UK Blog Awards – Voting now open! #UKBA17

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A little while ago, I mentioned… quite discretely and with absolutely no bouncing around on tables or wild whooping… that this blog, the Daily Echo, had been nominated for the UK Blog Awards.

The surprise was genuine… so was the honour. I did not know the person who had nominated me and I was utterly gobsmacked when I realised the email was not a joke.

The awards consider business, professional and personal blogs side by side. The prize is an opportunity to write professionally… and that I would like.

Having said that, the comments on the post I put out then were amazing…and I honestly felt as if I had already won the biggest prize possible. Which is why, when they asked me to write an overview of the blog, I included some of them. It is the people who come here and read, share, and take time to comment, becoming friends, who make this blog what it is.  It is the people who make it special and who give me a reason to write every day.

Then they asked me to write a ‘Why vote for me?’ bit.

My mind went blank…then began to think in verse… and what the hell…

Voting is now open!

You can read the overview and why you could vote for the blog HERE and, if you wouldn’t mind, cast a vote for the blog too.

It would mean a lot to the Small Dog and me.

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Click the image to go to the overview and voting page.

 Voting closes Monday 19th December at 10.00am GMT.

Please vote and share!

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Guest Author – Dianne Noble: A love-affair with India

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The first time I visited India I was ten years old, flying back to England with my parents and brothers after a three year tour in Singapore. Our RAF Hermes plane took almost three days, stopping in several countries to re-fuel, and de-ice the wings. We’d travelled out in a troopship, the Dunera – a whole month and school lessons every day – but the Suez Canal had been closed so here we were in Calcutta, as it was then known. I remember the heat, the highly spiced kofta they gave us for breakfast with a fried egg, which none of us could eat, the hole in the floor toilet we had to squat over while flies buzzed around us, the strange smells and sounds. How could I have known I’d begun a lifelong love affair with India?

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A single parent for much of the time, I had to wait until my children had grown and flown before I could travel to Rajasthan, the princely state of maharajahs and palaces. Since then I’ve been all over the country, generally on India’s excellent trains, from Delhi and Agra in the north where the Taj Mahal reduced me to tears, to beautiful Kerala in the south, the temples of Bhubaneshwar in the east and vibrant Mumbai in the west, yet still, time after time I am drawn back. Next year I hope to travel the width of the country by train, up to its border with Pakistan and then into the Himalayas. My modest house – I spend all my money on travel – needs replacement windows but hey!

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Ten years ago I volunteered to spend three months teaching English to street children in Kolkata. While there I realised what it is I love about the country –it’s the people. Despite great deprivation they laugh and are joyful. This time in Kolkata proved to be the hardest thing I have ever done. Broken, crumbling buildings sit amid lakes of raw sewage; filthy children encrusted with sores are homeless; families live on a patch of pavement so narrow they take it in turns to lie down. They give birth – and die – there. Yet their indomitable spirit shines through.

I feared I couldn’t do it, felt my resolve dying daily amid the horrors and hardship, but I started writing a journal and it saved me.

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Imagine your shirt sticking to your back as you edge round a goat, swat at flies and cough as smoke from pavement cooking fires catches in your throat. After four hours of threadbare sleep you’re trying to find the group of street children you’ve come to Kolkata, India to teach English to as a volunteer.

     Your ears hurt with the noise – shouting, blaring horns, a backfiring bus. A cow stands in the middle of the road, munching impassively on an old newspaper, as traffic edges round it. This animal is holy and if a driver were to run into it, he would be dragged from his car by an angry crowd and beaten up.

Heat beats on your head like a hammer as you search among blackened buildings whose stonework crumbles like stale cake. There is a smell of spices and sewage, urine evaporating in hot sun.

When you see the small group it takes you an age to cross the road, weaving between rickshaws, yellow taxis, tuk tuks festooned with dusty tinsel. The children are so tiny – malnourished – with bare feet, cropped hair and laddered ribs, but they shriek with laughter when you try to speak to them in Hindi. They stroke the pale skin of your arms and clamber on to your knees as you sit, cross-legged and crampy, on the bare earth floor. They are a joy, desperate to learn English, desperate to improve their position at the bottom of the luck ladder.

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When you get back to your small room that evening your feet are gritty and blistered, your chest is raw with exhaust fumes and you are unbelievably filthy. Sweat makes white rivulets down the dirt on your face and you feel, and doubtless smell, rank.

By the end of the first week you will be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the poverty, despairing at the smallness of your contribution. How can you possibly do this for three whole months? Whatever were you been thinking of when you signed up?

Maybe, like me, you’ll start a journal and at the end of every day, no matter how tired you feel, you’ll write down every detail of your day – how the children are progressing, who made you laugh, who can now write their names, how much their poor chests rattle, who has the worst sores. It’s a sort of de-briefing you might find cathartic.

Despite having nothing, the children giggle and fool around, laugh and sing, hang on to you, desperate for cuddle. Everywhere you go in this dreadful place Bengali men and women will get used to seeing you, wave and call out ‘Hello, Aunty’ (a term of respect for women of a certain age.  At the wayside shrine even jolly, elephant-headed Ganesh will be wearing a broad grin.

My diary covered three months and formed the basis for A Hundred Hands which tells the story of Polly who saw the plight of the children living on the streets and stayed to help. Outcast features the plight of the Dalits, the Untouchables. I have been back to India many times. Despite its horrors the country is mesmeric and its people a joy.

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img_2635About Dianne Noble

I was born into a service family and at the tender age of seven found myself on the Dunera, a troopship, sailing for a three year posting to Singapore. So began a lifetime of wandering – and fifteen different schools. Teen years living in Cyprus, before partition, when the country was swarming with handsome UN soldiers, and then marriage to a Civil Engineer who whisked me away to the Arabian Gulf.

Most of the following years were spent as a single parent with an employment history which ranged from the British Embassy in Bahrain to a goods picker, complete with steel toe-capped boots, in an Argos warehouse. In between I earned my keep as a cashier in Barclays, a radio presenter and a café proprietor on the sea front in Penzance.

My travels have taken me to China, Egypt, Israel, Guatemala, Russia, Morocco, Belize and my favourite place, India. I keep copious notes and constantly dip into them to ensure my writing is atmospheric.

Outcast was my debut novel published in March 2016, followed in November of that year by A Hundred Hands. My third book Oppression will be based in the City of the Dead in Cairo and I hope to see its release early 2017.

After that I plan a family saga set in Cyprus ranging from the 1950s EOKA terrorism, through partition in the 70s to the present day.

I live, when not travelling, in a small Leicestershire village. A happy life for me is writing or reading – with breaks for chocolate and mugs of tea – and occasional visits to the theatre.


Connect with Dianne on Twitter and Facebook or visit her website.


Outcast 149-kb

Rose leaves her Cornwall café to search for her daughter in the sweltering slums of Kolkata, India.

In the daily struggle for survival, she is often brought to her knees, but finds strength to overcome the poverty and disease, grows to love the Dalit community she helps.

But then there are deaths, and she fears for her own safety.

Her café at home is at risk of being torched, and finally, she has to make the terrible choice between her daughter and the Indian children.

Available on Amazon.com and  Amazon UK


171-kb-500-x-750A Hundred Hands

When Polly’s husband is jailed for paedophilia, she flees the village where her grandmother raised her and travels to India where she stays with her friend, Amanda.

Polly is appalled by the poverty, and what her husband had done, and her guilt drives her to help the street children of Kolkata. It’s while working she meets other volunteers, Liam and Finlay. Her days are divided between teaching the children and helping with their health needs. But when Liam’s successor refuses to let Polly continue working, she’s devastated to think the children will feel she’s abandoned them.

After a health scare of her own, she discovers her friend, Amanda, is pregnant. Amanda leaves India to have her child. At this time Polly and Finlay fall in love and work together helping the children. Tragedy strikes when one child is found beaten and another dead. Polly feels history repeating itself when Finlay becomes emotionally attached to a young girl.

Can Polly recover from her broken heart and continue to help the children, or will she give up and return home?

Available on Amazon.com and  Amazon UK

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Ani’s Advent – the mince pie mystery

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Dear Santa,

We’ve sort of established that human two-legses are weird, right? Well, what about this whole mince pie thing they do every Christmas?

“I’ll have to make some mince pies,” she says. My ears pricked up at that!In my eyes, a mince pie is full of mince… that ground up beef stuff… with gravy and pastry. That makes them fair game for small dogs, as far as I’m concerned.

But… “No,” she says, “not allowed,” she says. “Raisins,” she says.

So… the mince pies are really raisin pies? “They used to be mince-meat,” she says, as if ‘used to’ is going to help. “With raisins.” So, let me get this straight… they took the good stuff out and shoved more sugar in instead? No wonder they dive around like mad things this time of year and don’t know how to chill!

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‘Cause they eat a lot of ’em. She says she is supposed to eat one for every month of the year. To bring her good luck. I think it is more likely to feel like bad luck when she gets fat and her teeth drop out, but what do I know? It wouldn’t happen with proper mince, now, would it? No… that’s protein…and she could share with me and eat less.

Speaking of getting fat… how come you don’t burst?ani (1)

It seems a bit odd, you know. You ride about on the sleigh all night eating mince pies and never get any fatter. And there’s poor Rudolph and his mates doing all the sleigh-pulling, right round the world and all they get is a low-calorie carrot? Seems a bit unfair to me.

About as unfair as talking about mince to a small dog, then telling her she can’t have any…

You wouldn’t be able to fit some in your sack, would you?ani (5)

Think I’ll go dig the sofa up.

Much love,

Ani xxx

P.S. If she stays up all night again, will you still be able to get in?


Notes from a small dog (1)Notes from a Small Dog: Four Legs on Two

 

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Laughter Lines: Life from the Tail End

 

 

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Smoke – Stuart France #writephoto…

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I know why we did it.

Why it was suggested.

It was Ned’s idea.

Ned, with his ‘sacred tobacco’.

Still, it could hardly have been sacred here, then…

Continue reading here

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Tender #midnighthaiku

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Guest author – Helen Jones: Voices In The Land

Meet Helen Jones, author of The Ambeth Chronicles, a YA fantasy series– Oak and Mist No Quarter and Hills and Valleys.

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We’ve all been to places where the land speaks to us. Places of great harmony, where the air and the view and the lie of the land combine in some sort of perfect alchemy to fill us with joy. Or places of darkness where the land holds melancholy, seeming to echo still with cries of pain, ancient battles or tragedies leaving their mark. And still other places, where nothing of note is recorded as having happened, yet they strike a chill into our bones and we cannot get away fast enough.

Our ancestors seemed to understand this energy far more than we do now. You only have to visit an ancient site to feel it, the way the stones are situated, echoing and in line with the landscape around them, set to catch the rising of the sun and the turning of the stars. It all seems in perfect harmony, and there is a stillness there that seems to find a home in the human soul, a small space of peace.

On my weekend away with The Silent Eye this past September, I had some wonderful and disturbing experiences in the landscapes we visited. I cannot explain any of it other than to say that I felt the energy of each place, and that those feelings were corroborated by others in the group. There was power in those ancient landscapes, joy, warmth, sorrow and fear, held within the stones and earth and trees, and I was not the only one in our group to feel it. Perhaps when we step away from the modern world, as we did then, walking among the heather and bracken and ancient stones of a people long departed, we become more aware. Without the modern trappings of phone and television and buildings, we rely a little more on our instincts.

I never was much good at physics, but one rule did stick with me – that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred. As human beings we are powered by energy, our bodies furnaces transforming food into motion, oxygen into breath, a thousand chemical reactions taking place each moment to keep us alive. There is energy in emotion too – we’ve all felt the power of love, or hatred, or sorrow. So it makes sense to me that we leave some small part of ourselves in the places we inhabit; that as we work and walk and live upon the earth, we transfer some of that energy to our surroundings.

In my Ambeth books there are characters with the gift of being able to feel energy in the land. Sensing where imbalance lies and, in some instances, with the ability to heal places that have been damaged. Such powers are not totally outside the realm of reality – after all, do we not consecrate land on which a place of worship is to be built, or bodies buried? Do we not put energy into creating a home that feels uniquely our own? The earth itself is a living organism, energy held in the earth and rocks, in the plants and trees, below the surface where molten rock glides. It is in the volcano’s thrust, or the dead plants we dig up and burn, releasing their energy to power our machines. Energy is everywhere that we are.

And so perhaps these feelings, these voices in the land, are remnants of an old system of defence we no longer need, cushioned as we are by 24-hour news and access at the swipe of a screen. Perhaps they are all that is left of a time when we had to rely on our instincts to survive, helping us find places that are safe, avoid those where danger or sorrow occur, respect those that are sacred.  Perhaps it is also a reminder that we are inextricably linked to and part of this world – a reminder we have good cause to heed.


Author PhotoAbout Helen Jones

The thought of finding magic in ordinary places is one that I love; the idea that just stepping off the path could take you somewhere unexpected. It’s part of what inspires my writing. When I was a child I did find a strange valley and hear a scream – the incident stayed with me and was the starting point of the Ambeth Chronicles.

I’ve lived around the world, Toronto, Vancouver, Melbourne, Sydney, but started life in Coventry, England. A couple of years ago I moved back to my native England and, once settled, started to write about Ambeth. The name ‘Ambeth’ comes from the Welsh ‘am byth’, which means forever, a nod to my Welsh family background and the fact that for me, Wales is my heart home.

Ambeth is not the only world I plan to visit in my books, but it’s where I am now. When I’m not writing, I like to walk, paint and study karate (when housework and family life permit!) Life has been a journey to get me to this point but I can honestly say I’ve lived it and am grateful for every day.


Connect with Helen on her blog, Journey To Ambeth, on Facebook and on Twitter@AuthorHelenJ and follow her on GoodreadsAmazon UK and Amazon.com.


Oak and Mist

The end of everything? Great, no pressure then.’ oak-and-mist-final-cover

Alma Bevan didn’t mean to go on a quest.
But when she disappears between two trees at her local park and reappears in Ambeth, she finds they’ve been expecting her.

And now she has to find a lost sword or the consequences for humanity will be dire. With no idea where to look, despite help from her new friend Caleb, things become even more complicated when a handsome prince of the Dark expresses an interest in her.

All this plus homework too?

Travelling between worlds is hard enough without having to manage a suspicious best friend, complicated love interests and concerned parents. Add in some time-twisting, a mysterious bracelet and a group of immortal beings all vying for control of a lost sword, and it’s enough to make any fifteen year old girl want to give up. But then she wouldn’t see Caleb any more. Or Deryck…


Front Cover ImageNo Quarter

‘Alma, even I do not know what he is capable of…’

Things couldn’t be better for Alma. She’s returned the lost Sword to Ambeth and is finally with Deryck, Prince of the Dark. But what’s really going on?

Deryck is struggling with his father, who wants to control Alma, while Alma is struggling with her best friend Caleb, who doesn’t trust Deryck one inch. Plus it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with her life in the human world.

Falling in love shouldn’t be this difficult. But things are about to get much worse…

Quests and friendship all fall by the wayside when there’s romance to be had. Plus, spending time with handsome Deryck is much more appealing than with an increasingly angry Caleb. The Light are always on about making choices, so they shouldn’t have a problem with her choosing to be with Deryck.

Besides, he’ll protect her from his father – won’t he?


Hills And Valleys (The Ambeth Chronicles Book 3) by [Jones, Helen]

Hills and Valleys

Sometimes things call to us until we can no longer ignore them. And Ambeth is calling you, Alma.’

After the events of the Harvest Fair, Alma is finished with Ambeth – they can find the missing Cup and Crown without her. But Ambeth is not finished with her. First the mystery of her dead father comes back to haunt her, then the Dark reach out, hoping to trap her once more.

And then there’s the strange power she seems to have…

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Smoke from pensitivity101 #writephoto

photoprompt-8th-decemberIt was time to hide.
They were after her and she couldn’t shake them.
There!
The gap in the rock face.
She could squeeze through.
No! No! No!
She was too big!
They were going to catch her.
They were upon her.
She knew she was going to die.

‘Have faith,’ a gentle voice said as it drifted from inside.

Continue reading here: Thursday photo prompt – Smoke #writephoto

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Help, get me out of here – Lady Lee Manila #writephoto

I am screeching
Help, get me out of here
The light is aiding
Heave myself out of fear

Help, get me out of here
Dead anatomy
Out of the door, my dear
Reload to be free

Continue reading here: Help, get me out of here

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