Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Frozen Gothic

A few weeks ago, I penned a short ghost story for Christmas, inspired by Hesketh Park, a Victorian gem in Southport.

A Walk in the Park features a sinister frozen lake ... Since then, I've been fixated on frozen lakes, rivers, canals ... The weather has been chilly, and every time I'm out with the dogs, I take my camera, in the hope of catching some more Gothic versions of a winter wonderland.

Today, I was up at Guy's Cliffe Walled Garden where I've joined the volunteers helping to restore the kitchen garden. On the way back, I dropped by Guy's Cliffe House, which was a monochrome marvel. (I'm more familiar with the place in summer, for it inspired another book, The Lost Orchid.)

It looks as if the photos are in black and white, but they're not. The chilly winter sun bleached out all the colour. I've already plotted out a sequel to the short story - and I'm busy working on the sequel to The Lost Orchid. As I crunch along the frozen paths in Warwickshire, in my mind I'm tackling mad pteridomaniacs and naughty anarchists in the deepest Trossachs ...

A Walk in the Park has been downloaded hundreds of times. Thanks! Find it free on Smashwords.

  By Pamela Kelt

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Festive writing

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Here's a quick glimpse of how I 'pimped' my desk in Yuletide fashion. The blue LEDs are particularly good fun.

I might just have to keep these lights after the festive season.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Ice Trekker - cover success!

The dazzling cover design for my YA fantasy Ice Trekker is in the top 20 of 2014 indie children’s covers. A big thank you to my cover designer, Marion Sipes.

It's is wild adventure in the frozen wastes of  Krönagar ... Monsters, myths and mayhem.

So, what's the story all about?

Ice Trekker is a teen fantasy, set in a far-off land, inhabited by friendly Grells and their not-so-friendly rivals, the ruthless Minax.

But the Grells of Hinderland are facing a bleak future.

Supplies of Blackfrost, their one remaining fuel source, have run out. Food is scarce, jobs are hard to find and worse … the greedy Minax are poised to invade from the south.

For the sake of his family, young Midge leaves home and treks north to the frozen wastes of Krønagar, an uncharted land to the north, in search of work. Set upon by thieves, he ends up as dogsbody on the Ice Trekker, a small, shabby cargo vessel that runs into trouble from the start.

Despite evil omens in the sky, monsters from the deep, desperate sea battles, treachery on board and a constant war with the worsening weather, the plucky crew members press north …

But Midge soon discovers that the Ice Trekker is not what it seems. The crew has a secret mission to save the Grells – and Hinderland – from doom.

Trapped by ruthless Minax, he and the crew end up risking all in a desperate battle for survival as they take on a mysterious quest in the icy wastes of Krønagar.
A great YA Winter Solstice read, just £1.21 on Amazon.co.uk. It’s also on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and itunes.

By Pamela Kelt

Friday, 19 December 2014

Focus on a Victorian gem

See the photos of the real Victorian 'haunt' that inspired the book, A Walk in the Park. Hesketh Park is a gem.

I've put a selection of photos on Pinterest. Some are my own, but there are some fascinating scenes from Southport archives.

The supernatural Christmas ghost story is free on Smashwords.

By Pamela Kelt

Friday, 12 December 2014

Book trailer ... A Walk in the Park

Making book videos is fun. This time I had original material, for the story is set in Hesketh Park.

I've spent many a happy hour walking there in the past.

The music is from the brilliant Teknoaxe website.

Hope you like it ...


Thursday, 11 December 2014

A Walk in the Park – a Christmas ghost story

I love Christmas ghost stories. That festive frisson that makes you appreciate what you have – thank you, Mr Dickens.

Many years ago, a colleague suggested that I write one.

Great idea, but I simply never found the time. Two decades later, however, I suddenly found I had a week to myself. My daughter was busy with exams and my husband was conferencing in Australia.

The perfect time – and it beat the heck of out redecorating the bathroom.

So, what should I write about? It struck me that I should come up with a theme that personally frightened the socks off me. It has be said that I’m simply not that suggestible, so whatever actually scared little sanguine old me would hopefully chill the bejeebers out of everyone else. A good working hypothesis.

As I walked the dogs I came up with an idea ... And I have to admit, it sent a few shivers down my spine.

The story is based on a delightful Victorian park in Southport, a small seaside resort where I grew up. Hesketh Park is a vintage gem, full of twisting paths, glasshouses, crumbling archways, an observatory, a bandstand (where I experienced my first kiss), laurels galore – and a lake.

I took inspiration from the master of the horror anecdote, Guy de Maupassant. We studied his writing at school when I was doing my A-levels, in another universe when I was 17 and had no idea what the future held. My personal favourite was Une Vendetta. I can still remember the last chilling line. Elle dormit bien, cette nuit-là. I’ve just looked it up to check and I had it word perfect. ‘She slept well that night.’ A widow on Corsica gets her revenge in the most gruesome way. Marvellous stuff. Perfect horror in 1600 words.

So, the first version was brutally short with a macabre cliffhanger to die for (as it were). But something niggled.

A writery colleague once admitted she couldn’t write short stories because they turned into novels. Now I understand. After some thought, I decided I wanted to know more about the characters and expanded the tale into a supernatural romance. It has since become a virtual mini-screenplay that has taken up my every waking moment, and some moments beyond.

It’s been quite an experience. But the past two nights, the wind has been howling around the eaves and the dogs have been restless. Sudden bangs and rattles in the night have erupted just as I’m dozing off, but when I stir, I can find no explanation. This, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with the spooky story and the malevolent being that I created just to see if I could frighten myself to bits.

Absolutely nothing at all.

A Walk in the Park

By Pamela Kelt

Free in digital on Smashwords, and available to read online on my blo - see the tab above.


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Dark thoughts

It struck me today that if I sliced the first two chapters of the latest work, I'd have a nifty little short story premise.

As I trundled through Crackley Wood on a crisp, winter's day, the rest of the story just popped into my head. It is bonkers, macabre and deliciously Gothic.

Working title? Monsters in the Museum, or some such. This is a clue, but I reckon you won't get it - I'm giving nothing away yet!

I've also come up with another idea - Death in the Peach House.

You've heard of locked room mysteries? This is a locked garden mystery. It was inspired by my latest venture - volunteering to help restore Guy's Cliffe Walled Garden, just outside Warwick.

While others were digging for Britain last week, I adjusted my hard hat and carried on with clearing out the broken glass and other rubbish from said peach house. I even found a peach stone! Will they plant it? I hope so.

By Pamela Kelt

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Fantastic fern find

Busy researching ferns, today. I'm especially intrigued by Athyrium filix-femina 'Victoriae'.

Victorians’ passion for ferns knew no bounds and they lusted after all the monstrous and genetically deformed plants they could lay their hands on, the more mutant the better.

Lady ferns were especially sought-after, as being one of Britain’s native ferns that yielded huge numbers of varieties such as Polystichum setiferum, the Soft Shield Fern, which gave over four hundred, and most of all the lady fern, Athyrium filix-femina, with over seven hundred.

One variety was found by student James Cosh who stepped on it while jumping over a wall, and gave the original to be planted at Buchanan Castle in Stirlingshire. It gets its name because the leaves or ‘pinnae’ which break from the main stem in pairs at an angle to each other, creating a ‘V’ – for Victoria, the reigning monarch.

The diagonal lattice effect is quite charming. It seems the ‘Victoriae’ is also tall, strong growing and upright plant, with a crested edge to the frond, which gives it some class – eminently growable. In fact, they call it the 'Queen of Green'.

I was delighted to find fern specialist Fibrex Nurseries down the road in Pebworth.

Will they have one in stock? I await an email reply with baited breath ...

PS If you love botanical books, here's another find: British ferns and their varieties by Charles T. Druery. Illustrated with 40 coloured plates, 96 nature prints, and 319 wood cuts and other illustrations. Here's the illustration of the 'Victoriae' itself.

By Pamela Kelt

Friday, 7 November 2014

Introducing Miss Claramina Dart of True Haven

Find out more about TRUE HAVEN and the mysterious island of Sulisia by checking out a character interview with the resourceful Miss Dart.

Pop by the delightful blog of fellow author Kai Strand for a different take on this Regency-inspired fantasy fiction in her building character series.

By Pamela Kelt

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

True or false?

Regency-inspired YA fantasy fiction True Haven ... now on the other side of the Atlantic. True!

The Regency era was a time of extremes. The rich were almost obscenely rich, while the poor led a desperate existence, living from hand to mouth.

The excesses of the rich are legend, the tone set by the Prince Regent himself, who took up the reins of power  from 1811 to 1820 after his father was legally declared mad. The future George IV was known for his lavish spending, gambling, womanising and toping. At one point, he had debts of a staggering £650,000. It’s still a tidy sum today, so the mind boggles.

Read more here.

Friday, 3 October 2014

How well do you know the Regency era?

To mark the launch of True Haven, a Regency-inspired fantasy adventure, welcome to ....


How well do you know the Regency era?  

Just to set the record straight ... I understand that the Regency era is generally acknowledged to be between 1811-1820 when the “Prince Regent” took up the reins of power after his father was legally declared mad. 
Actually, some of these topics are more generally Georgian, but I hope I’ll be forgiven. It's not a contest, just a bit of fun. Scroll down for the answers.

1. Lots of Georges in the Georgian era. And one Herbert. True or false?

2. It was a time of change. The Agrarian Revolution, for instance. True or false?

3. The average lifespan in the Regency era was between 19 and 26 depending on where you lived. True or false?
4. It was an era of colonisation. Captain Bligh claimed for Britain the islands of New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia. True or false?

5. Revolution was in the air. The American War of Independence, the French Revolution ... Napoleon was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo (near Bruges) in 1815. Vrai ou faux?

6. George IV, the eldest son of George III. Born in 1762, he was known for his lavish spending, gambling, womanising and drinking. By 1795 he had debts of £50,000. True or false?

7. Human suffering was rife. London’s hospital for the insane – Bedlam – attracted queues of gawping sightseers, eager to watch the behaviour of inmates afflicted with mental illnesses. True or false?

8. At the start of the Georgian eras, transport was in a dreadful state, but things improved by the time George IV took over. By then,  the stagecoach journey from London to Edinburgh took just two days, compared to nearly two months only half a century before. True or false?

9. Many crimes were punishable by death. Over 200 separate capital offences included murder, rape and treason, as well as lesser offences such as poaching, burglary and criminal damage. True or false?

10. With the burgeoning population, food was far from plentiful and suppliers tended to boost their supplies, often adding toxic ingredients such as red lead, acorns and ground bones. True or false?

Here are the answers:

1. False, although Hugh Laurie depicted the Prince Regent as a bit of a Herbert.
2. False. It was the Agricultural Revolution.
3. Horrifyingly true. Science might have been enlightened, but medicine was not. Surgery was barbaric and some apothecaries still “bled” the sick and infirm and prescribed evil concoctions such as cobwebs or snail tea.
4. False. It was Captain Cook.
5. Waterloo is in present-day Belgium, 15km south of Brussels.
6. False. The sum was a staggering £650,000. In an effort to persuade Parliament to pay off his debts, George agreed to marry his cousin, Caroline of Brunswick. After the birth of a daughter, Princess Charlotte, on 7th January 1796, the couple lived apart.
7. True.
8. False. It was actually two weeks.
9. True, although many people charged as such were either let off or received a lesser sentence.
10. True, I’m afraid. With gay abandon, they would bulk it up, add colours and taste and disguise rotting meat and fish. Mustard powder might be a blend of flour and turmeric, while tea might be coloured with copper or black lead. Some fishmongers would paint fish gills with red lead to make them look fresher. Nothing was what it seemed.

How did you fare?

By Pamela Kelt 

Thursday, 2 October 2014

A matter of perspective

Even when I was little, I was short. By this I mean, shorter than just about everyone else. Children are vicious little beasts and teased me constantly. My pet hate was to be shoved to the front of photographed groups – even in the senior sixth form (and Deputy Head Girl, to boot) I was seated with the ‘ickle’ first years. They also called me ‘snitch’. I explained that it should really be ‘titch’ as snitch meant something quite different. That went down like a hot air balloon out of gas.

It’s not hard to see why I adored fantasy stories mingling little and large. It probably all began with The Borrowers by Mary Norton. I loved the fearless Arrietty Clock, and was enthralled by a tiny and resourceful heroine who had as much impact as a ‘giant’. Then there was Gulliver’s Travels and it's cleverness. And who can forget Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland ... ? Oh, how I longed for a magic potion to make me tall. Tall people are in charge, right?

Viagens_de_Gulliver_023Back in the real world, I finally retaliated, discovering as most of us do, that bullies are dolts and that a well-placed word (or preferably insult) will work wonders. Just because you’re five feet one and three-quarter inches doesn’t mean you’re insignificant, does it?

This sounds all well and good, but in all honesty, I still struggle. People of all ages can be so patronising. It doesn’t help that I feel as if I’m shrinking, because the rest of the population is getting taller, which I feel is a bit unfair.

It’s extraordinary how often I have to ask for someone to reach for goods in supermarkets. Do they want me to buy the stuff or not?It’s a conundrum. I have to imagine what it’s like to be tall. Most tall people I know were once shorter, so why is it so hard for them to empathise?

Ah well, at least I don’t bump my head on beams and I never struggle with lack of leg-room on planes. I digress.

gianthandsI came up with True Haven, a Regency-inspired YA fantasy (out on 3 October on Crooked Cat). The book has a strange beginning, in that it started as a dream about a world within a world. I daren’t give too much away, but I came up with a story that explored what happens when differently proportioned worlds collide.

When I started, I never imagined how complicated things could get. Yes, it’s fantasy, on a crazy scale, but it still has to be pseudo-plausible. I spent hours looking up the relative proportions of humans, animals, buildings and even insects, before drawing all manner of weird diagrams to make sure it all worked.

The heroine is Miss Claramina Dart. She’s ‘Mina’ for short, as it were, and small for her age, but she is no minor, being the linchpin of the whole, fantastical tale. This Miss Dart is resilient, full of ingenuity and determination.

 One of my favourite Shakespearian quotations sums her up: “Though she be but little, she is fierce!” I wish she’d been in my class at school. She would have stuck up for me. Her travelling companion is named Max, of course, and at first they don’t see eye to eye (on so many levels).

Mina’s growth, literally and figuratively, is a huge part of True Haven. Her actual size correlates with the more intangible parts of her development.

 For example, when she’s dwarfed by the normal world, after a few moments of reorientation, she must adjust speedily or face certain doom. The sudden transition serves to reveal her inner strengths. (I only realised this when my editor, Bella Book, suggested as much.)


Toying with the concepts of different-sized beings inhabiting the same world was quite a challenge. It’s an intriguing vehicle to explore all manner of concepts in (I hope) a humorous and exciting fashion. Best of all, it’s mind-boggling fun because for once, I was the giant puppeteer in charge.

I knew I’d get my own back one day.

By Pamela Kelt

Alice by Tenniel
Gulliver under the microscope
Jack and the Beanstalk - chased by the giant

All about True Haven ...

I was lucky enough to be assigned the talented and enthusiastic Bella Book as my editor for True Haven (out on Friday). She recently put me on the spot with some challenging questions on the book and the writing process.

With such an apt name, she should have been a character in the story.

You can read the interview on the True Haven blog if you have a moment ...

By Pamela Kelt

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Regency inspiration

 True Haven ...

… is a period fantasy adventure story set in a Regency-style world where a lively young seamstress escapes from a grim workhouse in the beautiful but deadly city of True Haven.

Meet Claramina Dart, a young seamstress. She thinks of herself as a tailor's apprentice, however.

Independent, smart, questioning ... she adapts quickly to circumstances and uses her wits to survive.

She lives in Mudwells. Overcrowded, foul-smelling, corrupt. But it's home.

‘Mina' has to take care of a young assistant, Barley Spindle. But then he is unfairly arrested and she steps in to save him.

Find out more on the companion website. Well, it's more of a blog, but there you are ...

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Frog's wine, anyone?

Bingo; Blue Ruin; Blue Tape; Daffy; Diddle; Drain; Frog’s Wine; Geneva; Heart’s Ease; Jackey; Lady Dacre’s Wine; Lightning; Max; Rag Water; Sky Blue; South Sea Mountain; Strip Me Naked; White Ribbon; White Tape; White Wool.

Whatever am I talking about?

These are all 18th-century nicknames for gin. I’ve just picked some sloes and was hunting for a recipe – and inevitably got caught up with some Georgian history. I've become a little addicted to the era while I was researching the latest book, True Haven. So, here goes ...

It is commonly thought that gin was invented around 1650 in the Netherlands by Dr Sylvuis, also known Franz de la Boé. He was Professor of Medicine at Leyden, Holland, and intended this 'medicine' as a remedy for kidney disorders. He used neutral grain spirits flavoured with the oil of juniper. He called it 'genever' after the French term genièvre meaning juniper. By 1655 it was already being produced commercially and English soldiers serving in the area developed an affection for the spirit.

When William of Orange landed in England on 1688 to assume the throne, he arrived with ‘Madame Geneva’. Over the 18th century, it replaced French brandy as a popular tipple, then became a virtual epidemic. Gin excesses damaged the economy – being a cheap form of escapism for it was simple and cheap to produce. Alarmed, the government tried to quash its presence, and taxed the liquor. However, as it was often made in back rooms and illicit stills, it was hard to impose. Worse, the Act defined gin as spirits to which juniper berries had been added. Roguish producers responded by not bothering with the juniper berries at all – and the resultant raw spirit was still consumed by the gallon.

Hogarth captured the scenes in Gin Lane, from Beer Street and Gin Lane, urban desolation with gin-crazed Londoners, notably a woman who lets her child fall to its death and an emaciated ballad-seller; in the background is the tower of St George's Bloomsbury. The accompanying poem, printed on the bottom, reads:

Gin, cursed Fiend, with Fury fraught,
Makes human Race a Prey.
It enters by a deadly Draught
And steals our Life away.

Virtue and Truth, driv'n to Despair
Its Rage compells to fly,
But cherishes with hellish Care
Theft, Murder, Perjury.

Damned Cup! that on the Vitals preys
That liquid Fire contains,
Which Madness to the heart conveys,
And rolls it thro' the Veins.

It was calculated that Londoners on average were allegedly drinking up to 14 gallons of gin a year, equivalent to 10 shots a day for every man, woman and child. According to the The Guardian, harsher taxes were imposed, resulting in gangs of  informers, mob riots and lynchings.

In 1751, Josiah Tucker of Bristol calculated that the annual amount gin cost the economy was three million, nine hundred and ninety-seven thousand, six hundred and nineteen pounds, and elevenpence halfpenny. While it is a wonderful example of spurious accuracy, the round sum of four million
pounds is still impressive.

Finally, the Government saw sense. The Gin Act of 1751 slashed the excise so the situation eased. By the end of the 1750s, Madame Geneva was positively respectable.

So, why sloe gin?

If you recall your school history, it goes back to the enclosure of the countryside in the 16th and 17th centuries, when tracts of open land were carved up into smaller fields. Blackthorn was the most common hedging plant, due to its vigorous growth and sharp thorns (to keep the stock and people out).

So, sloes became widespread and country folk, finding the sloe too bitter to eat, decided to soak it in alcohol and sugar; the drink of choice at the time being gin. (Interesting to note that sloes slightly resemble juniper berries ...)

The practice was disparaged. A polemical poem on British ills from 1717 refers to beverages “... made at Home ... of Sugar, Sloes, and Grocer’s Trash” and sloe-juice and gin was described in scathing terms in 1838 as a mixture “which the inhabitants of London swallow for port”.

So, the sloes, no doubt, would have disguised foul concoctions made on the cheap. Sugar, too, was cheap, for the slave trade was at its height. It’s interesting to note that sugar consumption in Britain increased fivefold from 1710 to 1770.

Sloe gin had to wait until the beginning of the 20th century before it became respectable – and even in the US, where it’s hard to find a sloe bush, cocktails fanciers must rely on ready-made imports.

To make your own, you’ll need about 500g ripe sloes, 250g sugar, a litre of plain gin (or even vodka). Prick the berries with a needle, or freeze and crush. Pop into a jar with the sugar and the liquor.

Then wait until Christmas.

PS My fantasy novel, True Haven, is YA – so Madame Geneva does not make an appearance. However, the dastardly kalasha berries do ...

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Jane Austen was here

If you recall, I avoided Jane Austen at school. However, this is not to say I don’t love the film adaptations. Favourite of all is Lost in Austen, a quirky rethinking.

Imagine my surprise to find that Miss Austen spent a formative three weeks at Stoneleigh Abbey, just five minutes’ drive from where we live.

It is no longer an abbey, Downton fans, but a Jacobean mansion and Georgian ‘extension’ that makes St Pancras look like the corner shop. There is much that inspired the author, from the chapel, to portraits of family members and, no doubt, the fabulous grounds.

To our delight, there was ...

  • A west wing!
  • an orangerie
  • references to Bonnie Prince Charlie
  • fabulous furnishings
  • exotic chandeliers
  • panelled gentleman’s quarters
  • classic chapel
  • manicured lawns ...

I would go on, but you should take a visit for yourself. Our guide was brilliant. By the way, there are more pictures on Pinterest.

They are happy to regale you with quirky details that should appeal. The impressive facade of the West Wing was designed by Francis Smith of Warwick and dates from 1726. It’s fascinating to learn that the owners started to run out of money and decided not to panel behind the mirrors (these being less expensive than the oak).

The places simply oozes history and charm. It’s eerie that it’s been on our doorstep this whole time.

I’m already planning the sequel of  the Regency-inspired fantasy True Haven, so I know where to start.

By Pamela Kelt