Celtic Sun

Dec 2020. Riding has certainly been my mainstay since March, and there’s no denying that there’s a unique sense of freedom found on the back of a horse in open countryside. We see out the tail-end of this strange year by cantering into a low, winter sun on a seriously cold December afternoon. I’m riding Lady and we’re heading over Cefn Llechen, or the track we call the roller-coaster. As is usual in this area, a herd of Carneddau mares are spaced across the undulating ground, the heather and gorse either side ravaged by previous fires and adding to the sense of wild isolation. The resident stallion stands watchful of our progress, his long pale mane backlit by the sinking sun as it flares behind Tal Y Fan. Lady is hesitant to canter between the stallion and his mares, but Storm moves upfront and soon, my eyes are watering from the wind-chill as we pick up the pace. But the desolate beauty of this place overrides everything. Even when the colours are reduced to browns and greys and the sky is split by such cold light, there’s a spiritual energy on the wind. Maybe it’s something to do with all those Stone Circles and ancient settlements, and any historical Pagan activity is stirred once again by our pounding hooves…

Llangollen: 2

A circular walk of 9.5 miles including 2,100 feet of elevation overall (excluding Dinas Bran) Start Point: Panorama Walk, Llangollen LL20 8ED. Map References: SJ 2340243187 or Lat: 52.980530 Lon: -3.142302 

adult-blur-boots-1452784Llangollen is a small town in Denbighshire on the River Dee known for its network of canals featuring horse-drawn barges, and various sites of historical interest. This is a route of varied terrain including dramatic limestone escarpments, open pasture and woodland and a short section along the Shropshire Union Canal. There is an opportunity to visit Valle Crucis Abbey, founded in 1201 on the site of a wooden church. Valle Crucis was the last Cistercian monastery to be built in Wales – check opening and entrance fees online. Or if you prefer more of a challenge, take the additional climb to the ruins of Castell Dinas Bran, adding around an extra 1,000 feet of elevation. Castell Dinas Bran translates to English as: The Castle of the City of Crows. Perched on a conical hill above the town it enjoys fantastic aerial views and despite its dilapidated state, commands not only a strong historical presence, but also one of love, legend and fairytale.

The route

  1. Park on Panorama Walk; a narrow elevated road with plenty of parking space and fantastic far-reaching views across the vale of Llangollen including the River Dee, the castle ruins, and the canal. With this panorama to your right, walk away from Castell Dinas Bran perched on its distinctive conical hill, and take a left on the hairpin bend by the finger-post onto a steep grassy bank. (Ref: 52.981276 -3140336) Continue the ascent, ignoring the metal gate a little further on and keeping to the left of the fence-line. Aerial views of Castell Dinas Bran, the limestone escarpments, and far-reaching views of the valley materialise to the left.
  2. At the next finger-post go straight on, continuing to follow the undulating track through heather and bracken, especially colourful in August. At approx one-and-a-half miles from the start point, pass through the metal gate by a signpost for the Llangollen Round. Follow the track as it begins to wind downhill and bears to the right. At end of this track, cross the stream and turn left at the signpost, continuing downhill. At the next signpost keep LEFT, ignoring the sign indicating the route continues uphill. Continue downhill alongside the stream. Some easy scrambling then between a deep cleft in the rocks.
  3. Head towards a single-track driveway ahead but bear slightly right over a broken wall, and then turn right at the Offas Dyke signpost by a white property, and follow the obvious track. Walk along this ridge for a short distance and then descend towards trees, keeping the fence-line to your left. Cross the stream and keep LEFT to descend slightly. Ignore all gates, and continue through the trees on a rough track to locate a stile on the left.
  4. Enter the pasture and cross diagonally, bearing left to locate another stile by the farmhouse. Turn left onto the road, then after a short distance look for an orange post-box set into a tree on the right. Turn right here to locate a stile and a signpost indicating the Clwydian Way. Follow this track through the trees, a stream to the left. Continue over the next stile and descend to another stile by the stream. After a short distance, cross a wooden bridge into open pasture.
  5. Walk through the fields on an obvious track to the farmhouse. Turn left at the road, then take the first sharp right into a driveway with a cattle-grid, by a finger-post signed for Valle Crucis Abbey. Follow this gradually ascending single-track road, passing two or three individual dwellings, until the road dissolves into a track through a wooded area. Continue through the trees to the fork, then take the lower righthand track, signposted for Valle Crucis. Look for a stile on the right, then take the next stile immediately to the left by a white property, and enter the open pasture.IMG_6035
  6. Keep to the fence-line on the right, and look for an old iron ladder stile set into the trees on the right, by a signpost for Velvet Hill. Follow the path as it descends through woods to a wooden bridge over the Eglwyseg River, and into a field. A caravan park and Valle Crucis Abbey is situated to the left. Climb the stile by the house and continue along the driveway to the A452. Take a detour here to visit the Abbey, or continue the walk by crossing the road to go over a stile opposite, giving access to Velvet Hill.
  7. Once over the stile head up to the right and follow the steep track as it begins to bear right along a wide, steep grass path to the summit. Good views of Valle Crucis Abbey from here. At the top, turn left and follow this undulating route until all tracks begin to descend. It’s difficult to be precise about this section but generally head south/south-west without climbing any higher, to leave the hill via a stile by the road into trees.
  8. Follow the short woodland track to the road junction. Turn left towards the main road, then turn right to walk along the main road a short way before turning first left towards Corwen on the B5103. After a short distance, take the steps on the left signposted for the canal. Cross the bridge, and descend the iron steps on the other side, then turn left and walk along the canal towards Llangollen Wharf, with the River Dee to your right. After a mile or so, look for a blue sign: Please give way to working horses on the tow path. Exit the canal at this point, opposite Tower Road.
  9. Cross Abbey Road (A542) and enter Tower Road. After a short distance you’ll arrive at the crossroads; go straight on. At the top of this section turn left and follow the signs for Castell Dinas Bran. Go through the kissing-gate and take the lower track to the left by the fence-line. (Or take a short detour here and tackle the ascent to the castle ruins by walking up and over the hill.) Follow the fence-line path as it gradually ascends to a lane, signed Llangollen History Trail and Panorama Walk. Pass through the kissing gate (If you’ve walked down from the castle, pick up the route here) onto the lane and turn left, then right onto Panorama Walk and return to the start point.

The described route is a guide only, it’s always advisable to use a map or a GPS device.

Crusader’s Tomb

Stephen Desmonde is expected to succeed his father as the rector of a rural parish, but Stephen is a sensitive, passionate artist driven by an obsession to discover the beauty in truth. The lack of understanding and subsequent derision from his family results in Stephen leaving for Paris – the hub of all things creative – and then to travel across Spain. He’s a passive character, spurned in love, starved, cheated, forced to take a tough road, and to suffer terribly for believing in his art. Material comforts are sparse but his journey, both artistically, physically, and spiritually, all culminate into a rich and multi-layered experience.
So many great artists are not understood or revered until after their death. Desmonde also falls victim to this stereotype, although arguably some of this down to his pride and lack of interest in material gain. Above all, Stephen Desmonde’s story exposes the flaws of Christian beliefs and the perceived realities of war during the early 20th century. Desmonde and his family are real flesh and blood, as are the many characters who play numerous supporting roles. The depiction of life at Stillwater in England, and of France and Spain are deep and rich without compromising reality.
I was thoroughly engrossed in this book. Cronin is a master of historical detail and perspectives, and manages to extract every ounce of empathy for his protagonist.

The Secrets Between Us

Sarah takes a holiday in Sicily in the wake of bereavement and a failed relationship. She meets troubled, brooding Alex and they immediately form a bond. When Alex suggests Sarah might like to become his housekeeper-cum-childminder in England, she accepts without hesitation – anything other than return to her previous life, a life destroyed by her partner and her best friend. On the face of it this sounds like the recipe for an impulsive holiday romance. However, once installed in the chaotic farmhouse in rural Somerset where Alex and his son live, Sarah soon becomes drawn in to the mysterious disappearance of his wife, and questions are raised.
A beautiful equestrian star, Genevieve has gone missing following the impending break down of her marriage to Alex. Can Sarah trust Alex’s speculations as to what has happened, or should she believe the more uncomfortable rumours in the village?
An unusual mix of genre; an interesting murder-mystery with a hint of paranormal. I didn’t care much for the ghostly element – it felt displaced somehow in a novel rich in reality but other than that, this was a compelling read especially in the second half when the pace picked-up, and various characters began to show their hand. There’s also a wonderful sense of place throughout; the author being especially skilled at creating atmosphere and imagery.

Food for Thought

Feeding the World and Saving the Planet.

1. There are many opinions about how our food is produced and how the countryside should be managed, but some of the arguments are wildly inaccurate. When did we get so far removed from reality? For some people, the lack of exposure to nature is causing depressions and other mental health issues. Keeping hens and bees, growing food from seed and looking after the land and our animals is not only something we need to understand and protect, but is of tremendous benefit to our overall health. 
2. Farm animals are not slaughtered for their skins to make leather handbags, in the same way that sheep are not slaughtered for their fleece. The wool is a by-product of the meat industry and is vastly underused and undervalued. For some breeds of sheep, not shearing can bring great misery and even death via parasites. But the fleece has become almost worthless, and so understandable that some farmers cannot afford to shear. Those breeds which don’t need shearing are not always able to survive winter conditions on a traditional hill farm. 
3. It seems out of kilter in these planet conscious days that man-made fibres have overtaken the more traditional materials such as wool. Maybe we should get back to what is, after all a more natural product and helps to sustain the farming industry. As it stands, cheap imports rely on materials which are not always planet friendly and may even contain plastics. If the animal is bred for the food chain, then it makes ethical sense to use every part of that animal.
4. Farming and food production gets unfairly singled out for the mass destruction of animals. Extreme vegan activists are concerned about the exploitation of sentient beings. This is an admirable cause, but we are all guilty of the claims made against non-vegans by merely existing and going about our business. I don’t believe it’s tenable to take the food chain argument down to extreme levels. We kill animals when we drive cars, fly in planes, build railway tracks, farm grain, grow apples, hunt for pleasure, or mine sand. We alter ecosystems when we put up new housing developments and ship lentils across the world. We push native animals out of their environments all the time and being vegan doesn’t alter these facts. Being vegan doesn’t make you a paragon of virtue in relation to saving the planet. We all need to consider planning smaller families, recycling and repairing, taking less long-haul trips and driving smaller cars.
5. It’s good to have diversity in the food we produce. vegetarianism-vs-meat-1492553521If the population was all entirely vegan and reliant on a short list of ingredients, it would create yet another set of problems in trying to feed millions of people on legumes, nuts, and flax; and artificial meat substitutes produced in a factory. The entire countryside would be given over to vast swathes of specific crops. Controlling those areas set aside for growing crops such as peas, creates a need to control other animals eating or destroying that crop because to grow anything on a vast scale invariably means that something else is compromised. Over a five year period up to 2013 rice farmers in NSW killed 200,000 ducks in order to protect the crop.
6. As an aside, I think we do eat too much protein, especially red and processed meat, and probably not enough vegetables and fruit. Meat is not good for us in big quantities – but then, neither is anything else, including peas, beans and lentils. All things in moderation is a cliche for a reason. It makes sense to eat foods in season and produced locally so why not spend a little more and buy local, grass-fed meat, but eat it less often? Natural, sustainable, and local to the area where we live surely creates the right balance and is likely to be more suited to the land. Massive carbon emissions are created by long haul flights bringing out of season foods to the UK, invariably wrapped in plastic.
7. I’m not vegan or vegetarian, but that doesn’t mean I have no empathy for animals reared for the table. What we should be doing is looking to improve animal welfare ie: not importing animals thousands of miles in crates and lorries to meet their demise in another country, or supporting those products which are mass produced, such as eggs from battery hens. Eggs are cheap anyway so take a moment to read the labels, and buy local, free range. 
8. Our world population is too high – the root of all our problems – to restrict food production to a single type. The key to finding harmony between all the arguments, moral or otherwise, is respect and education. I think it’s great that some of the population are vegetarian or vegan, but it’s just as worthy of acceptance that the rest of us choose to eat meat, fish, and dairy. 

 

Something To Live For


Andrew is living the perfect lie: he’s married to Diane and they have two children and a large family home. The innocence of this lie snowballs rapidly after a successful interview with the local council for a job in Death Administration. Bereaved at a young age, Andrew has had more than his fair share of loss. But in truth, family life on any level doesn’t exist for Andrew – he’s something of a nerdy loner, preferring his own company to socialising, and he’d much prefer to forget about his past. His job for the council is both fascinating and sad, and arranging funerals for those who’ve died alone touches a nerve in Andrew and he becomes steadily more concerned about his own fate. When Peggy joins the office her forthright personality draws out something of the man Andrew used to be, and a friendship blossoms. But a team-building exercise based on Come Dine With Me, is poised to blow everything apart and Andrew’s entire life looks set to be exposed – the rundown flat he shares with his model railway, the difficult relationship with his sister and her husband… and what happened to the real Diane.

Dark humour with a strong and original message about family ties. I found this read a slow burn to start but my enjoyment rapidly increased as the novel developed, and I loved the final third. Although there are dark themes – death, loneliness, depression, funerals – the satirical humour bubbles beneath the surface and the narrative remains witty and engaging. The secondary characters are relatable, colourful and interesting, and these subplots compliment the main story and add complex layers. There are numerous sad circumstances throughout, but it is also about the potential of love, truth, and hope, and the light these powers can bring to the darkest of places.

Why Does My Book Not Sell?

I don’t claim to be an expert on ebook sales, neither do I sell many thousands of copies; but I do receive a variety of emails relating to the subject, and I often spot frequently missed opportunities for sales and some rather more obvious reasons why books don’t sell.
EDITING. The single most important process of publishing a book is structural editing and proofreading. nick-morrison-FHnnjk1Yj7Y-unsplashThe lack of consistent, industry standard editing will kill sales in record time. Readers can forgive a smattering of minor mistakes throughout an 80,000 word novel, but if the first thing they see when they look inside the book sample are glaring grammatical errors – then there’s little chance they will buy. It’s a false economy to skip the editing process simply because your sister said it was ‘ok’. Or someone you met in a Facebook group said they’d edit the entire manuscript for £100. Only employ a recommended editor with a good track record and be aware there are many, many plausible fakes out there. Be super critical and don’t publish too soon. 
Picture-4COVER. The cover can and should work in a number of ways to help sell your book. Mostly it needs to match the content and the expectations of the genre – ie: not a photograph which you happen to like and may be related to the material in some vague way, but means absolutely nothing to a prospective reader on the other side of the world. Do some research and look at other books in your genre. Unless you have an eye for design, understand book marketing, and own the relevant software to be original and creative; pay someone who does. Of course, it’s perfectly possible to make your own cover with free software through Amazon’s publishing platform or something like Canva, but if the end result looks homemade – and you want to reach beyond friends and family – then consider the commercial impact.
FONT. Often overlooked, but the font is a vital bit of selling kit. Nothing screams homemade more than a bog-standard font scrawled across a third-rate cover image. If the cover and the font look third-rate, then the reader is fully entitled to presume that the content is much the same. Do the research: you will not find a loopy font on a cold-blooded thriller. Consider the impact of this and apply accordingly.
FORMATTING. If you can’t handle the formatting, then please pay someone who can. It might be the best story ever and perfectly well edited but if there are blank pages, irregular indents, or oversized margins, then after a while it just becomes too irritating to read. Your text needs to look consistent on a variety of screen sizes.
BRANDINGIf you’ve got all the above in order then do also consider branding. If you write across different genres this can be difficult but covers which are easily recognisable as one of yours, do help follow-on sales – so at least consider keeping the font of your author name consistent. Four or five cross-genre books with variable cover styles are notoriously difficult to sell. Same applies to using more than one author or pen name. This is why traditional publishers like material which is easily branded to match their current list. It’s easier to market and sell, and the reader knows what to expect. More on branding here: https://janruth.com/2016/06/24/the-importance-of-branding/

Jan Facebook Banner

SHORT LINKS. Every time you talk about your book across social media add the buy link! Potential readers will not go searching, and if you also use a pen name which is different to your social media persona, this can be an impossible task. Why make it so difficult and confusing? The social media audience has a very short attention span at the best of times. Make a short universal link – it’s so easy – and use it. I can’t recall the amount of times I’ve tried to find a book and given up because the author didn’t use a buy link and I couldn’t remember the exact pen name or the specific use of initials.
perfecto-capucine-2gllPE42ouU-unsplashPRICE. Study the market and take note how much is free or priced at 99p. How much do you spend on ebooks? Personally, I’m cautious at anything over £1.99 if the author is unknown to me. It makes more sense to sell 10 books at 99p than one book at £2.99. Free books have lost their impact in raising visibility. Still useful if you’re offering the first in a series as a free download – which hopefully will attract readers to buy the next, and the next. But always price the first book in the series less than the sequel – as a loss-leader – not the other way about! 
KINDLE SELECT, CATEGORIES & KEYWORDS. The Kindle Select programme (staying exclusive to Amazon) is worth considering, rather than spreading yourself too thin and being available on every other sales platform. Amazon Kindle remains the most popular so why not use this to your advantage – at least initially – and use the free promotional tools available. Select also means you can enroll in other programmes such as Kindle Unlimited. This allows readers unlimited access to books in the Select programme and for the author, pages read can earn as much – if not more – than those elusive sales. Experiment with categories on Amazon, the smaller ones are more likely to get your book noticed. Likewise the keywords – it’s worth doing some research, there are plenty of articles about keywords and which are trending and are currently effective
SOCIAL MEDIA & WEBSITES. snapchat---illustration-957668776-5b2e9008a474be0036c4c507Build a social media platform before you launch the book, not as an afterthought a few months later because ‘you really don’t do promoting, advertising, Twitter, or all that stuff…’ Your ebook is an internet-based product which is targeted at an internet-based audience who own an e-reader and therefore browse the internet for their next read. A commercial page – use your author name for this, not your book title – on Facebook and a website are both worth having because they are public sites and allow readers to discover you. They will not discover you via a personal Facebook profile. A website is more static – a ‘go to’ place to locate the books and hit that universal buy-link. Keep it clean and simple. Get rid of the dancing cats, change the white text on a black background to the other way about, and fix the links that don’t work.
REVIEWS. Reviews do help to sell books in that they increase customer confidence in the product. Approach book bloggers and reviewers who are interested in your material and whose opinions carry some weight; they will also have a good presence across social media. Don’t approach other authors or send multiple requests through Messenger to all your friends begging for reviews. And the other biggie: don’t respond to negative reviews in public. Nothing looks worse to a prospective reader than to witness an angry response to someone who didn’t enjoy your book. florencia-viadana-1iyGImW84cQ-unsplashThey are entitled to their opinion and if it’s malicious then interacting in any way will add fuel to the fire. There are plenty of people who will enjoy a good to-and-fro at your expense. Not only does it look desperately unprofessional to join in, but it’s wise to remember that reviews are not directed towards the author. Neither are they an easy, cheap critique service – they are there to help other prospective readers decide if they might enjoy the book. Only take them to heart if there are several reviews flagging the same issue. And then… get it fixed.
BLOGGING & NEWSLETTERS. The clue is in the title… these are not meant to be hard-sell sales platforms. Blogs are a good way to build a slow but sure fanbase, but your blog needs original and interesting content. Write articles you can share across social media and build followers. I’ve written some equitation-based fiction so blogging about horses brings me into contact with the right audience. And if you cannot produce engaging, interesting, and informative content on a regular basis, don’t start a newsletter. Sending advertising copy through email disguised as a newsletter is SPAM.
MARKET TRENDS. Are you writing fiction the public are looking to read? If it’s a complicated contemporary romance set in Newcastle and your main female character is aged 45, it won’t sell as well as a formula romance set in Cornwall with a heroine aged 25; even if your book is more original and better executed. Sadly, this is the way commercial sales and marketing works for the big guys, and the independent publisher can either try and swim with the mass-market tide, or accept that writing to their own agenda and enjoying creative freedom will always produce books which are more of a struggle to sell.

The Green Years


Robert Shannon is orphaned and sent from Ireland to live with his mother’s estranged family in Scotland, where a frugal existence in a dour town looks set to be his world. His maternal great-grandpa becomes an important character in his life despite grandpa’s disdain of Catholicism, and Robert’s paternal great-grandma’s active encouragement of it. Through his childhood amidst the prejudice and fear of religion, and the forming of fierce friendships and future hopes, Grandpa is not only there to advise, but often to rescue. As the years advance this relationship is often turned on its head – much to the exasperation of Robert. But Grandpa has the last say, in a moving and deeply satisfying denouement.

This was an incredibly absorbing, insightful read. A tender coming-of-age novel which highlights the strong oppositions between Catholics and Presbyterians, and how – often with gentle humour – this impacts on young Robert trying to find his way in life and make sense of historical, often puzzling beliefs. But Robert discovers he has a scientific mind, and as he matures his ambition to be a doctor leads him along a difficult and often disappointing path, fraught with obstacles. The depth and variety of character and rural scene-setting, brings this period of Edwardian history to life and makes perfect sense of the title.

The Stars Look Down

md879247812A novel based around a North East coal-mining town in the early 1900’s. This was the age of capitalism and the rapid growth of industry, interrupted only by the first world war. For a while, fighting on the front for King and country seemed a better alternative, until the reality hit and few hero’s returned home in one piece. But for most working men in this northern town, this era meant the continuous daily grind of working below ground in pitiful conditions, often facing the possibility of death – or starvation if they came out on strike. Socialism was beginning to raise its head but more often than not it was considered a dangerous and dirty word. Joe Gowlan escapes the mine by running away to the big city, living on his wits and looking for every opportunity to better his life. Unscrupulous, full of swagger, and prepared to take risks, Joe climbs the gilded ladder mostly by exploitation and cunning. He avoids conscription, continuing to work his way into a number of lucrative business deals presented by the war.
David Fenwick, also born into the life of a miner along with his father and brothers breaks away from a life below ground by educating himself. He looks set to achieve a B.A. until his head is turned by pretty inveterate social-climber, Jenny. Determined to do right by everyone and full of integrity, David is the voice of the working man and after playing his part in the war eventually breaks into politics; only to go head-to-head with Joe Gowlan.
Arthur, sensitive son of the mine owner becomes estranged from his father after a terrible flooding disaster in the pit kills hundreds of men, including David’s father and brother. Like David, Arthur suspects his father failed to invest enough in planning and safety. He refuses to fight in the war as he only sees more death and destruction, and Arthur is thrown into prison. When he eventually takes control of the pit, Arthur spends too much money on improving working conditions and when the big industrial slump comes along and the workers riot, he’s forced to sell out to Joe Gowlan.
The strength of this novel lies in the richness of the story and the strong social messages throughout, skilfully expressed through real, multi-layered characters. The hopeless, fearful trudge of life in the mining community is well contrasted with those lives of the rich fat cats in charge; the steak and oyster feasts, the gleaming cars and the ignorance of working life. And yet despite the hardships of the mining towns there is a relentless pride and a strong sense of comradeship. Arthur serves as a wonderful bridge between the classes, and yet his lack of hard-nosed business acumen results in the complete collapse of the mine, and this subtlety adds a clever dimension to the black and white politics of the day.
The understandable greed of Joe Gowlan after such humble beginnings. The strength, pride, and stoic nature of David’s mother, Martha, faced with a strike in the dead of winter, no food, no money, and giving birth to a stillborn child. And those powerful scenes when the mine is flooded and husbands, brothers, and sons, are trapped below ground; scenes which will stay in my mind for a very long time. This is just great storytelling, a huge saga involving many intertwined threads, the triumphs and struggles of life through many different eyes, and the harsh reality that the good guy does not necessarily win.

Five-Stars-Orange_Clear-Background

An Evil Streak

41X9MQBPJCL._SX293_BO1,204,203,200_Uncle Alex, a lonely and unloved translator, enjoys leading his passive, pretty niece, Gemma, astray. At first these possessive indulgences are quite innocent, but when she marries a rather cold, albeit successful doctor – a man Alex actively despises – his mission becomes all-consuming. In working on the story of Troilus and Criseyde, fantasy and reality begin to merge to the point where Alex encourages an affair between Gemma and an attractive out-of-work actor, David. But the increasingly complex web of deceit Alex manipulates for his own entertainment gradually begins to spiral out of control, with devastating results for Gemma.

A unique, somewhat disturbing novel, filled with egotistical liars and actors, voyeurism and sneaky manipulation. Cleverly plotted and impossible to put down. None of these characters are likeable but they are fully fleshed-out, exceptionally large warts and all.

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