Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Easy Tiger!

After my previous post with a picture of a lady and a very relaxed leopard, here's one of a gal and her tiger in a rather more playful pose. The game girl is Mabel Stark, one of the most celebrated big cat trainers from the golden age of the American circus in the 1920s. Wrestling with her favourite kitty, Rajah, was all part of her act, hence her tough leather suit. Mabel and Rajah got on so well that he used to share her bed on the Ringling Brothers circus train, although there were several ocassions when life in the big cat cage got out of hand and she was badly mauled by less house-trained lions and tigers, both in training sessions and in front of the public. Her life is told in fictional form in Robert Hough's novel The Final Confession of Mabel Stark. It's a rollicking read, similar in many ways to Water For Elephants but far, far better in it's depiction of blood, guts and sawdust and its evocation of Stark's spunky, spiky voice. Click over to the Circus Mania blog to read my review of The Final Confession of Mabel Stark among my pick of 5 Great Circus Books for Summer Reading.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Life on the high wire

Did you thrill to the sight of Nik Wallenda crossing the Grand Canyon on a tight wire? (Watch the Sky News clip here)

For more high altitude hi-jinks read The Showman's Girl in which Emily runs away with the circus in the 1930s and becomes a wire-walking star. Daredevil Jayne urges her on, but tragedy is just a footstep away.

Download The Showman's Girl from Amazon or borrow the large print paperback from your local library.

I love this picture of a lady and her leopard. It's a 1975 circus publicity shot from David Barnaby's biography of Britain's last big cat trainer Martin Lacey. Click over to the Circus Mania blog to read my review of The Great British Circus - Views of Martin Lacey (Book Guild).

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Writers' Forum

The new Writers' Forum is out now and includes a feature on how I wrote the My Weekly serial A Life of Loyal Service about a Buckingham Palace maid despite having never written a below-stairs type of story before... nor even having watched Downton Abbey!

I was also pleased to read in this month's issue an interview with crime writer Peter Lovesey by Joan Moules. Lovesey's Sergeant Cribb series was a favourite of mine in my early teens, having turned to titles like Wobble To Death and The Detective Wore Silk Drawers after watching the TV series based on the books.

Although I don't write much crime, Lovesey's writing was a definite influence and inspiration to me in terms of his crisp, clean style, jaunty tone and sense of humour.

Friday, 21 June 2013

And in the blue corner... the Angel of No Mercy...

The Fairground Girl... And Other Attractions comprises three romances involving strong women in the toughest areas of showbusiness. In The Fairground Girl, Beatrice swaps suburbia for life on a travelling funfair after falling pregnant by fairground boy Eddie in the 1950s. In The Lion’s Den, Charlotte is an animal rights protester who goes undercover to expose cruelty in a circus in the 1980s, but finds her loyalties divided when she meets the charismatic lion tamer and showman, Guy.
Final story Blue Eyes and Heels is set in the world of professional wrestling where nothing is what it seems and Angel has to... well, lets ask her in this exclusive interview:

Name: Angel aka The Angel of No Mercy.

That’s an unusual name...
My real name’s Angela, but only my mum ever calls me that. Mum hates wrestling. My Granddad calls me his Little Champ. Granddad was a famous wrestler in the old days. He fought all the legends like Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki. He’s trained me since I was about five.

Was your dad a wrestler, too?
Um, do you mind if we don’t talk about Dad for a moment?

Okay, so who else is in the story?
Max Moon, the promoter, has been like a dad to me, although he drives me up the wall sometimes. He likes having me around the halls to sell tickets and hold up the card between rounds - Moonlight Wrestling Promotions needs all the glamour it can get - but he won’t let me wrestle!

Who would you wrestle if Max let you?
Psycho, definitely! Psycho’s the show’s Mr Nasty - or the heel, as we call it. He’s great at winding up the crowd. But I could bash him up easy!

But isn’t wrestling all fake?
I hate that question. It suggests there’s no skill. But wrestling is the most skilful mix of theatre and sport you could imagine. It’s incredibly skilful and if you miss-time it you better believe you’re gonna get hurt. That’s why I want to fight. I want to make British wrestling great again.

What's your best line in the story?
That's probably when Psycho asks if I'm really an angel. But you'll have to read the story to find out my reply.

Read about Angel’s no-holds-barred battle of the sexes in The Fairground Girl and Other Attractions, available to download from Amazon.

Monday, 17 June 2013

The Art of Magazine Fiction

Detail from Andre Leonard's
illustration for my story Forever Together
in My Weekly

My thanks to Andre Leonard for his fabulous illustration to the first part of my two-part story, Forever Together, in this week’s My Weekly. It’s uncanny how Andre how depicted the heroine, Nicola, exactly as I imagined her, even down to her ponytail which I always pictured her having but never actually described in the text. How spooky is that? And how appropriate for a tale full of weird, spooky goings on at a creepy old theatre?
Andre has illustrated my previous serials Fairground Attraction and A Life Of Loyal Service and it’s such a pleasure to have my work illustrated so classily.
I interviewed Andre for Writers’ Forum last year and was surprised to learn that his beautifully detailed ‘oil paintings’ are actually produced digitally, with a program called Painter.
“It requires the use of a graphics pad - I use a Wacom as it’s the best - and a digital pen or stylus,” Andre explained. “Unlike the ones used on phones they are pressure sensitive and can be programmed to mimic the actions of various types of brush.
“I usually do all my sketching off the computer, then scan the final sketch for painting. The advantage of digital illustrations is the ease in which alterations can be made and the speed of delivery. Re-works used to be a nightmare but now alterations can be done and the job re-sent within hours.”
I can’t wait to see the picture for the second instalment.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

World Juggling Day

Today is world juggling day! If you fancy joining in the fun, go to the Circus Mania blog to find out How To Juggle In 5 Easy Steps! 

For the next couple of days, you can also hear Douglas McPherson talking about juggling and circus on Radio Norfolk by Googling Radio Norfolk Listen Again and looking for the Stephen Bumfrey show dated June 12. Douglas is on about half way through at around 14.10.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

World Juggling Day

Circus legend
Gerry Cottle
shows off his juggling
and fancy footwork

Didja know juggling can improve creativity and focus by uniting the left and right sides of the brain?

...that ancient Chinese warriors used to show off to their enemies by juggling before they went into battle?

... or that this Saturday, June 15 is World Juggling Day?

Visit my (br)other blog to discover 15 Facts about Juggling

- and why not have ago yourself?

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Fairground Girl gets a "thumbs up" review from Britain's top wrestling blog

The Fairground Girl and Other Attractions contains three stories about three women in three very different areas of showbusiness. The title story follows the adventures of Beatrice who runs away with fairground boy Eddie in the 1950s. The second, The Lion's Den, focuses on Charlotte, an animal rights protestor who goes undercover to expose cruelty at a circus in the 1980s. The final tale, Blue Eyes and Heels is about a girl fighting the ultimate battle of the sexes in the wrestling ring.
When I wrote Blue Eyes... I wanted to show both sides of the wrestling world: the showbiz and fakery plus the very real skill and danger that goes into putting on a show in the ring.
I wondered what wrestling fans and professionals would make of my portrayal of their world. So I'm glad to say that Julian Radbourne has called it "a very good read" and given it a "thumbs up" on The Two Sheds Review - Britain's longest-standing wrestling and mixed martial arts blog. Also that he enjoyed the Fairground Girl and the Lion's Den, too. Click here to read his review of The Fairground Girl And Other Attractions.

And click here to download the Kindle edition of the Fairground Girl from Amazon.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Roaming in the gloaming

Just back from an evening drive. After a sunny week it had been a strangely cold and overcast June day and the evening was no brighter. But as we drove through the premature gloaming of a country lane canopied with trees we came to a beautiful old humpbacked bridge. The walls of the bridge were too high to see much of the river from the car, so I pulled over and we walked back for a better view. And what a sight we were rewarded with. Framed by the trees like a painting by Constable of an England long gone, the wide, lazy river - so slow moving as to be filled with lily pads like an ornamental pond - meandered through meadows rendered with a golden haze of buttercups. In the distance, pale in the evening mist and barely glimpsed through a copse of trees, the roof of some enormous stately home straight out of a costume drama. And in the foreground, at the water’s edge, lowing at the unusual sight of passing humans in this place that time forgot, a herd of ruddy cattle with ghostly woolly white faces.
On the bridge we stood, breathing the cool, clean air and soaking up the relaxing scene.
Who needs television?

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Why I like my romances short and sweet

In the library today I picked up a book that better remain nameless. Suffice to say it was well known and critically acclaimed, which was why I picked it up, to see what it was like.
The first line was about someone breaking wind. Further down the first page were two jarring and gratuitous swear words.
I put the book back on the shelf because, personally, I don’t want to spend my time in such distasteful company.
Why is that so many writers and readers feel that books, especially those with pretensions to be ‘literary,’ have to look down life’s drain when they could draw our attention to a beautiful blue sky and leave us feeling better about ourselves and the world around us?
The other thing that put me off the book was its size. It was as thick as a brick and made me wonder if it could possibly reward the sheer effort of ploughing through it. Why do people feel that a book has to be long to be taken seriously? Why can’t more writers make the effort to get their points across more pithily?
I recently forced myself through another brick-thick book by a hugely successful, much filmed horror writer. On a line-by-line basis, his writing is entertaining. He’s particularly good at conveying accents and speech patterns with a single phonetically spelt word - the hungry kid who wants his “breffus,” for example. Yet, padded out over however many hundreds of pages, the only horror the tome stirred in me was whether I’d ever get to the end - or, for that matter, the point - of the thing.
So what books do I like, you may be wondering?
If I had to choose my favourite book of all time, the one who’s writing early on set the bar for what I would like to write myself, it would be At the Height of the Moon by the late and sadly neglected Eric Malpass. One of a series of gentle comedies written about the Pentecost family, who live in a rambling farmhouse in an England of long summers and gentle meadows, the book is short, engaging and written with a beautifully light touch. But the lightness of the writing should not be confused with lightweight. By turns, the novel is laugh-out-loud funny, wistfully romantic, touching, emotionally right on the button and often poetic.
I wish I still had the shiny-covered paperback with its cartoonish drawings on the front and back; it must have been discarded in some house move when I momentarily lost sight of its value. But the truth is that thirty years or more after I first read it, I can still remember great chunks almost word for word and they still give me a warm glow to remember them.
Every writer finds their own voice and style and I hope mine is that: my own. But if someone were to read one of my books and say something about its spirit reminded them of Eric Malpass then I could think of no finer compliment.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

George Jones 1931 - 2013

George Jones graces the cover of the June Country Music People. The country legend who died in April may not have achieved the wider fame of Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton or his former wife Tammy Wynette, but to the cognoscenti he was the greatest country vocalist of them all.
I saw Jones once, when he and his ex-wife, Tammy Wynette, played a reunion concert at London’s Hammersmith Apollo. The moment he walked on stage and opened his mouth is one of the most memorable I have ever seen in a lifetime of watching great singers. That vast, golden voice expanded to fill the theatre.
If you haven’t heard him, have a look on YouTube.
George’s most popular hit is He Stopped Loving Her Today, and its lyric, by Bobby Braddock, is a masterful piece of storytelling - a tear-jerking movie distilled into three minutes.
In fact, it was songs like that, more than any prose, that first opened my eyes to the possibility of what could be done with words. As a kid I marvelled at the way songs like Squeeze’s Up The Junction could evoke such a sense of character, place, atmosphere and passing time in such few words.
In country music I was fascinated by Guy Clark’s character study songs Let Him Roll and Desperados Waiting For A Train - sepia-tinted slices of American life that would take Steinbeck a whole book to convey, put across in a handful of succinct, finely honed couplets.
Nashville’s song-writing community still produces some of the finest writing in the world - check out the imagery and drama in Carrie Underwood’s recent Blown Away.
It was the close-knit world of that city’s wordsmiths, and their dedication to their craft, that I wanted to celebrate when I wrote Nashville Cinderella.
When I began, I thought a murder mystery would be a good vehicle and typed the working title Murder on Music Row (fittingly for a crime novel, I ‘stole‘ the title from a George Strait and Alan Jackson song of that name). Within a few pages, however, I realised the thing I was most enjoying was the banter between waitress Cindy and diner chef Tony - an aspiring singer and songwriter, respectively. They were too light-hearted and upbeat for a crime novel and as I wrote them I realised I’d rather write about people falling in love than killing each other. So Murder on Music Row became a feel-good romantic comedy, Nashville Cinderella.
The magic of music making, and the work that goes into a song, remained at its heart, though.

Monday, 3 June 2013


What a perfect mellow summer evening it was last night.
9pm. Cool and still after a hot sunny day. The sun a red dot dipping low across the fields from a cloudless sky. The air perfumed with hawthorn blossom that hung like snow on the dark green branches. And in the air just one sound - well, actually a multitude of sounds - a veritable roar of competing tweets, chirps, trills, warbles and whistles as the massed choir of unseen birds shouted their happiness from the treetops.
For the longest time I just stood in the gathering gloaming and listened to the only Twitter I’ll ever need.