Saturday, 23 September 2017

Wine & chocolates with Elaine Chissick

A complete change from my usual memoir-based blog today! I’ve invited my lovely writer friend Elaine Chissick to have a chat over wine and chocolate. Elaine are Facebook friends and, though we’ve never met, I feel we are kindred spirits.

Welcome, Elaine, and do help yourself to a chocolate as well as a glass of wine. So, tell me, how did you first come to write?

As an only child, I loved to read and would happily sit alone with a book, comic, or magazine, I think it was inevitable that eventually I would start writing snippets of scenarios with different characters. As a teenager in the 80's, I met a girl in secondary school who shared the same interest in writing these snippets. Most were handwritten or typed on a typewriter and were never more than about twenty pages, except one story that I started with two characters called Nick and Sasha.

A couple of years later, we left school and I was told that writing wasn't an option for me, that I had to grow up, get a job and pay my way - so that's what I did and any dreams of writing were filed away and left in the past, but I never gave up on the reading.

Fast forward to 2002, and you’d find me married and working a full time job. Although my husband had children from a past relationship, a family would have been great but due to certain things, we couldn't have our own children, and so we started down the route of adoption. In 2004, our son and daughter came to live with us. 
Elaine Chissick, in the glasses, at a recent author event

Now, my husband and I are not perfect, we are not rich, we are not in the best of health and there is a 16 year age gap between us, but we got through the adoption process and found ourselves with a family. At that point, I felt like I needed to tell people that if they wanted a family too, they didn't have to be perfect either, and so I sat down and wrote 'Willing and Able, a True Story Of Adoption', which is a true account of what my husband and I went through to adopt our children. Unfortunately, the agency who I thought would be interested in the book, were not, so, not really knowing what to do or where to go from there, I shelved it.

In 2007, we relocated 123 miles away and resettled on the North East coast. For some reason, around 2011, I pulled out the adoption manuscript and sent it out to 25 agents. 13 refused it, the rest never got back to me, and then my husband bought me a Kindle ... That opened my eyes to self-publishing and in 2012, I self published 'Willing and Able'.

At that time, I was still reading lots of books but nothing grabbed me, nothing quite managed to pull me in completely - although a couple came very close - but some of those books made me think about the stuff I used to write back in school, and on 1st September 2012, Sasha and Nick barged into my mind quite unexpectedly with the story I had been craving, which resulted in me sending an email to my friend which simply read, "am having a go at fiction, a love story, I think,"

Those characters changed their names to Alexandra and Gabriel, and I threw myself into the writing, (it's a good job my family love me because for seven months, I might as well have not been there as the book took over my life.)

I first published 'Ties That Bind' in 2013, it was a huge learning curve in both the writing and the publishing, and in 2016, I followed with the sequel, 'Ties That Harm'. Both have had their covers redone professionally, and I'm very proud of them.

Tell me, what genre would you say your books fit in to?

'Willing and Able' is true life. 'Ties That Bind' and 'Ties That Harm' are hard to place, they are romantic fiction, contemporary fiction, and also have an element of eroticism in them, insofar as they have descriptive sex, but without the addition of extras like ... sex toys, whips, chains, you get the idea. Does this mean that they are not quite erotica? Is there a genre for contemporary romance with added steaminess? That could be a subject for another blog discussion ...!

Interesting thought, Elaine. Coincidentally, in one of my books I included a short ‘hot’ scene. Afterwards, I realised it would have worked just as well without it.

So, what are you currently working on?

I'm currently doing research into writing a murder mystery/thriller that's set around the life of a club owner. I've never written in this genre so it's taking me a while to get it right. I also have plans for another true life book centered round adoptive fathers, and I also have plans for a recipe book at some point.

Something that always fascinates me, do you have a dedicated work space?

Ha ha! I do ... I have a little office/cubbyhole (ironing room/room to pile all the books, wrapping paper, junk, hoover, hairdryer, etc) which has a regular office desk in it. There's a big window in front of the desk which has a roller blind on it, and on that blind is pinned the full family trees of my main characters. However, in a bid to get me out of the cubbyhole and back into the living room, my husband bought me a much loved and much wanted pedestal desk, so that is now my main working space. As you can see, I work using two screens, have low level lighting and wear earbuds so I can listen to music while I work. The only thing I'm now missing, is the family tree, I couldn't get away with pinning a four foot wide bright orange piece of paper to the living room wall!
Elaine's evocative writing space

All that being said, I've been known to take my laptop to the pub, to my son's football matches, to bed, and to the beach ...!

What sort of books do you read for pleasure? Favourite author?

I like to read a bit of everything, but I do like comedies. Favourite authors are Sue Townsend, Dan Brown, Sophie Kinsella, E L James, and Jackie Collins to name but a few.

Besides writing, what is your other passion?

Cooking and baking. I love baking. My day job involves working in a kitchen and it's something I really enjoy. It's also a skill I've passed on to one of my characters, and the reason I would like to do a recipe book.

Thank you so much, Elaine. I’ve really enjoyed our chat. It’s fascinating finding out about other writers’ modus operandi.  Do have another chocolate.

All three of Elaine’s current books can be found at Amazon by following this link

She can be found on Facebook at and her website is 

Thursday, 17 August 2017

1958 - A Year of Adventure

That's me at the back with the hunky Spaniard!

I haven’t posted a memoir-based post for some time so I’ll take up the story from when I first broke-up with my Beloved Bad Penny (see post from 8/11/16). This would around the beginning of 1958. All my friends seemed to be either engaged or at least seriously ‘courting, by then, considered essential in those days if you weren’t to be left ‘on the shelf.’ Help was at hand in the form of Winnie, whom I had met through some mutual friends. She had just broken up from a fairly long-term relationship and was as much at a loose end as I was, so we started going around together. Winnie was a year or two older, smaller than me, but with a jolly, cheery manner that made her fun to be with. Even then, Winnie was saving up to immigrate so couldn’t afford a regular holiday. We read about Friday Bridge Agricultural Holiday Camp in a newspaper advertisement and wrote off for details. When the brochure arrived, we learnt that the camp had originally been an Italian POW during the war. It had lots of the same facilities as a normal holiday camp but you could work on farms during the day to earn some money. We decided to give it a go and it turned out to be one of the best holidays I ever had.
            The accommodation was very basic, army-type beds and a single locker in a dormitory, and the food left much to be desired especially the sandwiches handed out after breakfast. The work was varied, mostly strawberry picking, and it was hard, back-breaking work, very often dirty, but great fun. We didn’t work every day; we took a couple of days off to hitch a ride into Wisbech and March, or Cambridge to look round the colleges. And everywhere, the juke boxes were playing Bobby Darin’s ‘Dream Lover.' You can hear it here
            On the camp, there was a bar and a dance several times a week but best of all there were lots of lovely foreign students, French, German, Dutch, Spanish and Swedish. Our own favourites were two Swedish boys, Bjorn and Georg, but as they left after our first week, we consoled ourselves with a lovely dark-browed, dark-eyed Spaniard from Madrid called Fernando. It was all good innocent fun; with everyone sleeping in segregated dormitories, there wasn’t much opportunity for anything else.
We made friends with a Londoner, Jean. Tall, slim, tanned, with an urchin haircut, she was stunningly attractive and a complete extrovert. She had a way of saying things like, ‘Disgusting – but dee-lightful’ that made it sound very naughty. Or she’d say with a dramatic sigh, ‘Roll on death and let’s have a bash at the angels.’ She was so different from anyone that either of us had ever met and we admired and envied her. Yet she was not in the slightest bit conceited. Instead she had warmth and spontaneity, which we later learned was characteristic of an East Ender, which she was. She worked for Zetters football pools which, being a seasonal occupation, left her free during the summer to take jobs such as strawberry picking. Her life seemed so glamorous compared to our humdrum existence.
Besides the two Wakes Weeks in the summer, Horwich industry closed for an additional few days in September and we followed up Jean’s invitation to visit her in London. Neither of us had been previously and although we were only going on a long weekend, we were nervously excited. We travelled overnight on a coach, arriving at Victoria Coach Station very early in the morning yet Jean was there to meet us. Groggy from travelling overnight and stupefied by the clamour of early morning London, we ascended into the cavernous heights of Liverpool Street Station and into the madhouse that is Commercial Road.
Our first real sight of Stepney on a Saturday morning had its own peculiar sights and smells, stale fat, rotting vegetables, urine, all mingled with a tangy heady aroma that we later learned came from joss sticks. That area of London was even then a polyglot of humanity from all corners of the world. Awesome sights and smells never to be forgotten for two lasses from a Lancashire mill town. Jean lived in a tenement-like flat in Flower and Dean Street, with her father, a Maltese sailor who was at sea at that time, and her mother, a diminutive sandy-haired woman. Being a Geordie who had lived most of her married life in Stepney, she made us doubly welcome though the flat was cramped and crowded with exotic knick-knacks.
London, shared with us by Jean, was a unique experience. It was the time of espresso coffee bars and we went to them all, including the Two I’s where Tommy Steele had been discovered. One of the most widely played records on the juke box then was, ‘Volaré’ (you can hear it here ) which seemed to sum up the heady continental atmosphere of the coffee bars at that time. Our own favourite was Heaven and Hell. It was split over two levels with the ground floor all white plastic and chrome, while the basement was dim, dungeon-like and wildly exciting.
I think it was in there that I met Stefan, who was a refugee from the 1956 Hungarian Uprising. Despite our general ignorance of world affairs, we all knew about the Hungarian Uprising, possibly because it involved the young. We’d been stirred by the sight of the students rioting against the Russian tanks and been saddened to see them mown down. The Uprising had lasted only days and most of the dissidents had fled, Stefan being one of them. It made him seem very glamorous to me, even though he could barely speak a word of English. He later sent me a postcard from Budapest asking if he could come and work in Horwich and live with me and my family. I never replied, I’d got cold feet by that time.
We went all over the place with Jean, dancing at Hammersmith Palais on Saturday night, Petticoat Lane Market and the Tower of London on the Sunday, gawped at the prostitutes still walking the streets of Soho, a crazy pub called Dirty Dick’s on Commercial Road, which had cobwebs hanging from the ceiling and sawdust on the floor. It was a big tourist attraction. I don’t know if it’s still there but I’m sure Health & Safety legislation would have something to say about it. At least the glasses were clean.
Horwich seemed decidedly parochial after London and we were left with feelings of dissatisfaction over our lot. Winnie met her future husband shortly after that and they were already planning to emigrate to Australia. What followed, for me, was a troublesome period when I seemed to meet up with the wrong lads/men who I’d prefer not to talk about. It was to be another few years before I plucked up the courage to leave Horwich and go to America.
It’s kind of ironic because, with my books being centred around Horwich, the town now plays a bigger part of my life than when I lived there! 
And as a postscript, Friday Bridge looks like it's now run by a recruitment company for migrant agricultural workers. You can read about it here. It doesn't look to have altered much except for the much posher accommodation.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Forty Years On - Plus!

I'm the one just to the right behind the teacher.

 How many of us, singing that song in school assemblies all those years ago, could imagine ourselves forty years hence, let alone meeting up with our old school mates? Yet thanks to the wonders of the Internet, many of us have done that. Of course, the occasional newspaper stories about childhood sweethearts meeting up at school reunions, in some cases resulting in disrupted lives, can be a worrying aspect.
            Understandable then, that it was with some apprehension and nervousness, that a few years ago, I committed myself to attending a reunion of the 1955-57 leaving years of Farnworth Grammar School, originally located near Bolton, Lancashire, now sadly demolished to make way for the ubiquitous housing association development.
            While at school, I did not make friends easily, partly as a result of moving around with my parents’ jobs – as anyone who has read this blog before knows, they were in domestic service – and partly due to my own reserved nature. Joining the 1950 intake of Farnworth Grammar School late in the first term, by which time tentative friendships had been formed, and particularly when many of them had known each other from earlier school days, did not help either. I suppose I was lucky really; I could so easily have been bullied but for some reason I was not. I was teased but in a good-natured sort of way, made worse by being given a nickname by, of all people, our form-master, who used to read out the register until he got to the name of Anne Williams, almost the last on the register, when he called out ‘Wiggy.’
            So the anxiety and concern were perhaps justified. I had been such a nonentity at school, always on the outskirts of what was going on, the last one to be picked for team games, the one who was useless at PE. Would it be the same, I couldn’t help wondering, when I met up with them again? Thankfully, I was somewhat reassured by a couple of emails and a telephone conversation with the organisers.
            As I no longer live in the area, attending meant staying overnight at the hotel where the reunion was to take place. This could be a problem if the occasion turned out to be a disaster but I consoled myself that I could always sneak away early if that turned out to be the case. Walking into the lounge where we were to meet for afternoon tea, I was hit by a horrible thought. What if no one remembered me?
            I needn’t have worried. With my question ‘Is this the Farnworth Grammar School Group?’ a small, still slender woman with a vaguely familiar face rose to greet me and ask me my name, ticking if off a list.
Rita, the person who’d arranged this reunion and whom I’d spoken to on the phone, came forward then and said immediately ‘Anne, you haven’t changed a bit.’ Oh, no? What about the grey hair, the face in which gravity had taken over, not to mention the saggy bits on what had once been a skinny frame? I soon discovered though, that beneath the physical exterior of everyone there, you could still make out the youthful features of former schoolmates, so presumably it was the same for me.
This was confirmed when another woman, slightly frail looking but with an eager smile on her face said ‘It’s Anne, isn’t it? Didn’t we used to call you ‘Wiggy’?’ Oh, that dreaded nickname but which at least gave me some kind of identity.
A man came and sat at the side of me, apologising that he didn’t remember me. I didn’t recall his face either, but together we examined our form photograph taken in Coronation Year, 1953. That was him? But I remembered him as being tall and with abundant sandy gold locks! ‘What happened?’ I asked.
‘I stopped growing shortly after that’ he laughed, ‘and lost my hair’. It didn’t matter, what he lacked in height and hair, he made up for in humour. ‘Later’ he joked, ‘we all compare our ailments and what tablets we’re taking’.
            There were many such exclamations of wonder and amazement. Names were dropped, memories long forgotten re-surfaced, seemed as fresh as yesterday. There were shrieks of laughter over photographs produced and reminiscences of that teacher, this pupil, came to light.
            The mood continued over dinner that night when I found I was able to relax and really enjoy myself, even raising a laugh or two, something I’d never have been able to do all those years ago. But then, I’ve led a full and varied life and after a successful career, I’m no longer the shrinking violet I once was but well able to hold my own in company. Listening to the others talking, I couldn’t help reflecting on the many stories that made up our very differing lives.
            When it came to parting the next day after breakfast, everyone lingered, seemingly reluctant to say goodbye. There were many hugs and promises to keep in touch and meet up again next year. I left rather earlier than the others as I had further to travel than most of them, who still lived in and around the area, but as I did so, it with was the warm feeling of belonging in a way I’d never felt all those forty – plus – years ago.
            Sadly, I never did keep in touch. I wonder why?