Azur. I found her character interesting as she grieves, and deals with loneliness before life starts to turn around for her. Having characters living in three different places on the French Riviera, allowed me to focus on setting as well as on them.


 I particularly loved writing about Richard and Helen’s twin grandchildren and their blossoming romances. Danielle is studying at university in Aix-en-Provence and undertakes her business placement at the Belle Époque Hôtel Hermitage in Monte Carlo, while staying with her uncle and aunt. I have stayed at this particular de luxe hotel and it features in both books, especially in Stolen Summer. Her twin works on various superyachts in the Mediterranean and, in Stolen Summer, has been promoted to bosun on an Italian boat which explores the Ligurian coast of Italy, visiting places I have stayed in over the years. 
The twins’ mother is a very difficult character. Around forty, she has quite a hard edge and a distinct lack of empathy even for those close to her. In Stolen Summer, she is very unhappy that her father has agreed that her brother, his French wife and three young children can move to the vineyard to run their rental property while his parents take it slightly easier and concentrate on promoting the vineyard. 
The villain in Stolen Summer is an Algerian grape picker, down on his luck, who causes trouble at the vineyard throughout the story. When we were house-sitting, the police visited to speak to the owner to find out about an actual grape picker who they were trying to trace. We didn’t know anything about this, but after hearing about him from the real vineyard owner, it gave me the idea to develop his role. 
When I wrote Thirty-five Minutes from St Tropez, I felt that everything had to be realistic but when writing Stolen Summer, I was quite happy to let my imagination run away with me. I am planning on making it a trilogy and will start writing later this year when I hope to include a Second World War thread."

Jane was born in Guernsey but grew up in Bournemouth. After a career in finance and latterly at Bournemouth University, she retired in 2007 and now spends several months a year exploring France and Italy.
Visit Jane's Facebook page

Next we take a tour of selected areas of Britain with writer Paula Harmon. You can find Paula's novel The Cluttering Discombobulator featured on our website.


"I try to bring a sense of place into everything I write, whether it’s a train carriage or a cliff top, or somewhere completely imaginary. I’ve been making up people or creatures ever since I can remember so if I haven’t anyone real to base a character on (friend, relation, colleague, stranger), I’ll imagine ‘who used to be here?’Who might have been here? and go from there.  All the same there are places and people who have been heavily influential. 
Dorset and Gloucestershire 
I lived in Gloucestershire for many years before moving to Dorset in 2005. In my short story collection ‘Kindling’, the story ‘Goth Girl’ is inspired by a real half-timbered house in Gloucestershire which I used to pass in the bus. All sorts of odd things had been found when it was renovated and yet it appeared so olde-worlde, cosy and peaceful in the sun. Who lived there once? Why did she hide the things she did? 
Roads take on a personality of their own when you travel a lot. The A35 from Dorchester to Exeter, for example is beautiful, soaring and diving with the contours of the Jurassic coast. Fogs envelop and then disperse, revealing pretty villages or past mysterious groves. In the fog, I feel I could be  somehow travelling alongside Ancient Britons or Romans. ‘Bauble’ in ‘The Advent Calendar’ and ‘Night Navigating’ and ‘Threshold’ in ‘Weird and Peculiar Tales’ are inspired by this journey. 

South Wales 



"When I was eight, my family moved from Berkshire to West Glamorgan. Dad was quite unique and hugely influential in shaping my thoughts and ideas as a child. I was deeply unhappy when we moved as I’d had to leave friends and grandparents behind, but at home there was love and there were books. Lots and lots of books. It wasn’t until my late forties, after Dad died, that I started to take writing seriously. I began to recall my childhood in South Wales, playing in the woods and river, dangling my feet in the waterfall. Dad would take us on fossil or jasper hunts along the Gower coast, bringing ruined castles, caves and woodlands alive.While our Welsh village (and sometimes Dad) gets into several short stories in ‘Kindling’ and one in ‘The Advent Calendar’, it is in ‘The Cluttering Discombobulator’ that I wrote not only about that first year after we moved to Wales, but about Dad in his thirties with all his wild ideas as well as Dad as a pensioner, complaining that I - forty plus - had grown far too sensible for his liking. 
London 
Nowadays, I travel to London at least twice a week and much of my writing is done on trains. I love London. Its history and vibrancy fascinate me, though I’m so glad to go back to Dorset in the evening. I often walk from Waterloo to the office rather than take the tube, and imagine what it was like through the ages, from Roman times through war and fire to nowadays. When Liz Hedgecock, asked if I’d like to collaborate in writing a novel, both of us felt that Victorian London was the place to set it. Our main characters are young women, brought together when one receives a mysterious letter which catapults them into danger. One of the characters has an Aunt and a lodger living in her house, maiden ladies in their forties. Katherine thinks them impossibly old to begin with, but in fact they are not as stuffy as she thinks. I drew on memories of my maiden aunts who were all very determined, intelligent women with strong senses of humour and far from over the hill. I recall my favourite great aunt sitting down with punks in 1978 to ask them how they did their hair, pleased to report afterwards how pleasant and polite they were despite appearances. 
‘The Case of the Black Tulips’ is first in a series and as the adventures continue, one of the maiden ladies at least, will show her mettle and become an indispensable ally."



Paula Harmon, author of ‘The Cluttering Discombobulator’, ’Kindling’ and ‘The Advent Calendar’, co-author of ‘The Case of The Black Tulips’ and ‘Weird and Peculiar Tales’ is a Chichester University graduate who has lived in Blandford Forum since 2005. She is a civil servant, married with two children.
www.paulaharmondownes.wordpress.com 


And now we head to North Carolina in the USA to meet author Beatrice Fishback. Although originally from New York, Beatrice lived in the East Anglian area of Great Britain for over twenty years and has travelled extensively in the UK and throughout Europe Her Novel Dying to Eat at the Pub is based  in an English village.  



"It starts with an idea ..... It started with a sentence, spiraled into a paragraph and morphed into an article. That’s how writing in my fifties grew into a craft I have grown to love in my sixties. 
Writing begins with one word, one idea. 
How did “Dying to Eat at the Pub” come into being? Believe it or not, the idea spawned from my husband’s grimy gardening shirt. Here was a man who had been in the military for over twenty-years, had worn spit-shined shoes, creased trousers and was always clean-shaven. 
In his semi-retirement years, it seemed as if all those things went to the wind. He became quite comfortable in his grubby clothes, unshaven chin and a growing interest in gardening. Not that there’s anything wrong with gardening, but tools were scattered here and there, hats and gloves left hither and yon, and a leisurely approach to life was a transition I wasn’t prepared for. One of his favorite gardening attire was a green, corduroy shirt and tattered jeans. Day after day he would don these coveralls and head outside into our small garden plot. We lived in a converted pub in a small village in Suffolk and the setting was ideal. 
On a particularly early morning, we were sitting at the kitchen table having our usual breakfast fare. It was when I looked at this stubble-faced man, green shirt with rips and buttons missing, that the thought occurred to me how perfect this new lifestyle was the ideal backdrop to a cozy mystery. 
My encouragement to anyone wishing to write is to keep your eyes and ears opened to what is happening in and around you. They say the best stories are told about a subject the author knows the most about. And what could we know more than our very lives. A memoir doesn’t have to be non-fiction. It can be written as a fictional piece, with humor thrown in, and tidbits of everyday life. 

If I can pen an idea that started with my husband’s gardening shirt, you can write about anything your heart desires."

Finally, we discover why the River Thames provided such an inspirational setting for Julia Thum (known as Ginger Black)'s novel Riverside Lane.

"The River Thames has been an artery of artistic inspiration for centuries and setting Riverside Lane in a fictional village on its banks gave me an excuse to enjoy and research the mercurial muse that has inspired musicians, writers and artists since before the Magna Carta. 
“Serene yet strong, majestic yet sedate, Swift without violence, without terror great.”  (Matthew Prior)
The stretch of water from Bray to Marlow is littered with literary landmarks and a walk along their towpaths takes you tip-toeing in the ghostly footsteps of many artistic geniuses.
For they were young and the Thames was old,  And this is the tale that the River told”  (Rudyard Kipling) Marlow’s literary tales date back to Thomas Love Peacock writing his Gothic satire Nightmare Abby and Percy and Mary Shelley composing The Revolt of Islam and Frankenstein from their home in West Street.  Seventy years later Jerome K Jerome wrote part of his comic novel Three Men in a Boat at the local pub.  T.S Elliot expressed his resentment at the entrapment of marriage in ”Ode on Independence Day, July 4th 1918", from a house in Marlow’s West Street. 
“The river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.” (Kenneth Grahame) 
The watery wanderings of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows characters were dreamed up within earshot of the river.  The Wild Wood is an image of Quarry Wood outside Bourne End and in the village is the Edwardian boathouse, the model for Mr Toad’s boathouse, then Enid Blyton’s beautiful riverside garden. Three locks downstream Rebecca West set her novel Return of the Soldier on Monkey Island, where  she conducted much of her affair with HG Wells. This historic Thames hideaway is now converted to a luxury hotel. 
“You can’t walk by the river at Cliveden Reach and not believe in God” (Stanley Spencer)
 A common sight along the banks of the most painted river in the world is an artist and easel. Stanley  Spencer, who produced some of the Thames’ most legendary paintings, lived in Cookham where there is now a gallery in his honour.  JMW Turner depicted Maidenhead’s Sounding Arch in ‘Rain, Speed & Steam’ and Edward Gregory famously painted Boulter’s Lock.  Shortly afterwards Henry H Parker depicted a more peaceful scene in his painting “The Silent Waters of the Thames”. 
“Sweet Thames, run softly, ‘till I end my song.” (Edmund Spenser & T S Eliot)
 Edward Elgar is said to have composed his Violin Concerto from The Hut on Monkey Island around the time Australian opera star Dame Nellie Melba was practicing her arias in Cookham’s Quarry Wood. Nearly a century later the river’s creative pulse still beat fast when Kate Bush sang of  “that old river poet that never, ever ends”. Perhaps now, if you listen quietly, the ghosts of this magical river may sing you a song.  Or stand silently with the herons and the fishermen and as it meanders with quiet purpose through serpentine curves, The Thames might tell you a tale. The river provided us with the narrative spine to Riverside Lane, giving life blood to our plot and flowing through every character and chapter.  I am told the name ‘Old Father Thames’ stems from the river having so many tributaries, but I prefer think it is because of the boundless works of art, music, fiction and poetry it has sired on its tireless journey to the sea."



With grateful thanks to Jane Dunning, Paula Harmon, Beatrice Fishback and Julia Thum for their contributions to this newsletter. 


Dates for your Diary
25th May 2018
 Ebook Publication Date for 'Weird and Peculiar Tales by Val Portelli and Paula Harmon 
19th June 2018 Ebook Publication Date 19th for  The Case of the Black Tulips by Paula Harmon & Liz Hedgecock.      
22nd July 'On The Rocks' Hastings 7.30pm ENTRY FREE
Claire Baldry will perform excerpts from her forthcoming poetry book 'Simply Modern Life'
8th August  Helly's Festival, Helston 12pm ENTRY £5
A chance to hear popular author Jane Cable talk about 'A sense of Place in Fiction'
1st Sept Hastings Litfest
Books for Older Readers stall from 10.00 am til 4pm.....come and say hello!




The Ri






















Monday, 21 May 2018

Hidden Gems of Bexhill






One of the things I really like about Bexhill is the way we have managed to retain so many small independent shops. It's not been an easy time for the retail industry, and not all our smaller local vendors have survived, but compared with many seaside towns, we've done pretty well. So today, I have selected four small businesses to mention. There are, of course, many, many more businesses, who are worthy of a mention, but I had to begin somewhere.
I have chosen these four, because they are slightly hidden away. You have to seek them out....but I think you will find the search worthwhile. 
So let's start on the seafront, on the promenade below the De La Warr Pavilion.

The Bag Ladies
Nestled in a unit to the West of the Colonnade is a small business run by the 'Bag Ladies'. Come rain or shine, you'll normally find one of them sat behind the counter with a crochet hook or a sewing machine creating some of the very special hats and bags which are displayed within the extensive stock.


 
People who follow my poetry will be aware that I am particularly fond of hats, but could anyone resist the combination of a unique handmade bag with a choice of hat? You just have to visit this treasure trove to discover all it has to offer.

R and R Watches
If you can drag yourself away from the seafront, our next stop is at the back of the Arcade in Western Road. The entrance doesn't do the Arcade justice, but bear with me and step inside.


Keep walking and you will arrive at the most amazing shop full of watches, clocks, in fact anything to do with time. Prices start very low, and this is definitely the place to source a replacement battery for your watch or clock. Time-keeping is very important to me when I do my poetry performances, and I bought a watch there last year, with a very clear face, so I can glance at it without the audience noticing. It has never let me down.

The outside of the shop, demands that you enter.


And I can't be the only one who feels this, because, whenever I pass, the little shop always seems busy. Whether you want to choose from the  massive variety of watch straps or clocks, you will not be disappointed.



With such an abundance of time on offer, who could resist?


Moving on we are heading south to Parkhurst Road. It is parallel to Western Road and houses a mixture of residential and commercial buildings. Towards the western end you'll find the entrance to Unit 4 +2.


The impressive walkway leads to a spacious light-filled area full of original, good looking and well designed items. You know those days when search endlessly for something special, as a gift for a friend? This is the place to go. You will undoubtedly find what you are looking for, and it won't break the bank.
I'm no expert photographer, but fortunately these photos speak for themselves.





Did you find what you were looking for??


Most shopping trips include a rest for coffee or a bite to eat, so my final stop is at Avra, a little cafe on the west side of Town Hall Square. This is well within walking distance of the town centre shops.  If you stand on the central green and look towards Bexhill Town Hall, 'Avra' is on your left.
It's a cafe and takeaway, clean, friendly and open long hours.


It's the sort of eaterie where you can dash in for a quick cuppa or linger over a large mug of chocolate. Proprietor, Annette, will make you feel welcome with her warm smile and attentive service.



The very reasonably priced menu includes the usual cafe choices of breakfasts, salads, lunches and pizzas, so why take the walk to Avra, when there are similar cafes, closer to the town centre? What will you be offered that is different? The answer is a little taste of rural Greece. Alongside the traditional cafe menu, are a few home-made Greek dishes with one of two daily specials. 



I'm still working my way through the Greek specialities, but I did try the Fasolada, which is a substantial and tasty bean soup, extremely filling if you are looking for some extra carbs to sustain you for further shopping. I have also tried the Kotopoulo and pita. This is a plate of charcoal grilled marinated chicken  with home made pita bread, tomato onion and tzatziki. It's not high end cuisine, but if you want an authentic Greek dish for under £6, then I would highly recommend it.



Thank you for taking this journey with me around Bexhill. If you happen to pass any of the places I've mentioned, why not pop in and say hello? If you would like to recommend a further 'hidden gem', then please send me a message, and I will try and include it in a later blog.   

Claire Baldry is a writer, blogger and performance poet who lives in Bexhill. She has published 5 poetry booklets and two novel. 

More details about Claire's novels





Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Books For Older Readers: Newsletter One



Welcome to the very first
 Books for Older Readers Newsletter: March 2018

How it began……
During an online chat about six months ago 62 year-old debut novelist, Claire Baldry, asked a group of likeminded facebook users a question which generated hundreds of responses. She enquired “Why aren't traditional publishing houses more interested in novels with older characters at the centre of the plot?” Answers to her question immediately exploded over Facebook. She had inadvertently unplugged a torrent of opinions. One blogger spoke for many when she said “I've been banging on about this for ages, but no one seems to listen".
 So Claire set up a facebook group and created a website, which she called ‘Books for Older Readers’. She later confessed  ”I would love to tell you that my actions were the result of a longstanding literary vision, but that would not be truthful. I was motivated by a combination of curiosity, the desire to help out and a self-interested wish to increase the sales of my own recently published book”.
Initial reactions to the website were mixed. Enthusiasm and gratitude were interspersed with (sometimes angry) accusations on social media that Claire was being ageist and trying to pigeon hole reading tastes. But Claire kept going. As she explained “I never really understood the ageist argument, because books are already described as ‘young adult’ or ‘chicklit’. My website was certainly not intended to tell people of any age what they should be reading. It was simply a tool for readers who were seeking books which reflected some of those issues and emotions experienced by people in mid-life and beyond.”
Despite the occasional criticism, the facebook group proved extremely popular. Moreover, the website hits quickly grew from hundreds to thousands.  People began to blog about the initiative, and very many authors asked for their books to be featured on the site. Readers were interested in browsing the digital bookshelves to discover new titles which might appeal to them. Claire found herself at the start of what could now be described as a literary campaign.

The Website
The Books for Older Readers website now features 45 very varied titles with more on the way. If you haven’t had time to look recently, this is the link www.booksforolderreaders.co.uk

BBC Radio London



 By coincidence, at about the same time as Claire set up the website, a forward looking (and young) commissioning editor of a large publishing house put out a timely request for manuscripts which contained older protagonists. Phoebe Morgan had noticed a demand. One of the Older Readers facebook group with media experience alerted Claire, and in January this year Christine Webber and Claire Baldry, both now novelists, were invited to be interviewed with Phoebe on the BBC Radio London Jo Good Show. Christine was interviewed live over the phone, whilst Claire travelled to New Broadcasting House to meet up with Jo and Phoebe for a face to face discussion. The session proved popular with listeners and gave extra credibility to the idea that some themes in books are more likely to appeal to older readers, not to mention the commercial argument that readers of a certain age are often avid buyers of books.

Where Next?
There is no master plan for the future direction of the group. Claire’s view is that now the website seems to be taking off, she will just wait and see where it leads.
There will definitely be further (probably shorter) newsletters. More giveaways have been discussed, and hopefully the group will attract future and increasing press coverage. Look out for stalls and speakers at occasional Literary Festivals.
With continuing success, both ‘older’ readers, and writers whose books appeal to those readers, could become the winners.

Giveaway   
With winners in mind, and to celebrate their very first newsletter, the Books For Older Readers group are offering a 3 Book Bundle to one lucky newsletter subscriber. For a chance to win, subscribers must have a UK address and sign up by 31st March 2018. This is the link.  http://www.booksforolderreaders.co.uk/subscribe-to-newsletter/4594153382


  
Thank you to the following authors for contributing to the giveaway

Changes’ by Voinks   "Changes happen in life. Just hold on tight and enjoy the ride."

‘Different Genes’ by Claire Baldry    “Brilliantly written with depth and heart”

‘The Faerie Tree’ by Jane Cable    “The whole emotional content is quite perfectly handled”



Dates for your Diary

13th March      Caroline James: Publication Date  ‘The Best Boomerville Hotel’ 

17th March      Claire Baldry: Book Signing of ‘Different Genes’ at Rother Books in Battle

31st March       BFOR Newsletter Subscription Giveaway Deadline

1st May             Linda MacDonald: Publication of New Edition of ‘Meeting Lydia’

4th May            Faith Hogan: Publication of New Edition of ‘Secrets We Keep’

5th May            Barbara Quinn: Book Signing of ‘The Summer Springsteen's Songs Saved Me’
                        at Asbury Park, New Jersey, USA

1st June          Bethany Askew: Talk Ilminster Literary Festival



We are delighted that you have taken an interest in our group.
Thank you for your support.