Saturday 10 November 2012

Gulliver Travels in Morocco

Maggie took these photographs of Gulliver Travels in Morocco - Marrakech and Essaouira - in 2009 and 2011. I just posted them for her.

Friday 12 October 2012


Every cloud has a golden lining - Maggie Knutson ( you need to engage in a lot of lateral thinking to get my drift)

Saturday 6 October 2012


Friday 5th October has shown me that pearls can happen on even the bleakest of days and these are the pearls (pretty good ones too) :-
* It was my daughter's birthday and she's an absolute treasure
*It was also the 50th anniversary of the very first James Bond movie 
*Plus, it was the 50th anniversary (or very close to) of the Beatles very first record release "Love Me Do"  (and boy were the Beatles a wonderful part of my teenage years)
I received the latest copy of The Yellow Room magazine (a collection of quality short stories written by women) and to my delight saw that a short story that I had submitted several years ago – Breaking and Entering – was there in black and white. My first publication this year and totally unexpected and therefore all the more joyous. 
To complete my excitement, I saw that there was also a Christie Gitten's short story in the magazine. She was the writer who gave advice to me via my daughter about suitable publications and whose writing, in both prose and poetry, I greatly admire.

But why a bleak day? It's because I'm in the unenviable position of finding myself addicted to the painkiller tramadol and the relaxant diazepam (both of which are part of the opiates groups which includes heroin !!!) These are both prescription drugs which were prescribed to me by my last doctor years ago with no warning of their addictive properties. It was only when I was admitted to the Priory Hospital, Marchwood near Southampton in March that I was told about their addictive qualities and that I needed to come off them.

I'm still recovering from that breakdown in March plus intensive Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for two mornings a week at the Priory and now psychoanalysis. So I'm not exactly 100% well or strong. But in September, both my psychiatrist and my new doctor told me that I needed to start addressing the addictions. The first one is tramadol and it's proving to be extremely difficult.

Three weeks ago, I reduced my 4 50 mg tablets per day down to 3. That wasn't too much of a problem, so, after 10 days I cut down to 2 tablets a day and this has been perhaps too big a jump because I have experienced most unpleasant and frightening withdrawal symptoms: waves of depression, panic attacks, hypersensitivity to touch and sound, muscle weakness, weariness and spasms in my neck and legs. But I guess I'll have to ride this out until the symptoms abate and when I start to reduce again, I'll cut down far more slowly.

Difficult to enjoy the day when you're feeling like that but yesterday I had all those lovely pearls. You'd think then that I'd experience progress today. But sadly, recovery doesn't work like that. So today I'm having a dip and I haven't been able to read that magazine at all. Not sure what's keeping me going. Perhaps it's because there might be another pearl this evening and certainly it's because I'm determined to get this terrible drug out of my system. I daren't think about tomorrow or that I still have to tackle the diazepam.

But tomorrow could be better. That's what I'm counting on. And I'm trying so hard to just take one day at a time. Not easy, but essential. This is definitely a Footsteps In The Sand time for me and prayers would be very welcome.

Friday 31 August 2012


Has this guy ever writen a dud novel? If he has, I certainly haven't read it. He is my very favourite crime novelist. His writing is consistently brilliant – exciting plots with breathtaking pace, vivid characterisations, visually descriptive settings and all with a sound understanding of the American legal system and law enforcement agencies. And The Brass Verdict is no exception.

I could be wrong, but I think that this is one of his first novels. His main character is Mikey Haller who is a defence lawyer. Having taken time off to overcome alcohol dependency, he receives an unexpected windfall: he has been given all of the cases of an old colleague, Jerry Vincent, recently murdered. And Vincent's biggest case is an absolute whopper. He is to represent a Hollywood director, Walter Elliot, who has been accused of murdering his wife and her lover. Mikey can hardly believe his luck but soon realises that he has actually been given a poisoned chalice.

He reluctantly works alongside detective Harry Bosch, both of whom do not reveal the full extent of their knowledge. And what follows has enough twists and turns to make it a thrilling read. The only problem with the book is that it does eventually end! Luckily, Connelly is a prolific writer so there are plenty more to read or listen to.

What I found fascinating was that although we learn a lot about Haller in The Brass Verdict, Bosch only plays a small part. Having read a number of Connelly's novels which feature Bosch, I enjoyed seeing the seeds being sown about Bosch's character (maserfully done in an incredibly sparse way).

And the meaning of the title is only revealed at the end, which worked really well for me.

If you want to read a crime novel which doesn't disappoint, read The Brass Verdict or any of Connelly's novels.

Sunday 26 August 2012


Ian Rankin is classed as one of the leading British novelists in crime fiction – his Inspector Rebus novels in particular get rave reviews – but I have never read any of them. One of life's little mysteries. But I was keen to give him a go. This novel is post-Inspector Rebus but it is a crime novel and still set in Rankin's Edinburgh.

However, I started to read Open Doors having just finished Steig Larsson's trilogy: The girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc and this novel seemed tame in comparison, particularly the rather far-fetched plot of three friends who plan to stage a theft of art masterpieces. So, I put it to one side and read a Nora Roberts novel instead (reviewed in an earlier post).

But recently I decided to give it another go and I'm glad I did.

The three friends are Mike Mackenzie, a highly successful and extremely rich business man who is bored with his life and looking for a project to spice things up, Allen Cruickshank, a banker, and Robert Gissing,  head of Edinburgh's College of Art.

It is Gissing's idea to use counterfeit paintings to replace the originals stored in a warehouse during an Open Day to the public. Neither Mike nor Allan need much persuasion since they are interested in fine art and the idea of owning their own originals blind them to the fact that it's a highly risky enterprise which they can't carry out by themselves. They need not only a highly talented artist to paint the counterfeits but also professional gangsters to carry out the heist.

Gissing has such an artist in mind: Westie, who is one of his students. And Mike persuades Chib Calloway, a particularly brutal gangster, to provide the heavies and firearms.

And add to the mix Westie's vacuous girlfriend Alice, Laura Stanton, who is involved in the art world and (whoops, can't remember her name and I don't have the book any more) who Mike is particularly keen on, D.I. Hendricks who is in charge of the case after the heist has been successfully completed and his rival detective D.I. Ransome who is keen to to put caraway behind bars. And then, of course, is the ominous figure of Hate who has been sent to retrieve the money Calloway owes his boss.

I found the characterisation rather shallow but the plot did improve as the story unfolded and there were enough twists and turns to keep me wanting to read more. So I would say that this is a good read but not a particularly brilliant novel.

Saturday 18 August 2012


If we're going to start on the 'what ifs' we'll be here until the cows come home - Karl Kennedy in 'Neighbours'

Wednesday 1 August 2012


Probably the only people who were not bowled over by Friday's opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics were the Brazilian team in charge of the opening ceremony for the 2016 Olympics. Just how do you top such an amazing spectacle?

It was fantastic from start to finish: the Queen and James Bond, sheep and border collies, Mr Bean being stupid, children dancing on hospital beds, David Beckham on a speed-boat, an array of Prozac- bright colours, Usain Bolt, a bombardment of exciting music, suffragettes, chimney factories rising up from the ground, some of the most talented athletes in the world taking photographs of the audience, an explosion of fireworks, doves on bicycles, a cauldron of copper bowls, not just one but seven young athletes to light the cauldron... The list goes on and on and on...

It was informative, creative, moving, exciting, inspiring, and funny.

If my only regret is that I didn't record it. Guess I'll have to buy the DVD because I want to watch it all over again.

Wednesday 11 July 2012


The Olympic Torch procession was due to weave its way around the streets of Winchester today round about midday, just the time of day when I go for my swim. I had no interest in seeing  the torch – my main concern was how to get to the swimming pool when I knew that the roads would be closed for some time.

Eventually, I decided to do something I haven't done for a long time due to illness. I would walk to the leisure centre, which takes 15 minutes. I wasn't sure if my legs would be strong enough but I was determined to give it a go.

And I managed it!

But on my walk back home, I came onto Andover Road leading out of the city and saw crowds of people waiting by the road and suddenly I was struck by the wonderful atmosphere and sense of anticipation.

I asked a police officer when the procession was due and when she told me it would be in about 10 minutes I did something I find difficult to do at the moment i.e.wait.

So I sat on a wall and watched as police cars,  police motorcyclists, large open topped buses  advertising products with attractive young women dancing and hyping up the crowd to the background noise of loud music, plus a bus with the next runner and his torch, which stopped nearby.

And then came the runner with his lit torch and I witnessed the changeover of the flame.
It was such an emotional moment  that I was moved to tears.

Of course, I didn't have my camera with me but what really struck me was the enthusiasm of the crowd, waving union Jacks and shouting, cheering and clapping. It was truly inspiring and as I walked home I felt a feeling of elation and of being personally involved in the Olympics.

Pure magic.  And all the more so for being unexpected.

Monday 2 July 2012


Me with my camera pass
What a wonderful festival this is and amazing that it has been going for 15 years – a massive four day and mainly free extravaganza of music. John and I – the daftnotstupid team – have been to nearly every festival and as we have done so, we have grown to appreciate and love the genre of Gnaoua music and delighted to experience how well it fuses with other  genres: jazz, reggae, hip-hop, rock and so on.

At first we just watched the performances and then John started to record much of the music and put it on his daftnotstupid U-tube site and I took photographs and wrote a blog on my site.. It was such fun.

Added to this, our hotel balcony overlooked  Bab Marrakech, the large square just outside the walls, which was used as one of the venues. Therefore, we had a truly breathtaking view of performances there of both performers and audience. I doubt if any other festival in the world had such an incredible viewing area.

And then, three years ago, the Festival organisers offered us press badges with that all important camera symbol, which allowed us to video and photograph right below the stage.This was in recognition of the work we had done to promote the Festival and to allow others to share in and enjoy the performances. It was like giving a pair of children free access to an enormous sweet shop and indeed a great honour for which we were very grateful.

Then last year, Bab Marrakech was dropped as a venue, probably for financial reasons, and it meant that we had lost that wonderful viewpoint.  But we still had our passes and watching performances really close-up was an incredible experience for us.

This year,however, things were very different. We were still to get passes but there was some doubt as to whether we could actually go to the Festival because I had been ill and had not fully recovered but I was so determined to go and we did, which was an achievement in itself.

And to add insult to injury, I strained a tendon in my right arm on the plane over so I was very limited in what I could do.  Had Bab Marrakech been used as a venue, I would have been able to report on eight performances. But, sadly, it wasn't and I found getting to Moulay Hassan very difficult. However, I was able to watch and photograph three of the performances which you can view once I have prepared them. And, as usual, I have included photographs of the all important audience.

I particularly enjoyed Omar Hayat who gave such an exciting and exhilarating performance that, despite doctor's orders, I found myself happily dancing. (And here I need to thank Docteur Charif Toufelaz who treated my arm and neck so that I was not totally immobile.)

In an ideal world, I would have seen and reported on more of the Festival but this is not an ideal world and for me the fact that I was able to do as much as I could despite adversity gives you an indication of how much I love the Festival.

Gnaoui with Maalems Said Ougassal and Abdella Akharraz 

Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad

Maalem Omar Hyat

Crowd scenes
John wearing his new red Kangol


Wednesday 23 May 2012


Nora Roberts has her own particular genre – romance mixed with murder mystery – and it works well for me.  She has a feisty central female character, usually in some kind of trouble or difficult situation, who becomes embroiled in a murder which impacts significantly on her life and manages at the same time to find some hunky guy to fall in love with.

In this novel, Reece Gilmore has decided to hide away in the small town of Angels Fist having been the sole survivor of a vicious attack in the Boston restaurant where she was a chef . She's pretty much on the edge, as nervy as hell and highly suspicious of everybody and everything but she's a great chef and soon finds a job in a local restaurant owned and run by Joanie, another strong , independent and capable woman .

Gradually,  Reece gets to know and like many of the local residents including Brody, who is a writer who very much keeps to himself . But her fragile sense of peace is broken when she witnesses what she believes is a brutal murder of a woman in the mountains which are close to the town .

But no body has been found and there is a suspicion by many in the town that she's making the whole thing up.  And her paranoia is increased when things mysteriously disappear in her flat above the restaurant .  But Brody believes her and the two build up a strong friendship which develops into a romance .

Together, they compose a list of all the men in the area who could have committed  such a crime and as they get closer to the truth , so their their lives are put in danger.

What I like about Roberts is that she tells a cracking good story with interesting plot, well  rounded characters ,  evocative description of setting and intrigue and suspense in bucketloads . If this is the kind of novel you like to read, you've got plenty of novels to choose from - she's a prolific writer.

Monday 14 May 2012


According to statistics, one in four people in the UK suffer from mental illness. And those are just the people who have reported their symptoms to a doctor. But the NHS is woefully inadequate in dealing with such a prevalent and debilitating illness. I don't know if this is true for other counties, but in Hampshire there are now two tiers of treatment. If you suffer from one of the more 'serious' mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, or are danger to yourself or others, then you get to see an NHS psychiatrist. But if you suffer from 'just' depression, you may be referred to a system called italk. This is a psychological therapy services where the patient will talk with his or her Designated Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner or a High Intensity Therapist over the phone once a week.

Now for some patients, this might be enough but advice cannot be given on medication and talking to a faceless person about your deepest fears and anxieties is hardly a satisfactory situation.

I'm writing about this because I have suffered from depression for over 20 years and antidepressants such as Amitriptyline and Prozac kept me going during this time and enabled me to live a reasonably full life. But nearly 2 years ago my Prozac medication stopped working and I was put on a series of alternative antidepressants but nothing quite hit the mark. So, I asked my GP to refer me to an NHS psychiatrist because I realised that medication in itself was not sufficient.

At first I was told that I had been put on the referral list but nothing happened so at the beginning of this year I asked again and this was when I was told about the new system and that I wasn't eligible to see an NHS psychiatrist. By this time I was pretty desperate so I asked to be referred to a private psychiatrist.

Several weeks later I found myself at the Priory Hospital near Southampton where the psychiatrist I had been referred to took one look at me and suggested that I be admitted into the hospital. I was there for a week and it was a very difficult week indeed. Anybody who thinks that the Priory Hospitals are full of celebrities and places a great luxury should think again. But I received excellent care and I go back there now two mornings a week for cognitive behaviour therapy, which addresses the causes of depression. I'm still on medication but I am now beginning to understand why I am depressed and am now confronting some of the distorted thinking that traps most of us.

The horrible irony is that, to my surprise, this treatment is covered by my private health insurance and so I could have had it much earlier. And, of course, it's not available to those without such insurance.

Do I feel let down by the NHS? Yes. Do I feel sad that this is not available to NHS patients? Most definitely. And this is the result of the economic downturn? Most probably. I've still got a long way to go but I'm hoping, hoping, hoping that I will be able to go to the Essaouira Festival at the end of June. Fingers crossed.

Monday 27 February 2012


This year's festival will take place from Thursday 21 June to Sunday 24th of June. No idea who will be playing or whether Bab Marrakesh will be used as a venue but at least we have the dates and John and I have booked flights and hotels.

Not sure either if we'll get press badges but since it was the Festival office that gave as the dates, we are hopeful that this will be so.

Still can't believe that gnaoua music hasn't infiltrated mainstream music. Oh well, at least enough of us know how brilliant it is and are prepared to travel the ridiculously long way to Essaouira to revel in the wonder and glory of gnaoua.

Quite surprised/dismayed to find that our balcony room had already been booked but luckily the one on the next floor up was available. Perhaps someone reading our reports thought that hiring one of the balcony rooms would be a good idea. Huh! Me and my big mouth!

Monday 20 February 2012


I loved this novel. Absolutely adored it. Loved reading every page, every paragraph, every word. Rose Tremain is, in my opinion, an absolutely wonderful writer. Characters, setting, storyline and language all so superb that I am in awe.

Set in Southern France it tells the story of two families, both dysfunctional in different ways:

Veronica Verey is an English woman, living in France and earning a living as a garden designer. She is sensible, practical and devoted to her brother, Anthony, who is an antiques dealer in London. Having been, for a long time, highly successful and revered, his business is now in decline and he gets no pleasure from it or any of his young male lovers. So, when he comes to stay with Veronica, it is a last ditch attempt to find some happiness in his later years. And to this end, he decides that he will buy a property nearby. He loves beautiful buildings and beautiful artefacts, which he calls his 'beloveds.' And when he comes across an impressive old building, Mas Lunel, he falls in love with it.

At this stage in the novel, living in France appears to be idyllic: the beautiful landscape, the richness of the gardens and countryside, the drinking of red wine on the terrace as the sun sets. Who wouldn't want to live like that?

But the Mas Lunel is owned by the alcoholic, totally repugnant Aramon Lunel who is desperate in his own way to find some happiness after living an over indulgent life which has included the abuse of his sister, Audrun.

Audrun lives in a miserable little bungalow facing the house. She, too, has had an unfulfilling life and is disgusted by her brother's appearance and behaviour and his neglect of the house that was once her home. She has no intention of letting Aramon sell the house and has devised her own plan to reclaim and restore her old home.

Thus we have the seeds of conflict, compounded by the fact that Veronica's female companion, Kitty, hates Anthony, resentful that her lover is so attached to her brother.

Kitty feels liberated by Veronica from her insignificant past and has no intention of losing this new-found delight in life.

So, since this is a murder mystery novel, the question is which brother will be bumped off and by whom or will the victim be someone completely different.

Tremain also weaves into the story the hostility of some of the French towards rich foreigners who are buying up old houses and restoring them, thus making much of the property too expensive for the locals to buy. This is not done in a heavy-handed or preaching way but it did make me think about the morality of having second homes at the expense of local people.

I found all the characters, even the minor ones, well drawn and rounded. Some I liked, some I didn't but they all seemed very real and very human and very understandable. Tremain has a really good understanding of people and sometimes I felt that she was actually writing about me.

But the thing I like most about the novel was the language, so beautifully descriptive and evocative and enhancing the characters, the setting and the plot. At times it was like reading poetry. Thus, for me, a pure delight.

In the fairness of balance, John didn't enjoy the book. He was fascinated by the plot but skim-read most of it. Just goes to show that tastes in literature can vary so greatly.

Sunday 5 February 2012


Lisa Marklund is, apparently, a highly successful Scandinavian crime writer so I had high hopes for this CD set. However, I was sadly mistaken. It was so tediously slow and annoying that I only managed to listen to 4 of the 12 CDs before I gave up in disgust.

Set in Sweden, a young woman has been found murdered. So far, so good. The story is presented from the perspective of a young female trainee reporter called Annika. We know pretty quickly who the murdered woman was and that she was, surprise surprise, some sort of prostitute. We know who her boyfriend/pimp is, her best friend, where she came from, who is the lead police investigator, and that the first person to find the body allowed her pesky little dog to chew one of the hands. We also get a description of the dog's turd. Thank you very much, I really needed that. For some reason we do not know, this person does not report the body. And we also get some information about a Swedish Minister who is most probably involved. And that's about it, taking 4 boring CDs to divulge this.

Much is made of how hot it is and this is repeated over and over and over again in a variety of unnecessary ways. Marklund also takes pains to describe the street names which reminded me so much of Stig Larsson, except his portrayal of Stockholm is infinitely more evocative.

But what really, really annoyed me was that instead of using verbs such as inquired or asked, the verb wondered was repeatedly used and it was just totally inappropriate and totally irritating. This could have been a problem with translation but it just spoilt any kind of atmosphere or engagement.

So, there you are. A very disgruntled Maggie who is now at odds with Marklund's millions of devoted fans. If you have read any of Marklund's novels and enjoyed them please leave a message on this blog telling me exactly what I'm missing.

Saturday 4 February 2012


I'm really not having much success at the moment in choosing audio books from the library!

According to Sunday Times: "As thriller writers go, they don't get much better than Harlan Coben." If that's the case, then I'm not in tune with modern crime writing because I could only stomach 4 CDs out of the 10. This morning I joyfully decided to take the whole set back to the library and take out something more enjoyable.

As I recalled the plot so far to my husband over supper last night, his head noticeably sank with each new detail, and that's exactly how I felt listening to the darn thing.

If you enjoy a crime novel that is full of violence, despair, a psychopath or two, dysfunctional drug addicts, prostitutes and pimps, and broken parents, then I won't spoil it for you by giving away too much of the plot in case you want to read/listen to it. So I'll stick to the bare minimum.

Set in an affluent New Jersey suburb, Will Klein, is coping not only with the death of his mother but also the mystery surrounding the brutal rape and murder, some years ago, of an ex-girlfriend. His brother, Ken, was the prime suspect and shortly after the murder, disappeared into thin air. And now, Will's girlfriend, Carol, has also disappeared and in order to find her, he searches the prostitute area of town with his good friend, Squares, a reformed racist.

Carol is found murdered in New Mexico, having first been tortured, and as far as the police are concerned, Will is the main suspect. And that's about as far as I got. Life is way too short for me to subject myself to this kind of nastiness.

Quite frankly I felt so removed from all the characters that I really didn't care what had happened and who had done it. But if you like to have your nose rubbed into the seedier side of life, then read the book or get the audio book but if you don't like it, all I can say is: "You have been warned."

I have been choosing crime novels to listen to because I am writing my own crime novel and so wanted to get a flavour of what is popular but I have come to the conclusion that I shall continue to write what I want to read, which will be light years away from 'Gone For Good'.

And hopefully, by the time I've finished writing the novel, readers will be so sick of ultra- violent crime fiction that they'll be desperate to read something in a lighter vein and I'll have publishers knocking at my door to fill the gap!

In actuality, my own library, Winchester discovery Centre, has a very limited supply of audio CDs and most of them are by writers I've never heard of. And it would seem, according to one librarian I spoke to, audio CDs are now out of vogue because so many novels can be downloaded. Guess I'll have to do that too.

P.S. I've just taken out a Beryl Bainbridge ('Winter Garden') so at some stage I'll be reviewing that.

P.P.S. Could only manage the first CD of 'Winter Garden' – too boring for words. I am now going to buy my audio CDs from Amazon – the selection in my library is just not good enough.

Saturday 21 January 2012


I have just entered my novel Cyprus Blues into the Good Housekeeping novel competition which closes on March 31st.

I sent in the first chapter, a synopsis and a short biography as required and I'm now just hoping and praying that it will make a good impression.

I read about the competition in Mslexia, which is an excellent magazine for women writers. I've never read Good Housekeeping before and it's actually a very good read with some recipes I'd like to try out.

But back to the competition - just before I sealed the envelope to send the whole lot off, I had a little peek at the first paragraph of the enclosed chapter and thought perhaps that doesn't sound right… maybe I should change it. Such is the neurosis of the writer. But then I thought what the heck… I can't keep rewriting it so I sealed the envelope and off the package went. So fingers crossed.

Tuesday 17 January 2012


If you want a new novel to read to banish the cold, dark January days, then look no further than 'The Understudy' by David Nicholls. It's funny, light hearted-and what I would call 'a jolly good read'. If you're after an intense, thought-provoking novel that requires a dictionary and a glossary of classical Greek mythology, then this is not for you. But if you wish to be entertained and to laugh out loud, then this novel is right up your street.

The plot is simple: Stephen C McQueen is an actor whose roles so far include playing a corpse in a TV crime drama, a squirrel in a children's video and understudy to the 12th sexiest man in the world, Josh Harper, in a stage play about Byron.

So, understandably, he is not totally happy with his lot, particularly as his divorced wife has married a boorishly rich man and he has a less than successful relationship with his daughter.

His misfortunes are compounded by the fact that when Josh invites him to his celebrity – infested party, it is to act as a waiter rather than as a guest. However, at the beginning of the party, Stephen meets Josh's feisty but vulnerable wife, Nora, and the two hit it off straight away. Stephen, naturally, falls in love with Nora and the novel is based around their developing relationship.

Of course, I'm not going to tell you how the novel ends but it is, in my opinion, a most satisfactory ending.

If I wanted to be picky, I would say that both Josh and Nora are presented in rather stereotypical ways. Josh may be handsome, highly successful, and by all accounts a very good actor, but he is a total bastard and is more than happy to cheat on his wife. Nora, on the other hand, is the beautiful American waitress whom Josh has catapulted into a high-profile world where money is no object. So, quite rightly, I detested Josh and really liked Nora. They may be stereotypical but they are interesting and fully developed as characters.

More interesting though, is the fact that Nicholls gives no clues as to what Stephen looks like, whether he is a good actor or not, and whether we should be rooting for him or consider him a walking accident. Therefore, we are given no indication as to how his relationship with Nora will end.

Perhaps the novel lacks variety of pace but that's not really a major problem. It's not easy to write a novel that makes people laugh, as I've commented on in previous posts, but Nicholls does that effortlessly and I shall certainly read his famous "One Day", which has been made into a film.