If during this lockdown period, you’d like to do something different one evening (or any other time of day, of course!), why not try the Last Survivors – Uncover the Truth online experience. Check out the trailer on YouTube, here to find out more.
You can read more about the experience and book your session on the Last Survivors website here. Here’s some information from the site: Can you Uncover The Truth? From the creative team behind The Last Survivors comes our first online experience. You will help an agent from the I.R.F (an agency dedicated to bringing down corrupt private companies) explore the underground bunker and testing facility of the C.I.D.C. The immersive experience will have you solving puzzles and communicating with the agent through audio and video footage through an online interface. The experience should take around an hour to complete. The entire event is set inside a real Government Nuclear Bunker with everything shot on location. You will need to use a laptop for the best experience. This can be played with Zoom Screen Share.
Once you’ve paid the fee (it’s half price at the time of publishing this post) you’ll receive an email with a unique code and directions to get to The C.I.D.C website. Your game begins there!
We played our session as a family and I wondered if we’d perhaps get stuck and not be able to move on but there were plenty of clues and it isn’t time-limited like the escape rooms I’ve been to, so we had time to make a cuppa and get back to helping the agent out!
It’s a brilliant way of passing an evening with plenty of excitement and problem-solving but not so difficult that it’s completely baffling and frustrating. I’d give it five out of five for creativity and ingenuity! Definitely worth a play!
8th May 2020
by Dawnknox Comments Off on Video Conferencing with Zoom, FaceTime, Jitsi…
Video Conferencing with Zoom, FaceTime, Jitsi, Messenger, Skype and more…
During the COVID-19 pandemic, those of us who live in countries which have imposed a lockdown, may have been cut off from family and friends. If this has happened to you and you’re a natural loner, it may not worry you as much as it would those who are more gregarious. But, however much you enjoy your own company, it’s always lovely to see the faces of family and friends and those of us who are fortunate enough to have access to the Internet will probably have been making good use of the various video conferencing services such as Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, Messenger and Jitsi – to name but a few.
Although I’d used FaceTime, Skype and Messenger before the outbreak of the virus, I must admit I’d not used Zoom or Jitsi before. But since the lockdown, I’ve used all of them to link up with different friends.
My most unusual video meeting was via Jitsi, when I was asked to join a book club meeting in Kapolei, Hawaii a short while ago. The members had been reading my book ‘THE BASILWADE CHRONICLES’ and I was invited to answer questions about the stories and characters. Fortunately for me, they met at 9am local time which was 8pm for me, so I didn’t have to get up during the night to take part. It was very interesting to hear the suggestions for another book, based on some of the characters and if you’ve read ‘THE BASILWADE CHRONICLES’, you may remember Hettie Forbes-Snell, the vicar’s sister. It was suggested I might explain what happened to her. As a result of linking up with the Hawaiian Book Club, I was invited to join, so for the foreseeable future, while we are locked down, I hope to meet with them via video conferencing each month.
I also now regularly link up with members of a Face Book group for pocket novelists each week as well as my school friends and various family members and friends who I don’t often see.
My favourite platform is Zoom because I like to change the virtual background to something new and I have loaded a photo taken in the desert as well as one in a Roman bath at Pompeii. The photo above shows the front cover of ‘THE BASILWADE CHRONICLES’, painted by Neill C. Woods.
Have you just discovered video conferencing? Which is your favourite? Why not let me know. And if you’re new to it, you can find out more information here:
A Magnet Book for Readers and Writers – And it’s free!
Not a book about magnetism, but a magnet book to show what the authors of Chapeltown and Bridge House Publishing can do. It is a collection of short stories written by some of Publisher, Gill James’, regular authors such as Allison Symes, Paula R C Readman, Gail Aldwin, Debz Hobbs-Wyatt, Jim Bates, Hannah Retallick to name but a few. Oh, and I have a story in there too!
It has been edited and compiled by Gill James to be given away free to anyone who subscribes to her Books Books Books mailing list which you can find by clicking here. The list goes out every Friday with offers on Gill’s back list as well as introductions to new books.
Several months ago, Gill asked her authors to submit a story which they thought best represented their style of writing to give readers an idea of the sort of stories they might find in any of the Chapeltown or Bridge House books. In addition, it also illustrates the house style, to writers who are interested in submitting a piece of writing to Gill.
The story which I submitted to be included in the Magnet Book is ‘Timothy and Pandora’s Box’ which appeared in the 2018 anthology, ‘Crackers’. It can be found here in Kindle and paperback on Amazon. It’s written in a similar style to the stories in ‘The Basilwade Chronicles’. You can read about how that book came into being here which you might find interesting if you intend to submit a story to Gill for publication. if you’d like to buy a copy of ‘The Basilwade Chronicles’ you’ll find it here on Amazon.
You won’t find the magnet book ‘Magnetism’ on sale anywhere, it’s simply available for download free when you subscribe to Gill’s mailing list, so why not hop over to the form which you can find here.
And once you’ve read it, why not let me know what you think!
8th March 2020
by Dawnknox Comments Off on ‘Touched by Two Wars’ – A Historical Romance
When I started writing the historical romance, ‘Welcome to Plotlands’, I only intended to write a short story to submit to a magazine. The Plotlands at Dunton in Essex and its history had fascinated me for many years and I wanted to try my hand at a romance set in that area, in the 1930s. I soon realised that ‘Welcome to Plotlands was not going to be a short story because I was having too much fun with the main character, Joanna Marshall!
By the time I’d finished, the story was long enough to submit to My Weekly Pocket Novels which I did and to my surprise and delight, it was accepted by editor, Maggie Swinburne. The Pocket Novel came out in May 2017 and was available for two weeks, after which, the rights reverted to me and on the recommendation of a fellow author, Roberta Grieve, I submitted to Ulverscroft Publishing, who accepted it and published as a large print paperback.
And that led to yet another romance that involves Joanna and is set in both Northern France and the Plotlands. It’s entitled ‘Touched by Two Wars’ which has just come out as a large print paperback, published by Ulverscroft Publishing.
Here’s what the blurb says: France, 1914: Isabelle and her mother are pleased to take in British soldiers as they pass through the countryside on their way to the front. But Isabelle’s attempt to comfort a distressed soldier leaves her with an illegitimate yet dearly beloved daughter, Madeleine. As Isabelle and her own mother struggle with the upkeep of Chateau Bellevais, another soldier, James, comes into her life – and out again. During the ensuing chaos of yet another war, Isabelle flees to England. Is it possible that she and James could find each other once more?
It’s now available on Amazon as a large print paperback which you can find here. Or why not support your local library and borrow it from there? You’ll find all three books amongst the large print romance books.
And if you read them, please leave a review on Amazon, thanks!
What’s Afoot in London? It doesn’t matter how many times I go to London and visit the same places, I always see something I’ve never noticed before and I learn something new.
Today was no different. I went to the area known as EC3 with my sister-in-law – and revisited many of the places I’ve been to before. We started by looking at St Botolph’s Hall which was originally an infants school, with its two stone figures of a schoolboy and girl in early nineteenth century costumes. It was shortly after that I spotted the stiletto shoes which someone had either lost or discarded. A strange sight in a churchyard.
We stopped at St Dunstan’s in the East, the church which I’ve visited before and you can see some photos here. The church was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London in 1666. The only part of his design that still exists today is the tower. The remainder of the church was built in 1817 but it was destroyed by enemy action in 1941. However, rather than flattening what was left and building something else on the site, a garden was created in and around the walls which gets busy at midday as office workers eat their lunch in this peaceful haven.
There was obviously a modelling photoshoot going on with a scantily-clad lad who shuffled into position wearing towelling slippers which didn’t really go with his outfit. However, he soon slipped them off and very gamely posed barefoot. As it was very early March, the ground must have been freezing but he ignored the cold and did his best to tie himself in knots as the photographer requested.
Next, we made our way to St Margaret Pattens where, on previous visits, I’d seen a display of pattens (a type of undershoe consisting of a wooden sole fitted with leather straps and mounted on a large metal ring to raise the wearer above the mud and detritus which littered the roads.) However, when we arrived at the church, the glass case was empty and the exhibits had all been placed in boxes. Luckily, the beadle of the Pattenmakers Guild passed by and offered to get a few examples out of storage for us to see. The first ones he showed us had once belonged to a child.
As the beadle pointed out, it was probably very difficult for a child to balance on those metal rings whilst walking on cobbles.
The next pattens he showed us belonged to a woman and a very small child.
Leap Day 2020 What are you going to do with your extra day this year? I must admit, I’d never really thought about it before. For me, 29th February has always been just another day. But as I get older, I find I’m valuing time a great deal more than I used to. After all, I don’t have so much of it left. And I’ve come to realise an extra day every four years should be savoured.
So what will I do? Well, I’ll have a look through my new writing prompts book and see if anything tickles my fancy, then I’ll write a ‘Leap Story’. The book was compiled by Gill James and the suggestions are from many of the authors who regularly write for her. I have a few writing prompts in there too and I was surprised to see fellow author, Allison Symes, having used one to come up with a story which was published on the CafeLit site here. I’d forgotten I’d submitted that particular prompt!
Here’s the description: There are 366 writing prompts here – one for each day of the year in 2020. Some are short and pithy, others are inspired by obscure days e.g. 16 February Do a Grouch a Favour Day, and some go into more detail on an aspect of writing craft. There are series that go over a number of days, e.g. creative writing in other languages, working with postcards, writing for children and writing historical fiction. A few prompts are about works in progress and several give you the choice of working with a text you have already created, creating something new or even editing a completed piece of work. There are also invitations to read. But every prompt gives you the opportunity to write something as well.
These prompts were put together by writers published by the Bridge House, CafeLit and Chapeltown imprints, and their friends. Happy writing in 2020!
So, if you fancy doing something different on Leap Day 2020, why not write a story and if you’re lacking inspiration, buy the book and you’ll have ideas for the rest of the year!
6th December 2019
by Dawnknox Comments Off on The Basilwade Chronicles
The Basilwade Chronicles – Several years ago, I wrote a short story to read out at the Basildon Writers’ Group which meets each month. My story involved a socially inept, rather tactless man called Derek Carruthers who decided to go speed dating. At that event, he met a woman called Mary Wilson whose mother had insisted she try speed dating to find a husband. Mary wasn’t keen but went to keep the peace. Unfortunately, Derek and Mary didn’t exactly hit it off!
I enjoyed the two characters so much, I wrote another story about them and since I’d introduced a next door neighbour, Florrie Fanshawe, my third story, was about her and her Knit and Natter Club. Each month I took at least one character from the previous story and wrote them a new tale until the final chapter which you can see from the cover art involved a wedding – but not Derek Carruthers and Mary Wilson’s!
Gill James of CafeLit, Bridge House and Chapeltown Books published one story per month, concluding with ‘The Perfect Wedding’ on her CafeLit site. Links to the previous stories appear at the end. Eventually, once I’d finished, Gill agreed to publish the collection as a Kindle version and a paperback – THE BASILWADE CHRONICLES was born! As I write this, it’s only available as a Kindle book which you can see here on UK Amazon and US Amazon but the paperback will be available shortly.
The artwork was created by artist Neill C Woods, who read the manuscript and superbly interpreted many of the characters who appeared in the stories. I approached Neill to find out if he would be interested after seeing the cover art of ‘The Oui Trip’ written by another member of the Basildon Writers’ Group, David O’Neill which I thought was fantastic. Happily, Neill agreed to work on my story.
If you’re interesting in seeing my other books, you can see here or go to my author’s page on Amazon, here
15th November 2019
by Dawnknox Comments Off on The Empty Chair
Several people have asked me after my last post which you can see here, what was the significance of the large, wooden chair which was positioned in front of the stage during the performance of ‘The Other Side of Peace’.
Although I’ve referred to this as ‘the’ Empty Chair, it is in fact one of three which have been carved by the head forester of Heiligenhaus, Hannes Johannsen. In 2018, one of the Empty Chairs was taken to Lochnagar Crater Ovillers-la Boisselle, between the town of Albert and the village of Pozières on the Somme, France. There was a ceremony at its installation which included the deputy mayors of Heiligenhaus and Meaux and the mayor of Basildon as well as members of the Forget Never Project, from all three towns.
The following is the text on the sign at Lochnagar Crater which explains Hannes Johanssen’s original idea.
“The Empty Chair symbolises the void left in so many homes across the world following the immeasurable loss of life during the Great War. It is a poignant reminder to us of the countless lives lost and the suffering of those they left behind.
“The idea for the sculpture was conceived by Head Forester, Hannes Johannsen, from Heiligenhaus, Germany who carved it from the trunk of an oak which fell during a storm in 2016. The tree would have been 20 years old at the start of the war and since it stood close to the road which led to the railway station, many young men would have travelled past it on their way to war – and home again if they returned.
“The Empty Chair is part of the Heritage Lottery-funded Forget Never Project which is a joint initiative between twin towns in England, France and Germany. The chair is located here at the Lochnagar Crater with the kind permission of Richard Dunning MBE.”
Each year, the Forget Never Project will clean and maintain the installation of the Empty Chair and gather around it to remember. In 2019, the date of the ceremony is Sunday November 17 and if you’re anywhere near, why not drop by and see it for yourself and meet some of our team?
Lochnagar Crater was created by a large mine placed beneath the German front lines on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, it was one of 19 mines that were placed beneath the German lines from the British section of the Somme front, to assist the infantry advance at the start of the battle.
The British named the mine after ‘Lochnagar Street’, a British trench where the Tunnelling Companies of the Royal Engineers dug a shaft down about 90 feet deep into the chalk; then excavated some 300 yards towards the German lines to place 60,000 lbs (27 tons) of ammonal explosive in two large adjacent underground chambers 60 feet apart. Its aim was to destroy a formidable strongpoint called ‘Schwaben Höhe’ (Swabian Heights) in the German front line, south of the village of La Boisselle in the Somme département. (Information taken from the Lochnagar Crater website which you can see here)
The second Empty Chair was installed in the Musée de la Grande Guerre in Meaux in 2018 and the chair which was photographed above, in front of the stage in the Aula Immanuel-Kant-Gymnasium, Heiligenhaus, during the performance of ‘The Other Side of Peace’, was a gift from the people of Heiligenhaus to the people of Basildon.
Isn’t it strange how sometimes life offers you opportunities you wouldn’t have dared dream about? I’d never have thought I’d write anything which would be performed on a stage by professional actors but in 2014, a friend asked me to write a short sketch for some of his friends who belonged to the Forget Never Project which was set up to commemorate the centenary of World War One.
I agreed and I was asked to write about three real men who fought in the First World War – one from England, one from Germany and one from France. It didn’t occur to me that the ‘sketch’ would turn into the production entitled ‘The Sons of Three Countries Remembered’ which would be directed by Andrew Lindfield and performed four times by DOT Productions in three different countries – England, Germany and France. Click here to read about the last performance in 1917
But the dream didn’t finish there because I was asked to write a second play about the men returning from the First World War. I hadn’t previously given much consideration to what happened after the men came home from the fighting. I’d focused on the end of the conflict and the men’s return. The Forget Never Project is a joint endeavour, incorporating Basildon Borough and its twin towns of Heiligenhaus in Germany and Meaux in France, and I looked at the post-war conditions to which men from those countries returned and how they and their families might cope.
‘The Other Side of Peace’ was performed by Andrew Lindfield and DOT Productions in 1918 in Basildon to an international audience and I assumed that since the Forget Never Project had drawn to a close with the end of the centenary of the First World War, that would be its first and last performance. However, members of the audience who’d come over from Heiligenhaus decided they wanted to stage it in their town and DOT Productions went out to Germany for two performances in November 2019.
The director was Andrew Lindfield The members of the cast were: Bill Richards – Andrew Lindfield Florrie Richards – Natalie Scotcher Jacques Dubois – Christopher Walthorne Madame Dubois – Dawn Bush Karl Friedrich – Louis Hill Anna Friedrich – Francesca Ottley Shopkeeper/Barmaid – Sarita Plowman Soldier/Ghost – Matthew Burrcombe
Musicians – Hannes Johannsen and Sebastian Grothe with choirs from Heiligenhaus.
The play explores the changed relationships of the three different families and looks at some of the social conditions which they would have experienced. I generally (although not always!) like to write a happy ending to my stories but in this instance, it seemed that all their lives had been blighted by the war and that the emotional scars were likely to persist. Society, too, had changed forever.
In order to leave the audience with a message of hope, I decided to incorporate an animation at the end which considered war from Nature’s point of view. It seemed ironic that land – the very thing men were fighting to possess – was being destroyed in the process of that warfare, as trenches were dug, bombs exploded and thousands of men trampled the ground as they marched. But after the battles were finished and the men had gone home, Nature would have taken over and once again, birds would have returned and flowers would have bloomed. I imagined the flowers of remembrance of Britain, Germany and France growing together in a field. They obviously wouldn’t have arranged themselves in banks of poppies, banks of cornflowers and banks of forget-me-nots. They would simply have grown together, mixed and sharing the field. I wondered why we – the people of the world – couldn’t be like that. The final frame says: ONE PEOPLE-ONE WORLD-TOGETHER. And that is my hope and the final thought I wanted to leave with the audience. I wrote a piece which Angela Makepeace of Motion Graphics Studio set to an animation. You can see it here (There is sound but no images for the first 40 seconds of the animation)
The words are: One army loses. It wearily staggers home. The other army wins. It takes possession of the land… and wearily staggers home. Now the blood-drenched fields are deserted, silent, but for the echoes of the dead. Wind caresses the pock-marked earth, and rain washes away all traces of the killing. Barbed wire rusts and wooden posts rot in the water-logged ground. Beneath the earth, flesh decays, becoming one with the soil. These fields, so highly coveted, are now wasted. The land, so highly prized, has been sacrificed on the altar of man’s desire to possess. But Mother Nature will not be conquered. One by one, birds return to fill the silence with their song. And beneath the earth, the spark of life ignites an explosion of shoots, roots and leaves, to cover the soil’s nakedness. And there, a red poppy bursts from its bud. It entwines a blue cornflower and embraces a forget-me-not. Different colours, shapes and sizes but all growing together towards their future in the sun.
Thank you to everyone who helped to make the play a success. I had such a wonderful time in Germany. And to everyone who played a part, however big or small, YOU helped to make my dream come true.
30th August 2019
by Dawnknox Comments Off on Roman Villa at Lullingstone, Kent
Still on the trail of Roman remains, my cousin, Dave, and I went on another jaunt, this time, with the rest of our jaunting crew – Mum, Jamie and Andrea. Our destination was the Roman villa at Lullingstone, Kent which was thought to have been built as early as 80CE although it was extended and modified to become a luxurious house in the mid-4th century CE.
Originally, there was a central accommodation block with two wings – the northern one, being built over a cellar which may have been used for storage although later, in the second century, it became the Cult Room in which, a well can still be seen. It was probably used to worship a water deity. External access to this Cult Room suggests people other than the family who lived in the villa were involved in worship there.
There was also evidence of a bath house although its layout was not as simple and sensible as the one Dave and I saw at Billingsgate, London (click here to read about that)
In the second half of the 2nd century, the house was enlarged, suggesting the owners had become more prosperous and two busts have been found which may indicate who owned the villa. One is of Publius Helvius Pertinax, the son of a freedman who became a Senator and Governor of Britannia in 185–6CE. Although he was forced to leave Britain, he went on to become Emperor, reigning for 87 days in 193CE, before being murdered by soldiers of the Praetorian Guard.
The second bust has been identified as his father, Publius Helvius Successus, and it is possible that Lullingstone was the country retreat of the provincial governor.
Around the middle of the 4th century some interesting changes took place that distinguish Lullingstone from many of the other villas known in Roman Britain.
The first was the addition of the dining room or triclinium with its attached audience chamber and their mosaics which can still be seen. In the triclinium, the table would have been arranged around the mosaics, so the diners could eat and admire their beauty. They illustrate the story of Europa being abducted by the god Jupiter disguised as a bull. The main mosaic panel in the audience chamber tells the story of Bellerophon, Prince of Corinth, on the winged-horse Pegasus, killing the Chimæra, a fire-breathing she-monster. The scene is surrounded by four roundels containing representations of the seasons.
Perhaps even more remarkable, however, were the changes above the Cult Room involving the creation of a house-church. The wall-paintings from this room set the villa apart, as they are the only known paintings in Roman Britain that contain clear Christian symbolism.
The material from the house-church was found collapsed into the Cult Room below it. The excavators found many thousands of fragments of painted wall plaster which, when painstakingly pieced together, revealed the images that once adorned the walls.
At some point in the 5th century there was a fire at Lullingstone, and the villa seems to have been abandoned.
As the roofs fell in, or perhaps as the tiles and possibly some walling were removed for use elsewhere, the building gradually decayed and collapsed. We noted in the stream which ran nearby, there were many red pieces of stone – possibly tiles – which might have come from the villa.
After 400CE, little is known about the site although some Anglo-Saxon artefacts have been found, perhaps dating from the 7th century.
The temple-mausoleum seems to have survived, at least as a ruin, to be incorporated into the chapel of St John the Baptist, probably in the 11th century when the area of the site was occupied by the hamlet of Lullingstane.
A description accompanying a drawing of the chapel made in 1769 refers to it being ‘built with flints and Roman bricks, the west end being chiefly of the latter’.
I was interested to know what the Romans might have called the place where the villa stood but I was told it had not been recorded and so, no one knew.