The tragedy of Sant Anna di Stazzema

Today is the anniversary of the one of the worst war crimes in Italy – the massacre at Sant Anna di Stazzema, a small mountain village in the Lucca province, Tuscany, during the Second World War.

On 12th August 1944 the SS killed 560 people in Sant Anna and the surrounding villages, most of whom were women, children and elderly.  The youngest victim Anna Pardini was only 20 days old but eight pregnant women were also killed with their unborn babies.

As the novel I’m writing deals with a secret connecting Villa Leonida to a wartime reprisal massacre I visited St Anna as part of my research. The museum there tells the story of what happened on that day.

It’s not a feel-good experience and if you’re only spending a few days in Tuscany on holiday it probably won’t be top on your list of places to go for a fun day out but for me, seeing how remote and inaccessible the village was really brought home how ruthlessly thorough the retreating German army was.

They had to go so far out of their way to get to such a tiny place and didn’t leave until they had killed everyone they could find although they could see the village was undefended. Many of the victims had been evacuated to St Anna to avoid the Allied strafing of the coastal plain.

The best way to get there is from the coast side, off the A12 following the signs from Pietrasanta or Forte dei Marmi which is the route the German army would have taken. You can also reach it by taking the road from Castelnuovo di Garfagnana across the marble mountains, the Apuan Alps. It is stunningly scenic but involves soaring climbs and dizzying turns so definitely not recommended if any of your party gets car sick.

(I took that route once by mistake, unaware that my husband had set the satnav to ‘avoid motorways.’ With four moaning teenagers, a stuck CD and a plane to catch, it wasn’t a comfortable journey!)

We visited the museum with our eleven year old son and it was very moving to see the photographs of all the children who died and some of the victims’ belongings that were found with some of them including a doll and some steel bands that the fascist government handed out to women in exchange for their wedding rings. Eight siblings from one family, aged from a few months to fifteen years, died along with their mother. The first hand accounts by survivors make harrowing reading.

IMG_1596Early in the morning the soldiers arrived in Sant Anna, having being told about some partisan activity in the area.

Many of the men had moved up into the hills in the belief that the soldiers wouldn’t harm innocent women and children but they were mistaken.

People were mostly either shot or burned to death in buildings when hand grenades were thrown in.

130 people were taken from the houses in Sant Anna, the primary school (now the museum) where about 50 evacuees were living and the neighbouring village of Il Pero and rounded up in the little square in front of the church at the centre of the village.

A survivor, writer Manlio Cancogni (who died in 2015), recalled: “They almost snatched them from their beds. They were half dressed, their limbs drowsy with sleep. Everyone was thinking they were going to be moved from those places to others…”

A pastor who was among the evacuees pleaded with the SS to spare their lives but when he saw there was no way he was going to be able to persuade them he knelt down with the villagers and prayed with them as they wept. After a few minutes the Germans loaded the guns and fired. There were no survivors.

Their bodies were burned on a bonfire made from furniture that had been ripped from the church. The SS sat there eating their lunch as the bodies burned.

IMG_1617They then moved on to surrounding villages so some people who had escaped and run to hide there had to go through the experience a second time.

Enrico Pieri was ten at the time and lost all his family except for an uncle, an aunt and another uncle who had been sent to Germany. He and the children of another family hid under the stairs when the Germans came and started shooting. But the soldiers set fire to the house and the children had to escape. They hid among some beans for hours. When they eventually crept out and went back to the house in the afternoon they found everyone dead.

“I have decided to forgive,” he said at 78 years old, “but I will never forgive the evil ideology behind it. I’ve stopped hating because hatred doesn’t solve anything. Because that period was a period of real hatred between people from the same village, the same family. Hatred is what led to the destruction of humanity – almost.”

Although a part of me feels uncomfortable visiting places like this just as it does the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam as though it’s intruding on other people’s grief, the historian in me thinks that only by facing up to these past events and keeping the memory alive can we stop them happening in future.

What’s your opinion? I’d love to hear your views.

To find out more visit http://www.santannadistazzema.org

 

It’s Publication Day for Barnabas Tew and the case of the missing scarab

I am so thrilled that Columbkill Noonan has just stopped by with her debut novel, hot off the press – “Barnabas Tew and the Case of the Missing Scarab”, a “weirdly wonderful” Victorian detective caper. Sounds right up my street!

It has been described by Nathan Robinson, author of “Devil Let Me go” as “fast-paced as it is thrilling, as funny as it is original; feels like an old-school caper”.

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A day in the life of Barnabas Tew
When Barnabas lived in Marylebone, life was as it should be: dull, predictable, and, above all, orderly. His days were passed much as those of any other proper British detective of good, if middling, social standing.

He’d rise early in the morning (as only ne’er-do-wells stayed in bed past seven, in Barnabas’ opinion). He’d have a nice breakfast of some bland, boiled something-or-other, served by his landlady. Then he’d perhaps spend a few minutes reading the paper before welcoming his assistant, Wilfred, and then opening his doors for a proper day of work.

(Of course, there was little traffic through those doors, because Barnabas, whilst an earnest and hardworking man, was also not terribly good at detective work; indeed, his clients were just as likely to suffer an untimely death as to have their cases solved, despite Barnabas’ best efforts to prevent such tragic and terribly upsetting occurrences.)

Barnabas, like any good Victorian detective, likes things just-so. Breakfasts ought to be had on time, gardens ought to be properly kept and carefully tended (by a gardener, of course, since once mustn’t get one’s hands dirty), people should be neatly and properly dressed in clothing appropriate to their station in life. Everyone must always do their duty, at the proper time and in the proper way. But, to Barnabas, the most important rule of all is that one must always be polite, no matter the circumstances.

Then, suddenly, once day, everything changes.

Barnabas, together with Wilfred, is unexpectedly (and most unpredictably) whisked off to the Egyptian underworld to solve a case for Anubis, the God of the Dead. Here, things are not orderly, not even in the slightest; gardens are decidedly unkempt, nothing is predictable, and people do not dress according to British laws of fashion. Indeed, not everyone even has a proper head, as Barnabas discovers almost immediately when he comes face-to-face with Anti, the ferryman to the Land of the Dead (who has, distressingly, the head and wings of a falcon).

Barnabas, of course, is very confused by his new surroundings (and, if truth be told, more than a little distressed, as well). Still, he has been given a duty to do, which means that he will perform it to the best of his ability, bizarre circumstances or no. And, despite the strange things that happen to him, or the odd (and sometimes unsavory) characters that he meets, he still strives to maintain a degree of decorum about him, because one must never be impolite, no matter whom, or what, one is dealing with.

“Barnabas Tew and the Case of the Missing Scarab” is now available on Amazon at myBook.to/Barnabas

IMG_5542About the author
Columbkill Noonan had an M.S in Biology (she has in turn been a field biologist, an environmental compliance inspector and a lecturer of Anatomy and Physiology). When she’s not teaching or writing she can usually be found riding her rescue horse Mittens, practising yoga (on the ground, in an aerial silk, on an SUP board, and sometimes even on Mittens) or spending far too much time at the local organic vegan market

 

Connect with Columbkill:
Blog: http://www.columbkill.weebly.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ColumbkillNoonan
Twitter: @ColumbkillNoon1

 

Crime File – it’s publication day for The List by Graham H Miller

Today is launch day for The List, a debut thriller by fellow Crooked Cat author Graham H Miller. I love the cover and it looks a fantastic read.

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DS Jonah Greene returns to work with something to prove after three months of stress-related sick leave. He is transferred to Coroner’s Office and his first body is a homeless man who froze to death overnight.

What should be a straightforward case takes an unexpected turn when DS Greene is handed a list of seven names, written by the dead man. He investigates the names on the list and slowly discovers a tale of greed and murder which stretches back to the mid-nineties. His career, his marriage and his life may be threatened, but he will not give up until he has found the truth and brought the guilty to justice.

Welcome to the coffee shop Graham. Congratulations on the book – I can’t wait to start reading. What was it that attracted you to crime writing?
In part it was purely pragmatic. I have a head full of ideas, spanning reincarnation stories, historical, paranormal and cross-genre. I also have a cryptic crossword kind of brain. So I thought I should focus on a genre that you can explain to a future publisher or agent really simply.

If I say to people “this is a crime novel” immediately they understand what I’m offering. I like the intellectual challenge of constructing the plot. You need a fine balance where the reader can’t guess the ending, but when they get there it seems obvious in hindsight. I wrote The List so that if it’s read a second time there’ll be lots of clues that can be picked up once you know the ending.

Do you have any writing plans for the future?
At the moment I’m being disciplined and working on Jonah Greene book 2. It’s all plotted out and is comfortably over 20,000 words so its going well.

In the future, well I had a “Harry Potter moment” where a character sprung fully formed into my head. Pretty soon she was joined by a mentor and I’m very tempted to write a novel with two main characters, the new detective and her mentor.

She also has a nemesis now as well as several gruesome murders to solve. This project is just a swirling pot of ideas without much structure at the moment. And all that is on the back burner until Jonah Greene is well established.

It sounds like you have plenty to keep you busy. Best of luck with the launch!

JOIN GRAHAM AT THE ONLINE LAUNCH PARTY ON FACEBOOK TODAY

https://www.facebook.com/events/246857489132376/?notif_t=plan_edited&notif_id=1500037393993021

You can buy the book here

Shirt Bio

I sent Graham a message recently asking if I could have a short bio but as usual my fat fingers got the better of me and I found I had asked for a ‘shirt bio’ instead. Being a very obliging person he sent me what I’d asked for.

Graham: There’s actually a story there – when I was 14 my brother brought home a copy of Ace of Spades by Motorhead. I became a lifelong fan and was shaken when Lemmy died at the end of 2015. A few months back I had to stock up on the t-shirts that I usually wear so I bought five different Motorhead shirts which I wear nearly every day.

Thanks Graham, perhaps I should ask all my visitors this question 😀 And now for the actual bio:
IMG_5458Graham H Miller has been writing since his teenage years when he had a scenario printed in a role playing magazine. Since then he’s written articles, guest posts and a book on pagan subjects. His brain is always at work, with more ideas than time. He is a house-husband proudly perpetuating the stereotype by writing books while his three boys are at school. He has two blogs that are erratically updated – one about life as father to three special boys and the other covering his thoughts on writing and the publishing process. His interests include prehistory, classic cars, anything Viking and learning Welsh. Fascinated by everything, he lives in South Wales and is older than he thinks he is!

Find out more on Graham’s website

Amazon author page

Facebook

@grahamhmiller

Crime file – Angela Wren

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Those of you who love detective novels and stories set in France are in for a treat with this new novel by Angela Wren. Over the last 18 months or so she has been writing the sequel to her very popular novel Messandrierre which will be published on July 5th and is here to tell us about it. Welcome back to the coffee shop Angela, what can I get you today?

Thank you for inviting me onto your blog. Coffee would be great please. Black and weak is fine, thank you.

Here you go! I love the cover of your new book. Would you mind telling us a bit about the story?

Merle, like its predecessor, Messandrierre, is set in the Cévennes in the south of France. The title of this story is a real French word, unlike Messandrierre, which is a corruption of the name of a real place. It means blackbird, but it is also used as a girl’s Christian name and as a surname. Capitaine Mathieu Merle, being one famous, or perhaps more accurately, infamous holder of the surname. Mathieu Merle (1548-1587) was a Huguenot captain who was feared during the religious wars in France. But he spent some time in Mende, the préfecture city of the département of Lozère. A city that features in the story and where my fictitious suburb of Merle is located.

In Messandrierre, the story followed Jacques as he unravelled a police investigation into the mysterious disappearances of travellers to the tiny village of Messandrierre. At the end of that story, Jacques had a decision to make and his love interest, Beth Samuels, had some serious thinking of her own to do.

Merle begins a few months after the end of the first book and…

Jacques Forêt, a former gendarme turned investigator, delves into the murky world of commercial sabotage – a place where people lie and misrepresent, and where information is traded and used as a threat.

The Vaux organisation is losing contracts and money, and Jacques is asked to undertake an internal investigation. As he works through the complexity of all the evidence, he finds more than he bargained for, and his own life is threatened.

When a body of a woman is found, it appears to be suicide. But as the investigation takes another turn, Jacques suspects there is more to it.

Who is behind it all…and why? Will Jacques find the answer before another person ends up dead?

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The old city of Mende

EXCERPT
Here is a little taster from the very beginning of the story:

 

It was the tightly scrunched ball of paper that captured the attention of Magistrate Bruno Pelletier. His trained eyes swept around the room, only glancing at the naked body in the bath, and came to rest once more on the small, ivory-white mass, challenging and silent against the solid plain porcelain of the tiles. He stepped over the large pool of dried blood, iron red against the white of the floor, and, with gloved hands, he retrieved the object. Carefully prising the paper back into its customary rectangular shape, he stared at the contents and frowned as he read and re-read the single six-word sentence printed there.
‘Je sais ce que tu fais.’
After a moment, he dropped it into an evidence bag being held open for him by the pathologist.
all hallows’ eve, 2009

It sounds amazing. I’m off to get my copy. Thanks Angela!

Merle is published on July 5th and is available for pre-order on this universal link Merle

Find out more or get in touch here
website   Facebook   Goodreads

 

 

 

 

Publication Day

 

Seeing my little book go out into the world last Thursday felt similar to watching my children go off to school on their first day – I was excited but anxious.

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But just as Leo came out of school grinning from ear to ear back in 2010 my book’s first day went off much better than expected. I have been amazed and so pleased with the reviews it has received so far including

“Dark, intense and gripping beyond belief. I was swept along with this tale of lies and betrayals”
Linda, Books of All Kinds

“An amazing story with a reverie effect I couldn’t break away from”
Laura, Page Turners’ Nook

“Full of surprises, twists and turns and I just couldn’t get through the pages quick enough”
Dee-Cee

“Everything I hoped it would be and more”
Misti Nash

“A perfect psychological thriller”
Like Love Do

IMG_5060Thank you so much to everyone who pre-ordered the book. The winners of the draw were Jane Bwye (£10 Amazon gift card), Awen Thornber (paperback of Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings) and Steve Johnson – no relation, I promise! (Prosecco and chocolates)

During publication week I took part in a blogtour to promote the book. I’d never done anything like that before but it was brilliantly organised by Emma Mitchell with a full schedule of Q&A interviews, character posts and excerpts.

I am so grateful to all the bloggers who were involved in the blog tour and everyone else who has helped spread the word about the book by sharing, retweeting etc. I am very lucky to belong to a great community of Crooked Cats whose support has been invaluable.

IMG_0069The online launch party was a lot of fun. Thank you to everyone who took part. Much virtual champagne was consumed and I was thrilled to have these amazing authors contribute book prizes for the competitions. Congratulations to the winners!

Lazy Blood by Ross Greenwood won by Sheila Howes
183 Times a Year by Eva Jordan, won by Awen Thornber
No Safe Home by Tara Lyons, won by Elizabeth Holdak
Walking Wounded Anna Franklin Osborne won by Tara Lyons
A DCI Bennett book by Malcolm Hollingdrake won by Beverley Hopper
Shadows by Conrad Jones, won by Elaine Fryatt.
Surprise book signed by Emma won by Dee Light
Sue Barnard won a copy of The Silence

The paperback will be officially launched next Thursday morning, 22 June at the Ascot Writers Summer Book Event in Sunninghill, Berkshire with real bubbly this time rather than the virtual kind! We’re also celebrating the launch of two other books by local authors – Tessa Harris, author of the Thomas Silkstone series whose book The Sixth Victim (Kensington) is the first in a brand new series of fascinating Victorian crime stories – and Tracy Corbett whose story The Forget Me Not Flower Shop (Harper Collins) is the summer romance novel everyone’s talking about.

DesignThere will be other writers to meet, signed books to buy and a second-hand book sale to raise money for the Grenfell Tower fire victims. Entry is of course free – we’d love to see you there!

The technophobe’s guide to making a book trailer

IMG_5139Hello – a few people have been asking me how I made the book trailer for The Silence.

You can view it here.    https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=7Sv-gwfEFiM

It was my first attempt at anything like this and I know it’s far from brilliant but it was fun to do and ridiculously easy so if you’re thinking of making one and are as much of a technophobe as I am I hope this will help.

I used iMovies because it was already installed on my iPad but there are other free options you can download such as Shotcut if you’re a Windows user. Or you can pay someone to make a trailer for you, which will almost certainly look more professional and has the advantage that it won’t be a recognised template. But whichever you use you need to decide roughly at this stage on the storyline and how you want to illustrate it.

I started by distilling the storyline down into a few short lines of text. I did this by taking the blurb and highlighting the key points and underlining bits I wanted to convey somehow.

I scribbled out a basic story board in a notebook using the key phrases and stick men sketches.

Then I looked for pictures to illustrate those points. It’s worth thinking about the trailer as early as possible so that you can build up a stock of stills and video clips. I made mine all from stills but video clips are great and you can buy these quite cheaply from picture sites if you don’t have your own.

I had some pictures of my own but had to source others. It’s worth bearing in mind that you will need a lot of pictures as the frames move quite quickly so it’s best to collect more than you think you’ll need.

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If you’re short of time or have very specific requirements it’s probably worth paying for images from a picture sites like Shutterstock. You can buy a small package of photos or an individual video clip without having to subscribe. Canva has a wonderful selection of photos for $1 each.

However, I found some great copyright-free images on Pixabay and stocksnap.io which are copyright free.

One word of caution – the only close-up, identifiable pictures I used were of my children. You can’t use identifiable images of people in a way they might find offensive without their permission even if the pictures are copyright free. You might choose to avoid pictures of people altogether to be on the safe side. You don’t have to be too literal with your picture choice. A shot of the sky or a beach or a some cherry blossom might be all you need to convey a mood and there are lots of free silhouette shots.

I collected the pictures in a folder that I named Trailer on my desktop. When I was ready I went on to iMovies. On the first page you’re offered a choice of Movie or Trailer and I selected Trailer, then selected the template I wanted from a range of different genres that come complete with music.

You can watch their sample trailer and then select Create (top right) to create your own.

The instructions are quite easy to follow – you just tap on a picture silhouette on the right hand side and upload your picture or video from your folder and then tap on the text line and write in the text. You can edit it as many times as you like.

When you’re happy you can press the share button at the bottom which will give you options to share the video to Facebook, YouTube etc.

 

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Well this is the closest The Silence will ever get to the big screen but I hope this post was helpful. Please ask if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to get an answer for you. 🙂

The beauty of beta readers

Although writing a novel is a solitary craft, there are usually many more people involved in getting a book to publication. In addition to the editor and publisher there are the often unsung heroes – the beta readers.

Beta readers are trusted volunteers who test-drive the manuscript and give you their honest opinion. Their purpose is to flag up plot holes, character inconsistencies, things that irritated or weren’t properly explained or places where their interest dipped.

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Who should you ask and how many?
It’s good to ask at least three people but probably not more than six or you could find they all give conflicting advice, sending you round in circles.

Obviously there is a risk with asking people you know – it’s quite nerve-racking as a writer to ask people’s opinion of your work and equally pretty scary to be asked to comment as a reader. A novel is a very personal thing and potentially friendships could be broken over it. No writer should ask beta readers for their opinion if they are going to shoot the messenger. But equally there is little point in someone saying the book is fabulous when it isn’t as that won’t help you improve it.

I asked people I knew because they were all avid readers and either involved in writing or could give me their expert opinion on relevant sections. They were also people with strong opinions who knew I could trust to be honest.

But if you don’t want to ask people you know you could post a request in an online book group or offer to swap critiques with another writer. The most important thing is that you pick people who are regular readers, especially of your book’s genre.

No matter how many times you read through your work there are sure to be things that you won’t notice simply because you wrote them. We all have little things that annoy us when we’re reading and some of these are probably unreasonable (The word ‘chuckle’ sets my teeth on edge when used outside of a children’s story or a pantomime) but others might make you rethink how you phrase things. I will try to never again use the word ‘like’ when I mean ‘as though’! It was also helpful to have a friend with a Modern Languages degree point out that the meaning of an Italian word wasn’t obvious without some explanation.

IMG_5127What they need from you

Beta readers will need clear instructions about what sort of feedback you want and how it should be presented. I wanted mine to give examples where possible – “I didn’t really warm to this character” is helpful but it would be so much more useful to know why – the character’s lack of reaction to the crisis on p16, their attitude to their wife on p24 or the way they spoke to the police on p54.

I drew up a list of questions I wanted my readers to bear in mind when reading – these were about the main characters, the ending and a couple of key scenes.

It’s only fair to ask how readers would prefer to receive the manuscript as they are giving up their time to help. I printed off a hard copy and gave it to my first reader with some coloured post-it notes. I then printed off a second copy and gave it to my second reader with different coloured post-its. One of these was then passed to the third reader with a different coloured set of post-its. They each scrawled their comments on the page and marked it with a post-it and I then copied all of these comments into a file.

The other readers were happy to read the novel in a Word document. One of these gave me an extremely detailed handwritten list with page number references, the others preferred to go over the changes face to face or on the phone.

One thing I would recommend is to not make any changes until you have everyone’s feedback. Otherwise the pages and line numbers will change and it can be hard to find the points people are referring to.

The other thing I found is that it all takes time! Readers have other things going on in their lives. They might fall ill, go on holiday or be busy at work. You’ll need to agree a time limit and build in a bit of leeway.

Dealing with criticism
You might not agree with the advice offered and you don’t have to take it. You might also find that readers give conflicting advice but if the same point is raised by several people it must be worth thinking about. And the way I look at it, any criticism, however hard to hear, is worth having if it helps you improve the book.

I’d love to hear about your experience as a writer or a beta reader.

And to my beta readers I just want to say an enormous thank you – I couldn’t have done it without you!

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