Thursday, 20 July 2017

Wireless and Winners

What's the link between today's cell phones and transatlantic flights? The answer is Clifden, a small town in the west of Ireland, which was the scene of two hugely significant events in the early 20th century.

The first was due to the Italian inventor, Guglielmo Marconi, who successfully developed long-distance wireless telegraphy. Determined to send wireless signals across the Atlantic, he established a transmitting station in Cornwall, but after some difficulties there, he decided to move his station as far west as he could. The site he chose was Clifden or, to be exact, Derrygimlagh Bog, about three miles south of Clifden.

The station officially opened in 1907, and commercial signalling began between Clifden and Glace Bay in Nova Scotia, Canada on 17th October. Buildings on the site included a power house with 6 boilers and a huge condenser building as well as houses for the workers. There was a also a massive aerial system with 8 wooden masts, each 210 feet high. The sparks from these could be heard over a wide distance and resembled lightning. Fifty people were employed at the station, and a further seventy were also employed cutting peat to fuel the steam generators.

When advances were later made in technology, a more powerful station was built in North Wales but the Clifden Station remained operative until it was attacked and burned by Republican ‘irregulars’ in 1922. It was closed down after this, and the buildings gradually fell into disrepair.

The second event came twelve years after the Marconi station opened. In June 1919 British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Whitten-Brown left St John’s, Newfoundland, flying their Vickers VIMY biplane. Although there had been previous flights across the Atlantic Ocean, theirs was the first non-stop journey, lasting 16 hours and 27 minutes.

It wasn’t an easy journey – at one time due to thick fog, they were unable to navigate with their sextant and twice almost came down in the sea. The batteries for their heated suits failed, meaning they were freezing cold in the open cockpit – but evidently their coffee was laced with whisky! Half way through the night, they ran into a snowstorm and Brown had to climb out onto the wings to clear the ice from the engines' air intakes.

Their choice of Clifden as a landing place was deliberate because of the Marconi station. Several years earlier, the Daily Mail newspaper had offered a prize of £10,000 (over £1 million in today’s money) to any pilot who could fly an airplane across the Atlantic within 72 hours. Alcock and Brown were aware of other contenders for this prize and wanted to make sure the news of their arrival in Ireland was telegraphed to London as soon as possible.

They looked for a meadow on which to land and mistook the boggy surface near the Marconi station for hard ground. A man in the transmitter building tried in vain to warn them, but they thought he was waving a welcome! As they touched down, they sank into the mud and the plane nosed over into the soggy peat. A somewhat ignominious ending to a triumphant flight, but at least neither of them was hurt. The man in the transmitter building rushed out to them and asked where they'd come from. 'Canada', said Brown. 'We were there yesterday - and we're the only two people in Europe who can say that.' And it was a local reporter from the Connacht Tribune who got the scoop of the century by interviewing the two aviators. 

These two huge landmarks in the history of communications and transport went on to change the face of the 20th century- and Clifden saw them both. Not bad for a small out-of-the-way town in the west of Ireland, was it?

The memorial to Alcock and Brown's landing at Derrygimlagh
but (a) it's not at the place where they actually landed
and (b) for some unknown reason it shows a modern tail fin
although they flew a biplane!

Derrygimlagh Bog, taken from the site of the memorial - and the actual landing
place is the white speck in the far distance which is a large monolith. At least it is
now painted white (which it wasn't when I first visited the site!)
Pictures of Alcock and Brown, and other information about their
flight, displayed in Mannion's Bar in Clifden  

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Clifden, the 'capital' of Connemara

My four Irish novels are soon to be republished (with brand new covers!) so here is an introduction to the small town of Clifden, which provides the setting for them all.

 Clifden (An Clochán in Irish, meaning stepping stones) is situated on the west coast of Ireland, between the Atlantic Ocean and the ‘Twelve Bens’ of Connemara.

It was founded by John D’Arcy who inherited the estate at the beginning of the 19th century (and built a castle overlooking Clifden Bay). At the time the area was inhabited mainly by fishermen and farmers, until D’Arcy decided to establish a town and also a road to Galway (now the N59).

John D'Arcy's castle (now in ruins)
overlooking Clifden Bay
Originally it had three streets, forming a triangle - Main Street, Market Street and Bridge Street, with Main and Market meeting at the market square, and Bridge Street linking the other ends of those two streets.

Looking up Market Street from the open area where the
market used to take place

Looking down Market Street toward the market place
and Christ Church (Church of Ireland)

Main Street and St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church

By 1839 the town had grown to 185 dwellings, most of them three-floored, two churches, two hotels, three schools, a police barracks, courthouse, a gaol, a distillery and 23 pubs, and it had a population of about 1,000. It suffered during the Potato Famine in the 1840s and didn’t recover until the end of the 19th century when a railway was built to link it to Galway.

The town from the harbour

In the second half of the 20th century, Clifden became a popular centre for many different outdoor pursuits – hiking, cycling, sailing, fishing, horse-riding and golf. For the less energetic, there is a variety of shops from sweater shops and boutiques to antiques and art, and of course the tourist souvenir shops. Needless to say, there are also plenty of pubs, some genuinely ‘old’ Irish and others more trendy. In many of them, there is live music most evenings.

It's definitely one of my favourite Irish towns! Friendly people, interesting shops, excellent food, great craic - and even better when the rain stops and the sun comes out! 

Next week I’ll tell you more about Clifden’s history and its surroundings.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

A New Direction

It seems appropriate to reactivate my blog exactly one year from when I last posted anything here – and also somewhat significant since I am about to enter a new phase in my writing life.

Last year at this time, the audio version of my novel Changing the Future had just been released and the audio of Irish Inheritance was in preparation. My novels were selling steadily (not in millions but certainly in hundreds each month), and I was in the middle of writing my 4th novel set in the west of Ireland. That novel, Irish Deceptions, was released in March this year.

A month later, on April 12th, I received the devastating news that my publisher was closing due to ill-health. I’ve been with her for over 5 years, and she and her team have been the most supportive and friendly people any writer could ever wish to work with. What other publisher would receive a submission (of one of my Irish novels) at the beginning of February with my apology that I was submitting it far too late for it to be released in time for St. Patrick’s Day – and then fast-track it so that it was actually published 22 days later?

Of course I was now left with the question of what to do with my 9 novels once they were removed from online distributors at the end of August.

In a knee-jerk reaction, I sent two of my novels in mid-April to a ‘traditional’ British publisher. I must admit I was slightly put off when they made me feel like a newbie writer looking for a first acceptance, rather than an established author with thousands of sales over the past 5 years, but I accepted that I would have to wait ‘up to two months’ (as quoted by the submissions editor) for a decision. The two months passed, and then I heard that someone else had to wait over 5 months for a decision, and even longer for actual publication. At that point I came to a decision – there was no way I wanted to wait a year or more for each of my novels to be re-published (one a year = 9 years!), so I withdrew my novels from this publisher.

I then contacted Rebecca (my publisher) and asked for her advice. Remember what I said earlier about a supportive publisher? In the space of a couple of hours last Monday evening, she contacted another publisher – and came back to me with the response that they would be happy to take all my novels! Whatever you said to them, Rebecca – thank you!

I went to bed on Monday evening in part huge relief and part stunned amazement.

Since then, life has been a whirlwind of signing contracts with Fire Star Press, an imprint of Prairie Rose Publications, and providing my ideas for the new cover designs, since they want to publish my Irish books first (and all at the same time) as the ‘Mist Na Mara’ series. Those of you who have read the books will know exactly what Mist Na Mara is!

A year on from my last blog post here, my life is setting off in a new direction – and I’m really looking forward to working with Cheryl and Livia at Fire Star Press. I’ll let you know how it goes – so watch this space! J

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Win a FREE download of 'Changing the Future'

Do you enjoy listening to audio books? If so, read on and find out how you can get a FREE download of my contemporary romance, ‘Changing the Future’.

This novel was first released, as an e-book and paperback, four years ago. Last year, my publisher, Rebecca J. Vickery, started to explore the world of audio books and, to cut a long story short, ‘Changing the Future’ was released as an audio book just over a week ago.

Here’s an introduction to the story:

Lisa Marshall is stunned when celebrated volcanologist Paul Hamilton comes back into her life at the college where she now teaches. Despite their acrimonious break-up several years earlier, they soon realise the magnetic attraction between them is stronger than ever. However, the past is still part of the present, not least when Paul discovers Lisa has a young son. They can’t change that past, but will it take a volcanic eruption to help them change the future?

The story is set mainly in North West England, but also includes a romantic interlude in New York, and a tense climax in Iceland.

Reviewers have said:

“I love this book. It drew me in. the way it is written, the reader is able to sympathize with both Lisa as well as Paul. There is an element of danger as Paul practices his profession as a volcanologist and at one point, I was hanging on every word, waiting with Lisa to see if Paul came through his adventure unscathed. This story tells how one simple misunderstanding can grow and fester until, like a volcano, everything finally comes spewing out to finally be resolved.”

“The characters were believable through and through and I'm glad they were so realistic. Oftentimes romance novels leave me shaking my head, knowing that people aren't really like the characters as they are portrayed on the page. Paula Martin created likeable, interesting characters who lead life like real people. You wanted their happy ending but she didn't make it easy for them to get there, and in reality it never is as simple as some stories make it out to be. That's what made this novel so good.”

‘Changing the Future’ is available for Kindle (only 99 cents/99 pence!) and as a paperback from Amazon

However, if you would like a chance to win a voucher for a free download of the audio version, please leave a comment below and tell me about your favourite time or place for listening to audio books!
(And don't forget to add your email address)

Three winners will be selected! Good luck!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

A Signature in a Guestbook

‘Irish Intrigue’ was released last week, the culmination of over a year’s work, and more if I count the earlier drafts of this story.

Charley Hunter returns unwillingly to Ireland to complete the filming of a TV drama series. She still hasn’t come to terms with the tragic loss of her husband there two years previously, and the last thing she expects is an instant attraction to an Irish veterinary surgeon.

Luke Sullivan’s life is full as he tries to balance caring for his two young children with his busy rural veterinary practice. After the break-up of his marriage, he vowed to leave women well alone, but now finds himself drawn to Charley.

While Charley struggles with the re-awakening of her emotions, Luke faces a series of unexplained crises at his clinic, as well as an impending custody battle with his ex-wife.

They grow closer as their initial interest in each other develops into mutual support and then into love. But how can an English actress and an Irish vet reconcile their different worlds? And will their relationship survive when Luke believes Charley has endangered his children’s lives – and then betrayed him?

Amazon Links:
USA - 99 cents
UK - 99 pence

An important character in the story is a retired actress. I’ve called her Alice Vernon, but one incident in the book originally involved a real actress.

In 2011, during one of my trips to Ireland, I visited a small village called Cong in County Mayo. The main reason was that this was where some of the movie, ‘The Quiet Man’ was filmed in the 1950s. It starred John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. The cottage used in the film is now in ruins, but one of the cottages in the village has been set up to look like the original cottage, with authentic reproduction of the rooms and some of the costumes worn by the stars.

After we’d explored the cottage and studied the photographs and local newspaper accounts of the filming in and around the village, we were asked to sign the visitors’ book. Out of habit, I glanced at the previous page of signatures and did a double-take at the one at the bottom of the page – Maureen O’Hara - Yonkers, NY.

I must admit my immediate reaction was. “I didn’t realise she was still alive!” – but when we asked the girl in the small shop, she said, “Yes, she has a house near Cork, and often visits here when she’s in Ireland.”

I knew I would use this small incident in a novel at some point – and so in Chapter 2 of ‘Irish Intrigue’, Charley visits a small cottage – and see the signature of Alice Vernon in the guest book. Alice goes on to play an important role in the rest of the story. Originally I based her on Maureen O’Hara – but somehow as I wrote her, she became more and more like Maggie Smith! 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

An amazing talk by an amazing woman

For those who were interested in the talk by Eva Schloss I heard last night, here is a brief summary of it.

Eva Schloss is now 85 years old, and her mother married Anne Frank’s father after the Second World War. However, her talk wasn’t about her famous posthumous step-sister, but about her own life.

Born in Vienna in 1929 to a fairly well-to-do family, she had to flee Austria with her parents and brother after the Anschluss in 1938. They were no longer welcome in Austria. The mother of her (non-Jewish) best friend screamed at her never to visit their house again, and her brother was beaten up at school.

They went first to Belgium and then to Amsterdam. Anne Frank was one of her school friends there. Not a best friend, she stressed, just one of the friends she played with in the local park. “If I’d known what would happen in the future, I might have taken more notice of her,” she said with a wry smile. The main things she could remember about Anne was that she was a lively, confident chatterbox and also, even at 11, she was already interested in clothes, hairstyles, and boys, whereas Eva was still a tomboy and quite shy.

Once Germany invaded Holland in 1940, life gradually became more difficult for the Jews, as different restrictions were placed on them. They weren’t allowed to use public transport. “No problem,” she said. “We all had bicycles anyway.” As a child, she was far more upset that Jews were not allowed to visit the cinema, especially when they couldn’t go to see ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ which all their non-Jewish friends were talking about.

Despite the restrictions, she said, life was tolerable until 1942, when orders were issued that all Jews aged between 16 and 25 had to report for labour service in Germany. That was when the Franks went into hiding, and so did Eva’s family.

Unlike the Franks, however, Eva and her mother were hiding in one apartment with Dutch friends, and her father and brother with another Dutch woman. When this woman started to blackmail them for more money, Eva’s father found another place for them all with a Dutch nurse. They’d only been with her for a short time when the Gestapo arrived and arrested them. It turned out that this woman was working for the Germans and had betrayed over 100 Jews to them. After the war, she was tried but only received a 4 year sentence. Eva’s anger, however, was directed more toward to the woman who had blackmailed her father, because if that hadn’t happened, they wouldn’t have ended up hiding with the woman who betrayed them.

The family were arrested in May, 1944, on Eva’s 15th birthday. They were taken first to Westerbork in Holland, which was a transit camp. Evidently a Jewish man was in charge of compiling lists of inmates for the ‘transports’ each Tuesday to the concentration camps further east. Of course, said Eva, he protected his own family and friends, and so she and her family were only at Westerbork two days before they were moved on. Over 100,000 Jews were moved to the concentration camps from Westerbork.

When they were in the cattle truck, heading east to they knew not where, her father broke down in tears and said, “I have tried to protect you, but I cannot protect you anymore. We will all have to protect ourselves now.”

During the 3 days in the cattle truck into which they were crammed, they had to take turns in sitting down, or standing by the narrow opening in the side of the truck to get some air. They had one bucket to use as a toilet, and people fainted in the truck. Some died, too.

Eva told us all this almost as if she was describing a normal train journey, while I (and the rest of the audience) listened open-mouthed.

Eventually they arrived at Auschwitz, and as they disembarked on the platform in the camp, the selections began. You were told to go to the left or to the right by the camp doctor (Mengele) in smart uniform, black boots, and white gloves. Those on the left were told they were being taken to the showers and the group on the right envied them after all the days they’d spent in the cattle truck. Of course, as we now know, the showerheads didn’t deliver water.

Eva went on to tell us about life in Auschwitz. After hours standing naked (which, she said, was excruciatingly embarrassing for a 15 year old), they gave details of their names, ages, and where they born to an official, and were tattooed with a number (which is still visible on her arm). Then they were allowed to pick up an item of clothing from one pile, and shoes from another (but it was impossible to find any matching shoes).

They were taken to already overcrowded barrack blocks – six wooden bunks for 20 or more women. After only a few days, they were all crawling with head and body lice, and trying to survive on a cup of thin soup in the morning, and some hard bread in the evening. Water was available, but you didn’t drink it, because it was contaminated, and you could end up with typhus or cholera.

By this time, you could have heard a pin drop in the hall where Eva was speaking. Even after 90 minutes, no one shuffled in their seats or even coughed. Like everyone else, I was riveted by her story.

She went on to tell how they somehow survived the bitter winter of 1944/45, how 60,000 were marched out of the camp in early January on a Death March, and how the German guards fled at the approach of the Russians. The gates (underneath the infamous watchtower through which the trains came in) were opened, but the remaining inmates stayed in the camp. They had no money, no possessions, and had no idea where they could go if they left the camp. Finally, on January 27th 1945 the camp was liberated by the Russians. Next week there will be various commemorations to mark this 70th anniversary (and Eva is going to Germany to speak to an audience of people there).

The Russians set up field kitchens, and made cabbage soup for the remaining inmates of the camp. Eva said, “I can still remember the heavenly smell of that soup.” Then she laughed. “And I spent the next night crouched over the bucket. After so many months of starvation, my body couldn’t cope with real food.” Evidently a lot of people died that night and the next day because they over-ate.

Even after the liberation, the nightmare was not over. Eva and her mother eventually reached Odessa, from where they were taken by ship to Marseilles, and finally arrived back in Amsterdam. They learned that her father and brother had both died in Auschwitz, and they met up with Otto Frank again, who also learned that his wife and daughters had died in Bergen-Belsen.

Otto, Eva said, was amazing. He visited many Jews who had lost their children, husbands, wives, or other family members, encouraging them to stay positive.

One day he came to their apartment with a bag, and said, “Look what I have found. I didn’t know my daughter at all.”

Of course, it was Anne’s diary, which Miep, one of their Dutch friends, had found and kept after the Gestapo arrested the Frank family.

What else can I say except that it was the most compelling talk I have ever heard? I’ve read plenty about Anne Frank, have been to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, and have also visited Auschwitz a couple of times, but hearing about it from someone who experienced all the fear and lived through all the cruelty and horror was, to put it mildly, mind-blowing.

I was also amazed that this woman, who had experienced and witnessed so many horrors, had somehow managed to come through it and, in the end, live a relatively ‘normal’ life in England. Not only did she have the physical strength to survive the starvation and disease at Auschwitz, she also had the mental strength to rise above the horrific experiences of her teenage years and their after-effects.

A truly amazing woman.

If you want to know more, check her out on Amazon, as she has written three books about her experiences.


Sunday, 9 November 2014

One Lovely Blog Award

I was nominated by Beth Elliott for the 'One Lovely Blog Award'.

The award recognizes bloggers who share their story or thoughts in a “lovely” manner, giving them recognition and helping them reach more viewers. In order to “accept” the award the nominated blogger must follow several guidelines.

The Rules for accepting the Award(s):

1. Thank and link back to the awesome person who nominated you.
2. Add the One Lovely Blog Award logo to your post and/or blog.
3. Share 7 things about yourself.
4. Nominate up to 15 other bloggers and comment on their blogs to let them know.
So, first, thank you Beth Elliott for this lovely compliment and opportunity. Here's her blog which I'm sure you'll enjoy
Seven things about me:
1. I've been 'stage-struck' since I was about 8 or 9, but can't act to save my life (or dance or sing either). Instead, I've directed about 12 musical shows, and also worked backstage for many more.
2. I've lived in the same house for 48 years.
3. I go 10 pin bowling every week with several friends. We call ourselves the 'Silver Strikers' (even though we don't get many 'strikes' or even 'spares'!)

4. I enjoy playing trivia quizzes online (and other games too!).
5. I've visited 17 of the United States, including 3 new ones this year (Nevada, Arizona and Rhode Island)


6. In 2010, my daughter and I visited the grave of my great-uncle, who was only twenty when he was killed in the First World War. As far as we know, we were the first members of his family ever to see his grave.
7. I've had 10 books published, 4 in the 1960s and 70s, and the other 6 since 2011. My latest one, 'Irish Inheritance' has been my best seller so far.
Now I nominate these friends for the Award:
Rosemary Gemmell
Sherry Gloag
Nancy Jardine
Margaret Mayo
Joanne Stewart
Jennifer Wilck
Celia Yeary