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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Paws for Reflection - Guest Post Nicole Hurley-Moore

In this month's "Paws for Reflection" I have author Nicole Hurley-Moore as my guest poster.

As a bit of a fan of time travel stories (watch this space for news on my next release SECRETS IN TIME), I am currently reading Nicole's UNTIL THE STARS BURN COLD and loving it but back to writers and our inseperable muses. In the interests of equality...a dog story. Over to you, Nicole...

We have a dog, his name is Hercules and he’s about twelve years old. I say about, because we aren’t exactly sure of his birth date. My husband rescued him. Hercules had been mistreated and his original ‘owner’ had threatened to get rid of him (and not in a I’m taking him to an animal shelter way.) I don’t know what breed is, I’m guessing he’s a Border Collie cross. So, Hercules became a part of the family as soon as he walked through the door and the children have grown up alongside him. He is very loyal, quiet and sedate. But my youngest daughter has wanted a ‘little dog’ for a very long time. For years we have said no, and that one dog is enough. But finally, last year we gave in.


So when we bought this... see above... fuzzy, white pooch for our daughter, little did we know that we were not introducing an angelic marshmallow into our home, but a demonic hell queen from the seventh strata of the netherworld. Queen Hayley has usurped power and we are now living in servitude. All who oppose her will are gutted, beheaded and shredded before their eyes... well, at least that’s what happened to her squeaky toys. Destroyer of high heels, slayer of socks and demolisher of all in her path... all hail the queen!

Okay, well maybe she’s not demonic, but just very naughty... and really, really cute.

When I’m not pandering to Hayley, I write historical and paranormal romances. Misrule’s Mistress will be released this Christmas (20th December). It’s a medieval story which is centred around the twelve days of Christmas, ending with the Feast of Misrule.

Thanks so much Alison for inviting me to drop by.

Nicole  x

Find out more about Nicole at: 

Nicole's debut novel UNTIL THE STARS RUN COLD is available at Amazon

Forbidden love. In ancient Persia, Jinn is cursed into a ring as punishment for daring to love the wrong woman. Empires crumble, centuries pass and Jinn is still a captive of the ring. That is until present day antiques dealer, Mia Templeton accidentally releases him.

** I apologise for the sideways picture of Hayley! Nothing I could do would make the picture sit straight but it was such a lovely picture that I put it up...Hayley the Sideways Dog

Monday, November 26, 2012

How did we become an angry society? A personal confrontation...

Over the weekend two incidents occurred that have affected me to the point that I spent a sleepless night pondering where we have come to in our society. 

I read with horror the story of the two young French girls on a Melbourne bus who were subjected to a tirade of vile, racist abuse by a man pushing a pram. It went worldwide You can read about it here. Not a proud moment for my hometown. This was awful but it was something that happened to "someone else".

I am going to out myself here. I am "practicing" member of a small Anglican church in the western suburbs of Melbourne. When we first moved here, thirty years ago, it was sleepy hollow but alas it has now been discovered and it only takes a warm day and the hordes flock to our foreshore to either dine in the cafes or enjoy picnics in the parks. It is so bad that at 6.30pm on Saturday night as we were heading out of town, there was a jam of vehicles trying to access the waterfront.  Weekends are becoming a nightmare for us as we live close to the waterfront and if I move my car I inevitably return to find my car space taken as parking becomes a premium.

Our little church is right on the foreshore and we are currently in the throes of a property development which has entailed the building of a private road behind the church and the construction of car parks that are clearly labelled "Private Property No Parking". Yesterday afternoon, our vicar wandered out of the vicarage and saw a bloke parking his car in our car spaces. He politely pointed out the signs and he was then subjected to a torrent of vile abuse, to the point where he thought he was in danger of physical attack. Now our vicar is not easily intimidated but when he arrived at the social event we were having in the garden, he was clearly shaken. 

The second incident occurred later that afternoon. Our church runs an Emergency Relief lunch program on Mondays and Fridays. While we build a new parish centre, the program is currently run out of another local church hall. We are blessed with the generosity of the local traders including Woolworths who donated a double refrigerator to us for the use of the program. Another trader donates all its left over cupcakes on a Sunday afternoon for use at the Monday lunch. We have a roster of parishioners who pick the cakes up and deliver them to the fridge. In fairness to what follows,  the fridge isn't labelled - although it will be from now on!  

It just so happened it was the turn of my husband and I yesterday. We collected 4 boxes of cakes and arrived at the other church to find a children's party going on in the church hall. When we opened the refrigerator we found it occupied with beers and drinks. 

An elderly gentleman came in to the kitchen and told us they were the property of the party. We explained the fridge belonged to the Emergency Relief and we needed to refrigerate the cakes. He was on the point of removing the drinks (we could have worked around them)when a younger man came into the kitchen.
"We are not moving anything," he told us. "We've paid $200 for this venue and we were told we could use the fridge."
"But it's not the church"s fridge," my husband said. 
"I dont F^&** care whose fridge it is, we were told we could use it and we're not F@#$#% moving anything. We've paid to use the fridge." 

He was a big man, taller than my husband who is six feet and bulletproof. The older man then took the younger man's side but you could see in his eyes that he was not comfortable with the arguments being put so forcefully by his companion. Things were escalating as my husband tried to explain we could put our cakes in and then move the fridge around to accommodate their drinks. The young man was having none of it. He felt he had paid to use the fridge and he didn't F%^&*&* care, they were not moving anything out of it.

The situation was diffused by my suggestion that we the cakes on the bench with the promise they would be put in the fridge at the conclusion of the party. It was like watching a balloon deflate but it will be interesting to see if the cakes are in the fridge and indeed (given the tempting nature of them) if any are left! Needless to say we were both rattled by the reaction we had received. Two such incidents in one day?

I'm not going to racially stereotype the gentlemen involved in both incidents, particularly as the monster on the bus is clearly a "skippy" (a dated but derogatory term for an Australian of white anglo saxon origin). It's about an angry society and I don't understand when did we become such an angry society? Is it to do with entitlement?
  • I drive a car. I am entitled to expect to find a car park. You have a car park therefore I am entitled to park in it.
  • I paid $200 for this hall hire. This hall has a fridge. I don't care if the fridge doesn't belong to the hall, I am entitled to use it .
I'm not a sociologist and I'm sure there are many, many erudite articles that have been written on the subject (particularly following incidents such as Cronulla) but this was personal and it is only when things affect one personally does the reality come home. Lack of respect? Belief in entitlement? 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tipped off the Hamster Wheel - Defining who we are

This week marks the second anniversary of a seminal date in my personal history...the day I became "differently employed". I prefer the term "differently employed" to "retrenched". For the first few weeks I wandered the house marvelling at day time television, revelling in not having to face the morning commute but underlying it all was a terrible sense of having somehow failed.

Let's face it, we define ourselves by our occupations and for all my working life I have defined myself by the title "lawyer". The first time I had to reinvent myself occurred when we moved to Singapore for 3 years with my husband's work.  At the time we left I was in a part time job that I loved, I was qualified for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve with the possibility of command of one of the University Regiments but when I arrived in Singapore I found I was no longer a lawyer or an army officer, I was "just an expat wife". No one knew or cared what I did back in Australia. What mattered was what job my husband did, what apartment block we lived in, what sort of car we drove and which Club we belonged to. Holy 1950s, batman!  My husband had his work, my children went to school while I became a home maker. I do not devalue the importance of that role with a husband who was hardly on the island and two miserable teenagers but somewhere I lost myself.

Mercifully I found the ANZA Writers Group and they saved my life or at least my identity...I suddenly realised I could be a "writer" and that's how I occupied my time in Singapore. I even started a "freelance writing" business and for the first time put "writer" as my occupation on the re-entry card to Australia.

In our lives we think we make decisions but in reality if we look back over the span of our years we can see the "decisions" we agonised over and thought we had made, really weren't decisions at all, just  stones in the crazy paving of our lives.

(Over the years other "decisions" I thought had been made and set in contract had to be rethought. The one decision I think I did make and that had the most significant influence on my life was a left field decision in my final year at university to join the Army Reserve. Why, you ask? (as indeed did all my friends!).
1. You got paid...
2.  Broken heart...need to do something different with my life etc, etc.
3.  I liked uniforms)

Defined as a "Lawyer" (the one and only time I ever wore the "uniform")

Did I decide to study law? Not really...I fainted at the sight of blood (ruling out medicine  and suffered numerical dyslexia (my own term for being mathematically challenged...ruling out accounting). I had no desire to do either teaching or nursing (reference to blood above), the only other "career choices" available to a girl in the late 1970s. I came from a family of lawyers and my father (the only one who was NOT a lawyer) made the valid point that even if I never practised law, it was good to have a trade.

So when the time came to return to Melbourne at the end of our Singapore stint I announced my decision to anyone who would listen. "I am NOT, repeat, NOT going back to law." Two weeks after my return I was running a friend's legal practice. So much for  that decision. From there I moved into a full blown career...and I was stuck on the corporate hamster wheel, running ever faster, ramping up the stress and anxiety levels. To use another metaphor, I became a frog in a pot, the heat was being turned up gradually until in late 2009 I found myself in the dream job - a senior executive role that on the face of it brought together everything I had ever don. This, I swore would be my ultimate job, the job I could retire from.

It all came crashing down in a manner that is worthy of a 6 part television series. By the time it got to October 2010 I had seen 90% of my PD disappear in an organisational restructure and was told in no uncertain terms that I was no longer a member of the Executive. A full and fearless discussion was had with the new CEO in which I explained that this was  not the job I had signed on for. I was called into the CEO's office on a Friday afternoon - and yes, the box of tissues was on the table and the outplacement guy in the office next door. I got a "this isn't about you, it's about me" dissertation followed by the "don't come Monday" talk and do you know what, I sat there, looking at the plane trees beyond the window and thought "I must remember this will be useful in my writing".

I had been hurled sideways off the hamster wheel and I probably owe a small debt of gratitude to that CEO but I'm not going to tell him that! There is still a small well of bitterness and hurt about my treatment that is like a scab, I can keep scratching at it and it will start to bleed again...even after 2 years.

As I drove home that night in a veil of tears, I was halfway home when the reality hit me. I had been set free.
I wiped out the pain with several large glasses of Glenfiddich, followed by most of a bottle of red wine. My husband seemed oddly relieved (apparently he had been living with something called "the stress monster")  and assured me that financially we could manage quite well without my salary.

For six months it felt corporate uniform gathered dust in the closet, I lost weight, I got fit...I started to write properly. I paid lip service to my former identity by keeping up the outward appearance of a legal practice but my heart had gone out of it. I had put everything I had into that last job and I had nothing left.

This year I did not renew my legal practising certificate which was a monumental psychological barrier but I am back at work again...on my terms...with a small not for profit. I earn a fraction of my former salary but I love my job, I like the people I work with and most importantly I feel like I am actually doing some good. That is what my former CEO did not understand, working was never about the money, it was about making a difference.

So what is the point of this ramble? It is about the decisions you make in your life, or at least you think you make. We can't predict what our lives are going to do but what we must always do is make the very best of the opportunities it affords us. What if I hadn't joined the Army Reserve? Would I have met my husband? What if we hadn't gone to Singapore? Would I have had the confidence to continue my writing? What if I hadn't gone straight back into law... and what if I hadn't become "differently employed" on a fine November afternoon two years ago...?

I would never have had the courage to inscribe my last re-entry card into Australia with "WRITER".

Winning the 2012 Romance Through the Ages Contest - Anaheim

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Next Big Thing - I've been Tagged

I've been tagged in The Next Big Thing by fellow writer Anita Davison. Anita and I 'met' through our mutual passion for the seventeenth century and have shared our ups and downs over the last five or six years.  I’m just thrilled that her first “mainstream” novel Royalist Rebel  is coming out in January. I can’t wait.

According to the NBT instructions I am here to tell you all about my next book by answering these questions and then to tag five other authors about their Next Big Thing.

So here I go!

What is the  title of your next book?
SECRETS IN TIME is coming out in April 2013 from Lyrical Press
I was hoping I would have a cover to brag about but my Publisher got the full brunt of Hurricane Sandie and has been without power for weeks on end.
It’s only a short book (about 45K words) compared to my previous books which have all nudged 100 thousand words. So it will be a quick read.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
This is my first unabashed romance. It originated from a writing exercise I did with my writing group in Singapore way back in 2001. I can’t remember what the task was but I was going through some snippets of writing a couple of years ago and came across it again. It caught my eye and I found myself drawn to turn it into a story.

What genre does your book fall under?
Time Travel! I have always LOVED time travel books and in this book I manage to combine my two passions – the English Civil War AND time travel!

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
That is such a hard question. Sometimes I have certain people in mind but most of the time I like to keep it fairly vague and allow the readers to impose their own images on my characters faces but if I’m pushed to it:

NATHANIEL – Gabriel Aubry (with dark auburn hair)

JESSICA – Aussie actor Jessica Marais

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

For love, a man will cross time itself.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Lyrical Press which published my last book, GATHER THE BONES, is bringing out SECRETS IN TIME as an ebook. However I will make it available in print shortly after its release.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It’s hard to say because I wrote it in bits and pieces. When I said I picked it up a couple of years ago, it was when my father was in his last illness (He had suffered from Alzheimers/Dementia for a number of years). In his last days I would come home from sitting with him and just write and this was the story I wrote. It was something I felt compelled to do, almost as if I needed to escape from the reality of what was happening in my world. After his death it took me a year to come back to it but once I settled into it, SECRETS flowed.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I loved Suzanna Kearsley’s book Mariana. It's once of the best time travel books I've read.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I think I’ve answered this question above. No one particular inspiration, just a combination of factors.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
It’s not just about romance, there are strong family ties that bind the characters too. What will a father do for a beloved son?

That's it from me. I am looking forward to sharing SECRETS IN TIME with you.

And here are some more lovely historical authors I've tagged to tell you about their Next Big Thing!

In the meantime while you are waiting impatiently for SECRETS IN TIME, don't forget my latest release GATHER THE BONES is out and getting some great feedback. If you like mystery, history, romance and ghosts with a dash of Downton Abbey, this is the book for you!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

In Flanders Field - Remembering 11 November 1918

Excerpt from GATHER THE BONES by Alison Stuart (Lyrical Press 2012)

Passchandaele September 17, 1917.

Paul’s first thought as he felt the rain on his face, was one of despair. The cold, unrelenting wetness meant only one thing. He wasn’t dead. He opened his eyes and looked up into the dark sky and wondered what time it was. Midnight? Past midnight? He parted his lips and let the wetness relieve his raging thirst. It tasted of blood, everything tasted or smelt of blood and worse.

He dared not move. Movement would attract the unwanted attention of the snipers in the German trenches and, he thought grimly, start his wounds bleeding again. He would die here in this shell hole, already up to his knees in the fetid water beneath him. It would take days to die, a long, slow agonizing death. God knew in the last few years he had seen such deaths often enough.

He tentatively moved his right hand, just enough to seek out his holster. Finding it empty, he closed his eyes and grimaced in impotent despair as memory flooded back. He raised his aching head to look down into the dark, evil water below him. Nothing disturbed its surface except the spattering rain drops. It was as if the earth itself had swallowed Charlie and now tried to suck him down too.

The persistent rain sent icy splinters of cold through his soaked tunic into his bones. If the wounds didn’t kill him, exposure might speed the process. He lay for a long time in the cold and the dark summoning up the courage to move.

A shell burst close by, spattering him with mud and filthy water. Paul shut his eyes, his body responding instinctively, despite his protesting injuries, by curling up protectively. When the ground stopped vibrating, he wiped the mud from his eyes with his good hand and lay quite still, gathering his strength and mentally plotting the one hundred yards that stood between him and the British lines...(end excerpt)

In 2005 my husband and I visited the battlefields of Flanders and the Somme. I have blogged in an earlier post, Tears on the Western Front,  about my search for my lost relative, Captain Richard Conway Lowe who died at Pozieres, and how moving I found the experience.

I think being a soldier, albeit a peacetime soldier, gave me an empathy with the men who endured the hell of the World War One trenches and when I came to write GATHER THE BONES, I wanted to try and impart a little of what they suffered. This is not a book about World War One itself. Paul's story is told in flashbacks (such as the one above). What I wanted to convey is the effect the war had on every individual whether they were a mother (Evelyn and Sarah), a wife (Helen), a daughter (Alice) and on the men who went to war (Paul, Charlie, Tony and Devlin).  I also wanted to compare this suffering with other conflicts (the Peninsula War) and show the experience as being universal. 

Reflecting on the Battle of Passchandaele - Tyne Cot Cemetery.Belgium
Outside Ypres is the small medical aid station where a young Canadian doctor, John McRae penned the immortal words of In Flanders Field, which in the extraordinary collection of World War One Poetry remains my personal choice. When a close friend was killed during the 2nd Battle of Ypres May 2 1915. McCrae performed the burial service himself, at which time he noted how poppies quickly grew around the graves of those who died at Ypres. The next day, he composed the poem while sitting in the back of an ambulance. McCrae did not live to see peace. He died of meningitis in January 1918.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Sunday 11th November 2012 marks, as it has done for nearly one hundred years, the day the guns fell silent.  

Every year since the 1920s, my own church in far off Melbourne, Australia holds a service of remembrance on the Sunday closest to 11 November, called the Lighting of the Lamp.  The flags of our local Scouts and Guides and our Naval Cadet Unit are laid up along with the flag of our Karen friends, refugees from their own war in Burma. The old liturgy of the 1660 Prayer Book is recited, the words becoming less and less familiar with the years but no less moving for the connection with those times so long past and the little light, that little beacon of hope and memory is passed from hand to hand around the darkened church before relighting the memorial lamp in the chapel for another year. 

On Sunday let us remember not only those who died in the wars of so long ago but our young men and women serving in our armed forces today. 

Grave of Captain Richard Conway Lowe, MC - age 22
We must never forget.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Melbourne Cup and Me

The first Tuesday of November, every year it is the same
Every Aussie heart is beating with excitement of the game
For they bet on dream or fancy or the forms they've followed up
From a dollar up to thousands on the famous Melbourne Cup

 So go the lyrics for Slim Dusty's song "The Melbourne Cup".

It is the first Tuesday in November and DH (that's Darling Husband) and I have just returned from our annual flutter. The bookies call it "Mug Punters Day", the day when everyone, young and old, across Australia throw their money at Race 7 at Flemington, participating in an office sweep or darkening the doors of a TAB to lay their only bet for the year. In Melbourne it is a public holiday and as we walked home from our trip to the TAB, groups were gathering on the foreshore with their picnics to enjoy Cup Day.

Archer...the first (and second) winner of the Melbourne Cup

 I actually have a personal connection to the Melbourne Cup being descended from the family that raced the first winner of the Melbourne Cup in 1860. Legend tells us that Etienne de Mestre walked Archer from the family property in Shoalhaven (New South Wales) to Melbourne. Sadly like most legends it is blatantly untrue - the furthest Archer walked was from his stable to the boat that brought him around the coast to Melbourne. Archer went on to win the first two cups.

I knew nothing about Archer or the Melbourne Cup when I arrived in Australia in July 1968 from Kenya, a small shy 9 and a half year old, transplanted from all that was familiar to me into the rough and tumble world of an Australian childhood. My parents had decided on Perth as our new home and I had been duly enrolled in St. Mary's Girls Grammar School, a respectable Anglican Church school for young ladies. Everything was new and strange but the oddest thing of all took place on the first Tuesday in November. At lunchtime there was a mass exodus to the back of the playground and the girls gathered around a transistor radio to listen to a horse race. I stood on the outer in mesmorised wonder as a group of ten and eleven year old girls cheered Rainlover (yes, I can still tell you who won the 1968 Melbourne Cup) to victory in what was to be my first Melbourne Cup. (see footnote)

Dressed for the Cup Eve Ball November 1982
The family moved to Melbourne and Cup Day became part of our culture. We would gather around the black and white TV to watch it run. For the next few years, university exams intruded on Cup Day and it was not until 1982 I attended my first ever Melbourne Cup.  DB (darling boyfriend at that stage) and I   attended a Cup Eve Ball and woke late the next morning feeling at a bit of a loss as to what to do. On the spur of the moment we packed into my housemate's car and headed off for a day at the races. No dressing up, no fancy hats, just three friends out for a good time.

I have been to the Cup several times since then. As officers of Her Maj. our respective Officers' Messes were given prime position on the finish line at the cup. Up would go the regulation gree 11x11 tents, the Army bands would play,  the officers mess staff would be conscripted and we dressed up in our finery to go to the races.  Fickle Melbourne weather always throws a curve ball and one year it was so cold and wet, I stayed in the trainers I had worn to walk from the car to the tent.  Sadly commercialisation overcame this odd hark back to military colonialism and the Officers Mess' lost their spots.

Almost Melbourne Cup Program 2000
As careers advanced along came the invites to the "Corporate Tent". I loved the corporate tents - a chance to dress up and watch the races in civilisation rather than scrumming with the drunken crowds. Horses? Who cared about horses? I was there for the champers... One of these invites resulted in a flaming row with DH who told me I had a choice between a new hat or "educating your children" (yes, dear, that is still recorded in my black book!). In a scene oddly reminscent of nascent colonialism we paid for the privilege of course. The executive wives found themselves seated with the wife of the "country manager", an opinionated American who held court between races with complaints about the pokiness of her house in Toorak and the difficulty in getting good staff. That was probably the last time I attended the Melbourne Cup.

In 2000 we moved to Singapore and as I may have reflected before, the importance of "tribe" becomes paramount when you are away from your native shore. That year, in the innocent days before the events of 9/11, the Australian High Commission hosted its annual "Almost Melbourne Cup Night", a charity night that raised money through "betting" on a 7 set race meeting run using wind up clockwork animals - penguins, elephants etc. It was the last time the "Almost Melbourne Cup" was run at the Australian High Commission. The following November, the world still reeled from 9/11 and the barricades had gone up outside the AHC, a building that was found to be on the "hit list".

ANZA Melbourne Cup 2002

In 2002, the Australian New Zealand Association organised a Melbourne Cup Lunch with live feed from Flemington. I bullied a few of my non Australian friends into glamming up and off we went to the Intercontinental Hotel. Actual betting was not allowed but the wily Australians got around this somehow with a sort of ballot system.

So the race that stops a nation will be run this afternoon. If DH or I are lucky we may recoup something of our massive outlay ($5 each way bets!). Melbourne Cup is a race for mugs but we love it, it's as Australian as kangaroos.

Footnote:  My mother reminded me that she had been invited to a school "Mothers' Club" Melbourne Cup luncheon on that day in 1968. The invitation read "bring a plate" - she took a plate...with nothing on it. When language fails...