Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Forest Dancer - Susan Roebuck

My bookshelves and Kindle heave with books I love, from all genres - not merely my own. I love stories where the atmosphere pours from every page, the characters live and breathe and the story keeps me addicted until the last page, and even beyond. Susan Roebuck is one such author who always delivers this for me and she is my guest today, talking about her latest book, Forest Dancer, which I loved.

 Forest Dancer, my new novel, takes place in Portugal as my previous book Rising Tide was. Instead of being on the coast, Forest Dancer is set in the mountains just outside Lisbon in a fictional village called Aurora.

If you know Portugal and particularly the Lisbon area I think you’ll guess that the large town where the main character, Flora, goes frequently and which is called “Serra Glória” in the book is really Sintra.

 Sintra is only about twenty kilometres to the west of Lisbon but, compared to the heat and noise of Lisbon (which is in itself a beautiful city), it is a fairytale land of misty forests, turreted castles and huge megalithic stones that were hurled out of a volcano a millennia ago.

 British Philippa of Lancaster was Queen of Portugal when she was married to Dom João I from 1387 to 1415 and was responsible for bringing about Europe’s oldest alliance – Portugal and Britain which has lasted to this day (the Portuguese know this, but I can’t say the same for the British). She loved Sintra and one of the royal apartments in the town Palace is dedicated to her: the magpie room, which Flora – my main character – visits.

The king and queen are buried in the Batalha Monastery (north of Lisbon) and their tombs depict them holding hands.

With such a wonderful setting it was easy to combine the forest with ballet and music.

Here is the opening extract of classical ballet dancer, Flora, during an audition for Swan Lake:

The music began and she was in her role, bourréeing backwards, her arms suggesting the sensuous flight of a swan. They were then on to their passionate pas de deux, and Flora concentrated, forcing herself to become the evil temptress that Odile was supposed to be. Immersing herself in the blissful string music helped, even though she wished they’d chosen the role of Odette, the naïve, fun-loving white swan, for the first audition. Tomorrow she’d be Odette, and in that role she knew she’d give the other contenders a run for their money by dancing for joy at the innocent music that made her feel skittish and playful.

 Although it’s not mentioned in the book, I think this is my favourite Portuguese music by Madredeus. It sums up the Portuguese way of being – their loyalty and faith. The title is “Haja O Que Houver” which means whatever happens (and then she goes on…I’ll be waiting for you). I think it also sums up the atmosphere of Forest Dancer.


Forest Dancer (paperback and ebook) on Amazon

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

What Hides Within - Jason Parent's Latest Horror - Reviewed

 My Review:

What Hides Within is a deft mix of darkest comedy, horror, suspense and psychological thriller.  To enjoy it at its best, you need to suspend disbelief and let your mind go with it on an epic journey. Jason Parent stories are like that. They’re different, complex, challenging, but well worth the investment of your time.

Imagine you were working at your usual boring 9-5 job and suddenly one day everything changed. You heard a strange voice in your head and you became aware that a tiny, almost transparent spider, similar to a black widow, had taken up residence in the deep recesses of your brain. Does it – she actually –want to kill you or become your new best friend? This happens to Clive who, until that point, is a pretty normal kind of guy. Granted he lives with an eccentric, introverted roommate called Kevin who demonstrates a strange fascination for old re-reruns of Hannah Montana but, apart from eating Clive’s food, he’s not too much trouble to have around. Okay, he is a bit weird, but…

Meanwhile, somebody has begun causing explosions in the town. People have been killed. Increasing numbers of them. Who’s behind these senseless killings? It is up to Detective Samantha Reilly to find out and she is determined to find the perpetrator.

Meanwhile, in Clive’s head, things are becoming increasingly complicated. His arachnid companion – whom he calls Chester – will not leave, despite her host’s best efforts and she is certainly not the easiest resident to have around. One false move on his part and… I did say, she was like a small black widow!

Clive is also becoming more and more concerned about his roommate – to the point where he begins to follow him.  What is Kevin up to?

With a strong cast of supporting characters, including a young niece called Victoria who is mature beyond her years, What Hides Within is a multi—layered novel that works because it is so well and convincingly written. In my review of his short story collection ‘Wrathbone and Other Stories‘, I described the author as being  ‘a weaver of complex, macabre tales’.  What Hides Within provides further evidence of Jason Parent’s supreme talent for doing precisely that.

 Clive Menard is just an ordinary guy living an ordinary life.

But when a talking spider crawls inside his head, things get a lot less ordinary…and people start dying.

Could an itsy-bitsy arachnid be behind the killing spree terrorizing Clive’s community?

To evade a sharp detective and find a murderer among friends, Clive must shake the cobwebs loose and piece together the puzzle of his life, all without falling prey to a dark force beyond his comprehension.

A genre-twisting dark comedy, What Hides Within is an EPIC Finalist and Independent eBook Award Runner-Up for Best Horror.

“I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes horror. It will make you cringe. It will make you shudder. It will make you want to take a shower. But you won't be able to put it down.” - Thomas W. Everson, author of The Rain Experience Trilogy

About the Author

In his head, Jason Parent lives in many places, but in the real world, he calls New England his home. The region offers an abundance of settings for his writing and many wonderful places in which to write them. He currently resides in Southeastern Massachusetts with his cuddly corgi named Calypso.

In a prior life, Jason spent most of his time in front of a judge . . . as a civil litigator. When he finally tired of Latin phrases no one knew how to pronounce and explaining to people that real lawsuits are not started, tried and finalized within the 60-minute timeframe they see on TV (it's harassing the witness; no one throws vicious woodland creatures at them), he traded in his cheap suits for flip flops and designer stubble. The flops got repossessed the next day, and he's back in the legal field . . . sorta. But that's another story.

When he's not working, Jason likes to kayak, catch a movie, travel any place that will let him enter, and play just about any sport (except that ball tied to the pole thing where you basically just whack the ball until it twists in a knot or takes somebody's head off - he misses the appeal). And read and write, of course. He does that too sometimes.

Please visit the author on:

for information regarding upcoming events or releases, or if you have any questions or comments for him.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

The Hanging Town -

Johnstown, Carmarthen may now be a quiet backwater in a rural corner of Wales, but int he past, it earned its title 'the Hanging Town'. Here, if you so much as stole some cider you could expect to be hanged for it.

Hundreds of people - young and old - were beaten and executed here, and people even paid to watch the horror. For most, the journey from Carmarthen Gaol to a leafy corner of Johnstown was one they would make once, and from which they would never return. Whether guilty of murder, savage beating or petty pilfering, from 1739 onwards, the town provided the location for local justice.

 However, not all murder trials ended in conviction. In 1742 - a strange case involving an eight year old girl took place. She was tried at Carmarthen Assizes for murdering her brother and sister, aged six and four. At that time there was fear of a Spanish invasion and stories were rife of the alleged cruelty inflicted by the Spaniards. During a night of heavy storms, the children thought the thunder was the sound of the invasion and the younger ones begged their older sister to kill them in order to spare them from the marauding Spaniards. The girl did so, with a hedge trimming blade and then attempted, unsuccessfully, to kill herself.  Remarkably for the times, the girl was acquitted.

One of the hanged was Elinor Williams who lived in the town, at the Royal Oak and was hanged for murdering her child, while, at the other end of the scale, two young men were similarly dealt with for stealing cider from a local hostelry. The executions took place on a raised platform in an area known as Royal Oak Common. Other nearby locations witnessing similar events were at Babell Hill in Pensarn and at the County Gaol itself with prisoners destined for execution at Pensarn having to walk the distance from the gaol in Carmarthen - a distance of over a mile on a route usually crammed with jeering onlookers. 

The last man to endure the so-called 'death walk' from Carmarthen to Pensarn was a local man called Rees Thomas Rees in 1817. His crime was the murder of his sweetheart, by poisoning. However, this is subject too debate as she had apparently fallen pregnant and begged him to obtain some medicine which would terminate the pregnancy. He had done so and it is apparently this which killed her. He could have escaped and emigrated to America, as he initially intended to do, but instead he decided to face the authorities and hope for a favourable verdict. He didn't get it and as he mounted the gallows, a number of women in the ''audience' openly wept.

The last public execution to take place there saw some 10,000 people pack the streets - those with money paying for the best vantage points. 

The last public hanging was in 1862 and, by 1888, a new gallows was built inside the front wall of the County Gaol. Hangings had ceased to be a public spectacle but that didn't mean the drama had ceased.

On March 13th, 1888, David Rees was hanged, but this may well have been a miscarriage of justice. It certainly became an infamous case. He may have been shielding an accomplice or he may simply not have understood how much trouble he was in. His first language was Welsh and little provision was made for this until a judge decided to intervene.

On November 12th 1887, Thomas Davies, a messenger at the Dafen Tinworks in Llanelli, was found dying in a field of terrible wounds inflicted as a result of a severe beating. he had been carrying a bag filled with wages - $390 in gold and silver. Moore than £300 of this was missing. A blood covered hanger - a tool used in tinwork - was found nearby. Later that evening, police came to question David Rees and arrested him on suspicion of murder.

It took just thirty minutes for the jury to reach their verdict and, his black cap placed with due solemnity on his head, the judge pronounced the sentence. Rees would be hanged for the murder of Thomas Davies. Asked if he had anything to say, he declined and was taken down to the cells, but then started screaming and yelling that he hadn't understood the sentence. He new he was in trouble, but hadn't realised quite how much.

The Governor of the gaol heard this and spoke to the judge who ordered Rees brought back up into court This time, he read out the sentence without wearing the black cap, then ordered it to be translated into Welsh so Rees could be in no doubt. Interpreter Mr Long Price did so. and broke down, as did many in the court.

Members of the church visited Rees in his cell and described him as lacking his old sparkle. They also reported that he protested his innocence of the crime. He insisted he did not kill Davies - laying heavy emphasis on the word 'kill'. When asked who did kill Davies, Rees insisted it was a mystery to him. He did  not know. Was he protecting someone? We shall never know. Maybe, as the victim was alive when he left him - even if just barely - he simply meant he hadn't seen him die at his hands.

Nowadays, Carmarthen and its surroundings enjoys a lower than average crime rate and is a peaceful place to live. Carmarthen Gaol itself closed in 1922.