Tuesday, May 28, 2013

One for the Holidays

Another bit of whimsy. Yes, I have cupboards full of this stuff. Where do you think Nora Forthright gets it from?


Woman exposed to pollen in £1M compensation claim

Emily Sneezedown, 34, is suing Strangleweed Farm for £1 million for failing to notify the public that the fields surrounding her bungalow contained pollen-producing grass, cereals and hedges. In a civil action in the High Court, Ms Sneezedown stated that she had recently moved to Primworthy and to reach her place of work and return home she needed to walk past the farm.

“I am a martyr to hayfever,” she told the court, through a barricade of paper tissues. “I moved into the bungalow in the winter of 2004. The following summer was a nightmare. Grass, trees, flowers – I was surrounded by them. It was terrifying. If I had realised the countryside contained so many pollen-producing plants, I would never have moved here.”

The authority of Mr Justice Broompaddock, presiding, was initially challenged by the Defence on account of his known support for the charity Hayfever Research, of which he is a Vice-President. “I am also a gardener,” he said, showing the court a photograph of his gravel driveway. Legal advisers to Strangleweed Farms agreed that this was a typical example of Primworthy’s local horticulture and did not press further for him to step down.

A spokesman for the Health and Safety Executive, who investigated the case last year, said the HSE had found no case to answer. “There is no law compelling farmers to warn people that their land grows grass,” he said. “We should however advise people that such fields may also contain animals.”

The case is expected to continue for most of next year.


REMINDER - THIS IS FICTION. Most people will realise that, but having read some very odd comments recently on blogs and on FB... you never can tell.

~~ THE FORTHRIGHT SAGA ~~ Nothing ever happens in an English country town ... does it? Nora Forthright and her grandson Wayne stumble through the fictional Cumbrian towns of Dangleby and Pullet St Mary, putting things right entirely by accident. Cumbrian Humour.
and on Amazon

~~ Dragon Bait ~~ This one's got humour and horses that fly.
Princess Andra volunteers to act as bait for the dragon ravaging her father’s lands, on condition that she is released from an arrangement to marry a foreign prince.
Unfortunately the Knight Rescuer who turns up is not the trusty old retainer she expects, but an unknown conservationist who wants the dragon, not the lady. After that very little goes according to plan.
Comic fantasy (age 9-12).
and on Amazon

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Not being a very political animal I am not going to be drawn into today's wrangles as seen on Facebook and the daily rags.

Instead here's a bit of whimsy sparked by an oddly worded post on a recycling web forum. The actual wording is true. I just jazzed the rest up a bit.



Social Services in Carlisle today refused to comment on the case of Wayne Empire, the boy who was found sleeping in a narrow wardrobe last Wednesday teatime.

Wayne, a lively toddler of two and a half, has lived until now with his mother Ms V. Empire (22) known as Vanda, in a one bedroomed flat in Harraby. There were no beds in the flat and only minimal furniture.

Neighbours did not suspect anything was wrong until a Carlisle FreeCycle advertisement alerted a local nurse to the unusual conditions of the Empire household.

Small or narrow pine wardrobe or tallboy wanted for my little boy as
he's outgrowing his chest of drawers!

SRN Mary Wilson (52) said, “I recognised Vanda’s e mail address and was appalled. I went straight round, but she refused my offer of the bunk bed my grandchildren used to use. She even laughed. Of course I called out Social Services straight away.”

“Vanda seemed such a nice girl,” said next-door neighbour Tom Robinson (78). “She always looked a bit pale and she didn’t go out much, but I thought that was just her care for the little lad. I was really shocked to find out how she was keeping him.”

Empire’s ex-boyfriend Vic Timson has not been seen at the flat for several months. “Vanda and Vic seemed very close,” said the manager of the local Spar shop, Hilary Leadbetter (38). “She always hung on his arm when they came in to buy their tea. I don’t know why he left her.”

Empire’s background is unclear but it is understood that her family sought asylum in Britain some twenty years ago and were admitted because they had suffered persecution on religious grounds.

“When my partner left we only had a table, a chair and a chest of drawers between us,” dark-haired Ms Empire explained, when interviewed yesterday. “That was fine while Wayne was little but he’s growing so fast now.”

Asked why she did not let Wayne sleep in a bed, Ms Empire said it was her religious conviction that he should sleep as she and all her relatives did. Further investigation has revealed that she spends the night hanging by her heels from the hook on the back of the bedroom door.

“I thought a tallboy would be safer for Wayne because it could be closed. But someone on FreeCycle was willing to donate a wardrobe so I took that. I thought it would give him more room to grow.”

Empire made a plea for the return of her son: “He’s everything in the world to me,” she said. “Nobody can care for him like I do.”

Wayne is now being looked after by foster carers. His location is being kept a close secret but Sharrocks, the Preston produce merchants, have been seen delivering large strings of garlic bulbs to a location in the Rickerby Park area.

Police at Carleton Hall headquarters were unwilling to comment on the case.


REMINDER - THIS IS FICTION. Most people will realise that, but having read some very odd comments recently on blogs and on FB... you never can tell.

~~ THE FORTHRIGHT SAGA ~~ Nothing ever happens in an English country town ... does it? Nora Forthright and her grandson Wayne stumble through the fictional Cumbrian towns of Dangleby and Pullet St Mary, putting things right entirely by accident.
and on Amazon

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Affair of the Harp

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but last year I hit 60 and resolved to play music regularly, every day if at all possible. However, when I got out my guitar, a beautiful instrument which my husband bought for me when we were engaged, I realised painfully that although I still read music, and my fingers still remember how to play and I know many tunes, my body no longer wants to hold classical fretting positions. So although I still love the look of my varnished instrument and I love its sound, I found myself reluctant to play it.

It dawned on me that a harp might be the instrument to replace my guitar. I’d have all the notes laid out for me, instead of having to fret them with my left hand. I’d have two hands to play melodies. And I learned from a radio feature that I could get one in kit form.

The one I’d heard was made by Waring Harps in Connecticut, USA, with a wooden frame and nylon strings, and a soundbox made of – wait for it – heavy cardboard. When I got over my surprise I realised that cardboard is not only light and portable, but inexpensive and musically resonant. Backyard Music, also in CT, made a slightly larger version with 22 instead of 19 strings, so I had a very friendly e-mail discussion with the two owners of Backyard, and my 22 strings and pins, three bits of wood and cardboard soundbox were sent on their way the next working day.

There are drawbacks to buying from overseas. Customs, as well as imposing VAT on the purchase price, are apt to hang onto items for an unconscionably long time. Although the harp only took 5 days to cross the Atlantic, before that it languished with Customs in New Jersey for 9 days, and afterwards in England for another 6! As the wait grew longer, I would have chewed my fingers back to the elbows, if I hadn’t needed them to make up the kit.

Building the harp, when I eventually got it, was fun. The prettily curved triangle of the body was easy to glue, screw and varnish, and quickly looked like a proper harp. To drive the tuning pins and bridge pins into the pre-drilled frame, I started with a rubber mallet, but I had to discard that when it began to shred! I changed it for a fairly hefty hammer, with a piece of scrap leather as a buffer. I also moved into the dining room which has a concrete floor, because in my front room each hammer-strike rebounded through the table into the floorboards and sent the harp, and the table, leaping back towards me.

Constructing and glueing the soundbox looked tricky but really only required big rubber bands to keep things under control while the glue set. The soundbox on a pukka harp is normally made of wood, which is sanded and varnished to show off its beauty. Mine was boring brown cardboard that definitely needed covering up. The DIY stores failed to produce the colour I wanted – burgundy being so 1980s as a decorating colour – so I ended up at Halford’s buying car spray paint. And primer. And next day, a second can of burgundy. The soundbox was much bigger than it looked.

The spraying really had to be done in a shed because the smell was vicious, but once the soundbox was dry, it came back into the house to be glued to the frame. The instructions said to “glue the frame and avoid the string holes,” but that sounded very fiddly, and since the soundbox had a long clear slot where the strings were to pass through it was actually easier to glue the box – between pencilled marks – and to fit the frame over it. Some heavy books held the two together overnight, and then it was ready to be strung.

Harp strings are pretty. The C strings are red, the F strings are blue or black, and the rest are uncoloured. Like a novice fisherman I made esoteric knots in my nylon strings and like captured eels they immediately tried to untie themselves. I learned to use long nosed pliers to tighten the knot before I pulled it inside the soundbox. Then with the string threaded loosely through the tuning pin at the top of the frame, I trimmed the excess and wound steadily with the tuning wrench, and behold! I had a harp!

An old joke runs, “Everyone gets a harp, whether they go to heaven or hell. Those who go to heaven also get a tuning wrench.” Newly stretched strings go flat within minutes! It took a week before the harp would stay in tune with itself and I could play without snatching up the wrench to correct something. The digital tuner’s implacable lighting display also corrected my own ear which thinks a note is in tune when in fact it is fractionally flat. I became hypersensitive about turning the right peg after I went on tightening the one next to the one I thought I was tuning. Snap!

I still play my little harp, but almost as soon as it held tuning I discovered that harps are like biscuits – one is never enough. I found a very beautiful 34-string Pilgrim Clarsach (a fully levered folk harp) at a bargain price and it moved in with me almost at once. I did, however, resist the George III pedal harp that my daughter photographed in an antiques auction sale. It was cheap, but I think at 200 years old it would have required far more TLC than I could afford.

One sad reminder of my age came when I sang to my digital tuner to find out whether I could pitch a middle C by ear, and was shown that I was singing the A below it. Piqued, I sang lower… and lower…down to the E above low C. I expect when I eventually join the heavenly choir they’ll put me among the tenors. Now there’s something to look forward to.

22 string Harp kit from Backyard Harps, CT, USA, $235 plus shipping (translates to GBP as approx £130). http://www.backyardmusic.com/Harps.html
34 string Harp from Pilgrim Harps, Surrey, around £2,500. http://www.pilgrimharps.co.uk/Lever-Harps/clarsach-lever-harp.html

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

You win some, you lose some

Yesterday evening as I drove home after a meeting, the sky was bright with sunset. I noticed a dark "something" out of the corner of my eye. When I turned to glance at it, it went away; when I looked back at the road, it was there again. At first I thought I'd stared at the sunset and was seeing a fatigue image. But it didn't fade like a fatigue image. It was a dark, drifting, leggy thing, like a dead spider in a bucket of water. When it swam across the centre of my vision I recognised it as a "floater" inside my eye.

I've had them before, usually just little dark specks that gradually dwindle to the stage of the brain ignoring them, until they vanish. This wispy dead spider, though, bothered me. At home I walked through an unlit area of the house and when I blinked I saw flashes of light in that eye. A quick search on t'internet for "floaters" and "flashes" convinced me I should go to an optician pronto.

I was lucky to get an appointment for this afternoon.

I thought I would kill several birds with the same stone, so I planned to buy some horse feed on the way into Penrith, and go to Harold's on the way home to have the front tyres on the car swopped to the back (and vikky verky) to even out the wear. I bought three bags of feed at WCF and decided to put them in the back seat, so as not to obstruct Harold's merry men when I asked them to check the spare in the boot.

Bad decision.

As I was lifting the largest, heaviest bag, I caught my left foot against a ridge in the paving. It was a tiny ridge, so small that afterwards I couldn't even identify it, let alone point a finger at it and yell, "Bastard!" Unbalanced by the weight of the feed, I collapsed into the back seat with a torn calf muscle giving me hell.

After some very unladylike language and several hammer blows on the offending bag, I heaved the rest of the feed into the car, hissed-and-swore my way into the driving seat and drove into town changing gear rather cautiously. Most of the car parks I passed were full, which doesn't often happen on a Wednesday (Penrith was just mad with cars all afternoon. I've no idea what is on; can anyone enlighten me?) However, I did find a space in a park I seldom use. It was close to a ticket machine and not far from the optician's, so I was miraculously able to stagger into the shop, punctual to the minute.

A young man came to greet me. "How can I help you?"

I said, "I have an appointment," and gave my name. I was at the babbling stage by then. "Would you do me a favour? I've hurt my leg, so would you bring me a drink of water so I can take some painkillers?" I may have said other things, but that was the gist.

He asked me to sit down, and disappeared into the rear of the shop. I sat for some time massaging the muscle in my leg. While I waited, an elderly man and his (even more elderly) mother attempted to walk into the building through the floor-to-ceiling windows. After they'd discovered which transparent bit was actually the door, they joined me in the waiting area.

I carried on massaging the muscle. Elderly mother ignored me but the man seemed sympathetic, so I explained the reason for my slightly strange behaviour. He offered to lay me on the floor and rub my leg for me. I grinned, as well as I was able, and the young assistant saved me by returning with a thick earthenware mug of water.

He apologised for the mug.

He said, "I'm so sorry, but I couldn't find any glasses."

The elderly man said, "You'd never think we were in SpecSavers."


Post Script: The optician was able to reassure me that the damage in my eye was nothing to worry about. He did, however, seem slightly worried by the Penrithian sense of humour.


The Forthright Saga ~ http://www.jackdawebooks.co.uk/forthright.htm

Cover for the Forthright SagaNothing ever happens in an English country town ... does it? Nora Forthright and her grandson Wayne stumble through the fictional Cumbrian towns of Dangleby and Pullet St Mary, putting things right entirely by accident.

GENRE: Comedy / cosy crime.
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-9573612-3-2
Kindle ASIN: B0099RQNLU :: ISBN: 978-0-9573612-2-5

Friday, May 3, 2013

Just a quick one...

Issue 117 of the Historical Society magazine is online here:


The Heroes and Villains Blog hop is still on over the weekend with lots of chances to win freebies. http://historicalnovelsociety.org/the-historian-issue-117-historical-fiction-edition/

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Heroes and Villains 3 - 6 May 2013

Here we go, folks, with the Heroes and Villains Bank Holiday Blog Hop!

This one, for me, isn't quite so historically oriented. I do write a lot of other things, after all.

First - the Giveaway Competition!

I will give away a digital copy of AGAINST THE ODDS to two people who enter, between the dates of 3 and 6 May (draw to take place on the 7th).

To Enter

Please follow me on Twitter (@jackdawebooks), or like my Facebook page (sue.millard.9) or like my Jackdaw E Books page on Facebook, or if you have already done all those things then please follow this blog. Whichever you do, please leave a comment telling me that you're entering the giveaway competition.

I will contact you if you win and ask for your email so I can send the book. Please let me know whether you'd like MOBI format (Kindle), EPUB (Kobo/Sony) or a PDF. All I ask in return is that when you've read the book you leave a comment on the Amazon UK web site (UK), or the Amazon USA site if that's your location.

PLEASE check out the other participating blogs (links at the bottom of this post) because ALL of them are giving away something!

Heroes and Villains blog #21

I've read some authors who say their delight in villains is so great that they are the main motivation to write their books. I'm the opposite, I'm afraid! I have to start with a character I like, who becomes the heroine or hero.

A villain, or an antagonist, has to be introduced to give something for the main character to battle against, to create tension in the story. Of course that antagonist may not be an actual person. It may be pressure of work; the "horsemen" of famine, war, or disease; or even a political movement.


In COACHMAN, George's first difficulty is that like many men (my husband included) his work is very strongly to do with who he is. Driving a four in hand to a road coach is such a big part of his life in terms of his physical energy, his working day and his devotion to it, that he finds it quite hard to cope with demanding personal relationships as well. He's left his family home in Cheshire and shifted around, pursuing ever better positions. He's in a profession where girls admire him as a glorious hero passing by each day. If he wants to take advantage of them they give him every encouragement, so he doesn't really need to settle down.

One of the stage coaching men of the period remarked that a driving man was actually better off without a wife,  though he added that it might be all very well if he could have two, enabling the tea things to be set out ready when he came home at each end of the road!

When George does get involved with a girl, however, the innate decency and kindness in his character make him unwilling to leave Lucy behind when he moves to London. These characteristics meet an even bigger challenge in Sarah Chaplin. She is as strong a symbol of the business side of early Victorian life as he is, and far less vulnerable because she is already rich and not devoted to the horses that George loves. She's fully aware, indeed tormented by her physical needs, but she wants to retain her power in the family business and not have to hand it over as most rich girls did on marriage. She pursues George because he is there, a part of her father's business, a handsome young man with some status on account of his skills - and it's only because her father is a powerful businessman and her mother an experienced manager that Sarah can't go as far with him as she would like! It's when her father dismisses George in order to keep her away from him that she becomes really unpleasant, writing letters that become more and more demanding and unpleasant as her frustration increases.

Against the Odds

In AGAINST THE ODDS, there's plenty of tension in just getting horses fit to compete in National Hunt races. There's friction between Sian and the other girls in the hostel at Green Bank, and between Sian and her abusive boyfriend Justin. When Sian escapes to work in another racing stable, she finds a better man to love; and then when she has recovered her confidence, she is responsible for thwarting one of Justin's criminal plans and helping her lover (and his horse) to succeed.

I had difficulty with finding the key to Justin as the villain of the piece, but eventually I decided he's selfish. What he wants is money and pleasure and he doesn't care if he hurts people in the process of getting them. He's trying to make a killing by race-fixing, betting against fancied horses and "nobbling" them before their races via bribery and threats to their handlers. He only stays in racing because that's the business he knows how to work for his own ends, and he's not going to stay in it for much longer.

I think after the end of the book he'll be heavily fined by a legal court and "warned-off" by the racing authorities. After that, he'll go into something flashy and non-horsy that has prospects for other criminal activity - like running a night club! And he just might pop up again as a minor character in a sequel... I haven't yet made up my mind.

Victorian Historical Novel - COACHMAN - http://www.jackdawebooks.co.uk/coachman.htm

"K M Peyton meets Malcolm MacDonald."

Good-looking and ambitious George Davenport travels to London with his bride Lucy, determined to make the most of his skill in driving a four-in-hand of horses. It’s 1838. Queen Victoria is crowned, and England is at peace, but it isn't a good time to be a coachman.

As George finds employment with William Chaplin, the “Napoleon of coaching”, the first railways are about to open across the country. Their competition will kill off the road-coaching trade. George loves both his work and his wife, so he has a lot to come to terms with… even before the boss’s daughter starts to stalk him.


Heroes and Villains blog hop participants

 Please visit - there are goodies available on all links! 

    Nyki Blatchley http://nyki-blatchley.blogspot.co.uk/

    Martin Bolton http://boltonthewriter.wordpress.com

    Mike Cooley http://mikecooleyfiction.com

    Karin Cox http://karincox.wordpress.com/

    Jolea M Harrison http://jm-harrison.com/

    Tinney Sue Heath http://historicalfictionresearch.blogspot.co.uk

    Eleni Konstanine  http://eleni-konstantine.blogspot.co.uk

    K. Scott Lewis http://www.innerworldsfiction.com/

    Kyle Lewis http://hierath.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/heroes-and-villains-blog-hop/

    Paula Lofting http://paulalofting-sonsofthewolf.blogspot.com

    Liz Long http://lizclong.com/

    Peter Lukes http://www.peterlukes.blogspot.co.uk/

    Mark McClelland http://www.uploadthenovel.com/

    M. Edward McNally http://sablecity.wordpress.com

    Sue Millard http://suemillard.blogspot.co.uk

    Rhiannon Douglas http://www.rhiannondouglas.com

    Ginger Myrick http://gingermyrick.com

    David Pilling http://pillingswritingcorner.blogspot.co.uk

    Kim Rendfeld http://kimrendfeld.wordpress.com

    Terry L Smith http://tlsmith-sfauthor.blogspot.co.uk

    Tara West http://tarawestauthor.wordpress.com

    Keith Yatsuhashi https://kmyatsuhashi.wordpress.com/