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Grand Book Sale! For One Week Only!

loseyourself

Authors and publishers who work with Smashwords are holding their annual week long book sale. With effect from one minute past midnight this morning PST (8 am GMT) until one minute before midnight (8am) next Sunday there are thousands of e-books available free or massively discounted. Click here to go to the sale front page.

I have three free books there and one reduced from $3.99 to $1.00. Click the links below to find them:

 

Free:

Strongbow’s Wife The Norman invasion of Ireland through the eyes of the woman who married their leader.

A Way With Words A collection of short stories and poems, some funny some tragic; some topical some nostalgic; all exploring aspects of the human condition.

Prompt Responses. A second collection of short stories, mostly reactions to writing prompts provided via the Laois Wrters’ Group.

Discounted to $1.00 from $3.99:

Transgression A drunken romp in the back of a car in the summer of 1974 has unexpected consequences for 3 people 40 year later. An exploration of the dramatic changes in attitudes to sex and sexuality since the 1970s.

 

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Home – what does it mean to you?

This post was suggested by The Writing Reader’s prompt #1753, the first line of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

Urishay Castle. © Copyright John Thorn and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Last night I dreamed I was back in Urishay, a small community of farms and cottages in the hills above the Golden Valley, close to the Black Mountains that mark the border between England and Wales. I was a babe in arms when I first arrived there with my mother and grandmother. It was to be my home for the next 14 years.

Our cottage had thick walls of local stone. A stream ran in a deep ravine with two waterfalls behind it. Cattle grazed the surrounding fields for a large part of the year. In summer sweet smelling hay was harvested to provide winter feed for these animals. It is a place full of memories of warm summer days spent roaming the lanes and hedgerows. There was an orchard with ancient apple and pear trees. I remember well the delicious, golf-ball-sized, pears that grew in abundance on two or three of these gnarled trees, fruit that were as attractive to wasps as to us children.

Home is a strange concept. I have lived in many other places since, but that cottage in Urishay will always be ‘home’ to me. So, too, will the boarding school at which I resided for 40 weeks of every one of the six years between the ages of 11 and 17. I have been back a number of times recently and it fills me with memories of my youth, as do the many exchanges between myself and other former pupils on a Google forum created for the purpose.

Hereford Cathedral

Hereford Cathedral

The city of Hereford, Coventry, Cleethorpes and a small village in East Yorkshire have all been home to my wife and I at various times during the 50+ years of our marriage. Over the past few years we have created a home with a beautiful garden in a lovely part of the Irish Midlands. One of the new friends I have made here in Ireland recently published a book entitled Home. His experience of home is very different to mine. He remained in the same small town throughout his life, apart from a brief period in university. Now retired from a teaching career in the town in which he was born, he has spent the past few years researching the history of the town. He created a website filled with photographs of the town’s buildings, each one accompanied by details obtained from census returns of the various inhabitants and their trades.

Home contains much of this same fascinating information that documents the life of an Irish market town from its inception as a defensive fort at the time of the Tudor plantation of Ireland to the meteoric expansion of the ‘tiger’ years and their accompanying construction boom.

An image from Portlaoise Pictures. Copyright John Dunne

But in his book my friend has preceded the historical facts and anecdotes with eleven delightful short stories about fictional characters and their lives in the town in the 1960s and ’70s.

It is this fascination with the way life was lived in one’s youth that, perhaps, most accurately defines the real sense of ‘home’. For me it is the rural backwater in the Welsh Marches and the boarding school among the heathland of Surrey. For my friend it is the market town with its music, its shops, its prison and its small cinema. My friend’s home town is not merely the backdrop to his short stories but a solid character whose history shapes its inhabitants, creating that unique quality that makes them different from the citizens of any other place.

Castle Dunamaise ruins #2 webThe castles and hills of the Welsh Marches mirror those to be found around my new home in Ireland. The same people built both sets of castles. A few years ago my own research centred on these people and their involvement in the history of both places. This led to the creation of the Hereford and Ireland History section of this website and Strongbow’s Wife, my novel about the young woman who became the wife of the man who answered her father’s call for assistance in his ambition to become High King.

Urishay features as the setting for my own second novel, Summer Day, in which a boy believes himself to be responsible for his father’s death. Many of the characters who feature in various ways in the tragic events of the day that follows are loosely based on the real people who inhabited the district when I was growing up there. And I’m guessing the characters in my friend’s short stories are based on real people and events he experienced in his formative years.

Home is available from http://www.portlaoisepictures.com/purtockpress.htm

Strongbow’s Wife can be purchased from Amazon. A soft cover version is also available via this link: https://www.feedaread.com/books/Strongbows-Wife-9781786109910.aspx

Summer Day can be purchased from Amazon via this link: https://www.amazon.com/Summer-Day-Frank-Parker-ebook/dp/B007ZBK4UI?ie=UTF8&ref_=asap_bc

Is ‘The General Reader’ a Mythical Creature?

The other day I read an interesting blog post by a literary agent. Although originally produced in December 2015, it had been shared on March 20th in The Writing Reader’s ‘Carnival of Creativity‘.

In the post, originally published on Jane Friedman’s blog, Rebecca Faith Heyman contends that too many writers have no idea who their audience is. When asked, they are apt to respond with a sentence containing the phrase ‘every reader’. Every reader, she insisted, does not exist. He or she is a myth. I beg to differ – although I would substitute ‘general reader’ for ‘every reader’.

“In reality every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what,without this book, he would perhaps never have perceived in himself.”

Marcel Proust.

I will concede that ‘audience’ is a concept with which I struggle. If I have a mental picture of the person who will read and enjoy my work it is of someone not unlike myself and many of my friends. People with wide tastes in reading. Thrillers, murder mysteries, biographies and family sagas are consumed alongside books by well known writers who have been nominated for, or won, literary prizes. This is what I mean by the ‘general reader’.

It seems to me that to suggest that, because someone enjoys romantic novels or ‘chick lit’, one cannot also read science fiction, horror, or dark tales involving zombies, is insulting to readers. One might as well suggest that because someone likes jazz, that person cannot also enjoy listening to classical music or opera. It is to pigeonhole, or ghetoise, readers into exclusive categories for whom writing must be especially tailored to suit their presumed narrow interests.

The reader I crave for my writing is the same person that reads Ian McEwan or Ali Smith. The person who would be as happily seen holding a book by Stephen King as one by Roddy Doyle. He, or she, is enthralled by Lionel Shriver, captivated by Colm Toibin and taken to new worlds by Ursula K. Le Guin. I believe that every reader is possessed of such broad tastes – or could be, if publishers were not so eager to herd them into cages with labels like animals in a zoo.

The problem for self-published writers like me is not not knowing our audience. It is our audience not knowing we exist.

Terror

The writers’ group set the prompt “The flashing blue light”. Here is my take on that, a tale of someone waiting for the proverbial ‘tap on the shoulder’, the fear that his crime will be discovered.

Image from ‘Blues and Twos’ fan fiction blog

Terror

The flashing blue light penetrated the fabric of the blind and bounced around the walls of the small room. I felt a shiver run down my back. Something hard rose in my gut. Sweat prickled my brow. It was stupid, I knew, but I could not help it. No matter how hard I tried, the memory would not leave me. And whenever I saw a blue flashing light, or heard the wail of a siren, I experienced the same reaction.

I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. I raised the window blind a few inches and looked out at the street in time to see the ambulance disappear over the brow of the hill.

I wished that I had been able to anticipate the effect on me of my actions before I’d taken them. The nightmares, this involuntary response to the appearance of an emergency vehicle, both symptoms of guilt, and the ever-present fear that I would one day be found out.

On reflection, ever-present is overstating the situation a bit. There are times when I am able to forget.  Reading is the best. Burying myself in a good book, immersing myself in someone else’s world, can take me away from the reality of my life since I did it. Television, too, can provide an escape. Only through wildlife programmes and home improvement shows, though. Not crime dramas. Not even soap operas. These days they have a tendency to include criminals in the cast of characters. But even the ordinary events of a soap opera, reflecting, as they do, real life, often necessitate the appearance of an ambulance, fire tender or police vehicle. So I avoid them, alongside the medical dramas.

I have to leave the house now and then, to get essential supplies. But even that is getting harder. I have to take a round about route that doesn’t bring me too close to the police station or the hospital. The other day someone collapsed in the mini-market where I shop. I had to skulk in the corner where they keep the wines until the para-medics had finished treating her and left. I pretended to study the labels on the backs of the bottles. You would be amazed how much cheap plonk promises ‘a fruity nose’ or ‘flavours of cherry and black currant with a hint of spice’. Only when the blues and twos faded completely was I able to steel myself to approach the check-out with my basket of groceries.

I’m seriously thinking of doing my shopping on the internet. That way I wouldn’t have to go out at all. The more I think about it, the more I come to realise that it’s either that or give myself up; admit that she did not die of natural causes as the coroner said. Would anyone believe me? I’d done such a good job. The poison administered in small doses over a long period so that it built up in her system. The pathologist was a friend of mine and owed me a favour. It wasn’t too difficult to persuade him that an autopsy would be unnecessary.

I put up a good show of grief at the funeral. Heaved a sigh of relief as the coffin disappeared behind the curtain. Cremation meant there would be no possibility of an exhumation if anyone decided to re-investigate years later. I was home safe.

That night I awoke shaking. My pyjamas clammy with sweat, the sheet in a knot that matched the knot of fear in my stomach. And it’s been like that every night since. I ordered sleeping pills from a dodgy website. I couldn’t go to the doctor, he’d want to refer me to a psychiatrist and who knows what secrets I might reveal to him?

I get my books from the internet, too. Download them to my Kindle. That’s really all I do now. Sitting here in this small room at the back of the house reading. Usually it’s safe from the intrusion of the outside world. The main road is at the front, but there is a side street just two doors down, and once in a while, like tonight, an emergency vehicle takes a short cut that way, bringing with it those nightmare visions.

There is another option. I’m looking at the bottle of pills and wondering, how many would it take?

More praise from an established author

Re-blogged from Jennifer Young’s author page “Frank Parker, I salute you. You’re an extraordinarily versatile writer.http://jenniferyoungauthor.blogspot.ie/2016/01/book-chat-versatility-in-genre.html?showComment=1452169244185#c2115513123389332777

The author of several romance novels and the intriguing “Looking for Charlotte” has posted about two of my books. I feel quite flattered by her generous praise.

Car Crashes and Shoot-outs

Cover #10You won’t find them in my novel Transgression. Which probably explains why one reviewer said it was boring and went on to claim that there was “not a lot going on.”

There are two deaths from natural causes, a couple of suicides, a rape, the sexual abuse of a minor by a radio DJ, people-trafficking for underage sex and a middle aged married couple who make love in a Welsh woodland whilst on holiday.

All pretty ordinary run of the mill stuff – certainly no exhilarating car chases or terrifying shoot-outs.

I know it shouldn’t, but that comment, my first disappointing review, worried me. Or, it did until I read the e-mail John MacKenna wrote me on New Years Day.

John is an award winning Irish novelist, poet and playwright. I described in a previous post how it was at a writing workshop he conducted that the principle protagonist in Transgression first revealed himself to me. In November last year I had the pleasure of attending a function at which John and a number of other long established Irish poets and writers, including Dermot Bolger, Rita Ann Higgins, Liam Ryan and Seamus Hosey, read from their work.

I took along a copy of Transgression. At the conclusion of the event I approached John and presented it to him. This is what he wrote about it in that New Years Day e-mail:

Hi Frank

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you about your book. The autumn/early winter was a really busy time between finishing a play tour and working on a book. Finally, over the Christmas, I got time to catch up on reading and got to Transgression.

Congratulations – what a wonderfully absorbing story with characters who came alive and a narrative that really carried me JM coverthrough the book in just three sittings. You must be very proud of it – you should be.

And thank you for the kind mention – I’m glad that character exercise led to greater things.

Again, thanks for giving me a copy and well done on a splendid piece of work. May there be more in 2016 and the years ahead.

Good things

John MacKenna

Now it’s your turn. Use the coupon code MS82P at the Smashwords check out to get your own free copy of Transgression. When you have read it write your own review and tell the world whether you think it is boring or splendid – or something else entirely. Take as long as you like to read the book and write the review but don’t miss this chance to get your free book; the code expires on January 10th.

Affirming the power of love

Into the Night SkyInto the Night Sky by Caroline Finnerty

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The events in this book are told from the differing points of view of three main characters. I found it confusing in the early part of the book not knowing how these three strands were going to be drawn together. Of course, this is a clever part of the author’s strategy – the reader sticks with it in order to find out.
The gradual drawing together of the strands draws the reader in so that by the final third of the book I found it impossible to put down.
As the main plot and several sub-plots unfold, more characters are introduced with their varying problems. Finnerty has created utterly believable characters facing the day-to-day problems experienced by many people in post-boom Ireland. The situations they encounter mirror those seen all too often in the republic’s newspapers and television news programmes – and, I have no doubt, elsewhere in the developed world.
This could easily have become a depressing account of despair and desperation as people try to deal with addiction, mental breakdown and imminent financial ruin. It is a credit to Finnerty that she has avoided that trap and given us, instead, an affirmation of the resilience of the human spirit and the power of love to overcome the most difficult of life’s challenges.
The only reason I felt unable to give this book five stars is because, despite the praise Finnerty bestows on her editor, there are far too many errors of the kind that any half-decent editor would not have allowed to pass.

View all my reviews