Category Archives: Travel

Destination: Ravello & the Villa Rufolo

Ravello …. a gorgeous town set high up in the cliffs, 365 metres above the Tyrrhenian Sea overlooking the Italian Amalfi coastline and the famous resorts of Amalfi and Positano. Being slightly inland from its famous close neighbours, Ravello offers a more peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle. Ravello offers the same shopping opportunities, has an abundance of bars and restaurants and a gorgeous square – that alone gives Ravello a more “airier and relaxed” feel. The jewel in Ravello’s crown is the stunning 13th century Moorish-style Villa Rufolo with its glorious terraced gardens overlooking the Amalfi coastline. It reminded me of the Monte gardens in Funchal, Madeira (albeit on a smaller scale). In the summer, Ravello is buzzing with the sound of music as the villa and gardens house the popular Ravello Festival – an outdoor music extravaganza with far reaching views. The Villa Rufolo and gardens are wheelchair accessible, according to the Fondazione Ravello who own the property – there were a lot of steps but I did see some slopes and signs for stairlifts.

Villa Rufolo was built in the 13th century by the Rufolo family. When the Villa was first built, it was said to have boasted that it had more rooms than the days of the year! Over the centuries though, the Villa had been slowly neglected and weather worn. It wasn’t until 1851 when Scottish industrialist Francis Neville Reid bought the Villa and began to restore the property and gardens. Although the original 13th century Villa had been a truly unique mixture of Arabic, Sicilian and Norman architecture; Francis added the romantic gardens. Sometime in the 18th century, heavy looking cloisters were bizarrely added. More recently, in 2007, modern facilities were added for the new owners – Fondazione Ravello, the Ravello Festival and the Centro Universitano Europea per I Beni Culturali.

My first stop as I entered the Villa Rufolo was the Moorish Courtyard. Originally columns surrounded all three sides of the courtyard, but today only 36 columns and 2 arches remain on the left hand side. It still looked impressive though. During some restoration work undertaken in the 1990s, the remains of two “ovens” were uncovered behind the courtyard, each had fire resistant vaults and lava bases. Traces of smoke was visible on the sides. Archaeologists believe that this was probably the site of the original kitchen.

La Torre Maggiore is the 30m high tower with views that overlooked both the mountains and the sea. The height of the tower suggests that the Rufolo family must have been pretty important people socially, economically and politically in the 13th century to have built this tall tower in such a strategic position. Today, the tower has just been opened to the public after some impressive restoration work. The tower has three floors and hosts a museum displaying artwork and some archaeological finds. There is also a flight of stairs leading up to the roof terrace that are made of steel and crystal!

The gardens though are lush! The gardens have been kept alive to this day thanks to the descendants of the original team of gardeners employed by Francis Neville Reid in 1851. The view from the garden terraces over the coastline is one of the most photographed panoramas in the world. Definitely instagram worthy!! Musician Richard Wagner visited the Villa in 1880 and was enthralled by the exotic plants that he apparently claimed he had found “the magical garden of Klingsor.” A plaque on the wall commemorates his visit on 26th May 1880.

The Upper garden looks out across the lower gardens to an area known as “Il Belvedere”. This is where the Ravello Festival takes place, with a stage that projects out over the sea. The stage is erected each year at the start of the Festival season.

During archaeological excavations undertaken between 1988 – 1998, the “Balnea” was uncovered – a site of baths, in particular a Turkish bath with remains of water ducts and an intact ribbed dome ceiling. Latest thoughts are that this complex had existed prior to the building of the Villa Rufolo in the 13th century!

WHAT ELSE TO DO IN RAVELLO?

Sit in the main square, Piazza Duomo , which has a lovely spacious feel that you don’t get in either Amalfi or Positano. Around the square are restaurants with outdoor seating .

Go shopping. The narrow shopping streets are lined with ceramic shops, clothing stores, shoe makers, limoncello outlets, sweet shops selling lemon and pistachio delights (yum!) and at the top of the Main Street is the most delicious ice cream shop – Baffone Gelato – the “lemon crumble” flavoured ice cream I had was absolutely scrumptious. Also , try the freshly made lemon slushies drink from the many vendors that line the streets – heaven on a hot day 😊

Go on limoncello tastings – a liqueur made from the town’s abundant lemon groves. Limoncello Spritzer is the latest trendy drink in the bars here too!

Lastly, take instagram worthy photographs. The scenery in this area is stunning. It is so easy to see why Villa Rufolo was awarded the Expert Choice Award 2022 by Tripexpert based on the positive reviews by Frommer’s, Michelin, Fodors, Lonely Planet & Afar Magazine.

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Historic info was provided by Fondazione Ravello;

Photographs by Linda Hobden

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Gypsy For God Book Tour

I’m pleased to be part of the “Gypsy For God” book tour. “Gypsy For God” is a Christian fiction book written by Yvonne M Morgan. In this book Yvonne has put together a novel that showcases not only her own love of travel but also her deep relationship with God.

BOOK SUMMARY

Kathleen is a middle-aged woman who loses her job, which leaves her doubting herself and fearing the future. This event sends her on a journey to find purpose and meaning in her life. She flourishes in a new career as a travel agent, but fear and doubt keep her from experiencing all life has to offer. Finally, an unexpected encounter changes everything as God begins to reveal His plans to Kathleen. Each new country she visits brings her closer to finding her real purpose. This story offers hope for readers seeking meaning in their lives regardless of their situation or age.

Publisher: Elk Lake Publishing

ISBN-10: 1649499280

ISBN-13: 978-1649499288

ASIN: B0C7NN5M41

Print Length: 332 pages

MY INTERVIEW

Please welcome onto the blog the lovely Yvonne to tell us more about her travels, her book and her faith …. Hi Yvonne!

Hi everyone. I’m Yvonne Morgan. A little about myself, I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland and spent most of my summers there as I grew up and I also lived in Canada for eleven years before immigrating to the USA in 1974. I’m a mom to five children (two girls, an adopted set of twins and a son who lives in heaven). And, I’m a grandmother to five grandkids. I love Jesus, doing short-term mission trips and traveling.

Who or what inspired you to write “Gypsy For God”?

We started going on mission trips in 1983 to honor our son after his death. For many years, everyone wanted to know about the travel aspect of our mission journeys. So after writing my other books, I wanted to try my hand at fiction and include travel to other places. We learn so much when we travel. And as I got older and retired, I thought the book should inspire people who think they are no longer as useful in life. I didn’t start writing till I was in my 50s, so I know God can use any of us, no matter our age or circumstances. So all that came together as Gypsy for God.

I really enjoyed reading your book, “Gypsy For God ”and I particularly enjoyed the character of Kathleen. Researching for your novel must have been quite interesting…describing the various countries visited, for example. I know you love to travel and have done mission work too, so did you draw on your travel experiences? 

Yes, I drew on my travel experiences and each country in the book is one that I visited in my life. I wanted to really describe them in accurate detail for my audience, so picked the countries for that reason. Kathleen ends up visiting Spain, United Arab Emirates, India, Kenya, Nepal and Ireland. I found so much joy in revisiting those places in my mind as I wrote about them and digging out photos from my trips to make sure I got the details just right. I’m glad you enjoy the travels as I hoped and prayed that the travel sections would apply to lots of people as well as inspire them.

Streets of Dublin, Eire . Copyright © Photograph by Linda Hobden

Having been to some of the locations myself mentioned in the book, I admired how you described the coexistence of the extreme poverty alongside the extremely wealthier parts – as it is a total shock to the system when you first encounter this. I found this especially true the first time I visited with Kenya – especially when I saw the slums and “rubbish/garbage” hills of Nairobi. Where did you get your first culture shock?

My first genuine culture shock came on my first mission trip to Haiti. Even before my mission trips, I traveled a lot with my parents, but not to such impoverished places. In Haiti, we worked with children at a summer feeding program. Then one night, after dinner, I noticed our host agency collecting all our scraps from dinner. When she took them outside the compound to the trash area, dozens of children ran after her to claim the food we had not eaten. It broke my heart to watch them, but then it also encouraged me to keep trying to make a difference for poor children in the world. Somethingwe continue to do. As a side note, we are off to Kenya in the middle of August for me to teach at a women’s conference in a church outside Nairobi.

Prior to “Gypsy For God” you have written your memoir, a prayer journal, bible study books, Bible based children’s books … Gypsy For God book is the first Christian fiction novel you’ve written.  Was it harder or easier than you imagined to write a fiction book? Did you enjoy the experience? Were the characters based on people you know or met in your travels? 

Writing fiction was so much harder than I imagined after writing the non-fiction books and children’s books. I wanted to give up often because I thought it was too hard to make the transition. But God kept impressing on me to keep going, so I did and am thankful I did. During the process of editing, if you had asked me if I enjoyed it, I would answer, no. But now, I look back and I learned so much that I will try it again, probably with a sequel to Gypsy. None of my characters are based on actual people,but more of a combination of many of the people we have to meet or worked with over the years. I used the various personalities from the countries to comprise my characters.

A village on the island of Boa Vista, Cape Verde. Copyright © Photograph by Linda Hobden

Growing up, did you envisage yourself as a writer or did you have other career aspirations?

I used to love writing poetry in elementary and middle school but then lived happened. I never pictured myself as becoming a writer. But, I pursued a degree in accounting and worked my entire career in the accounting field. So when I felt the nudge to write, I tried to laugh it off. But God kept nudging me to write, so I started about 8 years ago. After my first book, I thought that would end my writing because I had done what God called me to do. But He kept nudging me with other ideas and so I keep writing them. Writing is a journey I never expected, but it has blessed me so much.

Is “Gypsy For God ” available to purchase worldwide?

Yes, because it is available on Amazon and I think it holds a universal appeal for trying to understand our purpose in life.

If you could visit any place in the world to inspire your next book, where would you go and why? 

 I have a bucket list, lol. I really like to travel to remote, unspoiled by tourism type places. So one place I really want to visit is Mongolia. The vastness and history of the country appeal to me and, of course, I could incorporate it into a story. The other place is Morocco. I love their food and culture and dream of visiting it someday too. In both countries, I could see my main character get lost in a search for some kind of divine guidance. I might have to schedule some trips and call it research, lol.

Are you a bookworm yourself? If so, what genres (or authors) do you usually like to read? And are you a kindle or “proper book” fan?

I love to read and in some past years have read over twenty books in a year. Gypsy for God kept me busy for the last while. And I really do like all kinds of books. Right now, I’m looking over my books on Kindle to see if I can determine just one genre. So I love books set in other lands and full of adventure. I also like reading Christian non-fiction to strengthen my faith. I really love Alexander McCall Smith’s series called the “No. One Ladies Detective Agency,” set in Botswana. I’ve read all of them. I recently read the Gumbeaux Sistas series by Jax Frey. They are set in New Orleans, a city I love to visit so I can eat too much. And I just started “The Pinecraft Pie Shop” series by Tricia Goyer and Sherry Gore. These are Amish fiction books with great recipes. I prefer paperback books but use my Kindle when traveling on long trips so I can have more than one book available to me.

Menu from a Madagascan Restaurant copyright © Linda Hobden

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I’m a casual girl. I live in Oklahoma City and our summer is very hot. So most often I will be in shorts and shirts or sundress. I love my sandals and running shoes. It’s fun to dress up occasionally, but I am most comfortable in casual clothes. And if I’m completely honest, a lot of mornings, I stay in my pajamas while I write and drink lots of coffee.

Do you have any favorite shops or online sites?

 When we travel, I like to visit grocery stores to see what things they sell that differ from here in the USA and to see the prices on staple items. There is a store in New Orleans called California Drawstrings that carries lots of the clothes I love. That includes dresses, pants and tops made of 100% cotton or gauze like material. 

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

I am going to a wedding in Toronto, Canada at the end of September so need to go shopping for the event. It will be semi formal so I’m looking for a sparkle in the outfit and shoes.

Boots or Shoes?

Shoes – it’s too hot most of the time in Oklahoma for me to wear boots. But I own a red pair of cowboy boots, which I love. 

Links you would like to share:

a. Author’s Page: https://yvonne-morgan.com

c. Twitter: https://twitter.com/ymmauthor

b. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/YMMauthor

d. Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/yvonnemorganauthor

e. Blog: https://turningmountainsintomolehills.org

f. Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17829417.Yvonne_M_Morgan

g. Charity work page: https://orphan-relief-effort.org

BOOK TOUR DATES

Thanks to Yvonne for agreeing to be interviewed and for a copy of “Gypsy Of God” . All photographs are by me, apart from the author photo and the book cover.

Linda x

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Chasing Tarzan Book Tour

Aaah Tarzan …. can you remember the strong handsome man who ruled the jungle and swung on vines? The one who made you feel safe – in your mind at any rate – in the wild and hostile environment of the jungle, fighting poachers and ferocious animals alike? I loved watching the Tarzan films as a young girl … like my blog guest, Catherine Forster, whose memoir “Chasing Tarzan” describes how the role of imagination and her fantasy Tarzan helped her to cope with the trials and tribulations growing up.

CHASING TARZAN – BOOK SUMMARY

In the 1960s, a relentless school bully makes Catherine’s life a living hell. She retreats inward, relying on a rich fantasy life––swinging through the jungle wrapped in Tarzan’s protective arms––and fervent prayers to a God she does not trust. She fasts until she feels faint, she ties a rough rope around her waist as penance, hoping God will see her worthy of His help.

As the second of eight children, Catherine is Mommy’s little helper, and like Mommy, Catherine is overwhelmed. The bullying and the adult responsibilities together foment her anger. She starts smacking her siblings, and becomes her younger sister’s nemesis. Spooked by who she is becoming, Catherine vows to escape for real, before she hurts someone—or herself.

Catherine finds salvation in a high school exchange program: new town, new school, new family, new persona. A passport celebrity. In New Zealand, nobody knows her history or her fears. Except for her Kiwi “mum,” who sees through Catherine’s façade and pulls her out from her inner safe-house. Exposed, her sense of self implodes. Catherine must finally rethink who she is.

Publisher: WiDo Publishing (July 2022)

ISBN-10: 1947966618

ISBN-13: 978-1947966611

ASIN: ‎B0B6GFLXWC

Print length: 278 pages

Purchase a copy of Chasing Tarzan on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also add this to your GoodReads reading list.

MEET THE AUTHOR

Hello, and thank you for the opportunity to chat about Chasing Tarzan. I’m Catherine. I am an artist and filmmaker as well as a writer. I have three grown children and recently celebrated my twenty-seventh marriage anniversary. As the oldest daughter and second child of eight children, I was second-mom by the age of six. I have lived in several countries and many different towns in the United States. Today, I live in the Pacific Northwest, where we are building a house on the South Sound––my biggest art installation yet!.

Chasing Tarzan” began life as a series of drawings and evolved into the written word;  what made you decide to write down your story? 

It wasn’t a conscious decision, but rather, an unfolding process. Initially, I created a picture journal with captions. I am dyslexic, not severely, but enough that words were not my friend. The idea of writing a book seemed pure folly, but words came to me, invading my thoughts and drawings. As my daughter was also the target of bullies, I elected to write private passages for her. These early writings became a series of short stories; the beginnings of a book.

Your book highlighted for me how quickly bullying can escalate, and about the role the imagination can play. What was it about Tarzan that helped you through your toughest moments? 

I had a crush on Tarzan. He was so handsome, so brave, so kind to Jane and the animals. Growing up, I never wanted to be the princess. So boring. Hanging on a vine, flying through the trees, riding a top and elephant, now that’s exciting. When the bullying started and no one intervened, I looked to Tarzan; he would help me when no one else would. Immersed in the jungle with Tarzan’s strong arms around me, I could handle anything.

Were there any aspects of writing your book that surprised you, either by being harder or easier to relate than you expected? 

I could fill a deep well with all the surprises. It took seven drafts to produce the book. The first four revisions were all about story; what exactly did I want to say, and how deep did I need to go (deeper than I ever thought possible). The last drafts were all about honing my writing, making the story cogent and accessible to readers.

Like many people, I’d buried much of my childhood, locked it in a box deep in my head. Unlocking that box was not easy. It was punishing to expose my powerlessness and my shame, especially considering how hard I’d fought to hide the impact of my tormentor’s cruelty. But the book would have been vapid had I not been unflinchingly honest. 

I loved your writing style and the honesty that shone through.  I went through a range of emotions – I wanted to reach out and comfort you during the bullying episodes,  I was angry at your bullies, I sympathised when you realised you were carrying out your frustrations on your younger siblings, I was annoyed at your parents for not realising what was going wrong, I was elated when you secured a place on the exchange programme to New Zealand … phew!  Did you find writing your story and sketching therapeutic? 

It was restorative and at times, meditative, but always a struggle. When stuck, the story evading me, I turned to nature. I’d go for a walk in the woods, or kayak. Alone, with the hum of nature enfolding, was when some of the most troubling memories surfaced. It was safe––not unlike the jungle with Tarzan, but real––and I let go. A heightened awareness of nature and my surroundings has been one of the biggest benefits of writing the book.

One thing I did feel was how strange it must have been for you to go from your own family where you had a lot of responsibility heaped onto you and travelled to New Zealand where the “kiwi” family functioned in a different way.  How difficult was it to adjust to living in a different country with a different family dynamic? Coming back home, what habits from New Zealand did you retain?

I still have residue of the accent. I have a keen ear for accents and they don’t wear off easily. I have traveled extensively, including living for ten years in London. As a result, I occasionally utilize words and phrases not normally used in the US, or pronounce common words differently. My children find this quite humorous. And it all started in New Zealand.

New Zealand was shock to me. I was completely disoriented. Now I was the popular girl, but didn’t know how to be one and feared being exposed as a fake. My host parents were so different––and in my eyes, too prying. Why did they keep asking me questions, want to know what I was thinking, feeling, doing? No one had enquired about my day before, had asked, “Penny for your thoughts?” It was terrifying and aggravating. I had to learn how to have a conversation about me. I also had to learn how to be a different kind of sibling. In my real home, teasing was our way of showing affection; in NZ it was deemed abuse. In time, I would learn how to be present, how to enjoy simple things like sitting around a fire in the evening, everyone with a book in hand. 

What advice would you give to a young girl  in a similar position?

That is a good question. I wish I had a magic solution to eradicate bullying, but I don’t. Despite anti-bullying programs, bullying has only increased. What progress is made on the playground is quashed online, where everyone can now be the target. 

Studies show that if a bullied child knows they are not deserving of abuse, they are less likely to suffer the long-term effects of bullying (substance abuse, depression, poor relationships, suicide). I hope the book provides evidence to those suffering, that they do not deserve this treatment. They are survivors, victims of cruelty that has nothing to do with them. I believed my tormentors: there had to be something wrong with me (fat, ugly, stupid) or otherwise I would not have been targeted. I hope Chasing Tarzan demonstrates that the bullying is an untruth, devised to hurt. They do not warrant attention.

I advise young girls to seek comfort in positive voices; a teacher, a parent, a friend, a kind stranger. We tend to clench on the negative, the cruel words and events, repeating them over and over in our heads. Hold on to the positive comments––not likes on social media––but real words and moments. Seek out allies and be one, too. Know that there are actions you can take, other than self-medication, or becoming a bully too. It is tough, it is horrendous, it is exhausting, but you have power too. The power you possess will surprise you, just as it did me.

Since your foray to New Zealand, you have travelled quite extensively across 6 continents – Any favourite destinations?  What’s top of your bucket list?

Italy. I love the food, the countryside, the people, the language. I lived in Milano for six months. It wasn’t always easy. My language skills weren’t great, communicating at work and on the street was a challenge. I was lonely at first, but Italy embraced me. Peru is also up there as a favorite. A four-day unrelenting struggle up the Machu Picchu Trail taught me I possessed a resilience I never knew I had. Plus, the Andes Mountains are breathtaking. On the top of my bucket list: Bhutan

 Is “Chasing Tarzan” available to purchase worldwide?

Yes. So far, I’ve received enthusiastic responses from readers in Iceland, Croatia, England, and New Zealand.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Ha! Right now, I am wearing boot-cut jeans and a navy sweater with stars embroidered on it. When I go outside, I’ll exchange my slippers for black suede boots.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I don’t buy clothes, textiles, or shoes online. I like to touch and feel what I’m wearing. Same goes for items like furniture, though I will browse in person and then buy online. Currently, my husband and I are building a house, so house items are big on my mind. Favorite online shop at the moment: ETSY

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

New pair of running shoes. Jeans, if I can find a pair that doesn’t have those ridiculously high cut waistlines. So uncomfortable, yet I wore them ages ago. 

Boots or Shoes?

Sandals and comfy flats in summer, boots in winter––one for hiking, and one for ambling around town. In terms of boots or shoes around town: boots! They just seem more put together. With boots, a casual outfit magically becomes fashionable.  

For Pinning Later

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

Website: https://catforster.com/

Website Tarzan page: https://catforster.com/chasing-tarzan/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/catherine.forster

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/catforster/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DizzCatk

BOOK TOUR DATES

Thank you for chatting to me Catherine – I loved reading your book and thank you for allowing me to be part of your book tour!

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Catherine Forster.

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Living The Dream

Have you ever been on holiday overseas in some idyllic place and just wondered what it would be like to live there on a permanent basis? Have you casually looked in an estate agents window or looked online for properties overseas? I know I have when I visited Madeira a few years back and since then, every time I’ve visited the island, I do get the ”urge”. I enjoy watching the TV programme ”Down Under” – when people from the UK get the chance to experience Australia or New Zealand for a week – they check out the housing market, job market, the food bills, the downtime opportunities, schooling (if necessary), opinions from ex pats and lastly they watch, usually weepy, a video from loved ones and friends giving their opinions on the ”move”. The couple then make up their minds whether they still want to move or not. The follow up programme a year or so later discovers whether they took the plunge or not! So, it was with great interest to receive ”Living The Dream” to review – this book really is the true life, warts-n-all accounts of settling overseas from women who wanted to live the dream including an eye opening account on how it feels to be a foreigner in England. This book is really essential reading for those aspiring to live abroad as well as for current expats. My guest this week is Carrie Frais, a British Broadcast journalist & PR consultant who has been living in Barcelona since 2006. She edited Living The Dream as well as contributed her story. Hi Carrie and welcome 😊

Hi! I am a British born TV and Radio journalist living in Cabrils, a pretty village about 20 minutes north of Barcelona. I am the founder of MumAbroad.com, an online resource for international families living in or relocating to Europe, FiG, a communications and creative agency and 4Voices, a platform to encourage public speaking among teenagers. I also host the podcasts ‘The Soundtrack to My Life’, ‘Notes OnLeadership’ and ‘Turo Talks’. I am married to Tom and have two teenage children Poppy & Bertie, Reggie the dog and cats Maggie and Wally.

Who or what inspired the compilation “Living TheDream” collection of true life accounts of settling overseas from women who wanted to “Live The Dream”?

#LivingTheDream was written during the pandemic, when time stopped and some of us (like me) suffered from existential angst. I realised that I hadn’t come to terms with losing both my parents a few years earlier as I had been so caught up with work and family. I also hadn’t come to terms with the loss of my childhood home and what that meant to my sense of belonging and identity. I wanted to share these thoughts and emotions with others as well as the challenges of living abroad with (in my case) losing a parent very suddenly and losing another parent after a long, drawn-out illness. I started talking to other women living abroad about these issues and I soon realised that many of them had undergone their own challenges as expats – from issues with alcohol to rootlessness. It was then that I came up with the idea of creating an anthology depicting different stories from different women but all with the underlying issues of loneliness, loss and identity. 

Being an expat has always had its misconceptions – unfortunately a lot of people do think expats are always living the high life – alcohol, parties, sunshine, beaches … Your book highlighted the diversity of expat experiences of nine women in their 40s, 50s & 60s… and great tips from those expats as well as analysis and advice from psychologist Leigh Matthews (also an expat). After moving to Barcelona in 2006, what did you realise was your biggest misconception about life in Spain compared with the UK?

Prior to 2006, my (then boyfriend, now husband) and I had divided our time between London and Barcelona for work. When I fell pregnant in 2006 we made the decision that we would move permanently to Barcelona, but we were well aware of the challenges that lay ahead. Both of us had to give up our careers (I was working at the BBC and ITN as a presenter and my husband was working in sports marketing). We had to re-invent ourselves. That was a huge challenge, but not a misconception as such as we had come across others who had been through that process and we were well aware of the difficulties. I think for me, the biggest misconception was around motherhood. I imagined a Mediterranean country full of services offering help with the many challenges of being a new mother. As time went by, I realised that new mothers in Catalonia and the rest of Spain would normally pass the childcare onto their own mothers and fathers and there were very few public or private centres that could offer new mothers like me, with no extended family nearby, a helping hand. It was then that I came up with the idea of MumAbroad – with the idea of creating a resource that would help other mothers and working women in a European country that was not their own. 

Were there any aspects of moving to Spain that surprised you, pleasantly or otherwise?  

I’d already lived in Madrid during University and in Barcelona post University so that really was the underlying reason I wanted to move back to Spain in the first place – for its vibrancy, its outdoor lifestyle, its entrepreneurial spirit (in Barcelona at least) and its generally relaxed mode, especially towards work. The British used to laugh at the Spanish for their ‘mañana’ attitude. It’s not really like that – they just have a fantastic balance between work and leisure here, which I think if the British analysed further, they might be a little envious of. 

You are a founding member of “Bremain in Spain”, which campaigns to protect the rights of British Citizens living in Spain & Europe.  How has BREXIT influenced or changed expat life in Europe?  

It’s definitely made me feel less British and more European. When I first moved to Barcelona I felt that being British was almost a badge of honour. People respected the British, its strongeconomy and its progressive attitudes. Brexit was a huge shock to the Spanish. They could not understand why the British would not want other Europeans to come to live and work in the UK. I felt embarrassed by the result of the referendum. It didn`t reflect my values and I felt we all got tarnished by the same brush. Luckily I was able to get Irish citizenship and I now have an Irish (EU) passport as well as my British one!

Let’s be positive – what is your favourite thing about living in Barcelona?  

Having the Mediterranean, the Pyrenees, exquisite architecture and incredible gastronomy all within touching distance. 

One question I really want to know is, as you are already living in a tourist destination, when planning a holiday do you go back to the country of your birth, do you explore another area in your new “adopted” country; or do you book a holiday in a country or place vastly different from where you live?

I used to go regularly back to the UK when my parents were around and then Covid hit and this year was the first year in three years I went back for an extended length of time. We went to Cornwall and it was fabulous! Normally we go on a tour between family and friends houses in and around London but this year we decided to give ourselves a break and indulge in a typical British family holiday. We were there during the heatwave (or one of them!) which was a little surreal on a British holiday but it was hugely enjoyable. If we are not going to the UK or somewhere in the north of Spain we usually head to Languedoc in France we have a cute little townhouse. 

Is “#LivingTheDream” available to purchase worldwide?

Yes it is – it’s available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Waterstones as well as other well-known online stores.

You founded a fabulous website in 2008 called MumAbroad.com What inspired you to start this website?  In your opinion, what has been the most valuable resource the website has provided for expats and expats to be in Europe?

As I mentioned earlier, MumAbroad was initially started for selfish reasons – to help me with my journey navigating motherhood in a foreign country and then the site began to grow organically and we extended it to France, Italy and Germany. Initially the website was more a resource for new parents living abroad but as my own children and my business partner’s children have grown up, so has the website in that we now focus more on education, educational specialisms, child and adult therapy, relocation and on women and business. We aim to give a platform to mothers who want to get back into the workplace or have set up their own business after having taken time out of work when having a young family.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I made a promise to myself a year or so ago that I would only buy vintage, second hand or locally made clothes draw the line at underwear and sports gear though!

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I love the ‘Vide Greniers’ markets across the border in France which often have fabulous vintage clothes, there’s a local fashion market nearby called ‘Emocions’ which is held twice a year showcasing local designers and I love my nearest vintage shop ‘Carousel’ located in a vibrant coastal town called Vilassar de Mar. 

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

To find a couple of every day well fitted vintage jeans. I run a coworking space nearby and whereas before I could get away with just having a decent top for zoom calls, I now need to think about the whole outfit! 

Boots or Shoes?

Always boots. I love the clunkiness and comfiness of boots.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

For pinning later

Websites: www.carriefrais.co.uk

www.mumabroad.com and www.FiGBcn.com

https://www.4-voices.com  and www.mixcloud.com/carrie-frais

Facebook: @carrie.frais        Twitter: @carriechantall1

Instagram: @carrie_frais      LinkedIn: carrie-frais

#Living The Dream: Expat Life Stripped Bare 

edited by Carrie Frais is published by Springtime Books (paperback, RRP £10) and available through bookshops & internet booksellers.

Thank you Carrie for the chat, thank you for the chance to review “Living The Dream” – it was definitely an interesting read and highly recommended.

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Carrie Frais apart from the Pinterest and header picture which are by Linda Hobden.

Linda x

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An Interview With Kevin Gaskell

Adventure with a capital A this week as I chat to my guest this week, business entrepreneur and adventurer Kevin Gaskell. Kevin has led 15 companies; has been CEO for BMW, Porsche and Lamborghini (GB); written a book; was a member of the crew that set a world record for rowing across the Atlantic; has played international cricket; climbed Mount Everest; has walked both the North and South Pole; played in a rock band; is a keen skier, scuba diver and enjoys clay pigeon shooting. In 2024, he will be attempting the world record for crossing the Pacific ….. Hi Kevin & welcome….

Hello! I’m Kevin and I would say that I am a businessman who enjoys adventure! An engineer and accountant by qualification, I have led 15 companies of which 7 have been turnarounds or in need of significant re energising. I enjoy the challenge of building extraordinary companies and building world class teams. Outside the office, I maintain my enjoyment of adventure by my pursuit of extreme physical challenges. 

Being an entrepreneur and adventurer, what was the inspiration behind your book “Catching Giants” ?

The book is written with 3 elements – firstly the adventure story of how 5 novice rowers took on the world’s toughest row, won the race and set a new world record for the fastest crossing despite being hammered by storms and capsizing the boat in the middle of the ocean. Secondly, how did we use planning and preparation to defeat stronger and more experienced rowers including Olympic oarsmen. Thirdly, the lessons that we learned from the experience and how those lessons of becoming world class can be applied by anyone to their lives or their business.   

“Catching Giants” provides 80 step by step lessons/advice for business world leaders & having built 15 companies and have been CEO of BMW, Porsche & Lamborghini, what was the best business  advice you received from someone that you’ve passed on? 

The best advice that I was ever given was to focus on getting better at whatever you are setting out to do. If you do that, then bigger will follow. Do not chase numbers, rather build a great business.

It’s an understatement to say that you’re a serial adventurer – you are always on the go!  From being part of the crew that set a new world record for rowing across the Atlantic (in 2020), climbing Everest ( I haven’t climbed Everest – yet) , playing International cricket, walking both Poles and in 2024 you will be attempting the world record for crossing the Pacific.  Who or what first inspired your love of adventure? 

I grew up in North Wales and have been climbing mountains since I was about 12 years old. My love of outdoor adventure has just grown from there… Each adventure gets a bit bigger and a bit more extreme but it feels like a natural progression.

So, as we are talking adventure, I guess you don’t do tame hobbies!  What do you enjoy doing in your spare time or to relax? 

I enjoy clay pigeon shooting, playing guitar in a rock band and reading business books.

Back to business, as  you have had vast experience working with entrepreneurs, pioneers and global brands, what projects gave you a real buzz? 

The biggest buzz ever was leading the turnaround of Porsche. The business was in a very difficult position and, to my complete surprise, I was appointed MD of the UK operation. We had lost 90% of our sales and were in last place on the UK customer satisfaction survey. We had a mountain to climb but with every single member of a fantastic team pulling together for 4 years we led the business to the top of the table for customer satisfaction and thereby, profitability. It really was an incredible result. I have also enjoyed building technology businesses where we have turned good ideas into successful and valuable companies.   

In a similar vein, what type of adventures give you a real buzz?  

The Atlantic row was very special. Physically it was extreme exertion at a whole new level. We were rowing 2 hours on, 2 hours off for 24 hours every day for 36 days. With very limited opportunity to sleep, by day 12 or so we were hallucinating and each rowing shift was a trial. But we were an amazing team – we started as friends and we finished as friends despite the enormous physical hardship.

 As a child, what was your dream career? 

I always wanted to be a civil engineer and build exciting structures. So that’s what I did. My first degree was in Civil and Structural Engineering and I enjoyed every minute of it. After 4 years on construction sites though I realised that my ambition to build inspiring structures was, in reality, more likely to be digging drainage alongside a new motorway construction. At that point I decided that I needed to broaden my skillset and I went back to university to study for an MBA before moving into accountancy for 5 years.  

If you could visit any place in the world – either to pursue an adventure or to just holiday – where would you go and why?

I would love to trek through the Andes.

Is your book “Catching Giants” available to purchase worldwide? 

Yes, via Amazon.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Jeans, open neck shirt, sneaker type shoes – unless I’m going to a formal meeting in which case it would likely be a jacket and trousers and Chelsea boots.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites ? 

I like SportPursuit for sports and semi-expedition gear, otherwise I tend to buy Gant shirts and Levi jeans.  

What’s next on your clothes/shoes wishlist?

I have just been measured up for my first ever bespoke business suit. This was with Alexandra Wood and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. the accessories will follow in a few months when I have the suit.

Boots or Shoes?

Chelsea boots generally. I think they are more comfortable and interesting.

For pinning later photo by Linda Hobden ©

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

Website: kevingaskell.comlinkedin.com/in/kevin-gaskell, Instagram: kevin_gaskell, Twitter: @kevindgaskell

Wishing you all the best Kevin with your 2024 Pacific crossing attempt!!

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Kevin Gaskell (apart from the Pinterest & header photo which are by Linda Hobden)

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Author Interview: Geoffrey Paris

I recently read a memoir/true behind the scenes account of a hotel manager spanning over four decades. The book, “More Sauce Madam? The Adventures Of A Hotel Manager” by Geoffrey Paris was an interesting account of how a shy and awkward young man coped with working long hours and being faced with embarrassing incidents from naked guests to drunken porters; and his gradual climb through the hospitality sector to become hotel manager, enduring fraudulent proprietors, incompetent waiters, con artist customers, prima donna popstars, royalty and love interests along the way. The book was an entertaining read, and it gave me an insight into the working lives of my own daughter who is a food and beverage manager (previously in hotels) and both my son and son in law who are both Head Chefs previously in hotels but both now cook in restaurants. I thought the book also gave an honest account of what to expect when working in the hospitality industry, especially useful if that is your intended career path. There is some swearing in the book and there are some adult themes discussed but neither are distracting the book flow. I received a complimentary copy of ”More Sauce Madam? The Adventures Of A Hotel Manager” for review purposes and my views are 100% my own.

So, after reading the book I managed to get a chance to chat to Geoffrey
Paris about his memoirs. Hi Geoffrey and welcome…

Hello! I’m Geoff. Having enjoyed a 40 year career in hospitality, as a hotel manager, mainly in Devon & Cornwall, I have semi-retired from the rigours of the job to enjoy a bit of time for myself. Having attended weekly pottery classes, I was given the opportunity to teach pottery, which I still do once a week. I concentrate on modelling, mainly marine life and animals. After 6 months out of work, I began to miss the camaraderie of hotel life so went back full-time as a receptionist at a local hotel. Ironically I am therefore working 6 days per week. So much for semi-retirement!

What made you decide to write down your memoir & stories about life as a hotel manager?

I had always kept diaries as a teenager up to the age of about 30, which helped immensely once I started to write after a particularly bad experience as a Manager at a Torbay hotel. I felt the world needed to know what we went through.

Your book highlighted for me that there can be fun times, chaos, extreme hard work, stress, companionship and loneliness in following a hotel manager based career. What were your expectations about being a hotel manager before actually becoming a hotel manager? Was it better than you thought, or worse or just different?

I actually wanted to be a chef, perhaps aided by the fact that I was incredibly shy at the time, so would be kept out of the public eye. To my annoyance, my Dad, who was paying for my college education, forced me to study hotel management. Working as a member of staff in hotels was easy in the sense that responsibilities were minor. I looked at managers and how they operated (good and bad) but still thought it an impossible hill to climb. For instance how would I, a small shy person, tell a beefcake chef what to do? I have worked for some excellent managers, for whom you would do anything, as well as alcoholic and dishonest managers, who were impossible to respect..

Were there any aspects of writing your book that surprised you, either by being harder or easier to relate than you expected?

Once in the mood, meaning no hangover, food and coffee easily available, no commitments that day, and several hours free, then I could go for it and the words just flowed. I enjoyed researching former work places on-line. Time was the main issue, what with the long hours worked in hotels, as well 6-day weeks on occasion. The editing and publishing process, with Mereo Books, being a totally new experience for me, was thrilling.

What main advice would you give a young person hoping to go into a hospitality career – aiming to become a hotel manager? What attributes do you think they should possess?

An HND or degree is one direction to start off, but chain hotels in-house training schemes are a good option, not afforded to me due to epilepsy, which in my younger days was regarded as a disability due to ignorance. You may have the opportunity to work overseas and meet some fascinating people. You may work long anti-social hours, but the rewards of seeing people enjoy themselves thanks to your hard work is satisfying. If you work your way up the ladder, which might at times be a challenge, you can end up at some marvellous hotels, have a good salary, and mix with the stars. Attributes – definitely a people person, positive, outgoing, eager to help others, and a can-do attitude. Patience, quick thinking, multi-tasking, and an eye for figures. Communication at all levels is a major factor. Understanding the needs of customers and staff.

So, we know you became a hotel manager, but as a child had you always wanted to have a career in the hotel trade or did you have other aspirations?

Yes I wanted to be a fighter pilot or work in submarines, but due to my epilepsy drugs, which as a teenager knocked me for six, could not pursue a career involving high academic standards. I couldn’t even become a chemist, which has always interested me. Chain hotels would not touch me, which nowadays would be classed as discrimination, so I was restricted to privately owned hotels. But I didn’t give up!

Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book?

I don’t always have time to read, but since publishing my memoirs, all I read now are other memoirs/autobiographies. My favourite author is probably Thomas Hardy. ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ is a favourite. On holiday I might buy a thriller at the airport.

Is “More Sauce Madam? The Adventures of a Hotel Manager” available to purchase worldwide?

Most definitely. Through Amazon, WH Smith, Waterstones, Blackwells, etc, as well as from my publisher Mereo Books.

When you are booking a holiday for yourself at a hotel – what criteria do you look for when choosing where to go?

I always read the Trip Advisor reviews, both good and bad, and form a general opinion. I prefer leisure facilities, a good food recommendation, and a hotel with character. I also check the booking.com prices (if listed) to compare the tariff. Location is fairly important.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

At home jeans and polo shirt. Slippers inside. At work, suit trousers, white shirt, tie, black shoes and socks.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

Marks & Spencers where I buy all my clothes. Shoes from Clarks. Groceries/weekly shop stuff from Sainsbury’s.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Trainers, so I can go back in the gym…., but not in a hurry 😊 I need some more swimming shorts, different colours – from M&S.

Boots or Shoes?

Always shoes. I did have some boots once as a teenager, but it was too much of an effort putting them on/off. I can’t wear Wellington boots because I have smallish feet and large calves, so can’t get into a Wellington. If anyone knows where I can buy wider ones, please let me know!

For Pinning Later

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

Website: www.geoffparis.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/geoff.paris.5
Twitter: http://Twitter.com/ParisGeoff

And for my ceramics: www.geoffparispottery.com

Instagram: www.parisgeoffpottery

Geoffrey Paris is the author of More Sauce Madam? The Adventures of a Hotel Manager – a candid, eye-popping memoir of more than four decades working in hotels, restaurants and pubs. Geoff’s book is published by Mereo Books (paperback, £12.99) and available through the publisher, book shops and internet booksellers.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Geoffrey Paris – apart the foodie photo which is by Linda Hobden showing food made by my eldest son Chef Dan!

My thanks to Geoffrey Paris for the review copy of ”More Sauce Madam? The Adventures Of A Hotel Manager”.

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Interview: True Business School

Head or Heart? When it comes to business, things tend to orientate around the head and gut with decisions made from the heart often dismissed as being over-emotional. However, founder of True Business School Kat Byles disagrees – she feels that following your heart within your business can transform your success. I caught up with Kat recently to find out more …. Hi Kat and welcome…

Hello I’m Kat, founder of the True Business School for creative leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers, healers, artists who want to do business differently – business aligned with Source, your purpose and creativity, because this creates a happier, healthier, wealthier life, business and world. A few years ago, I followed my heart to the Caribbean Island of Antigua from Bath in the UK, and it has now become a home, in a village on the beach, with the sea as divine inspiration. 

What was the inspiration behind the setting up of the True Business School?

As a global communications director working with the biggest names in Sport I burnt out. I left with a desire to fulfil my purpose, make a contribution AND enjoy wellness, and time with my family and friends. 

My intuition guided me to Antigua, for a holiday or so I thought and, on the last day, I heard the words loud and clear: ‘You are not done. You need to come back for a month and float in this sea every day.’ I listened and went back 5 weeks later, walked barefoot on the sand, ate mangoes from the tree and floated in the sea every day. Nature restored my wellness and then began to feed me with inspiration. 

While swimming I clearly saw the True Business model in my mind’s eye – blending Source energy with the practical business structure – to create a business that is a full expression of who you are and what you came here for. The Caribbean Sea was the divine inspiration. 

What are the main differences between your approach to business and traditional business ideas? 

True Business leads with your creative spirit and orientates around the heart to fulfil your purpose and creative expression. 

Traditional business leads with profit and orientates around the head and gut, fulfilling shareholder returns. The heart is typically dismissed as airy-fairy, woo-woo, over-emotional, misguided, dangerous, weak. It is none of these things. 

The heart transcends the egoic mind, power struggles and agendas bringing connection, inspiration, vitality and wellness. The heart opens us to our higher nature of wisdom, compassion, understanding; into deep listening, intuition, receptivity and appreciation, which creates different outcomes. The heart liberates our true self, purpose, creativity, contribution and legacy. The heart is also a gateway to Source, universal energy and a world of possibility. 

By following the wisdom of our heart, we direct our energy and resources towards business structures that are expansive and yet regenerate and support flourishing and wellness. We create deep, authentic relationships. My experience is that the heart is deeply transformative and we build businesses more in harmony with our true nature, in harmony with the earth. 

You do run a business retreat in Antigua.  I know Antigua is a beautiful island, but why did you decide to base your school retreat in Antigua? 

My intuition guided me here. It’s the perfect place to immerse in nature, relax and receive pure source inspiration. It’s also relatively easy to reach with a relaxed, go-with-the-flow vibe. 

So, as we are talking Antigua, what would budding business entrepreneurs expect from your retreat if they attended ?

The space and time to relax, let go, and reconnect with Source, universal energy that delights in creating and dive deeply into your heart to explore what you are called to create now in your business – when we let the creative lead it is full of vitality, expansion and growth, personally and professionally. The retreat is guided by the needs of the people there but can include morning meditations, swimming in secluded bays, creative immersion sessions on shady beaches, walks to hilltops and sea horizons, yoga, kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding, massages, supporting local businesses and immersing in the natural local environment. 

Apart from your retreat in Antigua, can you give us some details about the courses offered online?

PR with Heart is an online course to grow your audience, visibility and impact for a thriving business and world.

Your True Business is an online course to align with Source, your purpose and creativity for a happier, healthier, wealthier business and world.

The Creative Leader is a year-long program for established business leaders to amplify their impact and visibility, leading transformation from the heart.

I also work one-to-one with a few clients each year via Zoom and in person in Antigua. 

As you have had vast experience working with entrepreneurs, pioneers and global brand, what projects gave you a real buzz? 

So many!

I love seeing creative and spiritual entrepreneurs, leaders, teachers, healers, artists, writers and coaches arrive at PR with Heart, daunted by visibility, frozen by overwhelm, repelled by marketing and then, after just 6 weeks, opening up to inspiration, flow and a simple structure that allows them to fulfil their purpose, make a contribution and an income with joy and ease. Witnessing this transformation, the creativityand inspiration will never get old. 

A shout out to the Homeless World Cup because of the transformation it created in the lives of people who were homeless coming off drugs and alcohol, reuniting with families, finding homes, setting up businesses, becoming leaders in their community. And for the magic we created, the people it attracted, the countries we visited, the magnitude of it. I got to work with high calibre creatives at Nike, UEFA, international film makers, media, designers and event producers. 

Commissioning a documentary narrated by Colin Farrell that made it to Sundance Film Festival and commissioning a feature film that, 14 years later, has just been made for Netflix, creating magical events with the likes of Desmond Tutu, Eric Cantona, Lewis Hamilton were highlights. But I’m always left with the memory of a man in Chile who had spent 8 years living in a doorway taking drugs, now standing in the doorway of his home next to his pregnant wife, telling his story to national TV, as a leader of the football program inspiring other homeless people off the streets. Powerful. This was also the burn out project! But it inspired me to a new experience of being in business and life in Antigua.

 In general, what reasons do your “students” give for wanting to learn or improve their business strategy and find their calling by following their heart when it comes to business?

They have a sense of, or are already connected, to a higher calling, a desire to express their creative potential, and make a contribution. They are not primarily motivated by the sport of profit-making, are repelled by greed, corruption, destruction of the environment excused as ‘just business’ and may have experienced burn out. They are also repelled and overwhelmed by pushy, sales, formulaic traditional marketing as a betrayal of their integrity and authenticity. 
So, they are looking for a different way to be in business, a new pathway. They want a business that fulfils their purpose, makes a contribution, provides them with a great income, plenty of time and space to be with their family and to be creative, and enjoy a life they love. True Business does that – by listening to your heart, you create a business that builds a structure that meets all your needs for a prosperous life. 

 As a child, what was your dream career?

I always felt I’d make a contribution to business but never had an idea of a particular career. Guidance at school was unimaginative nonsense with options of being an accountant, doctor, accountant, lawyer or a teacher. I still remember a careers test that recommended a career as a car park attendant or prison officer.

I grew up on a cul-de-sac where all the kids played on the street together. We organised dance performances and fetes that brought all the kids, parents, grandparents together. We loved organising it all, making up different stalls, drawing up the signage and promotional leaflets. My 10-year-old niece is doing it now – last year it was a cake business, this year it’s a jewellery business. And I love this creativity and life experience as a kid that blends into a business as an adult.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Bikinis, shorts, the odd shirt to throw over, maxi dresses with beautiful prints and flip flops.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I love independent shops and online sites set up by people who are passionate about sourcing beautiful pieces and pay attention to sustainability like Tribe + Fable, established by Julia Watson. My Boutique in my Mum and Dad’s UK village in the UK, a family business is a wonderful part of the village community. And Portobello Boutique in English Harbour in Antigua run by Choy are my regulars

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Bikinis – can’t get enough, mix and match.

Boots or Shoes?

Barefoot or flip flops!

Boots after a year of barefoot for the funny heavy clodhopping sensation!

For Pinning Later

Links you wish to share:

http://Katbyles.com

True-business-school.com

https://www.instagram.com/katbyles

What a picturesque place! Thank you for the chat Kat and long may the heart rule the Head!

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Kat Byles.

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An Interview With Author Martin Gore

British theatregoers relish the theatre all year round but at Christmas time, nothing can beat the lure of a traditional pantomime and at the height of summer, the seaside revues. The Cromer Pier Show is an iconic piece of British theatre that is of the standard of a London West End production. Author Martin Gore set himself a real challenge – a work of fiction set in a real place, namely Cromer Pier. Having written, to date, 9 pantomimes, 3 plays (and 3 novels), as well as dabbling in Amateur Dramatics himself, I believe Martin is possibly well placed to write such a book. And what a lovely, feel good read it is too! This book has it all : a goody, a baddy, a misunderstood, a love interest, a starlet, a has been and a hero. The ideal book to curl up and read during the Winter before planning your road trip to Cromer, of course. I caught up with author Martin to find out about the lure of Cromer …. Welcome Martin….

Hello, I’m Martin. I’m a 64 year old Accountant who semi-retired in 2015 to explore my love of creative writing. In my career I held Board level jobs for over twenty five years, in private, public and third sector organisations. I was born in Coventry, a city then dominated by the car industry and high volume manufacturing, but when I was nine years old I told my long suffering mother that as I liked English composition and drama I was going to be a playwright. She told me that I should work hard at school and get a proper job. She was right of course.

I started as an Office Junior at Jaguar in 1973 at eleven pounds sixty four a week. I thus grew up in the strike torn, class divided seventies. My first career ended in 2015, when I semi retired as Director of Corporate services at Humberside Probation. My second career, as a Non Executive Director, is great as it has allowed me free time to travel and indulge my passion for writing, both in novels and for theatre.

The opportunity to rekindle my interest in writing came in 2009, when I wrote my first pantomime, Cinderella, for my home group, the Walkington Pantomime Players. I have now written nine. I love theatre, particularly musical theatre, and completed the Hull Truck Theatre Playwrite course in 2010. My first play, a comedy called He’s Behind You, is now available on:

https://www.silverbirchingtonplays.com/product-page/he-s-behind-you-by-martin-gore

Pen Pals was my first novel, but the two that followed, The Road to Cromer Pier, and the newly published sequel, The Road from Cromer Pier, are based on family holidays as a boy, including trips to the end of the pier show, known then as the Summertime Special Show.

I’m an old fashioned writer I guess. I want you to laugh and to cry. I want you to believe in my characters, and feel that my stories have a beginning, a middle, and a satisfactory ending.

The Road From Cromer Pier” is the follow up book to your previous novel, “The Road To Cromer Pier” – although it can be a stand alone book –  the story is set in 2019 in Cromer.  How difficult was it to write a work of fiction based around and about a real place? 

Very difficult, for a number of reasons. When I approached the theatre in 2017 they kindly invited me to a meeting to discuss the current show, and I discovered that far from being an archaic piece of British theatre it was, in point of fact, a West End standard show. This in itself required a pretty fundamental rewrite as I needed to do justice to the show and its cast. Another practical difficulty were names. To inadvertently portray a person with the same name as a baddie was one of my biggest fears, so I went for relatively obscure names, and googled them first. On the other hand, readers who love Cromer love the story too, so being set in a real place does have an upside. Some places are renamed too – in particular you won’t find a Majestic Hotel in Cromer!

What was it particularly about Cromer Pier, Cromer and its Theatre that inspired you to write your novels?

My father was from Norwich, and we lived in Coventry, about as far from the seaside as you could get! So, for a seaside holiday Cromer was an inevitable choice, given his love of fish & chips and Cromer crabs. We stayed in several different holiday flats, included Mrs Rippingales on the sea front, called Bloomingdales bed and breakfast in the first book. As I grew older I came to love musical theatre as my father did. I’ve been involved in the Amdram world for sometime as a writer, sound technician and actor, so writing what started out as a play about the end of the pier show seemed interesting. I liked the idea of someone suddenly faced with a life changing disaster running away to a place where life was so much simpler, the safe haven of his childhood holidays.

I loved the variety of characters – are the characters based on observations of people you’ve come across in the past and incidents you’ve experienced ?  Who were the hardest characters to portray?

Having spent a good deal of my career in financially troubled companies I guess Tom Stanley is a bit autobiographical, so the business stuff in the book has a basis in first hand experience. Portraying his feelings for his wife in bereavement was very difficult of course, but comments I received suggest I pulled it off. As a male writer, writing female characters is inevitably challenging. The second book deals with stage fright and domestic abuse, so I researched those topics very carefully to make sure that the story line was credible. 

I had a soft spot for the widowed turnaround expert Tom and for Janet, Karen’s mother. Do you have favourite characters? 

Lech Wojiek is probably my favourite, as he makes a journey from hapless magician who could barely speak English at the start of the first book to successful mainstay of the show in the second. Lauren’s developing relationship with Cyril in the first book, in particular when he turned up at the railway station and talked her out of leaving, is probably my favourite moment, and it was the lack of Cyril’s back story that gave me the idea for the sequel, which I never intended there to be.

You have, so far, written 9 pantomimes, 3 plays and 3 novels. Were there any aspects of writing your Cromer Pier book series that surprised you, either by being harder or easier to write about than you expected?

To be honest I’m most surprised that I’ve written three full length novels at all! I’m delighted that they have been well rated on Amazon, and earned the lovely comments people have made about them. I learned a good deal through my first novel, and the work of my editor, Alice Bayton, who ruthlessly culled my tendency for repetition. I guess that commencing my writing journey with pantomime was a good way to start, given that you start with the framework in place. The most difficult pantomime to write was Beauty and the Beast, because there is no natural comedy in the story, but it’s still my favourite. Hearing people laugh at what you write is simply wonderful. My biggest frustration is that I haven’t managed to get the play version of the first Cromer Pier book performed, but I haven’t given up yet!  

If “Cromer Pier” was to become a TV film, who would you pick to represent the main characters eg Tom,Karen, Lionel, Cyril  ? What about the singers, Hannah & Amy?

Well obviously, they’d need to be Britain’s greatest! Emma Thompson as Janet? Bill Nighy as Cyril? Jim Broadbent as Lionel? Lily James as Amy? Colin Firth as Tom? Kate Beckinsale as Karen? Kate Winslet as Hannah? Well, I can dream!  

Have you always wanted to have a career in writing or did you have other aspirations? 

Only as a nine-year-old, then the reality of earning a living and raising a family took over, and I don’t regret that. As a council house kid who made it from Office Junior to Director, I’m committed to building aspirations and life chances of our young people, and launched the ‘Song for Hull’ project as part of HullCity of Culture, linking schools with NHS careers via a rock concert experience. The last one featured 400 kids and an audience of 1100 at Hull’s Bonus Arena.

Are you a  bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book? 

No, I’m not really. I tend to read more biographies to be honest, on ebook. When I read fiction, I tend to go to Hailey, De Mille and Goddard, but my wife is trying to broaden my horizons. My writing is rather Archer like by way of genre; family sagas with lots of interwoven story lines.

Is “The Road from Cromer Pier”  available to purchase worldwide?

Yes indeed, via the mighty Amazon.

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Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Smart casual is a far as I go really, even for Teams meetings in my Non-Executive board meetings. I haven’t worn a suit in two years, and I don’t like formal wear like DJ’s. I do have a couple of formal pairs of shoes, one brown and one black, but I mainly wear casual now.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I wear a lot of Crew, but I do like shopping, unusually for a bloke. I like independent shops, and Jarroldsin Norwich and Cromer have stocked my books when others will only accept orders. I like to support the smaller guys whenever I can.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

To be honest I daren’t buy any trousers as I’ve put on some lockdown weight and won’t admit it! My golf shoes are pretty near worn out, so my trusty Echo’s need replacing. I have big size eleven feet with a wide fitting!

Boots or Shoes? 

I only have walking boots, so casual shoes are all I need now.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

www.martingore.co.uk / @authorgore on twitter / Martin Gore on facebook / instagram

Fabulous chatting to you Martin! Thank you for the copy of The Road From Cromer Pier for reviewing.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Martin Gore.

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An Interview With Travel Expert, Mark Bibby Jackson

At the moment, travelling anywhere is pretty restrictive wherever you live due to the pandemic and various rules imposed by most countries. However, you can still dream and plan those trips – and this week I’m chatting to travel expert Mark Bibby Jackson whose knowledge of those far flung places knows no bounds! Hi Mark and welcome!

Hello. I am Mark Bibby Jackson, the editor of the websites Travel Begins at 40 and London Begins at 40, as well as the award-winning author of three thrillers set in Cambodia (one of which is yet to be published). I write about travel for a number of publications around the world.

You have lived in Cambodia for over a decade and travelled extensively around south east Asia – what made you decide to move from the UK to South East Asia?

Initially I came to Hanoi in Vietnam as a VSO Volunteer in 2004 and settled in the region. I discovered that I could re-invent myself as a magazine editor and freelance writer having spent far too many years chained to an office in London. It also gave me the great opportunity to explore the region I had first visited in 1992.

You have written 3 thrillers set in Cambodia. Why did you decide to write books of this genre based in Cambodia?

I have always liked the thriller genre, although I read little of it in my youth. When I had lived in Cambodia for a number of years I realised the wonderful material it provided for a thriller novel. I am a massive fan of the late Andrea Camilleri. I felt that I could create slightly comic thrillers set in the same tone as the Montalbano series, rather than adopting the noir tone of many novels set in South East Asia. 

You’re passionate about travelling and South East Asia, especially Cambodia, is close to your heart. What are your top 3 tips for travellers venturing to that part of the world? 

My top tip to everyone for all regions is not to rush your travel. This applies to Cambodia as it does to everywhere else. Take your time and try to discover the real Cambodia, you won’t regret it. My second tip is again pretty generic – push your comfort zone. Whether it is eating spiders, sleeping on a mat in a monastery or driving a tuk tuk through Northern Thailand you gain so much more by pushing yourself just that little bit. Finally, although I normally advise people to try to get off the beaten track, if you are in the region you really have to visit Angkor Wat. There truly is nothing comparable with this majestic temple. Halong Bay in Vietnam and Luang Prabang in Laos, are the other unmissable South East Asian destinations. 

So, as we are talking travelling, where have been your favourite places you’ve visited or lived in so far? 

I normally answer Nepal to this question. The first time I visited was in 1994, and I was immediately blown away by the mountains. I still think this is my favourite travel destination, although for travel experiences the Galapagos Islands tops the lot. 

Having been to Thailand myself, food is a big thing and the spice markets are a lovely assault to your senses! Your 1st novel based in Cambodia is “To Cook A Spider” – and spiders/other insects are certainly on the menus! What was the most unusual meal/food you have eaten?

My big confession is, despite my earlier advice, that I have never eaten spiders! I did drink snake blood once on the streets of Vietnam, and often ate strange dishes that turned out to be the intestines of some animal or other. I always try the local food and drink wherever I go, but especially now that I no longer eat meat, I don’t really try anything too exotic. I did eat Cholera in Switzerland, but this turned out to be a very tasty potato, cheese and apple pie that the locals had developed during the time of cholera when food was scarce.

If we were in a cafe/bar/restaurant in Cambodia, about to indulge in a drink and nibbles/meal – What would you recommend we ordered?

Most tourists try the amok which is coconut paste dish normally made with fish. If you really want to try what the locals eat then you should go for the prahok fermented fish. It tastes far better than it smells. However, I would recommend you go to Kep and eat some crab in the local crab shacks overhanging the sea at the crab market. Try one of these cooked in Kampot Pepper. It really is quite magnificent. 

When it comes to your personal reading delights – what genre/authors do you read? Kindle or book? 

I mainly read thrillers nowadays. However Dostoevsky, Camus and Hardy are my favourite authors. The Outsider is one of the most amazing books I have read, and I think it changed my life in many respects. The Brothers Karamazovis the best novel I have ever read, although it took me at least three attempts just to get over the names. I haven’t managed to get into the Kindle craze. I just love the feeling of holding a book in my hand and flicking through the pages. 

 You are also Founder & group editor of websites – Travel Begins At 40 and London Begins At 40. In your opinion, what are the top 5 things that people over the age of 40 consider important when choosing a travel destination? Is there much difference from the desires of younger travellers?

I think it depends very much on the traveller, and there are many 40-year-olds who travel just like they did in their teens. However, I think that the 40+ traveller is more inclined to be interested in the food, culture and history of the people they are visiting. Although younger travellers are very much interested in food and sustainability, when travelling they are more likely to look for bargains in order to make their money last longer, as well as places with a lively nightlife. The older you get as a traveller the more likely you are to look for places away from the crowd rather than trying to find the crowd. Beaches are for leisurely strolling as the sun sets, rather than for partying under the full moon. 

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I’m a jeans and t-shirt guy. I have a massive neck so shirt and ties really never worked for me. I am also totally informal, although I do like wearing hats. I have had the same suit that was tailored for me in Cambodia quietly collecting dust in my wardrobe for a decade – it probably no longer fits me. Again my footwear choices are determined by necessity rather than fashion, as I have very wide feet and a high instep. So, its trainers and comfortable walking shoes for me. Although I am partial to Campers. 

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I normally buy my clothes at stores like Mountain Warehouse or Blacks. However, I recently got an Azuaya Panama hat. I think this will definitely be my hat for the summer. 

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Some comfy walking shoes, preferably ones that can cope with the English winter.

Boots or Shoes?

Neither. Trainers work best for me. But I never buy boots as I hate the feel of something rubbing against my ankles. It’s a big foot thing.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

For Pinning Later

Web: https://www.travelbeginsat40.com/

Twitter: @TravelBegins40

Facebook / Instagram: @TravelBeginsat40

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-bibby-jackson-aa541613/

Thank you Mark for your fascinating insight into the world of travel – I’m hoping that the world will soon open up again so that the many wonders of this world can be experienced once again.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Mark Bibby Jackson

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Spotlight On The Andalusian Mystery Series

In the UK, the nights are drawing in and what can be nicer than cosy nights by a roaring fire, curled up in an armchair with a hot chocolate toddy and a good book? Even better when the books are mysteries based in the sunnier climate of Andalusia in Spain. Author Paul S Bradley has written 5 books in the series so far, and I was fortunate to receive his first book in the series to review: Darkness In Málaga.

MY REVIEW OF DARKNESS IN MALAGA

Darkness in Málaga is a crime mystery set in Spain and a story of many parts expertly woven into one. It is a book inspired by a true murder and a dedication is made at the front of the book to the memory of Cecilia Natalia Coria Olivares who was murdered in Nerva on September 8, 2008. So where do I start? It begins with a young girl being abducted; a group of African refugees fleeing Africa to reach Spain; a corrupt official; a wily detective, Leon Prado, who fears he may have lost his way as he tries to solve the abductions; then there is Phillip, who was in the British Intelligence Corps, who retired in Spain to lick his emotional wounds after his acrimonious divorce from his gorgeous Russian wife; Juliet, a beautiful British waitress, half Phillip’s age, but somebody he would love to know better; Amanda, the CNN film maker, following the refugee story. When Juliet goes missing, Phillip helps Detective Leon Prado, to piece together the kidnaps, along with Amanda. But that is only the start of it….things get darker, much darker. I loved it! It had enough suspense to keep me interested, some romance and light hearted moments too…

So, I just had to invite author Paul Bradley onto my blog about his writing, his life in Spain and his fashion choices, of course! Hi Paul and welcome:

How does one describe a person who lives in a quaint village by the beautiful blue Mediterranean, and travels, pandemics permitting, around the Iberian Peninsula with small groups of North American Alumni showing them the fascinating mix of ancient and modern Spain? Fortunate, one could say, but as it is me, I will go a step further. I have not lived and worked in Spain for over thirty years by accident. Coming here was a deliberate and planned attempt to redesign my life away from the London rat race. I had always dreamed of loving what I do and not just work because I needed to earn money. I risked all, and thankfully it paid off. It was dodgy restaurant translations that opened the door. When I informed the beach restaurant owner that he was offering me Ironed Squid instead of grilled squid, I was immediately pressed into service to fix his poor communications materials. Then the restaurant next door wanted the same and I was in business. That evolved into property and lifestyle magazines, guidebooks, and travelogues. Pre-Google, someone had to physically gather material about this marvelous country and happily that fell into my lap. As I grew older, and some kindly Governments started sending me money every month for not doing much, it gave me the opportunity to switch to writing novels, something I can do until the wooden box beckons.

“Darkness in Málaga” is the first in the series of 5 books of the Andalusian Mystery Series. The others are: Darkness in Ronda; Darkness in Vélez-Málaga; Darkness in Granada; Darkness in Córdoba. What inspired the book series?  Are they stand alone books or best read in numerical order?

According to Mark Twain, one of the key ingredients to good writing is; write what you know. I’ve always admired JK Rowling for her ability to conjure up imaginary worlds from nowhere, although I suspect that the smoky gothic spires of Edinburgh contributed much to her fantasies as she gazed out of the window of the café where she started writing Harry Potter books. After all these years, I know Spain better than most Spaniards, so it seemed logical to set my books in my adopted homeland. Agatha Christie stories have endured many treatments over the years, and I love them all. Around the time that I was thinking about starting to write fiction novels, I happened to be escorting a group around Northern England. We stayed for a few days at the Old White Swan in Harrogate where during the winter of 1926,the enigmatic crime writer stayed to escape the madding crowd. She posed as Mrs. Teresa Neele until after ten days the banjo player recognized her. It prompted me to write crime mysteries set in Spain from where emerged the Andalusian Mystery Series. The first four cases can be read alone but are linked together. Darkness in Córdoba, which is currently a work in progress, is a stand-alone case but involving the main characters.

Having lived in Nerja, Spain since 1992 , are your characters based on observations of people you’ve come across in the past and incidents you’ve experienced ? Who were the hardest characters to portray?

Following on from my preferences to write what I know, readers may be interested to discover that all the characters in my books are loosely based on people that I have met on my travels. I change their namesand personal details, but their physical descriptions and behaviours are recognizable. I often use the threat of including my travel clients in my book if they complain too much. If they are particularly bad, they are likely to be the antagonist. I can’t say it encourages people to behave any differently, but it raises a titter and helps with sales. Without a doubt the hardest characters to invent are politicians. I say this becausethe motivations of policemen and criminals are pretty much the same the world over, but politicians are a breed of their own. Trying to keep them well grounded in any plot is difficult because they are always trying to self-promote, or make a point, and I’m often tempted to let them to the detriment of the storyline.

Were there any aspects of writing your book series that surprised you, either by being harder or easier to write about than you expected?

Writing experts, particularly my editor, bang on about showing not telling. This was a difficult transition for me as a travel writer because I was used to describing what I saw and weaving those visual memoriesaround historical facts gleaned from guides, brochures, or libraries. Fictional stories need real characters that actually think, speak, eat, sleep and dream. The story is revealed through their thoughts, dialogue, and deeds. It took quite a while to develop the required experience to do that with any level of competence.

As you not only live in Spain, but have also travelled extensively around the Iberian Peninsula, what are your top 5 favourite places that you recommend visiting whilst in Spain.

Spain is one of the most diverse countries I have ever been to. It is more mountainous than Switzerland, and the landscapes vary from emerald-green to dusty desert the further south you go. It’s the gateway to Africa. Travelers from all over the dark continent have been crossing to her shores since time began looking to trade or discover a better life, and continue to do so. It has abundant agriculture of almost everything imaginable. It’s safe, affordable and has an unbeatable climate. Wine lovers could spend years exploring the vineyards of La Rioja or Ribera del Duero. Historians can drool over the wealth ofmonuments and there are so many archeological discoveries, they now tend to photograph them and carry on with whatever building project revealed them. Numerous languages are spoken, and every town has a beautiful church or cathedral packed with religious artefacts. But it is the people that set this country aside. They are the warmest, kindest, and most considerate that I have ever had the pleasure to have known. The consequence of this is that everywhere you go, is a memorable treasure. You would have to waterboard me to extract five preferences so assuming you have, here goes. San Sebastian is for the gourmet; Toledo is unbeatable for religious history and dramatic location. Ronda for bullfighting fans,bandits and so much more, Barcelona for the young and dynamic, Madrid attracts the elegant and discerning.

Have you always wanted to have a career in writing or did you have other aspirations?

Writing was the only subject I was good at during my school years. Regrettably, I didn’t recognize the importance of that at the time and no one pushed me in that direction. I recall doing homework at the military boarding school I was sent to sitting next to several boys who knew exactly what they wanted to do. I could never work out if this were true or if their parents had told them what to aim for. My father was keen for me to join the army but polishing boots and being shouted at for six years deterred me from more of the same. Like most lost souls of limited academic achievements, I launched myself on a voyage of discovery trying numerous jobs eventually ending up in sales and then running my own business. The writing of proposals was all I excelled at which prompted me to enter a writing contest for the Sunday Telegraph. I came second and won two hundred pounds. This minor event was the spur that changed my life. For the first time I felt I had accomplished something and built on that, eventually coming to Spainand putting it into practice.

Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book?

I grew up in Market Harborough, Leicestershire where my mother was an infant teacher. She took me and my sister to the library every week. I love everything about books. From the browsing experience to the final choice, to the thrill of opening the first page. I don’t mind ebooks, but I do prefer an actual book.

Are your Andalusian series of books available to purchase worldwide?

The Andalusian Mystery Series is available globally in ebook and Print format in most major online bookstores and can be ordered by your local bookshop.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I’m a jeans, shirt and V neck pullover person in the short Spanish winters, and because I love hikingalong the beach or in the mountains, I’m well provided with Mephisto walking shoes. In the warmer months, like most of the year, it’s shorts, short sleeve shirts and Mephisto sandals with a rather weird Australian paper hat to keep my scalp from frying.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I love playing virtual golf on wgt.com and occasionally browse Facebook to see what my daughters and grandchildren are up to. However, as I spend most of my days in front of a screen, I try and avoid them in the evenings. With the outdoor life in Spain, that is not too difficult.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Even after, thirty years away from the UK, I still haven’t changed the Marks and Spencer’s socks and underwear habit. With such a long lockdown marooning me here in Nerja, stocks are starting to dwindle.

Boots or Shoes? 

Believe me, after six years spitting and polishing boots at a military boarding school, it’s no contest. Shoes every time.

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Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

www.paulbradley.eu

www.facebook.com/PaulBradleyinNerja/

Thank you very much Paul for taking the time to chat on the blog, for the copy of Darkness in Málaga… I am eagerly working my way through the other books in the series 😊

Linda x

All photographs (apart from Pinterest & header) have been published with kind permission of Paul S Bradley.

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