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LITERARY FICTION (1)
New Eve Publishing 2016
(First edition published, London, 1980)
Snow fell unexpectedly in my hopeful seventh spring. It made shadows of the bare boughs. It sent shivers down the spindly spine of young birch. It found out the eroded pointing in the brickwork. With a gentle insistence it gathered along the window-ledges, made portholes of the panes and silenced the astonished birds. Flake by flake, it settled upon the lawns Simms had already mown twice that season, and obliterated the paths as though it meant business. Soon it had created a ghostly monochrome world. A child’s world.
No one guessed it was coming. The weather forecast had been promising. It came without warning, this taste of winter in May; a thief in the night...
...It was as we were stamping our boots, about to file in, that a resounding thud drew our attention. A young blackbird had collided with the window and lay, a tumbled heap of feathers, on the path. I darted to his rescue, but it was too late! He fixed me meekly with his beady eye and lapsed, quivering, into stillness. I stretched out a finger and stroked his soft wings. He was as warm as my own flesh and blood, poor scrap, so deceived by the reflected universe. I couldn’t take it in. I fell on my knees and moaned and rocked to and fro and refused to be comforted. How could I bear such passive obedience to order?
That night, I had a nightmare about the hole in the garden and how it could be made good before Simms found out. I awoke, sobbing, to the recollection of yesterday and that precocious silence about which I could never speak.
New Eve Publishing 2014 (Unavailable)
ISBN 978-0-9556877-3-0 New print available shortly
When the Earl of Berkeley narrowly escapes death in a duel at Arundel Castle, he realises the outcome is not what his opponent intended. His wife has been compromised by a deadly foe, Prince Ernest, Duke of Cumberland, brother of the Prince of Wales.
After a long spell of seclusion, the Countess is launched upon the beau monde. The couple strive to subdue gossip caused by the failure of the 1799 Pedigree Trial to recognise their first marriage. A careful strategy must be adopted to ensure their eldest son succeeds to his father's honours.The blood of kings and tradesmen runs in Fitz's veins and he struggles with a conflicted identity. In many minds, his courtesy title, Lord Dursley, is far from fixed, whilst his reputation for philandering is every bit as robust as Lord Berkeley's. Equally at home in Green Room, boudoir or barn, his proudest conquest is The Fair Greek from Smyrna, bewitching wife of the English Consul in Egypt.
Dursley's beautiful and tiresome Mama dare not put a foot wrong. The Prince of Wales is courting her favours and her watchful spouse well understands that safeguarding her virtue may exact penalties as surely as risking her good name.
Among other intrigues, Lady Berkeley finds herself caught up in the Delicate Investigation of Princess Caroline, banished wife of the throne's heir. A scandal involving risqué conduct and an adopted child brings the Princess into disrepute, a scenario exploited by her husband who wishes to divorce her. One of his chief spies, Lady Charlotte Douglas, grew up in Gloucester and is familiar with Mary Cole's past. She tells how a distinguished barrister once enjoyed a liaison with the Countess at a time she vows she was married.
The Earl's demise after a tragic accident means his widow must confront the House of Lords Committee of Privileges alone. Witnesses are summoned from every stratum of society and her history taken apart. Rogues emerge to stake a claim upon the Berkeley fortunes and romantics to set the record straight. The aristocracy closes ranks. Royal promises are broken and allies melt away as the lengthy hearing wends its sensational course before Cumberland inflicts the coup de grâce.
It seems the only emblem of true loyalty is a Jacobite white rose.
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When Mary Cole, a butcher's daughter, caught the eye of Lord Berkeley, it was as flint to tinder. A libertine and a forsworn bachelor, he was taken aback that the Catholic-reared beauty refused to be his mistress. Within weeks he'd brought her family to bankruptcy. When, still, she eluded him, he devised a theatrical plot to abduct her.
It was then that he knew he could not let her go.
Aided by his corrupt chaplain, Hupsman, the Earl duped his 'shepherdess' with fake nuptials.
Tumbling to the truth, Mary became passionately committed to gaining her eldest son's birthright. With an astonishing grasp of pastoral economy, she repaired the Berkeley fortunes while a succession of children compounded her plight.
Her estranged sisters, meanwhile, were moving among the glitterati of Pitt's England and the New America and their scandalous activities had to be curtailed at the highest level before a legal knot was eventually tied.
Upon Hupsman's death, the temptation to affirm the ‘first marriage' proved too strong for the Earl and Countess and they conspired in a criminal act to ‘find' the registry. The upshot was a sensational trial in the House of Lords in 1811 whose repercussions were to shake the foundations of the Berkeley dynasty for ever and put Mary's life at risk.
Was that marriage a sham? Or was it a timeless truth?
"I have been as much sold as any lamb that goes to the shambles!"
Often she had watched them in the fickle days of spring, skipping about the lush meadows of Gloucester, exulting in the gift of life. Steadily they grew fat and independent of the placid ewes, unaware of the shadow of the butcher's blade, or that they were destined for some rich man's table.
That was long ago, when Mary was a slip of a thing and Pa kept The Swan Tavern at Barnwood and grazed livestock there. He used to send his meat into the city of Gloucester and numbered among his customers many of the great houses of the Vale. They were well-known, the Coles. Folk grumbled about their airs and graces, but William Cole was a respected tradesman who never sold anyone short. He was proud of his three lovely daughters, of whom Mary was the youngest, and had high hopes of his fourth child, his namesake, Billy, despite the shameless way the women of the household mollycoddled him. His wife, too, was a comely body who earned pin money by nursing sick and newborn infants and saw no contradiction in this humble occupation and that state to which she aspired. "For," observed she, "high birth or lowly, tis nought but an accident. Nobility of character is what signifies." Mary possessed a natural reserve and took this dictum to heart, but her sisters were wanton and Cole was relieved when his eldest, Ann, took up with Will Farren, a likely fellow in the same trade as himself, and went to live in Butchers Row, Westgate, in wedded safekeeping.
Life was simple then. The sun always seemed to be shining. Mary delighted in picking nosegays of sweet peas and lavender from her father's garden and went capering off to school with them, adding poppies and buttercups and Queen Anne's lace along the bridle way.
But in the year 1783, when Farmer George was King and Mary was full-grown, the recent death of old Cole marked a dramatic change in the family's fortune....
Excellent review of History both family and English
'This book is wonderfully done. These are my ancestors. Her research is remarkable.'
(Original edition published by Robert Hale 1984.)
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Echoes of a strange past haunted Kate. She dimly knew her destiny lay far beyond the South Downs rectory where she had been so strictly reared. Manoeuvred into an uninspiring marriage, she escaped to make her own way in a society overshadowed by the Napoleonic Wars where values were a stark contrast to those at home. She was to meet La Belle Madeleine whose brilliant establishment was not what it seemed; the stormy baronet whose young daughter was dying of consumption and whose half-mad sister had eloped with a penniless lord; the Brighton soldier who won her heart one enchanted evening, and as swiftly broke it. It was through a dramatic sequence of events that she was lured inexorably back to her roots in the wilds of Cumberland, to Silvercragg Castle and the baneful spectre of Meg McCullough, the blacksmith’s daughter crossed in love. There the mystery began to unfold, but it was not until months later, on the battlefield of Waterloo, that Kate's future was finally sealed.
In a cloud of dust the London stage went spanking along the road which snaked through the valley between mountain and moor. At Carlisle, the last port of call, the merchant in broadcloth was pleased to see confirmation from the jubilant pages of The Times of Napoleon’s imprisonment on the island of Elba. The prospect of resuming trade with the Continent was long overdue.
It had been a mild spring day. Dizzying columns of insects were hanging over the horizon. Away to the right, the grey steeps of Helvellyn closed with the oncoming darkness. A bloated amber moon loomed up behind Raven’s Ghyll. Vagrant sheep were nosing over lichen-covered outcrops and dry tussocks of heath grass, their plaintive bleating echoing around the fells like lost souls in search of their tribe. Low on a hill crowned with firs, the towers of Silvercragg Castle stood proud behind a fretwork of larches, mirrored in the placid gloom of Lake Mereswater and possessed of a desolate air. Built in the Gothic style, it intrigued the traveller and exerted a mysterious influence over the humble homesteads scattered throughout Wrydale.
On such a night the White Lady was said to appear, lamenting her lost child, the daughter whose heritage had been denied her. There were tales of bold, bad lords who feared neither God nor men, and tales of ghostly revelry by night when visions of the past startled ordinary mortals out of their wits. There were rumours of sorcery and dark deeds performed to keep strangers at bay. Folk wagged their heads ominously and harked back to the winter of ’95, that fateful Christmas Eve when disaster struck. But none knew of the psychic forces that bound living to dead.
All was deserted now, all still. The coach had shaken off the dust of the place and gone thundering south. Ere long, wise folk would be taking to their beds. A curlew’s thin cry cut through the silence emphasised by the timeless purling of the beck which knew all things and kept its own counsel. Save for a few retainers who went about their business with one eye on the clock, nothing stirred in the Castle.
It was on the South Downs, far beyond that road linking Silvercragg with civilisation, that the shades preyed on the finely-tuned mind of the dale’s errant daughter…
New Eve Publishing Reprint 2016
A compact novelised history
This is the story of one community's struggle to bring New Jerusalem out of the clouds during a quarter of a millennium of radical change. The spiritual dynamism inspired by John Wesley in these parishes was multiplied throughout the British Isles and steadily contributed to the welfare and stability of the nation when Europe was in ferment and the beast of anarchy was baying at the door. King George III himself fully recognised the part played by Methodism. He even donated ships' timber for the building of Wesley's Chapel in the City of London and presented them in person.
On Moody Bush Hill, just off the bridle path which traces a lackadaisical course to South Croxton, stands a forgotten relic of feudal times. It is neither milestone nor monolith, neither cairn nor cornerstone, a granite tooth inscribed with the words Moody Bush. No one knows how it came to be there or who was the mason who tooled its weather-hewn face. Legend claims that it marks the meeting place of the old hundreds court which debated local affairs when William the Conqueror took it into his head that the Gallic touch was needed to civilise the mongrel peasants of this island. Where the mighty emperors of Rome had failed, he would not!
It is an idyllic landscape, thickly populated with oak and ash, with elder, blackthorn and sycamore, diligently tilled for almost a thousand years since the Vikings first tamed its forests and subdued its stubborn clay with their peerless ploughshares. It rests at the heart of a heart-shaped county, about as far from any alien horizon or the cut and thrust of everything associated with seafaring as you can get.
Queniborough nestles in the valley, distinguished by the dragon's tail spire of St. Mary's church, and a mile or two to the north-west, the tower of St. Peter's Church rises foursquare in the parish of Syston. In the archaic tongue of its Anglo-Saxon settlers, the tiny hamlet was named Sithestun after the broad, blunt stone where its patriarchs gathered.
Little affects the tempo of its days. The warring factions to the north and south which contest the right of the Catholic Stuart over the Protestant Hanoverian for the nation's throne are no more than a whispered rumour. Ever since the Roman occupation, shiresfolk have preferred to cherish their roots rather than tangle with offcomers. The fact that St. Augustine, despatched by Pope Gregory I to these pagan shores, had converted Penda of Mercia's grandson, Offa, and the kingdom had grown fat and prosperous as a result, has long passed from memory. Those who work the land assume God's in his heaven and that they know how life should be lived.
But deep below their pattens and hunting-boots, nature still seethes. The middle ground is riven by an ancient fault line. Some say that, until the titanic upheavals of the Ice Age, the undulating plain which forms the backbone of Charnwood Forest was the highest range of peaks in England. Every so often the earth's core rumbles and sends forth a shuddering ripple which undermines buildings, causes lightning cracks to appear in plasterwork and stirs up a gale. Thunderstorms occur more regularly than anywhere else in the British Isles.
Today, these rocky outcrops, Breedon Hill, Beacon Hill, Burrough Hill, fortresses from the cradle of man, are stations in a chain of beacons. They might warn of advancing armies, hail a new sovereign or proclaim the birth of his heir.
So much for earthquake, wind and fire. But what of the still, small voice...?
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(After Robert Browning)
That's my last canine pictured on the wall
looking as if he were alive. I call
that piece no blunder, now.
A Canon Powershot and sleight of hand
captured his mischief and there he stands.
Do sit awhile and be amused.
I said this camera by design, for none
saw Maximilian - Max for short - composed
and would have missed him altogether,
his rump fast disappearing in the rearguard
of a hundred miles an hour tornado,
had it not been for A1 technology
and the patience of a saintly spouse.
Perhaps Di chanced to pat a seat and say
Come, sit with me on your part of the sofa
and harken while I spin tall tales of your begetting.
His tail would wag; he loved a tale,
the rhythm lulling silky, pendent ears,
adjusting the helter-skelter of his heart
to gentler pace, his dark eyes bright
with immemorial knowledge
of spells woven by camp fires at twilight,
the day's work ably done, aroma of rabbit
run to earth, now sweating in a stockpot,
pheasant plucked of feathers, fit for hanging.
(His, sadly, didn't work, so why should theirs?)
Max was of noble Spanish pedigree, she'd say,
his sire and dam a coupling from the gods,
embellishing her yarn with arcane words
like 'perambulation' and 'peregrination'
that rang vague bells, and words like 'stroll'
he knew had to do with new-mown grass.
He'd listen, rapt to be the epicentre of Creation
There now, she'd croon. Keep still. Good boy! Click!
The flash would spark spontaneous momentum
and anguished squeals at apperception vanished,
nowhere the source of light found and rounded up.
But Good boy meant rusks and rawhide treats
and that magic word which, once articulated,
bound the speaker on pain of mayhem: Walkies!
SAN FRANCISCO'S REPLY
To Katie Burke who wrote a Valentine letter to her native city
My heart's forever
yours, Miss Burke, let me count the
ways you bridge that fault,
deep-riv'n below your
feet, with golden eulogy,
had no greater joy
in his reflection than mine
in your limpid eye
you exculpate my
treachery with a soulful
blink denied frail man
must I then believe
you'll not yield to the human
dance and play me false?
'The Twain is an exquisite collection of poetry by a writer of tremendous power and range. From the title poem's observations about that which separates nations and their peoples, to the lighthearted depiction of canine antics in “The Nose that Interposes,” Rosy Cole treats readers to verse that engages, intrigues, challenges, and beguiles, all with a profound respect for form and substance, and especially, language itself. As with all great poetry, these poems beckon the reader back for multiple readings, so that the layers in each word and phrase can be explored. This is a volume to keep close, and to treasure.'
Barbara Froman, Musician and Author of Shadows and Ghosts
'Abounds with delights and insights.'
Stephen Evans, Playwright and Author of The Marriage of True Minds
'I can open a page of this book and read one sentence... It sustains. It feeds. It is delicious poetry.'
Mary Wilkinson, Writer and Broadcaster
A children's play about Mary Jones, a Welsh girl of Georgian times who saved for six long years and walked 25 miles barefoot to obtain a rare copy of the Bible in Welsh. Her amazing story saw the British & Foreign Bible Society launched in 1804. This edition launched to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.
This is a one-act/4 scenes play for 8-11 years and has been successfully performed in the UK and New Zealand. It runs for approximately 30 minutes and is especially designed as a children's presentation within an act of worship.
The play can also be read as a story.
It was autumn of the year 1792. Across the Channel, Revolution was rife and King Louis XVI had only months to live. In Britain, John Wesley was at rest in his grave after a lifetime of service to his Lord. His zeal for the gospel had fired all parts of the country and had helped to stem a crisis of the kind in France. Everywhere, chapels were springing up. The Methodist mission hall in the village of Llanfihangel in North Wales was well-attended and one of its most enthusiastic worshippers was a young girl of eight. Her name was Mary and she was the daughter of Jacob Jones, an ailing cottage weaver, and his wife, Molly, who made ends meet with a patch of land and their loom and spinning wheel. Mary loved nothing better than to sing the Lord's praise and to listen to the spellbinding tales of olden times from the Bible.
One evening, after a bright and blustery day, when folk had deserted the market in Abergynolwyn and gone home to supper...