Saturday 26 January 2019

Guest Author Hazel Manuel of Paris and the Loire Valley of France.

A quote from Hazel’s website:

I write books that explore living life in a way that doesn't make me want to scream."

We are so excited to have this talented writer as our guest this week. Hazel has agreed to a 4Q Interview and is sharing an excerpt from her novel - Undressing Stone.

Hazel Manuel is a UK born novelist whose writing follows a career in education, first as a teacher/lecturer and after as a business leader within the education sector. Having fallen in love with a French man she met in India, Hazel now lives and writes in Paris. Hazel’s route into writing was an unusual one, which draws on her time as CEO and MD of two successful education companies. Having moved from the corporate world into full-time writing, Hazel enjoys exploring those deeper aspects of what it means to be living and striving in our modern world. Through themes of uncertainty, loss, obsession, power, change and fear, and of questioning life and the self, the reader travels with her characters through an archetypical inner journey that is fundamentally satisfying because it could equally be their own. Since becoming a full-time writer, Hazel’s books have received international attention. She travels often, giving talks and running workshops at literary festivals and writing retreats. Hazel has been Writer in Residence for Your Writeful Place in France and the UK and at the Sivananda Ashram in Southern India where she was commissioned to write a book about Ashram life. She runs a writer’s group for aspiring novelists in Paris and one for prisoners at Styal Women’s prison in the UK.

4Q: Undressing Stone sounds like an intriguing story. Can you tell us about it and what inspired it.

HM: I loved writing Undressing Stone. It is an often quoted cliché that when we are old we will regret what we didn’t do more than what we did. I wanted to explore the idea of completely reimagining your life. The main character, Sian is asked by her therapist ‘if you were able, how would you redesign your life?’ I wanted to take a women who people would generally describe as ‘ordinary’ on a journey of transformation – both in terms of her life situation and psychologically – and to see where that would lead her.

Secondly, I wanted to examine the idea that despite the fact that we are taught that work is paramount in terms of our success, that for many people it can be difficult to find fulfillment in the usual 9 – 5 grind. I wanted to explore the notion that what we do to earn money is not necessarily the most fulfilling or defining part of our lives.

And thirdly, I wanted to write an ode to introverts. I believe that the ways in which we measure success are inherently geared towards more extrovert qualities – being ‘go-getting,’ forceful, flamboyant are often synonyms for being ambitious, confident and assertive. Undressing Stone challenges this idea and explores some of the ways that introverts often struggle in a world that ignores or devalues the ways in which they express themselves and engage with the world. 

4Q: Our writing is like our children and asking you to pick your favorite is difficult, but backed into a corner, which novel was the most fun to write and why?

HM: A difficult question indeed! I believe that our first novel is like our first love – it will always hold a special place in the writer’s heart. Kanyakumari is very special for me for so many reasons. It opened the way for me to make a life as a writer. It is set in India which is a country that has called me back time and time again. And it explores themes which remain interesting to me – not least of which, what is ‘home?’

The Geranium Woman was hugely satisfying to write. It explores female leadership, and whether or not business can be a force for good. Both of great interest to me, and so pertinent themes in today’s world. Plus it was fun writing a woman with two lovers  

And of course, a writer should always love their most current book. I felt such a sense of loss when I finished writing Undressing Stone. I felt so at home in Sian’s world. And I loved writing the gothic-mystery element of the story.

4Q: Please share a childhood anecdote or memory with our readers.

HM: I was eight years old when I first became aware of a dream. It wasn’t an actual dream, but rather an image or an idea. A sense of story began to form in my imagination. I don’t know where it came from – perhaps from fairy-tales or from myths and legends. Or maybe it was just an eight-year-old’s expression of the mysteries inherent in growing up. In any case, the story began with a quest - a dark path winding off into some undefined future with something deeply profound – transformational even - at its end. Perhaps the quest was about becoming the adult I’d eventually be; finding wholeness, or finding home. I don’t know. I called it ‘The Search for the Big Orange Poetry Flower.’ I knew that I had to look for this flower and that my search would end in India. I like to think that this strange dream is why I set my first novel there – that Kanyakumari - the first book I wrote – was the flower that lay at the end of my quest. 

4Q: Please tell us about your writing habits. What works best for you?

HM: I always say that the job of a writer involves four things – writing, reading, thinking and marketing. I’m lucky enough to be able to write full-time. I don’t write every day but I do one or more of these four activities every weekday. I’ve always been a daydreamer and If I didn’t take the time to dream, to engage with ideas and themes, to explore, then I wouldn’t have stories to write. I see reading as integral to the job of a writer. To learn about what works and what doesn’t, to be inspired, to be surprised, to learn and grow as a writer. And of course marketing is important because I want people to read my stories, so I spend time networking, developing my social media platform, engaging with my readers.

When I write it is in long blocks of time – full days and often weeks at a time. I start with a theme that I want to explore and the story develops from there. I don’t usually know the ending of my books when I start writing them and this keeps me excited by the story. Often I like to immerse myself in one character – if I am writing a multi-viewpoint book I spend weeks – sometimes more - in just one point of view so that I can fully realize that particular character. And I spend a lot of time editing – I really enjoy that part of the process. 

An Excerpt from Undressing Stone

Prologue - Saint Vey, Rural France

Never let the internet make a decision for you.’ I can’t remember now what Arwel had been talking about, but not wanting to do his bidding, that’s exactly what I did. I, Sian Evans, a fifty-something divorcee moved from Cardiff to Saint Vay - a four-house hamlet tucked away in a forgotten corner of ancient France, perfect for farmers, old people and escapees. I went because the internet told me to. And I loved the fact that Arwel was furious
Good grief Sian, how can you possibly move there?!’ He had been adamant that living alone in rural France I’d immediately overdose or be eaten by French savages. At least there was no chance of the first occurrence, since I’d stopped taking my medication a month before and had no plans to resume. I didn’t tell Arwel that of course. My dear ex-husband, for reasons he would insist are motivated by my own good, would have been unimpressed. My shrink might have been less troubled - after all it’s partly his fault I went.

Where is home?’ That was the title of the on-line quiz that sent me here eleven months, three weeks and two days ago. The answer apparently, was France. “You’re chic and sophisticated,” the quiz proclaimed once I’d answered questions such

as which scene inspires me most (a picture of wine and cheese on a checked table-cloth) and which celebrity I’d date (I didn’t recognise any of them). “You can be introverted, but you enjoy good food and fine wine. You understand that life is short but you know how to savour it.” I wasn’t sure about the chic and sophisticated part, so Paris was out. Rural France it was.

Home. A small word but so cavernous. Home just now is my little cottage, the garden and the field behind. I’m sitting on an old wooden bench sipping a glass of wine as I typically do at sunset, the scent of wet leaves and wood-smoke suffusing the usual tirade of buzzings, twitterings and rustlings. The meadow as ever is a restless sea of live things: Crickets, gendarmes, chaffinches, pigeons, a little cat grey with a bent leg. Two big hares lope past occasionally cocking their long ears at the slightest sound, but I haven’t seen them tonight. And there are bats, small ones that fly out of the shadows at the turn of the day. All this life makes it impossible to be alone. I don’t feel restless though. It’s as though I’m at the still centre of it all. Or something like that.

The sun is setting. That isn’t a metaphor, it actually is setting. It’s that time of the evening when the trees turn black and spikey and the world takes on that melancholic sort of air, like it regrets the futility of the day’s exertions and wants to wallow in self-pity for a while. I like this time of day. Especially here. Strange to think it’s always sunset somewhere. When I first arrived, I used to try to work out when the sun would set in Wales. And in India. I don’t do that anymore. One sunset is all we can have at a time and it makes no sense to go chasing someone else’s. Mine, this evening is rather a dull affair, cold and not very colourful at all. ‘A glorious sunset,’ people say. Since I arrived I’ve been hoping for one worthy of the term, the kind that people who write and sometimes those who don’t, try to be poetic about by using too many adjectives. In any case, my sun has probably sunk behind the horizon now, it’s hard to tell because it’s cloudy. Again, not a metaphor although, being post-menopausal I can see how some might say I protest too much on that front.

Eleven months is more than long enough to acquire habits. I’ve acquired plenty since I arrived. And they’re not a French re-packaging of those I had in Cardiff. Back then, the first thing I’d do each morning was to dredge the night. Depending on how busy I’d been, this could take some time. Dreams, wakefulness, fears, worries, all the night time dwellers of an overactive mind would be excavated and picked over. I’d consider my discoveries, wary, mistrustful – whatever we try to suppress will come out in our dreams. I don’t do that anymore. I don’t need to. These days, either on waking, or on the now rare occasion that sleep has eluded me, on hearing the dawn chorus - the countryside is so noisy - I note my mind’s nocturnal output, and simply acknowledge it.

Photo by Robert Shortall
This morning, I woke with the birds, having left the shutters of my little cottage open. I lay in bed listening to amorous pigeons and twittery little things that were probably martins of some sort, competing with enthusiastic chaffinches whose elaborate warbling ends with the proclamation ‘it’s reeeeeal!’ Truth birds. I stretched languidly enjoying the warmth of my duvet in the early morning chill, and thought about coffee. It’s then that it occurred to me. I don’t think I dreamt it, not that I remember anyhow. It wasn’t a flash of inspiration either. Some residue from the shifting images of my recent sojourn in my head - or wherever we go when we sleep - something made me realize: I was finally naked under my clothes.

To discover more about Hazel and her novels, please follow these links.

Thank you Hazel for being our guest this week. All the best with your writing.

HM: Thank you so much for featuring me and my work, your questions were so interesting – I loved thinking about them and how to answer.

A special thank you to my visitors and readers. Please leave a comment, don't be shy. Click on the comment link below.

Friday 11 January 2019

The Alexanders - Dominic. 1911 - 1920

I love Historical Fiction.

The first draft of The Alexanders – Dominic, 1911 – 1920 is complete! Now comes the revisions, the corrections, the beta readers, the editing, the cover design….

Please read an excerpt from 1917 – World War 1 rages in Europe. Dominic goes to war. But before he goes, he attends a going away party, a birthday party...and he gets to try Poutine Rapee for the first time!


When Dominic tells the recruiter about his bad leg and how he was rejected back in Scotland, he is informed that there are shortages of many men for different phases of the war besides the infantry but just as dangerous. When Dominic joins up he’s being assigned to the 26th Battalion (New Brunswick) under the command of Lt-Col A.E.G. McKenzie. Elements of the Battalion have recently been used in the Battle of the Somme and are now being readied for a planned British offensive on the German held French city of Arras but that’s not where he’s going. He’s advised that when he arrives in England he will be seconded to the Royal Air Corps to receive his training as an observer
During the first weeks of February he goes on basic training in Valcartier, Quebec. It’s torturous, his leg aches every night. He discovers muscles he never knew he had until they show up being sore. The one thing is he’s exemplary at (his trainer’s words) is marksmanship. The Ross Mk II rifle and he have become close friends, almost lovers. Other recruits argue that it is too long for trench warfare but Dominic sticks up for the rifle proclaiming its long range precision as being significant. His rate of accuracy is the highest in his company. Training is shortened by the urgent call for men from across the ocean. He’s given a four day pass before he ships out.
The twenty-fifth of February is bitterly cold, especially just as the sun sets, which is early today at 5:20. Any time spent out of doors is an invitation to more than frost bite, more like a frost banquet. Exposed skin will freeze in twenty minutes. It’s been that long since Dominic left his house. Walking into the city, he’s warm inside his new greatcoat. Ice crystals whiten a khaki scarf that covers his mouth. A beaver skin hat is pulled down to cover head, ears, nape of his neck and forehead. The greatcoat goes to his ankles. Pure Canadian wool that keeps you warm even if it gets wet. Inside the heavy coat, Private Dominic Alexander is wearing the olive drab uniform of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, wool jacket, shirt and tie and heavy wool pants with leggings wrapped about his calf to his knees, tucked into black sturdy boots large enough for two pairs of socks. He’s bundled up against the cold.

Two days from now, on Tuesday, he’s to report for duty at 6:00 a.m. in Halifax where he will embark for England on the HMS Andania. Dominic will depart for the war from the same wharf he arrived at a little over two years ago. Tonight he is attending a going away party for him and today is also his birthday. When he turns up Cameron Street, Maria’s aunt’s house is on the next corner on Gordon Street, less than a minute away. He’s familiar enough with the large house where Maria and her family tend to have their gatherings because the place is so big. Ma tante Emma, as she is called, is a widower whose late husband was a doctor. An addition contained his offices at one time but now they are all divided rooms to let, providing a continuous income. She keeps the main house as it was, terribly big, bought with the expectation of many running feet when they were younger, but alas, that wasn’t to be. A large open living room and adjoining parlour can hold twenty people in comfort. The kitchen has a cozy nook and small table in one corner and room for three or four cooks. With a dining room containing heavy furniture that can seat ten, there’s plenty of space. No one enjoys a get together more than ma tante Emma and her home is the perfect spot.

People are coming over later but Emma invited him to come earlier and have supper with her and Maria, who has been there helping. She made an old family recipe especially for Dominic, an Acadian treat she told him. What she called it sounded like Poo-tin Raw-pay. Maria assured him they are delicious and a lot of work to make.
Dressed as warm as he is, by the time he knocks on the front door, he’s starting to feel a chill. A faint command to “come in” seeps through the keyhole and he enters the foyer. Maria greets him in the hallway, standing back slightly, not recognizing the shrouded figure at first. Only when he removes the scarf away from his mouth does she know who it is.

Hello my beloved. Come in quick, don’t let too much of that cold in here.”

Regarding the coat of frost on the scarf where it covered his mouth, her eyes widen in disbelief.

My goodness Dominic, did you walk from your house?”

While removing the hat, he’s nodding.

Aye I did. I didn’t realize it was this cold.”

She pays more attention to his clothing as he removes his greatcoat.

Oh how wonderful Dominic, you wore your new uniform. Here, give me that coat and let me see.”

She calls out to her aunt who is setting the table in the kitchen nook where she, Maria and Dominic will have their supper.

Ma tante Emma, vien voir Dominic avec sa nouvelle uniforme!” (“Aunt Emma, come see Dominic with his new uniform”).

Passing his coat and hat to Maria, Dominic removes his boots to leave them at the door and steps forward to meet Emma. She doesn’t walk so much as she waddles instead. She’s a big woman, not too tall, with open arms and a large bosom that begs to be hugged. Rosy cheeks always look like they’re blushing and a perpetual smile adorns her face. Short greyish curls top her round head. An aroma of boiled potatoes follows her.

What a handsome lad you are Dominic. A shame that you have to go off to war. We’ll have to telegram ahead to warn all those young British girls, won’t we Maria?”

She says that with a wink and engulfs Dominic in her arms. Stooping a bit to enjoy the warmth of her embrace, he takes in the lovely scent of jasmine she always wears.

Now come Dominic, we have some delicious poutines for you. I’ve made a batch for our company to enjoy later on. If it’s one thing you will learn from us Acadians is that we love a good meal.”

Placing Dominic’s coat, scarf and hat on a hanger, Maria stows them in the closet by the front door and gives her boyfriend a quick hug, a peck on the check and waves for him to follow. The hallway has a set of stairs on the right and extends toward the back on the left. Colorful ribbons are strung around the walls and a hand printed sign hangs over the stairway proclaiming Bon Voyage, Happy Birthday and Best Wishes. The dining room is on the immediate right and the kitchen is on the same side. A table in the corner of the kitchen is set for three and Emma invites Dominic to take the head of the table near the window and has Maria take the side seat facing the kitchen and her place setting is on the opposite end of Dominic’s. She spoons out each a poutine on three plates and brings one to set in front of Maria and the other in front of Dominic. He stares at it and loses his appetite.

For those who’ve never eaten poutine rapee, the first time you see one can be a perplexing proposition. Dominic doesn’t know what to say. The object on his plate is the size of a grapefruit, a misshapen, steaming globule that makes him think of snowballs. Emma sets her plate down and turns to get them some tea. Maria is slicing hers in half when she notices the look on Dominic’s face and starts to giggle. She’s seen the same look before when someone is introduced to this delicacy.

They’re much tastier than they look Dominic. Just cut it in bite size chunks and add some sugar or molasses on it. There’s delicious meat in the middle and you can choose between white sugar or brown sugar. I like brown sugar on mine. Some folks just eat them with salt and pepper.
He replies hesitatingly.

Okay, if you say so.”

Not wanting to seem ungrateful, he does as she suggests. Picking up his knife, he slices the poutine down the middle. The two halves divide to expose a center of tender chunks of pork that have been salted and spiced.

Well it certainly smells good.”

After placing cups the cups of tea down, Emma joins them.

I prefer molasses on mine Dominic. You can try a little bite of each and see which you like best.”

Slicing small tentative pieces, he sprinkles a bit of brown sugar on one, white sugar on another, a drip of molasses on the third and only salt and pepper on the fourth. Not sure about sugar on potatoes, he tries the unsweetened one first. Biting into it, he closes his eyes and his teeth sink into the firm but creamy potato mixture with tender pieces of pork that almost melt in his mouth.

Mmmm, it is good! Certainly much better than I expected.”

Maria agrees as she chews on her own piece.

Told you so, didn’t I?”

Dominic tries the sweetened pieces and a smile states how much he agrees with the flavors but decides he likes the natural taste of the poutine best with salt and pepper. Poutine is a heavy meal and he shares a second one with Emma, Maria is full with just one. For their dessert one of her neighbors has dropped off a raisin pie for the celebration and it is another food that Dominic has not had before and he falls in love with the flaky crust and the sweetness of the dried fruit. The plates are cleared off and washed up before the trio sit at the table with their last cup of tea. People will not begin arriving before seven o’clock. With everything ready for their guests they broach a variety of subjects.

Dominic wonders how you make poutine. Emma fills him in.

Well we started with about 90 potatoes because we wanted to have 60 poutine or so. After we peel them, half of them are boiled and mashed. The other half is grated, the liquid squeezed out with a cheese cloth which we call epurer. Salt and milk are added and the two potato mixtures are blended together, we call that part meler. Then you need to be quick because if the potato mixture is left out too long, they turn grey, still as tasty but not so pretty. So you form them into balls, rouler, add seasoned pork in the center and put them in a pot of boiling water for two hours and voila, you have poutine rapee.”

Wow! That does seem like a lot of work”

Emma is Maria’s favorite aunt and she loves the rapport and goodwill between her aunt and her boyfriend and listens to their banter. Emma shows concern with knitted brows when she asks Dominic about going to war.

What’s going to happen when you get to England Dominic?”

Thank you to Paul Chiasson (RIP) for explaining the making of poutine.

Thank you dear reader  for visiting the Scribbler. The Alexanders – Dominic 1911 – 1920 will be published in 2019. Watch here for more details.

Coming soon is my collection of short stories, some previously published on, here on The Scribbler, and several on limited editions booklets dedicated to my grandchildren. Many of them are new. Titled Boxes of Memories.

Watch for details.

Saturday 5 January 2019

Guest Author Susan Toy. Readers...Resolve To Read More This Year.

Always fun to have this lady as our guest.

Susan M. Toy is a Reader first, and then an author of two published novels and one novella. She shares her time between a trailer in southwestern Ontario and a verandah on the island of Bequia, where she can always be found … Reading!

Readers … resolve to read more in 2019!


I am a reader and I read a lot of books! No matter how many I read however I never seem to catch up with my ginormous to-be-read stack/list of books. Even though I try to follow Dr. Seuss’s advice:

I never manage to come even close to catching up.
But then that’s part of the fun in reading, isn’t it? The search for new books to read, test-driving new authors’ writing, the joy in “discovering” a new-to-you book or even a genre that you’ve never read before. I’ve spent my entire life reading and working with books and authors and am an author now myself, yet I never tire of reading, thinking about, discussing, recommending and discovering new books!
I know there are many others out there just like me, too, so that’s why I say to you now – Make it your New Year’s resolution to read even more in 2019! You don’t need to count the books you do read, or compare numbers you’ve read with others. We are all different, we readers, not only in how fast we can read, but also in when and where we like to read, how we approach our reading, and even why or what we read in the first place. So no judgement calls here at all, folks! Just the suggestion that if you enjoy reading, you might want to make it a priority in your life to read even more.  I won’t go into the many ways that you can make more time to read. I’ll let you figure that out for yourself.

To help other readers along a little bit with suggestions as to what they might consider reading, I recently created a Facebook Group Your next great read ... suggestions for readers and authors that I hope will not only generate lists of books and authors for other readers to enjoy reading, but also some discussion about books and reading in general. It’s an open group and anyone may join – authors too, because authors are (or should be!!) readers themselves. Self-promotion is allowed, but authors are requested to contribute information on other books and authors, as well. I would love to see – eventually – a large membership of readers from all around the world (and we already have the beginnings of an international group) who benefit from the reading experience of everyone. I’m particularly interested in world literature (although only what is available in English, in my case) so I would love to hear about authors in other countries, especially non-English-speaking, who are publishing books that are available in English translation. I know other members already contributing to the site are also interested in particular genres or types of writing. Why not join us and see if you find something new-to-you that becomes Your Next Great Read!

So, Readers, are you ready to resolve to read more in 2019? I hope so, and that you will consider joining us. And, if you’re not on Facebook but are still looking for ways to encourage yourself to stick with this resolution of reading more, I suggest you consider following these blogs …

(This one, of course!) Allan Hudson’s South Branch Scribbler

And my own blog, Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing (I’m planning on writing a series, actually, about all the How, When, Why, Where, What, and Who on reading – subscribe to my blog and Stay Tuned!)

I mention these blogs primarily because we three authors make a habit of promoting other authors and their books. We also all write or have written about writing and publishing as self-published authors and we reblog interesting articles and blog posts written by other authors as well. As my personal interest has swayed from selling books to finding more readers for writing in general, I’ve written a number of posts aimed at readers (as well as addressing directly authors who continue to promote their own work too much!). You might find something interesting in one of these articles:

Why not read books simply because they’re well-written?

A challenge to all Readers …

HOW to get promotion for yourself and your book …

With great thanks to Allan Hudson for encouraging me to write this blog post and offering to host me, once again, on South Branch Scribbler! It’s always a pleasure to appear on your blog, Allan!

 It is my utmost joy to have you here Susan.

Susan M. Toy is a Reader first, and then an author of two published novels and one novella. She shares her time between a trailer in southwestern Ontario and a verandah on the island of Bequia, where she can always be found … Reading!

If you missed Susan's previous visits, interviews and short stories, follow these links.

50 Ways to Lose Your Liver.

4Q Interview

Family Jewels