Books that have influenced me #2 – childhood poetry

In my last post on this subject, I talked about Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree books – if you missed the post, you can read it here.

This time, I’m concentrating on poetry from my childhood. Now, this is where I have to confess that, as an adult, I’m not particularly keen on poetry. I do like some I come across – Simon Armitage, for example – but I don’t deliberately seek it.

A Child's Garden of Verse - HPAs a child, however, poetry captured my imagination.  In particular, I remember my grandma bought me A Child’s Garden of Verses by R.L. Stevenson. I still have that copy. I loved it because each poem described life through a child’s eyes. At last! I realised I wasn’t the only child with imagined worlds in my head!

In that book, I particularly loved The Little Land, in which a child who is forced to sit and be bored in a roomful of adults simply shuts his eyes and goes “sailing away . . . To the pleasant Land of Play”, totally transported until he must come back to dull reality. Similarly, in The Land of Counterpane, a child ill in bed imagines that bed as a land
populated by his toys to keep himself occupied. The first The Land of Counterpane - HPpoem I learned off by heart was from this book – Bed in Summer. I had a lot of sympathy with the child who didn’t see why they should have to go to bed while it was still light. But my absolute favourite was The Shadow. I learned that off by heart, too, and I thought (still do) that it was such a clever poem.

That was a book that I would read alone. But I had another book of poems, an anthology called My Kind of Verse, which my older brother would sometimes read to me on the odd occasion my parents were out. Since I was only allowed two poems, I chose carefully, picking longer ones to make the treat last:) It might be A Song About Myself (“There was a naughty Boy, A naughty boy was he  …”) by John Keats, perhaps The Jumblies or The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear. But one of my choices was almost always The Akond of Swat (again by Lear) because I loved the way it sounded, the way my brother emphasised the end of each line, and the fact that it conjured up of a picture of … well, I didn’t know quite what, but that was the whole point! (“Who, or why, or which, or what, is the Akond of SWAT?”)

On visits to my local library, I would happily work my way through their Dr Seuss books, but since I read those alone, I had no idea how wonderful they sounded until I started reading them to my own children. I love Dr Seuss books – the way they sound, the messages behind the stories, the nonsense words, and of course those fabulous illustrations.

This post wouldn’t be complete without mention of The Lion and Albert by Marriott Edgar. As a northerner, this wonderful poem was instilled in me from an early age, when my great aunt would recite it to us. Most of our family knows it off by heart, or almost. Wonderfully witty and very northern! We have enjoyed many a happy time with other poems by Edgar, too, such as The Jubilee Sov’rin and Runcorn Ferry, but Albert’s adventure with Wallace the lion is in our blood!

Albert 'Arold and Others - HP

Why and how have these favourite childhood poems influenced me?

They showed me that it was okay to imagine, and that those imaginings could be captured by words. They taught me the pleasure of words arranged in a certain way, and that the choice of a word could  be of crucial importance to get an idea across – finding the perfect word, or sometimes using a totally unexpected word to surprise and delight the reader. And they allowed me the simple pleasure of enjoying a perfect rhythm in their recital, like a spoken music, bringing comfort and enjoyment to my childhood years.


Books that have influenced me #1 – Enid Blyton

Early influences? Stories that seep into your consciousness so young, they shape your childhood and perhaps your life?

Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree books.

These are the first books I remember reading independently – and I read them over and over and over again. I hated ‘lights out’ because it meant the end of my reading time. No way! I would sit up in bed, twitching my curtains open to read long past my bedtime by the light of the street lamp! (No wonder I wear glasses.)

Those stories fuelled my vivid imagination. I loved the way Enid Blyton created a whole world in the Enchanted Wood, and then the Magic Faraway Tree itself, populated by a host of recurring characters you came to know and love – Moonface, Silky, Saucepan Man. I was desperate to taste those pop biscuits and toffee shocks, and to take a long ride down the slippery slip.

And as if this lovely imaginary world wasn’t enough, there were whole new worlds every time the children ventured beyond the top of the tree. The land of goodies, the land of spells (my personal favourite) . . . Fabulous!

But why did these books  influence me so much?

They gave me a great deal of comfort. Whenever the real world seemed confusing or upsetting, all I had to do was lose myself in the worlds in those books, and I was transported away from my childhood troubles.

They allowed my imagination to take flight and they planted that tiny seed – the desire to be a writer when I grew up. (Yes, I know, it took an awful lot longer than that!) I wanted to be able to do what Enid Blyton did – to create my own worlds. Whenever I’d finished work ahead of time in class, the teacher would indulgently allow me to write stories. Then I got a special notebook at home and started writing stories in that, too. I still have it, although it’s a little battered now.

squirrel nut

I’m certainly not the only writer to have been influenced by Enid Blyton – I’ve read a lot of comments on social media and blogs recently along similar lines. If it wasn’t the Enchanted Wood books, then for some people it was the Famous Five. Enid Blyton obviously had an enormous influence, not only in bringing pleasure and a sense of adventurous freedom to children’s lives, but in inspiring some of those children to become writers themselves someday.

I still have those Magic Faraway Tree books somewhere. I read them to my daughter when she was little (subtly altering some of the now-rather-politically-incorrect names as I went along!) They are up in the attic. I’ve been on a very long hunt for them  so I could take a photo for this post – but if you saw the state of my attic, you’d understand why they haven’t as yet come to light!

Floor of attic

What matters is that I know they’re there, somewhere . . . and I would never part with them.

An armchair tour around Yorkshire

I have been so ridiculously busy the past couple of weeks with work and family that I simply haven’t had time to blog.

So I have decided to cheat and, in the spirit of it being summer and a time to get out and about, I’m flagging up past posts of lovely local places that I enjoy visiting on a regular basis, in case you missed them first time around and fancy a quick armchair trip to Yorkshire . . .

Bettys windowA real Yorkshire Treat . . .  a Fat Rascal!

The elegant spa town of Harrogate, Valley Gardens, the famous Bettys tea rooms (and a Fat Rascal)



Salts Mill books #2My favourite bookshop – Salts Mill

A converted mill in the industrial town of Saltaire, David Hockney, and books galore



Haworth heatherHaworth and the Yorkshire Moors

A guest post on Linda Huber’s blog about Haworth and the Yorkshire Moors as a setting for a winter romance (Please note that the book mentioned in the post is no longer on sale!)


bridge at Studley RoyalA day out at Studley Royal, North Yorkshire

Landscaped grounds, a medieval deer park, Victorian church and the seven bridges valley



Ilkley moor #5On Ilkla moor baht ‘at

A brisk walk on the moors above Ilkley (and, naturally, a trip to Bettys cafe)



If you visited any, I hope you enjoyed your day out!




The Little French Guesthouse

An absolutely lovely review from Janni B’s Book Reviews . . .

janni b's book reviews

Description:  Sun, croissants and fine wine. Nothing can spoil the perfect holiday. Or can it?
When Emmy Jamieson arrives at La Cour des Roses, a beautiful guesthouse in the French countryside, she can’t wait to spend two weeks relaxing with boyfriend Nathan. Their relationship needs a little TLC and Emmy is certain this holiday will do the trick. But they’ve barely unpacked before he scarpers with Gloria, the guesthouse owner’s cougar wife.

Rupert, the ailing guesthouse owner, is shell-shocked. Feeling somewhat responsible, and rather generous after a bottle (or so) of wine, heartbroken Emmy offers to help. Changing sheets in the gîtes will help keep her mind off her misery.

Thrust into the heart of the local community, Emmy suddenly finds herself surrounded by new friends. And with sizzling hot gardener Ryan and the infuriating (if gorgeous) accountant Alain providing welcome distractions, Nathan is fast becoming a distant memory.


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Welcome back . . . Sheryl Browne!

I’m delighted to welcome Sheryl Browne back on the blog with her new book Learning to Love, released today! I had a few questions for her, of course, but first, the cover and the blurb  . . .

Cover smaller Learning to LoveSometimes help comes from the most unlikely places …

Living in a small village like Hibberton, it’s expected that your neighbours help you in a time of need. But when Andrea Kelly’s house burns down, taking all her earthly possessions with it, it’s the distant and aloof Doctor David Adams – the person she would least expect – who opens his door not just to her, but to her three kids and slightly dotty elderly mother as well.

Andrea needs all the help she can get, dealing with aftermath of the fire and the suspicious absence of her husband, Jonathan. But, as she gets to know David and his troubled son, Jake, she begins to realise that maybe they need her help as much as she needs theirs …

And now to find out more about it  . . .

It’s lovely to have you back on the blog, Sheryl. Tell me, what was the kernel of an idea that got you started on Learning to Love?

I can’t think where, but I read an article about helping children through the bereavement process by allowing them to remember, to cherish the good times they’d shared with the person they’d lost. A subject I’m familiar with, it struck a chord with me and I wrote a short around it, entitled The Memory Box, now published in a Birmingham City Anthology. The characters though simply called to me and I knew I had to write their whole story. Learning to Love does look at bereavement in childhood and a single father desperately trying to help his son come to terms with his grief. ‘It’s also about family as beautifully chaotic as they can be.’ – thank you Reviewed the Book for that perfect description.

LTL Sky Tree RTB

Fundamentally, it’s a story – poignant at times, but also hopefully amusing and uplifting – about moving on, trusting yourself and opening yourself up to the possibility of loving again, even though life might be complicated.

It sounds like an emotional read. Do you find yourself getting too caught up in the subject matter?

When you’re writing about a sensitive issue, I think you have to get caught up in the subject matter. As long as your research is thorough, you don’t necessarily have to have experienced something, but you have to be able to put yourself in your character’s shoes and feel every single emotion. When an author says they’ve just read their last chapter and laughed or cried, they’re not bragging. They’ve simply been completely in character. Well, that applies to me anyhow!

Which aspects of Andrea and David’s personalities did you enjoy writing most?

Oh David. David’s euphoria and underlying heartbreak when he finally makes a connection with his son was my most enjoyable section. David knows his son’s anger towards him is justified. He did something which would be unforgivable in most people’s eyes. Writing aspects of his character that showed him to be a man worthy of forgiveness was a huge challenge, but hugely satisfying. The challenge with Andrea was writing a strong female character, yet portraying her to be forgiving, and vulnerable, as we can all be at times. This is a woman who will claw and fight for her kids. The scene where she’s furious with David when he seems to be every bit the womaniser he claims not to be was fuelled by her determination to protect their respective children. Funnily enough, David’s instincts were to do the same.

Do you find it hard writing children into a book?

No. If we don’t have a convenient child to hand, we can always reach out to our friend’s via social media nowadays. I do tend to look at the situation through the child’s eyes, however. The above mentioned scene with David and his son was written from David’s point of view, but I was often in Jake’s character, if that makes sense.

It sounds like a wonderful story. Have you started your next book yet, and if so, can you tell us a little about it?

Currently, I have another book contracted with Choc Lit and four in the pipeline, one of which, my latest thriller Sins of the Fathers, has been passed by the wonderful Tasting Panel. I also have two more for submission and another contemporary romance underway, Ripples on the Water, a story about childhood sweethearts forced apart by secrets and ghosts past. There’s also a sequel to Sins of the Fathers itching to be told. I may faint!

Crikey, you are so busy! If you could choose your ideal writing space, where would it be?

Looking at the above, I think my little boat, Aquaduck, moored exactly where it is for six months with no internet would be a writer’s paradise.

Romance pic small

That looks absolutely perfect! Thank you for visiting today, Sheryl:)


You can buy Learning to Love at these links:

Amazon UK          Amazon US


Watch the trailer here  . . .


And here’s an excerpt to tempt you  . . .

David turned his attention back to his son, who was surrounded by a sea of photographs, he realised. Photographs of Michelle, from the albums in the spare room.

Cautiously, David walked across to stand by Jake’s side. Then, hands in pockets, he waited again, wondering what to say that could even begin to heal their relationship. What would he want to hear, if he were Jake?

Sorry perhaps? Wholly inadequate, David knew, but it might be a start.

He looked down at his son, whose head was bent in concentration on his endeavours.

He needed a haircut. Needed a lot of things.

David closed his eyes as he noticed the bottle of perfume tucked in the corner of Jake’s Adidas shoebox.

Michelle’s perfume.

Because Jake wanted something to remind him of her.

‘Need any help, Jake?’ David asked softly.

Jake didn’t answer. That was okay. David didn’t really expect him to. He swallowed back a lump in his throat, then took a gamble, crouched down next to Jake – and silently waited.

Biding his time, he studied the photographs quietly alongside his son. ‘You’ve chosen all the good ones,’ he ventured.

Jake did respond then, somewhere between a nod and a shrug.

‘Not many fun ones though.’ David reached for a photograph. One he’d taken himself on what turned out to be their last time at the theme park together: Michelle, Jake in front of her on the log flume, both shrieking with laugher and soaked through to the skin.

Probably the last time she had laughed – with him.

David breathed in, hard. ‘I did make her sad, Jake,’ he said quietly. ‘I’m sorry. I know it doesn’t help much, but … I wish I hadn’t.’

Jake’s head dropped even lower.

‘She did laugh though, you know, Jake. With you.’

David placed the photograph carefully in the box. ‘Alton Towers,’ he said, ‘summer before last. She laughed so much she had to dash to the loo, remember?’

Jake dragged the back of his hand under his nose.

‘She couldn’t have been that happy without you, Jake. You gave her the gift of laugher. That’s something to be glad about. To be proud of.’

David stopped, his chest filling up as he watched a slow tear fall from his son’s face.

David hesitated, then rested a hand lightly on Jake’s shoulder. Jake didn’t shrug him off.

‘You won her a stuffed toy that day, do you remember? What was it? A tiger?’

‘Tigger.’ Jake finally spoke.

‘That’s right,’ David said, his throat tight. ‘Tigger.’

‘She kept it in the car,’ Jake picked up in a small voice.

The car she never arrived at the hospital in, David realised, overwhelming guilt slicing through him. ‘She kept a whole family of furry friends in the car. I’m surprised there was room for her.’

Jake’s mouth twitched into a small smile. ‘She talked to them.’ He glanced up at David, his huge blue eyes glassy with tears.

‘That was the little girl inside her. The little girl you made laugh.’ David squeezed Jake’s shoulder. He actually felt like whooping. Like punching the air. Like picking Jake up and hugging him so hard … Jake had looked at him. Full on. No anger.

David closed his eyes, relief washing over him. ‘I have one of Mum’s stuffed toys,’ he said throatily. ‘One she kept. Not Tigger, but … Do you want me to fetch it?’

Jake nodded.

‘Right.’ David smiled. ‘Back in two.’ He dragged his forearm across his eyes as he headed for his own room. He had something else, too. Something he’d wanted to give Jake before, but somehow couldn’t.

The antique locket he’d bought Michelle for her thirtieth birthday was in the bedside drawer. David collected it, ran his thumb over the engraved rose gold surface of it. If Jake needed something to remind him of his mother, this was it.

‘Bedtime Bear,’ David announced, joining Jake back on the floor. ‘Your very first toy.’ He handed his son the scruffy little white bear.

Jake laughed and David really did feel like crying then.

‘I have something else for you, Jake.’ He passed him the locket. ‘It was very special to her,’ he said gently as Jake’s eyes fell on the photograph of himself inside it. ‘She wore it right next to her heart. And that,’ he went on as Jake looked at the lock of hair on the opposite side of the locket, ‘is your hair and hers, entwined.’

Jake went very quiet.

‘Okay?’ David asked.

Jake nodded vigorously. ‘Okay,’ he said, around a sharp intake of breath. David reached out, ran his hand through Jake’s unruly crop, and then allowed it to stray to his shoulder. He wanted very much to hold him, to reassure him. But Jake’s body language was tense. It would take time, David knew, but maybe someday, Jake would let him back in.



Sheryl Browne03 small file (1)Heartache, humour, love, loss & betrayal, Sheryl Browne brings you sassy, sexy, heart-wrenching fiction. A member of the Crime Writers’ Association, Romantic Novelists’ Association and shortlisted for the Best Romantic e-book Love Stories Award 2015, Sheryl has several books published and two short stories in Birmingham City University anthologies, where she completed her MA in Creative Writing.

Recommended to the publisher by the WH Smith Travel fiction buyer, Sheryl’s contemporary fiction comes to you from award winning Choc Lit.

You can find Sheryl at:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon UK | Amazon US | Pinterest

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Choc Lit | Romantic Novelists’ Association


The Little French Guesthouse – Helen Pollard

The Book Jotter

Emmy has persuaded her boyfriend, Nathan to take time off from work and take a holiday. They have spent the last five years doing nothing but working. They know it means that they will have to work hard before they go on holiday and work even harder to catch up when they come home, but for Emmy she thinks this extra effort will be worth it, to maintain their relationship.

So they find themselves in the French countryside, in a guesthouse, belonging to Rupert and his wife Gloria.

Nathan finds something else in this guesthouse, the owners wife, Gloria and decides to take time off from his relationship with Emmy as well as from work. Emmy has to process this whilst dealing with Rupert who falls and injures himself and quite possibly might have had a heart attack.

The relaxing holiday Emmy was after is perhaps not what she is…

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Inspiration for The Little French Guesthouse #2 – A little sightseeing

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that readers had enjoyed the setting of The Little French Guesthouse so much, I thought it would be nice to share some of the inspiration behind it. That first week, it was ‘town and country’. If you missed the post, you can read it here.

In the book, with everything going on at the guesthouse, Emmy doesn’t get to do a huge amount of sightseeing – but what she does, she thoroughly enjoys.

During a visit from her parents, she takes them on a drive, stopping first  at Montreuil-Bellay. 

Montreuil-Bellay #3 09

They enjoy a coffee outside a cafe overlooking the château . . . 

Montreuil-Bellay #2 09

. . . then skirt around it to get a full view.

Montreuil-Bellay #1 09

They walk along the river for a while . . .

Montreuil-Bellay river 09

. . . before wending their way back up through narrow, picturesque streets.

Montreuil-Bellay alley 09

Then they drive on to the historic town of Chinon, where they have lunch outside a restaurant . . .

Chinon cafe 13

and walk along the cobbled streets . . .

Chinon street #1

Chinon doorway 13








with the château way above them . . .

Chinon chateau 13

. . . and this beautiful tree-lined walk to enjoy down along the river.

Chinon river 13

I’ll finish with this photo. It’s only relevant because it was taken in Chinon – and I can’t resist that mutt’s doleful face!

Chinon dog 13