Summerhill Glen #OscarWalks

Summerhill Glen #OscarWalks is the first post Oscar and I have done for some time. We’ve been out for walks, of course, but I’ve been away a few times and Oscar had his little operation, which meant we’ve not been out and about around the island as much as we’d have liked. Needless to say, we’re going to be a bit limited for a while, but even close to home, there are some interesting places to go, and one of our favourite places for a daily walk is Summerhill Glen, which is only five minutes from our front door.

 

“Are we going down Summerhill Glen today, Mum? I love Summerhill Glen.”

“We are, Oscar, but I’m afraid we won’t be able to play with any other dogs at the moment. I doubt there will be many about.”

“No, it’s very quiet. I like the quiet, though. Not so many scary cars and lorries on the road. Easier to cross.”

Summerhill Glen has two entrances.  The top entrance is on Victoria Road near Governor’s Bridge, and the main entrance is on Summerhill, just up from Douglas Prom. It was apparently originally named Glen Crutchery. The water from the river was used to provide power to a snuff mill on Strathallan Crescent, but the mill burned to the ground in the late eighteenth century. The road became known as Burnt Mill Hill, and then later, Summerhill from a mansion house at the bottom of Blackberry Lane.

In 1833, the glen was purchased by Douglas Waterworks to provide water for the first Douglas reservoir. The reservoir was still in use in the 1970s, to provide water for washing down the prom, but after a fatal accident, the reservoir was filled in although it is still possible to see where it was. The glen as we know it today was developed in 1932-1933 by young men aged between 18 and 22 on a ‘work for the workless” scheme.  It was then leased by Douglas Corporation. Initially, there was a proposal to call it Waterworks Glen but this was rejected in favour of Summerhill Glen, which I personally think was a good decision.

Summerhill Glen is a beautiful little oasis close to the centre of Douglas, with a series of paths leading between trees and shrubs, alongside a stream with a little waterfall. In the 1980s a fairy grotto was created, and this has been upgraded several times since then, with carved wooden seats and illuminations during the summer season and at Christmas and Halloween.

“I didn’t like the Halloween lights, Mum. That dog.”

“You mean the Moddey Dhoo, Oscar? You got used to him.”

“I know. I don’t mind him now, but when I first saw him, with all that fog around the marsh, and that howling noise, he frightened the life out of me. Now, I just think he reminds me of old Toby.”

“Toby and Joey both loved this glen.”

“And who wouldn’t? There are trees and flowers and bushes and mud and water and ALL THE SMELLS!!!!!”

“There are also a lot of steps and it’s quite steep, Oscar, stop pulling.”

“Sorry. Got a bit excited. What’s that?”

“It’s a waterfall, Oscar.”

One of the advantages of the glen for us, is that we can walk down to the prom and the beach from home. It’s possible, during the summer months, to take the horse drawn tram from the bottom of the glen right down into town, which is a picturesque, if not particularly speedy way to get to the shops. Alternatively, we can just walk along the prom, or take Oscar onto the beach.

 

 

Spring is particularly lovely in the glen, with daffodils and wild flowers forming splashes of colour in the middle of the dense green of the vegetation. The main path is very good, although some of the side paths can get a bit boggy and slippery which can be an issue with an over enthusiastic labrador. Oscar has got so good on the lead now, though, that I don’t have to worry about him.

 

Oscar’s first visit to the cannon at Summerhill Glen. He’s grown a bit since then…

“What are those?”

“Cannon.”

“I’ve seen cannon somewhere else, haven’t I?”

“You have. There were some in the little fort on St Michael’s Isle. I believe these are here because there used to be some kind of fortification here as well, to defend this part of the island.”

“It’s a shame you can’t use them against this virus-thing.”

“Isn’t it just, Oscar? Right, are you ready to walk back up?”

Look at these ones, Mum, they’re quite high. I suppose fairies can fly, though…

“Yes. Can we look at the fairy doors?”

“We can. We should get two with Toby and Joey’s name on one day.”

“And mine?”

“Why not?”

“I like it down here at night, when it’s all lit up. Will that happen this year, Mum?”

“I don’t know, Oscar. It’s a bit different this year, they might not have the summer illuminations. But I think we’ll be back on for Halloween and Christmas.”

“Christmas was my favourite, it was like magic. I’m sure some of those lights looked like fairies.”

“They really did, Oscar. You tried to chase the moving ones. Beautiful. We’ll keep an eye out for the summer though, they might be back on around August time.”

The fairy doors throughout the glen were created by local schools, play groups and other organisations, and they give a real sense of magic to the glen. It’s a favourite activity for  local children to run through the glen spotting new doors and reading out the names on them. Oscar always gives the ones he can reach a good sniff, but he takes them in his stride, unlike my old fella Toby, who always took exception to ANYTHING NEW on one of his regular walks. Over the years, in addition to the fairy doors, he was know to lose it with such disparate items as new rubbish bins, a new bus shelter, a statue of a pig in somebody’s front garden and a Christmas tree on the quay. Toby didn’t like change, whereas I think Oscar has a sense of adventure.

You find fairy doors in the strangest places in Summerhill Glen, those fairies get everywhere
Oscar checking out some of the fairy doors in the glen
Fabulous tree carving at the top of the glen

“Look Mum, it’s the big wooden thing.”

“You mean the tree carving, Oscar. Yes, it’s lovely, isn’t it?”

“I remember coming here when I was a puppy. I loved this tree, there are so many different carvings on it.”

“You were a lot smaller then, Oscar. You couldn’t get up onto this seat back then. Want to have a sit down?”

 

 

Oscar is enjoying having a sit down on the seat which is part of the tree carving.

“Yes. This is such a cool seat. What’s that?”

“It’s an owl.”

“Really? Let me see. I like owls. I got an owl toy for my birthday, didn’t I? I love my owl. Let me see this one close up.”

 

Oscar investigating the owl carving
He really likes this owl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are there any more owls round this side?

“Right, let’s get home, Oscar. I need to get some work done.”

“Will Jon be there?”

“Yes.”

“And Anya?”

“Yes.”

“And Dad and Rachael?”

“Everybody’s working at home for a while, Oscar, they’ll all be there.”

“That’s great. You know, it’s a shame we can’t go far, Mum, but this lockdown isn’t all bad, you know… I think I’ll cuddle my owl when I get home and have a nap.”

“Sounds like a plan, Oscar.”

Oscar and I will be keeping closer to home for a while, but we’re looking forward to the challenge of finding some interesting places for #OscarWalks to investigate nearby. 

Don’t forget that there are eight short historical fiction stories available here, which will give you a flavour of my writing and give you something to do during lockdown.

 

If you enjoyed Summerhill Glen #OscarWalks and want to hear more from Writing with Labradors, or find out about my books, why not follow me on Facebook, Twitter,  Instagram or  Medium?

 

Oscar has grown a bit since this early photo beside the tree carving at the top of the glen
Definitely Larger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Distancing With Labradors

Generally speaking, my posts tend to be related to history, historical novels or dogs, but given that the world around us has changed so much, so quickly over the past weeks, I thought I’d welcome you all to Social Distancing with Labradors, as Oscar has very definite views on what is going on around here.

To bring you all up to date, the Isle of Man now has twenty cases of Covid-19 on the island, and at least one of them appears to have been passed from person to person on the island. We are not yet in total lockdown, as the UK is, but schools, pubs, restaurants and all public places are closed, all events have been cancelled and supermarket shelves are often bare. 

In the house, we have five adults working at home. Two of us are used to it. It’s a new experience for my 21 year old son, who is able to work remotely, while his girlfriend and my daughter are both home from university, struggling to finish work without the use of libraries or looking forward to online teaching. Nothing like this has ever happened to any of us before, and it’s weird.

It has also taken over our lives far too much every slight cough is a cause for temporary alarm. Three of us were in the UK fairly recently which makes us worry more. Most conversations centre around the crisis and we follow news updates with unhealthy enthusiasm. I’ve got a feeling that it’s time to put a stop to that. There’s not much we can do now, and although I know we need to pay attention to any changes in the new laws, it’s not useful to read the opinions of 85,000 armchair experts and then rehash them around the dinner table. Today, at dinner, we’re going to talk about something else.

And then there is Oscar. Walks are still happening, but we’re staying local and well away from other dog walkers and their pooches. We’re lucky enough to have very large gardens at front and back, so we can play fetch and chasing games. More importantly, there are five people here all the time, to play with him and sit with him and cuddle him. Oscar is doing all right.

“So what is going on, Mum?”

“It’s called a virus, Oscar. It can make people very ill, so we’re all staying at home for a while to avoid catching it.”

“Can dogs get it?”

“No.”

“Can you get it?”

“I could.”

“Don’t.”

“I’ll do my best, Oscar.”

“You know what, Mum? It’s not all bad.”

“You think?”

“For me, I mean. I know you all like to go out or go away. But I like it best when you’re all here, with me. The girls haven’t got to go back to that University place for ages, and I get to sit outside with Anya every morning and curl up on the sofa next to Rachael every afternoon. I’m helping her with her work.”

“I bet you are.”

“She says I am. How long will it be like this, Mum?”

“I don’t know, Oscar. We’ll have to wait and see. But you’re right. As a family, so far, we’re doing okay.”

“I love my family, Mum.

“We love you back, Oscar.”

“Even when I’m naughty?”

“Even then.”

“Even when I steal food?”

“Yep.”

“Even when I dig up the lawn?”

“Yep.”

“Even when I sit on your head?”

“Even then.”

“What about when I eat your books?”

“Just about. Don’t do it though.”

Oscar is right, though. There have been positive things about this crisis. My three young people are doing so well, without moaning or complaining. They’re cooking a lot, vying with each other to make great meals and yummy desserts #dietinglater. And we’re all finding that being thrown together for a long time without being able to go out with friends is a lot better than we thought it would be. It turns out that we all get on quite well.

We’re worried of course, not just about our own health, but about friends and family all over the world, and we’re looking forward to better times. In the meantime, I’ve a book and a short story to write, and another project that I’m considering, and Oscar is looking at me with those big “take me for a walk” eyes. so there’s no time to be bored or miserable here at Writing with Labradors.

I can’t help thinking of all the people who read my books and stories and follow the adventures of Oscar online. I really hope you’re all safe and keeping well out there, and like me, looking forward to a return to at least partial normality. I’m working on the new book as fast as I can, and I also have a couple of freebies in the pipeline to keep you entertained. And I’ll keep you up to date on Oscar, who literally just managed to get himself stuck down the side of the garden shed for no logical reason whatsoever.

Keep safe and keep well, everybody. Oscar sends virtual hugs from all of us here at Social Distancing with Labradors.

 

St Michael’s Isle to Derbyhaven #OscarWalks

St Michael’s Isle to Derbyhaven #OscarWalks

Good weather gave us the chance for a beautiful walk in the south of the island. Oscar was on the lead for most of the way, but was able to have a couple of off-lead runs which he loves. I have to tell you in advance that he was a VERY GOOD BOY today.

 

 

 

The old chapel on St Michael’s Isle

St Michael’s Isle, also known in the past as Fort Island, is about 400 metres long and is just off the Langness Peninsula, joined by a narrow causeway and it features in An Unwilling Alliance, when Hugh Kelly takes Roseen to visit. It’s a beautiful place, covered in springy grass and vegetation, surrounded on all sides by a rocky coastline. I’ve been there in a high wind and it’s a wild place, but today was sunny and calm, although freezing, and there were few people about.

“I’ve been here before, haven’t I, Mum?”

“A few times, Oscar. The last time we came, Anya was with us. And Joey.”

“Don’t cry, Mum. He’s all right, really he is.”

“I know that, Oscar. I just miss him.”

“So do I. Do you remember that day, when he ran off?”

Joey and Oscar at Derby Fort last year

“I really do. We were so concerned about you, we kept you on the long lead, but we let him off. He gave us one look and then started waddling at high speed right towards the rocks and Anya had to run after him.”

“He was after a swim, he loved swimming. Can I swim today?”

“Not here, it’s too rocky. Later you can go in at the beach.”

“What’s that, Mum?”

“That’s St Michael’s Chapel, Oscar. It was built in the twelfth century on the site of an older Celtic keeill.”

“A what?”

“A keeill. It’s a Manx Gaelic word for a chapel. Very old.”

“It looks it. What’s that other building over there. It’s broken too.”

“Ruined, Oscar.”

“Ruined. Broken. Whatever. What is it?”

“It’s called Derby Fort, it was built in the 17th century by James Stanley, the 7th Earl of Derby who was Lord of Mann during the English Civil War, to protect what was then the very busy port of Derbyhaven.”

“Doesn’t look that busy now.”

“Nowadays we have an airport, Oscar. Times change.”

“I suppose so. Can I look inside?”

“Through the gate, it’s not open. Over here.”

Interior of Derby Fort

“What’s that?”

“A cannon.”

“A what?”

“A big gun.”

“Oh right. Like the ones at the bottom of Summerhill Glen?”

“That’s right.”

 

“I like it here. Lots of grass and rocks and sea and smells and…what are those flying things that I like to chase?”

“Birds.”

“That’s right.”

“It’s a bird sanctuary.”

“It must be. I never catch them. But look, Mum – DOOOOOGS!!! Can I go and play?”

“Off you go then.”

“Whew, that was fun. They’re not youngsters, those two, but they could run. Although that one waddled a bit like old Joey. Where now?”

“Let’s get your lead back on. We’re going along the coast towards Derbyhaven.”

The walk along the Derbyhaven coast was just over three miles and we were able to do a lot of it on the beach although retreated up to the path or the road where it was too wet or too rocky. Oscar loves the beach, but needs watching as bizarrely, he likes to eat seaweed. This was new to me; neither Toby or Joey would have dreamed of eating anything so nasty and smelly. Recently, Oscar has been learning the valuable command “Leave” and we had the chance to practice this a lot today. It went very well.

“You’re being very good, Oscar.”

“Thanks. What’s that?”

“It’s the back of the airport. When we go away, we sometimes go on airplanes.”

“That’s why I hate airplanes. You should stay here. What’s that big building over there. It’s not broken.”

“Ruined. No, that’s King William’s College. It’s the only public school on the island. Which really means it’s a private school, because you have to pay to go there. I’ve never really understood that.”

“I don’t care. Did Jon go there?”

“No.”

“Did Anya?”

“No.”

“Not an interesting place then. What’s that?”

“It used to be a cafe and bar. I’ve never been in, but I think it’s closed down now.”

“Pity. We could have gone for tea. I like this walk.”

“So do I, it’s very pretty. Right, we’re going to turn back and go up to Hango Hill on the way back.”

“Can I go on the beach?”

“Yes, but don’t eat the seaweed.”

“Okay.”

“Oscar, leave!”

“Sorry.”

“Oscar, leave!”

“Sorry.”

“Oscar, leave it!”

“Sorry, Mum.”

“What is it with you and seaweed? Neither of your brothers ate seaweed.”

“I just like the smell. And the taste.”

“Try not to, Oscar, it’s really bad for your tummy.”

“I’ll do my best. I’ll go and paddle instead.”

“Good idea. A bit cold to swim.”

“Ooh. What’s that?”

“Hango Hill.”

“Eh?”

“It’s called Hango Hill.”

“It’s a very small hill.”

“More of a mound, really, but it’s very old.”

“It’s got another one of those broken buildings on top.”

“You mean ruins?”

“That’s them. You really like ruins, don’t you, Mum? Ruins and books. And dogs, of course.”

“Yes, that pretty much sums me up. Come and see, Oscar.”

Hango Hill is a small mound by the side of the coast road between Castletown and Derbyhaven, overlooking the beach. It was possibly an ancient burial site and a Bronze Age flat axe was apparently discovered there. The name derives from the Norse words for Gallows Hill and was used as a place of execution until the seventeenth or possibly early eighteenth century.

The most famous execution to take place on Hango Hill was that of William Christian, also known as Illiam Dhone, (Brown William) for his participation in the 1651 Manx rebellion against the Derby family who were Lords of Mann at the time.

Illiam Dhone, from the National Art Gallery at the Manx Museum

Christian was a Manx politician of his day and is seen variously as a patriot, a rebel or a traitor. He was appointed as Receiver-General by Derby and when the Earl left for England to fight for Charles II he left Christian in charge of the island militia. Derby was taken prisoner at the Battle of Worcester and his wife,  a redoubtable lady called Charlotte de la Tremouille, who held Castle Rushen for the King, tried to save her husband’s life by negotiating the surrender of the island to Parliament.

The ensuing rebellion, led by Christian in 1651, was partly due to national politics and partly due to local discontent at some of Derby’s new agrarian policies. The rebels took several local forts and Christian then began negotiations with the Parliamentarians. The Countess was forced to surrender Castle Rushen and Peel Castle, and failed to prevent the execution of her husband. Christian remained Receiver-General and became Governor of the Isle of Man in 1656.

Derby’s family did not forgive or forget. Fraud charges were brought against Christian, who fled to England and was imprisoned for a year in London. On his release he chose to return to Mann, believing that his rebellion against the Earl would be covered by the Act of Indemnity, but the new Earl immediately ordered his arrest. Christian refused to plead at his trial, was found guilty and executed by shooting on Hango Hill on 2 January 1663.

Oscar enjoying my lecture about Illiam Dhone

“So what was this place before it was ruined, Mum?”

“I’m not sure, Oscar, but I think it’s the remains of a kind of summerhouse used by the Earl of Derby. It was built after Illiam Dhone’s execution. They used it as a banqueting hall as well, and used to organise horse racing along these dunes towards Langness. I read somewhere that these were the very first “Derby” races. I suppose that’s when they stopped using it for executions.”

“Good thing too. Bet it’s spooky at night.”

“Shall we come down here one evening and see?”

“Not funny, Mum, you know what I’m like in the dark. What does that writing say?”

“It’s just a little bit about the history of the place and Illiam Dhone. Each year, on the anniversary of his death, they have a gathering here and make a speech in the Manx language.”

“I’m surprised you don’t come, it’s the sort of thing you’d do.”

“I might one year. It’s always so cold in January, though.”

“It’s blowing up a bit now.”

“It is. The light’s starting to fade as well, I forget how early it gets dark. Right, back to the car then, we’ll be warmer if we’re walking.”

“Mum. This was a long walk. How far?”

“Probably almost six miles with all the detours and the running around on the beach and the island, Oscar.”

“That’s a long way. I’m going to need a long sleep when I get back. And dinner. I’m starving.”

“Have a biscuit, then. You’ve been such a good boy today, Oscar, I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks, Mum. Won’t be going out next week much, I suppose?”

“No, you’ve got your operation on Friday. But it won’t take long to recover and the weather will be getting better soon. There’s the car. Hop in, baby boy.”

Oscar about to settle for his post-walk nap

Look out for more #OscarWalks posts to come and if you enjoyed this and want to hear more from Writing with Labradors, or find out about my books, why not follow me on Facebook,Twitter,  Instagram or  Medium?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peel #OscarWalks

Peel #OscarWalks is the first of Oscar’s posts for 2020 and he’s very excited about it. Since the appearance of the dog trainer at the end of last year, we’ve been working very hard to get Oscar to behave better on the lead so that we can take him to more interesting places. Peel was a bit of an experiment, but on the whole it worked very well, apart from one minor incident involving Vikings which I’ll leave him to explain for himself.

Peel is a seaside town and small fishing port on the west of the Isle of Man and the third largest town on the island after Douglas and Ramsey. It is a charming little town, with the older part of Peel mostly built of reddish sandstone, the narrow streets of the old fishing and merchant community winding down to the quayside. In the early eighteenth century, Peel had a thriving trade with European ports such as Amsterdam, and by the end of the nineteenth century it was a busy fishing port.

We parked the car at Fenella Beach, at the foot of Peel Hill and the castle and ten minutes was spent walking Oscar up and down the car park to get him to calm down. It didn’t help that it was fairly breezy and the tide was in, with huge waves crashing onto the little beach.

 

“OMG, it’s so exciting. Mum, can I go on the beach and swim?”

“Not today, Oscar, it’s a bit wild. Look at those waves.”

“Those waves are bigger than me.”

“Exactly.” 

“Where are we going, then?”

“We’re going to explore Peel, Oscar. Stop jumping about and we can get going.”

Peel was the capital of the island before 1344 and is still the island’s main fishing port, while St German’s Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Sodor and Man. It it still a pretty seaside resort and has a Victorian promenade and sandy beach. From Fenella Beach, we walked towards Peel Castle which overlooks the town from St Patrick’s Isle. The castle was first built in the eleventh century and is now largely ruined, but definitely worth visiting. There are walkways up around the outside of the castle with a lot of steps, a challenge with an excitable young Labrador but well worth it for the views.

“Mum, stop pulling on the lead!”

“Oscar, it’s you that’s pulling on the lead, I cannot run this. Settle down.”

“Sorry. It’s great up here, I can see for miles. Are those white dots over there sheep?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t like sheep.”

“They’re miles away, Oscar. Come on, let’s go down and walk into town. And calm down a bit, they’ll be thinking the Moddy Dhoo is on the loose up here.”

“I’ve heard of him. Wasn’t he a demon dog?”

“Yes, he’s supposed to haunt Peel Castle. People used to call Toby the Moddy Dhoo”

“Someone called me that down Summerhill Glen one night.”

“I’m not surprised, you frightened the life out of them in the dark. This way.”

“What’s that water?”

“It’s the River Neb.”

“What are those things with big poles?”

“They’re boats, Oscar, there’s a marina here. And some fishing boats. When we first moved to the island, this area was tidal, but in 2005 they built a new floodgate to keep the river water in, so that the moored boats can float at low tide. This way.”

There’s a footbridge over the river, but Oscar and I walked the long way round by the road, skirting the bottom of Peel Hill. The hill was one of my favourite walks with Joey and Toby, but it’s very steep in places and when he was only a little older than Oscar is now, Toby injured himself by taking off after a rabbit and rolling a very long way down the hill, rather like the heroine of An Unwilling Alliance, only with more legs and a tail. I’m going to give it another few months before I take Oscar up there, but we did climb a little way up and sit on one of the benches to admire the view over the town. There’s a lovely woodcarving at the foot of the path, which Toby used to take exception to. Oscar was doubtful, but seemed to accept my word for it that Fenella, the seven foot tall carving, was harmless. After that, following the road round, we arrived on the far side of the river.

“What’s that smell?”

“Smell?”

“Smell? That amazing smell. It’s fantastic. It smells of food. Yummy, yummy food cooking. Where is it? Can I have some? I’m hungry. Muuuummmmm!!!”

Photo by Chris Gunns (Wikimedia)

“Calm down, Oscar, it’s just the kipper smokeries. There are a couple of them here, they smoke kippers the traditional way. You can do a tour of Moore’s to see how the smoking is done, but I doubt I could take a Labrador. I have been though, and it’s really interesting. I agree, the smell is amazing, but I can’t take you to buy kippers today. We’ll get some another day though, I think you’d love them.”

“I already love them and I’ve not eaten them yet. What’s that building?”

“That’s the Manx Transportation Museum, it’s in the old brickworks. I’ve never been inside, but I must do so this summer.”

“Can I come?”

“I’ll find out. This way. Heel, remember.”

“Sorry. It’s that smell. What’s that?”

“That’s the back of the House of Mannanan. It’s one of the best museums on the island, it’s partly a new building and partly built in the old Peel railway station. It covers the history of the island right up to the present and contains Odin’s Raven, which is a two-thirds scale replica of a Viking longship which was built in Norway, and sailed to the island to arrive on 4 July 1979 to celebrate the millennium of Tynwald, the legislature of the Isle of Man. Fascinating.”

“Not sure I’d like museums, but I do like this place, it’s by the sea and it’s got great smells, and it’s…Oh My God, what’s that??????”

“Oscar, calm down, it’s all right, it’s not real.”

“Whaddd’you mean it’s not real? Of course it’s real, I’m looking right at it, it’s right here on the pavement. They’re terrifying! They’re huge! They’re worse than sheep! How did they get here? Why are they walking through walls? Why is nobody doing anything about them? Well I’m not having this, it’s not safe! I’m going to tell them what for! Woof! Woof woof woof! Woof, woof, woof woof, woof!”

“Oscar, calm down, they’re just statues. It’s a sculpture. They’re Vikings.”

“Woof woof woof! Woof, woof, woof woof, woof!”

“Oscar, sit!”

“Woof, woof, woof woof, woof! Woof, woof….OMG what this now? What’s happening to my paws? I’m being attacked from all sides, it’s sharp! Woof, woof, woof woof, woof!”

“Oscar, heel! Over here, now. Come and sit on this bench, have a drink of water and calm down.”

“Woof!”

“That’s enough. Look at you, you’re shaking. Here, have a drink, there’s a water bowl here. That’s better. Are you all right?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Those aren’t real Vikings, they’re statues. The boat itself is inside the museum, and they’ve carried on the Viking theme out here, which is why it looks like they’re coming through the walls. I know they made you jump but they’re no more real than the two statues of the dogs outside that house at the top of our road.”

“I barked at them too.”

“I know, but you don’t any more, because you know they’re not real.”

“My paws hurt.”

“It’s just a gravel pathway around the display, I think the stones were a bit sharp and you were jumping on them. There, are you calm now?”

“Yes. Sorry.”

“It’s all right. Had enough Vikings?”

“More than enough.”

“Lets walk along the prom. If the sea is calm enough, you can have a paddle.”

Peel Beach was one of my favourites when the children were young. It’s very sandy, with a good kiosk serving food, drinks and ice creams, and it’s just over the road to Davison’s Ice Cream Parlour. Oddly enough, though, it’s not brilliant for building sandcastles, the consistency of the sand isn’t quite right. Still, Oscar doesn’t mind that, and a good splash in the sea soothed his paws and restored his equilibrium.

By Petepetepete (Wikimedia Commons)

From there, we walked up through the narrow streets of the town towards St German’s Cathedral. This is no bigger than a large church, but it’s very pretty and has a very welcoming feel to it. Churches vary when it comes to allowing dogs, but I wasn’t going to chance it anyway with Oscar, in case he saw a religious statue that he took a dislike to, it seemed to be a bit of a theme today. Instead, we walked all around the outside, admiring the work that’s been done on the new gardens. A series of seventeen small gardens are being developed within the grounds; twelve will tell the story of the island and how Christianity has affected it and five will have special themes. I’ve been enjoying watching this develop and Oscar seemed to enjoy the peace and quiet after his encounter with Vikings.

“Are you getting tired, Oscar?”

“A bit. It’s been a great day, though.”

“Come on, let’s walk back to the car along the prom.”

“What’s that building, Mum?”

“That’s the Leece Museum. It used to be the old courthouse and gaol and it has exhibitions about the history of Peel, it’s very interesting. One day, I’m going to do a post or two about the island museums, but I’ll have to do that without you, I don’t think they’d cope with you in a museum, and frankly the idea terrifies me.”

“I don’t mind. They’re probably all full of Vikings. And Fenellas. And possibly sheep.”

“Here we are, back at the car. Hop in.”

“Might have a sleep on the way back, Mum.”

“Go ahead, Oscar. You’ve been a very good boy. I’ve got work to do when I get back, so you can have a snooze on the sofa.”

“Where are we going next week?”

“I don’t know. Castletown, perhaps. We could get pizza for lunch.”

“Castletown it is then!”

Look out for more #OscarWalks posts to come and if you enjoyed this and want to hear more from Writing with Labradors, why not follow me on Facebook, Twitter,  Instagram or  Medium?

Christmas 2019 #OscarWalks

Christmas 2019 #OscarWalks is a special edition to give Oscar the opportunity to with you all a Merry Christmas from everybody at Writing with Labradors. This is a special festive edition of #Oscar Walks. A combination of the weather and the Christmas season has meant that walks have been short and sweet for a few days, but that doesn’t mean Oscar hasn’t been having an adventurous life and I know he has a few things to say.

 

 

It’s been a very different Christmas for me in one way; the first one in thirteen years where I’ve not had Joey walking behind me. Toby was never very interested in Christmas until the turkey appeared, but Joey was a big fan. He loved having loads of people around to make a fuss of him and was always prepared to let us dress him up for the occasion. I missed him very much this year.

Luckily, Oscar seems to share Joey’s enthusiasm for the season and has been full of the Christmas spirit over the past week, so I’ll hand over to him to tell you what’s been going on.

What’s been going on? What’s been going on? I’ll tell you what’s been going on. Persecution, that’s what! Persecution, false accusations and fake news!

You sound like a combination of Sir Home Popham and Donald Trump, Oscar. What’s upset you?

You know very well what’s upset me, Mum. That man. That person. That individual who came into the house on Monday.

You mean the dog trainer, Oscar.

Yes.

I’m sorry you’re offended, but I did explain that I need a bit of help with teaching you to walk nicely on the lead. And to come back when I call you.

I am very good on the lead. I always respond when you say heel.

You do. It’s just that I have to say it four thousand times in a ten minute walk, it’s exhausting.

Exaggeration. And defamation of character. I could sue.

Anyway, you liked the dog trainer. He gave you loads of treats and played with you and you’re already getting better.

You told me I was already perfect.

You are, Oscar. I just need you to be a little more obedient. And to come when I call you.

I already do that.

Except when you see another dog.

Well, obviously, I have to be civil to them.

Or when you’ve found an interesting smell.

That can be very distracting. It might be food.

Or when you see anything new or interesting.

Except sheep. I always come back if there’s a sheep.

That’s true, you’re the opposite of most dogs. Still, a bit of extra training will benefit both of us.

Bah.

Anyway, this was supposed to be about Christmas. Your second Christmas, Oscar. How’s it been so far?

Fantastic. Excellent. Wonderful. Know what I like about Christmas? 

No.

Everybody’s here. None of this going off to work, or school, or University nonsense. Everyone’s here, mostly in the same room, we all get to eat really good food at weird hours of the day and night, watch TV, play some silly games and snuggle up by the fire.

Yes, that pretty much sums up Christmas.

And visitors. Loads of people in and out of the house all the time. They bring cards and presents and most of them give me cuddles and feed me treats. And some bring dogs. I met Roy. I liked Roy. He reminded me a bit of Toby only much smaller and different colours and different fur.

So not that much like Toby at all?

Well he was grumpy with me and growled at me a few times but didn’t really seem to mind when I teased him. Toby was like that to start with but then he got used to me and would let me play with him. Of course Joey let me climb all over him from day one.

He was soft with you. Like the rest of us.

That’s what the dog trainer said. And I got presents. Loads of treats and two new toys. Three, if you count the reindeer you gave me on Christmas Eve. No FOUR if you count the duck that Rachael brought home for me. I LOVE my new toys. And there are lots of pretty lights around, and indoor trees with things hanging off them that I’m not allowed to touch. But they look nice. And the fire’s always lit, which is my favourite.

I’m glad you approve of Christmas. 

Mind you, it’s a bit tiring. What’s happening next, Mum?

Well, next week is New Year and Jon and Anya are having a party, so there’ll be lots of your favourite people here that evening. And after that it’s back to work and Anya and Rachael will go back to University.

Boo. Don’t like that.

I know, Oscar, but they’ll be back. And I’ve got lots of exciting walks planned so you can practice what you’ve been learning from the dog trainer before we see him again.

Can I show him my new toys?

You’ve showed them to everyone else, Oscar, so I expect so. Right, say Happy Christmas to your fans, and we’ll brave the rain for a quick walk now.

Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year, everybody! Is that right, Mum?

Close enough, Oscar. Merry Christmas, baby boy.

Merry Christmas, Mum.

Christmas photo of Oscar on his hind legs getting cuddles, in direct contravention to Dog Trainer’s instructions #ahwellitsChristmas #willdobetter

 

Next week it’s back to work on book 6 of the Peninsular War Saga with Oscar’s expert help and advice from his sofa in my study. For more history, humour, fiction and Labradors why not follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Medium.

 

 

 

 

St Adamnan’s Church and Groudle Glen #OscarWalks

St Adamnan’s Church and Groudle Glen #OscarWalks

St Adamnan’s Church

There was a slight delay in the opening post of Oscar’s weekly adventures, because of the sad loss of Joey. We’ve all been struggling a bit with this, but Oscar and I agree that it’s time to get back into action again. Joey was very enthusiastic about the new series, and gave us some excellent suggestions in the weeks before he died. According to Oscar, he is still getting excellent suggestions from both Joey and Toby, many of which seem to involve stealing food from kitchen surfaces and trying to get books down off my shelves. I’m not sure about this. Either Oscar is a Medium and is receiving messages from the doggie spirit world or he thinks he can blame his crimes onto his departed brothers. Could be either, really.

View from St Adamnan’s Church, Lonan

Anyway, we did these two walks a few weeks back. Oscar loves Groudle Glen and beach and I wanted to walk up to St Adamnan’s Church and take a few photos since both these locations featured in my Christmas story, Colby Fair. We’d had five days of rain and then unexpectedly, after lunch, the sun came out and it was a beautiful, cold afternoon when we parked and set off up a narrow road towards the church.

”Where are we going, Mum?”

“We’re visiting a church, Oscar.”

“What’s a church?”

“It’s a building where people go to pray.”

“Do dogs pray?”

“I don’t know, Oscar. You’d have to ask some other dogs.”

“I’ll ask Joey. And Toby. Toby must know this stuff. He knows a lot more than he did when he was alive.”

“It would be hard for him to know less. Stop pulling, Oscar.”

“Sorry. What’s that smell? And that one? And that one and…what’s that?”

“It’s a sheep. Don’t worry it.”

“It’s enormous. It’s worrying me.”

“You’re not like Joey, I must say, he’d have been trying to get over that gate to visit the sheep.”

“I always knew Joey was brave. I’m not going near that thing. What’s that?”

“It’s the church.”

“It’s broken.”

“It’s partly ruined, Oscar. Come and have a look round.”

There has been a church on this site since the middle of the fifth century, and it was probably a centre of pagan worship before that. The first church or keeill was built by travelling monks on a main pack horse road between Douglas and the north. There was a well with running water and it was close to two good landing beaches. The church was rebuilt a number of times and remained the parish church until 1733 when parishioners complained that the location was inconvenient, and it was decided to build a new parish church in a more central position. 

After the new church was built, which took almost 100 years, St Adamnan’s fell into disrepair, but fortunately was not demolished. It was rediscovered when John Quine became Vicar of Lonan in 1895 and he set out to restore the ancient building.

“Why doesn’t this half have a roof?”

“It’s a ruin. This is the old part of the church. The other part was restored later on, it’s still a church.”

“With a roof.”

“That’s right.”

“Can we go in?”

“If you promise to be very good. I’d like to take some photos.”

“Of me?”

“Not this time, Oscar.”

“Good. I HATE posing for photos when I’m out, I don’t like standing still.”

“I can see that.”

“Mum. Bored now.”

“All right. Let’s have a quick look round the churchyard and then we’ll drive down to Groudle. There are some Celtic Crosses here.”

“Boring. Can we walk to Groudle?”

“We could, but we’re going in the car.”

“Boring.”

“Because it will be dark soon, and you don’t like walking when it’s very dark.”

“Who does? It’s full of shadows and weird shapes and those big woolly things.”

“Sheep, Oscar.”

“That’s ‘em. Don’t trust ‘em.”

Groudle Glen is close to Onchan and is formed in a valley leading down to a small beach. It was developed as a tourist attraction in the nineteenth century when it was planted with a variety of trees. In its Victorian heyday there were bowling and croquet greens, a holiday camp on the headland and a water wheel. The wheel was still visible until very recently, when it was removed for restoration. There was a refreshment kiosk, a bandstand and at the edge of the glen, a small zoo featuring sea lions and polar bears, created by damming a small cove. This was reached by a narrow gauge steam railway, which still exists today and is run by a dedicated team of volunteers.

The glen was a major tourist attraction in Victorian times, with a dance floor, a bandstand, a playground, stalls, kiosks and even a fortune teller. Most of these have now disappeared apart from the railway, and the glen today consists of peaceful footpaths which are much frequented by dog walkers.

“DOOOOOOOGS! I love coming down here. There are smells and water and a beach and trees and paths and mud and other DOOOOOGS!”

“Calm down, Oscar. You’re supposed to be giving our readers a description of the glen and the beach from a Labrador’s point of view.”

“I am. DOOOOOOGS! TREEEEES! All the SMEEELLLLLS! And no sheep. I hate sheep.”

“I know, Oscar. Some dogs chase sheep, you know.”

“Not me.  I hide when I see sheep.”

“I know. Behind me. Last week you nearly tripped me up by wrapping the lead round my legs when you saw a sheep. It was half a mile away on the other side of a fence.”

“It looked at me funny. OMG it’s the SEEEEAAA!!! Swimming! Throw the ball, Mum! Further than that! Aren’t you coming in, it’s great!!!”

“Maybe in the summer, Oscar.”

“Do sheep swim?”

“Not willingly.”

“Good. That’s why I love the sea.”

“Come on, Oscar, I want to walk up the path to the railway track before it’s dark to take a photo. You could do with a run to dry off a bit.”

“I don’t need to dry. I’m a Labrador, we like water. I can run round like this all day.”

“Good boy.”

“Mum…I’m cold.”

“Back to the car then, Oscar. I’ve got your towel there. Was that a good walk?”

“Great. Where next?”

“We’ll have to wait and see.”

“Tired now…”

Look out for more #OscarWalks posts to come and if you enjoyed this and want to hear more from Writing with Labradors, why not follow me on Facebook, Twitter,  Instagram or  Medium?

 

 

Happy Birthday to An Unconventional Officer

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s armyHappy Birthday to An Unconventional Officer.
Two years ago today, this book was published. It wasn’t the first book I had written or published, but it was the first in the Peninsular War Saga and the book that meant the most to me. I had dreamed of writing this series for years, had dabbled with it and then put it to one side. Life took over, I had two children, day jobs, a home to run and two labradors to adore. It seemed to me that since Bernard Cornwell raced to the top of the bestsellers charts with his Sharpe novels, there had been so many books written about the Napoleonic Wars that there was no space for mine and certainly no market for my slightly eccentric take on them.
When the book was finally written, I discovered that publishers and agents agreed. This period, it seemed, had been done to death. Nobody was interested any more, in Sharpe’s fellow officers and their adventures through the Iberian Peninsula. Certainly nobody was going to be interested in a series of novels which committed the ultimate crime of being difficult to place within a genre.
“Too much war. Why not write a proper romance?”
“Too much romance. Stick to the battles. Oh, and use your initials, that way people might think you’re a man.”
“Too much history. People don’t read books like this for the history. Cut it down and add more battle scenes. Or romance.”
“Not enough history. None of your characters spend enough time describing their uniforms, their weapons and their kit. The only people who read this sort of thing are re-enactors and they want a lot of detail”
“Your hero isn’t enough of an Alpha male and your heroine is too masculine in her outlook.  He’s got too much money, he should earn his commissions not buy them. And she can’t come from the industrial north, it’s not that kind of book. Maybe she should have a title and he could have come up from the ranks. That might do better…”
“Cut it down, change the characters and try Mills and Boon.”
Readers, I haven’t made any of those up. I still have the letters and e-mails. Eventually, I was left with a simple choice. Either I would continue to write the books for my own entertainment and Paul, Anne, Johnny and Carl would never see the light of day, or I would take a chance and try independent publishing. I did it and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Peninsular War Saga hasn’t become an overnight bestseller. I wish it had. I’ve no advertising budget and no experience in marketing, so I’ve sold books one at a time. It’s been a painstaking process, and I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve discovered a whole new world of interesting people online and I’ve made some friends for life.
And I’ve sold books. Gradually, painfully, the numbers have got better. I’ve never given away review copies, so the reviews have trickled in, but I value every one. Most have been excellent. One or two have been awful. I’ve learned that it’s okay that some people don’t like my books and I don’t die of it.
These days, I call myself a writer and I’m lucky enough to be able to make this my job. It’s not amazingly well-paid, but it’s more fun than working in an office. I’ve had ten books published, five in the main series and one in a linked series. Every book is meticulously researched and I love that part of the process. I’m very proud of what I do.
Today is my birthday, but it’s also the birthday of the Peninsular War Saga, and I suppose the birthday of Paul van Daan. Paul came into being gradually, little more than a boy when I first met him, growing up before my eyes. At times, he irritates the hell out of me; he won’t always do what I want him to do, he’s full of opinions and he pushes himself in where he’s not supposed to be. He was supposed to make a cameo appearance in An Unwilling Alliance and ended up as the third main character in the book. 
These days, Paul is part of my life. I hear his voice in my head more often than you would believe. Writing him is incredibly easy, he has a distinctive way of looking at the world, and he makes me laugh and makes me cry. Readers often ask me if there is much of me in Anne. There’s a bit, but there’s a lot more of me in Paul.
I’m so grateful to the people who have helped me along the way. First and foremost, my family. My husband, Richard, has been my biggest cheerleader from the first, content to spend hours setting up my website, designing my fabulous covers and telling me what’s wrong with my plots. I always ignore him. My son Jon, blissfully unaware as a young adult and not much of a reader, who nevertheless was immensely proud to discover that a friend’s grandmother was reading my books and loving them. My daughter Anya, a fellow history lover who laughs at my passion for Wellington, threatens to feed my favourite books to the dogs, shares my study and brings me joy every day of my life. And my sister, Patricia, who is faintly surprised that her little sister has it in her to do anything this interesting, but always encouraging. I love you all.
Then there are the Labradors. We lost Toby last year, halfway through the last book, and I miss him still every day. Joey, my old yella fella, his snores the accompaniment to my working day. And Oscar, my baby, who makes me get up and get some exercise in between chapters and who has taken over my sofa as if he owns it.
All my friends and family have been supportive, but one or two people stand out as always. Heather Paisley, my best friend for more years than either of us care to remember, never fails to say the right thing. Suzy Holland, who was astonished to find I could write and has discovered an undiscovered enthusiasm for military history. Jacqueline Reiter, whom I met online, and is clearly my long lost younger sister, has helped with research and is my ultimate beta reader; she lets nothing go. And Kristine Hughes Patrone, who with Jacqueline, reads every snippet I send her, laughs at all my favourite lines, and loves Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington as much as I do. Through doing this, I have found my people.
My next plan, other than finishing the current work in progress, This Blighted Expedition, is to get all the books in the Peninsular War Saga out in paperback before the end of this year. Hopefully, that will introduce Paul, Anne and the others to readers who haven’t met them yet.
I am an incredibly lucky woman to be able to spend my working day doing something I love as much as this. Occasionally, I like to be able to say thank you, and An Unconventional Officer will be available on Amazon kindle free for three days, on 4th, 5th and 6th June. Many of you have already read it, but please share this with people who haven’t.
Finally, I’d like to thank my readers. You are the most amazingly loyal and supportive bunch in the world. You’re quite shy, most of my contact with you is in private message or e-mail, but you follow my facebook page and twitter,  and buy my books. I’m so grateful to each and every one of you. I love your passion for the period, the history and the characters, you pepper me with questions and never fail to point out a typo or a mistake. I’m not sure if mainstream authors with huge advertising budgets and publishers to manage their contact with readers get half the joy I do every time one of you sends me a question I don’t have an immediate answer to and have to look up.  I love each and every one of you. Thank you.
The Peninsular War Saga is two years old today and going strong. There are many more books to come and possibly some other linked novels. Happy Birthday to Paul, Anne and the rest of the 110th Light Infantry. And gracious thanks to Lord Wellington, for taking an insignificant, over-confident and  very talented young officer under his wing on a hillside in India and for remaining a brilliant, grumpy and entertaining part of my story ever since.
 

Joey the Brave

It’s been a stressful day at Writing with Labradors and the result of this is that my blog post about the Wellington Congress has been postponed in favour of the story of Joey the Brave, hero of the great Millennium Oak Wood battle of 2019.

Walking my dogs can be a slightly complicated matter these days, since Joey and Oscar have very different needs. Joey, at almost thirteen and with severe arthritis, and let us be honest, a bit of extra weight, cannot go the distance with one year old Oscar who can run all day. At the same time, the dogs love to be together and when I leave the house with Oscar, Joey will scrabble at the front door to try to join us.

My solution to this is to take Oscar on a long walk daily, and then to take the two of them out together two or three times a week, to a spot where Oscar can race around and Joey can just mooch. Beaches are good for this, but for a short trip I often drive up to Millennium Oak Wood which is a park in Douglas.

The park is usually packed with dog walkers. You get to know some of them by sight, usually finding out the names of dogs before owners. Most are very friendly. Some will be kept on the lead, a bit more wary. Since Oscar came on the scene, I’m very conscious that he can be a bit boisterous and always keep treats and the lead to hand in case he upsets another dog.

I’ve heard stories of dogs being attacked by other dogs and have always considered myself very lucky that in all my years as a dog owner it has never happened to me. Today it did.

The dog was off the lead and his owner a fair way off, absorbed in her mobile phone. I’m guessing that her dog had never been aggressive before or presumably she’d have been more wary. The dog, which looked like a collie cross of some kind, was bouncy and definitely interested in Oscar. There was a lot of leaping around, as there often is, but no barking and no sign of aggression. And then quite suddenly, with no warning, the dog went for Oscar, its teeth at his neck, and pinned him to the ground.

It was one of those moments when time goes slowly. I was moving towards them, running and yelling. The dog’s owner was shouting although she made no attempt to move towards her dog to haul it off. I think I’d decided to give the dog a kick to try to scare it off, but I had no time to do so.

Something large and yellow and far too fat to run went past me at high speed and crashed into the dog, teeth bared and snarling. The collie let go of Oscar, who was yelping in pain, and turned, suddenly realising that our local pensioner had his teeth around its leg. It panicked, backed off, and finally ran to its shrieking owner.

I was kneeling down, trying to check if Oscar was injured, when I realised that the dog owner had taken off at a run, with her dog, out of the gate of the park. I will never understand why she didn’t stop to check that we were all right. Somebody else did, a really nice young guy with a huge dog, who walked me back to the car park to check we were all right. By the time we got there, Joey could barely walk, his back leg dragging after his unexpected charge. I wish I’d thought to ask the young man’s name, he was such a star.

Back home, and Joey was dosed with extra painkillers and given lots of love and praise. Oscar was definitely jumpy for a bit but is calm now. He’s not hurt, I think his very solid collar took the worst of it, there were marks on that. I’m a bit worried about how he’ll be the next time I take him out but I’m sure he’ll settle. Joey was uncomfortable for a while but has settled down and is snoring peacefully.

Joey and Oscar don’t tend to share a bed any more; they’re just too big and it wouldn’t be comfortable. But adorably, this afternoon when they got back, Oscar clung to Joey as if he was a puppy again. And Joey let him.

I’m so thankful that it wasn’t worse, and so grateful for the young man who helped us. Writing with Labradors reports that the company is intact, with only slight damage. Their report is as follows:

At approximately 16.00 hours the enemy attacked an outpost guarded by Lieutenant Oscar. For a short time it looked as though the lieutenant might be overwhelmed, but a surprise attack led by Colonel Joey caused the enemy to retreat in disarray. The commander-in-chief commends the bravery of Colonel Joey who will be mentioned in dispatches.

All troops have been checked over by the regimental surgeon and pronounced fit for duty, after some rest.

Writing about Writing

Writing about writing is something I rarely do. Most of my blog posts are either historical or centre around life with Labradors on the Isle of Man. I’ve read some fantastic posts about the writing process from other authors, but I’d rather come to the conclusion that I’m not particularly introspective when it comes to my own work. I love what I do, but I don’t spend a lot of time analysing it and I dread the interview question “what made you become a writer?”. The best answer I could give to that is “I couldn’t help it.”

Recently, however, something has happened to change my outlook on this. I was asked to teach a creative writing course as an evening class at the University College Isle of Man. This was a new experience for me, although I’ve done training and work in schools, but the idea of designing a course was irresistible. It was a short course, really just to test the water, four weeks on writing fiction, but it has made me think about my writing in a way that I don’t think I have before.

The course ended this week and seems to have been a great success; I really enjoyed it and I think the participants did too. I’ve been astonished at how much I’ve learned from working with them and watching their process as they began their stories, met their characters and studied themes and plot and dialogue. But best of all, it has made me go back and revisit some of my books, thinking again about how and why I do what I do.

The Reluctant DebutanteIn order to teach something, you have to be able to break it down and I’ve found it easier to do this, as I’ve recently been working on revising one of my earliest books. The Reluctant Debutante was a Regency romance which I originally wrote when I was trying the traditional publishing route, and it was designed for the Mills and Boon historical market. I was unsuccessful with it, although it did get some very positive feedback.

When I decided to try self-publishing, I had no idea what I was doing, so I chose to publish my three standalone novels first, using them to test the waters before publishing the Peninsular War Saga. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of sales and did no real publicity. The first two books bombed as much as I had expected, but the third, my Regency romance, began to sell. I tried a free promotion and the uptake was huge. A few reviews trickled in and a few Goodreads ratings. Off the back of that, I began to get some sales of the other two books. Surprisingly, although never a bestseller, The Reluctant Debutante was my most popular book for a long time; a tribute to the enduring popularity of the Regency genre.

I’ve explained elsewhere why I was never really happy with that book. Occasionally I would get another review, many of them good and one or two absolutely terrible. Like all authors, I hate bad reviews, but I’ve learned to take them philosophically. My problem with this book, was that I kind of agreed with them.

After the publication of An Untrustworthy Army and before really getting stuck in to writing This Blighted Expedition I finally decided to do something about The Reluctant Debutante. I’d not read it through since I published it, and doing so was something of a shock to my system. It wasn’t that there was anything fundamentally wrong with the plot, it’s just that it really wasn’t very well written. The dialogue, always my strong point, was the best part although I don’t think it represented the characters as it should have. But the point of view was all over the place, the structure was messy and there was no clue as to the theme, even though I knew what it was in my head.

I’ve been revising this book along with teaching my course, and doing so has been incredibly useful, as it enabled me to break down the book and look at it in the way I was encouraging my students to do with their own writing. In the end, I didn’t need to change as much as I thought I would. I let the characters tell their story, but I was far clearer about the story they were telling. I gave them a voice, not just in the words they spoke but also in the thoughts they had, the internal dialogue which is so clear in some of my later books but which I seemed to have missed out entirely in this early effort.

I’m cautiously pleased with the result, and given that Giles is a minor character in the Peninsular War Saga and has a major role to play in my current book, I’m happy now, with the way he’s turned out. Part way through the first draft of This Blighted Expedition, I’m conscious of how much I’m applying some of the lessons I’ve learned to my new story.

You can write a very good book without reading a thing about crafting fiction. But personally, I think the work I’ve done in the classroom with my students, has made me a better writer. Certainly it has made me a more self-aware writer. I’m deeply grateful to them for their questions and contributions and endless curiosity about the writing process, both mine and theirs. I hope they all come back for another course and I really hope they all carry on writing. Every one of them has a different style and a different sphere of interest, but I think they have talent. I’m so grateful to University College Isle of Man for giving me the opportunity to teach this course and I hope to do more in the future.

“When one teaches, two learn.” (Robert Heinlein)

 

Happy New Year from Writing with Labradors

 

Happy New Year from Writing with Labradors and welcome to 2019.

It feels like more than a year since I wrote my first blog post of 2018. So much has happened during the year, both personally and professionally, that it’s hard to know where to start, but as always, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know more of my readers, both in person and online, and I love the fact that more and more people are beginning to contact me through the website and following me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

2018 saw the publication of two new books. The first of these, which came out in April, was An Unwilling Alliance. This book is the first of a new series, following the career of Captain Hugh Kelly RN, a fictional Manx Royal Navy captain during the Napoleonic Wars. It is also part of the Peninsular War Saga, slotting in approximately between books one and two, telling the story of Paul van Daan and the 110th during the Copenhagen campaign of 1807. I was able to set part of the book on the Isle of Man, where I live, and I loved being able to talk about the island to a wider audience.

The second book of 2018 was An Untrustworthy Army, book six of the Peninsular War Saga. It tells the story of Wellington’s Salamanca campaign and the miserable retreat from Burgos at the end of 1812. For some reason, I found this book very difficult. Partly, it was because my fictional brigade is part of the light division which was unusually not very active during much of this campaign. Partly, I think it was because the end of the campaign was genuinely so miserable, that it was hard to tell the story without sinking into unrelieved gloom. I think I managed it eventually, but it took a while. Fortunately, Craufurd the Dog stepped in with a bit of light relief. There were also goats.

The Bridge at OrthezRichard and I went on a tour of the Pyrenees in April, to research Vitoria and the Pyrenees campaigns. We had a great time and toured a few battlefields although I suspect we ate and drank rather better than Wellington’s army in 1813. I’m really looking forward to the next few books, as the Pyrenees give a lot of scope for the 110th to really get itself into trouble. We also spent a week in Northern Ireland in the summer, which was beautiful and set off a whole new sub-plot involving the United Irishmen and Michael O’Reilly in my over-active brain. Watch this space for that one, it’s happening sometime.

I wrote three new short stories this year. An Impossible Attachment was written for Valentine’s Day and tells the story of an unlikely romance between a French prisoner of war and the widow of an English officer in Portugal in 1812. The Quartermaster was a Halloween ghost story set in Ciudad Rodrigo in 1812 and The Christmas After tells the story of eight people thrown together on a winter’s journey by mail coach in 1815 who find common ground in their memories of the battle of Waterloo; it completes the story begun in An Impossible Attachment.

In October, I was invited to join a panel of historical novelists speaking at the Malvern Festival of Military History and it was a great experience to be up there alongside some of the best in the genre. The bonus was that I got to spend the weekend listening to a fantastic line up of historians, culminating with the wonderful Paddy Ashdown talking about his latest book.

On a personal level, it has been a mixed year at Writing with Labradors. Luka, our leopard gecko died early in the year at the age of twelve. She was my son’s eighth birthday present and for many years her tank lived in his room. Later she moved into my study and would sit watching me work for hours, during the evenings after her feed.

 

 

 

In May, our lives were lit up by the arrival of Oscar, our new baby black labrador. Oscar is completely gorgeous and has fitted into our family as if he’d always been there. He and Joey bonded immediately and are completely inseparable. Toby was a bit more aloof to start with, but quickly fell in love, and the three of them had the most marvellous time through the early summer months. The weather was hot and sunny and we practically lived outside, reading, writing and watching the three dogs playing.

 

Back on his feet…

We had a fright in June when Joey, our twelve year old yellow labrador’s back legs suddenly gave out, and we had a couple of days of sheer misery, wondering how serious the problem was, and if we were going to lose him. It turned out to be a false alarm, it was arthritis, and stronger pain relief and joint supplements very quickly got him back on his feet.

I’ll never forget that summer, because it turned out to be Toby’s last. The amazing weather continued, the kids’ exams were over, and we spent every minute we could outside in the sun. My daughter asked for a hammock for her birthday in July and it became Oscar’s new playground, leaping through the air to join her as she lay there reading, while the older dogs watched, looking as though they were laughing. I was working on the new book, enjoying all of us having time to be together, enjoying Oscar becoming an essential part of family life.

On July 23rd I worked in my study in the morning, but all three dogs wanted to play, so we moved outside and I sat working on the porch while they ran around chasing each other. They collapsed finally for a long nap, woke for dinner and then sat with us on the porch again until after dark. We said goodnight and went to bed. The following morning Toby was lying peacefully in his usual spot and I didn’t even realise he was dead until I touched him. It was a horrible shock; he was fourteen but other than his arthritis, seemed really well and there was no warning.

Despite the shock, it was a very peaceful end and although we miss him desperately, I’m so grateful for that. I was worried about Joey but although he missed Toby, I’m thankful that we had already got a new puppy, as it made the transition much easier for him. Once again, Writing with Labradors is down to two dogs, although Toby is close by and will always hold a very special place in my heart.

So what’s next? I’m planning a busy year in 2019, with the following projects on the go:

  • My next book is the second about Hugh Kelly and tells the story of the disastrous Walcheren campaign of 1809. As with Copenhagen, this was a joint operation with the army and navy. Paul van Daan is busy in the Peninsula with Wellesley, but the 110th has a second battalion and I’m looking forward to getting on with the research and meeting my new characters. I don’t have a publication date for this one yet, as the subject is completely new and I can’t yet tell how long the research will take. I intend to go to Walcheren for a research trip and I’m very much hoping to be there in August for the 210th anniversary re-enactment.
  • I’m attending the Wellington Congress in Southampton in April to indulge myself in learning more about my favourite general and to meet up with some good friends.
  • I’m hoping to attend the Malvern festival again.
  • I’m starting a new venture this year, teaching some adult education classes in history and creative writing at the Isle of Man College.
  • I’m aiming for four free short stories this year, to celebrate Valentine’s Day, Summer, Halloween and Christmas.
  • I’m hoping to make a good start on (possibly even to finish) Book 6 of the Peninsular War Saga, which is set during winter quarters of 1812-13.
  • The Peninsular War Saga will be available in paperback, initially from Amazon, but later in the year from some local bookshops and to purchase through my website.
  • A complete revamp of my website.
  • New editions of the two books of the Light Division romances series, to connect them more closely to the Peninsular War Saga.

With all this to look forward to, 2019 is going to be a busy year here at Writing with Labradors. Thanks so much to all of you who have read and enjoyed the books, and a special thanks to those who have left reviews. I really value them.

Have a happy and healthy new year and I look forward to hearing from many of you in 2019.

With much love

Lynn, Joey and Oscar