Books Letters from Elsewhere

Letters from Elsewhere: Tana Standish

Letters from Elsewhere

It seems special abilities are as much a handicap as good fortune. Just as well I don’t have any! I’m fascinated by the history of today’s visitor, especially as it relates to the novel I’m currently working on.

Tana Standish operated as a British secret agent for Interprises, a secret adjunct of MI6, through the 1960s to the 1980s. She had a photographic memory and possessed psychic abilities, not all of them capable of being called upon at will. After four missions (Singapore, Naples, Izmir and Odessa), and prior to her next mission to Pilsen (1968), she was evaluated by the new psychologist, Dr James Fisk. In an effort at catharsis, he asked her to write a number of letters to him about her early memories. This is one of those letters:

Dear James

 I ‘celebrated’ my fifth birthday [in 1942] stumbling through the sewers of Warsaw, my hand in twelve-year-old brother Ishmael’s. We’d survived hunger and disease and managed to avoid the deportation of the children to Treblinka in July but everyone knew they would not live through the oncoming German onslaught.

Our elder brother Mordechai had told us we must escape, promising, “Jews will live to settle scores. Jews have lived and will endure for all eternity.” He would continue the Jewish resistance. As we slunk through the subterranean tunnels, I looked back, and Mordechai was singing a popular song of the starved ghetto: “When we had nothing to eat, they gave us a turnip, or a beet, here, take food, take fleas, have some typhus, die of disease!”

Ishmael, with hollow cheeks, pallid skin and all the signs of starvation, constantly deprived himself of our meagre contraband food in order to keep my strength up. Ishmael limped; he’d fractured his heel escaping a German raider whilst stealing outside the wall in the Aryan section of the city.

For two days, we munched sparingly on the scraps of coarse bread and stale cheese and stolen sugar.

On the third day when the food ran out, we surfaced from the rank sewers in the Christian part of the city. The outskirts of Warsaw were a great deal more repellent than below. We’d long-since grown accustomed to the dark and the vermin; even the smell had lost its pungency. But here, above ground, we were easy prey to demented thieves and homicidal Nazis.

Our most treasured possessions, however, were forged papers, created by a small commune of talented men and women: a travel-pass each, testifying that we were young Poles of pure race.

Constantly hiding, we followed the river Wkra north for most of the way, towards the Baltic, and our forged papers helped. When we could, we prayed. Ishmael told me about our eternal souls and how good people went to Olam Haba. “People who have done good but need to be purified, they go to Gehenom.”

“What about the Nazis?” I asked.

“Oh, they are too evil for Gehenom. They will be punished for all eternity.”

“Good,” I said.

We subsisted on vegetable refuse in farms and on the occasional rabbit.

The nights were still very cold and there were few haystacks to insulate us. The sky was filled with stars and my young mind wondered if there was any truth in the fable that when people died a star came into existence. A lot of people had died, I thought, gazing aloft, trying not to think of Mordechai.

Fortunately, I remembered a map from school in Karmelicka Street; it showed the area up to the Baltic; it hadn’t been up-to-date, but it proved invaluable. With an effort, I projected a mental image of it before my eyes and picked out salient landmarks as we travelled. All my family members took my memory gift for granted, hoping I would make use of it at university – but that was before the war, when hopes for a sane future flickered briefly.

Mere scarecrows, we often robbed farms. With my feet blistered and rib cage visible through translucent skin, I weakly, stubbornly clung to Ishmael’s bony hand.

Our journey took almost three months, and on numerous occasions, it was my sixth sense that saved us from capture. I seemed able to see through other people’s eyes sometimes – usually at moments of heightened tension. Ishmael didn’t even pretend to understand what powers I possessed, but was grateful for them.

As we approached the port of Gdynia, Ishmael explained in a faint whisper what we must do. “We’ll stow away on a ship. Wherever it docks, we can hide. It may even go across to Norway. Just think, Tana – Norway!”

Sneaking through the seaport wasn’t easy. The field-grey-clad sentries, gasmask canisters clinking, were there in force and on the alert for saboteurs. But our small size helped us melt into the shadows of warehouses and railway wagons. Miraculously, we avoided detection.

The dockside was swarming with threat and shadows. I was fearful of unfamiliar shapes and seemed to be trembling all the time. Framed in a narrow alleyway, the crosstree and derrick of a freighter’s mainmast were outlined against the night skyline. Then the black hull loomed and Ishmael whispered, “This one. We’ll get aboard this one.” He’d chosen well; whoever docked the ship hadn’t bothered to fit rat-guards on the cables.

Weak as we were, we managed to shin painstakingly slowly up the hawser. My hands were almost raw with the roughness of the cable. Tense minutes later, we squeezed through the gap and quietly lowered ourselves onto the dew-damp forecastle.

I cautiously followed Ishmael and scaled down a ladder onto the well deck. He partially lifted the cargo hatch tarpaulin cover and we both slid into the for’ard hold, where it was pitch-black at first. But after a while, our eyes became accustomed to the darkness; it was not unlike the sewers, I supposed, though smelled less rank.

The hold was stacked with crates but no food. Rats scurried to the forepeak, in deep shadow, but neither of us was particularly alarmed. Even the prospect of eating these vermin as a last resort held no horrors.

My stomach rumbled emptily at the memory of the last food scraps to pass my lips two days ago.

Ishmael chuckled and I imagined that he was smiling; he told me I was to make myself comfortable, while he went ‘up top’ to steal some food.

Fearful for his safety, I pleaded with him not to go. He kissed my forehead. “We’ll starve here if I don’t find something, little Tana. I promised Mordechai I’d look after you. I keep my promises.”

He was gone for ages. I had no way of knowing how long. It could have been an hour, perhaps much longer. The waiting seemed endless.

Deep in the creaking, dank-smelling hold, I was a little afraid. I would much rather have stayed in the sewers of Warsaw. Known terrors seemed preferable to those unknown. Besides, I had too much imagination.

Then my heart lightened, as I recognised Ishmael’s limping stride across the deck above. He sounded in a hurry. Intuitively, I knew something was wrong.

Anxiously, I scrambled up, knees grazing on the metal ladder. I peeked over the coaming.

Silhouetted in the searchlight beam that lanced down from the ship’s bridge, Ishmael attempted to run for cover, heading towards me, dodging around winches and the cowls of ventilators. Under his arm was a brown paper parcel that was spewing apples and he left a trail of broken eggs behind him.

A German voice shrieked: “Halt!”

Ishmael faltered. He turned to face the bridge.

Running out of the wheelhouse, a black-clad sailor leaned over the Navigation Bridge. In his arms was a sub-machine gun. I recognised the weapon and my heart froze.

Ishmael’s face was unnaturally pale in the pinioning light. He seemed resigned. His youthful cracked mouth twisted in a breathless agonised grimace. Suddenly, he jack-knifed backwards, six inches in the air to the staccato sound of the Schmeisser MP40 weapon. His out-flung arms violently discarded the stolen food; most of it splashed overboard as he crumpled almost on top of me, inches away from my face. A solitary apple rolled past his staring eyes and unthinkingly I snatched the fruit.

Ishmael’s head was on one side, his right cheek squashed against the metal deck and his eyes stared at me. His lips trembled but he was unable to speak. Yet I caught his words, faintly echoing in my mind. “I hope Mordechai won’t be too annoyed with me when I see him…” What little light there was went out of him and a thin gasp of air passed his lips and I felt it, like a kiss, on my cheek.

In shock, I slid back into the shadows under the tarpaulin. I knelt in the dark. My mind was completely numb, but I gripped onto the apple – my brother’s last gift to me.

It seemed an age. The agony of waiting, fearing discovery, was almost too much. At one low point, I even wanted to declare myself – anything to be rid of the heart-stopping suspense.

Then I heard voices talking overhead. And laughter.

My hearing was finely tuned now. But my mind was still numb – unable to snatch any thoughts from the nearby sailors or soldiers. Then they dragged the body of my brother away, laughing as they did so.

I heard a heavy splash and more hilarity.

But no tears came.

Alone now, I hunched tighter into the hold, amidst the bulky crates, and held the apple till it was bruised.

Even at that early age, my hatred was under an iron control. I had learned quickly enough through listening to other Jews who’d escaped from Treblinka that I must be circumspect when dealing with the enemy. I had cause to grow up quickly..

Finally, the sirens sounded. The freighter cast its moorings; the propellers pulsed and the ship throbbed into life.

Bow-waves caressed the hull. The lapping of water and the heaving motion signified we were finally at sea.

If only I could stay hidden until the ship pulled into some port.

Hunger drove me reluctantly to bite into the apple. It was moist and sent my pulse racing. So delicious! Thinking of Ishmael, tears at last flowed. I ate every scrap, the dry-textured bruised bits, core and all.

Like my young friends, I’d had to scavenge in Warsaw, sneaking into the Aryan quarter. The German policy had been simple and brutally logical – better to starve the inhabitants of the ghetto and save the bullets for the Front.

So, many hours after eating the apple, as the hunger-pangs returned with redoubled force, twisting my stomach into knots, I decided I’d have to forage onboard. At worst, if no food could be found, I’d have to risk serious infection and kill and eat a rat. It presented the least physical risk, obviously – the less food-hunting trips I made, less chance of discovery. But as far as I was concerned it would have to be the last resort.

The freighter was edging out of the choppy Gulf of Danzig and steaming into the Baltic when I emerged into the starlit night. The well deck beneath my feet vibrated to the beat of the massive engines. My nostrils snatched the heady, salty cold air that made me want to retch.

A yellow halo surrounded the moon.

I reached the foremast.


But this time no searchlight stabbed out. Allied submarines prowled out here, after all.

Praying for invisibility, I stood immobile, ears attuned, detecting feet on a ladder’s metal rungs. Any moment I expected the bullets to punch into me, to rip me open as they had so many of our neighbours; as they had poor Ishmael.

But in an instant I’d regained control and dived behind some winch machinery, hurting knees and shins. Here, the smell of grease and oil mingled with the salt-spray. My senses were at fever pitch. I seemed to hear my pursuer’s every step.

More shouting.

I heard the heavy thud of sea-boots getting closer.

The seaman was a couple of metres away. I glimpsed his black angular shape slinking between the lifeboat davits.

Frustration seethed inside me. It didn’t seem fair, to get so far only to fail!

A sudden deafening explosion rocked the vessel from stem to stern and the night instantly transformed into stark red-yellow daylight. I felt the force of it through the deck, vibrating through my body.

Amidst a raucous hissing and dozens of men’s screams, the ship canted sharply.

The drunken angle of the vessel worsened and I lost my footing on the slippery brine-covered deck.

I hit the metal guardrails and tried grabbing at anything I could get my hands on.

A falling lifeboat barely missed caving-in my skull; it splashed, floated.

Gasping with the shock of the cold sea, I snatched and held onto a rope that dangled from the lifeboat.

The strength in my arms was ebbing fast when I saw a shimmering dark dreamlike shape directly ahead, blocking out the myriad stars. I blinked frantically, distressed at not being able to see the Ishmael and Mordechai stars.


James, I’m sorry, but that will have to be enough for now. The curse of a photographic memory means that I don’t forget.  

Thanks, Tana.

Tana books1 and 2Nik Morton explains

Tana’s eleventh mission (but the first to be published) is The Prague Papers, which takes place in Czechoslovakia in 1975; it explains how she obtained the surname Standish. The details were given to me as a dog-eared manuscript in a Southsea hotel with the proviso that I should write it as fiction. Agent Swann was emphatic on that point. A follow-up mission, also based on information provided by certain contacts, has been published, The Tehran Text, relating events in Iran in 1978-1979. Both are e-books published by Crooked Cat.



Nik Morton has been writing for over 50 years. He has sold over 120 short stories, even more articles, and had 21 books published in several genres. His latest books are the second and third novels in the ‘Avenging Cat’ series, Catacomb and Cataclysm from Crooked Cat. The third Tana Standish mission, The Khyber Chronicle should be released later this year.

Nik’s Links

Books Letters from Elsewhere

Letters from Elsewhere: Auntie Jane and Iamo

Letters from ElsewhereOh my, are you in for a treat this week. Just sit back and get ready to be entertained by the one and only Ailsa Abraham.

Jane_Austen_coloured_versionDear Auntie Jane…

It is a little-known fact that Jane Austen, during the time she was waiting for her novels to become successful, worked as an Agony Aunt on the “Journal for Refined Gentlewomen”. In a recently-discovered trunk of papers the following correspondence was found. I can only assume that one of my characters indulged in a little time-travel to hide his distress and identity.


It would seem that Iamo continued because her next letter does not change tone.


We can assume that there was a long gap in communication because the final letter pertaining to this question is as follows.


goth wedding

BIO – Ailsa Abraham retired early from a string of jobs, ending up with teaching English to adults. She has lived in France since 1990 and is married with no children but six grandchildren. Her passion is motorbikes which have taken the place of horses in her life now that ill-health prevents her riding. She copes with Bipolar Condition, a twisted spine and increasing deafness with her usual wry humour – “well if I didn’t have all those, I’d have to work for a living, instead of being an author, which is much more fun.”. Her ambition in life is to keep breathing. She has no intention of stopping writing.

both with teaAs Ailsa Abraham:


  • Four Go Mad in Catalonia – self-published, available from Smashwords

Twitter – @ailsaabraham

Facebook – Ailsa Abraham

Web page

As Cameron Lawton


This Week

JenniferCWilliams Kindred Spirits-Tower of LondonKindred Spirits: Tower of London by Jennifer C. Wilson spawned a very odd letter, which appeared in my series, Letters from Elsewhere in October. This week Jennifer’s novel is one of those featured by my publisher, Crooked Cat.

The other novel featured is The Haunting of Highdown Hall by Shani Struthers.


If it’s Crooked Cat, it must be good.

In other news, the sun is shining (unlike last week), temperatures are rising and my spirits are, too. No, not the sort of spirits in those novels up there!

Books Letters from Elsewhere

Letters from Elsewhere: Rivka

Letters from ElsewhereMy visitor today is Rivka, mother of Esty, the heroine of my novel, Neither Here Nor There. Rivka was called Rose in her previous life. I’ll let her tell you more.


Dear Readers,

At first, I was pleased to receive this opportunity to explain myself and my actions to you. I thought I’d write it all down and then it would make sense. But when I sat down with a pen and a blank sheet of paper, doubts filled my mind. I’m not sure I can explain it logically to myself. How can it make any sense to anyone who hasn’t experienced what I experienced? How can such people comprehend the decisions I made?

Don’t get me wrong. I have plenty to thank G-d for. I love my husband and my children – all of them. I have much joy from watching and helping them to grow up and take their places in the world. I take pride in trying to steer them in the right direction – in the path of good and righteousness, but I know that eventually I will have no influence over them.

Mea Shearim 2014 Street
A street in Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, where Rivka lives.

Esty, my first-born, has chosen a different life for herself, away from the fold. I miss her so much, even though I see her occasionally. She was such a good girl, always ready to help me with the housework and the little ones. That’s not why I miss her. It’s because she’s one of mine, but she’s no longer one of us. Also, it’s possible I’m a bit jealous, because a part of me wants to be out there with her, although I do my best to suppress those feelings.

It’s easier for people who’ve always lived this life. My husband, for instance. It’s all he’s ever known. He’s never considered any other lifestyle. But I grew up with no religion at all. I could have stayed in London, studied at university, worked and settled down there. And kept in touch with my parents. I do regret making that break. And it wasn’t necessary. I suppose I worried they’d try and influence me to return to their way of life. I suppose I doubted my ability to stand up for what I’d chosen.

How can I explain why I gave it all up? How, at eighteen, I thought I was grown up enough to make my own decisions without any help from anyone. How I thought I’d found everything that was missing in my life – the spiritual stuff – and was happy to give up all the rest, even seeing my parents. I didn’t miss them then. It was only when the babies started arriving that I realised how much I missed my parents and how much they must miss me. Only then, when it was too late, did I realise what an awful thing I’d done to them. Their only child. How could I have left them like that?

No, I don’t expect you to understand. I don’t expect you to empathise with my situation now. I will endeavour to concentrate on being a good and pious woman and thank G-d for everything He has bestowed on me.

Yes, that’s a message I can leave you with – one that can be understood whatever culture you live in. Be thankful for what you have.


Thank you, Rivka, for sharing your worries with us. I’m sure you didn’t envision all these difficulties when you decided to join the haredi community. Readers may remember the letter from Leah, Esty’s ex-friend, who has none of these doubts, having been born into the community.

Neither Here Nor There

Neither Here Nor There CoverSo much more than a romance, this is a tale of transformation in an exotic setting. Esty’s life was laid out for her from birth. She would marry one of a handful of young men suggested to her and settle down to raise a large family in a tiny space within the closed community of her parents, near to and yet far from the modern world. But Esty has decided to risk all by escaping while she still can. Will she make it to the other side? Mark, who is struggling with his own life changes, hopes that Esty will find a way through her troubles. He is fast falling in love with her. Separately and together, in Jerusalem and London, Esty and Mark need to overcome many obstacles in their endeavour to achieve their dream.

Neither Here Nor There is available from Amazon, Smashwords and elsewhere.

Miriam Drori

Me with Neither Here Nor ThereMiriam Drori was born and brought up in London and now lives with her husband and two of her grown up children in Jerusalem.

With a degree in Maths and following careers in computer programming and technical writing, Miriam has been writing novels and short stories for eleven years. Two of her short stories have been published in anthologies and others have been published online. Neither Here Nor There is her first novel.

Miriam began writing in order to help raise awareness of social anxiety. Since then, the scope of her writing has widened, but she hasn’t lost sight of her original goal.



I’m delighted to be joined by Emma Rose Millar, who has come to tell us about her novel, Five Guns Blazing, published by Crooked Cat Publishing and on sale this week.

We stood out on deck, overlooking the river while the captain, the gaoler and witnesses signed the transportation bonds, my mother chained by the neck and ankles to five of the most miserable creatures I had ever seen. Also in her gang were: Ezra Corey – theft of a cupful of raisins – seven years; Martha Eales – theft of a pair of stockings – seven years; Ellen Nutt – theft of a handkerchief and gold ring – fourteen years; Johnathan Ward – theft of two flaxen sheets – seven years; and Sarah Wells – theft of a silver watch – fourteen years. We were taken down to one of the lower decks which was dark and airless. I stumbled and clung to the walls to find my way, sliding my feet along the planks. I heard my mother cry out as one of the other convicts bumped against her, with the galling of her chains. Then a single lamp was lit beside the door and through the gloom I saw a floating dungeon of only about fifteen feet long, with a ceiling so low that most of the men could not stand, but yet more people kept coming in, convicts chained together in gangs of six, until there must have been at least eighty of us crammed into the hold.

I had thought that the first night must surely be the worst, when the lamp was extinguished and the rats came scurrying amongst us in the pitch black where we lay, when the darkness was pierced by the shrieking of women against the vile assaults taking place below deck. Then there was the bestial grunting of men as they stifled their screams, the filling of the necessary pots whose stench became sickening and foul. But as we sailed through Dartford and Gravesend then finally through the mouth of the river, along the coastline to Portsmouth and into the wide, open sea, the waves grew high and tempestuous and the wind began to howl. There were rolls of thunder, forks of lightning way out on the horizon which lit up the hold through holes in the rotten timber.

Redemption was tossed around like a matchbox on the crashing Atlantic waves as the storm lashed against the ship, lifting its bow from the raging ocean while the captain fought to bring her under control. We slid from one end of the hold to the other. My mother’s skin where her collar chafed against her neck became bright and horrible in shades of purple and crimson and black as it peeled back and rubbed away, but while others screamed now at every movement of the ship, my mother stared icily into the gloom, as if she was no longer there at all. It was only then, as I imagined land fading into the distance, and the vast expanse of sea that it hit me: my old life was gone forever.

(Five Guns Blazing – Emma Rose Millar and Kevin Allen)

meBut what of the real men, women and children who were sent to the colonies during the eighteenth century? Most surviving accounts of transported convicts focus on notorious criminals or scandalous circumstances.  The overwhelming majority, ordinary men and women, convicted of petty offences, have been forgotten.  After being handed down their sentences they promptly disappeared from the history books. However, a few of these records still survive.

stockingsOn December 1st, 1722, Margaret Hayes went into a shop and began to barter with the owner, Elizabeth Reynolds over the price of a pair of stockings.  In the middle of their discussion, she grabbed the stockings, which were on display and ran out into the street.  Alerted by Elizabeth’s cries, Margaret was pursued by a number of people and dropped the stockings to the ground just before she was apprehended.  At the trial she denied ever having gone into the shop but was found guilty of theft.  As the goods were priced at the princely sum of two shillings, Margaret faced a penalty of death by hanging.  Often in these cases the jury would take pity on the felon and devalue the stolen goods.  Mercifully, this was exactly what happened to Margaret; the jury devalued the stockings to ten pence and she was transported to the American colonies for a period of seven years.

The only reason we know anything about Margaret is that she was one of the passengers on board the Jonathan, which sailed from London on February 19th, 1723.  The Jonathan was a former slave ship and was bought by Jonathan Forward for his fleet.  The difference with this vessel was that records were kept of all the convicts on board.  From the ship’s records we know that Margaret was thirty years old, she was a widow with a dark fgbcomplexion.  When I was writing Five Guns Blazing, this unknown woman caught my interest.  I wondered how desperate a person must have been to have risked going to the noose all for a pair of stockings.  I wondered whether Margaret had children, and if so, what happened to them, how she would have felt being torn from those children and having to leave them behind.  I tried to build a character around one of these unfortunate, petty criminals and through her, show the plight of women transported to the colonies during the eighteenth century.

Conditions on board the ships were horrendous; many of the convicts died during the voyages of cholera and typhoid.  Those that survived were severely weakened by scurvy, dysentery and fever.  Convicts went on board shackled and in chains.  A hatch was opened and they went below deck, where they would spend the rest of the voyage.  Usually the chains were removed in the prison deck but sometimes not.  They were allowed on deck at intervals for fresh air and exercise.

If they survived the voyage, convicts were sold to plantation owners and worked alongside indentured servants and African slaves.  The status of convicts varied depending on the plantation; some were treated in line with indentured servants while others were subjected to the same forms of degradation as slaves, the big difference being that the convicts were only sold for the terms of their criminal sentences.

Nobody knows what happened to Margaret, or whether she made it as far as America.  Most of the convicts at that time were illiterate so there are very few surviving journals.  The Jonathan caught fire after it landed in Maryland and never made it back to England.


“Never had she imagined she would be brought so low, and all for the love of a very bad man.”


Convict’s daughter, Laetitia Beedham, is set on an epic journey from the back streets of London, through transportation to Barbados and gruelling plantation life, into the clutches of notorious pirates John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham, Mary Read and the treacherous Anne Bonny.

In a world of villainy and deceit, where black men are kept in chains and a woman will sell her daughter for a few gold coins, Laetitia can find no one in whom to place her trust.

As the King’s men close in on the pirates and the noose begins to tighten around their necks, who will win her loyalty and her heart?

Five Guns Blazing is now available on Amazon.

Books Letters from Elsewhere

Letters from Elsewhere: Diocles

Letters from ElsewhereIt’s been seven months since I interviewed Tim Taylor. Today I’m delighted to welcome him back to introduce a special guest, who has travelled all the way from Messenia. Not to mention the number of years he has traversed to get here. Hello Tim!

Tim TaylorHello Miriam!

Many thanks for inviting my character Diocles, from the novel Zeus of Ithome, onto your blog today.  Before I let him get on with it, I should give your readers a bit of context.  Diocles is a runaway ‘helot’ slave from Messenia, a country conquered by Sparta centuries before.  He took up with Aristomenes, an old Messenian rebel who still dreams of throwing off the Spartan yoke, and travelled with him towards Delphi to consult the oracle.  Aristomenes was injured on the journey and had to rest at the house of a friend, so Diocles continued to Delphi alone.  Here he met the (historical) Theban general Epaminondas and, after agonising over what to do, became convinced that the cryptic advice he had received from the oracle meant that he should go to Thebes with Epaminondas.  This is a letter he later writes to Aristomenes.

To Aristomenes, in the house of Nicomedes in the town of Naupactus, from Diocles son of Dotades, in the house of Epaminondas in the city of Thebes.

Aristomenes, I hope you can read this letter.  It is the first one I have ever written in my own hand – Epaminondas is teaching me to read and write!  I have had some help from Manes the scribe, who is very rude about my spelling and made me write it several times before I got it right.

I hope you are well and that your wound has healed.  Please give my greetings to Nicomedes and Ianthe – I shall always remember their kindness. Thank you for sending me your sword.  I was very glad to see it, because I thought you would be angry that I had not come back to Naupactus after I left Delphi.  I still feel bad that after you entrusted me with the task of going to consult the oracle, I did not return in person to give you her advice. 

As I said in the letter Manes wrote for me before, I believe the oracle’s advice meant that I was fated to meet Epaminondas in Delphi and to travel with him to Thebes.  And now that I have been here for a while, I am sure that I did the right thing.  Epaminondas is the cleverest man I have ever met, and he is an important person in this city.  The Thebans hate Sparta as much as we do and Epaminondas has plans to break their power over Greece.  And there are soldiers here who are as good as – no, better than – even the Spartiates themselves.  The Sacred Band, they are called, and they have already beaten a Spartan force in battle!  Their leader, Pelopidas, is a friend of Epaminondas and he has agreed that when I have finished my basic hoplite military training, I will be allowed to drill with his men.  So I shall learn the arts of strategy from the wisest man in Greece and those of combat with its best soldiers! 

Zeus of IthomeThat is not all, Aristomenes.  War is coming between Thebes and Sparta.  Everyone knows it.  I shall be needing that sword of yours quite soon.  I believe that these Thebans will win this war, and when they do, that will be the moment for Messenia to rise up.  I have told them all about our struggle and they will help us, when that time comes.  Epaminondas has given me his promise, and he is a man I trust. 

So I shall return to Naupactus and to Messenia.  When I do, I shall no longer be the runaway helot you took under your wing, but a trained warrior.  And you and I shall complete the task to which you have devoted your life.

Until then, my friend, fare well.


You can read more about Zeus of Ithome (e-book currently on special offer at 99p/99c for one week only!) here.

Tim’s Other Links

Facebook author page





Tim was born in 1960 in Stoke-on-Trent. He studied Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford (and later Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London). After a couple of years playing in a rock band, he joined the Civil Service, eventually leaving in 2011 to spend more time writing.

Tim now lives in Yorkshire with his wife and daughter and divides his time between creative writing, academic research and part-time teaching and other work for Leeds and Huddersfield Universities.

Tim’s first novel, Zeus of Ithome, a historical novel about the struggle of the ancient Messenians to free themselves from Sparta, was published by Crooked Cat in November 2013; his second, Revolution Day in June 2015.  Tim also writes poetry and the occasional short story, plays guitar, and likes to walk up hills.


Thank you, Tim and Diocles.

In the meantime, I have been interviewed by Margaret K Johnson about challenges I’ve had to overcome in order to write.

Books Israel

And here is the news

Jane Charlesworth and the novel she comes from, Rebellious Cargo, were featured in my series, Letters from Elsewhere in October.

The novel is one of three featured this week by Crooked Cat Publishing.

All three are romances – two historical and one contemporary: rebellious shenanigans in the Scottish Highlands in Cathie Dunn’s Highland Arms; romantic adventures out at sea in Susan Lodge’s Rebellious Cargo; and unexpected surprises in a dating agency in The Love Shack by Tina K Burton.

More posts about these stories will probably appear on the Crooked Cats’ Cradle.


I’m continuing to write for the English Informer about life in Israel. My latest post is about Sundays. Do you know what we get up to on Sundays?


My husband takes wonderful photos.

Nahal David with Dead Sea in background
At Nahal David, Ein Gedi with the Dead Sea in the background
Hidden waterfall at Nahal Arugot
Hidden waterfall at Nahal Arugot, Ein Gedi
Hyrax at Nahal David
Hyrax at Nahal David, Ein Gedi
Sunset in Tel-Aviv
Books Letters from Elsewhere

Letters from Elsewhere: Jenny Mazowski

Letters from ElsewhereMy visitor today must be rather clever. Despite being a character in a novel, she knows about two other novels about to be released. I suspect a certain Olga Swan had a hand in this!

Here’s Jenny’s letter, dated 1986.


To:  Naomi Klein

From: Jenny Mazowski

Dear Naomi,

OlgaSwan - 3rdDegreeMurderHaven’t heard from you in ages. So much to tell you.  You know I got that secretary job at my local university?  Well, it’s been mind blowing. I work for this terrible professor. His name’s Axel Sloan and I’d like to take an axe to him myself. He’s really anti-semitic. You’ll never believe this but last week he actually asked me whether circumcised men were better in bed?  Honestly!  I didn’t know where to put myself.  And then there’s a PhD student from Bangladesh in our department who alleges she was actually raped by him right in his office here!  I know.  She’s such a lovely girl, too. We get on really well together. I remember last Xmas when we giggled together over whether we should send each other a Xmas card or not, like the rest of the department. Well, we both agreed. Enough’s enough. We’re gonna make a formal complaint to the V-C against Prof. Sloan. Trouble is I don’t like the V-C either. There’s something about the way he looks at the male students that’s a bit odd. Anyway I’ll let you know what happens.

OlgaSwan - LamplightSo, what about you? Has your cousin started writing that story about the Klein family history yet? I guess it’ll take a long time to write. Wasn’t there someone called David Klein in your family who got involved in Nazi Germany during the war? And, didn’t he even parachute in to Vichy France too? Wow!  Hope the story doesn’t take too long to finish as I’d really love to find out what happened. Sounds amazing. Let’s hope your cousin finds one of those lovely boutique publishing houses that are springing up everywhere now. I’m sure they’d jump at the chance to publish it. What was the title again? Lamplight! Yes, that’s it. Gives a real war-time feel to it. Maybe the Vichy bit should be a second novel. A good title for that one would be Vichyssoise – you know, like the chilled, green soup they have in France. Can’t wait to read them.

OlgaSwan - Vichyssoise



Must dash. Prof. Sloan is back any minute from lunch and I haven’t finished his grant application yet. If not, there’ll be 3rd Degree Murder for sure!


Jenny x






3rd Degree Murder, a university intrigue by Olga Swan, is available here.

Lamplight – Book 1 in the David Klein war reporter series – is due to be released in February 2016.

Vichyssoise – Book 2 in the David Klein series – is due to be released in May 2016.

Read Olga Swan’s weekly, Sunday blog about life as an expat in France. 

Books Letters from Elsewhere

Letters from Elsewhere: Marie Hunter

Letters from ElsewhereSue BarnardMy guest today is Marie, wife of John Hunter, who has been directing an amateur dramatic society’s production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Marie, who comes from The Unkindest Cut of All  by Sue Barnard, has been kind enough to share an entry from her diary.

Monday 10th March

Well, that went pretty well for a first night, considering all the problems we’ve had.  It didn’t help that Brian arrived five minutes late, which sent John into a blind panic before we’d even started.  But then, that’s Brian for you.  Always thinks that normal rules don’t apply to him.  To be quite honest I’ve no idea how anyone ever puts up with him.  The play’s the thing, I suppose.

After all this time, I find it hard to believe that we’ve actually got to this stage.  John has been eating, breathing and sleeping that wretched play for the past two months.  Well, longer than that, I suppose, if I include all the time he spent reading and studying it before they started rehearsing.

Heaven alone knows why he wanted to do Julius Caesar.  I know he’s always loved Shakespeare, but it definitely wouldn’t have been my first choice of play.  And in any case, why pick a tragedy, when there are so many good comedies to choose from? But then, as Sarah pointed out, at least John didn’t go for Titus Andronicus.  We should be grateful for small mercies.  Maybe it was the timing – Ides of March, and all that. 

I did Julius Caesar at school.  I didn’t remember a great deal about it, apart from one lesson when we were reading one of the scenes in class, and at the point where it says Enter the Ghost of Caesar, the classroom door opened and in walked the headmistress, who must have been pushing sixty and looked like something out of a horror film.  It seemed absolutely hilarious to us at the time. 

Nobody could accuse me of not remembering a great deal about it now!  But it’s always the same.  When John gets his teeth into a task, it takes over his entire life – and mine – for the duration. By the time we get to performance week, I reckon I could be the all-purpose emergency understudy for the whole cast.

Thank goodness for Sarah.  She’s been an absolute trooper, taking over only a couple of weeks ago when Diane fell ill.  Nobody’s quite sure what was the matter with Diane, but her mother rang me this afternoon to say that she’s been rushed into hospital.  Poor girl.  I know she felt really bad about having to drop out. I’m going to go and see her tomorrow.  The cast all signed a card for her after the performance tonight.  I hope that might cheer her up a bit.

One down, five to go.  Maybe when the week is over I might actually get my husband back!  But we’ve still got to get through the rest of the run first.  Here’s hoping nothing else goes wrong between now and Saturday evening…



The Unkindest Cut of All, by Sue Barnard, is available for download – and from today for the next seven days, it is on special offer at a princely 99p.  For more details, click here.



Books Bullying

About Bullying

Girls spreading rumours

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about bullying. Time to bring it up again, methinks.

This post from May, 2014 describes a study that shows the impact of bullying can last a lifetime.

To me, the results of the study are obvious. I would have been surprised if they had been different. But I’ve heard the opposite account:

I was bullied as a child. It made me stronger and better able to stand up for myself.

And I say (under my breath): well done. I’m happy for you. But don’t ever make me think I’m to blame because that wasn’t my experience.

Probably when people have said this, they didn’t intend to apportion blame to others. Probably it was simply the way I viewed it for a long time. Fortunately, I have learned to change that view. The way I coped with the bullying then was what caused it to influence my adult life. But I couldn’t possibly have known then what effects my coping method would cause.

I have read two excellent Crooked Cat novels that feature bullying: Myopia by Jeff Gardiner and Once Removed by KB Walker.

In the first, the victim is unlikely to have lasting effects, as the experience is short-lived and he is a popular child. In the second, I think effects could continue. It depends how her life spans out.

Are there any novels that continue past the childhood experience? I haven’t read any. But one of the novels I’ve been working on of late attempts to do just that. I hope it sees the light of day soon.

By the way, the post mentions three signs that show that something is wrong: children not wanting to go to school, failing grades, crying. While these are common, they’re not universal. None of them applied to me.