Thursday, 27 November 2014

A most enjoyable year of learning, creating, making new friends and much business!

The Sign says it.
As this year of 2014 approaches it's final month, it seems like a pretty good time to take stock, so to speak. A good time to reflect on mistakes and successes, what I may continue with in 2015, as well as move on from things that don't really work for me personally. At this time of year, also, I like to plan how I might use my precious time off from work and whether I am going to be in a position to take on a sizeable stroll through the mountains and valleys of some of Britain's loveliest areas. I am a little disappointed that I will be in no position at all to take the amount of time needed for me to walk the length of Britain again, as I'd hoped, but I am now getting quite excited because I have decided to do the world famous Coast to Coast walk again, as devised by the late, great Alf Wainwright. In 2012 I successfully completed the walk from West to East in twelve days, alongside my good friend and superb walking companion Helen Aitchison.
With Helen by Great Gable.
Dipping toes in the sea at Robin Hood's Bay.

Together we managed to raise around two and a half thousand pounds for charity, through kindly folk who sponsored us to do the walk. Next year I will be solo, walking the other way this time, East to West, from beautiful Robin Hood's Bay on the North Yorkshire coast to St. Bees Head on the West coast, just beyond The Lake District. At around 190 odd miles, and taking in three of England's most beautiful national parks, the walk is stunning in many parts, as well as being quite a challenge. I will be tackling this in September, again doing it to raise money for charity, and I am looking forward to it with great relish. As I have learnt a lot about technical things on computers throughout this year, I will be blogging the whole walk, adding text and pictures, as well as the odd video update too. If the blog can entertain a few folk as well, then this will be quite marvellous, and may even encourage some sponsorship. Watch this space for that!

Throughout this year, I have also made many new friends within the online reading and writing fraternity, which has been quite lovely, as well as inspiring and very educational for me. I was honoured, back in January, to be asked to join the team on a brand new E-Magazine called INNOVATE. I willingly accepted the invitation, and writing an increasing amount of features and articles for the magazine, which is now also in print form, has been very enjoyable. It has also taught me much about how to structure things correctly, to make the piece flow freely. This applies whether one is writing a simple review of a book, or a musical creation, or if one is writing a novel. The structure and flow of anything that one writes is all important and, for me, it becomes easier to grasp this the more experience I gain. We will shortly be releasing issue number eight of the magazine, which seems to be gaining in popularity, slowly but steadily. Watch out for it at all the usual places like Amazon and Smashwords, amongst others!

Back in April I released my third book, an improvement again, on my previous two, this one being titled ARSE ABOUT FACE. As with my previous two, this was another kick in the gut of the system, delivered, though, with plenty of tongue in cheek British humour. Sales have been no more than steady, but those who have bought and read it have loved it. Maybe you should check it out yourself and see what it's all about!

I love writing almost as much as I love walking in the hills, and I am now working on a fourth book on a similar theme, entitled OUR LIES ARE BETTER THAN THEIRS, as well as working on a far more serious, much bigger project. I am writing my first novel. It is set in wartime Britain, North Watford to be precise, and based on much that my grandfather told me of life during those troubled years, with flashbacks to The Somme in 1918. It is called WHY GRANDAD?, and I hope to have it finished by mid summer of next year, 2015. Watch this space for news on those.

The Other Daddy.
The Ghost of Bluebell Cottage.
My other great love, as mentioned, is reading. This year I have read some fantastic books written by independent, or not very well known authors, as well as some by better known writers. Here is a little selection of some of my favourites.

Above you can see The Ghost of Bluebell Cottage and The Other Daddy - A World Away. These two excellent stories are penned by highly talented Claire Voet. I enjoyed these two books, as well as others by her, enormously. I even had the honour of working with her with some proof reading, and she is highly professional, a pleasure to work with. As is another of my favourite authors.
A Song For Joey.
Elizabeth Audrey Mills.

Liz Mills above, the very talented author of a lovely book, A Song For Joey, seen here. I loved this story, heart-warming triumph through much adversity. Again, I have also had the honour of working with this lady, she is also very professional and a pleasure to work with, also authoring several other books.

The two authors I mentioned there I have had the honour to work with as a proof reader, as well as enjoy their writing.. This is something else that I have been able to do a bit of this year. I fell into it by accident really, but the writers I have worked with seem to be very happy with what I have done, so I always welcome the chance to do more. Anything to do with reading or writing, I find, always helps with one's own writing. So, another highly talented writer that I have had the pleasure to work with is Caroline Bell Foster.
Caroline Bell Foster.
Caroline's books.

Caroline is an highly accomplished author of several books already, with her new one due out very soon, look out for it, entitled Call Me Lucky.

Rusty G's.
As I mentioned earlier in this piece, I have been writing an increasing amount of features for Innovate, interviewing and writing about some very talented people. Two rock bands, The Bleeding Hearts and Rusty G's, seen here on stage performing.
The Bleeding Hearts.
Also I was honoured to interview Jo Mundy about her very innovative Synth Music Direct with musical partner, step dad Kit Judd-Gratrix. 
The Radiance Collection.

Jo in the studio, pondering.

As well as the highly talented musicians and authors I've already mentioned, in recent weeks I have also had the pleasure to write about,  and work with, two exceptionally good children's authors. Firstly a lovely Scots lass, now living in Wales, Brenda May Williams. 


Brenda May is another highly accomplished author, as mentioned, of children's books. I had the honour of helping Brenda, with two colleagues in the recently formed Popsible Press, to get her Holly Prickles story published. Brenda is another consummate professional, with whom it is an absolute pleasure to work. I wrote an article on Brenda and her books for Innovate, and it went down very well it seems, as did the others on the afore mentioned artistes. During my writing of the article, as well as talking with Brenda, it became very apparent that writing good children's books is very much an art, quite tricky, and in many ways a lot more difficult than writing for adults. I have also stumbled upon much in this sphere that is very sub-standard, that no child, or indeed their parents, would want to read, so it was with the utmost pleasure that I have been writing a feature on another who is right up there, as it were, as a children's author, Lucy O'Farrell Carter. Lucy has recently released her second book in the Jet series, Jet And The Butterfly.
Lucy O'Farrell Carter.
The first Jet Book.

 While I am talking about the highly talented authors I have written about this year, or whose work I have enjoyed very much reading, I cannot fail to mention my absolute favourite author.
Mr Chuck Lovatt.
Chuck is the much celebrated author of two stupendous, swashbuckling stories. The Adventures of Charlie Smithers and the extremely powerfully written Josiah Stubb - The Siege of Louisburg. Chuck is a mild mannered, gentle chap and without doubt a brilliant writer. I have learned much from reading Chuck's work, much that I hope will stand me in good stead as I work my way through writing my own historical novel.

So there it is, an interesting, highly enjoyable and very busy year for me. I look forward with great relish to next year being equally good, if not better. Of course, another month remains of this year and, with Christmas quite near, you may want to purchase a few good books for yourself, or friends and family, as well as the CD's in the beautiful Radiance Collection. Here are some links to what I've been talking about.
Claire Voet  -
Liz Mills  -
Caroline Bell Foster  -
The Bleeding Hearts  -
Rusty G's  -
Synth Music Direct  -
Brenda May Williams  -
Lucy O'Farrell Carter  -
Chuck Lovatt  -
Popsible Press  -
Innovate  -

Wishing all who pop in now and again to read my blog, as well as newcomers, a very good end to 2014, a splendid Christmas, and a marvellous 2015.

                                                     Alec Hawkes 27.11.14 


Tuesday, 16 September 2014

A very versatile writer, a feature on Claire Voet.

I would like to continue my feature on the best writers that  I have come across in recent times, those that can easily hold my attention through the quality of their writing. I have already talked about Chuck Lovatt, from Canada, a brilliant writer of historical fiction. Now I would like to showcase another very good writer, Claire Voet.

I came across Claire's WHITTINGTON MANOR  while just browsing through what was available at Amazon one day. I had collected a few e-books on my kindle and kept trying to get into reading more than just a few pages of each, before becoming frustrated with the bad flow and messy style of so many 'authors'. I put the word author in inverted commas as in the modern world of 'anyone can write a book' it seems that just about anyone can, and publish it. It can be a bit of a trek wading through the mediocre stuff to find the good or the very good.

 Whilst I would not want to knock anyone for trying, as every piece of written work can have it's merits in it's own way, when one comes across writing of much more depth and higher quality the reading experience becomes so much more enjoyable.

WHITTINGTON MANOR  is a lovely story, set during the second world war, around the area of Portchester on the northern edge of Portsmouth Harbour. I enjoyed this book very much indeed and, having finished it, I managed to contact the author via social media to enquire whether she had a follow up planned. She did indeed have one in the pipeline, so to speak, but was having a few issues with her publishers at that time. She pointed me in the direction of two other books that she had written.

 I purchased and read THE OTHER DADDY and THE GHOST of BLUEBELL COTTAGE in the space of a couple of weeks. They are both very different to the wartime tale, and both are very well written. I was most impressed with her ability to cover a completely different genre, rather than be happy to stick with just one. Both DADDY and BLUEBELL have quite a bit of the paranormal in them, as well as a love story in the latter. I won't give too much away here, but I'll include my reviews of the books. As you will see, I was and am most impressed by Ms Voet's work

5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly written with a great plot., 29 Jun 2014

This review is from: The Other Daddy - A World Away 
Having read some of this author's previous work, and enjoyed it, I was looking forward very much to this one. She did not disappoint me. It was a very different kind of read, but extremely good. I think she must have thought long and hard about the plot, because it really is very good indeed. There are several different strands to the story, and the author cleverly slips between the various plot lines, as well as different time zones, but it all seems to follow very nicely. Slipping from different tenses can be awkward to follow, but the author has knitted everything together very well because the story fits together perfectly. The plot builds, the characters form, and the reader - I found - was drawn in and kept there. The further I got into the story, the more interesting and intriguing it became. As I neared the conclusion of the story I was still struggling to guess the final outcome. When it came it was a surprise, but not a shock. This is not all that easy to achieve as a writer, so very well done Claire Voet. There are many complex characters in the story, some very likeable, others maybe not quite so, but all totally plausible. An excellent book, very well written. I notice that at least one other reviewer thought this book would be well suited to being dramatised for television, I agree. It would make a superb mystery, full of suspense and things not quite explained but somehow believable. I look forward with relish to that happening, and also to reading more from this highly talented author

It seems, possibly, that I may have been correct, but I'll let Claire tell you more of that a bit later. So, most impressed as I was with THE OTHER DADDY, I went straight into THE GHOST of BLUEBELL COTTAGE. This was another triumph, an excellent story and quite possibly my favourite from her so far.

5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, enthralling. 19 July 2014

I have read other work by this author and enjoyed all of it, but this is my favourite book from her so far. (I do hope there is more to come!). Writing about ghosts and all things paranormal is not, I think, all that easy. Many people have many different views on whether we might, or might not, have an after-life, or even a past life. I am, like most I reckon, very open-minded about the subject. Who really knows what happens when we shuffle away from this mortal coil? and who really knows whether we actually used to be someone else? Who knows when dreams are just that, dreams? Do we dream something that is going to come true, was once true, or merely just a jumbled mix of thoughts? The author tackled this, I thought, very well. It was all very plausible, and I could see many people having similar experiences to report on that the main characters in the story had. The story itself I found to be most enthralling, with the characters well formed as the story got going, and with the plot thickening nicely. The parts of the story where the reader is taken back a few hundred years worked very well indeed, I thought. I was gripped as the plot took several twists and turns, none of which I will reveal, but suffice to say I enjoyed this charming story very much indeed, and would not hesitate to recommend it. Well done Ms. Voet!

There you are then, my reviews of those two excellent books. I'll talk a little more about WHITTINGTON MANOR shortly, as I managed to get a little chat with Claire about her writing, her inspirations and influences.  Here it is.

Me:      Hi Claire, thank you very much for this, I know you are very busy with your writing, as
            well as family, and the 'day job'.
Claire: It's my pleasure Alec, I can see that you like my writing so it's never a chore for a writer to
            talk about their own work with someone who really likes it.
Me:     And that I do, yes. So tell me, you have been a published author for around four years now. 
            But have you actually been writing for a lot longer than that? Was it something that you
            enjoyed doing as a child?
Claire: Well yes, I did very much enjoy writing stories and essays when I was at school, but I didn't
             really have ambitions to be a writer as such. It was when I was teaching in Spain that I
             became inspired to write. I was teaching English as a foreign language and it was actually
             the students that kept telling me that I should write a book. I used to make up little stories
             for them, print them off, get the students to read them, then ask them questions about the
             story. They really enjoyed doing this and it was they that encouraged me to think about
             writing a book.
Me:      That didn't happen straightaway though?
Claire: Oh crikey no, it wasn't until I finally gave up the teaching job that I had the time to write.
            That was when I wrote Whittington Manor, four years ago.
Me:      I enjoyed that very much. The way it finished had me hoping that a follow up might be on
            the way, to see what became of Joe and Sarah. Did you have a lot of call for that?
Claire: Actually, yes. Quite a lot of people got in touch with me to ask about just that. So I  had to
            oblige. It was released only recently, I'm quite pleased with it. I recently found myself a new
            editor who is pretty good, so that helped me to get it all in order.
Me:     That must help a lot. I've seen quite a few books that were in desperate need of editing. Many
            good stories, but ruined by poor grammar, or bad flow. Tell me how and why you came to
            write about Whittington Manor then, is it based on fact, as I know this was your hometown?
Claire: Well I was born in Gosport, which is just across from Portsmouth on one side of the harbour
            and Portchester on the other. I spent seventeen years there until we moved to Spain. I still
            have affection for the area, so it seemed like a good place to base my first book around.
            The whole area did get  a fearful pounding from German bombers during the early years of
            the war, being right down on the south coast. I researched a good bit about the local history  
            of  the area.
Me:     I enjoyed the references, in the early stages of the story, before war started, to Portsmouth's
           football team. I remember myself as a child hearing my grandad talk about the great side
           'Pompey' had just before and just after the war. I am always very pleased to see little bits
           like that in a story, as for me it always helps to set the scene and give me a real feel for the
           area in which the story is set.
Claire: Thank you. The bits about the main hospital in Portsmouth are all pretty accurate I think.
            When including references, or complete story lines, to actual places they must be as factually
            correct as you can get them I think. The characters, though, are fictional.
Me:     Very strong characters I thought. So you went from there to writing the paranormal stuff?
Claire: Yes, I enjoy very much the challenge of writing about the unexplained. Bluebell Cottage 
             seems to be very popular with readers but I actually preferred the other one, The Other
             Daddy. Bluebell obviously struck a chord with several people.
Me:      Well I enjoyed it very much, it was such an intriguing tale, particularly with the stepping
             back in time to what had happened there a few hundred years ago, and with restless spirits
             still hanging around being restless. Do you find that writing about the unexplained gives
             you a lot of scope?
Claire: Well it can  expand one's powers of imagination a lot I think, and lead you off on all sorts of
             paths. So that's a yes I'd say!
Me:      I'd agree. So then you moved onto The Other Daddy. Tell me about this one.
Claire: Okay well this one was a big challenge, but I love it. There are, as you will have seen, two
             main strands to the story. A remote Scottish island in 2003, then eight years later in
             Cambridge, England. Two girls mysteriously disappeared on the island, then clues as to
             what might have happened to them began to surface a few years later and several hundred
             miles away from where they had last been seen.
Me:      Without giving too much away, then, I thought that worked extremely well. Initially I had
             to really concentrate to get everything straight in my mind as the plot thickened, until all of
             the little pieces fell nicely into place.
Claire: Thank you.
Me:      The way the various different story lines built in the book made me think it would be perfect
             material to be dramatised for film or television. If done very well I could imagine it being a
             gripping thing to watch. Are there any plans that way?
Claire: Actually, yes. I have long wanted to try my hand at writing screenplays. My first book,
            Whittington Manor had won a third place prize in a competition a year or so ago and I had
            an approach to maybe think about adapting that one for television. That hasn't happened, as
            yet, but I am very much hoping that it will with The Other Daddy. I have now completed the
            screenplay for it, now I'm trying very hard to get a production company to take it on.
Me:      Any interest so far?
Claire: Yes, quite a bit, and several actors are looking at it. I'm very hopeful.
Me:      Exciting times ahead then! Just to get back to the first book for a bit, I gather that the follow
             up is now published?
Claire:  Yes it is, Whittington Manor Two - The Poppy Sunset.

I'll leave my chat with Claire Voet there for a minute or two, as I have now read The Poppy Sunset
and very good it is too. So here are my reviews of both the first Whittington Manor and the excellent sequel.

5.0 out of 5 stars A lovely story of heartbreak and love through adversity., 9 May 2014

This review is from: Whittington Manor (Kindle Edition)
It was something of a chance meeting in semi rural pre-war England, on a quiet hill in a sleepy village, between two people from vastly different backgrounds that leads to an enduring, though unlikely, story of true and pure love. A young woman of class and privilege, and a young man of simple farming stock. That these two young people should fall for each other, totally and beautifully, and discover a love between them that lasts through the sickening horrors of war is a wonderful thing. The young fellow, along with millions of the same ilk, were hauled off to fight and as we all know only too well, most never returned. Many heart breaking things happened to the lovelorn young woman while her man was away in France. As with millions of others during these ghastly times of war, she suffered loss, and more loss, and the inevitable clinging on to anything that might possibly offer hope, and a chance of happiness, however brief or fragile that chance might be. But through it all her love survives. She does indeed find her true happiness at last, just when she thought she had lost everything. A lovely heart warming tale of how, sometimes, love can survive even the biggest battering that life can throw at anybody. A few minor grammatical errors which, for me, did not detract at all from this wonderful book. I eagerly await reading the follow up, as well as more of the work of this clearly talented author.

           A gripping and enthralling story., 24 Aug 2014

This book is another triumph for this talented and versatile writer. I have been continually impressed by Ms Voet's books, with her ability to form a solid base for the story she wants to tell. She introduces us to the main characters, lets the reader get to know them gradually, while thickening the plot of the story. This story is a follow up to Whittington Manor, as the title would suggest, so I would recommend that the earlier one is read first. However, even without doing so this is a marvellous story in it's own right. The war is over, the country is slowly being rebuilt, as are the lives of so many who had their world ripped apart by six years of the most terrible carnage our planet has ever known. There was, quite obviously, much hope and optimism in those early years of rebuilding, though not everybody had the same goals, as this story covers very well. As Joe and Sarah pick up the pieces of their lives, with a baby on the way and Joe beginning a new career, everything appears to be going quite well for them. But things do not go quite to plan as an unexpected, and ultimately unwelcome, visitor to Whittington Manor threatens to ruin everything for them. A gripping tale follows. I will not give any of the plot away, but suffice to say what follows covers many of the traits, faults and, happily, the good points of human behaviour. Greed, jealousy, deceit, love; strap yourself in for a roller-coaster ride of emotions. An excellent book that I heartily recommend.

My reviews of Whittington Manor and the sequel. As you can tell, I really enjoyed both books. So, back to Claire.

Me:    Getting back to your reasons and inspirations for writing the story, Claire, it really does
           seem that having a good local knowledge of an area helps enormously to write an authentic
           story about that area.
Claire: Absolutely, yes. Though I don't think it's essential, as long as the author does their
            research thoroughly.
Me:     Of course, Bluebell Cottage was set in Corfe Castle, in Dorset. Was that a lot of fun
           researching for that one?
Claire: Oh yes. Research can be quite hard, and you can spend a long time doing it. But it really is
            so vital if the book you write is going to be good and taken seriously.
Me:     I guess you love to read as well? Do you have much time for that now, with so many other
           things to do?
Claire: Yes I do love to read but, with having children who I love dearly, as well as my writing,
            not to mention the 'day job', I get very little time for reading. I used to read a lot more
            though, and reading the work of other authors, particularly the very good ones, helps a lot
            in structuring your own writing I find.
Me:     I'd agree entirely with that. Do you find that you continually learn new things about your
           chosen craft then?
Claire: Oh yes, all the time. When I started writing I chatted a fair bit with other authors, picking
            up little hints and tips all the time. I think we should never, ever stop learning, or trying
            to at least.
Me:     Quite true. So does Claire Voet the writer get much time for other things?
Claire: Not really. I would like to write every day, but I don't manage that always. I do love
            spending time with my family and in particular my beautiful children. They keep me very
            busy too!
Me:     Would you like to be spending your time as a full time writer?
Claire: Oh yes, I'd love to be able to, once a writer always a writer I reckon!
Me:     Well I wish you all the luck going in getting your screenplay accepted for production, as
            well as your books continuing to sell. Good luck particularly with the new one, The Poppy
            Sunset. Thank you very much for the little chat!
Claire: My pleasure. Thank you.

So that's Claire Voet, a very good writer with great versatility.


and some links to buy The Poppy Sunset

                  Alec Hawkes    16.09.14


Sunday, 7 September 2014

Chuck Lovatt.

Writing, reading, things related.

Here is where I will talk about  another great love of mine, all things related to reading and writing. This will include bits about my own books, books I have read and enjoyed very much, my favourite authors from the world of independent and relatively unknown authors. I will also include reviews that I post, about those books that I have read and been impressed with.

The first author I would like to talk about is a fellow named Chuck Lovatt, from Canada. Chuck writes historical fiction, and he writes it very well indeed. Here is my article about, and interview with, the bearded wonder.

It was some two years ago now, that I began to dip my toes in the murky waters of the world of independent authors. Myself, a very 'wet behind the ears' amateur with no experience whatsoever in this field, I really had not much idea of what I was doing. I wrote a book, called Common Sense Would Be Good. It wasn't really a book, though, it was a collection of my thoughts in my computer, which I then had printed onto a pile of A4 sized paper. I googled publishers, found one in North Yorkshire, and sent my thoughts to this 'publisher'.

Several months later, having been totally ripped off by Pink Cloud KDP Publishing Limited, I began to find out a lot more about this murky world, a world where keen, amateur, would be writers are easy prey for those who wish to make a fast buck out of hopefuls, those who would say yes to pretty much anything, in their quest to follow their dreams of being a published author.

I have learnt a lot in these two years. I have seen, and heard of, many so-called professional publishers, proof readers, editors, most of which have a definite talent, though not one which aspiring writers will actually find of any practical use at all. That talent is the ability to present a wonderful package, so it seems. A lovely, professional looking, shiny, all-singing-all-dancing website that promises so much, but - like so much in our modern world - delivers very little. The basic errors and bad grammar that are not picked up by these so-called professionals beggars belief. For amateur writers, the error and mistake count can be  high, very high in some cases, though I have also found that some just don't care. But along the rocky road of independent writers I have found, to my great enjoyment, some exceptionally good writers. I myself would love to reach the dizzy heights of accomplished writer one day, but for now I will continue to listen, look, and learn, and pick up as much as I possibly can from the good writers. Those that do their research properly, those that pay the greatest attention to the smallest of details, for these are vital ingredients in the writing of a book that can be elevated above the drivel, the average, and the quite good.

One of these very good writers is this fellow;

This distinguished looking chap is C.W.Lovatt, Chuck, from Canada. Here he is surrounded by books, surely a favourite situation for a keen writer, as well as one who loves to read.

I sort of stumbled across Chuck, 'bumped into' him, as it were, while discovering how enormous the world of independent writers actually is. As previously mentioned, I had discovered that although there were a small amount of good, talented, writers that appear to be very professional, I was being bombarded with so much of what turns out to be utter drivel. It was against this backdrop that, on seeing the front cover of Chuck's The Adventures of Charlie Smithers, I decided to investigate further.

The cover looked most interesting, and so different to the majority of 'the rest'; shiny, manufactured, overly produced and quite pretentious looking. The cover of 'Charlie' seemed far more straightforward, beckoning one to take a peek inside.

I did indeed take that little peek inside, as in this rapidly changing modern world of the 'e-book' one can do this, just read a few pages as a sort of appetiser to see if it's your 'thing'. I was instantly impressed, and a smile arrived on my face. There was no long introduction, so I was straight into the action, so to speak. The writing I found to be succinct, to the point. The scene was 1854, in the days of empire, of derring do, of adventure and discovery. It's a decent length for a book, with a plot that builds beautifully, steadily, drawing in the reader, keeping him or her there, hooked. I loved the book, the story was wonderfully well constructed and kept me gripped right the way through to the end.

Here is the review I posted after reading the book.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful 5.0 out of 5 stars A truly epic tale, exceptionally well written., 31 Aug 2013 By Alec Hawkes - ordinary bloke. "Alec" (Leighton Buzzard, England.) - See all my reviews Verified Purchase(What is this?) This review is from: The Adventures of Charlie Smithers (Kindle Edition) I was attracted to this brilliantly written tale purely by the title - The Adventures of Charlie Smithers. It conjured up images of the sort of stuff I, as an English kid back in the 1960's, would read about in things such as The Boys Own, or tales of Biggles the dashing pilot. I was vaguely correct I suppose, but this was the most magnificent adventure I have ever come across. Anything Biggles, or William Brown for that matter, may have got up to in the way of adventures pales when compared with Charlie Smithers and what happened to him on his perilous, though always exciting, journey through untamed Africa. His journey is quite incredibly dangerous at times, and many times I was led to think 'surely he's a goner this time!?'. The author has written this quite amazing, yet very believable, tale with such aplomb that you cannot help - given that you get'right into it' - getting so involved in everything that happens. He has, as other reviewers have noted, done his research very well indeed and he held my attention to such an extent that my breakfast had been stood for four hours before I touched it, not being able to abandon the story for even ten minutes to eat. I was moved to genuine tears as the story reached it's conclusion, though the author skillfully managed to ease the grieving with another charming twist. I really cannot recommend The Adventures of Charlie Smithers too highly,just buy it and read it yourself. You will surely find it one of the most engaging reads ever, whatever your particular preference, or usual choice of reading matter. This would, without any shadow of a doubt, make a magnificent film. I could easily see a modern day equivalent of Richard Harris in this. Though at times Smithers' tenderness and ability to wax lyrical would have been perfectly suited to another great of the screen, Richard Burton. I echo previous sentiments when I say I would love to read more of Charlie Smithers. To the author, very well done indeed Sir.

As you can tell, I was very impressed. But please don't just take my word for it, here are the links to the book on Amazon, where you can find several impressive reviews.

and the UK link...

It does still surprise me a little, that there aren't many more reviews of this quite splendid, and brilliantly written, book. But like I mentioned earlier, there are so many independent 'writers' out there, and wading through a lot of drivel to find the good stuff can be a difficult task at times.

I was, though, smitten. I found Chuck Lovatt's writing style to be most engaging indeed, and I wanted more. I also had the desire to find out about the man, and what inspired him to write as he does. We connected, so to speak, through the medium of Facebook. Chuck is indeed a very engaging fellow, appearing to be fairly relaxed about things, and possessing a fine sense of humour. We had a little chat about his writing, as well as life in general. Something else comes shining through when talking with Chuck, he is a modest fellow, quite humble, which is a marvellous quality to have. So many aspiring writers I find to be the complete opposite, which repels me very quickly from their work.

So, here's a little more about Chuck. I asked him how, why, and when he got into writing the kind of stuff that he does so well now.

"Well, I have been writing on and off for roughly thirty years now, since the early 1980's, but it's really been in the last ten years or so that I have been taking it seriously. A friend of mine, whose opinion on literature I greatly respected, gave me some intelligent and critical encouragement. This was the first time that I'd had this kind of feedback on my writing. I find that honest criticism is rare, but to get honest criticism that is also intelligent and therefore helpful, I find to be extremely rare. I can't state quite how important this was to me, merely to say that I took it all 'on board' and used it to continue to learn my chosen craft."

Me; "It seems to have worked Chuck. I find 'Charlie Smithers' to be very polished indeed."

"Thank you. But it didn't happen straightaway. I spent a good few years honing my technique penning short stories, and what they like to call novellas. She, my friend with the critical eye, was very good indeed with me, and when criticism was, or is, needed she can be merciless. But this is what's needed. There can be no merit or any use at all in someone praising you for the sake of it, where some praise might be merited, but also criticism is vital. The only way we can keep improving as writers."

Me; "I couldn't agree more Chuck. The number of times I've seen the daft phrase 'you're awesome, you rock' applied to aspiring writers would suggest we are awash with writing talent everywhere, which I think isn't always the case."

"Yes, I'd agree. Constructive criticism is immeasurably more use than hollow praise."

Me; "Has history, and historical fiction always been your thing?"

"Not always, not for writing it at least. You will, I'm sure, have appreciated that Charlie Smithers wasn't just a thrilling adventure, it was a love story as well."

Me; "Yes, that shines through very brightly. I thought that part of the story was handled with much sensitivity. It was very touching, quite lovely."

"Thank you, well I am something of a sensitive soul, and some of my earlier works were quite a bit about love and romance. Also, I am a long standing big fan of the work of Stephen King. I like to think I have a pretty well developed sense of humour, and of drama. This led me to penning a 'noir romance', my first published work, called Tin Whistle in 2008. I had several more published after that. All the while though, I think I was learning more and more about the craft of writing. I have always been very interested in anything historical, and when I thought more deeply about how I could try to hold a reader's interest for 100,000 words or more, I just knew it had to be something that I myself was as interested in as the reader. Being, as I said, very interested in history, I decided this was to be my chosen genre."

Me; "Is this how you came to write The Adventures of Charlie Smithers ? "

"Yes, I think so. I'd always been interested in British history, being Canadian our history has often been pretty close with that of the British, as in we were part of The British Empire, and of course we are very much part of The Commonwealth and Queen Elizabeth is very much our Queen as well. Many of the exploits of The Royal Navy took them all over the empire, including to my homeland. That is part of how I came to write my most recent book, but Smithers came first."

Me; "Research for something that was set in 1854 must have been very interesting!"

"I'd love to say I was able to spend a few months in the dense African jungle, navigating dangerous rivers and plodding across deserts. But that, sadly, wasn't possible. The internet, when used properly, can be a wonderful place to research and gather vital snippets of information. Add to this what I had already found out over the years, and I managed to get a pretty good picture of what it may well have been like for an English manservant lost in the wilds of untamed Africa. Adding a little 'poetic license' in the writing, and there it was, I hope, a decent read that was essentially fiction, but could easily be based on fact."

Me; "Well it 'grabbed' me very early on in the piece, and held my attention the entire way. The tension grew, the plot thickened, the characters were excellent and yes, very believable I think. Has it done well?"

"It became an Amazon best seller in three different countries, so I think that just about qualifies it as 'done quite well' !"

Me; "Tell me about Josiah Stubb. After reading 'Smithers', I was very keen to read either a follow up, or something similar. Similar as in historical I mean. And well done with the sales of Smithers!"

"Thank you. Well, researching for Josiah Stubb, the siege of Louisburg in 1758, was an entirely different kettle of fish, so to speak. As youngsters at school in Canada, we learnt - or at least were told - a lot about the seven years war, between England and France, and though the siege of Louisburg is an important part of Canadian history, very little was actually generally well known about it, except by historians who studied it. So I had to start pretty much from scratch."

Me; "A labour of love?"

"Well, yes because it genuinely interested me, but it did involve a lot of work. I would like to tell you that my methods for researching are nicely structured, but I can't because that just isn't the case. I spent many, many hours reading historical references to the time in question, occasionally googling to see what I could find on the internet that may be of use, making a lot of notes, and gradually forming a picture in my mind, as well as gaining an understanding of the time."

Me; "Well the result is brilliant methinks. You seem to have a very good understanding of that period, and the way you have written it makes the characters come completely alive. What particularly impressed me was that you seemed to have captured the language of the time. Was this tricky?"

"Thank you for that, but I'm afraid I can't really answer that one, as I simply don't know. I can say that I very much enjoy writing as if I was actually in the period that I am writing about. I try to completely immerse myself in the story and the characters. There was more though, with Stubb, probably the most important piece of research I did. My great friend with the highly critical eye, and myself, travelled to the actual place where the story took place. We covered a round trip of 4000 miles in one week. Once at the actual site, I decided to walk every last square inch of the place. Doing this I found I was able to absorb the feel and atmosphere of the place. I tried to imagine what it must have been like some 250 years previous. I didn't find it that difficult to be honest, as the restoration there is really quite excellent. Getting a real feel of the town of St. Johns was a little harder, and required the help of an historian. We did all this after the rough draft of the book was finished in 2011, and then I felt quite ready to crack on and tidy the book up to get it to it's finished state."

Me; "Well I think the research was all worth it Chuck, as the result is a quite brilliantly written book. By the way, how are you when you get totally immersed in the writing, as you described earlier?"

"I would say I'm probably a bit like an actor, I think writers need to be. To really get the part in your soul, to get completely immersed in it, I think you have to get right 'in the zone' as it were. I'm sure actors go through this, and I certainly do. As I said, I like to get completely into the time that I am writing about. I think it seems to work."

Me; "It most definitely does work Chuck, for 'Smithers' and 'Stubb' are without  doubt two of the finest books I have ever read. Thanks very much for this little insight, and for your time. I look forward very much to the next book from C.W.Lovatt!"

"My pleasure."

So there it is, just a little insight into what makes Chuck Lovatt tick, and why his books are so good.

      A quite perfect way to spend a couple of evenings, may well be to crack open a bottle or two, park yourself somewhere comfortable, and lose yourself in a wonderfully well written book. There it is above, a bottle of red and Josiah Stubb. Perfect.

The US link to Amazon...

and the link for the UK...

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Good news and bad news.

It is with some reluctance that I am announcing that in 2015 I will be unable to do the charity walk that I so desperately wanted to do. I am now resigned to the fact that I will not be able to afford either the time off work, or the cost of staying in guest house accommodation for more than one hundred consecutive nights. For this reason I am having to shelve my intended charity walk,  some fifteen hundred miles from Lands End to John O'Groats spanning one hundred days of walking and climbing, until the following year, 2016.

However, I most definitely will be able to afford a mere two weeks away from work and therefore I have now settled on walking The Coast to Coast again. In 2012 I walked the one hundred and ninety two miles from St. Bees Head on the west coast to Robin Hoods Bay on the east coast of northern England. Two years ago I completed this moderately tough walk with my good friend Helen Aitchison, also known as indestructible Mrs. Bootcamp. (probably only to me, but I know she doesn't mind the nickname!). It really is a fantastically beautiful walk, spanning no less than three of Britain's loveliest National  Parks.

Some pictures from last time.

High in The Yorkshire Dales, sunshine after the blizzard!                     The sign says it all...

And the snow came fairly hard on the heels of two days of torrential rain! This was on Orton Moor, pretty bleak when the weather is bad!

We did have an extremely mixed bag of weather though, here I am with Helen at around 3000 feet up on March 30th. It was 77 degrees farenheit, and only four days before the big snowfall!

 On the right, there we are at the finish of the walk, the literal and absolute end, as we are stood in The North Sea at Robin Hoods Bay. We had walked just under two hundred miles in twelve days of tough climbing, and raised over two thousand pounds for charity in the process.

So, in around a year's time I shall be doing it again, this time in the opposite direction, east to west. The start is in North Yorkshire and the finish in Cumbria. The route will take me through Thr North York Moors, onwards through The Yorkshire Dales, then finishing with four days' through The Lake District.

Again, I shall be hoping to raise much needed funds for charity, watch this space for more news coming soon!

                                                            Alec Hawkes     20.08.14     

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Beginning to plan the next one.

August 2014, it's now just over a year since I completed my walk from John O'Groats at the top of North East Scotland, all the way down to Land's End in South West Cornwall. I had walked a total of 973 miles in fifty six days of walking, broken only by six rest days along the way. Largely, it was a lot of fun, with a good amount raised for four charities. Two things, however, had tarnished the walk somewhat. Firstly, after Scotland - which was superb - I had picked a pretty naff route through 'middle England', with far too much walking alongside roads. Secondly, the person that I had agreed to joining me on my charity walk turned out to be interested only in shameless self promotion, so fund raising for the charities along the route became difficult, to say the least. That is now buried, done with, and I have learnt from it. The issue with not finding the best route for someone who dislikes flat, boring road and track walking I can also resolve with much better planning. So, here are my ideas for my next go at it, this time going the other way- south to north.

Firstly, I will be sticking very closely to the South West Coast Path as I make my way up from Land's End to the western outskirts of Bristol. This will take me all along the northern coast of both Cornwall and Devon, then into Somerset until the path ends near Minehead. From there I will be forced to steer inland for a day or two, until I can cross the River Severn into Wales. From Chepstow I will pick up Offa's Dyke Way, heading north west towards Brecon. Onwards from there towards Snowdonia, where I will bag Snowdon as the first of The Three Peaks that I'll be climbing along the way.

The picture above being part of The South West Coast Path, near Portreath in Cornwall. You can see the path pretty clearly, and just look at the view - the Atlantic ocean!

After Snowdonia, a few more days to reach the north coast of Wales, then I'll have little choice but to follow less inspiring routes as I head due east to North Derbyshire for a week or thereabouts. I will pick up The Pennine Way at its' start in Edale in The Peak District. The Pennine Way is a long and winding road - the backbone of England - and will take at least two weeks to complete it. The path takes you along the borders between Yorkshire and Lancashire, through stunning scenery and up and down many fells - the kind of walking I adore!

Two contrasting pictures here. The left one is part of the Coast to Coast walk, taken a mere six days after the other one! The weather can change drastically and quickly along this most beautiful of routes. Cringle Moor with laying snow, and Windy Gap, under Great Gable, bathed in warm sunshine.

After a few days walking through another of our National Parks - The Yorkshire Dales - I will then turn north west at Hawes to spend a few days following The Coast to Coast path into yet another beautiful area of our little island, The Lake District. Here I will bag number two of The Three Peaks - Sca Fell Pike - then head north to Carlisle to follow Hadrian's Wall for a couple of days, until I rejoin The Pennine Way just past Haltwhistle. From here, I will head due north through Northumberland National Park and into Scotland. I will need to find a good route to get me between Edinburgh and Glasgow, avoiding roads as much as possible, until I can pick up The West Highland Way just north of Glasgow at Milngavie.

Loch Ness, above, on The Great Glen Way, and on the right The West Highland Way.

The West Highland Way is stunning, beautiful, though I may well steer a path that goes a little higher - over the mountains as opposed to looking up at them! On this stretch I will bag number three peak - the mightily impressive Ben Nevis. On reaching the end of the WHW I will follow The Great Glen Way further north to Inverness, then it will get very interesting indeed. It is at Inverness that I plan to head west instead of north, into the wilderness to plot a route up to the coast without using the busy coast road alongside The North Sea. I hope to reach Dunnet Head after some one hundred days of walking, then stroll the last few miles down and across to my finishing place at John O'Groats.

The total miles plodded will be something over fifteen hundred I think, though as I get the route properly worked out it could be a little either way of that figure. I plan to walk for one hundred days, taking a rest day roughly every ten to twelve days. Mountain hopping can be a little more tiring than flat walking, so this will be taken into account as I plan where exactly to stop.
Last time I took a large bag full of all sorts of things that, in the end, I didn't really need. Getting the bag shifted from stop to stop was a major headache which I most definitely do not want to repeat. This time I will have only what I can easily carry on my back; one change of clothes, one book with my pre-prepared routes all in it, and a few basic provisions. The experience of last time has taught me to just treat every day as a single fifteen mile hike. As long as all of the planning has been thoroughly done, I should not need anything else. I will have the odd small package already wrapped and ready back home (possibly containing spare boots, fresh clothing) then I can call home to ask for the package to be posted to a pre-arranged place a few days ahead of me.

So over the next few months I will be meticulously sorting out my route, though not actually booking anywhere as I am not yet sure whether I will be able to afford it next year, or whether I will have to wait until 2016. I very much hope that it will be next year though, and I will be looking to start in mid-July in Cornwall, finishing in late October at Groats, just before we lose the extra hour's daylight. As for whether next year, or the one after, that depends on getting a little sponsorship in the way of free bed and breakfast at a few places. This I will be working on.

Now, the main reason for wanting to take on this really rather challenging task - to raise money and awareness for excellent charities. My favourite charity in the UK is called Whizz-Kidz. This is what they do:-

As you will see from the link, above, they help disabled children become more mobile and to enjoy and live life!

Also, I very much want to raise awareness - and therefore try to help in some way - about a most awful thing that affects more people than most of us would even know about. Cluster headaches. Please take a look at this you tube video of a cluster headache sufferer. I warn you, it's quite stark and disturbing. I do have the full permission of the poor lady to show the video. 

As you will have seen, it's quite awful that people suffer in this way. So, whatever I can do to help those who suffer from this beast - even just wearing a shirt that might help to raise awareness of this thing - I will very gladly do. What Whizz-Kidz do is also quite marvellous, so in due course I will be setting up a donation page on this blog where those who can afford to can donate to the charity via a safe place like 'Just Giving' the online charity donation site. If I can find a charity that actually provides practical and financial help to sufferers of those beastly cluster headaches as well, then that will be added also.

So there it is, I will endeavour to make my blog of the walk entertaining and include some lovely pictures of the mountains, lochs, rivers and anything else of scenic beauty. Watch this space for updates!

                                                                  Alec Hawkes  August 2014.