A Date With . . . Chris Robertson

A great interview.

Frank Parker's author site

Chris Robertson lives in the community of Niagara Falls in Ontario. I wondered how long he has lived there.

“I’ve lived pretty much my entire life here in ‘The Falls’ as
locals call it. I was born here, married here, and all three of my
children were born here. In my mid twenties my family and I moved to
Peterborough, Ontario, but moved back here after only eighteen
months. There really isn’t all that much to say about likes and
dislikes though. Other than a whole bunch of falling water and
‘tourist traffic hell’ in the summertime it really isn’t any
different than other places. No matter what happens it will always be
my hometown.”

He doesn’t see his writing as a career:

“Not the way I look at it anyway. It’s really something that
started off as a joke. Tom Rotella (co-author of Sparks in the
Dark
) and…

View original post 1,461 more words

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What women don’t talk about to men!

background couple

The other day, my husband and I were talking about the aches and pains of getting older. A friend of mine once said, ‘old age is not for wimps‘ and she’s quite right about the challenges it brings, but that isn’t what this blog is about. I told him how happy I’d been to reach menopause, despite the hormonal minefield I had to navigate. I was just so bloody happy, if you’ll forgive the pun, to have finally stopped having periods.

‘Try having to shave every day,’ was my husband’s response.

What? Really? I was gobsmacked. Yes, shaving every day must be a recurring annoyance, but it brought home to me how little men understand about women and how little we women understand about men. Mars and Venus? Possibly. The point of this observation, though, is how can we expect men to understand women, when women understandably don’t talk about one of the most personal factors that influences their lives, and men probably don’t talk about theirs, either. (I used to get upset about my husband having a hard-on when he saw a pretty girl, before I understood it was an involuntary physiological response he had no control over – at least, that’s what he told me.)

Well, fellas, here goes, and I expect to hear from you, later. I want to know what makes you tick – your dreams and exasperations, your life burdens, anxieties, joys,  involuntary physiological responses, and shaving. OK?

My ex-husband read my novel Where Hope Dares and commented that I perfectly understood men’s psyches. While I was pleased I had my male characters realistically portrayed, worryingly, their psyches weren’t very pretty. But I shan’t judge men by my ex-husband’s opinion of them – I know a lot of very caring fellas, at least, I think I know them.

Firstly, before we get personal, the general differences. A man once told me men have sex and women make love – I think that may say more about him than men in general, but it raises an interesting point: the basic human roles the sexes play. Men are hunters and women are gatherers. Men need excitement: women, if they intend to have children, need security. They complement one another in the necessary life skills required to raise the next generation.

As a writer mainly of historical fiction, the relationships between men and women in history loom large. I explore this a bit in my historical trilogy For Their Country’s Good, and I found the research I did illuminating. It helps when considering the women’s liberation movement and women’s push for equality in the workplace, possibly one of the arguments still simmering between the sexes, to understand from where the movement sprang.

Nowadays, gender stereotyping is fading, but in the mid eighteen hundreds, women had no rights. They belonged to their husbands, who owned everything they may have had before they married, owned any children of the marriage, and could legally imprison, beat, and rape their wives. Men were admired for their number of mistresses, but if a woman showed the least impropriety, she could be set aside, penniless, and be refused access to their children. As one enlightened male of the time said, the marriage laws were made by men, for men. Even as late as the 1970s, rape was still legal in marriage. I find this shocking, but this was the historical springboard of inequality for the women’s movements that followed. So when we get uppity about equality, chaps, cut us some slack – equality is very recent and tenuous, and we have some catching up to do.

War in the 20th century allowed some women out of the home for the first time, working in forestry, farming, munitions, factories, and various other hitherto male-dominated workplaces, but those who were able to work slaved for a pittance compared to their male counterparts. Women were, for the most part, entirely dependant on a man if they were to raise a family – and a family could be fourteen or more children. A woman was either pregnant or breast feeding for a large chunk of her life. Milk cows come to mind. Even in my own teenage years, I was told my choices of career weren’t open to me. I wanted to go into forestry, and failing that, farming. I was told the Forestry Commission only employed men, (Had they forgotten the lumber-Jills of WW2?) and I needed to be a farmer’s daughter to get on an agricultural course. I went into banking, which apparently was acceptable for a woman, and hated every effin’ minute.

I can’t help thinking that fewer relationships would fail if men and women understood each other better. A man’s primal hormonal urges might have been, wham, bang, thank you, ma’am, but if a woman gave herself to a man before around 1950, she expected to become pregnant and have a lifelong duty of care to her offspring or very possibly die in childbirth. Childbirth was the most common cause of death for a woman until midwifery provided a safe and sanitary environment. It wasn’t until contraception came along, in fact, the contraceptive pills and the intra-uterine devices of the sixties, that women could control their own lives to any real degree and actually enjoy sex for its own sake or consider a career and spread their aspirational wings.

Men hunt – women gather. Men go forth to multiply and provide food – women nest and nurture, and that isn’t always seen as the important job it is – the raising of a generation of balanced men and women, who are kind and considerate and are our future hope. We are genetically pre-programmed at a molecular level to be two sides of the same coin, opposites, but mutually inseparable. If we can understand and tolerate this basic difference and this basic co-dependence, then surely, we are halfway there.

I suppose it’s time we got more personal. Thankfully, each generation is less hampered by taboos than the last, but in my generation, one didn’t speak about periods. When I was thirteen, my mother gave me a small leaflet that ‘explained’ them and said now your troubles begin.  Not very encouraging to a girl at puberty, Mother. That was all the sex education and support I got. I didn’t realise then how much this biological necessity would impact my life.

And then there’s maternal instinct, ladies – oh boy, don’t get me started. It doesn’t matter that you don’t particularly like children and have your heart set on being an astronaut, your primal hormone-modified body and brain insist that nine months of pregnancy, hours of agony in labour, and a lifetime of worrying about your kids is not only a good thing, but an absolute necessity you can’t possibly be happy without. That doesn’t mean I don’t love my kids to bits, but a rational choice in the matter would have been nice.

I had a friend, a petite brunette, a hairdresser by trade, who was the sweetest natured person you could hope to meet. She was happily married with a young daughter. She told me once that she didn’t know how her husband put up with her. This shocked me until she confided that, every month, he had to hide all the sharp knives. I thought she was joking. But no. Hormones, turned this lovely young woman into someone with an almost uncontrollable urge to stab her husband. I mean, can you imagine what that would have done to her life, had she actually done it? And women have gone to jail for no other reason that it was their ‘time of the month’. What a terrifying thing for both of them to have to live with.

My sister-in-law had such painful periods as a child, she would faint on the bus to school. Her doctor told her she’d be better once she’d had children. Great news for a twelve-year-old! Fortunately, my mother-in-law was forward thinking and insisted the doctor prescribed the contraceptive pill which helped her enormously.

Another friend suffered so much from menstruation she had a hysterectomy and denied herself the children she would have loved. So sad – she would have been a wonderful mother.

I was more fortunate. I do confess to having suffered mild Pre-Menstrual Syndrome, PMS, though I didn’t recognise it for what it was at the time,  but compared with some posts I’ve read on forums, while researching both men’s and women’s experiences of PMS for novels, I got off very lightly and so did my ex-husband.

So what constitutes getting off lightly? The nearest I can come to explaining periods to a man is for them to imagine having constant diarrhoea and stomach cramps for about a week every lunar month but never knowing quite when it’s going to start or finish or how severe it will be.

Other symptoms? Feeling tetchy and tired. Feeling dirty and smelly. Always needing to know where the nearest loo is and how long it will take you to get there. The constant fear of blood showing on your outer garments due to leakage, having enough sanitary products on your person – I wasn’t fortunate enough to be able to use tampons – and the very worst thing of all, having to try to calculate when a period was likely to come in order to plan days out and future holidays, so I could enjoy them without embarrassment – and I could guarantee the gods would mess my cycle about, so I rarely managed a holiday or day out without needing loos… Climbing mountains, swimming, lying by the pool in a swimsuit? Oh, the joys of being a woman. No, I take that back, the very worst thing was feeling too embarrassed to tell my ex-husband why I was so cross with life and being generally grotty, when I should have been enjoying myself.

Towards menopause, things got worse, and I have a friend going through this at the moment. Hot flushes and night sweats – I swapped jumpers for cardigans, and my bedclothes were on and off like a bride’s nighty. Panic attacks – I wasn’t prepared for those, not being the panicky sort, but I had to walk out of shops because of the claustrophobia, had to stop the car halfway through a journey and get out, I couldn’t listen to loud music, and I haven’t been for  a meal in a restaurant since – it was an intense feeling of being trapped.

Periods got heavy, and I mean heavy. It’s called menorrhoea, and had I known it had a name, perhaps I could have got help, but no, not me, being too embarrassed about it. I’m talking huge black clots of blood that felt almost like giving birth, usually in the middle of a walk, miles from anywhere, and feeling blood running down your legs and knowing three nighttime towels at once just wouldn’t cut it even if you had somewhere private to sort yourself out. Too graphic? Sorry, it wasn’t pleasant then, either. Stomach cramps so intense my husband called out the doctor at midnight, and I ended up in hospital. Exhaustion due to anemia – I had to have an iron injection and take iron supplements because I was pouring blood for three weeks out of every four. I literally hardly dared go anywhere for about three years, and needless to say, sex was way down on the agenda, but could I explain this to my husband? He knew, of course, but he couldn’t truly understand because I didn’t tell him how severe it was. Discussing huge black clots and dripping blood? Me? I’d have been mortified.

I was fifty-three when I finally stopped having periods, and my overriding response was rage. Not anger at being past the reproductive stage of my life, or beginning the descent into old age, but rage at having had my life buggered up for forty years – almost to the day. I have often thought that if men had to endure periods, they’d have come up with a ‘cure’. So why haven’t women?

The feeling of freedom, once the initial rage was spent, was immense. I could now go out for a day and enjoy it without worry. I could plan a holiday months in advance without the least anxiety – was this what it was like to be a man? I didn’t have to constantly wonder where the loos were and plan each stage of my journey accordingly, and best of all, I wasn’t ruining my husband’s enjoyment by being grumpy and tetchy and not wanting to ‘do things’ and needing a loo – well, I am a bit grumpy, sometimes, but not because I feel trapped by my own body, and ‘female’ – and now, because of his prostate, he needs the loos more often than I do.

There are downsides, of course, osteoporosis because of falling oestrogen levels and needing – wait for it fellas, you’ll like this – needing to shave! I never wanted to be a woman, but then I’m not sure I’d have coped well with the burdens and responsibilities of being a man, either.

I think I’ll come back as a dog. Sounds like a plan.

I do hope some fellas will reply and be as brutally honest about what it means to be male. For the sake of marital harmony, we women need to understand, too.

 

Stop! You are breaking my heart.

I read this article on Wales on-line last night. It’s about palm oil washing up on Welsh beaches that is potentially fatal to dogs. As my local beach is about the only haven of peace left in this world, and as one of many local dog  walkers, I was alarmed. But it was the banned Christmas advert from Iceland that dug deeper into my heart – banned because it’s too political? If this doesn’t make a person cry then perhaps they are part of the problem our planet faces and not part of the solution. Please share if this makes you weep.

Wales on-line article

And click on the link below to see the banned video.

There’s an orangutan in my bedroom

Just one last wafer-thin mint? Or would you rather put your feet up with a good book for FREE?

You’ve eaten too much, spent too much, watched too much TV, and drunk too much, but I bet you haven’t read too much. You can always squeeze one or four more books into your Kindle before it explodes especially when they’re free on Boxing Day and December 27th.

These are our Christmas gifts to you. Just click the book title, download, and dive into some epic romantic series and a contemporary mystery.

Sarah would like to give you these two.

DangerousLiaisons – Contemporary romance

SARAH STUART 5Lizzie is heiress to a Scottish laird but gives up her inheritance to follow a command to find love, left in a Book of Hours by a Tudor queen. But royal commands are dangerous to follow as Lizzie finds out to her cost. Can she make her lover’s dream to become an actor come true, fight off the paparazzi when scandal rears its ugly head, and hide a forbidden child?

Dangerous Liaisons is a book that you will not regret buying. Sarah Stuart has a wonderful way of writing and weaving a tale. Each of her characters is brought so much to life that you feel like they are real people.
Lizzie and Michael’s lives have not been easy. They were drawn together from the very first touch of their hands. Little did they know what the road ahead of them would hold. Towards the end of the book, you really begin to understand the effect that every choice you make has but mostly how strong love can be, and how powerful forgiveness is.
From the start to the end of this amazing page turner, you will find yourself feeling every emotion on the scale. from soaring to the top, falling to the bottom then back up again. There will be times in your everyday life when you will try to work out the end but it will never be what you guess.
There is one WARNING I would give – you will be begging to have a BOOK of HOURS all your own. I am not sure if this will pass as it has not for me yet.
Do I recommend this book? HELL YES!’ – Amazon review.

and

Three Against the World – contemporary romance

SS1Richard loses his job, his fiancee gives him back his ring, and his ex-wife dumps a daughter he didn’t know he had on his doorstep – and it’s only Monday! Can he make a home for himself, his abandoned daughter, Maria, and his rescue dog, Ben, and still find the woman of his dreams?

Never work with children and animals, the saying goes… but Sarah Stuart has flown in the face of this advice and produced a thoroughly enjoyable – dare I say, even spellbinding – story that revolves around the hopeless romantic Richard, his putative daughter Maria, and Ben, the Jack Russell who stole my heart. I love this author’s effortless and deceptively simple style – it immediately flowed and drew me into the narrative, and I was increasingly engaged with the characters and the plot. Some of the female characters were femme fatales of the worst kind, and I often wanted to yell at the ever-trusting and starry-eyed Richard: “Look out behind you!” However, in the past, I have fallen foul myself into the giddy trap of placing hope over experience, and it’s a steep learning curve – and Richard is still on the baby slopes throughout most of this book. The themes in the novel are not simply romantic, and although Richard seemed at times to be throwing himself recklessly into yet another black hole of an inevitably mismatched relationship, I couldn’t help but admire his stamina and decency, and his numerous struggles to do the right thing. Maria’s low self-esteem when she is dumped on his doorstep at the age of fourteen is the outcome of cruelly abysmal mothering, and the book takes the reader on a journey over several years to see how love eventually helps to heal her wounds, as well as Richard’s. I unreservedly recommend this novel, and I’m looking forward to reading more of this author’s work.’ – Amazon review

And I’d love it if you’d accept my gift of these two.

On Different Shores – Historical romance

ODS front cover 400px FINAL 14.4.17 RFbadgeA woman in love is unstoppable, and Ella is a woman in love. When Jem and his two cousins fall foul of a gamekeeper, who dies at their hands, they escape the hangman’s noose only to be transported to Van Diemen’s Land for life. Ella, his common-law wife, is left pregnant and penniless and determined her child will know its father; she will do anything to follow the man she loves.

Banished for a kiss that she did not initiate, Ella Maundrell finds herself at the mercy of Reverend Buchanan. The Reverend is determined to find a respectable husband for Ella. Ella has no choice but to go along with the Reverend’s plans. But then she met Jem, and everything changed. Little does she know just how much she will have to sacrifice to stay with the man she loves.
On Different Shores (For Their Country’s Good, #1) is a heartbreaking story of a forbidden first love. Set in Victorian England, Ella has no rights. She is the property of her husband, Harry, and he can do with her what he wills. At times I found this book difficult to read because of the content. Ella suffers so much at the hands of her husband and his family that at one point I had to put the book down and walk away. However, I was desperate to find out what would happen to Ella, so I picked the book up again and I did not put it down until I had finished.
Rebecca Bryn has certainly created a compelling read. The story is fast-paced, with many twists and turns. The protagonist and antagonists are all well fleshed. They came across as very real in the telling.
On Different Shores (For Their Country’s Good, #1) shows the worst of Victorian Britain. Ms Bryn spares not her readers as she describes the poverty, the injustice of the legal system, and the horror of the poorhouses. This book is very rich in historical detail, and the backdrop is very real in the telling. Kudos Ms Bryn. I look forward to reading the further books in the series.’ – Amazon review

and

The Silence of the Stones – Contemporary mystery

New cover STONES to upload 400pxWhen Alana, an aspiring artist, is left a cottage in West Wales by an aunt she didn’t know existed, she is catapulted into the centre of a 30-year-old conspiracy of silence about two missing toddlers and the local woman convicted of their murders. Alana’s arrival in the village coincides with the woman’s release due to unsafe evidence, and someone is out for revenge on those who perjured themselves. Alana’s dead aunt holds the key, but can Alana discover the truth before revenge turns to personal tragedy?

I’ve just finished The Silence of the Stones……….. wow! ….loved it…. best read I’ve had in ages….. couldn’t put it down!
Mystery, magick, wild Pembrokeshire, stone circles, a little romance, and a twist and then another – right up my street. The characters came alive as I read and I was transported to a Pembrokeshire village to live with them for a while to share their lives, their hopes and dreams, and their tragedies. This is the first
book I’ve read by this author and it won’t be the last!
Thank you for a great reading experience Rebecca Bryn.’ – Amazon review

Thank you for accepting our gifts. We hope you enjoy them, and we’d both love it if you left us a review on Amazon or Goodreads. And don’t forget to tell your friends and help spread the word for Indie authors.
And have a great 2019!

 

‘Until the air we breathe is more valuable than the pound in our pockets…’

This was something my husband said yesterday, and it summed up my feelings about our species’ wilful determination to self-destruct. It was prompted by us following a rubbish lorry through our local town and seeing how many bags were thrown into it. The ‘dustmen’ get a real workout doing their job, and I was impressed by them. We were held up by three rubbish lorries within a handful of streets, and it brought home to us the scale of what we discard. – the profligate waste.

Three lorries in a handful of streets in a small town in a sparsely populated county of a tiny country with only two million souls – Wales. I tried to envisage that multiplied worldwide and failed – it’s like trying to count the stars in the multiverse. There is reported to be an island of plastic the size of Wales floating around in the Pacific. Daily Mail

That we are drowning in plastic is undeniable, that packaging, especially excess and deliberately misleading packaging, size and value-wise, is the major source is also undeniable. I can remember a time before plastic. We had paper bags, string and hessian or leather shopping bags, cardboard tubes and boxes, glass jars and bottles, and metal foil. It worked and it was all biodegradable or re-used.

That our lives are made easier by having dishwashers, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, coffee makers,  fridge-freezers, central heating, and so  on ad infinitum is also undeniable. There are many labour-saving devices I’d hate to be without, but before these devices came into being, women worked hard, shopped daily, and managed.

We love to travel, something ordinary people rarely did when I was a child, and the recent drone scare at Gatwick has highlighted the environmental cost of flying. Not just flying for pleasure but air transport in general. We expect an infinite variety of fresh food all the year round, and it all requires transportation. There was time when we kept pigs, goats, and chickens, grew our own food in gardens and allotments, and ate cabbage, carrots, and onions in winter and tomatoes, cucumber, and lettuce in summer. (Well not entirely, but you get my drift) Every village had its shoemaker, blacksmith, seamstress, doctor, midwife, builder, plumber, small shop, and pub. Before personal transport, a worker travelled no farther than they could walk or cycle, and feet and bicycles don’t pollute much. We toiled and we managed, in fact, we managed very well. We built inter-dependent communities.

There was a time when the trade winds brought sailing ships with tea to England from China; now huge container ships the size of a small city bring – dare I say it -in my opinion, a plethora of unnecessary sub-standard goods that will break long before they should or don’t work in the first place. Made in China, in our house at least, is synonymous with crap. Before Beeching, we had a rail network that was within reach of almost every village. Freight was transported by rail, not road. Before that, canals with horse-drawn barges carried our freight around the country, and before that, horses and carts or pack ponies followed the drove roads along with the herds of cattle and sheep that were walked to market. Men, children, and horses worked and walked and life ambled at that pace.

There was a time when food had twice the nutritional value that is has now. I heard this recently, and it didn’t entirely surprise me. Before we began to use artificial fertilizer that pollutes our rivers, from whence our drinking water originates, we looked after the structure of the soil and its fertility by adding organic manure that didn’t instantly leach into the waterways with the first heavy rain or blow away in a dust storm. Our soil is dangerously depleted even as our population hits ever more unsustainable levels.

In the seventies, people were urged not to have more than two children, advice I heeded – 2.4 being the number needed to keep the population at the same level. Why is it no-one talks about over-population anymore? Are they afraid of the economic downturn a much overdue reduction would cause? Probably. Imagine if China hadn’t had a one-child policy for all these years? If they could do it, shouldn’t we all try it? Whatever the problems it’s created, it obviously worked for a long time.

I’m not trying to say that we now have too much leisure time, both men and women work hard, but we seem to work at jobs that are – I struggle to find the right word – impractical comes to mind – of no sustainable value. We bash keys, as I’m doing now, and I have to wonder if half of what we do is necessary or even desirable.  We were once craftsmen and craftswomen and had a pride in what we produced. Our goods might have been comparatively expensive, being labour intensive, but they lasted a lifetime – I have kitchen utensils that are forty years old and crockery much older. Hell, I have clothes older than my children. We didn’t throw things away because fashion changed or they broke or we had to have the latest gizmo. We ‘made do and mended’ and ‘got the wear out of them’. We certainly didn’t have time to play computer games. (Guilty as charged)

I can’t help thinking we need to take a step backwards and re-evaluate our lives, what is important, and how to reduce our carbon emissions and our waste. I’d love, for example, to see a trial of switching off all lights in all city centres at midnight. I wonder how much electricity it would save worldwide and what the impact would be on crime rates and violence/hospital admissions due to people being out all night imbibing drugs and alcohol. It could be interesting.

While our economy is driven by the money to be made, mankind will be forced to chase the elusive pound, yuan, or dollar at the expense of our survival. Tigers and other wildlife will be hunted to extinction, the seas will be fished bare, and the soil will continue to be impoverished. Until the air we breathe, the nutrition in the food we eat, the water we drink, our wildlife, and our children’s futures are of more value to us than the pound in our pocket, we shall continue to pollute and ravage in the name of progress.

Maybe, this is what we’ll be left with when we’ve bankrupted our planet.

fancycrave-520419-unsplash.jpg

Progress?

Really?

 

 

 

 

The Courage of a Christmas Past

I’m presently engaged in editing my historical novel, Touching the Wire, published in 2014. Not big changes: just moving errant commas that are running riot, swapping odd words for some that I like better, clarifying where needed, and rewording awkward sentences before it goes for a professional edit. I’m on chapter nine. It isn’t the first chapter that’s had me in tears, but this one is particularly relevant given the time of year. The time is Christmas 1944, and the place is Auschwitz/Birkenhau, Poland.

TTW 400px red title tagline tower tagline Auschwitz added Frank tag

‘Wind from the Carpathians blew a breath of life across the camp. The October nights were cold, now. Crematorium IV lay idle, damaged beyond use, but the Sonderkommando had failed to set the charges in the other crematoria.

Rumour travelled across the camp, spread by the voracious underground network, and the outrage of Nazi officers. Although most of the explosives had been used for demolition charges, the men of the Sonderkommando had also fashioned grenades using sardine cans and shoe-polish tins organised from Kanada. Local partisans had slipped small arms, hammers, knives, and axes through the fence. Rumour said twenty-five guards had been killed. Rumour also had it a hated German Kapo had been stuffed alive into a crematorium oven.

The rebels of the 12th Sonderkommando fed the flames as they’d known they would. It was the way of the camp: every few months a new intake burned the bodies of the last Sonderkommando and then processed the bodies of others, including their own families, conscious they too would feed the same flames. Flames and grief, hatred and guilt, and the stench of death filled their lives, waking and sleeping.

He sent a message to Miriam. Twelve men escaped. SS patrols with dogs are searching. Next day he wrote another. They crossed the Vistula. The SS tracked them and shot them. They have brought back their bodies. I believe one may yet be free.

The dead could not betray them, but the living could. He wrote yet another message for Miriam to spread. The SS have traced the gunpowder back to the Union Munitions Factory. Warn the girls there. He left the message in the usual place and waited.

A reply came next day. I fear we are too late. Workers in the pulverraum are being questioned as I write.

If he still believed in God, he would have begged for his help. He sent up a silent prayer anyway and paced outside the medical block. Next day, he could write Miriam better news. Rumour says orders from Berlin have arrived. The gassings are to stop.

Another sleepless night and another desperate dawn. He checked the crack in the wall: the message had gone. In the distance, a recognisable figure approached still upright despite his deprivation. ‘Rabbi Schaeler, how are you?’

‘I’m well.’

‘What news?’

‘The guards are jittery. We believe the Soviet army is pushing west at a great rate. We fear for our lives.’

‘The SS are also nervous. orders have come to stop the gassings. There’s talk of blowing up the other crematoria to hide their crimes.’

The rabbi slipped a note into his hand. ‘This is from Miriam.’

He read it aloud. ‘God hears our prayers. We have great need of blankets.’ He smiled. ‘Miriam’s faith is absolute. Is she well?’

‘She’s exhausted, but her faith sustains her. Ilse is a great help and comfort.’

‘I’m glad she has a friend. I wish I had her belief.’ It was, as Aaron Schaeler had said, political prisoners with something to fight for and those of great faith, who were the ones who most easily found the strength to endure. He enjoyed Aaron’s company: his friendship helped keep him sane. They had had many deep, if short, debates concerning God, Judaism, Catholicism, and in more weeks, faith in general.

Rabbi Schaeler nodded in understanding. ‘This place is enough to test all belief, yet God upholds us in our struggle.’ He smiled that same serene smile Miriam managed, day after day, fighting with whatever strength she had. ‘It’s freezing in the infirmary. I’ll help carry the blankets, if you can get them, after I’ve cleaned the latrines. I’m to go to the women’s camp next.’

‘Thank you, Rabbi.’ He hurried back to the medical block; Miriam would have her blankets.

He blocked his passage. ‘My friend, what conclusions have you drawn from yesterday’s autopsies on the dwarves?’

‘That they were malnourished. Their organs showed signs of failure. I didn’t need to perform autopsies to discover that.’

‘You are being pedantic. What effects did you record?’

The evil bastard would string him on the gibbet or stand him in front of the wall of death if he knew what and who he’d recorded. Clauberg, killer of women, Oberheusen, murderer of children, Kremer, needle of death – Schmitt, coward, murderer and beast. He looked into the fathomless dark eyes of evil – and him, the Good Uncle, child torturer, madman, and murderer. ‘I saw only two senseless deaths. These are people, Herr Doktor.’

‘They’re vermin but interesting vermin. You’ll carry out your orders. Remember your little nurse and your patients. Think about the uses human skin can be put to.’ The back of the immaculate green tunic receded.

His fists clenched. Rumour had it there was a market for human skin. ‘Herr Doktor?’

The green tunic swivelled on a polished heel. ‘Yes?’

‘A nurse in the infirmary in the women’s camp. She has heterochromia iridii. I know your interest in eye colour, so I questioned her. This peculiarity runs in her family.’

‘But she’s not Sinti or Roma?’

‘No.’

‘Bring her to me.’

‘Yes, Herr Doktor.’ He searched store cupboards until he found blankets: dozens of clean, neatly folded blankets. He filled his arms, carried the blankets to the end of the medical block and returned for more. When he got back with the third load Aaron Schaeler was waiting.

The rabbi hugged half the blankets to his chest, and together they walked towards the women’s camp. They were both known, and the guards gave them access. He almost ran into the infirmary building. The stench hit him in the guts. ‘Miriam…’

‘Chuck…’ She hurled herself into his arms as he dropped the blankets.

‘You look flushed.’ He held her at arm’s length and examined her. ‘I will try to get more food to you.’ He picked up the blankets. ‘Thirty. It may be possible to get more, but I have to think of a reason to come or risk suspicion. I won’t get away with my nurse with different-coloured eyes having died of pneumonia a second time.’

‘Thirty. It’s a miracle.’ She kissed him. The stench of the infirmary was on her clothes and in her hair.

How soon he’d forgotten how bad things were here. ‘I’ll send more drugs and dressings as soon as I can. You feel hot. Do you have a fever?’

‘I’m well.’

She wasn’t being entirely truthful. Her eyes reflected the fear in his heart. Sickness, betrayal… He should be here with her, caring for her.

Her hand was small in his, her eyes large and anxious in her pinched face. ‘Peti? Arturas?’

He forced a smile. ‘They are in good health and better fed as pets of the camp physician. So far he has only taken blood from them.’

‘I’m sorry I doubted you.’

‘Don’t ever be sorry. I’ll come again soon and send what medicines and food I can.’ He turned to the rabbi. ‘Aaron, marry us. If she will, I want Miriam to be my wife. Miriam, will you?’

Her face lit with a smile. ‘Oh, Chuck, yes. Yes!’ Her face fell. ‘But the Rabbi is not permitted.’

‘Because I’m not a Jew? Can I convert?’

Aaron shook his head. ‘It would take at least a year to teach you. We may have only hours. Miriam is right.’

‘Is there no way?’

‘You abide by the seven commandments of Noah. We have talked enough for me to know you are a good man. I am supposed to dissuade you three times from converting to Judaism.’

‘If it means I can marry Miriam, nothing will dissuade me.’

‘You should be circumcised, given a Jewish name, and immersed in the mikvah.’ Aaron looked from him to Miriam and threw up his hands. ‘Mitzvah, these are not normal times. We’ll improvise. Later, if we survive, it will be my honour to teach you. Find me four nurses to hold the chuppah.’

Miriam fled to find them. All who could rise from their bunks crowded around. Four nurses held a blanket aloft, like a roof.

He stood bemused as Miriam circled him seven times. She stopped at his side. ‘We have no wine.’

Rabbi Schaeler gave him a wry smile. ‘Water will suffice. Did your Jesus not turn water into wine?’

‘We have no rings.’

A woman hobbled forward coughing. For a moment, he didn‘t recognise her. She had aged years in weeks. ‘Ilse?’

‘I swallowed my wedding ring when we came here. I rescued it from the latrine and have kept it hidden sewn inside my dress. I’d be honoured if you’d take it.’

Miriam gasped. ‘Ilse, I can’t accept such a gift.’

‘I have my memories, Miriam. And I’ve no further need of a ring. This will be your memory in years to come. Just promise you’ll remember me.’

Miriam hugged her, eyes bright with tears, and took the offered ring. ‘How could any of us ever forget you, Ilse?’

Chatan – bridegroom – you must declare thus to your bride. ‘Behold, you are betrothed to me with this ring according to the law of Moses and Israel.’

He repeated the words.

‘Now place the ring on Miriam’s finger.’

The ring slipped on. It was loose but in time it would fit the god of Moses and Israel willing.

‘According to Jewish law you are now married. I should read the marriage contract. I fear I cannot remember the exact words. You undertake to provide food, shelter, and clothing and be attentive to Miriam’s emotional needs.’ He sighed. ‘God can see into your hearts. He knows you wish to do these things. Here…’ He shrugged and launched into Hebrew.

‘The seven blessings,’ Miriam whispered, squeezing his hand as, one after another, her friends poured blessings on them. Her eyes shone. Fever, fear, or happiness?

Aaron waited for silence. ‘It is traditional to break a glass to signify the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. We have no glass. No matter. In our hearts we do these things according to our tradition. You are man and wife and are truly blessed. May your joy be long. Now, I fear I must leave you.’

‘Mazel Tov.’ The shouts of rejoicing, the smiling faces, he would remember forever. ‘Mazel Tov.’

He bent to kiss his wife. ‘I love you, Miriam. I love you so much.’

The honeymoon lasted half an hour. He smiled and waved and left his heart amid the parched courage, the starved hope, and the ever-present smell of rancid soap and excrement.

His joy lasted half a day.

He delivered the news, gloating. ‘The names of some of the resistance have been given under torture. Four women are accused of supplying explosives.’

Which four? A guard knew the names. He scribbled a quick note and hid it in the crack in the wall. Roza Robota, Ella Gaertner, Esther Wajcblum, and Regina Safirsztain have been arrested for supplying explosives.

One of those poor women knew their names and where to find them. The SS would go to any lengths to get information to expose the rest of the resistance: they would rape and torture her until she begged to tell them all she knew.

***

Walt surveyed the surface of Lil’s dining table: no water marks, no hairs, no specks of dust – just a smooth sheen. French polishing wasn’t his favourite job if only because he had to suspend all other work for fear of raising dust. He hovered a finger over the surface. Patience: finishes took longer to dry in cold weather. A finger-mark would ruin the whole thing. He’d leave it until tomorrow before applying the carnauba wax.

He should be tidying the workshop, or sweeping the coal corner ready for a new delivery, sharpening his chisels, or throwing out the tin bath that hung on the wall. How many years since they’d last used it? A shape on the wall stopped him dead: a gibbet, with a hangman’s noose. It was a shadow, only a shadow, just the low sun throwing the distorted image of the bird table, hung with a half-coconut, through the window.

But the memory of the gibbet was inescapable.

November: in an attempt to cover their crimes, the Nazis had destroyed the gas chambers, and the internees had rejoiced. But there were other ways to kill: phenol or chloroform injections to the heart, starvation, beatings, repeated delousing, and executions. One by one the survivors succumbed.

The four women arrested for smuggling explosives after Crematorium IV was destroyed, continued to hold out under Gestapo interrogation. Rape, beatings, electric shocks, the removal of fingernails – they were only girls, really. How long could they stay silent?

The camp shivered on starvation rations through a Polish winter. More and more skeletal figures, only half their normal body-weight, sat on the ground wrapped in torn blankets and stared into an unknown hell: Muselmann sat beside Muselmann no longer knowing who they were or where they were. They felt no fear, no hunger, thirst, or pain: they’d surrendered to their fate and but for the thudding of their hearts were already dead.

His work in the hospital camp and the medical block, combined with fear of their betrayal, made sleep impossible unless exhaustion claimed him, and then his nightmares woke him screaming: Miriam lay on a dissecting table or stood while he placed a noose around her neck and kicked away the chair. Her body swung on the end of a rope. Then it was him facing a firing squad. And worst of all, the children: he wept for the children.

December followed November with relentless, mind-numbing cold. Peti and Arturas still lived: so far, he’d shielded them from the worst atrocities, playing God again, though Arturas was unwell. Aaron Schaeler was ill too with scarlet fever, and messages came less often. He worked as if in a daze helpless to stop the horror for fear of swingeing retribution on Miriam and the women’s camp. The Soviet army must come soon.

A low drone took him outside. He tilted his head, trying to gauge its direction. In the distance, rank after rank of bombers flew in formation. Panic erupted around him: Allied planes. Guards and officers ran from the buildings and hurried towards the bomb shelters, leaving the internees to fend for themselves in the open. He stood in the middle of the track and watched their approach. Silently, he cheered them on, praying they knew which were the command headquarters and which the barracks of the prisoners of war.

Time hung like the undropped bombs. The planes droned on and explosions blasted the still air. Flame and black smoke rose in a pall of too bitter a memory. Again they’d targeted the oil refineries about five miles away. Did the pilots even know the extermination camp existed? Had they no idea what was happening to the men, women, and children? Did the Allied governments not care?

Christmas Eve arrived with the dread of past Christmas Eves when the SS had erected Christmas trees under which to leave their macabre presents of frozen souls. While the officers and guards celebrated, he slipped away. Twins were housed in various barracks across the camp: Peti and Arturas were in camp BIIe, which had been the Gypsy camp. He’d persuaded the camp physician to let him move one set of twins to the barrack set aside for them in the women’s camp to relieve overcrowding. He checked the order was in his pocket and hurried to BIIe.

Inside the barrack, it was dark and cold. He switched on the light and children huddled together, cringing away from him. ‘Peti? Arturas?’ He found them hiding beneath a blanket. ‘There’s nothing to fear. I’m taking you to see Miriam, that’s all. Come.’ He took them by the hand and led them across frozen ground, past the guard, and out of the compound.

There were children other than twins in the women’s camp now that they were no longer gassed on arrival, and the sight of them warmed his heart. He stopped outside the women’s infirmary. ‘Wait here.’

The inside of the infirmary was decorated with fir boughs hung with bright tatters of rag and crammed with women determined to celebrate Christmas whatever their faith.

‘Miriam.’ He hugged her and held her close. ‘Are you well?’

‘I am but we have an outbreak of scarlet fever. You look tired, Chuck. You must hang on. They say the Soviets are near.’

‘Not near enough.’ He pointed to the fir boughs. ‘You’ve all worked hard to keep up morale. You have isolated the infected?’

‘Yes, of course, and we’ve scrubbed the floors with snow and the disinfectant you sent.’

He nodded. ‘You must stay well.’

She waved aside his concern. ‘We’ve presents for the children, look. The women have sewn toys from scraps of material. And we’ve candy for them.’

‘Candy?’

‘Shared by those who’ve had parcels from home. I’ve saved some for Arturas and Peti.’

‘Then you’d better give it to them.’

He went to the door and motioned the boys inside.

‘Arturas, Peti, you’re frozen.’ Miriam hugged them close. Other women crowded round to welcome them home and press small gifts into their hands.

‘I got them moved to Block 22.’

‘Thank you, Chuck. Thank you.’

‘I should have thought of it, before.’

‘They’re here now.’ She took Peti’s hand in one of hers and held Arturas’s in the other. ‘Look, Peti, one of the girls has made a little Christmas tree. And we’ve candles, Arturas, left over from Hanukkah.’

Candles organised from Kanada. They lit the candles as the light failed. Children’s upturned faces flickered yellow in the light of the flames, and Arturas and Peti’s eyes were wide with wonder. A voice began to sing quietly and uncertainly. A Polish carol? Another voice joined in, and then others; those who recognised the tune, women of all faiths, sang in their own language, swelling the sound to the rafters. He joined in with the words his mother had sung. Angels greet the holy child, in a manger, heart beguiled. Christ is Lord and Christ is born, joy to all, this Holy morn.

He put an arm around Miriam’s shoulder. His deep voice underscored the soprano and alto voices of the women and the high trill of the children. Rejoice, rejoice, throughout the earth, let love embrace the holy birth. Pain and sorrow leave behind; our saviour’s born for all mankind. The voices faded to silence, and women hugged each other and cried.

Miriam wiped away tears. ‘Can you all stay? Just for tonight?’

‘No-one will miss us, not tonight.’ He found space on a bunk for the twins and followed her to her bunk. They lay in each other’s arms far into the night listening to the strains of a midnight mass from the men’s camp and the quiet sob of broken hearts.

On Boxing Day, he took the boys to their new barrack. They were no safer there, but Miriam would be able to see them, and they’d enjoy the comfort of the familiar faces of those who loved them. Allied planes again dropped their bombs on the oil refinery and the IG Farben factory at Buna. 1945 arrived without fanfare. He left message after message in the crack in the wall, praying Aaron had recovered enough to deliver them. Direct orders from Berlin. The four women are to be executed. Did that mean the SS had extracted a confession?

He waited for guards to come and arrest him his guts writhing like a coiling serpent. He’d have heard if Miriam had been arrested, wouldn’t he?

Message followed message. Send word that you are well, M. I love you. He walked to the place where Rabbi Schaeler would look for messages and pushed it into the crack. It wouldn’t go. His fingers drew out a slip of paper, and he opened it his heart racing. I long to hear from you, M. I love you.

He’d left that note three days ago. She had to be safe: she had to be. He folded both messages, pushed them back into the crack, and returned to his work. Arturas and Peti had been brought back to the camp hospital from their barrack after only a day in the women’s camp, and he needed to check on them. Arturas was ill with fever and isolated. Peti was in a room with other single twins waiting on the fate of their siblings who were all that kept them alive. He feared that, for Arturas and Peti, time had run out.’

Want to read more? Download it here.

FREE TRIP TO AUSTRALIA!

Well, the next best thing. FREE today at mybook.to/OnDifferentShores (Book 1 of 3) What’s the catch? You have to bash a gamekeeper on the head and join a mutiny on a convict ship. Can’t be that hard.

A story of unbreakable love across vast oceans. ‘Truly exceptional trilogy’ 

Based on real events, Jem is a young poacher who, with his two cousins, falls foul of Lord Northampton’s gamekeeper. When the gamekeeper dies at their hands, all three are transported to Van Diemen’s Land for life. Ella, Jem’s common-law wife is left behind pregnant and penniless. Determined to stop at nothing to join the man she loves, she embarks on a perilous journey to join him. A woman in love is unstoppable, and Ella is a woman in love.

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Roots, home,and travelling afar.

Our roots are something we can’t escape no matter how far we roam. Roots are the things that anchor us in the soil of the place we think of as home and the place we return to at some time in our lives.

While I feel at home in Pembrokeshire, where I’ve lived for the past twenty-six years near the village where The Silence of the Stones is based, my roots will always anchor me firmly in Northamptonshire, where I was born and lived until 1992. My family’s roots go back for many generations in the villages to the north and south of Northampton. Their names are dear to me – Warkton, Isham, Walgrave, Yardley Hastings, Brafield-on the-Green, Adstone, Maidford, Woodend – and of course, the market town of Kettering where I was born and went to school.

Many of my novels have grown from these roots though the branches have taken me back in time and across the globe to the Australias and to the trenches of Gallipoli. My characters have also grown from these roots and many are inspired by the people I’ve discovered while researching my family history and therefore their stories. In fact, now I think of it, only Where Hope Dares has nothing of my roots in it, only my love of my planet and my fears for its future. 

Walt, in Touching the Wire, lived his post-war life in Kettering in the back-street terraced house where I spent the first year of my life. This house also features in The Dandelion Clock, the story of my grandparents’ trials during World War One, and Bill, who hailed originally from Warkton, was a bootlast maker, part of the traditional shoe-manufacturing industry of Kettering.

The village of Yardley Hastings was where my maternal grandmother was born, and it’s her errant relations that drove my historical series For Their Country’s Good a fact-based tale of convicts transported to the colonies for shooting and killing a gamekeeper. The uncovering, bit by astonishing bit, of this half-believed family story was a revelation of epic proportions.

It wasn’t until I researched another family story, this time my paternals grandmother’s family, that I discovered some of the facts behind my great-grandfather marrying sisters. Not a big deal, you’d think until you realise that he did it sixteen years before it was legal. It’s amazing sometimes how the facts you uncover support the story you have in your mind. I’ve no idea how much of Kindred and Affinity, due out in 2019, is true, but it must have been a difficult decision to take bearing mind that her family were Baptists and Methodists at a time when faith was more strictly adhered to than might be the case nowadays. As one person put it in a contemporary letter to a lady considering such a union ‘It is against the laws of Kindred and Affinity in the Book of Common Prayer, and God will surely damn you to eternal hell.’ Strong words to ignore at your peril.

Again, the strengthening of my roots, as they dug deeply during the research and writing of these stories, has anchored me more firmly, and I’m glad to have these tales to leave to my children and grandchildren, whose roots and homes are still in Northampton, to secure them and give them a ‘place’ to which to return from wherever life takes them.

For previews of my novels see Previews

And see more about my books at My titles

Coming 2019 Kindred and Affinity

Kindred and Affinity torn colour centre large cover 6x9.jpg

A Date With . . . Melanie P. Smith

One very interesting lady.

Frank Parker's author site

Today I’m going to introduce you to Melanie P Smith. Melanie was born and raised in Utah and she loves it there. Why?

“That’s easy. It’s the scenery. We have five National Parks here in Utah; Zions, Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef. If you love the outdoors — which I do —it would be hard to find an area that has more beauty than the state I call home. We have mountainous hiking trails, desert backroads great for exploring, as well as lakes and reservoirs that are perfect for swimming and fishing. And, to top it all off, I’m extremely lucky to have an amazing view of the Wasatch Mountains (which are part of the Rockies) from my front yard.”

Melanie is a prolific writer who works in several genres. Her background is in law enforcement. How far does that experience feed into her stories?

“My knowledge and experience…

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