Saturday, 5 September 2015

The Secret is out!

The list at the end of this post is constantly updated, offering links to other varied and interesting articles. 

Secrets in Appley Green – A 1960s village novel takes me back to my own teenage years but the writing of it also led me to reading around that decade, fiction, non-fiction books and magazines. Whilst it was hugely enjoyable to both research and write, getting the detail accurate and credible was challenging. 1960, for example, was very different from, say, 1965.  

I guess it may mean different things to various age-groups - you, your Mum, your Granny, your daughter!

Some of the icons of that revolutionary era, such as The Beatles, may not be mentioned, unless they crept in without me noticing. I did not want to ram endless clichés of the Sixties down the reader’s throat but rather to offer something fresh and yet quite everyday that evokes a time gone by. It is an emotional love story with a twist. 

Like Gypsies Stop tHere and No Gypsies Served, Secrets in Appley Green and Shades of Appley Green are connected but can equally well standalone. You do not need to read one before the other, but if you do read both you will recognise people at very different times in their lives and know more about them. One or two of the characters occur in all four books!

Without giving away spoilers for either book, there is a big question hovering over the end of Shades of Appley Green. One (lovely) Amazon reviewer said, ‘Miriam creates a perfect atmosphere in this book and keeps an electric suspense throughout. I never expected such a strong cliffhanger in the end – I am definitely left wanting more!’  Well, Heidi, this dangling hook is quite thoroughly answered by Secrets in Appley Green. Many of the same older characters appear as they were fifty years earlier – so yes, there is a link between the two novels. 

It has been a long time coming but anyone who has been following the plot will know that a few problems last year held things up somewhat. Cancer!

Three naïve, but very different, Appley Green schoolgirls pledge to stick together for ever, but when one of them gets pregnant, this pushes their promise to the edge.
A young girl in need of love is vulnerable to the charms of an older man with heart-breaking consequences.
This is Great Britain’s Sixties, an exciting era, gathering pace then in full swing as social change sweeps aside past attitudes, laws, fashion and culture. Youth is finding a voice as parents struggle to adjust.  Its characters span the full social spectrum and take us beyond Appley Green to Brighton, Margate, London, Vienna and Paris.

Miriam Wakerly’s  Appley Green village stories all standalone and can be read in any order, but they are connected. This one can serve as a prequel to all three, especially Shades of Appley Green.

Available on Kindle now and in paperback: 
All my books on
and on 

I do hope you will enjoy reading it!  Look out for more articles and reviews :

Talking about the nature of secrets on Bonnie Trachtenberg's blog:

Looking at the challenges of writing a novel with Anneli Purchase:

Reactions to a 1960s novel.  Linn B Halton's blog

An interview (brilliant questions!) with Zara Stoneley

Reinventing the plot with Sheryl Browne

An interview with Shaz Goodwin where I revealed a few things!

Kicking off a holiday reading list with funny books, courtesy of 

Guest on Brook Cottage Books thanks to Debbie Johnston, aka @jontybabe, where I turn myself about face!

Review by Luke Marlowe  born in the eighties but transported to the sixties! 

Review by Adele @Kraftireader 'zipping through the chapters to find out what happened next.'

Interview with Bookgatherer  Thank you @Emalie2702

LLm Bookshop window - see a tempting extract! (Remember it's in paperback as well as KIndle)

Surrey Life Review January's Book Corner, full-page review by broadcaster and writer Juliette Foster  See page 72 !

Books and Authors  Guest author on Why I Wrote a Novel Set in the 1960s

Friday, 22 May 2015

'So You Want to Write a Novel?'

The second workshop mentioned below in red was also a rewarding and enjoyable experience. I shall be doing another workshop on the same theme at the WestEndCentre, Aldershot, a really cool arts venue, in the evening on 16 November. Take a look:

My first writing workshop ‘So You Want to Write a Novel?’ was at Camberley Theatre last night and went well. 
To be back to ‘normal’ is wonderful, and fulfilling something I was invited to do last year is a special landmark for me. An enthusiastic bunch of people came along and we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. I can say that because everyone agreed as much at the end and wanted more! The range of writing experience spanned the full spectrum, from people who had written books already – one self-published children’s author; and another with 15 non-fiction books to her name; to those who had never written anything creative before but fancied the idea of having a go.
A year ago I had just produced my second grandchild! I was also in the middle of a course of aggressive chemo, following a major operation, all this prior to the second big operation in July. The ghostly memory seems like a lifetime ago and, forgive the play with words, but it never seemed to me as a time when life was uncertain.
The photos here capture a moment when my lovely 'class' were in deep concentration, heads down, writing – lost in thought. There were lighter moments, rest assured and much laughter.
Some comments at the end:
‘Hugely useful – time passed very quickly, an engaging lecturer.’ (I'm flattered!)

‘A very interesting and helpful course.’

‘A very interesting workshop that made me think about what is really involved in writing.’
 ‘Really enjoyed workshop, size of group was just right. Was managed for all levels. Would like to attend any further courses and understand later about publishing.’
‘Loved this – would like even more interactive activities please.’
Many thanks to everyone and to Camberley Theatre for providing the room and publicity.
Another workshop is planned for the morning of 16 June. Looking forward to this already.
My books are on display in Camberley's Waterstones, by the way, so a friend tells me, and of course available on Amazon.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Creative Writing Workshop in Camberley, Surrey

This is a brief note about the workshop, 'So You Want to Write a Novel?' I am delighted to be leading in Camberley Theatre. You may have already seen it advertised here or, if you live in Surrey or nearby, in the theatre brochure.
The three hour workshop will be on the evening of 20 May from 6 - 9pm and again in the morning of 16 June from 10am - 1 pm.
For anyone who has never tried but really wants to write a novel, then this workshop will give you plenty of inspiration and knowhow to get you on your way. If you are a writer who has already written stories or a novel, then you are bound to have ideas to both gain and share. There is always something new to learn!
I was invited to do this last year but cancer stopped me in my tracks! Now all is well, and I am looking forward to this very much. If you have any questions, please feel free to add one in the comments.
Meanwhile, have a browse through Miriam's Ramblings, which started in 2009, if you want to know a bit more about me and my books. Most items are about books, writers, writing, village life or Gypsies! However you may stumble across a few other random topics.
My novels are all set in the fictitious Surrey-Hampshire Village of Appley Green. Just click on the covers to the right of the screen to see the reviews and more details.
Maybe see you there? Or someone you know. Please spread the word if you live in or near Camberley. Thank you.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Lovely Blog Hop

I’ve been challenged by Sheryl Browne to join in the Lovely Blog Hop to share some of the things that have helped shape my writing and my life.  

First Memory
It is difficult to be sure about earliest memories. Sometimes I remember being told about something that happened, not the actual event, and when I look at a photo maybe it is that picture in my mind. I do remember for real going on the daily walk to the shops  in Tetbury with my Mum, listening into chats she had on the way and being promised a sticky bun from Mr Phillips the bakers.  A very clear memory, again retail-therapy if you like, is going to the drapers to buy special tiny balls of bright wool specially for little girls (never boys) to learn to knit and do French knitting with that funny wooden post thing.
Ah books! I am afraid I was always the child curled up with a book rather than climbing trees and winning races! That was my sister. Life takes you through different phases doesn’t it? As a child, Enid Blyton, Arthur Ransom, Lewis Caroll … obviously a long list. I also particularly remember  Black Beauty, The Secret Garden (oft quoted in No Gypsies Served), and a strange book called The Wind over the Moon by Eric Linklater, which I lost and have recently bought. It is about two girls who become kangaroos!
As a teenager I grew into loving Thomas Hardy, then dabbled with Anya Seton’s historical novels. Adored Little Women, Good Wives and the biography of Louisa M Alcott inspired me with the whole idea of writing books. Since I’ve always been an avid reader as an adult (and I’m getting on a bit) it is impossible to mention just a few but you can see a recent selection of books I’ve read and briefly reviewed on Goodreads. Through the years, I’ve been through phases as diverse as Jilly Cooper and Edward Rutherfurd!

As a child I loved my little local library. I still support libraries; it is sad to see some close but heartening to see others reinvent themselves. I am a volunteer with the RVS and local library scheme called Library Direct Home Service, used to be ‘Books on Wheels’. I choose books for housebound, usually elderly, people, deliver them and chat. I have been amazed at some ladies well into their nineties who still love to read books.  Some like Mills & Boon, others parliamentary history, so it’s important to get the choice right! I had to let it go last year for health reasons, but hope to get back into this at some point.

What’s Your Passion?
Well, sorry to be boring but if I am honest, it has to be books! I love music, theatre, TV, holidays, walking, eating out – all the usual stuff, but if we are talking about what would be the most difficult thing to be without, then it has to be books.
Nowadays it is great that people can go on learning right through life; there’s no excuse! After having three children, and doing things like supply teaching that fitted in with them, I went back to work in an office and at around 40 years of age had to learn fast! The first thing was how to use a fax machine!! Hard to believe?  Already writing stories on a word processor at home, this helped me with office life, and as I was working for an IT company in the early nineties, I had the advantage of learning all things IT in-house. Later I set up my own business doing PR and marketing projects for small IT companies. I certainly carried on learning with each new client.
The first time I was ‘in print’ was aged 13 in the school magazine!  I always tried to have a job that in some way entailed writing – whether press releases, feature articles, brochures or freelance stories. When supply teaching and bringing up children I was also writing short stories and began to get them published regularly. I plan to put them into two Kindle volumes in the next few months. Novels came later and I played about with Mills & Boons for a while, but they did not accept my offerings! Maybe I tried too hard to fit into a mould.
I wanted to write something with a strong theme and later hit upon the Gypsy culture, history and social problems and knew I had found it! Gypsies Stop tHere and No Gypsies Served were launched in Waterstones and went on to have good sales on Amazon, now more of a trickle! My village series should have its fourth member later this year – and it’s set in the 1960s. I had to find out what some of my older characters were up to in their youth!


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

What has changed for Gypsies and Travellers since 2010?

I am choosing the year 2010 because that is when my second book No Gypsies Served was published. I cannot here include all aspects of life, such as education, health and wellbeing, although they are interconnected, but will focus on two: 
  • finding a place to live
  • and public perception
My first impression is that nothing has radically changed since I began exploring the subject around 2006, but let us look a little deeper. For helping me keep up to date, I am indebted to the Travellers Times edited by Damien le Bas.
On the positive side, many Gypsies and Travellers have written their own memoirs and stories, which is fantastic; you only need to do a quick Amazon search to see them. This signifies a gain in confidence and a pride in identity for some. Also, well-organised campaigns are under way whereby Gypsies and Travellers can both attract support and fight their own corner; and recently some amazing site provision has occurred!
Finding a Place to Live
If Gypsies and Travellers have a place to call home, then life gets better all round. Children can go to school, they can register with a local GP, spend more time earning rather than for days to be eaten up in finding a place to live. Travellers may travel, but not all of the time.  However, the coalition government did not delay in making site provision even more difficult.  Quote from Lord Avebury: 
‘Ministers say that Travellers must obey planning laws like everyone else; but they demolished the system created by the previous Government under which an obligation was imposed on local authorities to provide planning permission for Travellers' sites that would accommodate the number of Travellers in each area, as determined by an independent assessment of needs, buttressed by public inquiries.’ 
Taken from Lords’ Hansard, 24 January 2012. See more.

Indeed the Secretary of State mentioned, Eric Pickles, was recently found guilty of unlawful discrimination. What example does this set for the rest of society?
It is understandable that there is still a tendency for Gypsies and Travellers to hide their ethnicity. I attended a Surrey Gypsy Traveller Community Forum (SGTCF) last week and a policeman from Thames Valley, who happens to be a Romany Gypsy, said that many members of the police force are of his heritage but keep it hidden. Each individual tends to think they are the only one. He also represents the Gypsy Roma Traveller Police Association, set up to lend support to such policeman and bring them together. The same concealment goes on in many other professions, such as teaching, in government bodies and the ambulance service. Encouragement is being given to be open, be proud, to break down stereotypes and ‘put their head above the parapet’; this phrase often used in the meeting. However, I digress – it is easily done.
Planning applications, even though completely lawful, continue to be refused. To make matters worse proposals were put forward to change the legal aid system, which prompted the Nomadlaws campaign. Take a look at some of the case studies showing the hardship that comes from a lack of vacant pitches and eviction. This demonstrates how the Legal Aid and Judicial Review reforms are depriving Gypsies and Travellers of access to justice. There are times when there is a desperate need to challenge unlawful decisions. 
When Lord Avebury spoke up against detrimental changes in the law in January 2012 in the House of Lords Debate on the Effect of Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders’ Bill on Gypsies and Travellers, he had the full support of the House. ‘There was not a single contrary voice in the whole debate,’ he said.

Remember the opening line of Gypsies Stop there (2008)? 'People threatened with eviction, due to no fault of their own, being unjustly hounded out. It's mediaeval the way they're treated, don't you think?' The young activist, Natalie, is testing out the affluent village newcomer, Kay.

Well, perhaps there is some recognition at last of the need for transit sites. Damien le Bas wrote in February’s Traveller Times:   'A special meeting at the House of Lords has heard how fresh approaches to temporary stopping by Travellers can reduce tensions and save considerable amounts of money, compared with the traditional cycle of evictions from place to place.' 

Meanwhile many councils around the UK impose what amounts to a blanket ban on all sites, regardless. The town here is Harlow in Essex, not far from Dale Farm site from which hundreds of Travellers were evicted. Hardly a surprise. Inadequate alternative provision was made for them, I seem to recall. On the other hand there was one shining example where a  local authority near Bath  perhaps tried too hard. Is this what Gypsies and Travellers want? My guess is such expenditure is likely to be criticized in the wider community, and this plan did not allow the families to build their own homes more cheaply and according to their cultural needs. However, it does look good!

A Solihull Housing Association seems to have got it right.

If you have any comments or first-hand stories relating to site provision in the past five years, I would love to hear from you. This can be an information gathering process.

Public Perception
Racism goes on, indeed is allowed to go on. Why?
Felicity Hannah writes: ‘Ten years ago, the former chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, referred to anti-Traveller sentiment as the "last acceptable form of racism". Yet some politicians are still describing Gypsies and Travellers with language that would be political suicide if it was used against any other group.’ See Jake Bower’s comments here too. Son of a Romani man, and well-known journalist, he is now candidate for the Green Party. If more of the Traveller electorate voted for supportive candidates, then this would be a significant way forward for them to be heard and defend themselves.
Marc Willers QC, Human Rights Barrister, writes about Tackling hate speech aimed at Gypsies, Roma and Travellers’ He says ‘Politicians throughout Europe continue to use hate speech against Roma which in turn creates a climate in which racist violence is thought acceptable by offenders and, tragically, in recent years Roma have been the victims of violent racist attacks and murder.’
The Film Judgment in Hungary received 12 international awards, was screened in 25 countries, and appeared at 27 festivals.’ Judgement in Hungary: An Attack on Roma and a Search for Justice  by Eszter Hajdu: ‘In 2008 and 2009, Hungarian right-wing extremists committed a series of attacks on members of the Roma community. Six people were killed, including a five-year-old, and another five were injured. The trial of the four suspects lasted two and a half years; the verdict was passed in August 2013. Director Eszter Hajdú filmed the trial, which eventually became the documentary.’ 

Closer to home here in the UK, Damien le Bas writes in The Travellers Times about how some girls were refused entry to a bowling alley because of their 'nomadic' heritage. 
On a positive note, issues are being discussed more than before. I do not know the outcome of this meeting but they are held in Westminster quite regularly. Another meeting in London, held on 5 March, where the speakers, I am told, were excellent, addressed  ‘... the Social Exclusion of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities to Reduce Inequalities’. Ironically, there was a disappointing lack of attendees from the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller community, although they are extremely welcome and help is provided to encourage them to be there. Is this due to a lack of awareness or that old reluctance to be open about their identity in mainstream society?  Hopefully more will go along and take part in the future.

The ruling set out in Eric Pickles proposals (Daily Telegraph, 23 January 2015) where Travellers must prove they are ‘nomadic’ to get planning concessions may seem logical on the face of it, but this is not something that can happen overnight simply to comply with a law. In practice this would divide families and communities, causing great hardship. Family is the backbone of the Travelling community.

Land for Development is Scarce
I am going to digress now a little into the availability and value of land. It is fair to say that in Britain almost all land is owned by someone, earmarked for a specific purpose be it agriculture, forestry, industry, residential, business, National Trust, the Crown, local authorities, golf courses and so on. National parks, green belt and areas of outstanding natural beauty are protected from development and so-called ‘common land’, open for grazing for example, is a rarity. For the population in general, land is in extremely high demand and low supply.

We all know this. Any young person (say under the age of 40) trying to buy or even rent a home these days is hard pushed, even those in the well-qualified, higher-paid, professional bracket. I just mention this, to point out that Gypsies and Travellers are not the only ones with a problem, not the only adults having to share and double-up in cramped accommodation.I do not know if this will make anyone feel better or worse about the lack of provision, but I feel it is a point worth making.
It seems that in most areas, little has improved although, as we have seen, there are positive stories in places such as Solihull and Bath. The basic problem is that whilst the planning authorities had or have the remit to provide sites, the public always protest so they usually give up. Councillors and MPs inevitably listen to the wishes of the electorate or they will not win votes. If they are not in power, they are by definition pretty ‘powerless’. 

There is another way of looking at this, too as  Matthew Brindley of the Traveller Movement explains:

"We know that some politicians campaign on Gypsy and Traveller issues to garner votes. There are so many stereotypes about Gypsies and Travellers, and unfortunately a lot of similar coverage in the media; whether it's to do with crime, or public disorder, or rubbish dumping. Too often politicians play on these stereotypes and fears, and this is completely unacceptable in this day and age." 
The public protest against council-run or privately-owned sites in their locality because, rightly or wrongly, their perception is of a community that tends to make a mess. I say this only because it is what I hear from everyone I speak to. I am talking about public perception. Sometimes people refer to personal experience, or more often an impression gained from the media which is invariably from pictures of unauthorised encampments with no facilities. My experience of Gypsy sites is very different as I have seen tidy, orderly sites, each home a model of hygiene and cleanliness, part of their culture. I feel patronising even using such terms.
So the arguments, causes and effects, continue to swirl round in this perpetual cycle or circle. If those stopping in the unauthorised sites could make sure they clear up when they are suddenly moved on, difficult though this may be in reality, it would be a good starting point to halt this cycle. It must annoy other Gypsies and Travellers even more than it does non-Gypsies, for it tarnishes their reputation.

Note to the guilty parties (pass on if you can) : If in an unauthorised stopping place, you know it is temporary so can you put rubbish in bags as a daily routine, take those full bags to the nearest amenity tip? You have transport. Tell me, is there some reason why this is not possible? If the nature of your work – scrap metal, for example – means you have bits of fridges or whatever left over, then take the valuable stuff to your merchant, and dispose properly of the leftovers. Is this so difficult? I am sorry if I sound harsh and preachy, but ultimately such good practice could transform future relations with the general public, and therefore the chances of being accepted as close neighbours.

And, please, local councils, can more provision for rubbish disposal be made for people in this desperate situation? John Hockley QPM, Surrey County Council Traveller Site Manager, told me, ‘Increasingly, local authorities are being more proactive. For example, I visited a small unauthorised encampment in Hersham (Elmbridge) after the forum meeting last week. The Irish family present were clean and tidy and needed to be close to two hospitals where family members are undergoing serious long term treatments. Elmbridge council provided wheelie bins in the street they are parked in and as a result there is no mess whatsoever. The family actually want to be housed as they are fed up with being 'hounded on the road', but cannot get housing due mainly to rules that often disproportionately affect GRT applications.’
It is true that litter and fly-tipping is a problem everywhere. Look at motorway verges, shopping centres, back alleys, parks and other public places, Glastonbury, etc etc? Thoughtless people who drop litter in our local woods make me very angry indeed. So wouldn’t it be good if things could be turned around so people will say, ‘Do you know there were some Gypsies here for a while but you’d never know it; not a sign of anything. What care they take!’ Indeed that is exactly how it used to be when great pride in leaving nothing behind was part and parcel of the traditional way of life.
I want to end on a positive note.
A new way forward?
An interesting new approach is being tried in Surrey. I spoke to James Nicholls, a non-Gypsy who has socialised with Gypsies and Travellers all his life. He gave a talk on Checkatrade at the SGTCF meeting I attended. He has been a member of the Effingham Parish Council for 23 years and took on the planning role for the Effingham Residents and Ratepayers Association. He says, to the best of his knowledge, of roughly 2,000 general planning applications a year, about 60-70% were approved. Anyone from the Gypsy and Traveller community, however, was turned down and, over a period of 17 years, this amounted to a huge number of failed applications – apart from one! Gypsies and Travellers do not ask for more than other people; their requirements are different and modest, usually hard standing for a few trailers and permission to build an amenity shed.
James abhors this kind of resistance towards the Gypsy and Traveller community and is now trying to move things forward with a step-by-step plan that should keep everyone happy and, he hopes, provide decent accommodation and an answer to the planning problem. Keeping new pitches within the same area as existing legal sites, thus keeping families together, he recommends a softly-softly approach, adding no more than four or six pitches, taking one village at a time.
I guess each new set-up can prove itself and thus help gain approval from the local population. I wish James and all those involved the best of luck and hope that these families in need will be successful in their applications.


The Surrey GypsyTraveller Communities Forum (currently being 'rebuilt')
From the Information Pack – much about Gypsy and Traveller culture, history, lifestyle, values, education and problems. Also there are links to more organisations and websites you could visit.

Sweet, angry, poignant and humorous – dip into this Gypsy wife’s diary for something a bit different.  On Twitter  @rosatherose 

Last November, I looked back at my own posts on Gypsy and Traveller issues

Monday, 12 January 2015

Real English Village Movers and Shakers

I am one of the contributors to a Lifestyle Magazine called LoveaHappyEnding and, if you follow me on Twitter, you will doubtless have come across it!

This year, off to a bright new start, I shall be offering some insights into the English Village, talking to key people who, in this day and age, really do put the life into ‘village life’.  A community-based lifestyle is something to which many people aspire, that friendly, interconnected feel-good factor, but how often is it found?
Historically, villagers had to maintain a communal outlook for successful management of the land – the main source of their livelihood. It was life itself. In common field agriculture, for example, villages had to agree on which field would be left fallow and folk needed to respect each other’s boundaries, with animals kept within agreed limits.
A mediaeval village was not just a collection of houses; it was a living, breathing community, regulated by the court of the manor, where the ‘lord’ would assert his rights. Times of serfdom, bondsmen or freemen are long gone, thankfully!

Skipping a few centuries, what then holds a village together today? Even in the last 50 or 100 years villages have radically changed with locals being outpriced by ‘second-homers’ and outsiders with money wanting a place in the country. Where you live is often not where you work, unless you  earn a living online or as a self-employed artisan of some kind. Then there is the decline of church congregations, once a cohesive force; mechanisation of agriculture; closure of village-schools and the younger generation moving out to towns and cities for excitement and employment, leaving behind an ageing population, whether locals or retired newcomers.
The cliché now is that, even in a village, neighbours may not know or even recognise each other. On the positive side, I will be looking at village people who prove to be the modern lynchpins of ‘village life’, an idyll that many of us cling to or yearn for. Perhaps you are one of those movers and shakers!
Look out for the first of these on the 25 January in the LoveaHappyEnding Lifestyle Magazine
Who will be the first village person to swing into action?