Comfort Reading – Guest Paula Martin

De-cluttering guru Marie Kondo has caused quite a stir amongst the reading and writing community by stating we only need keep 30 books on our shelves. I’m a harder taskmaster than Marie, because I only let my guests choose 5 “keepers”! Today I’m handing over the challenge to romantic novelist, Paula Martin.

Thanks for inviting me to share my ‘comfort reads’ with you and your readers, Rosie. I must have read thousands of books in my life, so it wasn’t easy to pick only 5 books. In the end, I’ve chosen 5 which are ‘special’ to me for different reasons.

The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown

I first read this when I was ten or eleven, and then read it over and over again! It’s a story of seven children, each with different talents, who form their own theatrical group and write, produce, and act in their own plays. I’ve heard that this book (first published in the 1940s) inspired many future actresses, including Maggie Smith, Victoria Wood, and Eileen Atkins. In my case, it led to a lifelong love of the theatre, and also inspired me, when I was about twelve, to write my first full-length novel of over 60,000 words, which I called ‘We Wanted a Theatre.’ I still have it somewhere, written in long-hand in pencil on whatever paper I could find!

 

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I ‘met’ Jane when I was twelve and my mother took me to our local repertory theatre to see a play based on the book. The next day I rushed to the library to borrow the book, and then asked for my own copy for my next birthday. I always loved Jane whose inner strength enabled her to cope with so many traumatic events in her life. She spoke her mind, and considered herself to be Mr. Rochester’s equal, even at a time when women were considered ‘inferior’ to men. In later times, I’m sure she would have been a suffragette or an ardent supporter of women’s rights! An interesting footnote to my love for this book is that a few years ago, I discovered Charlotte Bronte started writing the story when she was staying with a friend in Hathersage in Derbyshire, and based her heroine on a medieval brass on the tomb of Joan Eyre (hence the surname, of course) – and Joan Eyre was actually one of my ancestors.

 

Katherine by Anya Seton

In my teens I was hooked on Tudor novels, especially those by Jean Plaidy, but this book changed all that. Based on the factual story of Katherine Swynford, and set in the 14th century in the reigns of Edward III and Richard II, it brought the later medieval period to life for me. Historical people who had just been names became real people, especially John of Gaunt – and I must admit I fell in love with him! I was full of admiration for Katherine, too, who became governess to John’s two daughters (echoes of Jane Eyre here?). After his wife’s death, he and Katherine began their love affair, which continued until his second ‘political’ marriage to a Spanish princess. After Constanza’s death, John returned to Katherine and married her. This was at a time when royal Dukes simply did not marry their mistresses, so it is an indication of John’s lasting love for her. This book led to my fascination with later medieval history which I later studied at university, and in turn, led to my next book:

 

The Sunne in Spendour by Sharon Kay Penman

Many novels have been written about Richard III, but in my opinion this is by far the best. Sharon’s research is second to none and, like Anya Seton with the 14th century, she brings the events and historical characters of the 15th century to life. The story begins in 1459 with Richard as a young boy, covers the period of the Wars of the Roses, includes family and political intrigues, and ends in 1485 with Richard’s defeat and death at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Like many others, Sharon rejects the Shakespearean portrait of Richard as an evil monster, and shows him as a man with loyalty, courage and strong principles. It’s a novel I return to again and again, but as it is such a thick tome (over 1200 pages), I now have it on my Kindle!

 

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Not a novel this time, but a play, which I first saw on stage when I was eleven, and then bought the full script (a hardback book at that time) with my Christmas money. I love Wilde’s clever wit and brilliant one-liners, and also his satirical comments on the so-called ‘rules’ of Victorian society and morality. Every time I read the script, I seem to discover something new.

 

 

 

 

Bio

Paula Martin lives near Manchester in North West England and has two daughters and two grandsons.

She had some early publishing success with four romance novels and several short stories, but then had a break from writing while she brought up a young family and also pursued her career as a history teacher for twenty-five years. She has recently returned to writing fiction, after retiring from teaching, and is thrilled to have found publishing success again with her contemporary romances.

Apart from writing, she enjoys visiting new places. She has travelled extensively in Britain and Ireland, mainland Europe, the Middle East, America and Canada. Her other interests include musical theatre and tracing her family history.

Her most recent book is Irish Shadows, the fifth book in the ‘Mist Na Mara’ series, published by Tirgearr Publishing. All five books are stand-alone stories, set in beautiful Connemara in the west of Ireland, and combining romance with suspense and intrigue. They are available from various distributors (Amazon, Kobo, Nook, Smashwords) via http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/Martin_Paula/

Other Links:

Website: http://paulamartinromances.webs.com

Blog: http://paulamartinpotpourri.blogspot.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/paulamartinromances

Thanks to Paula for taking part – and for telling us about her intriguing personal connection to Jane Eyre. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to inspire a story, even if it is just in name only!

Story Time Part 1

At the end of 2017, before I had my publishing contract and when I had a bit of time on my hands, I submitted a couple of stories to competitions in Writing Magazine.  Writing competitions are a good exercise in disciplined writing, a tight word count does wonders for eliminating waffle. They can also provide inspiration during periods of writers’ block and the opportunity to diversify into different genres.  I’d entered Writing Magazine competitions before without success, but persistence pays off because to my great surprise this time, in both cases, I was shortlisted. Shortlisted stories don’t get published, or featured on the magazine’s website, they just fade into obscurity. So I thought why not give them the light of day.

This first entry had to include the words ‘without that it all falls apart‘ mid-story, and the second, which I’ll post up in a few weeks’ time is a science fiction piece (yes really!)

Today of All Days

The boy was back again.

Simon’s heart fell as he stepped through the front door and heard the soft murmur of voices from the kitchen. Not today. Not today, of all days.

Julia looked up. He’d got used to seeing the shadow of sadness in her eyes but her mouth smiled, as welcoming as always. She rose from the table, kissed his cheek, slipped across the room to refill the kettle.

‘I’ll make us all another tea,’ she said. ‘Isn’t it good of Zak to come today, today of all days.’

The boy turned. Simon was glad to see the flush of embarrassment on his face. The boy had wormed his way into Julia’s heart but Simon was not fooled by that mask of civility.

‘Hello, Mr Crouch.’

They’d never been on first name terms and they never would be. Some acts were unforgiveable, despite Julia’s insistence to the contrary. The counselling had given Julia a sense of stoic resignation Simon totally failed to comprehend. Thinking about what might have been doesn’t help, Julia had told him. Negativity solved nothing. We can’t spend the rest of our lives thinking about what ifs.

Simon could.

What if they hadn’t given in to Hayley’s demands to transfer to the local sixth form college? What if he’d had his own way and Hayley had stayed at private school to take her A levels?  Because then Hayley would have never met the boy. She’d never have started dating.

What if they’d said no when she’d asked about the trip to the festival? At least she asked, Julia had pointed out. Some kids would just go. How could they have said no?

What if she’d never got into the boy’s car?

She’d still be here. That’s what if.

‘Biscuit?’ Julia said, breaking open a packet of shortbread. They were Simon’s favourites, a deliberate ploy to force him to be sociable.

The boy’s once handsome face was pitted with scars. Simon was glad the boy would bear permanent evidence of his crime. Simon and Julia’s scars went unseen. Souls destroyed by grief. No visible signs. You just carried on, you had to.

Come to counselling with me, Julia had said. But he couldn’t because he didn’t want to sit in a circle with other bereaved parents and confess to a psychologist that he didn’t know how to come to terms with the death of his only child; how to re-assess, re-build, move-on. He didn’t want to talk about the hurt, and the hate, that consumed him. He found solace in work. Accounts, investments and taxation schemes still made sense when nothing else did. His clients needed him. He couldn’t just close up shop.

Everybody coped differently, Julia soothed, as if she understood, as if she didn’t mind his absence from the sessions. He immersed himself in his job while Julia poured out her heart and made friends with the enemy.

It was the ultimate betrayal. He couldn’t think of it in any other terms. The boy had killed their daughter and Julia had invited him into their house.

‘I could hardly leave him on the doorstep, could I?’ she said, the first time Simon came home to find the boy in their kitchen. ‘That’s not what Hayley would have wanted. I couldn’t turn him away.’

‘Yes you could,’ Simon argued. ‘He had no business to come here, upsetting you.’

‘He was far more upset than me,’ Julia insisted. ‘He was distraught. I didn’t know what else to do. He’s lost someone too, remember.’

The boy’s loss would never be as great as theirs. He’d barely known Hayley. What was a year, eighteen months, compared to a lifetime?

‘Don’t you see how important it is for him to maintain contact with people who knew her?’ Julia was on a crusade, almost as if she’d found solace in the boy’s visit. ‘We’re that link, however tenuous. We represent some part of Hayley, something tangible. Without that, it all falls apart.’

Let it all fall apart, Simon thought, let the boy suffer and shatter into fragments as they had done. Why should Julia become the boy’s conscience saver?

‘Hayley had lots of friends,’ Simon pointed out. ‘Why can’t he go and have cosy chats with them instead?’

Julia had an answer for everything. ‘You of all people should understand how difficult it is to find someone you can open up to, someone you can trust.’

He didn’t like the inference that he and the boy shared anything in common. Simon had chosen not to open up. He didn’t want to delve into the chasm, because once he started, he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop. One of them had to stay strong.

‘He thinks he’s to blame,’ Julia said. ‘He holds himself responsible.’

‘But he is responsible,’ Simon replied. Back to all those what ifs again.

‘No,’ Julia said. ‘The van driver was entirely at fault. Zak did everything he could to avoid the crash. Didn’t you listen to a word at the inquest?’

Julia was too generous, too kind. Too forgiving.

‘I don’t want him here again,’ he’d said.

Yet here he was. Again.

Simon noticed the flowers in the sink, the type of cheap bouquet picked up at a service station or corner shop. Now he felt guilty. Guilty he hadn’t thought to buy flowers on the way home from work. Guilty that he’d dismissed his doubts that really he should have taken the day off.

She’d said she didn’t want to do anything that made the date significant. She’d insisted it would make matters worse, not better.  Sometimes Julia spoke in unfathomable riddles. How was he supposed to know what was the right thing to do?

The house phone rang. It had probably been ringing all day; Julia’s mother; his mother, friends, the bereavement group, that closed-circle who gave Julia her strength and from whom Simon felt so alienated. Whoever was ringing now would be offering sympathy and platitudes, talking of time being a great healer, the old clichés about the first anniversaries always being the worse, and how everything would get better from now on.

‘I’ll get it,’ Julia said.

The boy shuffled on his seat.

‘You’re not to come here again,’ Simon said as soon as Julia was out of the room. ‘It upsets my wife.’

‘I only came to bring the flowers,’ the boy muttered. ‘I couldn’t not do anything, not today.’

‘My wife is very gullible. This has gone on long enough. You coming here just makes everything ten times worse.’

‘I’m sorry.’ The boy kept his eyes downcast. ‘I never meant any harm. She should have said if she didn’t want to see me.’

‘Well, I’m saying it now.’

He thought the boy would get up, make a swift exit while Julia was still on the phone, but instead of making a move to leave the boy slumped further into his chair. He hung his head, ran his fingers through his shaggy hair, revealing more scar tissue. Simon recoiled at the intensity of the criss-cross of lines, seeing them close-up for the first time. He reminded himself the boy had walked away from the wreckage of his car, walked away, while Hayley had to be cut free. His attempt to stem the flow of blood from Hayley’s wounds had been admirable but amateurish, the coroner had said. If the ambulance had arrived five minutes earlier, if the van driver hadn’t stopped for a second drink, hadn’t been on medication…

What ifs.

‘I think about her all the time,’ the boy said. ‘Hayley was the best thing that ever happened me. I’d never met anyone like her. She was full of fun, so beautiful, generous, and I find it so hard to remember that, because all I see now when I think about Hayley are the headlights of the van coming towards us. I slam my foot on the brake but it’s all too late.  I hear her screams.  It’s a nightmare that won’t go away, that recurs day after day, and sometimes I wake up, and I think that’s all it is, just a nightmare, I’ll see Hayley at college today, and then I look in the mirror, and I can’t escape. I’ll never escape. It’s all my fault. I killed her.’

The boy sobbed as if his heart was breaking, sobs that came from somewhere deep within the pit of his thin, lanky frame, sobs that reverberated around the kitchen. The boy sobbed as Simon had wanted to sob when Hayley’s life-support was switched off.

‘Julia, your wife, Mrs Crouch, she understands,’ the boy mumbled on through his tears. ‘She listens to me. That’s why I come. Nobody else wants to know. They tell me it’s a year now, and I should be moving on, go back to college. Julia says I should go back to college too, it’s what Hayley would have wanted, but she doesn’t say it like they say it. She understands.’

Envy was an irrational reaction, yet it stabbed at Simon like a knife, gauging into his shame.  He wanted to tell the boy to get a grip, to pull himself together, because that was the advice he gave himself, but that advice hadn’t worked. This boy provided Julia with the comfort and the empathy he could not. They had consoled each other and he had remained deliberately aloof.

He wasn’t aware of Julia coming to stand in the doorway, phone in her hand. He was just aware of the boy at the table who had been injured in the car crash that had taken his daughter’s life, a boy who shared his nightmares, his fears, his grief, his loss.

He tried to think of something he could say that would make it better, something Julia might say when the boy came here, seeking refuge. Really, there was nothing.

He reached out and put his hand on the boy’s shaking shoulder.

‘We don’t blame you. It wasn’t your fault.’

Perhaps it was the right thing, the only thing to say, today of all days.

 

The End

© Rosie Travers

 

You can check out some of my flash fiction here

Guest Post – Helena Fairfax on Comfort Reading

How many of us are making new year resolutions to take more care of our personal well-being? I’ve always believed in the magic of books and the comfort they bring, and I’m delighted to hand over my first guest spot of 2019 to romantic novelist Helena Fairfax, who shares her thoughts on the subject.

I’ve loved reading ever since I was a toddler and first opened a picture book. It doesn’t matter which author I’m reading, I nearly always find comfort immersing myself in the world of stories. I was really interested to find out recently that the Reading Agency once did some research and discovered that regular reading is beneficial to people’s mental health. [Link: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/reading-improves-relationships-and-reduces-depression-symptoms-says-new-study-10446850.html ] I’m not alone in finding reading a great reliever of stress and it really does help my mood when I’m low.

Because I love reading so much, trying to choose just five books that bring me comfort has been a virtually impossible task. But here we go – in no particular order, here are five authors I regularly turn to for a joyful read!

 

The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer is absolutely my go-to comfort-read author. My favourite novel of hers changes often, but they are all delightful. I chose The Grand Sophy today because Sophy is the perfect strong, charming, bright, witty heroine. Sophy is the only daughter of international diplomat Sir Horace. She has been used to travelling round the world with her father, but when he goes to South America, he decides it would be much better if Sophy went to stay with his sister’s family. Horace’s sister is expecting a quiet, biddable girl. I love the scene in which Sophy arrives at the house – all five foot nine of her, carrying a pet monkey. Sophy soon takes charge of the family in an affectionate and charming but resolute way. Heyer’s style is funny and her books are beautifully researched. And there is nothing more comforting than knowing that a whole cast of characters is heading for their own happy endings.

 

Nicholas Nickleby, by Charles Dickens

I completely love the melodrama of Charles Dickens’ novels, and this one has melodrama in every page. There are so many scenes and characters that stay in my mind long after I put the book down. Poor Smike, the orphan from Dotheboys Hall; the depraved Sir Mulberry Hawk, who has his wicked heart set on capturing the heroine; the villainous Sir Ralph Nickleby; Whackford Squeers, the bullying master of Dotheboys Hall. Even the characters’ names have a melodramatic ring to them. Dickens is a master storyteller and even though you suspect that he is shamelessly manipulating your response, there is one particular scene in the book that never fails to bring tears to my eyes. I even get upset thinking about it – which doesn’t sound very comforting, but Smike, the character involved, is one of my favourite characters of all time. The only reservation I have is that the female characters are quite wishy-washy, but I still love the story and the brilliant, page-turning ride towards a happy ending.

 

Madam, Will You Talk?, by Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart is another of my go-to authors for comfort reading. This book seems a little dated now. There is a lot of smoking, and the characters speak in a fairly plummy way. This doesn’t detract at all from the romance of the Greek setting and the developing love story, along with the thrilling suspense. One of the things I love about Mary Stewart is her portrayal of ordinary women who are caught up in a dangerous situation by chance, and who act in a heroic way. Madam Will You Talk? is set just after WWII, and the heroine, Charity, is grieving the man she loved. I love her dashing car chase scene as she escapes the hero, the bad guys are suitably villainous, and there are lots of twists and surprises. It’s the perfect comfort read, especially for this time of year, with its glorious Mediterranean setting.

 

Persuasion, by Jane Austen

I was given a complete set of Jane Austen for my fifteenth birthday and completely fell in love with her books from the first. My favourites change from year to year. At one time it was Pride and Prejudice. I vividly remember first reading P&P in the playground at school, completely engrossed and oblivious to everything. When Darcy first proposes to Lizzie, I didn’t see it coming at all. My jaw dropped open. O.M.G! He’s in love with her!! I was so completely wrapped up in their story, I missed the bell, was late for class and got a detention. I’ve just re-read Persuasion, and it’s my favourite at the moment. I love the way Captain Wentworth and Anne start off with so much history between them and a seemingly unbridgeable gulf, and the brilliant way Jane Austen brings them gradually together. The scene where they finally understand one another is really moving.

 

Red Rackham’s Treasure, by Hergé

A boy and a dog are in a submarine shaped like a shark. What child wouldn’t want to read a book with a cover like this? I’ve been reading and re-reading all the Tintin books since I was at primary school, and my love for them has grown more and more. At first I read them for the gripping story. Hergé was a genius, and every page in the books ends with a cliff-hanger. Now I also look far more closely at his brilliant illustrations. His books have excellent characters who grow and develop as the series progresses, the settings are unusual and exotic, and the dialogue and pictures are absolutely hilarious. I still think of some of the jokes and laugh out loud. I only recently discovered that Hergé wrote these strips for a Belgian newspaper that was commandeered by the Nazis in WWII. How horrific and frightening it must have been for him to be obliged to work for them. His Tintin adventures must have brought comfort to many at the time, and they are still very firmly in my top five of comfort reads.

 

Author bio

Helena Fairfax is a freelance editor and author. She is addicted to reading and will read the cornflakes packet if there is nothing else to hand. Helena was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She’s grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in the north of England, right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors and the home of the Brontë sisters. She walks this romantic landscape every day with her rescue dog, finding it the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.

 

Social links

Find out more about Helena on her website www.helenafairfax.com, on Twitter @helenafairfax, or by subscribing to her newsletter to news and occasional free stuff http://eepurl.com/dtIDEH

 

Helena’s latest release is a non-fiction historical work called Struggle and Suffrage in Halifax: Women’s Lives and the Fight for Equality. Women’s voices are all too often missing from the history books. This book looks at some of the key events in the fascinating history of the mill town of Halifax, West Yorkshire, from the point of view of the women who shaped the town. It’s available on pre-order now from bookshops and retailers and from Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Struggle-Suffrage-Halifax-Womens-Equality/dp/1526717778/

 

Thank you so much for having me, Rosie. I’ve really enjoyed revisiting some comfort reads. I want to read them all over again!

Thank you Helena for taking part. The Independent survey makes very interesting (and comforting) reading for us bookworms!