Archive for the ‘Sharon Bidwell’ Category

I first heard of Wisley about six or seven years ago when, while staying with friends, they invited us to go along to what is the Royal Horticultural Society’s show garden. It seemed much larger during that first visit than it has ever done on our occasional return, but it changes throughout the year and hosts a number of events that makes a repeat worthwhile. We’ve been fortunate to see the orchards producing abundant crops, and to go along to such occasions as an autumn harvest and even a couple of sculpture trails. These yearly sculpture exhibitions are hosted by the Surrey Sculpture Society with 2013’s (which ran 24th-August-29th September) promising to be the biggest ever. I believe this quite possible, having taken numerous photographs of the exhibits on display; more, I’m sure than I did when I attended last year.

Although, as always with such displays, there are a selection that make me raise an eyebrow or scratch my head, this year the themes had a great deal to do with nature, and appeared to blend well with the natural environment. Many will no doubt inspire ideas for the garden even if one chokes on the accompanying price tags — the same as art is subjective so were our opinions on the prices asked. Some fair, some not so much. Regardless of the price, many definitely inspired creativity.

Having taken too many photos to make loading them to one blog post viable, I’ve opted to share just three of my favourites — one from 2012 and two from 2013’s exhibitions:







Unfortunately, I cannot recall the name of the sculptures or the artists, but more can be found about the RHS and Wisley, and the SSS on their websites:



Note: I would love to be able to attend this year’s Harvest Festival, if only to get me in the mood for my two haunting October releases. A Not So Hollow Heart, and Seduced by a Legend are both appropriately out in time for Halloween.


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Cornwall is the furthest peninsula in the south west of the United Kingdom bordered on one side by Devon, and on two sides by two seas — most notably the English Channel in the South and the Celtic Sea (Cornish: An Mor Keltek) in the north Atlantic ocean. The furtherest point is Land’s End, a place I recall visiting as a child as just a rocky outcrop angling down to the sea so that one could walk right to the edge to dip one’s toes. Today, this requires paying to get into the tourist facilities built around the spot so that no one can visit without payment — not a high point in tourism IMHO.

The south of Cornwall is often referred to as Cornish Riviera. It’s more sheltered from the rough and cooler high winds and is usually favoured with warmer weather. However, I’ve always favoured North Cornwall with its higher cliffs, less popularised beaches and the wilder coastline.

The area has featured heavily in fiction, possibly most well-known in tales such as Jamaica Inn at Bodmin by Daphne du Maurier (although she also set other novels in the county), and a Sherlock Holmes tale of The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot by Conan Doyle. Many famous novelists and poets were either born or chose to live near the area, which with its changing atmosphere, varied topography, diverse weather patterns, and local historical and legendary history is hardly surprising.

You can’t be British and not talk about the weather at some point. There’s a reason some say if you don’t like the weather in the UK, wait five minutes. While this ‘may’ be something of an exaggeration, the changeable weather certainly equates to some dramatic extremes, as viewed in these two photographs. They were taken during the same holiday a couple of days apart.

In the first there’s a lovely shot of the Camelot Castle Hotel (far right distance — originally known as King Arthur’s Castle Hotel) complete with a rescue service helicopter in action along the cliffs.


In the second…well, there’s a hotel there somewhere, although it rather looks as if it’s being swallowed up in the mists of time reminiscent of a far different location, aka Brigadoon.


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Well, yes, that’s because it is, but every time I feel like moaning, I spare a thought for those who are homeless and those, who for whatever reason, don’t have access to central heating. I also spare a thought for my grandparents now no longer with us, and of how ‘being cold’ was something they not only expected, they put up with it, without complaint.

My grandparents on my mother’s side lived at an address that for my purpose we’ll call S–Rd, NHG, London. S–Rd no longer exists. My grandparents were found alternative housing when plans to knock down the entire street went ahead in the 70s. I was very young at the time, but I do have vague memories of the house. The door opened on a long, narrow corridor, with a room to the right. At the end of the house you could go up the stairs on the left, or further down the corridor to the right. The stairs were dark and steep, and I remember them distinctly because I once fell down them. They led to a first floor where my grandparents had their living room/kitchen and their bedroom. Another flight of stairs took you to another level where there were two more bedrooms. There was no bathroom. The only room to have heating was the living room/kitchen where a fire burned in the stove for heat and for cooking.

The corridor at the bottom of the house led directly into the scullery. I recall that the house had some sort of furnace here that provided a hot water supply, but the house definitely had no central heating. Not many houses did. A large tin bath hung on a hook in the scullery and when people wanted a bath, this would be taken up to the living room, placed in front of the fire, and filled with hot water. Owing to the difficulties of having a bath, many people didn’t bother to have a full wash on a nightly basis. We knew some families where a bath was a weekly ritual, but I do recall my grandmother always makes sure I was as clean as could be (I can feel her scrubbing behind my ears to this day), and that she wouldn’t go to bed without using a bowl of water for herself.

The scullery also contained a sink, and it was here that my grandmother would do the family’s laundry. I can still picture her green glass scrubbing board and the old wooden mangle. People didn’t have washing machines and were lucky if there were a local Laundromat or could afford to use them regularly if one was available. Washing meant hard graft — soaping up clothes and scrubbing them against the ridges of the glass board, then setting all the washed clothes aside to rinse. Once rinsed they were passed through the mangle, then hung in the yard to dry. Once dry they were ironed, not with an electric iron, but a hot plate iron that was set on the fire. There was no temperature control, and one had to be careful not to burn the clothing.

The door from the scullery led out into the small yard — half concrete, half soil. The soil half was fenced off and used by my grandfather to grow vegetables. Not because he enjoyed gardening as a hobby, but because they needed to supplement their food supply. He would also grow tomatoes up on the roof, but that’s a whole other story.

My grandfather would play football with me in this yard, which was surrounded by brick walls. There was one other door out in the yard and this led to the outside toilet. I only remember visiting and cannot recall using it, but I do recall stories my grandfather would tell me of going out there late at night in the midst of winter and having to chip the ice off the seat before you dared to sit down on it, and even then he told me one sat there hoping their skin didn’t stick.

This is making me sound as if I’m 90, but this isn’t so long ago. We’re talking late 60s and even into the 70s. I never had central heating until I left home at age 21. My parents never had central heating until two years later.

Did we moan? Yes. Sometimes we did. Winters were more like those we’ve seen recently. I can recall going to school in snow up to my knees and we were still expected to try to get there. Very occasionally we were turned away at the gate and had to trudge back home again. There were times we complained about being cold. We washed one limb at a time, quickly covering it. We got dressed under the covers while still in bed in the morning, and we weren’t the only ones doing it. I can talk to my mother-in-law who had a completely different upbringing in a different area of the country, and yes, I admit she’s much older than I, still she can remember similar stories. She never had central heating until the late 1980s. She remembers coping because that’s just what people did. She tells me that people seldom got sick out in the country, although I can’t say the same for people I knew living in London, where some places were ill-looked after and sometimes damp. My parents didn’t even have a real fire — they had to make do with electric heaters, which were costly.

So whenever I’m snug indoors and think it feels a bit chilly, I’m reminded it could be much worse. I remember hard times that people didn’t even know were hard, but simply accepted as the way things were. I remember slipping and sliding trying to walk to school, and I remember it feeling as cold inside as it was out even while there was snow on the ground. Mostly, though, I recall with a nostalgic smile my grandfather drawing a jagged shape in the ice on his bedroom window, and telling me, “Look, Jack Frost is here.”

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I couldn’t help but respond the other week to a person who left me a comment on my website, a comment assuring me that what they had to say may look like spam but assuring me it wasn’t. All I could do was protest loudly that their site looked like…well, spam. Having disapproved of the comment I sent it off into the protective clutches of my anti-spam programme and then, aggravated beyond reason by what could well be another scam or copyright violation, I posted a response. I copy it for the readers of Britwriters because I believe and hope it clarifies the law with regards to the passing on of books, especially ebooks:

You say you’re not a publisher and yet you’re making money selling free ebooks? This is an oxymoron. If you are selling books they’re not ‘free’. Secondly, you say you’re not a writer so where are you getting these books from? Are you selling other people’s free ebooks? If you’re doing so without their permission you are in violation of copyright law. If you are buying ebooks and selling them on, you are in violation of copyright law. On both counts, I advise you to read the statement that runs in my side bar. If you are doing something else, which I don’t understand, my apologies, but no, I’m not going to download your report file from a site that says very little. For all I know it could be a virus. I’d advise everyone else not to do so either. This isn’t personal. I’m just being sensibly cautious. Sorry.

Look, copyright law on ebooks is simple. You cannot copy, distribute, resell or loan an ebook. Saying that, most of us wouldn’t object if we heard you’ve made yourself a back-up copy purely for your own personal use. We live in a wonderful age of technology but technology fails us from time to time. We hear you’re selling our work and we’ll come down on you like the proverbial ton of bricks. Writers and publishers are getting better at locating piracy sites and law enforcement is finally taking it seriously.

The most common question we hear is “If I can resell or loan a printed book, why can’t I as a reader resell or loan ebooks?” To be honest, even the reselling or lending of some printed books is a grey area. However, it tends to be overlooked because of several reasons.

  1. Most people hate the idea of printed books being destroyed. If you’re finished with them and cannot pass them on in some way they are only good for recycling.
  2. When a printed book is passed on, someone may find an author they like and start buying new books by that author on a regular basis. It’s sort of free-advertising and yes, one could argue this would apply to ebooks but there’s a major difference and reason why this doesn’t work so read on.
  3. Many second-hand books are sold for charity purposes.
  4. You are giving up your physical edition of the book and will no longer own it.

Point 4 is the major one. When you give, sell, or loan a printed book you give away the item you purchased. Even when loaning it, you risk not getting it back. You are not making a ‘physical copy’ of that book to pass it on.

When you pass an ebook on (and some people do this in innocence not piracy but they are still in the wrong) the reader tends to ‘keep’ their version and simply send the file on, thereby making a ‘copy’. I can assure you that this is just as illegal in printed works.

Imagine you took one of Stephen King’s novels, dissected it, scanned it in, printed it up either by POD (good luck — they would spot what you are doing in a flash), or via the printer at home, and tried to give it away, sell it, or hand to a friend. Should SK find out do you think he wouldn’t sue your arse off? Oh yes, he would!

The point is you are not allowed to make a ‘copy’ of any written work be it printed or electronic. You may (usually) print off an electronic book with the purpose of reading it in that form should you not wish to read on screen, but that printed form is subject to the same laws. You may not sell it, or pass it on. If you wish to pass on an ebook the only viable way to do this is buy an extra copy, and what’s so wrong with that? We all have people to buy presents for.

Oh…and to those who think they can file share their ebook library, has nothing I’ve stated sunk in? Besides, you are NOT a library and did you know that even if you were there is such a thing as the ‘public lending right’? This means that an author can, if they wish, claim a small payment every time a library lends one of their books. So next time you choose to file share, don’t be surprised should you receive a letter from the authors asking for an audit of the number of ‘loans’ and demanding payment from you!

You are not a publisher and the author has not signed a contract with you. You do not have the right to sell.

You are not an official state library. You do not have the right to loan (and let’s be honest — loan in electronic format means copy and give away).

You are not friends with thousands of strangers online that you simply ‘must’ lend your books to (and we’ve already established that you are not lending but copying) and authors and publishers will not turn their back on you ‘giving’ their work away.

I’m not speaking to those who are deliberately committing an act of piracy. They know they are breaking the law, damaging authors and the publishing industry, and they just don’t care. The most we can do is assure them that while there will always be crooks there will always be those willing to fight them. I’m speaking mainly to those that do this in innocence, not understanding that they are doing anything wrong. You claim to love us as writers. You claim to love our work. We do work — hard — at this. Most of us have day jobs, families, lives just like you. We have to find time to write on top of all that. We often forsake sleep. Many don’t make as much money as you think and even if we did, haven’t we ‘earned’ it? You love our characters, our worlds, our stories. You claim to love our work and even to love us. Why do something fundamentally harmful to someone or something you love?

Did you know there are pirate copies of the “I Do” anthology out there? A book I took part in for charity. The thought that people can be so low as to steal from charity has made some of us authors want to puke. If you’re doing this in innocence or not, rest assured, we’re very upset with you.

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With all the talk of Wimbledon and grass (a very important subject if you’re a Wimbledon player, official, or fan), I thought I would post about a very different form of lawn.

If you think “The Camomile Lawn” is the title of a book by Mary Wesley, you’d be right. Out of her novels, it’s my second favourite book of hers and I’m delighted to own a signed copy. The novel was turned into a television production described as very close to the original book. This mini-series starred Felicity Kendal, and Paul Eddington of “The Good Life” fame. It also starred Tara Fitzgerald and Claire Bloom, among other recognisable names.

The story is a dramatic backdrop to wartime England as seen through the eyes of five cousins. The expansive camomile lawn sits at the back of a large house owned by one of the character’s aunts. Being the favourite holiday spot for the cousins they gather there in August 1939 at a time when they are still able to enjoy the innocence of youth, even while facing the imminent prospect of war. The novel moves back and forth from this picturesque setting to the devastation of a bombed London where people fight for survival with all the wit and warmth that is common to the human spirit when faced with such dire circumstances. The cousins suffer through loves and losses, while holding dear to the memory of that more innocent time when they played on The Camomile Lawn. Memories of these sometimes-dangerous games (such as “The Terror Run” on the cliff path) are recalled when years later the family gather for a funeral. They also recall their uninhibited behaviour during the war.

One might well wonder why Mary Wesley chose such a setting as a camomile lawn for the book if one has not experienced “walking with fragrance” a phrase coined by one UK supplier. The scent is such that it could well invoke rich memories, memory being a profound theme of the book. Originating from Greek, the name chamomile, or camomile, means “earth-apple” and although it relates more to the way the plant grows low to the ground and the daisy-like flower some varieties can produce, I liken it more to the scent. Camomile is not a grass, nor related to one. It is a ground-covering plant like many rockery plants. I’ve discovered that it grows and spreads by sending out shoots on all sides from which further roots seem to form and travel down into the soil. Larger plants can have some shoots carefully removed and replanted to fill in barer spots.

Like most herbs, camomile has a long history of therapeutic uses, ranging from skin disorders, cancer treatments, and anti-inflammation creams. Most famously, we associate camomile with its calming influence, particularly with regard to herbal tea. Of the many thousands of people who regularly purchase camomile tea, probably few have heard of growing a whole lawn out of this plant and yet it creates the softest, most springy lawn imaginable. Note: I am not telling you to grow a lawn and make your tea out of it. There are many varieties of this plant and some are better for growing purposes, while others more palatable for tea. Like any plant, do not ingest it unless you are certain it is safe to do so.

A camomile lawn is not only pleasurable to walk on because of its bouncy trait but because of the incredible scent that’s released when the plant is trodden on or rained upon. Elizabethan England knew all about camomile and many poets sang its praises. Buckingham Palace boasts a camomile lawn that dates back to George V.

The one practical advantage of the modern variety of camomile grown for lawns is that the plants require no cutting. You can choose between flowering and non-flowering varieties but I always chose Treneague (available from www.camomilelawns.co.uk). No, I don’t have shares in the company, nor am I advertising for them, but if you’re interested in growing a lawn of your own this is my recommendation, although neither I nor the company can guarantee success. I can only say that I’ve never been exactly green-fingered but if there is one plant I simply “must have” in my garden, it is this.

Here is a picture of the camomile lawn in my last garden.


I was devastated that I had to leave it behind. In my new home, we have too much concrete for my liking. I have started by planting some areas with camomile this year, and I began with this:


This photo was taken on the day of planting. They are coming along and I fully expect that by the end of this summer this area will be a full, soft, rich green.

The most important thing to consider when choosing to plant a camomile lawn is the scent. Some liken it to apples. I agree but I find that it also makes me think of “citrus” and “fresh”, literally as in a breath of fresh air. I’ve found that the scent seems to clean the air and that breathing in the fragrance for me has a cooling effect. You’ll find this and other information on the camomile site as mentioned above, including that this could be the answer to hayfever sufferers. Choose the non-flowering variety and there’s no pollen! So, green in dry summers, no cutting, a great scent, you can use it to grow a whole lawn or in feature spots (even as a seat!) or as your main path, because the one thing camomile likes is to be walked on! Walk on it and it grows better. You can intermingle it with other plants, with flagstones, with shingle. The only rule is don’t plant it with any form of grass. The grass is too invasive and will take over. Go on. Walk with fragrance. I can’t scream it’s praises enough…although, I doubt Wimbledon would consider it as an alternative for tennis.

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Please note, this is a slightly edited version of a short article I wrote a few years ago, highlighting the plight of small press magazines. It has appeared as a reprint no less than seven times. Even though it was a reprint, both print and electronic publications kept snapping it up every time I subbed it, which cannot give a clearer indication of how I struck a cord with the difficulties they face. Alas, the problem affects many authors who need these markets in order to succeed.

Potential talent has always had the problem of being recognised, tapped, and finding its place in the world. Writers everywhere have reason to mourn each time they say a fond farewell to yet another of their advocates, and bury the remains in the expanding graveyard of small-press magazines.

Editors of, and writers for, these magazines face the same conundrum. Such magazines have selected availability and are usually obtainable by post or limited outlets. Therefore, the majority of the public do not get the opportunity to view much of the excellent body of work that is out there. Consequently, editors who wish to help talented writers often end up financing such endeavours from their own funds, for at least the first few years if not indefinitely. Struggling writers end up supporting the very publications that may help to launch successful careers that might otherwise have the misfortune of falling by the wayside. This leaves both the editor and writer ‘numb’ and disillusioned.

The subject is often further confused by the mistaken belief that editors and writers have ‘unlimited’ funds. The truth is the majority of writers, even published ones, often need to support their income by working on a part-time, if not full-time basis. Even when a small press publication is doing well, the editor usually tries to show his appreciation by paying contributors, even failing to cover costs, making it definitely a love rather than profit venture. Hence, many publications are transforming into ‘webzines’ as these are considerably cheaper to produce. This has a mixed reaction. On the one hand, I’ve come across a particular kind of snobbery that publishing on the ‘web’ isn’t real publishing. But the truth is, if your work has to meet a certain standard and demands of an editor, it should be no less valid than if produced in print. This form of publishing needs to be encouraged, not sneered at – it is, after all, meant to be a new millennium. In this regard, the advent of email makes submissions and replies cheaper for the editor and writer alike – it’s not only time that concerns the writer but the cost of paper, ink and postage. Writing can be ultimately one of the most rewarding experiences, but it is also costly in time and money.

From a writer’s point of view I try to support at least one such publication on a regular basis and others ‘as and when’, which also keeps me up to date with what they are currently publishing. In addition to this – as pointed out to me by editor, Trevor Denyer, of Roadworks magazine (now currently the editor of Midnight Street), – “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for writers submitting their work, to study the market by buying AT LEAST one copy of the magazine. If everyone who submitted work did that, it would go a long way to helping protect the markets that they rely on.”

I also have to admit that, when I’m going to be in print, I’m not above telling friends and family and asking how many copies they would like. I’ve heard so often how proud they are and I’m only asking that they put their money where their mouth is! I’m asking no more or less than I would do for them. After all, they fork out good money for total strangers and value their books for a lifetime!

Night to Dawn is just one example of a small press magazine and issue 15 features my short story “Effigy in Garnet” (which is also available in Aoife’s Kiss September 2007 issue from Sam’s Dot Publishing). As for my story, is it romantic? Yes, though in a rather dark way. Is it horror? Yes. It’s been described as “a keeper” and one that an editor couldn’t refuse. Seeing as two editors felt that way, I think that’s a good enough recommendation. As you can tell I’m especially proud of this story, though for those of you who know me best for my romance novels this is definitely a different style of story-telling but one I enjoy immensely. You can purchase Night to Dawn at www.bloodredshadows.com

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‘Twas the night before Yesterday, when all through the house

We heard Christmas music, playing ever so loud;

We thought it was coming from the neighbours so near,

That they must have it blaring, dear, oh dear.

It got louder and louder, and made such a clatter

We jumped to our feet to see what was the matter.

Away to the door, we both rushed outside…

And saw Santa drive by…In his Sleigh, no lie!


(Actually, it was the local scouts but quite spectacular in its way.)

Sharon Maria Bidwell
aonia – where the muses live

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