Over the Hill: 2

My companion is Storm, an opinionated 12.2 hand British moorland pony. Our playground is the North Wales coast bordering Snowdonia National Park.

P1000024-1Saturday morning is usually a good time to set off for the beach. Since the route involves passing by the local council offices and the secondary school these establishments need to be closed, otherwise they generate too much traffic and hullabaloo. Then there’s the tide times to consider and the crossing of two bridges; one a pretty, ancient thing over a railway line with perilously low stone walls. The other, less attractive obstacle spans the busy A55 dual carriageway. I always ride towards the middle of this one in the event of any sudden lateral moves. Thankfully Storm remains his calm, stoic self, despite Bank Holiday traffic passing beneath us at 70 miles an hour heading for the estuary tunnel.
Then it’s the housing estate – lawnmowers, garden parasols, a whining strimmer – and then the golf course. The golf course is potentially full of hazards since the pony is already deeply suspicious of squeaking golf trolleys, men in yellow pants, and the whipping noise of several clubs whacking balls; sometimes in quick succession. He dances on the spot a little to signal his disquiet, then  stares through the hedge at the practice area. We survive all of this and arrive at the beach only to stop dead at a line of big boulders. Boulders, he declares, are the work of the Devil. They cast shadows… they hide predatory things… It’s not as if he hasn’t seen boulders before, but we waste long minutes before he deigns to pass between two of these stone beasts as they slumber on the edge of the car park. Ok, human, so nothing bad happened. This time.
IMG_4015Once on the beach, we sink into the silt that borders the estuary before heading for the firmer, rippled sand towards the mussel banks. Thankfully, there are no marauding dogs on the horizon. On a previous visit my friend and I were plagued by such a pest. His owner watched with mild disinterest as his dog leapt around our horses’ legs, barking and snarling. We suggested he might want to call his dog away in case it got kicked in the teeth. Amazingly,  the guy seemed offended that we’d suggested such a thing. Today the area is quiet, only the chatter of oystercatchers and gulls, and the rush and slide of the tide. But Storm is fixated on the opposite bank, where much is going on with boats and kites. He only canters with any conviction when I turn for home and even manages to throw in a violent dodge round a pool of muddy seawater. 
Previous hazards prove curiously inconsequential on the return journey – boulders? I ain’t scared of no boulders – but we’re riding along the lower section of the bridleway on Conwy Mountain when a man walking two elderly dogs suddenly ducks down in the shrubs. I’m sure he thinks he’s being helpful, but the pony can’t fathom why he’s suddenly disappeared and slowly draws to a halt, head and neck up, ears pricked, everything tense – the equine equivalent of a dropped jaw. I guess his behaviour echoes my own, suspicious thoughts. In the end I shout and request that the man reveal himself. No, I quickly rephrase that and suggest he gets to his feet. He does, slowly, explaining he hadn’t wanted to spook the pony, and felt it might be a better idea to hide. I say the best thing to do around horses is to act normally rather than appear predatory and crouch in the bushes. We pass without incident but both Storm and I tut at the incongruity of men, and boulders.

In The Chair 66: Jane Donovan

Welcome, Jane Donovan.

How would you describe your writing style in only three words?

Jane: Humorous, quirky, irreverent.

11102784_844407928976852_7866671121152746412_nIf you could have a relationship with one of your fictional characters who would it be and why?

Jane: If I were a child, it would definitely be Esme. I’d relish doing mischievous things with her. But as an adult, I’d want to have a relationship with Papuza. Papua’s character was strongly drawn from my mother, who passed away not long ago. So if I could hang out with Papuza, it would be like spending time with my mother again, which would be lovely.

If you had to exist for a week in one of your books … which one would it be? Would you be a central character or simply watch the story unfold from the sidelines?

Jane: I’d try my best to stand by the sidelines, but knowing me, I’d be in the thick of things within a couple of pages, giving unsolicited advice and attempting to play matchmaker for my poor unsuspecting characters.

IMG_6848Dead or alive literary dinner party: who would you invite, and what would you serve?

Jane: I’d invite Mark Twain, Tom Robbins, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Garrison Keillor, and Emily Dickinson. I hope the gentlemen would loosen up Emily a bit and make her laugh. Now THAT I would love to see! Since my house is constantly in chaos, I would build a big bonfire outside, and we would roast hot dogs under the stars. And if I were feeling particularly flush that week, I would even go all out for a bag of marshmallows.

If you had to write in a different genre which would it be and why?

Jane: I’d write Horror! A spine-chilling “can’t close your eyes or go to the bathroom by yourself” sort of book.

JaneDonovanWhat do you dislike the most about being an author?

Jane: Public appearances. They give me high anxiety. And when I’m nervous I become very klutzy, but far worse than that, the darnedest things fly right out of my mouth, causing me great embarrassment.

Favourite word? Jane: My favorite word to speak is “sassafras.” My favorite word to write is “the” because it’s short, and I never spell it incorrectly. My favorite word for its content is “uxorious.”

Jane Donovan was in the chair: co-author of “Esme Dooley” published by Sky Candle Press: myBook.to/EsmeDooley

 

In The Chair 62: Christina Jones

Merry Christmas, Christina Jones!

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How would you describe your Christmas in only three words?

Christina: Cosy, sparkly, snug

If you could have a relationship with a literary festive character who would it be and why?

Christina: Bob Crachit from A Christmas Carol (I’m a bit obsessive about Dickens…). But Bob Crachit, while possibly not my physical ideal – I tend to think he’s a bit of weed and looks nothing like Jonathan Rhys Meyers, but this is fantasy and a girl can dream! So, bless him… Such a cheerful, positive, hard-working chap despite the drudgery of his poorly-paid job, and the sadness at home (Tiny Tim – not a well child, and to be honest, possibly a bit of a goody-two-shoes – and no doubt getting *all* the attention). Sorry, Mrs C – but I’d like to spend a little festive time with your husband and show him the joyous side of Christmas – long before old Ebeneezer sees the light and sends you the turkey and gives you the pay rise etc. Bob and I could walk the snowy Victorian streets, hand-in-hand, peeking through the lighted windows of the houses we passed, watching the children decking the halls and dressing the new-fangled Christmas trees… And in the lamp-light, as the snowflakes fell, we’d listen to the angelic voices carried on the icy air as the choirs sing Christmas carols in the street for the very first time. And then, in the darkness we’d share a kiss under the mistletoe – and I hope he’d go home to his tumultuous family a happier man.

snowglobe-peppaIf you had to exist for a week in a Christmas story … which one would it be?

Christina: Peppa Pig’s Christmas. I adore Peppa and her lovely, cosy, happy family life. And I’ve read and re-read this story to my granddaughter, and it’s just perfect. Everything about The Pig’s run-up to Christmas is just perfect. Old-fashioned, amusing, chaotic, a little crazy – just like home! I’d be so happy there!

Dead or alive literary Christmas lunch: who would you invite, and what would you serve?  

Christina: Peppa Pig and Charles Dickens and the whole cast of A Christmas Carol for the above reasons. James Stewart so he can give us all the inside info and gossip on the making of It’s A Wonderful Life. And J Jefferson Farjeon who wrote some gorgeous-to-curl-up-with Christmas mysteries back in the 1930s. I’m a rubbish cook but a good hostess, so I’d get them nicely warmed-up and relaxed with whisky-macs and my special snowballs, then serve the full traditional roast dinner – turkey with all the trimmings, and a big Christmas pud made by my mum who was an ace cook – oh, and as I’m a veggie, there’d be a nut roast as well…

redfaceIf you had to write a Christmas themed story in your current genre, what would the title be?

Christina: Christmas Stockings!

What do you dislike the most about Christmas? Christina: Commercialism. And the fact that it all starts so early. I don’t even think about Christmas until Advent. And the fact that the TV advertisers seem to think a sofa or a flat-screen telly is going to make Christmas soooo much better.

Favourite festive word? Christina: Mistletoe!

Christina Jones was in the Christmas chair: author of several award winning novels. Published by Accent Press.

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Web: http://ow.ly/UycOE

In The Chair 58: Eric McFarlane

Merry Christmas, Eric McFarlane!

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How would you describe your Christmas in only three words? 

Eric: Family. Love. Not-turkey

If you could have a relationship with a literary festive character who would it be and why? Eric: I’m tempted to say Rudolf but to avoid some aggro I’ll choose Prancer or perhaps Olive. It would be a short relationship as roast venison has always been a favourite.

If you had to exist for a week in a Christmas story … which one would it be?

2005_the_chronicles_of_narnia_006Eric:  It would be the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. First, I’d lock up those stupid kids. Then negotiate a truce with the white witch who has obviously staked her energy policy on the promises of the renewables industry (Oooh, controversy). I’d negotiate a shale gas concession with her and an open doors policy so that it can be piped to Narnia via a wardrobe pumping station. Once Narnia had warmed up the witch might be in a better mood and perhaps romance might blossom without the fear of frostbite. The lion, faun and the rest of them would go in the Narnia zoo to be enjoyed by the other citizens as a reward for happily paying the 50% income tax imposed on them to pay for the expanding Narnia Nuclear Programme.

Dead or alive literary Christmas lunch: who would you invite, and what would you serve?

Surely-youre-joking-Mr-Feynman-ReviewEric: I’d start where my own love of comic writing started with PJ Wodehouse. Thomas H Cook would provide the seriously good meat for the main course and Sofie Kinsella for a lightly spiced pudding. For coffee – Richard Feynman to give us a turn on his bongoes and explain life, the universe and everything as we fall asleep by the fire. Hmm, gender imbalance alert. Who else? Lauren Beukes for a turn to the dark side. Tess Gerritsen to keep us guessing and someone I’ve always wanted to meet ever since reading her first travel book Full Tilt and her quite astonishing autobiography Wheels within Wheels, octogenarian Irish travel writer Dervla Murphy. My goodness. I’m salivating. I really, really want this to happen.

rudolphIf there was any time for eating it would be something fishy to start, prawns, smoked salmon, herring. A main course of leg of roast lamb with roast potatoes, or possibly some roast Rudolf, sprouts (hey it’s Christmas) and mint and rosemary jelly. Pudding, a choice of strawberry trifle, Christmas pudding (see sprouts) or a cheese board with Manchego, Dunsyre blue and Jarlsberg (auto-correct wants to change that to Carlsberg!) or just about any cheese that’s new to me.

After a short acceptance speech for my award from the turkey preservation society we would retire to a highland bothy to sit round a crackling log fire telling outrageous ghost stories.

If you had to write a Christmas themed story in your current genre, what would the title be? 

Eric: A Cloudy Damp Affair: a novel of love, lust and Christmas overtime at the Met Office, with too much pudding.

Me-fiddleWhat do you dislike the most about Christmas?

Eric: Easy, commercialism. Or perhaps not commercialism as such. Commerce is how the world works after all. It’s inevitable. It’s the ready acceptance by so many that you show love by buying stuff no one wants. Christmas isn’t about stuff. It really, really isn’t. Whether it’s a commemoration of your God coming to save humanity or just a week away from work, it should be about giving yourself, giving your time to your spouse, your children, aunty Senga or the irritating bugger next door who might just be a little afraid of growing old alone. And if, really, he is just an irritating old bugger well, you tried.

Favourite Festive Word?  Eric: Love.

Eric McFarlane was in the Christmas chair: Author of A Clear Solution. Published by Accent Press.

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Web: http://myBook.to/AClearSolution