Category Archives: travel
Having been watching BBC 2’s Second Chance Summer in Tuscany, and dreaming of running away to a dream life in Italy, I’ve been looking forward to hosting my guest today, Katharine Johnson, to talk about her upcoming novel’s inspiration…
Hello Jennifer and thank you for inviting me onto your blog. I love reading your Sunday sojourns so it’s a real treat to be taking part in one.
Today I’d like to take you to Tuscany where my psychological/coming of age novel the silence is set.
Most people probably associate Tuscany with the gentle rolling hills, art cities and cypress-lined roads around Siena that we see on calendars and postcards. But the landscape in north Tuscany where my novel is set is wilder and less hospitable with jagged mountains, narrow gorges and thick forests. The hills are crowned by Medieval villages which are enveloped by cloud some of the year and can often only be accessed on foot. It’s a land of myths and magic with stories passed down through the generations about the devils, witches and imps that inhabit the area.
Among the best known of these is the buffardello, an imp who lives in the Garfagnana and Lunigiana. He gets in through keyholes at night, hiding and moving objects, leaving sulphurous smells, shaving men’s beards off, removing bed covers and knotting young girls’ hair and horses’ tails as they sleep. He also sits on sleepers’ chests or covers their mouth to stop them breathing.
Tree spirits also appear at night in the form of lights through the branches. Walnut trees are especially to be avoided. Whoever answers their call falls into a cataleptic state that slowly leads to death.
Some of the stories serve as an explanation for how the landscape was formed. In the mountains of the Apuan Alps between Pania Della Croce and Pania Secca is the Uomo Morto (dead man.) If you look carefully you can see the face of a man lying looking up at the sky. The story goes that a shepherdess was abandoned by her lover who went off to become a sailor. She spent her time staring out to sea from the meadows of Pania Della Croce pining for him. A young man was so struck by her beauty and sadness that he fell in love with her and tried everything to make her happy again. When he realised she would never love him he asked the gods to turn him into a rock that would unite the two mountains and block out her view of the sea forever.
Another story explains how Monte Forato (the holed mountain) was formed. The highest point of the Garfagnana is San Pellegrino in Alpe. It is here that the hermit San Pellegrino met the devil who did everything he could to tempt him. The saint resisted for as long as he could but in the end he lost patience and gave the devil a smack. This sent him flying across the valley into the Apuan Alps. The rock where the devil landed gave way leaving a big hole.
The village of Santa Zita in my novel is entirely fictional but probably contains random bits of lots of places in the area. Some of the residents of Santa Zita still believe in tree spirits and the villa where Abby stays that summer is thought by locals to be cursed. It is hidden by trees in summer and mist in winter so a tragic incident there could remain a secret for many years.
The Silence is a psychological/coming of age story.
Doctor Abby Fenton has a rewarding career, a loving family, an enviable lifestyle – and a secret that could destroy everything. When human remains are discovered in the grounds of an idyllic Tuscan holiday home she is forced to confront the memories she has suppressed until now and relive the summer she spent at the villa in 1992. A summer that ended in tragedy. The nearer she gets to the truth the closer she comes to losing her sanity. In order to hold onto the people she loves most, she must make sure they never discover what she did. But the reappearance of someone else from that summer threatens to blow her secret wide open.
About the author
Katharine Johnson is a journalist with a passion for crime novels, old houses and all things Italian (except tiramisu). She grew up in Bristol and has lived in Italy. She currently lives in Berkshire with her husband, three children and madcap spaniel. She plays netball badly and is a National Trust room guide.
You can find her online, at the following links: Amazon author page
Over the last six months or so, I’ve really enjoyed writing pieces for The Good Life France, and today, I’m excited to be hosting it’s editor, Janine Marsh, to tell me about her new book, My Good Life in France, out now, published by Michael O’Mara.
Here’s the synopsis, to get you in the mood…
It’s a short journey across the English Channel from the UK to France but the differences are enormous as you’ll find out when you read My Good Life in France by Janine Marsh.
One dismal, grey February day, Janine took a day trip to Calais to buy some wine for her dad. She returned a few hours later having put in an offer on a bargain basement barn in the rural Seven Valleys, Pas de Calais, something she had not planned for or expected.
Janine eventually decided to move with her husband to live the good life in France. Or so she hoped. Getting to grips with the locals, taking in stray animals at an alarming rate and renovating the dilapidated barn, which lacked heating or proper rooms, with little money and less of a clue, she started to realize there was more to her new home than she ever imagined.
Warm, uplifting and effervescent (like a glass of your favourite champagne), Janine’s voice and humour bubbles right off the page. These are the true tales of her rollercoaster ride through a different culture – one that, to a Brit, was in turns surprising, charming and not the least bit baffling.
As somebody who would love to do this, I had to ask Janine some key questions…
What would be your ‘top three tips’ to anyone tempted to follow in your footsteps?
- I bought an incredibly cheap, dilapidated bargain bucket house in a town I didn’t know on a whim. I’d gone to France to buy wine for my Dad on a miserable wet, cold day at a time when the cafes were shut and it seemed like a good idea to look at houses! This is the only house in France I visited, I pulled up outside its location in a muddy cul de sac and a ray of sunshine burst through the clouds, bells started ringing at the local church, a duck was quacking close by and it sounded like laughter. I felt like I heard fate calling me. Although it worked out for me – I’d recommend you do a bit more homework on the area you want to live in.
- Never go to a public swimming pool wearing “normal” swim shorts if you’re a man. You have to wear skin tight Speedo style trunks in France – it’s the law. There are lots of rules in France, some are fun to discover like this one (well sort of fun if the pool is full of Daniel Craig look-a-likes though in my opinion there are more Ed Balls than Daniel Craigs). Some rules are not such fun and I recommend you make friends with the staff at your local town hall who will generally help you to settle in and explain the rules to you.
- Never try to hug a French person. They don’t hug. They kiss – a lot. 2 kisses, sometimes 3, 4 or even 5 depending where in France you are and what your relationship is. I’ve seen people kiss at the till in the supermarket, kiss their colleagues at work in the morning, commuters kiss on trains. But hug – non. If you try to hug a French person most likely they will be horrified.Quite why you want to press your body to theirs is beyond them.
What has been your highlight of the move so far?
Ooh that’s a toughie. The street markets, learning to cook, discovering the local traditions and the French love of heritage. Honestly though, the most joyful moments for me are when I wake in the morning and I open the back door to let the dogs out, the cats in and take food to my chickens, ducks and geese and put wild bird food out. I never had an animal in London and I didn’t intend to get an animal in France. Quite how I’ve ended up with more than 60 animals is beyond me but they bring me great happiness and I now know that I would like to come back as one of my own cats as the maid service is fantastic. Oh yes. I like French cakes too. They make amazing cakes in France. And bread. Cheese. Wine. I will stop now.
And what about The Good Life France – how did that come about?
Well you’ll have to read the book for the full details but… in a nutshell, renovating my French house, taking in stray animals and giving up city life for rural bliss seemed to fascinate my friends and family. They would ring me constantly to ask if I’d managed to work out how to fit a fire, grow a pumpkin, wormed the cat, mended my broken finger (renovation on this scale is not for the faint hearted). They were incredulous that we learned how to replace a roof, build walls, lay 100 tons of concrete and a whole lot more. They wanted to know about my crazy neighbours, the giants I met, the amazing food I ate and the places I visited. When you’re flat out renovating it takes time to explain all these things so my husband suggested I start a blog. My friends dubbed me “The Good Life France” after the UK sitcom series about a couple who gave up city life to try to live off the land so that’s what I called my blog http://www.thegoodlifefrance.com/. In the first month I got 480 views – I was ecstatic! 6 months later I was getting 60,000 views and now I get more than a million page views a month – to say I’m humbled that people like my writing is a massive understatement. After a while I decided that I wanted to be able to write longer features, share more pictures so I started a free ezine called The Good Life France Magazine and it’s become one of the most popular magazines about France. It’s completely free to read, download and subscribe to and here’s the latest issue: http://bit.ly/TGLFMAGSpring2017
Welcome to the last Sunday in April – how did that happen?? Today, I’m delighted to welcome back Angela Wren, who was my first Sunday Sojourn guest, taking us to Paris. Good to have you back, Angela!
Hello Jennifer and thanks for inviting me back onto your blog. I’m in Clamecy today, a small town in the département of Nièvre (58) and I thought I’d tell your regular readers about the importance that this town once had in relation to the logging industry.
Situated as it is, on the river Yonne, which is flanked by the Nivernais Canal, and within easy reach of the forests of the Morvan, the town became central to the logging industry and remained so for many years. The local men who worked the logs were referred to as ‘Flotteurs’, Raftsmen, and their contribution is commemorated by a statue on the centre of the bridge across the river as you come into town.
So, what’s this all about? Come with me to the port. Before All Saints’ Day (November 1st) each year, the trees that had been felled during the previous winter and stacked throughout the Morvan were logged. Consisiting mostly of beech and oak they are cut into ‘bûches‘, logs, of 1.14m in length. All Saints’ Day was the designated day for the ‘Foire aux Bois’, The Wood Fair, at nearby Chateau-Chinon. This was the day that the timber owners sold the cut wood to merchants and dealers who would then negotiate and sub-contract a deal for the transportation of the wood to this very port here, in Clamecy.
What happens next is the really interesting bit. At the beginning of November, once all the deals were struck, the logs were marked with the individual ‘signe‘ of the new owner with the aid of an engraving hammer. These marks enabled the identification and sorting of the logs after their journey down river. From the point of felling and logging to the final destination, the logs would be marked many times as commercial transactions changed and new deals were cut. And it was only marked logs that could be transported.
At the end of November, the logs are thrown into the rivers and streams whose flow has been artificially increased by the opening of the reservoir sluices located upstream. The logs floated up to one of the 22 locations on the upper reaches of the river Yonne. Stopped by ‘arrêts‘, artificial barriers, the logs were then withdrawn from the water and stacked and left to wait for the annual spring floods ‘le grand flot’.
In March in the following year the wood from all the 22 collection areas was thrown back into the river at once and left to float down to Clamecy. Men women and children – whole families – would follow the logs and keep them moving using long spiked poles to push any that got trapped back in to the main flow of the water. At Clamecy the logs were halted and held by the one of the locks. It’s here that ‘Les trains’ the rafts, were created. The logs were spliced together and then cross-spliced with each other again and again until a raft as long as a modern barge was created. A small lean-to was created at one end and a long oar was used to navigate le train, down the river and through the linking waterways and canals until the outskirts of Paris were reached. By this time the rafts had been spliced together creating a vast platform of logs – over 700,000 individual logs – more than 70 metres in length. On arrival at port de Charenton in Paris the rafts were dismantled and the wood sold to heat the ovens and fires of the city. The men would then make the long journey, over 200K, back home on foot.
Sadly this form of work has died out with the last ‘train de bois’, wooden train, making its final journey in 1880. But the river and the canal remain as a testament to the men who undertook such risky work.
Having followed a career in Project and Business Change Management, I now work as an Actor and Director at a local theatre. I’ve been writing, in a serious way, for about 5 years. My work in project management has always involved drafting, so writing, in its various forms, has been a significant feature throughout my adult life.
I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work. My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical. I also write comic flash-fiction and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio. The majority of my stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year.
Novel blurb – Messandrierre
Sacrificing his job in investigation following a shooting in Paris, Jacques Forêt has only a matter of weeks to solve a series of mysterious disappearances as a rural gendarme. Will he find the perpetrators before his lover, Beth, becomes a victim?
But, as the number of missing rises, his difficult and hectoring boss puts obstacles in his way. Steely and determined Jacques won’t give up and, when a new Investigating Magistrate is appointed, he becomes the go-to local policeman for all the work on the case.
Can he find the perpetrators before his lover, Beth, becomes a victim?
Messandrierre – the first in a new crime series featuring investigator, Jacques Forêt.
Happy Easter Sunday everyone! Today, I am delighted to welcome back to the blog Nancy Jardine, to tell us about Heidelberg.
Hello, Jen. It’s lovely to pay you a return visit to add a little more to your Sunday Sojourns. Your readers will find that my chosen location for this post is the German city of Heidelberg.
I regularly sell paperback versions of my novels at Craft Fairs around my home area of Aberdeenshire and one question I’m often asked is ‘Why have you included the city of Heidelberg in your novel Topaz Eyes?’ I’m always delighted to wax lyrical.
When planning the mystery thriller, I particularly wanted to create a European ancestral/family tree structure for my character list because that meant I could include contemporary third generation cousins who presently lived in fabulous world wide locations—one of which is Heidelberg.
At the outset of the novel, my main female character Keira Drummond receives a mysterious invitation to Heidelberg to attend the private opening of a small art gallery in the centre of Heidelberg’s old town. The gallery owner is willing to pay all of her travel costs from Edinburgh, Scotland, and to put her up in one of Heidelberg’s best hotels but Keira’s only connection with Heidelberg is that she spent time there as a student. Overcoming her initial sceptical reservations, she can’t resist a free return trip though she immediately finds herself embroiled in a family quest that’s full of intrigue, danger and even death!
Why did I begin the tale in Heidelberg? And where did my ideas come from?
Anyone who knows me personally will know that my elder daughter, Fiona, spent her final university academic year at Heidelberg University. Since German was her prime language of study she was required to spend a year in Germany to fulfil her degree requirements. When discussing potential places to apply to, I had no hesitation in recommending Heidelberg which we’d visited in 1980 when she was only 9 months old. Some judicious research convinced her that Heidelberg was a brilliant choice. During her time there, I popped over for a holiday so it was natural to include Heidelberg in the treasure trail that’s at the heart of Topaz Eyes. It should come as no real surprise that in Topaz Eyes Keira also studied languages there and is a translator.
Heidelberg is the loveliest city that’s crammed full of interesting things to see and do. The food and drink is superb, geared towards a more limited student budget yet also caters for those who want fine dining. By day or night it’s an incredibly lively place to wander around in. Often named a college town, it only has a population of c. 156,000 (2015 census) who live in a geographically small area. Around a quarter of that population are transient students. Visitors and tourists, like I was, are often there because they have some sort of relationship with people studying, or working, at the university.
Heidelberg University dates back to 1386 and is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Europe. Though there are facilities and associated research buildings in the new parts of the city, it’s the Altstadt (old city) which draws most tourist attention. The baroque style of the old city means romance and nostalgia abound on every cobbled street. Cobbles are tough on the feet but, in my opinion, walking around gives you the best rewards: the architecture is striking and the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming. Much of the Altstadt is pedestrianised, the Main Street a mile long which teems with unique shops and would you believe?—tiny art galleries!
Heidelberg Castle sits proudly on the hill above the Altstadt. Its mixture of architectural styles, from Gothic through to Renaissance, dominates the surrounding views. There are habitable castle areas next to parts which have been ruined for centuries: the whole structure encircled with beautiful gardens at different levels for tourists who aren’t so interested in history. There’s an impressive ‘King’s Hall’ that’s currently used for public events that was built in 1937. However, the best memory of my castle tour was of visiting the small Deutsches Apotheken Museum (Apothecaries Museum) which was crammed full of stunningly preserved objects dating from the mid 1700s. TIP: I had a personal translator but an audio guide would be useful since the signs were in German (though maybe they are also in English now). The Museum made such an impression on me that it’s included in a scene where Keira’s suspicions intensify, the disquiet that she’s being stalked becoming more of a reality.
The Alte Brucke (Karl Theodor Bridge built 1788) straddles the twinkling River Neckar in great style. Though named the old bridge there have been many bridges across it. As a Roman history enthusiast, I’m deeply sad it’s no longer possible to walk across the first known timber bridge across the Neckar that was built by the Romans in the first century AD. That timber construction was replaced in stone around the year 200 AD but after it collapsed the city of Heidelberg was without a bridge for almost 1000 years. New structures were built over the next centuries at the same location, using the original Middle Ages foundations, the Karl Theodor Bridge being the ninth. The hugely impressive Bruckentor, the bridge gate on the south end, dates from the Middle Ages. Keira loves the river views but not the fact that she can see 3 shadows as she chats to Teun Zeger, the main male character in the novel.
Now here’s a secret for blog readers – In reality the shadows in my photograph are of myself, Fiona, and my younger daughter Sheena who accompanied me on that trip.
A wander across the Alte Brucke will take you to the Philosophenweg (Philosopher’s Walk). This is a pedestrian pathway that twists and bends part way up the hillside through leafy glades. The views across to the old town of Heidelberg are stunning. Traditionally, professors and philosophers did a power of talking as they exercised there though nowadays it’s also known as a lovers’ haunt! Keira finds the Philosophenweg an exciting place to be for different reasons!
If you read Topaz Eyes you’ll find out how many typical aspects of Heidelberg are featured, though I name only a few of the multitude that are available for the tourist to take pleasure in.
In real life, I found Heidelberg a wonderfully sociable city to visit, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who hasn’t yet been there, but for the purposes of my novel a reader will discover that Keira’s finding it less friendly than it used to be!
A final note would be that Heidelberg is only one of the wonderful cities I’ve given feature to in Topaz Eyes, each location sparked by some form of personal involvement!
Topaz Eyes is available at a *SALE* price of 99p (99c equivalent) across the Amazon network from 14th – 17th April 2017. http://getbook.at/buymehere
Nancy Jardine’s Celtic Fervour Series of historical romantic adventures is set in 1st century northern Roman Britain whereas her contemporary romantic mysteries are set in fabulous world-wide cities, Topaz Eyes being a finalist in The People’s Book Prize 2014. All are published by Crooked Cat Books.
The Taexali Game, a time-travel adventure set in 3rd century Roman Scotland, acquired second place in the Barbara Hammond Competition for Best Self Published Book March 2017.
Her week vanishes in a blur of reading, writing, blogging, keeping up with news and politics, gardening and regular grandkid minding—anything left is for breathing and sleeping. She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists Association, the Scottish Association of Writers and the Federation of Writers Scotland.
You can find her at these places:
email: email@example.com Twitter @nansjar
Amazon Author page http://viewauthor.at/mybooksandnewspagehere
I am currently two working days away from a glorious run of four days off work – my first days off since Christmas, and I cannot wait. And this Easter, I won’t be vegging out with a mountain of chocolate (I’ll limit myself to a hill, to be good), I’m going to set myself up on a DIY writing retreat.
Obviously, on such retreats, life needs to be as simple as possible, so food will be provided by my two favourites – Mr Marks and Mr Spencer. Every retreat needs a bit of luxury, after all!
As for the actual writing, I’ve got my plans, and I’ll be doing my best to stick to them. Final edits on the second draft of one project and then, excitingly, starting full-on research for a new project.
I love this bit, reading around a topic, scribbling down all those notes; it’s like the fun bits of being a student, without the inconvenience of an exam at the end of it all…
Add to that a couple of walks along the seafront and a visit to Tynemouth Market, and all being well, it should be a productive weekend.
Wish me luck!
Happy Sunday everyone! Today, we’re visiting Marseilles with Vanessa Couchman, and learning about soap-making in Marseilles…
Thank you for inviting me, Jen. It’s great to be back.
As it’s Sunday, here’s a nice clean subject. We all use soap, don’t we? (At least, I hope so!). It’s the kind of product we take for granted these days. I certainly did until I decided to set part of my latest novel in a soap factory in the southern French city of Marseille.
Soap has been made for centuries and Marseille became a centre of production. The olive oil needed to make the soap was in plentiful supply. Also, the city was a major port and imported other soap ingredients and exported the finished product. In addition, Marseille’s warm but windy climate helped to solidify the soap.
By the time of the French Revolution in 1789, the Marseille area had 65 savonneries (soap factories), which between them boasted 280 soap-making vats. The industry was at its peak during the 19th century. Traditional Savon de Marseille has a distinctive cube shape and comes in two colours, green (made with olive oil) and beige-white (made with copra or palm oil).
Okay, but how do you turn a liquid into a solid? This question exercises my heroine until she sees the process for herself. The master soap-makers’ work must have seemed like alchemy. The oil had to be heated with soda ash in a giant cauldron and then went through various other stages until it was poured into large flat trays to solidify and dry. It was cut into cubes and stamped with the savonnerie’s own mark. The whole process took about 10 days.
Soap had many uses. People in the 18th century, when my novel is set, used it mainly for washing clothes and for household cleaning. It was also used in medicine for relieving skin allergies and in the textile industry for washing fabric.
By the 19th century, almost every household in France had its cake of Savon de Marseille. In the days before washing machines, women did their laundry at lavoirs, washing places, often sited at the source of a spring. Where I live, in southwest France, you can still see many of them. My heart quails when I think what hard work doing the laundry must have been!
During World War II, soap was rationed like everything else. By the end of the war, the monthly soap ration had fallen to 75 grams. That’s not very much when you consider people had to make do with it for washing laundry, as well as themselves.
Today, industrial processes have simplified soap-making. But authentic Savon de Marseille is still made according to the long-standing methods and prescribed ingredients.
What I love about writing historical fiction is the opportunity to research into topics like this.
Vanessa Couchman is a novelist, short story author and freelance writer and has lived in southwest France since 1997. Her first novel, The House at Zaronza (Crooked Cat, 2014) is set in early 20th-century Corsica and at the Western Front during World War I. She has just completed her second novel, The Corsican Widow, and plans further Corsica novels. Vanessa’s short stories have won and been placed in creative writing competitions and published in anthologies.
The House at Zaronza is available in paperback and e-book format from:
Today on the blog, I am joined by Faith Hogan, talking about the inspiration behind her new novel, Secrets We Keep.
It’s true I think that the most enduring memories of place are stimulated by our sense of smell. Even today, when I visit Enniscrone in County Sligo, it is the salty smell of the waves, the oily scent of seaweed and the wafting aromas fish and chips that transport me instantly back to the seemingly never ending summer days of my childhood.
The town has changed a lot since then. Back when the so-called Celtic tiger roared through Ireland, it grew exponentially, with any number of new housing estates built to cater to tourists who would miss the breath-taking gales and the wind that sings forlornly for most of the year.
In winter, the landscape draws me to Enniscrone when any sane person would remain at home curled up with a book on a blustery day. Miles of sandy beaches cut up by the biting winds, the grey pier besieged by battering storms. The sea stretches icy and crashing to the horizon and too often the sky, overhangs grey and threatening above the windswept village. It is sweeping, melancholic and powerful and when you walk alone and listen to the whales far out in the bay, you are reminded at once that you’re no greater than a grain of sand in this vast universe. It puts all those little uncertainties in perspective.
Winter at Enniscrone Pier. (Photography courtesy of Michael O’Dowd.)
Enniscrone is not always bracing, far from it. The people are still warm, the shopkeepers happy to supply a sincere welcome served up alongside generous portions and permanent good humour.
In summer, it is quite a different prospect. From May until late September the little town fills with visitors, many returning like the swallows every year – it seems of little importance that the chances of a week of sun are slim to most. You see, the thing about Enniscrone is that it’s still the kind of place where you have old-fashioned fun. Families play ball on the beach. Grannies lounge behind wind-breakers, Mums try to spread sun cream on everything but the sandwiches and racing, happy, yappy dogs manage to shoot sand everywhere they can. It doesn’t matter if it rains, because – well you’re going to get wet when you go swimming anyway, aren’t you?
My childhood memories are of trekking to the perfect spot, dropping everything and then peeling off our clothes before spending hours in the sea. It was probably freezing – it must have been, my mother still talks of us being ‘blue with the cold.’ Then, running up the beach, eating sandwiches that were warm and soggy, with sand crunching delicately, but we washed it down with red lemonade or if we were lucky a 99 cone from the nearby ice-cream van.
The old Cliff Baths, Photography from flickr.
When I started my new novel Secrets We Keep – it had a working title of Purple Rock. Of course, my publisher suggested much better names and in the end, after much to-ing and fro-ing, we agreed on SECRETS WE KEEP. The story started with the old Cliff Baths in Enniscrone. Like most people who have spent time there, I’ve looked at the kooky little building overseeing the vast Atlantic ocean and wondered what if…
The story of the Bath House in Ballytokeep is my answer – it’s a story of family, betrayal, secrets and lies. It’a story of finding love when and where you least expect it.
Because in the end, when people are MFEO – really the SECRETS WE KEEP can’t ever hold them apart.
About Faith Hogan
Faith Hogan was born in Ireland. She gained an Honours Degree in English Literature and Psychology from Dublin City University and a Postgraduate Degree from University College, Galway. She has worked as a fashion model, an event’s organiser and in the intellectual disability and mental health sector.
She was a winner in the 2014 Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair – an international competition for emerging writers.
Her debut novel, ‘My Husband’s Wives,’ is a contemporary women’s fiction novel set in Dublin. It was published by Aria, (Head of Zeus) in 2016. ‘Secrets We Keep,’ is her second novel out on Feb 1st 2017.
Find Faith online…
Twitter (her favourite): https://twitter.com/GerHogan
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/faithhoganauthor/
Web Page: http://faithhogan.com/
Today, we’re heading to L.A. – a hotspot of glamour, but with a dark side, as Christina Hoag explains…
Hi Jen and thanks so much for inviting me to take you on a Sunday Sojourn to my corner of the world: Los Angeles, USA.
Los Angeles has a reputation the world over for glamour, dreams of stardom and fame and fortune, thanks to its status as the global capital of the film and television industries. The entertainment business carries an outsize influence around the planet since its products are seen just about everywhere. Movies and TV are undoubtedly America’s most powerful export.
Many of them are filmed here in L.A., even if they’re supposed to be set elsewhere. You often encounter streets closed for use as a movie set on any given day, or sometimes spot a star at shopping malls and supermarkets around town, or run into a crowd of paparazzi hanging outside a trendy club or restaurant waiting for a celebrity to come out. It’s fun to go on studio tours: Warner Brothers, Paramount and Sony all offer behind-the-scenes glimpses of how the world of make-believe is pulled off.
L.A. is also renowned for its azure skies, constant sunshine and beaches. In the summer we can go months without rain, which makes for a great outdoor lifestyle. The downside is that vegetation dries out, creating the risk of brush fire, and water is a precious commodity. One of my favourite beaches is Venice Beach, which has a free-wheeling, Bohemian atmosphere that makes it great for people-watching. Swimming is another thing. Contrary to what you might expect because of the climate, the Pacific Ocean this far north never really warms up. It’s an invigorating dip.
But L.A. is not all glitz and glam. It also holds a couple titles of more dubious distinction. It’s the gang capital of the United States, with at least 450 gangs and 45,000 gang members, according to police estimates. It also possesses the biggest homeless population in the country, with more than 50,000 people living on the streets, largely because the warm, dry climate makes sleeping rough amenable.
This urban underbelly is the Los Angeles where I set my gangland thriller, Skin of Tattoos, because I’m fascinated by how this world functions as a subculture within our larger society. It has its own set of rules and hierarchies, its own moral code and sense of justice. It is a world driven by the demand for respect, and revenge when respect is not given. While these gritty south and east side neighbourhoods are situated only a few miles away from the white, wealthy Westside and storied places such as Beverly Hills, Malibu and Bel-Air, they exist as a parallel universe living in the shadow of the palm-tree postcard L.A. that the world at large sees.
The characters in Skin of Tattoos are Central American immigrants who live in the impoverished, densely packed Central L.A. area near MacArthur Park. This reflects another reality of Los Angeles: It is an immigrant city with large populations from Mexico and Central America, as well as from countries around the globe from Ethiopia to England. Ethnic enclaves, such Little Persia, Little Tokyo and Little Armenia, make for some great, authentic dining.
I’ve only skimmed the surface of the city I’ve made my home. I find it a terrific place to be writer in. I just open my door to find inspiration.
Christina Hoag is the author of Skin of Tattoos, a literary thriller set in L.A.’s gang underworld (Martin Brown Publishers, 2016) and Girl on the Brink, a romantic thriller for young adults (Fire and Ice YA/Melange Books, 2016), which was named Suspense Magazine’s Best of 2016 YA. She is a former reporter for the Associated Press and Miami Herald and worked as a correspondent in Latin America writing for major media outlets including Time, Business Week, Financial Times, the Houston Chronicle and The New York Times. She is the co-author of Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, a groundbreaking book on gang intervention (Turner Publishing, 2014).
For more information, see www.christinahoag.com.
Skin of Tattoos
Girl on the Brink
I really am getting jealous, reading all these lovely pieces, mentally travelling the globe… Today, we’re heading to Venice, for a stolen moment with writer Judith Newton.
I am sitting on the ledge of a low brick wall that divides the sidewalk from a small canal in the Dosoduro—a quiet, and unusually verdant, section of Venice. I am eating cicheti, Italian tapas, that consist of sliced baguette toasted with olive oil and topped with creamed salt cod and parsley, mushrooms and ricotta, and something sweet that might be figs and mascarpone cheese.
The tangy creamed cod with parsley is my favorite. I go back for seconds in The Cantine del Vino gia Schiavi, a popular wine bar jammed with Italians and a few tourists. Some, like me, have spilled out onto the canal ledge. A few sit on the steps of the stone bridge that spans the water (though sitting on the steps of a bridge is, strictly speaking, illegal). There is an air, as happens frequently in Venice, of a party taking place, a party to which everyone who happens by is invited. The party in Piazza San Marco, the center of tourism, is almost always huge, and there are the sounds of café pianos, strings, accordions, and someone singing in the background to set a festive mood. But the small party at the San Travaso Bridge feels more like a neighborhood gathering. The only sounds are the lapping of water in the canal, the buzz of voices from inside the Cantine, and the quiet conversations of those parked on the cool, rough ledge, plastic cups of wine by our sides, paper plates gingerly balanced on our laps.
The light of the late afternoon deepens the green of the small canal and softens the tawny orange and lemon of the buildings on the other side. I’ve decided not to dine with my traveling companions this evening, and the moment seems stolen. I’m not in a restaurant, not ordering two or three courses, not making conversation, and not drinking rather too much wine. I’m perched on a ledge eating tapas for my dinner, not saying much, just taking in the scene.
There is something Venice about this too. I don’t experience Venice as I do other places, places in which streets keep going rather than ending, without warning, in shimmering canals. My passion for Venice has less to do with the official sights—the glowing gold and blue mosaics of the Basilica, the dark prisons of the Doges palace, the gilded ceiling of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco with its Tintorettos –than with the way the light changes on the water and the stone.
What is it about the light and stone and water that outweighs the art and architecture for which I usually travel? Is it that my encounters with light on stone and water are unplanned, not part of my traveller’s schedule, that I happened upon them, just as I’ve happened upon the pungent creamy cod? Is it that an enchanting moment feels all the more precious for being spontaneous and even stolen? Light on stone and water, of course, is also part of the city’s ancient history, and it connects me, however briefly, to those in the past, and in the future, who have, and will, sit near the San Travaso Bridge.
To watch light changing on stone and water seems an encounter with time passing and with the eternal as well. Is it that I can see in the darkening jade of the canal that life, like light, is passing—soon to deepen into night? Is what I savor the experience of knowing this and of being, nonetheless, at rest? “Though in Venice,” Mark Helprin writes in The Pacific and Other Stories, “you may sit in courtyards of stone, and your heels may click up marble stairs, you cannot move without riding upon or crossing the waters that someday will carry you in dissolution to the sea.” It is this feeling of what is spontaneous, delightful—and evanescent—that I want to remember, to revisit, maybe find in my life at home.
Happy Sunday everyone. Today, we’re travelling to a neighbourhood of San Francisco: The Mission, with our guide, Tam May…
Thank you to Jennifer for having me as a guest blog poster.
Location plays a big role in my writing. I call the San Francisco Bay Area in California home so it’s the primary setting for the stories in my upcoming book, Gnarled Bones and Other Stories . San Francisco is divided into neighborhoods and each has its own unique characteristics. The one I’d like to talk about here is the Mission District, better known as The Mission.
Photo Credit: 18th-century Spanish Colonial Mission San Francisco de Asis (Mission Dolores) on the left and early 20th-century Spanish Colonial Revival-style parish church on the right, 2004, taken by Robert E. Estremo, Mission District, San Francisco, CA: File Upload Bot (Magnus Manske)/ Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:San_Francisco_de_Asis–Mission_Dolores.JPG / CC BY SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en.
The Mission originally belonged to the Mission de Asis (Mission Dolores), which is how the neighborhood got its name. It’s an area that used to be (and, to some extent, still is) heavily Latino and you can see the beauty and richness of this varied culture on the main arteries that cut through the neighborhood (like Mission, Guerrero, and Dolores streets). Festive shops line Mission Street as well as fresh fruit vendors and luscious produce stands. Latino festivals such as Day of the Dead and Carnival celebrations take place in the Mission rather than more centralized locations like downtown’s Market Street.
Photo Credit: Conjunto Folklórico Panamá América, Carnival parade in San Francisco, 2015, Parade 64, taken May 24, 2015 by Carnival.com Studios: sfmission.com/ Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/aforum/18157427762/sizes/m/ / CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Since the 1990’s, The Mission has become infiltrated with more than just the Latino population, though. The dot.com revolution brought gentrification to many areas of the city and The Mission was no exception. I first visited the area in the mid-1990’s and it was still known as a rather grungy, funky area, not overtly dangerous but not pleasant to walk around in at night either. Ten years later, when I lived in a two-bedroom apartment on 14th Street near Mission Street, the area had changed quite a bit. Many of the older Victorian and Queen Anne houses had been renovated into condominiums and warehouse-like buildings converted into lofts were trending. Upscale coffee houses, wine bars, and restaurants replaced the ma-and-pa establishments to attract the new young urban professional population. This has caused a lot of complaint among the community (and not just the Latino community) in the typical San Francisco “if there’s a protest in there somewhere, we’ll find it” way. Only last year, the New York Times posted this article about the upheaval going on between the locals and the Googlites that had virtually taken over the neighbourhood.
Photo Credit: Mural on the side of the Women’s Building, a community center for women, on 18th Street between Valencia and Guerrero. Taken on March 29. 2015 by Plateaueatplau: Plateaueatplau/ Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Women’s_Building_-_Mural_on_Side_3.JPG / CC BY SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en
But for me, The Mission is still a warm and inviting community with a flavor of funk that has, true, been somewhat softened by the dot com invasion. I love the diversity of people that I see walking the streets, the colorful murals that appear randomly but always with purpose on walls and sides of buildings. I try to capture that warm and festive flavor in my writing when I write about The Mission or a place that is modeled after The Mission.
About Tam May
Tam May was born in Israel but grew up in the United States. She earned her B.A in English before returning to the States. She also has a Master’s degree and worked as an English instructor and EFL teacher before she became a full-time writer. She started writing when she was 14 and writing became her voice. She writes psychological fiction that explores emotional realities informed by past experiences, dreams, feelings, fantasies, nightmares, imagination, and self-analysis. She currently lives in Texas but calls the San Francisco Bay Area home. When she’s not writing, she’s reading classic literature and watching classic films.
Her first work of fiction, Gnarled Bones and Other Stories is available in paperback now on Amazon. The ebook will be available on January 19, 2017.
For more about Tam May and her works, please visit her website.