A short story by Katrina Hart to celebrate Halloween

To celebrate Halloween this year, I’m sharing a special (and rather creepy!) story written by my good friend, Katrina Hart. Katrina is the author of the brilliant fantasy novel, Finding Destiny, which is available from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/Finding-Destiny-Katrina-Hart-ebook/dp/B00U1WUFSE/ . You can visit her blog https://katrinamarie25.wordpress.com/ to read more about Finding Destiny and all of Katrina’s other writerly activities. Follow her on Twitter: @KatrinaHart2015 and like her author page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Katrina-Hart-1785712648319624/

Can Stock Photos

Can Stock Photos

The Memories of Home…

Looking Through the Mirror of Life.

By Katrina Hart

Monica-The Reflection of Life’s Mistakes.

Monica screamed at her bruised reflection in the kitchen window as her husband leaned over her shoulder to wash her blood off his hands. She turned so her small body was pressed close to his, and waited until he turned off the tap and moved so they were face to face. She had decided she would not stand for this again. She knew this wasn’t her home anymore.

‘Darling, you shouldn’t push me so, then we wouldn’t fight,’ her husband Sam whispered in her ear as he stepped away from her shaking body and picked up the fallen chair before sitting on it.

Monica wanted to say something; she wanted to scream for real and believe that this would never happen again. But the laughter in the mirror that was covered with a pink sheet against the wall stopped her. She heard the song that her mother used to sing flood the room.  She began to sing:

When Mummy’s little girl cry, Mummy’s comes to sing her a lullaby. When Mummy’s little girl loses her way, Mummy shines the light home. When Mummy’s little girl cry, Mummy comes to sing her a lullaby.’  The words felt like they had taken over her body and filled her brain with a sense of being home. She reached for the mirror and began to drag it out of the room. She didn’t look back to see if Sam followed her as she hurried up the stairs pulling the mirror into her bedroom, locking the door behind herself. Then she flopped onto her bed panting for breath.

Monica lay for the longest time remembering Sam, how at the beginning he had made her heart whole again. He had been a nurse caring for a patient in the next bed to her mother’s. She remembered looking over through her tears as her mother’s doctor had told her, her mother had shut her out of her failing memory. Monica remembered gripping her mother’s shoulders, shaking her, begging her ‘not to let go and leave her.’ Sam had come over to her and taken her out of the room, he had promised her ‘things would be okay.’

After that day she had come to see how truly alone she was apart from Sam. Her sisters were too selfish to care about anything apart from their own needs.

Sam had been her hero. He was a tall, handsome man, with the bluest eyes she had ever seen. He would buy her flowers and tell her things like ‘I’ll never leave you,’ ‘I love you’ while she cried out her worries over never being recognised by her mother again and her fears that she would be alone in the world. Never really belonging anywhere.

Then he changed. He lost his temper over silly things, until he couldn’t control himself. It was like some beast had taken him over and Monica was his prey. Monica could still hear the giggle in the mirror as she drifted into a deep sleep.


Monica- When one reflection freezes the other moves.

Monica woke hours later to the moon shining through the window. She felt lighter as she found a note slipped under the door. She debated if she should leave the safety of her room and face Sam or stay a little longer. The note read… When my little girl cries painful tears, Mummy slay the monster my little girl fears.  Monica dropped the note as the red blood like ink dripped onto the floor. She ran back to her bed and sat legs crossed, the tips of her toes dug into her soft quilt as she gripped hold of the sides of the pink sheet that covered the mirror.  She remembered that this mirror had been in every place inside her mother’s home.

This mirror reflected her mother singing in the kitchen, and moved when her cat had pawed its reflective glass, and helped her mother be sure her tear-filled eyes were not red anymore before she greeted her husband.

Now she mouthed, ‘When my little girl cries, Mummy brings her home safe.

Monica was ready to go home to the memory she was promised this mirror could take her to, and she would never have to leave. She remembered her mother telling her as she made her take the mirror with her before she got really ill.

Monica yanked the cover off the mirror and blinked at her reflection. She was seven years old again with two pink ribbons in her black hair. Her seven year self waved at the mirror before she moved towards Mother, who was baking a chocolate cake and singing her favourite song blasting out from the radio.

Monica’s heart pounded as she reached for the safety of that kitchen. Of her seven year old self. Her palm slipped through the glass like she was a ghost passing from one phase to another. She could hear laughter as her body went through the glass. And all her troubles left her mind as her feet touched the kitchen floor.

Monica looked down and realised she was seven again. She ran to her mother who turned and gave her the warmest smile that filled her heart with such happiness that she let out a childish giggle. Her mother winked at her as she picked up Daddy’s hammer that had blood dripping off the end and walked to the mirror, smashing it into so many pieces. Monica breathed a sigh of relief, now there was no way back for either of them. Then Monica’s mother turned to her and held out her hand. ‘My girl, you know you’ll always have a home with me.’ Monica smiled up at her mother and she knew she had found her home, where her heart belonged.

The End

Happy Halloween everyone!

Interview with Claire Morley, the author of Tindog Tacloban

Tindog 3

Today we have Claire Morley here with us to discuss her novel, Tindog Tacloban. Welcome, Claire!

The inspiration for the novel / Typhoon Yolanda

Your novel is called Tindog Tacloban. What does this mean and why did you choose this as your title?

Hi Kendra, firstly thank you very much for this opportunity to speak about Tindog Tacloban.

The meaning of the title is Rise Up Tacloban and when I was volunteering in the city of Tacloban after the devastation wreaked by typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) there were banners all over the place with those words on. I wanted to use it in the title as a testament to the amazing spirit of the Filipino people, who had suffered so much, but were rebuilding their lives.

What is the story about?

The story is centred around three main characters. A father, Izel, who desperately tries to save his children from the wrath of Yolanda, his eldest daughter, 11 year old Lika Faye, who gets ripped from his arms in the flood water and is unwittingly recruited into the world of Webcam Child Sex Tourism and Helen a volunteer in Tacloban who is trying to come to terms with her own tragedy.

One of the themes I picked up on was the fragility of family life and the importance of children to a community (both in Tacloban but also with Helen in England when she loses Charlie and her entire life seems to fall apart). This added a fascinating layer to the story as it showed that, despite our thinking otherwise, Westerners are just as vulnerable as those who live in poorer countries, if for different reasons. This was a very democratising and brave element to add into the story. If you had to describe the theme of your novel, what would that be?

How interesting, I hadn’t thought of that as a theme, but it is a very pertinent point. There are two themes to Tindog Tacloban really, firstly the effect of a natural disaster, not only on the day it happens, but also the recovery afterwards and secondly raising awareness of a previously little known form of sex trafficking, that of Webcam Child Sex Tourism, which is rife in the Philippines.

I understand that you were a volunteer in the Philippines following the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda. What was that like and how did this experience feed into your novel?

It was an incredible experience. I remember flying to Tacloban and looking out of the plane window as we came in to land and seeing everything flattened. It was always the coconut trees which struck me the most, if they hadn’t been uprooted, their fronds had been stripped from them and they looked so sorry for themselves. And then on the journey from the airport to the volunteer house, we drove through the tented cities, where thousands of people were residing after losing their homes, their belongings and often family members. It was very emotional for me and I wanted to try and illustrate the plight of these people and what they had gone through.

Claire at Sagkahan School Tacloban small

Claire at Sagkahan School, Tacloban

I was very much drawn into the world of the Sombilon family as they struggled to survive Typhoon Yolanda and its devastating effects. Your writing really seemed to capture the experiences of the Filipino people and the terrible effects the typhoon had on their lives, from the immediate lack of food and water to the longer term psychological effects of poverty, the loss of family members and the general uncertainty such an event brings. How did you manage to achieve this?

I was very lucky soon after I had arrived in Tacloban to be introduced to a man called Fred Jaca, who had been a radio presenter before the typhoon. He kindly took me to meet survivors (and acted as interpreter when necessary) who I was able to interview and it was their experiences which I wove into the book to give, hopefully, a sense of reality of what it had been like for them during the typhoon and trying to survive afterwards.

What would you like readers to come away with, after reading your book?

Hopefully the understanding that it’s not only the day of a natural disaster that people are suffering, struggling to survive, but it is a long slow process to rebuild and of course, awareness of Webcam Child Sex Tourism, which I hadn’t heard of until I volunteered in the Philippines. And maybe to inspire people to volunteer, it is an amazing experience.

I understand that all profits from the sale of the novel will go to benefit organisations helping in disaster hit areas. What else can readers do to help?

There is an online petition to pressure governments to adopt proactive investigation policies in order to protect children against webcam child sex tourism which people can sign at: http://www.terredeshommes.org/webcam-child-sex-tourism/

IDV, the organisation I volunteered with, works with communities worldwide which have been affected by or are vulnerable to disaster. They help survivors to achieve sustainable recovery and build more resilient communities both before and after disaster. People can find out more on their website: http://www.idvolunteers.org/

Raul and his feeding programme, featured in the book were inspired by the Mobile Soup Kitchen for Kids (MSKK) set up by Reynold De Vera. MSKK is saving and changing lives, one soup bowl at a time. People can support and join them as they provide much needed help, nutrition and sustenance, to the children of Tacloban, Leyte, and many other areas affected by Typhoon Yolanda Their Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1556492901241816/?fref=ts

The writing of the novel / the author

Author small

The famous creative writing instructor, Robert McKee, said “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” What is your opinion of his statement?

After my time volunteering I wanted to write a book and my initial thought was non-fiction. My partner suggested that more people would be inclined to read a novel. I believe you are more likely to appeal to a greater audience through telling a story and if it is done well, it can inspire, provoke thought and encourage action from its readers.

What do you feel you gained through the writing of Tindog Tacloban?

Writing Tindog Tacloban has given me the opportunity to raise awareness of some subjects I feel very strongly about and provide further funding for the organisations I worked with. However, personally, it has given me a chance in a way to thank those people who gave me their time and sometimes heart-breaking survival stories.

Could you talk us through the evolution of Tindog Tacloban? How did you go about publishing the novel?

To be honest, like all authors, I was hoping to get the interest of an agent and have Tindog Tacloban on the bookshelves and be jetting around the world attending book signings! However, the reality is that it is such a competitive world out there and unless you have an ‘in’ with an agent or publisher, it is almost impossible to get a publishing deal. So after countless rejections or non-replies from agents, I decided it was time to try and self or indie publish. I decided if I was going to do it, I might as well go it properly, so I spent time and money on some courses about self-publishing and social media marketing – my background is marketing, but I wasn’t so up-to-date on social media, so thought it best to learn. And once I felt I have enough information, I did it all myself.

I understand that you are a graduate of writingclasses.co.uk. Do you feel that taking a course assisted you in writing your novel? And which came first, the class or the idea for the novel?

Taking the course with writingclasses.co.uk was a huge help with writing Tindog Tacloban. I had already started the book when I came across the course, but I felt with no novel writing experience, I would benefit from the guidance of my tutor and fellow course students. Not only did I benefit from the course, but my tutor, Anne Hamilton, thought my book showed promise and agreed to work with me as my mentor and editor once the course was finished and her input has been invaluable. Not only from the technical aspect, but she was always there with encouragement when I felt the book wasn’t good enough.

Are there any future novels in the works?

I have the seed of an idea, but to be honest, since taking on the publishing of Tindog Tacloban I have been so busy, I haven’t yet had time to put pen to paper. Having spent so much time learning how to publish and market an ebook, I felt I could put all that knowledge to good use and have set up a business to provide a service to help other authors and am currently working on a case study to show how people can benefit.

Thank you for the interview and a big congratulations on the publication of Tindog Tacloban!

Tindog 3

Kendra’s review of Tindog Tacloban:

Izel realised their only hope was to try and stay afloat in the foul water swirling beneath him. He could feel the debris twisting and turning in the sea water as it eddied around his legs. Adrenaline kicked in and his only thought was how to save his family.

‘Grab my neck,’ he screamed to Lika Faye, hoping she could hear the words before they were swallowed by the howling winds.

Tindog Tacloban is a gripping debut novel about the effects of Typhoon Yolanda on one family, especially their daughter.

When Typhoon Yolanda hits land in Tacloban, the Sombilon family are ill-prepared. As the wind grows stronger, Izel Sombilon, the head of a household of seven which includes his parents, his wife and their three children, realises they must reach higher ground, and quickly. But when the black water crashes through their home, he loses sight of eleven year old Lika Faye and five year old Ellijah. Are they gone from him forever, or might they have somehow survived?

As they search amongst the remains of Tacloban, a neighbour tells him she thinks she may have seen Lika Faye, though she isn’t certain. Will a chance sighting be enough to sustain Izel’s search for her? His wife, Adelaida, would rather they put the disaster behind them so they can gather enough strength to rebuild. After losing their home and being without food or water, they need all they can muster just to keep going.

Meanwhile, back in England, Helen Gable decides to volunteer with World Disaster Response in the Philippines. When her group of volunteers meet Izel at a local school where he is helping to provide hot meals to children, they decide to take him on as a driver. They need help and Izel needs work. Helen learns that Izel’s daughter, Lika Faye, is still missing. Still recovering from the loss of her own son, Charlie, some months before, Helen can’t help but feel an affinity with Izel. But is Lika Faye still alive, and if she is, will they be able to help find her amongst so many missing and dead?

Tindog Tacloban is a powerful story which resonates far beyond its pages. It should be read and understood as much for its hopeful message of survival in the face of adversity as for what you will learn about the conditions of life in disaster zones and human trafficking. Morley crafts her story with skill and care, and her lifelike characters bounce off the pages in their need to be heard. This is an unforgettable story which will stay with me for a very long time.

Readers can obtain Tindog Tacloban from http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B014JGI0H0

You can follow Claire Morley on Twitter at: @clairemorley15

Catch up with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/clairemorleyauthor

Learn more about her publishing business, My ePublish Book, which works with authors wanting to indie publish. As it is a time consuming process, they provide support to publish and market a book to get the best results for their clients. http://www.myepublishbook.com/

Interview with Anne Hamilton, the author of A Blonde Bengali Wife


Today we have Anne Hamilton here with us to discuss her book, A Blonde Bengali Wife. Some of you may know Anne as the editor of Lothian Life, others as a writing tutor with writingclasses.co.uk, and yet others as an excellent editor.

 Welcome, Dr Hamilton!

Firstly, I’d just like to say a big congratulations to Anne on recently receiving her PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow! That’s a massive achievement, which I’m sure readers would love to hear more about. Could you tell us, briefly, how studying for an advanced degree has benefitted your writing practice?

Thank you very much, Kendra, and for inviting me onto your blog! The PhD has actually helped me in the most practical ways. The bulk of my thesis had to be a novel – and I’d never even attempted a novel before. Like most writers I know, I suffer from huge crises of confidence and having experienced and enthusiastic supervisors (both published writers) encouraged me to think I could do it, and that I am a good (enough) writer. Having a sounding board for ideas and being given clear deadlines was invaluable, but the most useful by-product was that I stopped procrastinating – believe me, I used to be the world’s worst procrastinator – until suddenly I had all this academic and creative work to do, as well as earning a living, and looking after my little boy.

When did you first publish A Blonde Bengali Wife and how did the book come about?

A Blonde Bengali Wife is now embarking on her second life. The original version, in hard copy and eBook, was published by LL-Publications, a Glasgow publisher, in 2010. My five year contract was up this summer, and this coincided with the publisher relocating to the USA. Since I was still selling a few copies and getting good reviews, I made the decision to self-publish this reprint.  

A Blonde Bengali Wife is a travel memoir, hopefully humorous, that tells the story of my first (of, to date, about twelve) visits to Bangladesh. In the West, this fascinating country generally only hits the news with stories of extreme poverty and the terrible floods and cyclones – with honourable mentions for the cricket – and I wanted to show that, yes, these are hugely significant issues, but there is so much more to tell. It emerged from a daily diary I kept during those first three months of 2002 when, as a volunteer with an international charity, I travelled around the country and I fell in love with it all.

You do a remarkable job of capturing the Bangladeshi people and culture. Was this difficult, seeing as you were an outsider? Or, did the experience of being an outsider make you more aware of your surroundings?

You’ve captured the essence of the whole book here, Kendra: it’s actually all about me being an outsider. I arrived in a country where I couldn’t speak the language, couldn’t properly dress myself (I was wearing the indigenous salwar kameez), struggled to eat with my right-hand whilst sitting cross-legged on the floor, and I had never previously seen a squat toilet!  It was a mutual thing; most of the people I came across in the rural villages had never seen a white, Western woman never mind one who was travelling alone. So, it was not only okay, it was expected, that we would stand and stare at each other, follow each other around, and ask endless questions through an ever-willing translator. I was always aware of my surroundings, physical and cultural, and that’s why I started to keep a diary long before I thought it would be a book – I needed to write everything down to make sense of it all.

I was particularly struck by the humour in the book, which was skilfully written and very funny. Do you find it easy to write humorously, and what advice might you give to those who would like to be funnier in their own writing?

I hope it is funny; it’s meant to be, but usually at my own expense. That said, I didn’t set out thinking I would write a humorous book, I just wrote in the way that came most naturally. I did have a lot of natural material though; everything that is described in the book actually happened and it did tend to veer from the sublime to the ridiculous. I also had the privilege of meeting some fabulous people who were real characters in their own right. In the end, all I had to do was describe everything that went on and it was endlessly entertaining – at least to me. As for advice on how to be funnier, all I can say is, don’t try too hard, you can’t force humour on people; they might ‘get you’, they might not. Write what you think is genuinely funny rather than cleverly funny!

What would you like readers to come away with, after reading your book?

If the book makes people stop and think about Bangladesh as an interesting country in its own right, instead of a place and people needing only our constant sympathy, then I think it has done what I wanted. I’d like readers to know that Cox’s Bazaar is probably the longest sea-beach in the world, that the Sunderbans is a World Heritage Site, that the Srimangal tea gardens are some of the most beautiful in the world; anything really, that they didn’t know before. And I’d really like people to understand what an unconditionally friendly welcome this insignificant, inept, mosquito-ridden, pale foreigner consistently received.

I understand that you are preparing to reprint A Blonde Bengali Wife as an ebook. Why did you choose to reprint in ebook format instead of in paperback?

Practicalities and timing. Over the past five years, eBook sales of A Blonde Bengali Wife slowly but very surely began to overtake the hard copy version (which may well be because the e-version was significantly cheaper). It seemed sensible to take notice of that. Then, the fact that I am self-publishing was important too; an eBook is technically easier to produce, and it doesn’t require printing and physical distribution. Finally, it’s the nature of the book that decided me. A Blonde Bengali Wife refers to events from 2002. I believe that it still has relevance for readers; I know that the Bangladesh I’ve written about still fundamentally exists – I go there frequently enough to see, and I still receive mail from readers who tell me so, and I think it’s a timeless ‘story’ anyway. In 2015, I would like the book to be available, to be read and enjoyed, and I believe that the eBook is the most accessible way for the largest number of people. (The original paperback version can still be purchased second-hand – and I’ll keep a stockpile of copies for anyone who doesn’t do eBooks!)

Bhola’s Children

Anne and her son Simon (back row), Allan (a fellow Bhola's Children supporter), and the children.

Anne and her son Simon (back row), Allan (a fellow Bhola’s Children supporter), and the children.

As a result of the publication of A Blonde Bengali Wife, the charity, Bhola’s Children, came into being. Can you tell us a little about the purpose of Bhola’s Children, how it started and what it’s doing at the moment?

Bhola’s Children is a home and school for children and young people with physical disabilities. It’s situated on Bhola, an island of a million people in the Bay of Bengal. Disability of any sort carries huge stigma there, and what we might consider ‘minor’ or treatable/manageable problems in the West, still cause children to be rejected and abandoned. The majority of the children are hearing or vision-impaired or have cerebral palsy, and at Bholas’ Children they can learn sign-language, have physiotherapy, learn a trade as a cook, a tailor or a carpenter. Most go on to lead independent lives. We also provide access to surgery for cleft palates and club feet, and there is a lot of awareness-raising carried out in the community. Many of the health issues are due to very young marriages and pregnancy or genetic problems arising from inter-marriage within close families, so we have programmes to discuss this, and to try and reduce the stigma of disability in general.

Chance played such a big part in it all. After I wrote A Blonde Bengali Wife, I began to approach literary agents. One of them, Dinah Wiener, was very candid, saying she wasn’t sure the book was commercial enough to sell to a mainstream publisher but she loved it, she would take a chance on it – and she was going to visit Bangladesh on foot of it! She did.  Whilst there, she met a man called Howladder Ali, who was single-handedly looking after a community of children with disabilities; when she came home, to support him, we set up what has become Bhola’s Children.

Today, nearly ten years on, Bholas’s Children is thriving.  Howladder Ali is retired but the home and school (currently approximately fifty children) is run by an excellent director and his family, and a local, dedicated committee. Dinah and I continue to be among the Trustees, and we support, fundraise, and visit when we can.

Anne, her son Simon and Howladder Ali on arrival

Anne, her son Simon and Howladder Ali on arrival

Are there ways in which readers can get involved? 

Please buy the book and encourage everyone else to do so! The royalties from A Blonde Bengali Wife have always gone directly to Bhola’s Children, as has Dinah’s agency commission.  Dinah is now retired, but all profits I make from this reprint will continue to support them. Readers can also follow the charity on www.bholaschildren.org – and anyone wishing to fundraise, donate, volunteer etc, is always very welcome.

What do you feel you gained, as a writer, through the writing of A Blonde Bengali Wife?

Through trial and error, I learned the nuts and bolts of writing a book. It was the first full-length piece of writing I had attempted and I realised I could do it – the saying ‘writing is 10% talent and 90% perseverance’ has a lot of truth in it. But whatever I gained as a writer, I gained so much more as a person; in experiencing the events of the story, in writing them down and sharing them, I’ve gained a huge extended ‘family’ that have made my life so much richer.

Once your story was down on paper, did you have to do a lot of rewriting?

Oh, yes! Since it began as a diary, the first draft was virtually that entire journal with the worst of the repetition removed. The next draft killed off the excessive self-indulgence (I hope) as I considered what I really wanted to say and what ‘message’ I was trying to achieve alongside what readers might find interesting; as much of the interest is in the day to day mundanity of life in a new culture and country, that was a challenge. In hindsight, the editing could have been better… my responsibility! I had a baby at exactly the time A Blonde Bengali Wife was in publication, and I certainly didn’t check the edits or the proof-reading to the extent I have this time. In effect, this reprint has given me the opportunity to re-edit and reformat once more, which is both a luxury and a necessity.  And on that note, I must add that I couldn’t have done this without the expert assistance of Claire Morley at My EPublish Book (www.myepublishbook.com) and Marie Campbell, Proofreader (Twitter @mariecampbell72), or without people such as yourself, Kendra, willing to let me participate in their blogs! 

Do you have any future books in the works?

My PhD required me to write a novel. It has a working title of Chasing Elena, and I’m currently revising that. It was very well received by the PhD panel, who also gave me a lot of very helpful advice about ensuring it achieves a marketable balance of commercial and literary fiction. It certainly seems that a writer’s work is never done… but I wouldn’t change any of it.

Thank you for the interview and a big congratulations on the re-publication of A Blonde Bengali Wife!  

A Blonde Bengali Wife will be released on 3rd November and is available now for pre-order from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B016UDI86I

You can follow Anne Hamilton on Twitter at: @AnneHamilton7

Read her blog: http://anne-ablondebengaliwife.blogspot.co.uk/

Follow her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ablondebengaliwife

And access WriteRight, her writing consultancy services at: www.annehamilton.co.uk

Kendra’s review of A Blonde Bengali Wife:

A heartfelt and humorous journey through Bangladesh

Anne takes the reader with her on her travels through Bangladesh, letting them experience each new adventure (and misadventure) alongside her. From the moment Anne lands in Bangladesh, receiving a warm welcome from a mysterious policeman who pronounces his undying love for her, it is clear that the people of Bangladesh will take centre stage. Through Anne’s experiences the reader discovers the real Bangladesh: a place of friendship, kindness and extreme poverty where the good nature and humour of the people carry them through (just). Anne is a skilful writer, who carefully weaves her story through a detailed travelogue and paints her scenes with vivid and unforgettable imagery. I would highly recommend her book to anyone who enjoys travelling and experiencing other cultures as well as to those who just like a good story well told. A testament to how much Anne cares about the people of Bangladesh is that all of the proceeds from the sale of her book go to benefit a charity called Bhola’s Children which was set up upon her return to assist orphaned and disabled children on the island of Bhola.