Which forty years am I referring to in my title?

The Children of Israel spent forty years wandering in the desert before they came to the Promised Land. (Some say that’s because they got lost, which in turn is because men are always too proud to ask for directions.) Some of the Israelites gave up hope of ever arriving and wished they’d stayed in Egypt rather than following Moses out and across the Red Sea as the waves parted. Yet they reached their destination in the end and lived happily ever after… well, almost. We’ve just celebrated their escape from Egypt as we do each year on Seder night – the first night of Passover.

But that’s not the forty years I meant.

Alan Bennett’s first West End play was called Forty years On.

No, not that either.

WeddingRingThis is it: Forty years ago, David Drori placed this ring on my finger and we’ve been together ever since… he and I, that is. The ring and I, too, but that’s less important.

When exactly did that happen? This is where things get complicated. The date we remember is 11th April. In fact it’s more than what we remember; it’s the actual date. But is that the date we should be celebrating?

David and Miriam, 1978

I didn’t really colour my hair for the wedding. The scanning process changed its colour.

One year, when we were both working in the same office and mentioned it was our anniversary, someone remarked, “This is why you should celebrate the Hebrew date and not the Gregorian date.”

We probably looked confused and she added, “You didn’t get married after Pesach (Passover) did you?”

The asimon dropped. (That’s the literal translation of the Hebrew expression. An asimon was a telephone token, used in public phones instead of coins, probably because of rampant inflation at that time.) No, of course we didn’t. Jews don’t get married from the beginning of Passover for at least thirty-three days (depending on their branch of Judaism) because of the Omer, which is like Lent, I think. But as Jewish festivals take place according to the Hebrew calendar, they vary according to the Gregorian calendar. In 1978, 11th April fell more than a week before Passover. Most years, Passover begins before it.

How does the Hebrew calendar work? A year usually has twelve months, the names of which I learned to recite at the age of five and still remember. Every so often, according to a calculation I don’t remember, there’s a leap year during which a whole month is added.

David has no trouble remembering the Hebrew date of his birthday. He was born on the eve of Passover and was pleased to discover that this year his Gregorian and Hebrew birthdays coincided.

The modern State of Israel mostly works according to the Gregorian calendar. Things would get confusing if we didn’t. And that’s why we don’t remember the date of our wedding according to the Hebrew calendar, although this year it was probably at around the time we celebrated it with a meal in Petersham Nurseries, Richmond Park, UK, before we left for another trudge through the snow.

Petersham Nurseries - Richmond Park

One thing I can be sure of: There will be no snow when we celebrate again, in Jerusalem, on 11th April.

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Yes, I was away again – another trip to the UK. This one was shorter than the last – only two weeks, but very worthwhile. I visited friends and family. I had a lovely week with my husband in Stratford-upon-Avon, Eastbourne and Richmond.

Anne Hathaway's Cottage

Anne Hathaway’s cottage, Stratford-upon-Avon (photo by David Drori)

But the main reason for the trip was to give a talk and a workshop on social anxiety. I’m pleased and proud with the way they went and hope to do more of that in the future. I wrote more about the talk and the workshop on the other blog.

I might be a bit quiet for a bit, as I have many things to attend to. But don’t forget the next in the series Letters from Elsewhere, which will be on 20th April.

And… Happy Birthday to this blog, which is nine years old tomorrow (23rd March).

Letters from Elsewhere

What an honour! I’ve been joined today by an venerable old woman. I’m not sure how old Irena is, but I’m told she’s the oldest resident in the Tuscan mountain village of Santa Zita. She’s brought a letter to her son, Carlo, who’s been pressing her to help him piece together a mystery that’s puzzled him all his life and which he’s come back to the village to solve after living abroad for many years.

Irena’s chaperone is Katharine Johnson, whose first two novels, Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings and The Silence were very much enjoyed by yours truly. Here’s the letter:

Dear Carlo,

That wedding photograph I said I didn’t remember – I may as well tell you the truth, I suppose. The bride was Martina. And yes, I was the bridesmaid. And the one of the two girls sitting on the wall of the fountain eating ice cream? Martina and me. We must have been how old – twelve? Thirteen? We were best friends back then. I couldn’t imagine my life without her.

I know that will surprise you – she and I were never close when you were growing up. We never spoke to each other again after the war. At least not properly.

I don’t know why I’m telling you all this. You can laugh but you don’t know what it was like to be with Martina in those days. It’s funny, I remember her saying to me once, “In fifty years time we’ll be sitting here by the fountain and nothing will have changed.” How could either of us have guessed that our lives would change so much?

Sometimes I allow myself a little fantasy – an alternative history in which Martina didn’t do what she did. That she and I could really be sitting there now by the fountain discussing our children and grandchildren. But how could we have had any idea back then how precious and precarious our friendship really was?

You can see how beautiful Martina was. Oh, I know what you’re thinking – how she was a dried-up old prune when you knew her. And that scar was hideous. But life does that to you – war does that to you. In those days I felt very plain in comparison. 

Looking at the picture again, I always had that rather square face and thick eyebrows and I was a heavy build as you can see but I didn’t look so bad, did I? And yet next to Martina I always felt plain and plump and I suppose because of that it made me want to be good at something, so I studied harder than anyone. She and Gianni used to call me the Encyclopaedia. They tested me out in facts and dates – they hardly ever managed to catch me out. They both used to copy my school work, which made me feel proud.

We all thought Martina would be famous one day. She dreamed of moving on, being someone. This place was too small for her. She should have been a Hollywood star. She had that innate sense of glamour – and the temperament to match. If the War hadn’t happened, if she’d had different opportunities, she might have been a star.

So many things would have been different.

I don’t know to this day why she married Gianni. I suppose it was because she could. She said she loved him, but I think what attracted her most was that all the other girls loved him.

Gianni and I were wary of each other for a long time. We both knew we were competing for Martina’s attention. But we came to realise that if we both wanted to be with her we’d have to learn to rub along with each other. I grew fond of him.

God knows, he didn’t to deserve to die the way he did.

That’s enough for now. I wish you’d never asked. Why can’t you leave the past where it belongs?

Mother

About The Secret

A beautiful village hides a dark story – two girls growing up in wartime Italy share a secret that has devastating consequences reaching right up to the present day. But as one person tries to uncover the truth, another is determined to keep it hidden.

The Secret will be published by Crooked Cat Books on 1st June.

The Secret

 

The Silence, which tells of another secret harboured by the same village, was published last summer and is available from Amazon UK or Amazon US.

TheSilence

About Katharine Johnson

Katharine Johnson is a journalist with a passion for mysteries, old houses and all things Italian (except tiramisu). She grew up in Bristol and has lived in Italy. She currently lives in Berkshire with her husband, three children and madcap spaniel. She plays netball badly and is a room guide in a stately home.

You can find Katharine at: Website/blog  Amazon author page  Facebook Twitter

Katharine Johnson

***

Letters from Elsewhere is taking a break and will be back towards the end of April.

Letters from Elsewhere

A rather scary-looking person has just joined me here. She’s called Belinda MacKenzie and she’s brought her letter to heroine Beth Haldane – heroine, that is, of Alice Castle’s series of crime novels. Let’s see what Belinda wants to say to Beth.

Dear Beth,

I can’t believe I’m having to write to you. I’d like to say that you’re beneath my notice. The truth is that you always have been, up until recently, and not just because you’re such a titch. Honestly, I’m the last person in the world to make personal comments, but don’t you think a simple pair of heels would help? But no, it’s flats. Every. Single. Day. And the way you dress, in those drab colours, anyone would think that you want to be ignored. Well, I’ve always tried to oblige you on that front. But, when there was all that business over at Wyatt’s, somehow there you were, in the thick of it. It’s the best school in Dulwich, so what they were doing employing someone like you, I can’t imagine. But I suppose the archive office is the sort of dusty place you thought you could hide away in.

Somehow, and don’t ask me how you managed it, you got yourself into the middle of quite a nasty business, and almost ruined the reputation of Wyatt’s into the bargain. Luckily, the headmaster, Dr Grover, managed to sort all that out. I’d hate there to be a stain on the place’s reputation, as my two boys, Billy and Bobby, are bound to be going there – did I mention it’s the best school in Dulwich?

And then, I couldn’t believe it but there you were, somehow, in the thick of the next awful scandal to hit Dulwich. Well, the Picture Gallery is just the sort of place that someone like you would poke around in. But those poor teenage girls. Well, they’d gone off the rails. Not like my own daughter, Allegra. What? No, I don’t know what she’s up to every minute of the day, she’s in such demand, like her mother, some people might say. When you’re popular, you have to spread yourself thinly. Not that you’d know that. But, even though she’s out a lot, I know I can absolutely trust her, one hundred per cent. And if her clothes sometimes smell of cigarettes, well, some of her friends will experiment. Same goes for alcohol. She tells me that some girls are knocking back the booze, but my Leggy? Oh no. I don’t have any worries at all on that score.

I’m wondering how we’ll get on, Beth, now that our sons are sharing a tutor as the Wyatt’s entrance exam approaches. Well, my boys don’t really need it, but I decided to be kind to you when someone else dropped out. As you’d know, if you’d ever put any effort into your boy’s schooling, it’s not easy to get an appointment with the best exam coaches. And, let’s face it, your kid needs all the help he can get. But he’s no competition to my two, so that’s fine.

And I’m beginning to find myself intrigued by you, I must admit. That way you have of seeming to shun the limelight, yet falling into adventure after adventure… it’s rather clever. Maybe I could pick up a tip or two from you. In any case, I’ll be watching you closely in future. Oh yes, Beth Haldane. I’ve got my eye on you.

With warmest wishes,
Belinda

Ahem. I’m glad I’ve never had to deal with anyone like Belinda.

Apparently, Belinda MacKenzie is the terrifying Queen Bee of the Village Primary School playground and nemesis of single mum amateur sleuth Beth Haldane. Beth, star of cosy crime whodunits Death in Dulwich and The Girl in the Gallery, stumbles on a murder on her first day at work and has to clear her name.

About Death in Dulwich

Alice Castle - Death in DulwichAlready described by reviewers as ‘murderously good fun’ (author TP Fielden), a ‘keenly observed page turner … highly recommended’ (Amazon) and ‘well-written, engaging and fun,’ (author Jo Blakeley), Death in Dulwich is the story of thirty-something widow Beth Haldane.

Beth has her hands full – she has a bouncy nine-year-old son, a haughty cat, a fringe with a mind of its own and a ton of bills to pay. She loves her little home in plush south London suburb Dulwich, but life here doesn’t come cheap.

That’s why she is thrilled to land a job as archivist at top local school Wyatt’s – though she has an inkling the post is not what it seems and she doesn’t think much of her new boss, Dr Jenkins, either. Then, on her first day at work, Dr Jenkins is brutally murdered. Beth finds the body, and realises she is the prime suspect, with means, opportunity and a motive.

Beth has no choice but to try and clear her name, bringing herself into conflict with the police and the school. But who is the real culprit? And is the cause of the killing a horrifying secret buried deep in the school’s past, or does evil lurk behind the comfortable façade of daily Dulwich life?

Beth grows in confidence during her dogged pursuit of the murderer and, by the end of the book, is ready for any adventures that may come her way. Which is just as well, because there’s trouble brewing at the Dulwich Picture Gallery ….

Buy Death in Dulwich here.

About The Girl in the Gallery

Alice CastleTheGirl In The GalleryJust when you thought it was safe to go back to Dulwich…

It’s a perfect summer’s morning in the plush south London suburb, and thirty-something Beth Haldane has sneaked off to visit one of her favourite places, the world-famous Picture Gallery.

She’s enjoying a few moments’ respite from juggling her job at prestigious private school Wyatt’s and her role as single mum to little boy Ben, when she stumbles across a shocking new exhibit on display. Before she knows it, she’s in the thick of a fresh, and deeply chilling, investigation.

Who is The Girl in the Gallery? Join Beth in adventure #2 of the London Murder Mystery series as she tries to discover the truth about a secret eating away at the very heart of Dulwich.

Buy The Girl in the Gallery here.

About Alice Castle

AliceCastle2Before turning to crime, Alice Castle was a UK newspaper journalist for The Daily Express, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. Her first book, Hot Chocolate, set in Brussels and London, was a European best-seller which sold out in two weeks.

Alice is currently working on the sequel to Death in Dulwich and The Girl in the Gallery, the third book in the London Murder Mystery series. It will be published by Crooked Cat next year and is entitled The Calamity in Camberwell. Once again, it features Beth Haldane and DI Harry York.

Alice is also a top mummy blogger, writing DD’s Diary at www.dulwichdivorcee.com.

She lives in south London and is married with two children, two step-children and two cats.

Links to Alice:

Author website            Facebook page            Twitter

Letters from Elsewhere

I’m delighted to welcome Casey to the blog today. Casey has flown from the pages of Another Woman’s Man by Carrie-Ann Schless with a letter to Max. I feel very sorry for Casey at the moment, but I wonder whether I’ll continue to feel sorry for her as time goes on. Here’s the letter…

Max,

I don’t know where to start. When you left this morning and we said goodbye, although I couldn’t quite hold in my tears. I didn’t really take the reality of what was happening. I have seen you leave that door in the same way each morning for the past four years, a travel mug of coffee in one hand, car keys in the other and always without fail a trusty kiss on my forehead. But I’ve realised sitting here in our kitchen that I may never be in this house with you again. Who knows what the future brings.

I always believed we would make it through anything. We could battle the world as long as we had each other. You were the other piece to my whole and we fit so perfectly. But we don’t, not anymore. I know this and I am not writing this letter to make you feel guilty or to push blame. I’m writing it because I’m scared we’ll never see each other again and I didn’t say anything profound as you left. A lasting memory. Tomorrow I’ll be back in my one-bedroom flat on the harbour in Eastbourne and you’ll end up meeting someone new and starting your own life in our Brighton home. Your Brighton home.

I want that Max. Really I do. I want us both to find our happy. The happiness we had before the miscarriages and the infertility testing and way before we started trying to fix each other over and over again. That pure love that doesn’t ask questions and doesn’t need explanations. We used to finish each other’s sentences and now we don’t even talk. I wish I could turn back time and go to the night we first met. When you were just an idea in the back of my mind and we hadn’t even begun to experience the best we would have.

I love you. I know that’s not enough. I know you love me too. I’m sorry Max. I’m so sorry I pushed you away when all you wanted to do was help, Just like you pushed me away when you thought you had cancer. And I thank you for waiting and supporting me at Nan’s funeral last week and pretending we were OK. I couldn’t cope with facing everybody with the truth. It was bad enough having Mum and Dad in the same room! You always did know how to calm me in social situations.

Before I go I want to thank you for the memories. Thank you for being my friend as well as my partner and taking on my friends and treating them as family too. One day, Max, you are going to make a great Dad. I really want that for you. I’m just sorry it won’t be with me.

How am I going to live my life without you?

Until we meet again.

Casey x

Poor Casey! I do hope things get better for you.

Carrie-Ann Schless - Another Woman's ManAbout Another Woman’s Man

What if you’re in love with another woman’s man?

Casey Turner finds herself sad and single again after a seven-year relationship. Having suffered multiple miscarriages, she is adjusting to the realisation she will never be a mum, just as all her friends are all getting married and having children.

Feeling alone, she finds herself drawn to a man she can’t have: her ex’s best friend. Although he has a girlfriend, she can’t stay away. But does he really care for her, too, or is he just having his cake and eating it?

Torn between her feelings and her morals, is Casey destined to follow the wrong path, or will she see sense before time runs out?

Another Woman’s Man is available from Amazon.

About Carrie-Ann Schless

Carrie-Ann SchlessCarrie-Ann lives in South East England with her three children, her cats and her dog with her mum just a short drive away. She is never bored. She fills her time with reading, writing, tv series binge watching, amateur dramatics, dog walks, dinner with friends, the park, taking her children to clubs and the odd glass or three of something alcoholic. Carrie-Ann is a self confessed Social Media addict who can normally be found somewhere floating around the World Wide Web. However, learning to use it for marketing has been a trying experience. She would love you to get in touch by connecting to her on Facebook or on Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and other sites. All can be found at www.carrieannschless.com.

Letters from Elsewhere

Today’s guest is Lily, who comes from the pages of Watercolours in the Rain by Jo Lambert. Lily is keen to show us her letter to Max, so here it is.

Dear Max,

This is the hardest letter I have ever had to write. You’re the first person I’ve ever cared about although after what I’ve done I doubt you’ll see it that way.

When my husband left me, my survival instinct kicked in.  With a four year old child to support I smartened up, got myself some training and suddenly there I was, working as a temp at Warner Webb one of the city’s most prestigious estate agents.  And you, Max Warner, decided to give me a chance by offering me a permanent job.  Of course early on I knew the opportunity you’d given me wasn’t totally out of the goodness of your heart.  I felt a connection as soon as we met; something which might have developed given the chance. But everything changed on that fateful evening you invited me to join you and Nick for dinner to meet the new owner of Lynbrook Manor. I never thought I see Talun Hanson again.  The scruffy good looking gypsy was now heir to a Norfolk farming dynasty.  He’d even changed his name to Hawkeswood.  That evening sitting around the table with all of you, I kept glancing at him, envious of all that wealth.  He seemed pleased to see me and asked me out to dinner.  I quickly got the measure of him. Kind, soft, gullible even. And so I hit on a plan. Something, given the one night we had together five years ago, was plausible. I told him he was Josh’s father and through an old boyfriend even managed to fix the DNA test. And he bought it! I couldn’t believe my luck. We moved to Norfolk with him and for a few months I lived the dream. I should have known things would eventually catch up with me.

Oh Max, what can I say? Despite everything, you were still there for me. You stood bail and took me home with you.  I know you were trying to help but with the charges stacked against me I simply couldn’t face prison.  I had to escape and the only way I could do that was to use you. The kindest, sweetest man in the entire world.  I saw how you were bringing money home, locking it in your safe.  You were hiding money from Davina weren’t you? Afraid that slick divorce lawyer she’s hired would have the shirt off your back.  You didn’t see me watching you but old habits die hard and I soon had the safe code memorised.  Pauli had contacts. Ones I knew could provide the paperwork I needed for a new identity.  So now I’ve gone to a place where I can I can start a new life and put the past behind me.  I have no qualms about leaving Josh. No doubt he’ll have a much better life without a lousy mother like me. But I do have regrets about what I’ve done to you. If I could have found another way, made different choices believe me I would have.  You’re the first person I’ve ever had a conscience about but in the end, as always, I’ve had to put my needs first.  It’s the way I am; the way I’ll always be.

Lily

Lily has now returned to her place in Watercolours in the Rain. Just as well, I think, as I don’t think she and I would have got on well!

About Watercolours in the Rain

What happens to the future when past and present collide?

Jo Lambert - Watercolours in the RainJESS:  Six years ago Jess’s relationship with Talún Hansen was torn apart by one night of deception. He disappeared from Lynbrook village and she headed for university vowing never to let anyone break her heart again. Currently teaching in Oxford, Jess returns from holiday to an unexpected phone call and life changing news which eventually sees her returning home.

Talún: Six years on Talún Hawkeswood, as he is now known, is heir to his grandfather’s Norfolk farming empire. When he hears of trouble in the village due to Lynbrook Hall being put up for sale, going back is the last thing on his mind. But staying away is not an option either, not when someone he owes so much to is about to lose their home and their livelihood.

LILY: Splitting with her husband after her son Josh’s birth, Lily now works as part of an estate agency sales team.  She has always held onto her dream of finding a wealthy husband and a life of self-indulgence. When the sale of an important property brings her face to face with Talún, she realises despite the risks involved, the night they spent together six years ago could be the key to making those dreams come true.

As Jess, Talún and Lily return to Lynbrook and the truth about what happened that summer is gradually revealed, Talún finds himself in an impossible situation. Still in love with Jess he is tied into a trade off with Lily: his name and the lifestyle she craves in exchange for his son. And when a child is involved there is only one choice he can make…

Watercolours in the Rain is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

About Jo Lambert

Jo LambertBorn and raised in rural Wiltshire, Jo Lambert grew up with a love of books and a vivid imagination. She is author of seven novels, all romantic fiction, and is currently working on her eighth.   When she’s not writing she reviews and produces a weekly blog.

Jo is married and now lives in Somerset with her husband, one small grey feline called Mollie and a green MGB GT.  She loves travel, red wine, rock music and has a passion for dark chocolate…

You can find Jo on her blog and on Facebook and Twitter.

I’m in the middle of writing and editing and preparing and more, but yesterday we had an opportunity to attend a public rehearsal of Don Giovanni and we took it.

Love SeatAfter the performance, we had a bite to eat at the nearby Sarona Market, where we saw this seat. It plays love songs. Well, there’s probably a loudspeaker hidden behind it, but you can sit on the bench and listen to love songs. Isn’t that sweet.

After that, we enjoyed an evening walk by the sea in un-sea-sonably warm weather.

But the strangest things happened during the performance. Really, they both happened. I’m not making this up.

Maybe because it was a rehearsal, a few members of the audience thought it was all right to talk to each other or to use their smart phones – silently. Some people up in the gallery were talking quite loudly. Eventually, the disturbance was dealt with somehow and the talking stopped. Just then the translated text of the opera, displayed above and next to the stage said:

We’ve finally got rid of that fool.

Later, the man directly in front of me was using his phone, holding it so that its light shone in my eyes. I put my hand up in front of me to block the light and again looked at the text of the opera. It said:

He dazzled me for a moment.

I kid you not.

It’s good to get out sometimes and experience life outside the computer.

Right, back to editing.