A Lover of Books

Archive for the day “March 10, 2017”

Extract from ‘Spanish Crossings’ by John Simmons

Following on from my interview with John Simmons, I now have an exclusive extract from his book, ‘Spanish Crossings’.


Book Blurb

Spanish Crossings is an epic tale of love, politics and conflict, with the yearning but elusive possibility of redemption. A woman’s life has been cast in shadow by her connection to the Spanish Civil War. We meet Lorna in 1937 as she falls in love with Harry, a member of the International Brigade who had been at Guernica when it was bombed. Harry is then killed in the fighting and Lorna fears she might have lost her best chance of happiness. Can she fill the void created by Harry’s death by helping the child refugees of the conflict?

She finds a particular connection to one boy, Pepe, and as he grows up below the radar of the authorities in England their lives become increasingly intertwined. But can Lorna rely on Pepe as he remains deeply pulled towards the homeland and family that have been placed beyond his reach? Coming through the war, then the post-war rebuilding, Lorna and Pepe’s relationship will be tested by their tragic and emotive history.



Extract from ‘Spanish Crossings’


Interview with John Simmons

I’m delighted to welcome John Simmons back to my blog.  His  new book, ‘Spanish Crossings’ will be out next month.  I asked John some questions.


Your new book sounds wonderful. Can you tell me a bit about ‘Spanish Crossings’ please.

It’s my second novel – ‘Leaves’ was my first. Some readers remarked about ‘Leaves’ that it was a historical novel – set in 1970 – and that surprised me. But I think it gave me the courage to attempt something more genuinely historical, so ‘Spanish Crossings’ is set before, during and after the Second World War. Its main background is the Spanish Civil War and the true but little-known story of the 4000 Basque children who were refugees from that conflict in 1937. History always has a contemporary relevance.

But it’s not a history book, it’s a story. And as a story there is a main character, Lorna, who is a young woman in the 1930s engaged in the politics of that time. The novel is her story and it’s about conflict and love against that historical background. I hope – and early readers confirm – that it’s a gripping story with a somewhat chequered but intriguing relationship at its heart.


Where did you get the idea for this book?

I had gone to Spain to run a Dark Angels writing course. I dreamt the line “Mother declared herself happy” – the first time such a thing has happened to me. I liked the line and continued writing that day in Seville. Going from café to café, bench to bench, it grew into a story that is now the novel’s Prologue and it created the main character and theme. It showed that I had been thinking about some family history.

My daughter Jessie – named after my mother – is the family researcher. She’s always been interested in family stories, perhaps particularly about my mother and father whom she never met (they died while I was relatively young). We had photographs of my mum with refugee children during the Spanish Civil War, and of a Spanish boy my mum and dad had ‘adopted’ at the time. I only knew his name was Jesús and that he had returned to Bilbao in 1938.

Jessie gave me a book called ‘Only for three months’ (by Adrian Bell) that told the story of the Spanish children who had come over on a boat called the Habana in 1937, soon after the bombing of Guernica by German airplanes. Guernica became famous for its brutality and for Picasso’s response in one of his most famous paintings. So the combination of family and world history developed the idea for the book, and once I started working on it, it took hold of me.


Did you have to do research and what did it entail?

It started with the reading of that book ‘Only for three months’, and a number of plotlines came from that. I read a lot around the subject and the period. I also found the art and photographs of the time helped me really enter the period. One photographer – Wolfgang Suschitsky, himself a 1930s refugee from fascism – was particularly inspirational (one of his photographs is on the front cover).

The other vital research was to do with place. There are three main settings: London, Guernica and the French border town of Hendaye. I grew up in central London so the London settings came naturally, but it was still fascinating to walk the streets featured and imagine them in an earlier period. I visited Bilbao and Guernica in northern Spain and that helped me get a proper feel, though obviously they are much changed. Visiting Hendaye was probably the most directly inspirational because it has a particular geography that plays an important part in the story. I could look across the estuary towards Spain, just a couple of miles away, and write on the spot.


How long did it take you to write?

I wrote what is now the Prologue on that Dark Angels course in September 2014. And finished writing the novel in April 2016. So two years with further editing time.


What is your usual writing routine?

My routine is not to have a routine. I’m not one of these writers who starts at 6, say, and works through to lunchtime every day – then plays tennis in the afternoon. My life is not like that because I work as a writer and consultant in the world of business and brands. My paid work in those areas subsidises my personal, fictional work. So I fit my own writing in when and where I can.

Actually my one really established writing habit is to always spend Friday evenings locked away – nowadays in my converted loft at home – and write as late as the spirit moves me. It used to be till the early hours – nowadays I stop before midnight.


I think it would be wonderful if some of the characters from your book came alive. What would be your reaction if that happened?

It has happened. These characters are real for me. I also have the strange experience with this novel of my family history. My mum and dad are definitely not characters in the novel but I found myself writing scenes where they might have been present. It might sound spooky or sentimental – but it was an important aspect of the writing experience with this book.


What are you planning to write next?

When I finished ‘Spanish Crossings’ I felt bereft – the story and characters I’d lived with had moved out of my head. So I needed to fill it with another story and new characters. I almost forced that to happen one Friday night, writing a series of short pieces set during the First World War. That gave me a range of characters and the characters suggested stories that could be linked.

What has emerged is a novel in progress called ‘The Good Messenger’. It’s set before and after the First World War; the first part has a nine-year-old boy as its central character, the final part shows him grown up in the 1920s and reconnecting with some of the characters from the pre-war period. I’m probably two-thirds (about 60.000 words) through the first draft.


You’ve had an interesting career by the looks of it. Can you tell me a bit about your Dark Angels workshops?

I was a director of Interbrand until 2003 (‘the world’s leading brand agency’). I insisted that language – the way companies communicate through words – needed to be part of branding. So I established a discipline to focus on that, and started writing books about ‘how to write more powerfully for brands’. One of those books was called ‘Dark Angels’, and this also became a training programme in ‘creative writing for business’. Three books make up the Dark Angels Trilogy and these have now been published in new editions by Urbane.

I’ve been running these Dark Angels courses for more than a dozen years now, for most of that time with two Scottish writers (Stuart Delves and Jamie Jauncey) and now with a wider group of associates, including writer/trainers in the USA, Ireland and the Antipodes. We go to remote and beautiful places – the Scottish highlands, Andalucian national park, coast of Cornwall, rural Ireland – and work with writers intensively on creative exercises. It’s great fun. People who ‘graduate’ tell me that it’s a life-transforming experience. www.dark-angels.org.uk


What are your thoughts on social media?

It’s the world we live in now. When the most powerful man in the world seems addicted to Twitter, you can’t ignore its influence. So I’m regularly on Twitter @JNSim, less regularly on Facebook, and I enjoy Instagram because I love photography and make no claims for any ability in that area.

More recently I’ve discovered more of the background to my Spanish story and the events of that time via Twitter. I was followed by a number of Spanish/Basque people and they have been enormously helpful in uncovering previously unknown aspects of that history. Including some of what happened to Jesùs Iguaran Aramburu after he returned to Spain.


What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’ve always loved theatre and football. I’ve been lucky to combine these passions with my writing work. With my son Matt I wrote a book about our team, the Arsenal, and I’ve worked on the brands of a number of theatrical institutions such as the National Theatre, the Globe and the Old Vic.


What do you prefer – hardbacks or paperbacks?

I’ve always loved the book as a physical object, the look, feel and smell of a new book. The hardback has more of that tactile, sensuous appeal but I probably prefer to read paperbacks simply because I read while travelling, and a paperback is so easy to carry around and read on the tube, train etc. But I do believe all books are beautiful, collectible objects – I had to create my loft largely because I’d run out of shelf space for all the books. Books do furnish a room.


Describe your life in three words

Observing, listening, writing.



26 Fruits Website – www.26fruits.co.uk/blog

Dark Angels Website – www.dark-angels.org.uk

Co-founder of www.26.org.uk

Twitter – @JNSim

Guest Post about Pete Adams

I hope you’re all enjoying my Urbane Blog Event so far.  I have something very different for you now, a guest post about Pete Adams, written by his hat.  I had the privilege of meeting Pete a couple of times last year.  He’s an amazing man with lots of wonderful ideas and as you will see below, he has an extremely talented hat.  Pete is exactly as he is online.  His sense of humour is just the same, if not worse.  I hope Pete will be able to read this as he’s so tall, he might not be able to see the screen or his hat might cover his eyes.


I am often open to a bit of frippery, especially from a writer I admire, and today, complete with meretricious adornment, I present Pete Adams, author of The Kind Hearts and Martinets series, that he says is a trilogy in 8 books (we are off) and the fourth book of that trilogy, Ghost and Ragman Roll, is published by Urbane on the 20th April 2017, following on from the success of A Barrow Boy’s Cadenza, said by German author Skadi Winter, to be “The best contemporary British novel she has read in a long time”.

Book 3

Book 4, published 20th April 2017

I have known Pete since he signed with Urbane and certainly he is a most talented writer, his Kind Hearts and Martinets books in a genre that is hard to define – Urbane say, they are “Crime thrillers that will make you laugh.” Pete says it is down to his muse, Jane Austen, or it could be Mary Poppins (not the penguins he says), it is sometimes difficult to tell; his central characters being DCI Jack (Jane) Austin and Detective Superintendent Amanda Bruce, is she Mary, and is she responsible for the underlying social message in Kind Hearts? One reviewer said Pete Adams books made him “laugh, cry and think”. They certainly have a unique and captivating style, and I have to agree with Urbane that this series is growing an enthusiastic following, marked by the demand for advance review copies of Ghost and Ragman Roll, available for preview in March.

Pete Adams is a versatile writer, and his short, off the wall, stories, are starting to find success as well, and we hope to see them in his own anthology soon – his story Pop Dead – the Pension Papers was included in an anthology called Dark Minds, Published by Bloodhound, and is a best seller in UK, USA, Canada and Australia, one reviewer saying “Pete Adams your story in Dark Minds is a piece of genius”.

Pete reads these stories at literary cafe evenings and he says they go down really well, as you can see; well, we have to take his word for it:

He has also written, and illustrated, three books of nonsense tales, for children and grownups who have not grown up, called Whopping Tales, and beta readers have lauded it as masterful, likening them to the Spike Milligan books. Hope to see these published sometime soon as well.

And now? Pete the Poet?

Pete says he was inspired by the poet; Tess Rosa Ruiz and her book Falling into Us, also published by Urbane. He wrote his first poem to Tess, and Pete has read this at poetry evenings; says it went well, especially as he had arranged for the exit doors to be locked. Apparently Tess liked it but Pete suggested we take his word for that.



Sonya – So Pete – what inspires you to write?

Pete – It’s about having dreams and the belief in yourself to write them down.

Sonya – Oh no, he’s gone into Bard mode; Pete stop prancing around the room with a beret on and answer the question, please – He settles:


My muse, Jane Austen and Mary Poppins.


I’m a Dreamer

In a cloud,

cuckoo land,

dream in hand,

head, disengage,

words on a page,

I’m a dreamer,

a believer?


‘A bleedin’ Dreamer’,

Muse named,

Cheer up sleepy Jane,

Quizzically, tamed,

Oh, what could that mean?

To a, daydream believer,

an un-be-lieving queen?


Alarm, never ring,

words to bring.

‘neath Jane’s wings

Off the page, Mary sings,


what does it mean,

a practically perfect queen?


Happy I dream,

White knight, a laptop steed,

Mary Jane,

a-muse me,

dreams freed

no words decried

I’m a believer,

I couldn’t stop if I tried.


Sleep in my eyes,

the razor stings,

before Jane sings,

Oh, what, can it mean,

cheer up Mary, Jane,

nothing, to me,

lest you believe,

I’m a daydream believer,


Depart you arcane,

cheer up sleepy Jane

Not here mundane,

You know what I mean

for me’ for Mary and for

homecoming Jane,

and stories seen.


I hope you all enjoyed reading about Pete Adams.  I’ve certainly learnt a thing or two.  His hat wrote a really good piece about Pete and I really think it should try and find a publisher too  Such talent should not be wasted.


In all its excitement, Pete’s hat forgot to give me some important links.

‘A Barrow Boy’s Cadenza’ can be bought from:-

Urbane Publications – http://urbanepublications.com/books/a-barrow-boys-cadenza/

Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Barrow-Boys-Cadenza-detective-Martinets-ebook/dp/B01080YCJQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1489138659&sr=1-1&keywords=pete+adams

‘Ghost and Ragman Roll’ can be pre-ordered from:-

Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ghost-Ragman-Roll-Hearts-Martinets/dp/1911583034/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1489138659&sr=1-3&keywords=pete+adams

My owner is on Twitter – @Peteadams8


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