Saturday 28 December 2019

Guest Author and Editor Elizabeth Peirce of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

One of my author friends introduced Elizabeth and me, suggesting she would be a terrific guest on the Scribbler. I agree. 

Elizabeth Peirce is an award-winning author, editor and teacher living in Halifax, NS. Her book Grow Organic: A Simple Guide to Nova Scotia Vegetable Gardening (Nimbus Publishing) won the Best Atlantic Published Book award in 2011. She has also written books about canning and preserving (You Can Too!, 2013), Maritime pirates (Saladin, 2006 and The Pirate Rebel, 2007) and a children’s book (The Big Flush, 2017). She is sharing with the Scribbler an excerpt from her latest book, Lost and Found: Recovering Your Spirit After a Concussion—a book she describes as a toolkit of strategies to help concussion survivors access their innate healing potential. Based on her own experience of healing from a concussion in 2013, Lost and Found is available at select Chapters/ Coles/ Indigo bookstores, on (in both print and audio formats, for those with auditory processing issues), and via Elizabeth’s author website,

She is really happy to be Allan’s guest on the Scribbler!

4Q: Gardening is a delightful hobby where you can see the beautiful results for your efforts. Tell us about your award-winning book – Grow Organic. Can it help me be a better gardener?

EP: I hope so! That book had its beginnings in 2008 when an editor friend at Nimbus Publishing in Halifax who often called me with her garden questions finally said, “It would be easier if you just wrote me a book!” We both found it frustrating that so many How-To books on gardening seemed to come from sunny places like California, where the climate is pretty much perfect for growing anything. I wanted to write a beginning gardener’s guide for people living in tougher climates—lots of rain, cold spells, weird frost dates… that’s pretty much the Maritimes in a nutshell! Since you live in New Brunswick, I think the same issues apply. The book takes you through the whole process, from building/ buying good soil to choosing local, non-GMO seed, to finding the best location for your garden, and deciding what vegetable varieties are a good fit for our climate. 

4Q: How long have you been writing and why did you decide on gardening and kitchen self-help books you published?

EP: I have been writing since I was seven years old. I was interested in all aspects of making books, from writing and illustration to bookbinding, and would often write and illustrate my own small storybooks. I learned to sew mostly so I could sew my books together! When I got older, I became a freelance editor and was working at a publishing company in Halifax, helping bring books to publication. That company eventually asked me if I wanted to write books for them… and I said yes! I’ve told you the story of how my gardening book came to be. When that book was published in 2010 and sold well, the publisher asked me to write a sequel: basically, what to do with all the vegetables and fruit you just grew! I’ve been a gardener since I was a child, and my grandmother taught me a lot about canning and preserving, so these subjects were ones I was (and am) very passionate about. I believe that growing and preserving our own food is an important survival skill, and one that is sadly lacking in many people’s life experience. 

4Q: Please share a childhood memory or anecdote.

Photo credit: Amanda White
EP:  I was fortunate enough to spend my childhood summers on the North Shore of Nova Scotia at my family’s cottage, which was really an old sea captain’s house near a tidal creek. The summer I turned 14, I saved up my babysitting money in order to buy a rowboat so I could take excursions on the creek. On my first outing, I took a picnic and rowed to a secluded beach about 30 minutes from the house. It was a beautiful day and I completely lost track of time, basking in the warm sunshine. When I got back in the boat to row home, I discovered to my horror that the tide had gone out, leaving only mudflats where the creek had been just a few hours before! I had to abandon my boat on the beach for the night and walk back home through the brambles and swampy wetlands, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. Not quite the glorious sea adventure I had anticipated!

4Q: Your website is totally cool. It mentions that you are a speaker. What’s this about?

EP: Well, thank you. After I published Grow Organic, I started getting asked to speak at gardening clubs, schools and community groups—really, anyone with an interest in growing their own food. Since I am a teacher and enjoy public speaking, it was a natural fit for me. For the last couple of years, I’ve also been a member of WITS (Writers in the Schools), a program affiliated with the Writers’ Federation of NS which sends authors to schools around the province so we can share our love of writing with students of all ages.  It’s been a great experience for me!

4Q: Please tell us about your other books.

EP: My first two books with Nimbus Publishing were in the historical fiction genre; there was some interest in local pirate lore—and Nova Scotia has had quite a storied history of pirates visiting our shores. The first of these books was co-authored with William Crooker and was called Saladin: Piracy, Mutiny and Murder on the High Seas. It tells the infamous tale of the British barque Saladin which was stranded at Country Harbour, NS in May of 1844 under suspicious circumstances. The Saladin men were tried for piracy and murdering their captain in one of the last major piracy trials in Canada. 

My second book about pirates was called The Pirate Rebel. It tells the story of the Irish pirate Ned Jordan and the incredible story of his attempted murder of a Halifax sea captain by throwing him overboard—the captain survived this ordeal and eventually testified against Jordan in a Halifax courtroom in 1809.

These two books are more than ten years old now—my more recent writing efforts have been a children’s book that was inspired by my then-four-year-old son’s intense dislike of loudly flushing public toilets. It’s called The Big Flush, and it’s the one I take with me on WITS visits to elementary schools when I speak to young writers about telling their own stories.

And then there’s my newest book, Lost and Found: Recovering Your Spirit After a Concussion, which I wrote after experiencing a concussion myself in 2013 and having a really rough time getting better. I vowed if I made it through that experience, I would write a book about what I learned. I had many teachers, inside the health professions and outside, and I met many folks with similar experiences who were facing prolonged recovery times. When I have a problem I need to solve, I sometimes write a book about it!

I’m including an excerpt from this book, as it’s the one I found the most challenging to write, and also the one I’m proudest of. You should know that I received my concussion when I fell headfirst to the floor during a pole fitness class. 

An Excerpt from Lost and Found: Recovering Your Spirit After A Concussion

(Copyright is held by the Author. Used with permission) 

Redefining Recovery

Will I ever fully recover? Will my life be this way forever? These were the questions that circled around and around inside my head for months, demanding a response. Unfortunately, I had none.

The term “recovery” is a loaded one for concussion survivors. We count the months since the event with the attentiveness of a prisoner marking time on the walls of their cell; we look to survivors further along their healing paths with anxious, hopeful eyes, pleading with them to tell us they’re fully recovered and what their magic cure was. We live in dread that we will not recover the parts of ourselves that were lost when we were injured. We crave certainty when nothing in life is truly certain.

There will come a day perhaps when we lose count of the months passing, when we stop comparing ourselves to others. Maybe we will begin to feel a subtle shift in our attitude towards our injury that doesn’t focus exclusively on “full recovery” but instead on “healing”. Like life, healing is a journey rather than a destination, a process rather than a result.

Maybe we can slowly begin to back away from that big hole at the centre of our lives, the concussion that has taken so much away from us and has become our chronic preoccupation: resenting it, fearing it, identifying with it. We can allow the good things in our lives to continue to have importance and not get swallowed up by the pain we feel. 

Does switching out of “full recovery” thinking mean we are giving up on ever being recovered? No. Accepting that we are on a healing journey with others who can help will remove pressure from the brain, which creates the most favourable conditions for recovery. 

What do we do in between appointments with members of our health team, those skilled healers who bring relief for our painful symptoms and reassurance for our troubled minds?

I know I often leaned heavily on them, gobbling up every word and piece of advice, desperate for good news about my condition. I also wanted to experience the same feeling of knowledgeable comfort outside of office visits, when doubts crept in. 

I explored the idea of being my own therapist, of re-imagining the pleasurable or meaningful activities of my daily living as actually therapeutic. An hour in the garden, a walk around the neighbourhood, peeling carrots for supper—I visualized each task as just as important to my healing as ninety minutes with a physiotherapist, doing dizzying balance exercises.

A learned skill, self-healing is one that can transform our lives, even if we are not injured. It removes the pressure of deadlines and accommodates the slower pace the brain needs to heal. When we are not in a rush, we notice amazing things and make true progress in our learning and healing.

The movement practice of NIA (short for neuro-integrative muscular activity) introduced me to the concept of self-healing through acts of kindness to the self and especially to the body, which may be feeling left out with all the attention typically given to the brain after a concussion. In the NIA philosophy, “Learning to perform acts of self-kindness comes from tracking ‘feel good’ sensations. When you foster self-healing through acts of kindness you naturally become more proactive and in control of outcomes. You replace the attitude of, ‘My shoulder is hurting,’ to one of, ‘I am healing my shoulder.’” (Debbie Rosas, co-founder of NIA)

This shift in how we speak and think about our injury and its effect on our lives does not deny the presence of pain and sadness, but it can help to empower us when we feel powerless. During my healing, I reframed my most persistent complaint from “I’m having a bad day with lots of concussion symptoms” to “This is a good day to focus on self-healing.” I also began to redefine my relationship to fear when I changed “I am feeling anxiety” to “I’m learning to be a calm person.” This language shift helped me see my task as part of a process, one that might take a long time.

Like learning, healing can be a lengthy process, and one whose timeline is not usually knowable. A nurse acquaintance of mine points to the dangers of “prescribed” recovery times for major illness. Telling a patient who’s had major abdominal surgery that they’ll be fine in six weeks, when in many people’s experience, the healing can actually take up to a year, can itself be a major setback when the patient still feels lousy after six months. “There needs to be more truth-telling about recovery times,” says my wise friend.

I felt intense relief when an acquaintance confided in me that it was fully five years before she felt well after her two concussions; it felt like I was finally hearing the truth after months of uncertainty.  Giving myself permission to contemplate a longer recovery time relieved the pressure I had been putting on myself to heal quickly. It was a great gift.

The value of a cognitive function test:

If you’re not sure which part(s) of your brain was affected by your injury, it is worth taking a test that measures your cognitive efficiency in several areas—these may include visual, verbal, motor speed, reaction time, and impulse control. Sports medicine doctors are usually well-versed in administering this computerized test which, while it shouldn’t be used as the only source of information about someone’s level of brain function, can certainly help to pinpoint which parts of the brain need help.

The doctor who gave me this test, one I had never met before, wisely didn’t ask me ahead of time what my profession was; in looking at my results, she noticed a particularly low score in the verbal and visual processing areas (I am a highly visual learner and comfortable in several languages). She then asked me what I did for a living—when I answered “I’m an English professor,” she laughed, and said “Now we know which parts of your brain need work!” This information about the part of my brain that had been affected by concussion was a huge relief and ended months of struggling to understand why I didn’t feel at all like myself. 

What we see when we slow down

Since I was too dizzy to drive or ride my bicycle in the weeks after my concussion, I began walking. Just around my own neighbourhood at first—even small trips to the drugstore or post office seemed like epic outings when my brain was crowded with symptoms.

You see a whole lot more when you’re walking than via any other mode of transportation. It invites you to experience your five senses in ways not usually available in our regular lives.

On my walks, I noticed how the lavender plant in my neighbour’s front garden bloomed beautifully all summer long. With her permission, I would stop and pluck a couple of strands from its large bushy cushion and rub them between my fingers every time I passed by. The scent on my fingers was like medicine for my nerves (I learned later that lavender oil is used as a sleep aid and general calming agent).

Returning from walks, and not wanting to go back inside just yet, I would visit the garden, a sanctuary of calm which provided me with many delightful flavours to collect by hand all summer long, especially berries. 

From early July sweet strawberries, to the deeper red, scratchier raspberries that seeded themselves among the currant bushes, to a few highbush blueberries the birds didn’t eat, to the black currants, deepest purple and most adult berry of them all. I spent the most time picking these tiny dark globes from their large, treelike bushes, and turning them into jelly, one of the tart, musky and concentrated delights of midsummer.

The slow, unhurried action of berry picking gave my brain a simple and undemanding task that became a pleasure in its productive repetition: the same hand motion, finger grasping berry, container slowly filling with fruit. Just enough stimulation of the visual centre not to overwhelm, but satisfy.

 It was astonishing to me how pleasurable such small manual tasks became in my shrunk-down, post-concussion world.

Being, not doing

One of the changes I noticed in myself after my accident was how intensely I experienced emotions and how exaggerated they often seemed: seeing a bumblebee land on a flower could send me into a state of blissful happiness while hearing a mother speak harshly to her child in the grocery store threw me into tearful despair. My nervous system felt as tightly strung as a violin; one strong pluck would snap the instrument in half. I felt the need to sequester myself from sources of emotional stimulation—no radio or television news, no newspapers, limited interactions with people. It was a pretty monastic existence, and one that felt strangely detached from time, as I had little contact with goings-on in the outside world.

Here’s a hard thing about concussion: when you can’t think, you’re left with only feeling.  Raw, unfiltered emotion comes pouring down on you in waves, and you have to learn to roll with those waves or get knocked over with each fresh assault.

Because you don’t get to do much while you’re healing from a concussion, you become by default a master of just being. Abiding, would be a good word. Through this process, many of us learn that full acceptance of the awfulness of our situation, rather than resistance to it, may be the key to recovery.

We learn by repeated experience that our emotions are impermanent, but our spirit is not. I remember standing in my backyard, sick with vertigo, exhausted from lack of sleep, with my feet immersed in the cool water of my two-year-old’s wading pool, unable to move and weighed down with despair. 

Photo Credit: Zsilenty
Gazing up at the sky as clouds silently passed the sun, the beautiful three-dimensional patterns of light and shadow on their surface suddenly struck me with such force, my self-pity was transformed into amazement; with tears of gratitude, I whispered over and over again to the sky, “Thank you, thank you.” It was like walking out onto a sunny field after being shut in a small, dark room. I held up my palms to the sky to receive the healing light, a practice I continue to this day whenever I need to be reminded of my connection to something greater than my own self. I learned later that the “palms up” position is a gesture of acceptance. 

 The Power of Gratitude

How often in my life have I wished that I were a different sort of person, a person who “lives in the moment”, someone not in the habit of overthinking. During my healing, I became that person for a while when I lost my ability to think. In some ways, it was incredibly freeing: life pared down to its essentials. Getting up in the morning, having a shower, and making breakfast without feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, being able to navigate the grocery store with its noise and bright lights and crowded aisles…I counted all these moments as small triumphs when they finally came.

As I was able to let more and more of the world back into my life, I knew my brain was healing. I learned to trust its pace, though of course I wished it might be faster, and imagined all the complicated rewiring it was busily doing to allow me to complete more and more complex tasks. I thanked it for knowing all about synapses and neurons, and for its technical expertise in getting me back online. I couldn’t imagine working on such a complicated computer myself, and yet I was indeed doing so by giving my brain time and space and encouragement to complete the work on my behalf. I learned to stop judging it and began to cherish it as I would a loved one struggling under incredible difficulties.

Treating our wonderful brains with respect, gratitude, even a touch of awe is a healing practice. Though it’s hard to believe when we feel broken, we are always complete, whole, and enough.

You’ve likely heard it said that it is very hard to feel angry, resentful and bitter when we feel grateful. Focusing on the things that are going right in our lives will train our brains to notice good things even when we feel overwhelmed with negatives. Keep a gratitude journal or find a friend who texts, and send each other your gratitudes each morning for three months. Notice any shifts in your outlook after a few weeks of this practice. Gratitudes can be as simple as “I am grateful for warmer weather,” or “I am grateful for leftovers in the fridge so I don’t have to cook today.” 

 When I was healing from my concussion, I also began a daily “What Ifs?” practice: before getting out of bed each morning, I would allow myself to envision three positive scenarios for the day ahead, things like “What if I don’t have as many concussion symptoms today?” “What if I have more energy?” “What if my kid gets out the door to school without a struggle?” This practice allowed my brain to consider the possibility that my life circumstances could in fact change for the better over time, allowing it to relax its habitual negativity bias.

Rediscovering Wonder

Healing from a concussion takes a huge amount of energy; we feel exhausted most of the time, and what little energy we have usually goes to survival-level tasks such as feeding and clothing ourselves and our families, going to work (if we’re back), and basic coping skills. Many of us give up the things we used to do that brought fun and meaning to our lives, that brought us into contact with our higher selves. And yet, it is critically important not to lose sight of the spiritual dimension of our lives while we are healing. The spirit allows us to see the big picture—life is good—in the minutiae of details and scheduling that make up our post-injury lives, all the restrictions and planning that we need to do to get through the day.

Reading bedtime stories to my little boy, I sometimes noticed “I’m not here” as I felt myself drifting away on the river of self-preoccupation that often comes with health challenges. To change the focus and remain present with him and the activity that we both loved, I began to concentrate on the beautiful illustrations in his books, picking out one whimsical detail on each page, or noticing the colours and textures of the pictures that the artist had carefully created.

I did the same thing when I was in the garden, and yet not really in the garden. Focusing on minute details: picking a slug off a lettuce leaf, reaching through brambles for that one ravishingly ripe raspberry, helped me focus my mind on small joys and attainable victories.

Rediscovering the wonder in small things was one of the gifts of my healing journey. I invite you to begin noticing your own small wonders, too. 

Thank you for being our guest this week, Elizabeth. Best of luck in your writing journey!

For all you readers wanting more info on Elizabeth and her books, please follow these links:

Facebook: Elizabeth Peirce Writer

Instagram: @elizpeirce

Saturday 21 December 2019

4Q Interview with Santa Claus.

Jolly Old St. Nick

For the third year in a row, Santa Claus is back for another interview on the Scribbler. As usual, due to Santa’s crazy schedule in November and December, the interview took place last fall. According to his publicist, Santa has many requests for interviews and such but he is particularly fond of the Scribbler and he admits it’s one of his favorites. He’s actually looking forward to making this an annual event.

For all you wonderful readers, those interested in the previous interviews with Santa, please follow these links:

2018    2017   2014

4Q: We understand how popular you are Santa during Christmas, the festive celebration of the birth of Christ. Through this series of interviews, we are getting to know you better and discovering the magic of your world. Tell us about Mrs. Claus.

SC: That’s a fine question. Not many people ask about Mrs. Claus and I feel bad about that. I mean, she is the one that keeps everything running smooth. At one time, she did everything in the background, manage the elves, do the work scheduling, midwife, councilor (not all the elves are cheerful twenty-four hours a day), marketing, cleaning our house, cooking for everyone and so on. Phew, I get tired just thinking about it. We have more help now that we’re older. We’ve appointed some of the senior elves to more responsible positions so she has more free time these days.

We met in when I was a young man. Not many years after I was selected to be “the” Santa Claus, I was inexperienced and terribly slow, unorganized. Australia is the first country I visit each year and when I stepped off the sled in the 789th house I visited, I slipped off the roof and landed on my head, receiving a gash over my left eye. It needed stitches right away and at the hospital I attended, she was working the night shift as a nurse on the east coast. Of course, I needed to be patched up pretty quick and she was the only one who believed I was Santa Claus, the others writing me off as a drunk in a red suit.

And she was so beautiful (still is, by the way). Tall slender girl, reddish short hair, wide smile that beamed, I fell for her right away. Told her I’d be back. She didn’t believe me at the time but when I showed up the first week of January with a dozen roses and asked her out, we clicked right away. She’s been by my side since.

4Q: That’s an interesting story Santa. Tell us about your naughty list.

SC: I suppose I should. Let’s take you for an example, you’ve been on it a few times Allan. I still can’t get over how mischievous you were as a kid. Always getting into trouble. Goodness knows, you should’ve known better but you were such a curious lad. I mean, most of the time you were a normal kid, not too bad and always on the good list but every once in a while, you did something stupid and the “behavior meter” would bump you off the good list and on to the naughty side. I had to keep a close eye on you for the rest of the year to make sure you warranted gifts or not.

I remember the time you were playing with Mary, your next door neighbour (sweet young girl). She was serving you tea in her new playset, plastic dishes and cups and saucers and her cousin Betty unexpectedly showed up and you were jealous and being a nuisance. She tried to send you home, didn’t want to play with you anymore. That wasn’t nice, of course, but when they went in for dinner, you stole the plates and saucers and threw them in the garbage. That was a bad thing. You immediately went on the naughty list. The only redeeming factor was when your mother marched you back there and made you dig the dishes out of the garbage bin and apologize, that I manually moved you back to the good list.

Stuff like that gets kids on the list but to be honest, there’s not many names on that list.

4Q: What’s your take on last year’s Kurt Russell movie, The Christmas Chronicles? Did he do an accurate job of portraying you?

SC: Well yes, he did. I was consulted on that movie by the director, Clay Kaytis. I’m actually that handsome you know. The long hair and beard were my idea. I wasn’t too keen on sharing how I got in and out of the houses but the movie required a bit of realism and I wanted people to know how quickly I can get about. Mr. Russell did a fine job but the highlight was meeting Goldie Hawn on the set and seeing her as Mrs. Claus. She is still a fine-looking lady, almost as pretty as my own Mrs. Claus.

I think they did a fine job.

4Q: We expect there are many good memories for you but is there one visit anywhere on the planet that sticks out most in your memory?

SC: Yes, there are many wonderful moments that highlight each year but there is one particular stop over that remains foremost in my mind. I won’t mention any names of course, but Whoa, what a night. There is one rascal that probably was on the naughty list more than any other, a lad that grew up in Nova Scotia actually. He was basically a good boy but seemed to find way to get himself in hot water.

One time when he was older, he was alone at Christmas time, his wife and children visiting family in Europe. Thinking he was asleep, I was putting gifts under the tree when he tapped me on the shoulder and scared the dickens out of me. Anyway, long story short, he invited me back for breakfast after I did my run and what a blast we had. The first time I ever had rum and cokes for breakfast but the clincher was something he dug out of his stash. He warned me, “only take one of two puffs Santa” but I didn’t heed his warning. I still don’t know what was in it but, Oh Man, was I in a fix, more like a stupor… I don’t think I’ve ever laughed that much before... or since.

I was late getting home from that trip, too drunk really to command the sleigh but the reindeer made it back on their own. 

The Missus was not happy. 

Worried mostly. I was passed out in the sleigh and she had to put me to bed. Woke up to a tongue lashing. Needless to say, I make sure he’s asleep when I visit his house now.

Thank you, Santa, for sharing your moments with us once more. See you in a few days and next year.

Saturday 14 December 2019

Guest Author Alex Hudson of Great Britain

Alex is has recently published her debut novel. There are not many things more exciting than having a copy of your first book  in your hands. A lot of work and determination goes into writing a book. She has agreed to be our guest this week and talk about her story and share an excerpt – Beyond Redemption.

My name is Alex and I am waiting for my first novel to come out any day soon. **Note - the interview was completed before publication of Alex's novel)

I was born and bought up in London and I first started work at Universal Films / MCA Records in London’s Piccadilly, quite close to the famous Fortnum and Mason department Store. I met many wonderful stars of the present and future during my time there and it was a wonderful experience to work with so many high profile people.

Later I worked for several years in the Oil Industry as a PA to one of the Exploration Managers, this time quite close to Piccadilly Circus’ famous statue of Eros.

Then, when I moved to the West Country, I managed to obtain a job as a guide at the magnificent Longleat House, which inspired my love of history and fuelled my passion for the 18th century.

Now, I live on the South East Coast of England and my life has taken on a more relaxed pace which enabled me to finally complete my first novel, Beyond Redemption. We have many quaint little villages here and I often meet my Production Editor, Diny Van Kleeff, for afternoon tea in a gorgeous little 15th century Tea Shop. 

4Q: This is an exciting time in every writers' lives, when you are anxiously awaiting the publication of your debut novel. Before we talk about the story, tell us about your publication process as a beginner.

AH:  I have learned a lot on my journey and one very important lesson is to have a good editor. Someone you can connect with and who not only understands your story, but also, your writing method and style!

Also, particularly when writing an historical novel, research is a must. The basic details are not something you can invent. You have to be true to the period. I spent hours tracking down the facts and I even phoned Buckingham Palace, Debrett’s Peerage and The Port of London Authority to make sure I got my historical facts right.

I must say they were all exceedingly helpful.

4Q:  Now tell us about Beyond Redemption.

AH: The first book in the series, BEYOND REDEMPTION, is set against the backdrop of Georgian England with its trials and tribulations of the people of that time. It is a tale of seduction, rejection and tragic circumstances.
Isabella’s birth effects everyone who lives on the grand estate at Brayfield House, where her governess mother is employed, but when Isabella is traded to pay off her father’s gambling debt, there must be consequences and she has to discover if her father is truly beyond redemption.
But still, all is not what it seems as she fights trickery and cunning along the way. In the wake of something dreadful her strength of character helps her through some of the darkest times of her life.
Beyond Redemption is an in depth story about adept characters which will make you cry and make you laugh, but it is a dark blend of lawyers, gambling, love, revenge and betrayal set alongside the importing and exporting of unusual cargos.
What if your tomorrow turns out not as you have expected. Could you turn your life around? Will justice and the law win through……?

4Q: Pleased share a childhood memory or anecdote.

AH: I can’t think of an interested childhood anecdote but I can tell you about an interesting incident that happened to me when I was working as a tour guide at Longleat.

I was sitting in what is known as the Bath Bedroom, waiting for the next guide to arrive, when I felt someone put their arm around me. Thinking it was the guide who had come to take over my shift, I turned to them but there was no one there. A little surprised, I waited for the next guide to come and told her about my strange experience. She laughed and told me that what I had felt, was the ghost of a sweet little girl named Alice who had made her presence known to a number of the staff over the years. 

Truth or fiction - who knows? But I’ve used the name Alice for one of the characters in my novel. 

4Q:  When did you start writing and what inspired you?

AH: I began writing a few years ago, after my several years of working at Longleat House in Wiltshire (also known as Wessex).

The house was amazing and I felt that whenever I entered it, it would envelop me. This inspired me to visit other stately homes and I found that to tread where others had tread so many hundreds of years ago to be a most exciting and thrilling experience!

4Q: Tell us about your favorite authors.

AH: I love Jane Austin, but I guess my favorite book is “Forever Amber” by Kathleen Winsor. I also enjoy John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon and the matriarch of all “who done its” Agatha Christie.

4Q: Anything else you’d Like to add?

AH: I love writing! I am pulled along with the story and I often haven’t a clue where I’m going to end up. I often say, at the risk of sounding a little crazy, that I don’t write the story, it writes me!

Something well worth remembering: “You learn more by listening than you do by talking!”

An Excerpt from Beyond Redemption.

(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission)


Georgian England, 1787

Isabella was on her way home when a young jewellery thief, being chased by the watchmen, collided into her. In their haste to catch the boy, the three men roughly pushed Isabella out of the way. She felt their full force as they shoved her body hard against the wall. She fell to her knees in pain and feared for the unborn child growing inside her.

Oxfordshire, 1769

The night was darker than usual for the moon had been obscured by the clouds. Martha made her way home, having said her final ‘goodbyes’ before leaving for Wessex the very next day. With the darkness, came a quiet eeriness, but then the wind caught in the trees and she could hear the rustling of the leaves and the creaking of the boughs as it whistled and howled through their branches.

She had been detained and was much later than she had expected; she shouldn’t have been out so late this night. Feeling the cold she pulled her cloak tighter around her.

He appeared, suddenly, out of the darkness and tried to engage her into conversation but she turned away from his advances.

‘Please leave me alone. I have told you before that I am leaving Oxfordshire tomorrow. There is no room for you in my life.’

On hearing this he grabbed her by the arm and in his temper and frustration knocked her violently to the ground. 

Three weeks prior…

Martha had to make an effort to keep up with her father, the Reverend Blake, as he walked briskly to the church where he was to give his Sunday morning sermon.

‘Have you made answer to Lord and Lady Beaumont’s wonderful offer of governess at Brayfield House?’ he asked.

‘I will be writing to them today, thanking them and confirming I will be with them soon but it is such a long way to Wessex. I will miss you, Father.’

‘I will miss you too my dear, but I’ll be making my tri-monthly visits to the Beaumont’s and I will see you then,’ he comforted.

As they continued up the path and entered the church by the west door, she contemplated how much her life was going to change. Martha had been brought up in the lovely old parsonage and had so many happy memories of her life there with her mother who had passed away some years previously.

After the service, back at the rectory when the last of the lunch guests, who had accompanied them from church, had departed, Martha set about writing to the Beaumont’s. She knew that although they required her quite soon there was still time enough to ready herself for the move and to say her ‘Farewells’.

‘That young man is here again my dear,’ her father called up the stairs. She rushed to the window and there he was as usual, leaning against the wall and staring at the house.

Martha had been introduced to him at a gathering some days earlier and he hadn’t stop pestering her since.

He was visiting from London to negotiate with the Witney Mills, a business deal to take their blankets to London. He was a merchant and had taken over the family business when his father died.

Martha rather liked the young man at first but he pursued her so intensely that he was becoming a nuisance. As a clergyman’s daughter she would make visits around the village, calling on the parishioners, but it seemed that everywhere she went he was there, declaring his intentions to marry her.

‘Marry you, Sir. You hardly know me and more importantly I do not know you, Sir,’ Martha would answer in exasperation at his impudence.

She had this conversation with him time and time again and had told him that she was not interested in him.


Once the letter was written, folded and sealed, she looked out of the window again and to her relief the young man had gone. Quickly, she put on her cloak, grabbed her bonnet and set out for the local coaching inn to post it and was shocked when he appeared again as if from nowhere.

‘Good afternoon, Miss Blake. Pray, may I accompany you on your stroll?’

‘Good afternoon, Sir,’ she said stiffly, as there was no way to avoid him. ‘I am taking this letter to the post. In a short time I am to travel to Wessex to take up a governess post. It is a profession that I have dedicated my life to doing and there is no room for anything or anyone else. I am sorry to be so harsh in this matter but you seem to have trouble understanding that I have no romantic inclinations toward you. Please leave me alone.’

But he had no regard for her plea and for the days that followed he did nothing but try to persuade her otherwise.

* * *

On The Morning of her departure the Reverend Blake waved his daughter goodbye and the coach set off rattling along the cobbles to Wessex. Inside, Martha was relieved that she had not distressed her father by telling him of her ordeal of the previous night. She had survived the wicked man’s fists and his outburst of frustration. She had lain there in the dark and had thanked God when she heard his footsteps walk away.

That dreadful man will not get the better of me. I am going to start a new life and fortunately I will not be seeing him ever again. She consoled herself as she nursed her bruises in silence.

Brayfield House

After what seemed a never-ending journey the coach finally arrived at the inn close to her destination. As she alighted she saw a tall young man waiting with a carriage to take her to her final destination. He walked towards her and introduced himself.

‘Good afternoon. I’m Thomas Walker the Estate Manager at Brayfield House,’ he said ‘Do I have the pleasure of addressing Miss Blake, the new governess?’

‘Good afternoon, Mr Walker, Yes, I am Miss Blake.’

‘Well in that case, welcome Miss Blake,’ he smiled and proffered his hand. As they exchanged greetings she was glad this kind looking man was here to take her to the house, and she didn’t feel quite so alone. Thomas directed Martha to the waiting carriage and after they had seated themselves they started the drive to the house.

The journey allowed Thomas time to point out the farms and woodlands in the distance belonging to the estate before arriving at the great ornate gates and then down the long drive, passing the stables and the ice house. 

As the Beaumont’s imposing residence came into view Martha was taken aback by its grandeur. She wasn’t expecting anything quite like this to be her home for the foreseeable future.

‘What a magnificent house,’ she said not being able to hold back her excitement.

‘It is that, Miss Blake. I’ve been fortunate enough to live here all my life. The Beaumont’s are good and fair masters. Anyone is lucky to be in their employ,’ he said with pride.

The carriage pulled up at the side entrance and Thomas helped Martha down before taking her through the corridors to the main hall. She found it to be breathtakingly opulent with its marble floor, pillars and gilt-edged, plastered high ceiling. Paintings hung on the pale turquoise walls and beautifully embroidered, heavy drapes decorated the windows. She marvelled at it all.

‘If you would like to follow James,’ Thomas gestured towards the footman. ‘He will show you to your room and I will have your belonging brought to you. Her ladyship suggests that you rest after your long journey and she will meet with you tomorrow morning. Before which, you will be introduced to the main members of the household staff who can be of assistance to you.’ He paused then continued, ‘I understand that your father, The Reverend Blake, comes here quite often.’

‘Yes, that is correct. I am hoping to see him during his visits,’ she replied.

‘Very well then. I will see you at eight of the clock tomorrow morning, James will show you where to come.’

‘Thank you,’ Martha said with a small curtsy and Thomas gave a short bow from the waist.

Next morning at eight o’clock sharp, Martha descended the stairs to the kitchen and saw a line of people waiting to greet her. Thomas stepped forward,

‘Good morning, Miss Blake, let me introduce you to the staff. We are a friendly lot here and we help each other whenever necessary, we find it works better that way,’ Thomas then began the introductions.

‘This is John Price, the butler, he is senior here on the domestic side of things,’ Thomas indicated to John who gave a nod of his head and Mr Price took over the introductions of the next members of staff.

‘Mrs Clara Grey the cook. Mrs Grey has been with us for several years now and keeps us all well fed. Is that not right Clara?’ Mr Price said jovially.

‘It is Mr Price. People can’t work on empty bellies now can they?’ Clara Grey said as she smiled at Martha and gave a quick nod of her head in acknowledgement.

‘And this is my wife, Alice Price, we have been married for a good few months now. Alice is working as assistant to Mrs Grey.’

‘Good morning, Miss Blake,’ she said nervously with a curtsy. Mr Price now moved swiftly down the line of the remaining household members.

‘Well, that’s it really. The rest of the servants you will get to know over time. Now if you are ready, I will take you to see her Ladyship.’ Thomas said. Martha knew a governess’ position gave her a high standing in the household.

* * *

Thank you for being our guest Alex. Best of luck with the new novel.

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