Published today – The Hanging Murders by Rex Carothers

IMG_4971Today is launch day for The Hanging Murders by Rex Carothers so it’s fantastic to see Rex in the coffee shop. What can I get you Rex?

Hello Katy, I’ll have an espresso and biscotti please.

Certainly. Congratulations on the book. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Yes, it’s set in 1957 in and around the area of Lone Pine, Inyo County, California, which was the birthplace of filming westerns in 1920.

My protagonist, the flawed county sheriff of Inyo County, California, Jim Cobb, has been on a four-month drunken binge since the deaths of his wife and daughter while they were leaving Inyo County’s rural setting and the Sheriff for a History Professor at UCLA.

Jim has given up on his job, the people surrounding him, and all reason for living. In the depths of Jim’s despair, the Hanging Murderer returns, after a fifteen years hiatus. Between 1932 and 42, ten unknown men, all drifters, were murdered by hanging in the county. None of these cases were solved. All the previous murders occurred under the watch of Merrill Cobb, the Sheriff for thirty-six years, and Jim’s father.

Jim doesn’t think he could solve the crimes if his father couldn’t while he was Sheriff. A week after the discovery of the latest Hanging Murder, Jim’s best friend and retired sheriff’s deputy, Barton Haskel, is found dead in a car out in the Alabama Hills, a location area for movie westerns. Haskel’s death, at first, looked like a suicide, but Jim Cobb knows it was murder.

It sounds great. What gave you the idea to write it?

I wanted to write a damn good murder mystery and I’m a big fan of westerns.

Have you always enjoyed writing or is it something you’ve taken up recently?

I wanted to write since junior high, I loved inventing characters and stories, I even had an imaginary friend named George. My favorite stories were mysteries, thrillers, and suspense.

Who is your favourite writer?

My all time favorite writers are Elmore Leonard, Joseph Wambaugh, Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, to name a few.

The Hanging Murders is the first in a series, isn’t it? Are you working on the next book?

Yes, I plan to write sequels to The Hanging Murders, the next in line is Blind Revenge dealing with Japanese internment at Manzanar in Inyo County.

Sounds fascinating – thank you for dropping in today, Rex and best of luck with the book.

The Hanging Murders us available to buy from Amazon

IMG_4972Get in touch with Rex through his website,  Facebook,  Twitter or Crooked Cat Books 

The story behind the story – how Romeo and Juliet inspired Sue Barnard to write The Ghostly Father



With me today is Sue Barnard, author of the ghostly father. I’m fascinated to know what prompted her to write this book.

Welcome back to the coffee shop, Sue. I’ve just finished reading Never on Saturday which I loved so I’m very much looking forward to reading this book. What made you write it?

Hello Katy and thanks for the coffee. I wrote the book I wanted to read.

It’s more than thirty years since I first saw Franco Zeffirelli’s wonderful 1968 film of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house at the end, and I came away thinking: This is the world’s greatest love story – so why does it have to end so badly?

That question haunted me for many years. Then, a few years ago, I chanced across one of those lists of Things You Must Do Before You Die, and the one which caught my attention was Write The Book You Want To Read. The book which I’ve always wanted to read is the alternative version of Romeo & Juliet – the one in which the star-cross’d lovers don’t fall victim to a maddeningly preventable double-suicide.

Why, I asked myself, should there not be such a book? And the answer came straight back: Why not indeed? And if it doesn’t exist, then go ahead and write it.

IMG_4738I mulled over the idea, but it took a while before anything definite happened. I’d dabbled with Creative Writing in the past, and had taken a few courses on the subject, but I’d never attempted to write anything longer than poems, or short stories, or the occasional stroppy letter to The Times. The thought of tackling a full-length novel, even one on a subject about which I felt so strongly, was a daunting prospect. Then, in one of those serendipitous moments which really make one believe in Guardian Angels, I was browsing in a bookshop in France when I came across a novel which took the form of the lost diary of a woman who had been the secret lover of Count Dracula. A voice in my mind whispered: “A lost diary? You could do something like this…”

Back at home I powered up the laptop and started writing. I was writing the book mainly for myself, because it was the outcome which I’d always wanted, but when I’d finished the first draft (which took about six months) I showed it to a couple of close friends, who both said, “This is good. You really ought to take it further.”

Even so, despite this vote of confidence, it was another year or two (during which time the manuscript underwent several revisions) before I plucked up the courage to submit it to Crooked Cat Publishing, for whom I’d recently started doing editing work. I wasn’t very hopeful, so when I received the email from them telling me they wanted to publish it, I had to print it out and re-read it four times before I could convince myself that I hadn’t imagined the whole thing.

IMG_4739The book’s title, The Ghostly Father, is based on a quotation from the play (it’s how Romeo addresses the character of Friar Lawrence), and the story, which is a sort of part-prequel, part-sequel to the original tale, is told from the Friar’s point of view. I’ve always been fascinated by the Friar, and have often wondered why, in the play, he behaved as he did. By giving him what I hope is an interesting and thought-provoking backstory, I’ve tried to offer some possible answers. Plus, of course, I wanted to reduce the overall body-count, and give the lovers themselves a rather less tragic dénouement.

The book was officially released on St Valentine’s Day 2014. Since then, judging by the number of people who have bought it, read it, and have been kind enough to say they’ve enjoyed it, it seems as though I’m not by any means the only person who prefers the alternative ending. As one friend was generous enough to say to me recently: “Now I will never feel sad in Verona again.”

Thank you so much, Sue. It sounds a great read and the perfect book for me to take with me when I go to Verona this summer.

About Sue

img_4245Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet. She has devised questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult “Round Britain Quiz”. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird.” The label has stuck.

In addition to working as an editor for Crooked Cat Publishing, Sue is the author of four novels: The Ghostly Father, Nice Girls Don’t, The Unkindest Cut of All and Never on Saturday. She is also very interested in Family History. Her own background is far stranger than any work of fiction; she’d write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her. Sue lives in Cheshire, UK, with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.

Author and Editor at Crooked Cat Books 

Blog   Facebook  G+   Twitter @SusanB2011 Amazon


The Ghostly Father: Amazon   Smashwords  Kobo  Nook Apple iBooks

Nice Girls Don’t: Amazon Smashwords kobo Nook Apple iBooks

The Unkindest Cut of All: Amazon, Smashwords, KoboNook Apple iBooks

Never on Saturday: Amazon

So coffee shop visitors, is there a story that you would change the ending to if you could? If so, I’d love to hear from you. My choice? I wish that little boy hadn’t been permanently turned into a mouse in Roald Dahl’s The Witches.

What about the book you want to read? If you can’t find it in the bookshops why not write it yourself?


The story behind the story – Cristina Hodgson on her debut novel A Little of Chantelle Rose

With her first novel A little of Chantelle Rose about to hit the bookshelves in two days, Cristina Hodgson has popped into the coffee shop to talk about her feelings



Hi there, Cristina – what can I get you?
Hi Katy, thank you. I’d love something to eat. However it will have to be lactose free please, as I’ve just recently been told that I’m lactose intolerant.

That’s fine. When my daughter turned vegan last year I discovered a recipe for a dairy-free carrot cake which is the best I’ve ever tasted. Congratulations on your book! How does it feel to see your novel go out into the world?
It’s a dream come true and I’m obviously thrilled, but also very nervous. This is like the birth of my third child. Chantelle Rose isn’t about me or my life but it’s a part of me. And this part of me is now out there for all to read and criticise, and that alone is nerve-wracking. I’m aware that everyone has different literary tastes, I just hope that people who do read Chantelle Rose, or any novel, understand that behind the words sits an author who’s shed more than one tear to finish the text and sweated more than most marathon runners do. The finish line in this case is when you type “The End.”

I know exactly how you feel! What gave you the idea for the story?
After graduating from Loughborough University with a degree in PE and Sports Science, I travelled and worked in various jobs. One of these was as an extra in a British-produced gangster film which was filmed in Nerja, Spain. It goes without saying that my sport mechanics and kinetic energy knowledge weren’t put to maximum potential in this part-time job. But it was certainly a fun and unique experience, and most importantly it gave me an idea.
A year later I sat down and started writing, and within three months Chantelle Rose was born.

What next? Do you have a new writing project?
Funny you ask, the only thing I can reveal is that my current WIP is a bit of a secret at the moment. If you read my debut novel you’ll understand why.

I’m intrigued! Good luck with it anyway and I hope A Little of Chantelle Rose is a huge success.

IMG_4756About the book

At the age of twenty-four, Chantelle Rose has all a city girl can expect: a tiny bed-sit in South London, a lousy poorly-paid job, a tyrannical boss, and quite a few exes added to an ever-growing list. Desperate for change, she becomes an extra in a seedy crime film. When that leads to the opportunity of a lifetime – a role to play with a million dollars to win and seemingly nothing to lose – she accepts without thinking twice. After all, what could possibly go wrong?


Find out more at Cristina’s online launch party this Thursday May 4th on this link:


IMG_4754Where to find Cristina
Twitter: @HodgsonCristina
Amazon buy link:

The story behind the story – TE Taylor talks about the inspiration behind Revolution Day

IMG_4707I’m delighted to welcome Tim Taylor on what is a very special day – the launch of his novel Revolution Day in paperback. Thanks for dropping in, Tim, what can I get for you today?
Hello, Katy. Many thanks for inviting me along to your coffee shop! I’ll have a cappuccino with gingerbread syrup, please. Ooh, and an almond croissant, if you’ve got one. Yum yum!
How are you feeling today about the book going into paperback?
Excited! Revolution Day has been out for a while as an e-book, but it’s great to have it as a physical object that I can put on my bookshelf. And in my experience, there are still a lot of readers out there who prefer ‘real’ books to e-books, so this is an opportunity to bring it to a new audience.



How are you planning to celebrate the launch?
Well, it will just be an ordinary day (I fear I’ll be marking student essays!), but rounded off by an enjoyable evening discussing the inspiration for the novel, reading excerpts and signing copies. And there will be wine! (For any of your readers who happen to be in or near West Yorkshire, it’s at 7.30 this evening in Holmfirth Library, HD9 3JH.)




What gave you the idea for the novel?
IMG_4705The idea first came to me a few years ago. I’d had at the back of my mind a vague idea for a novel about someone who has had great power but is starting to lose it. Initially I was thinking of a king. However, around that time a succession of dictators who had been in power for decades and seemed unassailable fell one after the other in the space of a few months during the ‘Arab Spring’ (there’s a post about one of them, Colonel Gaddafi of Libya, over on my own blog

So it occurred to me that I could write my novel about an ageing dictator instead. That thought crystallised the existing formless ideas and gave me the premise for what became Revolution Day.
What had most interested me about the Arab Spring was not so much the specific background to those events, but the wider issues they raise about the corrupting and deluding effects of power and its ultimate fragility. So I decided to set my novel in Latin America, with its long history of dictatorship.


My dictator, Carlos Almanzor, is fictional and not based upon anyone in particular, but in creating him I drew on the lives and careers of many real-life dictators: for example, he looks a bit like General Pinochet of Chile, but with a beard.




The other central character in the novel is Carlos’ estranged wife Juanita (who has a bit of Eva Peron about her). She is writing, while under long-term house arrest, a memoir which charts Carlos’ rise to power and his subsequent descent from idealism into autocracy and repression.
After 37 years in power Carlos is feeling his age and seeing enemies around every corner – and with good reason, as his ambitious and embittered Vice-President, Manuel, is intriguing against him. As Manuel makes his bid for power, Juanita will find herself an unwitting participant in his plans.

It sounds fascinating. Thanks for telling us about it!

Revolution Day on Amazon:
Facebook author page:
Twitter: @timetaylor1

More About Tim
Tim ‘T.E.’ Taylor was born in Stoke-on-Trent in 1960 and now lives in Meltham, near Huddersfield, with his wife Rosa. He studied Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford, and some years later did a PhD in Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London. He spent a number of years in the civil service before leaving in 2011 to spend more time writing. Tim now divides his time between creative writing, academic research (he has published a book, Knowing What is Good for You, on the philosophy of well-being), and part-time teaching in ethics at Leeds University.
Tim’s first novel, Zeus of Ithome, is set in Ancient Greece and follows the real-life struggle of the Messenian people to free themselves from Sparta. His second, Revolution Day, is about an ageing Latin American dictator who is clinging to power as his vice-president plots against him. As well as fiction, Tim writes poetry: he won the 2016 National Association of Writers Groups open poetry prize. He also plays electric and acoustic guitar, occasionally in public, and likes to walk up hills.

Countdown to publication


I’m very excited to say that the wait is finally over and I now have a publication date for the Silence – June 8th.

Pre-order and win a prize!

You can pre-order the kindle for £1.99 by clicking on this link:

Getting orders in before publication day means the world to me. To thank you for your support I have an Italian-inspired gift of prosecco and chocolates (UK only) and Amazon gift cards (international). Let me know you’ve ordered and you will be entered into the draw for one of these. Winners will be drawn at random on publication day, June 8th.


You can find out more about the book in my next newsletter which I’m about to send out. If you haven’t already signed up and would like to receive a copy here is the link

Meanwhile please keep JUNE 8th free for the online launch event – you are invited! Details to follow very soon.

Love, Revenge and Limoncello

Today I’m posting a short story that I wrote about a chance encounter between two elderly women on the Amalfi coast in Italy. I hope you enjoy reading it!


Love, Revenge and Limoncello by Katharine Johnson

“Do you mind if I sit here?”asked Joan.
“If there’s really nowhere else,” replied the figure sprawled out in the cane chair as she lifted and lowered enormous sunglasses.
The woman fanned the front of her large-print floral dress, exposing an ample, reddened cleavage that formed deep cracks as she rearranged herself against several cushions. Her legs propped up on a second chair resembled two glistening hams.
“I’m afraid there isn’t,” said Joan.
She wasn’t going to let this woman spoil the first day of her holiday. The lemon-clad pergola framed the view of twisting pine trees, explosions of bougainvillea and glittering sea. Rough stone steps spliced through a series of terraces to the water’s edge. So rare to find somewhere that surpassed the description in the brochure.
“Isn’t this glorious?” she said, removing her hat and feeling the gentle breeze ripple through her short hair.
Her companion harrumphed. “Seen one piece of paradise you’ve seen them all…”
How sad, thought Joan. I hope I never get to be so blasé.
She took a gulp of the icy yellow drink that the waiter had proffered and felt her head crowd with pleasurable thoughts.
“Araminta Fitzhughes,” barked the woman.
“Oh. I’m Joan. Joan Baker.”
The drink hit her stomach, a mix of fire and ice. Devilishly good. And then without thinking she added, “I knew an Araminta once, years ago when I was a student. Ghastly woman!”
As the words left her mouth something told her to stop. But it was too late. Nothing to be done. She couldn’t see the other woman’s eyes behind the glasses but she felt them on her like sharpened screws.
“Girton, Cambridge ’58-’61?”
Joan felt her smile freeze. This old woman was hardly recognisable as Araminta Hill as she had been called back then. Araminta who Joan had once wished with all her heart would die a horrible death. She felt herself colour as she recalled her fantasies about Araminta losing control of her car on a mountain road or getting a debilitating disease. Now that she thought about it there was something familiar about the voice.
“Yes,” she murmured.
The braying laugh was unmistakable. “Well at least I made an impression. Let me see – Joans were two-a-penny back then. Were you the one who was sent down after being caught cheating in her exams?”
“No I was not.”
“The Joan who auctioned herself as a slave for rag week and…?”
“Certainly not. I believe her name was Jane. Or Jean. Jean Something.”
Araminta tutted. “Then you must have been Mousey Joan.”
“I suppose I was.”
“Well, well.”
She’s forgotten. Thank God she’s forgotten.
But after some minutes her companion added drowsily, “Didn’t you have a thing about my Rupert?”
She might as well have inserted a needle into Joan’s kidney. Half a century after the event the remark still winded her. She felt the blush creep up her face and she couldn’t blame it entirely on the drink.
“He was my Rupert first,” she said through tight lips.
“Well he’s neither of ours now,” said Araminta. “Died years ago. Crashed his car. Ended up a complete vegetable. Not a pleasant thing but he brought it on himself. Too much of this.” She threw her head back and made a drinking gesture. “Such a waste for a man once tipped to be Prime Minister.”
Joan swallowed. Somehow she managed to say, “I’m sorry.” For a moment she found it hard to breathe but she mustn’t show it. When? How? she wanted to ask.
Anger burned in her stomach. One thing she was sure of: Rupert wouldn’t have turned to drink if he’d been with her instead. If things had turned out differently.
“Comes to us all,” said Araminta.

Freshers Week 1958:
Joan hovered in front of the notice board outside the dining hall trying to look purposeful. Groups of fiercely intelligent young women jostled past, talking intently. Did they even see her? She shouldn’t be here. This whole thing was a ghastly mistake. She’d only applied because her Classics teacher had told her she must and she hadn’t liked to disappoint her.
The sea of gowns parted to allow through the most exotic creature Joan had ever seen. Toweringly tall with polished gold hair, the girl was obviously used to other people’s silent adoration.
“Classics?” she asked Joan. “We’ll be seeing a lot of each other then. A few of us are going for cocktails. Coming?”
Joan tagged along feeling small and dull and wishing she could think of something interesting to say. But as it turned out, that was the night she met Rupert.
He wasn’t the first person you would notice on coming into a room – not the tallest, the darkest, the loudest or the wittiest – but he was the one whose impression would stay with you afterwards. Something in his smile made Joan feel known.
How it happened she could never be sure but within a few minutes of meeting each other they found that they shared passions for Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Irish wolf hounds, the smell of nutmeg and the world of silent movies.
“Time for some dancing,” announced Araminta, springing open a vanity case that turned out to be a record player.
“I don’t know how to rock and roll,” stammered Joan.
“Neither do I,” he said. “Shall we just make it up as we go?”
She found herself being pushed, pulled, turned and twisted. They collided a few times and she laughed so much it hurt.
“Into my arms,” he ordered.
She jumped. With a scream, she found herself rolling around his back. Somehow she landed on her feet. He grabbed both hands and she slid through his legs, then back up again. She blushed as all around her people burst into applause. She didn’t want to stop.
When the record finished he gave a little bow and said, “For God’s sake let’s get out of here.”
They walked along the river where the punts were tethered. He took her arm to guide her round obstacles as the moon dipped behind a cloud. She told him things about herself and he listened, prompting her with questions. “What made you do that? – How did you feel about that? – If you could live that moment again…?”
He played down his own background (“Nothing interesting about it”) but made her laugh with tales of irate teachers and classmates with revolting habits.
“How do you know Araminta?” she asked.
“Minty? Oh God, we’re related. Distantly. Our mothers are cousins of some sort. I’ve been in love with her since I was ten but she won’t have me, just keeps me dangling.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
He laughed and shook his head. “No, it’s a long-running joke. She’s got all sorts of habits that drive me mad. I wouldn’t have her now if she asked.”
They watched the sun rise over Grantchester and he pulled her towards him. She felt weightless, dizzy, drunk. That night she smoothed down a new page in her diary and recorded the moment. Afterwards she couldn’t sleep, thinking about it.
That kiss was the start of everything. Cycling to lectures over the cobbled streets, gowns flying out behind them, staircase parties, moonlit walks, punting up the river for picnics under the willows. Tickets for the May Ball. It all went down in the diary.
Sometimes she questioned herself. Why did she need to capture it all on paper like a crazed butterfly collector? But surely she owed this to herself? To be able to look back when she was old and know that it had really happened. Reading over the pages she’d written before she met Rupert, she cringed at how insipid her life had been. Each day now was intoxicating.
And yet Araminta was always there. Ruffling his hair, blowing kisses, throwing her arms around him, making flirtatious comments.
“You don’t mind, do you darling?” she asked Joan. “None of it means anything. You know that, don’t you?”
And yet there were times – things Araminta said, looks she gave Rupert – that made Joan curl her hands into fists. The only outlet for her frustration was her diary – a friend that listened but didn’t judge.
Two nights before the May Ball the love affair ended. Rupert seemed like a stranger. That cold dismissal. “I’m sorry. I think we both need some space.”
Although it turned out he didn’t need so much space after all. Araminta accompanied him to the May Ball and Araminta was engaged to him by the end of the Final year.



“It was your own fault,” said Araminta, sensing Joan’s thoughts as they sat under the pergola. “You drove him away. Your silly jealousy, your insecurity, your neediness…I only offered tea and sympathy but it turned out we were good for each other.”
“But I never expressed those feelings,” said Joan. She had been so careful. Only the diary had known the truth. And nobody knew about the diary except…
“You read my diary,” she said, seeing at last. “And you showed it to him.”
That night Rupert broke off with her she had reached for the diary in agony, desperate to make sense of it all. It had gone. She searched everywhere. She blamed the cleaner although the woman denied it.

“You had no right,” she said to Araminta. “You turned him against me because you wanted him for yourself.”
Araminta erupted into a honking laugh. “All’s fair in love and war, girl. Turned out for the best in the end.”
A breath of wind rustled the trees. A lemon fell, rolled along the ground and split, releasing its scent into the air.
“Except it wasn’t quite the end.”
Joan felt blood rise in her cheeks as she said it. She should stop. It was childish and petty and so long after the event. No, she would say it anyway. “I met Rupert again – ten years after we graduated. Quite by chance. In London. I was teaching at a school in Putney.”
Araminta had gone quiet.
“It was raining. He was standing in the road trying to read a map. It kept folding up in the wind. I offered to help him and we recognised each other. We ducked into a coffee house to escape the rain. Found we still had a lot in common. The old spark was still there.”
“Oh?” An attempt to sound bored but it failed.
“I asked if he had any regrets.” Joan didn’t seem able to stop herself now. “And I’m afraid he said he’d married the wrong woman.”
Araminta snorted. “Did he now?”
Joan stopped talking. She was thinking about the year that followed. A year of secrets and lies, of snatched moments at stations, guarded telephone conversations, dinner in anonymous restaurants, hurried good nights before returning to the empty bed in her school boarding house.
But then she’d spoiled it, hadn’t she? “I can’t go on like this,” she had said one evening in the car outside the station. “I’m not cut out to be someone’s mistress.”
He looked stricken. “What are you saying? Are you forcing me to make a choice? You must realise what that would mean – the publicity? And Minty’s not well. She’s so unstable at the moment I don’t know what it would do to her.”
She bit her lip. “I don’t know what I’m asking. I’m going away at the end of term. I saw an advertisement in The Lady. A cottage in Cornwall. It will do me good – give me somewhere to walk, paint – think about what I really want.”
He caught her arm. “I’ll join you.”
She lifted his hand. “Only if you intend to stay.”
“How will I find it?”
She rummaged through her bag and wrote on the back of an envelope. “Port Quin. Lavinia’ Cottage.”

A wisp of cloud drifted across the bay, laying a veil over Capri.

“The affair was no surprise to me,” said Araminta. “I knew he was seeing someone. Hopeless liar. Found a theatre ticket in his trousers and the receipt for a meal at a restaurant I always refused to go to – the chef didn’t wash his hands. I gave him an ultimatum. Me or the Other Woman. I didn’t know it was you. If I had, I wouldn’t have worried.”
Joan wished she was fifty years younger. If only she could seize Araminta and hurl her over the rocks into the sea. Despite everything Rupert had said, he had chosen Araminta. Again.
Joan had waited and waited in the Cornish cottage, listening to the rain battening the windows and the waves grating on the beach below. For the first few nights she prepared dinner for two just in case. At midnight she blew out the candles, threw the dinner in the bin, locked the front door and went to bed. He didn’t come the next week or the one after. He didn’t write to explain. But thinking about it she felt such a fool. Saying those silly, needy things, driving him away again.
At the end of the summer she told the school she wouldn’t be coming back and took the train to Paris where she enrolled at a language school, teaching English.
“It’s obvious you’ve spent your whole life feeling bitter about it,” Araminta was saying. “What a waste. I feel sorry for you.”
“Please don’t. I have my memories.”
A smile crept across Araminta’s face. “Yes but that’s all you have, isn’t it? Whatever happened between you didn’t last. A meaningless fling. And what were you left with? Nothing.”
Joan looked out to sea. “That’s not how I see it,” she said quietly.
“Well I don’t know about you but I need another drink,” said Araminta clambering out of her chair. “Where’s that blasted waiter? There he is, all the way down there chatting up that young girl.”
She leaned over the parapet, waving her arms. “Hello? Up here! More of the lemon curd drink please.”
People on the terraces below turned to look up, shielding their eyes from the sun. The waiter stood up and started walking towards the steps. Araminta squinted, took a step back and felt for the chair behind her. “Shouldn’t have stood up so quickly.” Removing her glasses, she wiped her face.
Emboldened all of a sudden Joan asked the question that had been on her mind throughout. “When did Rupert have the car crash? Where was he?”
Her old friend recovered quickly. A look of triumph passed over her old face. “1972. You see, my dear, we weren’t the only women in his life. He had a bit on the side down in the West Country too. Crashed at a crossroads called Indian Queens. Pulled out singing at the top of his voice apparently. Hit a tractor. You can guess the rest.”
Joan’s heart hammered. “Indian Queens? That’s in Cornwall isn’t it?”
Araminta shrugged as though it was of no importance. “Bit of a detour from Birmingham, that’s all I know. Suitcase in the back, packed with a few more things than necessary for an overnight stay.”
“So,” said Joan, her stomach jumping now, “he was leaving you.”
Araminta tutted. “Moment of madness, that’s all. So drunk he didn’t know what he was doing. And yet I took him back. What was left of him. Not many women would have done that.”
“No,” said Joan, frowning. “So why did you?”
For a moment she wondered if Araminta had heard her. She had to lean in close to hear what she was saying.
“With every spoonful of mush I fed him in the months that followed I asked myself that same question. Love. It isn’t easy loving someone when you know you don’t have all of them. Whatever you do you know there will always be a small part of them that belongs to someone else. I didn’t know who she was but I felt her presence all the time. And when he had the accident I thought at least he would be mine now. After all, nobody else would want him. I told him he’d been stupid and this was his punishment but I wouldn’t abandon him, not like the other woman.”
“Abandon? I hardly think that’s fair.”
Araminta didn’t seem to hear her. Her voice had taken on a brittle quality. “But even that wasn’t enough. One day after everything I’d done he fixed me with a horribly knowing look and said quite distinctly, “I don’t want you. I want her.”
Her features were twisted now, lines radiating from her tight mouth, eyes unfocused. Her voice was cold and dangerous. “‘You don’t know what you’re saying,’ I told him. But he wouldn’t stop. Just wouldn’t.”
Laughter rose up from the terrace below as a group of guests greeted each other. A seagull wheeled overhead.
Joan felt a chill spread through her stomach. “So what did you do?”
Araminta laughed a bitter laugh, but she didn’t reply.
“You finished him off?” Joan whispered. “You”re a monster.”
Araminta waved her arm as though erasing it all. If only she could. “Prove it.”
“I can’t. You know I can’t.”
At last the dark hair of the waiter appeared at the top of the steps. Something about his long, loping stride and the swing of his shoulders made Joan’s heart dance. Araminta stared at the figure silhouetted against the sun.
“It can’t be.”
And suddenly Joan saw what her old friend was seeing. It wasn’t the waiter at all. She was seeing Rupert, not as she had seen him last but when he was young, confident, filled with light. Rupert in his prime before his marriage went sour, before his wife’s nagging and rages had driven him into the arms of someone else. Before the accident robbed him of the ability to do anything for himself.
“Joan, do you see him?” Araminta whispered. She shrank back into her chair, mumbling something like, “It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t…”
He was young and beautiful, breathing and unharmed. An avenging angel walking towards them.
“It was an accident. That tube just came out.”
But he kept walking. Araminta tried to say something else but her voice didn’t see to be working. Ignoring her, the young man held out two hands to help Joan out of her chair.
“All right, Mum?”

The end


My five favourite films set in Italy

The coffee shop has relocated to Italy for a couple of weeks and I’ve been thinking about why this country makes such a great setting for stories . These are my favourite films that were made or set in Italy. It was a really tough choice! Which films would make your top five?
IMG_4618The Talented Mr Ripley, Anthony Minghella 1999
Tom Ripley is hired by wealthy shipping company owner Herbert Greenleaf to go to Italy and persuade Mr Greenleaf’s playboy son Dickie to come home to America and face up to his responsibilities. Tom finds Dickie and his girlfriend Marge living in southern Italy. He is seduced by their lifestyle and infatuated by Dickie. Tom’s three talents include telling lies, forging signatures and pretending to be other people which all come in handy after Dickie’s death as Tom takes on his persona and opulent lifestyle. But gradually people get suspicious and he is driven to further and further extremes to hide the truth about how Dickie died.
I’m a huge Patricia Highsmith fan and loved the book but Anthony Minghella added his own touch of genius to the story with a superb cast, stunning locations and the addition of Meredith whose appearance at key moments increases the tension and the chance that Tom will be unmasked.
IMG_4619Stanno tutti bene (Everybody’s fine), Giuseppe Tornatore, 1990
When his adult children are unable to make it to a family reunion in Sicily, their father, Matteo Scuro, a retired bureaucrat, takes the train up through Italy (Naples, Rome, Florence, Milan and Turin) to pay a surprise visit to each of them so that he can reassure his wife that they are all fine. But it turns out none of them is living in the way he has been led to believe – and his own story isn’t what it seems either.
This film is poignant, beautiful and full of surprises. Marcello Mastroianni is superb as the main character. A different version of the film was made in 2009 set in America which I really should see but I am so attached to this one!

IMG_4622Cinema Paradiso, Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988

In this exquisitely shot coming of age story, Salvatore (‘Toto’), now a famous film director, returns home for the funeral of a man who had the biggest influence on his life. He recounts his childhood relationship with Alfredo through flashbacks. As a mischievous young boy living in the war-torn Sicilian village Toto likes to sneak into the cinema run by an old man, Alfredo, and he ends up helping Alfredo operate the films. When the cinema catches fire, Toto rescues Alfredo but the old man’s sight can not be saved. A new cinema is built when one of the villagers wins the lottery and Toto operates it but he relies on his blind friend for advice on film and love.

IMG_4621Don’t Look Now, Nicholas Roeg, 1973

John and Laura Baxter stay in Venice while John is restoring a church. They are still recovering from the death of their little girl in a tragic accident. They meet two elderly sisters, one of whom is blind but is a clairvoyant. She tells the couple she has seen their dead daughter and that the child is warning them that John is in danger. The wife believes them but the husband dismisses their story. When their son’s school tells them that their son Jonathan is seriously ill Laura, convinced that the old woman has got it right, hurries back to England to be with him but the premonition is not what it seems.
This is such a brilliant story by Daphne du Maurier and although I prefer the story to the film it’s hard to go wrong with Venice as a setting, full of mystery and menace.


IMG_4620Tea with Mussolini, Franco Zeffirelli 1999

A group of elderly ex-pat women enjoy a civilised lifestyle in Florence surrounded by art and beauty. They refuse to accept the growing threat of fascism and put their trust in Mussolini who offers them his personal protection. But when the Allies declare war on Italy his promise turns out to be worthless. Elsa, a wealthy Jewish American who the ladies have despised for her brashness and who she in return has dubbed ‘the scorpioni” decides to help them anonymously. She enlists the help of Luca, the son of her best friend who died, to move them from their uncomfortable conditions to a hotel in San Gimignanofooling he officials into thinking they are following il duce’s orders. Lady Hester, widow of the former Ambassador to Rome, continues to despise Elsa and remains convinced that they have Mussolini to thank for their improved situation. But when America enters the war, Elsa is no longer safe. Luca is infatuated with Elsa and his jealousy of her lover puts her life in danger. Can Luca and “the scorpioni” help Elsa escape and protect the village from the Germans?
This is a brilliantly-cast, compelling story, made all the more fascinating because it is based on Zeffirelli’s true experience.