Gone, but never forgotten

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At Colchester Zoo with my dad in the mid-seventies

The first thing you need to know about my dad, Phil, is he liked to do things his way.  I wouldn’t call him headstrong; if he’d have been any more laid back he would have been horizontal, but he most definitely had a stubborn streak.  He was also like the bunny in the Cadbury’s Caramel adverts in that he liked to take things easy.  He wasn’t lazy (well, not bone idle lazy), but when Jack Nicholson said ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’, Dad was first in queue to take his advice.

Dad only ever wanted for a comfortable life and for him this consisted of cigarettes, alcohol and rich greasy food, a newspaper to read while he sat on his ‘throne’ for half an hour each morning (a routine that would eventually result in piles) and a daily walk through the aisles of our local Sainsbury’s, where he knew most of the staff by name, and would leisurely peruse the wine section, helpfully recommending bottles to complete strangers.

He grew up in a sleepy village on the Suffolk/Essex border in a working class family, and was the eldest of two sons, doted upon by our nan.  Dad and Uncle liked to consider themselves the wide boys about town and dressed in Cuban heels and Godfather style long leather coats.  Although in old photos their poses were reminiscent of the Kray brothers, they were more like The Walton’s and, as children, we were told tales about how they saved the local factory from burning down, were head hunted by Colchester United Football Club and performed kung fu style heroics on local thugs intent on taking over the village pub.

At thirty Dad decided that he had outgrown village life and it was time to leave home.  He had travelled to London a handful of times as roadie with various bands and had contacts in the industry.  Packing his bags he headed all the way north to the heady lights of Norwich.

Not renowned as a buzzing hive for up-and-coming musicians, Dad’s philosophy on the move, and answer to his critics, was ‘why be a small fish in a big pond, when you can be a big fish in a small pond?’

To be fair to him, he made waves in the music business as a promoter in the late sixties and early seventies, bringing several known artistes to East Anglia and he is still remembered fondly by many in the industry. I can also thank him for ensuring I listened to an eclectic range of music growing up.

The rock n roll lifestyle did mean that on the night I was born he was out partying with Rod Stewart, having helped promote him at the Wheeley Festival. Weeks later, Rod went on to have a number one single with Maggie May and the rest is history.

As he settled into family life, priorities changed and although he kept the ‘Liam Gallagher of the seventies’ look, he set up his own agency, mostly dealing with the military and supplying all manner of entertainment – from bands to dodgems – for their summer and Christmas balls. He also owned a couple of video rental stores, which is probably why I have always had a huge love for film.


Mum and Dad on their wedding day – December 1970

The agency was run from home, which meant plenty of free time for golf. Dad was a player was what was best described as a ‘unique’ swing. He also introduced Mum to the sport and got the hump when she proved to be much better than him. As Mum continued to excel at the sport and the lounge cabinet became home to all her trophies, Dad eventually resigned himself to becoming a golf widower, occasional trolley puller and secretary of Mum’s fan club.

Lack of golf meant lack of exercise, so we got a dog.

Dad had always been anti pets and as young children we had been resigned to goldfish.  Gradually we managed to climb our way up the animal chain by sweet-talking Mum, working our way through hamsters, budgies, rabbits and kittens. Then we tried our luck with a dog.

As I recall, the conversation with Dad went, ‘if you bring it home, I’m leaving’.  Of course the trick was to show Mum the cute yowling little puppy and once she was seduced we brought him home regardless. We called the puppy Cody and although Dad sulked for a few days, he made no attempt to pack his bags.

Of course the novelty of walking a dog soon wore off and the leash was passed to Dad, who along with Cody became a familiar sight around the village.  Long gone were the Cuban heels (the Godfather coat hung in the cupboard for years, but we tried not to let him leave the house in it) in favour of a more middle of the road wardrobe of ill-fitting trousers, which often slipped down to reveal his bum crack and knitted pattern jumpers.

With his snowy white hair and smiling ruddy face, he cut a friendly figure and soon got to know all of the neighbours and fellow dog walkers on his route.  In the summer and autumn he and Cody would disappear for hours, returning with ice cream containers full of cherries, blackberries and wild mushrooms. He would attempt to use these in weird and wonderful recipes that we, of course, would all refuse to eat.

S/W Ver: 85.97.F1P

Cody the wonder dog

Cody never travelled well in the car, hence why he was only ever taken on the occasional road trip.  This fact came to light when Dad, Mum, Brother and Sister went to the coast one day to take Cody for a run on the beach.

Family walks always followed the same routine. Dad would march half a mile ahead of everyone else; a man on a mission who seemed to work on the theory that the quicker he walked, the quicker it would be over. The rest of the flock would follow together. Sister usually whining to Mum that her legs were aching or she needed an ice cream or drink. My brother would keep close tabs on everything sister was asking for to ensure he didn’t miss out if she got it. Over the years little has changed. The complaining of aches mantle has been passed from sister to Mum and brother rarely accompanies us on any social gatherings that don’t involve alcohol.

On this particular occasion the family was walking along the high street in Wells. It was a warm day and busy. As Dad marched ahead, the rest of the clan noticed people giving him a wide berth and some were looking at him in complete disgust.

Dad was oblivious (he was his daughter’s father) both to the stares and to the fact that Cody’s upset stomach had turned into diarrhea and was dripping down his trouser leg.

Let’s just say it was a rather uncomfortable and smelly ride home.

There are many great stories I could tell you about my dad. He passed away thirteen years ago, just four months before 9/11, and never got to witness Mum become the Captain of her golf club, Sister join the police and make detective or know that I eventually became a published author. Most of all though, I think he would be devastated to learn that my brother now works for a whiskey magazine and that he would have never had to pay for a bottle again.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Gone, but never forgotten.


Interview with Megan Denby, author of A Thistle in the Mist

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I am delighted to announce this week’s interview is with Canadian author, Megan Denby, who you may remember wrote a fascinating guest blog on my site last year about the great-grandmother who inspired her debut novel, A Thistle in the Mist, and her road to getting it published. Her new novel, Lost to the Mist is due to be published later this year.

Take it away, Megan.

Tell us about yourself in 100 words? No more and no less.

Megan Denby is a novelist who grew up on a farm, where she spent much of her time riding the dirt roads on her bike and sprawled on the porch swing reading books. Writing for over thirty years, her debut novel, ‘A Thistle in the Mist’ was inspired by the turbulent life of her Scottish great-grandmother. Megan is an avid dragon boater, and, a true Canadian, she is a rookie goalie in the local women’s hockey league. Residing in the lakeside community of Port Perry with her family, Megan is currently working on the disturbing sequel, ‘Lost to the Mist’.

Tell us about your book.

‘A Thistle in the Mist’ is a fictional drama revolving around the life of a young highland lass named Meara MacDonald.

When Meara finds her mother dead, she cannot imagine how terrible her life will become. Up until the death of her mother, Meara has enjoyed an idyllic life on Isle of Skye, dreaming of the day she will wed the gallant Duncan MacLeod. Fate, however, has other plans and when Aunt Deirdre and Uncle Sloan arrive, Meara’s family is taken, one-by-one, for reasons she discovers are both personal and nefarious. Unable to reign in her spirit or her tongue, Meara falls prey to an intricate web of lies and deception and finds herself catapulted from Scotland to a household steeped in mystery in Nova Scotia. Guided by her strength of will, she fights her way back to the remains of her family; her heart and soul.

Bits and pieces of my Grandma Ross’s life are woven into the tale. Burdened with lies and deception, ‘A Thistle in the Mist’ is a fast-paced read set in Scotland and Nova Scotia in the early nineteenth century. It is entwined with family, humour, resiliency of the human spirit and characters that stay with you.

How did it feel when you first saw your book published?

It’s hard to put that feeling into words. I think I felt a mixture of disbelief, pride and relief – relief that I was finally able to let it go after 10 years!

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on book two, ‘Lost to the Mist’. It features Meara and her family and of course I am bringing back the much-loved villain, Deirdre. ‘Thistle’ is such a fast-paced story and I am finding it a bit of a challenge to keep that pace but it’s a challenge I’m up for! I have lots of twists and turns in store for my readers.

What words of advice would you give to any budding writers out there?

Never give up! If you have a story to tell, tell it. Edit like crazy and be sure to have it professionally edited. I believed I could edit myself but was extremely lucky to cross paths with a chap from the UK who generously offered to proofread and tone down my glaring ‘Canadianisms’. If you decide to self-publish, be certain to promote yourself through all avenues available and be careful not to cross the line between promoting your book and ‘shoving it down people’s throats’! Take the good with the bad and try and take something positive from every review you receive.

Social media seems to be playing a big part in the success of books these days. What are your thoughts on this and how active are you on various sites?

Social media, I’ve learned, is an invaluable tool. Facebook, Twitter and Google + are a few sites I’ve taken advantage of. Besides promoting your book, it’s the best place to connect with other writers. I’ve been lucky to connect with some fantastic authors worldwide whom I now consider friends. The group I chat with are hugely generous and have helped me immensely. They also make me laugh every day. Personally, social media has been my best friend. My day job took me away from social media for awhile and I saw a drastic drop in sales. When I resumed self-promoting via Facebook and Twitter, I saw an immediate climb in sales.

Every writer must dream of seeing the big screen version of their novel. Who would you like to see playing your lead characters?

Rachel McAdams would make a beautiful and feisty Meara but she’s Canadian. If she could pull off the Scottish burr, she would be my first choice. However, if I were to stick with actors from the UK, I would choose Emily Blunt – lovely and quirky.

I think, UK actor, Tom Hardy would make a dashing Duncan. He also possesses that vulnerable quality I feel is an inherent part of Duncan’s character.

Without a doubt, Tilda Swinton is the perfect Deirdre. Not only is she Scottish, she is an amazing actress and does evil very well.

Another Scottish actor, Robert Carlyle, has the physical characteristics to be a convincing Sloan. He knows how to do ‘bad’ without going over the top.

If you could find out the answer to one of life’s mysteries, which one would you choose?

Why do all writers procrastinate?

What would you do in life if you knew you couldn’t fail?

I’d give up my day job, move somewhere beautiful on the ocean and spend the rest of my life writing and enjoying my family.

Describe the most terrifying situation you have ever been in?

I was nineteen years old the night the police called our house and asked for my dad. The police officer would not give me any information but when my dad took the phone, the look on his face as he listened, turned my stomach to ice. My brother had been in a terrible car accident. I will never forget the terror I felt during the ride to the hospital or the relief that filled me when I saw my little brother’s face. He was badly injured and spent weeks in hospital but he recovered fully, thank goodness.

And the cliché question, four guests at your dinner party (dead or alive), who do you choose?

I would choose my grandparents. My father’s mother passed away when he was a baby and I never met her. My grandpa always told me I looked just like her so I’d love to meet her and see Grandpa spend time with her again, if only for an evening. My mother’s parents, Nana and Grandad, were a huge part of my life growing up and I miss them every day. I’d love to see them both one more time.

To find out more about Megan and her book, please see the following links.

Amazon               http://www.amazon.com/A-Thistle-Mist-ebook/dp/B00B2XML88

Website               www.megandenby.com

Blog                     http://notyouraveragelassie.blogspot.ca/

Facebook            https://www.facebook.com/AuthorMegan

Twitter                 https://twitter.com/megan_denby

Family life


This is how we roll in our family on Boxing Day.

One of us hosts, we eat a lot of bubble & squeak and cheese & biscuits, washed down with copious amounts of beer and red wine, and then we play a general knowledge game.

This year we decided to go traditional and play the board game, Articulate. For those of you not in the know, Articulate is played in teams and you have to describe the things given on the playing cards to your teammate(s) before the timer runs out.

Now I wouldn’t say I’m competitive. I mean, okay, sure, I have a compulsive obsessive need to be the best at everything and I don’t like having losers on my team, but that’s normal, right? So I was not best pleased when we flipped coins for partners and I got saddled with Mum.

Let me explain why.

This is me trying to describe Albert Einstein to her.

Me: He is a Nobel Prize winning scientist.

Mum: I don’t know any scientists.

Me: He is the most famous scientist ever. You will know this guy.

Mum: (Looks blank).

Me: Okay, the last part of his surname is the same as the famous monster in the Mary Shelley book.

Mum: Who is Mary Shelley?

Me: (Head in hands) She wrote a book about a famous monster villain. Think, who are the two most famous movie villains? There is Dracula and?

Mum: Frankenstein.

Me: Yes, so what is the last part of his name?

Mum: Frankenstein.

Me: No, the last part.

Mum: Stein.

Me: Yes, now who is the famous scientist?

Mum: Albert Stein?

Me: (Shaking head in disbelief) There’s another bit to his name, in front of Stein.

Mum: I don’t know.

Me:  You do know.

Brother: How do you say the number ‘one’ in German?

Mum: Uno?

This went on for quite some time and eventually we just had to tell her, Albert Einstein, to which she replied.

‘Oh, him. Yes, I’ve heard of him.’

Second place shout out to my sister for her doofus answer when my brother described Ecuador.

Brother: It’s a smallish country in South America, beginning with the letter E.

Sister: Ethiopia.