Taking a deep breath, she put the old-fashioned key in the lock and turned it. She’d half expected it to stick, given the age of both, but the mechanism moved with ease and the of the shop door swung open before her.
What on earth was she supposed to do with the place?
The shop smelled stale and musty and slightly unclean – a bit like its previous owner, her late great-uncle. It had been over twenty years since she had last visited “The Society For The Protection Of Unwanted Objects.” She’d been shocked to learn that she had inherited the place when her uncle had passed away three months beforehand. Growing up, she’d been passed around the family after the death of her parents, spending most of her childhood with her aunt. The shop had always been a bit of a sanctuary for her, seeing herself as the “unwanted object” in the family. As a child, she’d imagined the shop as a “real life” episode of Bagpuss; as an adult, she was at a loss as to what to make of it.
What did she know about running a shop?
Glancing round, all she could see before her was clutter and junk. A thick layer of dust covered everything in sight. Most of the items on the shelves and in the display cabinets looked as though they’d been there since her last visit.
Leaving the door open, she ventured further inside. A letter addressed to her, in her uncle’s shaking writing, lay amongst the dust bunnies on the glass counter. Leaving it unopened for now, she explored the rest of the shop. Both storerooms were piled high with yet more junk. The small kitchen cum sitting room right at the back of the building looked completely unchanged from her childhood and was desperately in need of a good clean.
“Oh, why, Uncle Samuel?” she sighed as she walked back through to the main shop.
A cough from the doorway startled her.
“Hi. Are you the new owner?” asked a tall guy with long dark hair, pulled back into a ponytail, his bare arms covered in tattoos. “I’m Sam. I’m your neighbour. I own the art gallery next door.”
A ray of sunlight broke through the clouds at that moment. With a cloud of dust motes creating an aura around him, he smiled.
What takes approximately 106500 steps and four days (it was all the time I had) to explore?
I’m sure there are many answers to that question but on this occasion the correct answer is Paris.
I could wax lyrical here about every last second of the trip, but I’ll spare you that level of detail and share the edited highlights with you and a few of the several hundred photos I took as the Big Green Gummi Bear, and I meandered the rues and boulevards of Paris.
This short break was planned and booked as a “once in a lifetime” experience so we didn’t scrimp on anything. Life is for living and after the delights of the past two years, we decided that we deserved the five-star experience.
We arrived in the city mid-afternoon on Monday and checked into our hotel on Rue Scribe. It was ideally situated for exploring the city so once we’d freshened up, we headed out to explore and set off in search of the Seine. Seemed like a good place to start.
It only took us a few minutes, after an initial wrong turn, to reach Place de la Concorde, which was to be one of our main landmarks for the duration of our stay. There’s a huge gold topped Egyptian obelisk in the centre of Place de la Concorde that sits on the former site of the guillotine!
We crossed Pont de la Concorde and wandered along the left bank of the Seine towards the Eiffel Tower. So many bridges! We didn’t want to walk too far and crossed back via Pont de l’Alma (I think) then meandered back through Place de la Concorde, up Rue Royale and along the boulevard back to the hotel.
To keep things simple for our first night, I’d pre-booked a table at the Hard Rock Café for dinner. The meal and cocktails were great but to be honest, our table wasn’t ideally situated for seeing the HRC’s memorabilia. We were seated in a crowded corner, and I had a view of a naked Frank Zappa sitting on the loo for the evening. I’ll confess I may have splurged a little in the rock shop on the way out.
Tuesday was our first full day of sight-seeing. We’d decided to visit one or two things/places a day to allow sufficient time to fully appreciate them. At least that was the plan. The Palais Garnier, the opera house across the street from the hotel, was our first stop. I’d booked a guided tour for us, and it was well-worth it to learn the history of this stunning theatre. (I’ll most likely write more about this in a future blog – you have been warned.) The Palais Garnier is stunning inside and steeped in history. It was also the opera house that inspired the story/musical/film Phantom of the Opera. We never saw the Phantom; his seat was empty.
After a long walk through the twisting streets, we found ourselves in the Montmartre district of the city. Our destination was the most visited monument in Paris – Sacre-Coeur. If only I’d realised that reaching it meant climbing as many stairs! I was in need of oxygen before I reached the wide staircase leading up to the church itself. The views of the city made it all worthwhile; the stained glass of Scare-Coeur also made it worthwhile. We realised as we entered the building that you could also climb up to the dome for a mere 7 Euros each. That’s a climb that’s not for the fainthearted or the claustrophobic! 292 narrow, steep, spiral stone stairs take you up to the dome. I don’t often experience feelings of claustrophobia but by the last fifty steps I thought I was going to die! The walls were closing in on me (no idea if it does actually get narrower but it felt tighter), my heart was pounding out of my chest, I felt clammy, and my legs were like jelly. Thank God there was a stone bench to sit on at the top.
The views out over the entire city from such a high vantage point were breathtaking. You could see for miles!
Fortunately, the climb back down was considerably easier!
Wednesday saw us up and out early for a 10:15am rendezvous with our tour guide. Again, we headed to Place de la Concorde then through the Jardin des Tuileries to meet our tour guide at the Arc de Triumph Carousel. If you ever intend to visit the Louvre museum, our destination for the day, can I strongly recommend booking a guided tour. When we arrived, less than an hour after the museum opened for the day, the queues outside the pyramid entrance stretched for miles. Our lovely guide, Alexandra, by-passed those, allowing us to enter via one of the other underground entrances then escorted us through the crowds pointing out the key exhibits of the museum, as well as giving us a history lesson of the building itself. The Louvre is vast! We only saw a tiny portion of it. I’d have loved to stay and explore some more but the Big Green Gummi Bear was bored so we left about an hour after our tour ended.
We crossed the river to the left bank again then meandered out towards Notre Dame. Its currently impossible to get near it due to the ongoing restoration work. We meandered around Ile de la Cite before crossing Pont Neuf and heading back to the hotel to get ready for our “big night out”.
Showered and changed, we grabbed a taxi to take us back towards Montmartre and our destination for the evening – Moulin Rouge. We had an amazing evening being wined and dined in VIP style before enjoying the ninety-minute show “Feenie”. Yes, its all as glitzy as you’d imagine, complete with can-can girls. Incredible food, spectacular show, charming waiter (could have happily brought him home) and an altogether unforgettable evening. Worth every Euro.
Thursday was our last full day in the city (“whew”, my wee feet cried!) We had one final tour left – a trip to the summit of the Eiffel Tower. Again, we meandered through Place de la Concorde to the left bank, through the Invalides area of the city to Parc du Champs-Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower. We met up with our guide and again our pre-booked tickets allowed us to skip the lengthy queue. Security checks are really tight here! We took the lift to the second level where our guide escorted us to each of the four sides of the tower, telling is about its history and what you could see from the view. The guided tour ended there, and we then joined the queue for another lift to take us to the summit. (Tickets to the summit are restricted in number.) Thank God it didn’t involve climbing any stairs as my calves and thighs hadn’t quite recovered from visiting Sacre-Coeur. Apart from incredible views, we found a champagne bar at the summit. Well, it would have been rude not to…when in Paris and all that…
Once we descended the tower (we walked down the stairs from level two) we meandered past the Trocadero and up towards the Arc de Triumph. The rush hour traffic around it was insane! The queues to visit the arc were a mile long so we appreciated it from a distance before walking the length of the Avenue des Champs-Elysees. Well, all tours of France end on the Champs-Elysees.
There’s so much of the city I’ve still to explore but our time had run out and all good things have to come to an end.
Around her the bedroom was lit by half a dozen candles, their shadows dancing on the walls. A delicate vanilla fragrance filled the room. The gothic palace lay silent. It was almost midnight. Sitting cross-legged in the middle of the large four-poster bed, Riley sat staring down at the CD in her hands. Her CD. Her debut album that was due to be released worldwide on the stroke of midnight.
A box of CDs had been delivered that morning with a note from the record company saying simply, “Autograph these in time for the launch party on February 29th.” She’d signed her way through two silver Sharpie markers before all the CD inserts were autographed. At Garrett’s suggestion, she’d practiced her autograph on a few sheets of paper before deciding how she wanted to sign it. Initially it had been fun sitting at Garrett’s huge rosewood dining table signing the insert for each disc but after the first fifty or so the novelty swiftly wore off. Two hours later she had finished the chore. All of the discs had been signed -all bar one. The one she held in her trembling hands.
Deliberately, I’ve mentioned very little about Covid 19 on this blog as I felt for the past two years it was dominating all other avenues of life and I wanted to keep my blog as a “safe” space.
However, today seems like a good moment to pause and reflect.
I took the above photo at about 7:10am on 23 March 2020, roughly twelve hours before the UK went into its first lockdown.
For the previous few weeks, news of this virus from China had dominated conversation. I mean, who had heard of Wuhan before February 2020? Not me. There were anxious conversations, scary news stories, sensational headlines in the press and then, like a scene from 1984, the TV broadcast that the nation will recall for decades as we were all told, like naughty children, to “stay at home”.
I remember having coffee with a friend a few days beforehand during our lunchbreak at work. They asked me if I thought this virus was something to worry about and how long did I think it would last for. Both of us were growing slightly concerned; both of us a little unsure of where this situation was headed and neither of us were able to answer those simple questions.
It’s a conversation I’ve revisited in my mind many times since. If only we had known then what we know now….
Today the last of the Covid 19 laws were lifted with the Scottish “mask laws” becoming “mask guidance” so it feels like a fitting moment to pause for breath and to reflect on the past 756 days of a life lived under various lockdowns and Covid restrictions.
It feels like an appropriate moment to take stock and to think back on all the challenges we faced and survived; the emotions surrounding the impact of the various levels of restrictions that have been forced onto our everyday existence; the impact on our mental health (as Ruby Wax said, and I paraphrase – we all have mental health but some of us are in better shape than others, just like with our physical health); the impact on our relationships with friends and family; the effects that these past 756 days have had on children ( a friend posted just yesterday about how proud she is of her son for rediscovering his mojo after two tough years – yes kids have been feeling it too!); the changes that have altered the way we do our jobs on a day-to-day basis (how did we get through the working day pre-2020 without half a dozen zoom meetings a day?)…
You get the hint…so I’ll leave you to take a moment or two to reflect on the impact the past 756 days have had on you personally. Everyone’s journey from then until now is unique and there’s been no one straight road to follow.
I took this photo today from the same spot. The sun is shining. The sky’s blue. The trees are in bud. The landscape looks the same.
But I don’t think any of us are the same people we were on the morning of 23 March 2020. Do you?
These past two years have touched our lives in so many ways that they’ve left their mark and I suspect it’s a mark that will remain for many years to come.
I know personally speaking, life will never be the same.
To quote from an Alter Bridge song though-
Cause the sun always sets, the moon always falls It feels like the end, just pay no mind at all And keep on rolling, rolling, life must go on It must go on
This week I’d like to introduce you to fellow indie author BH Lynn. Our paths crossed through a mutual love of the same music (Yes, it involves Alter Bridge and Myles …stop rolling your eyes! LOL) and I’m delighted that she spared me some time recently to answer a few questions about both her debut Scars and Souvenirs and her new novel As It Was. So, without further ado…
Tell me a bit about yourself. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I’m an accountant by day, and a wife and dog mom by night when I’m not trying to do this crazy thing called writing (Or watching Hockey!). I’ve always had a creative drive. I played multiple instruments and toyed around with writing poetry as a teen, but I never thought I had what it took to fully develop characters. I actually didn’t pick up reading and seriously writing until about three years ago. After graduating from college, I was looking for a new challenge, and I truly enjoy the way writing is something I can always be working at.
Your latest book As It Was is due to be released on 15th April 2022. It’s the second book in the series charting Aiden and Jason’s story. What can you tell me about it without giving away any spoilers?
As It Was picks up about 7 months after Scars and Souvenirs ends and is from Jason’s POV this time. It’s a story about how as a relationship grows, you have to learn to grow with it. Like many of us, Jason has his own scars, and though they aren’t as visible as Aiden’s, they are just as real. His own past is becoming harder to ignore, and if he doesn’t get a handle on how to address the way he views his own vulnerabilities, it’s going to cost him the future that he and Aiden are fighting for.
Which of your characters do you like most? Why?
While I deeply love all my characters (even the one’s no one else has met) Aiden is my baby. He came to me in a time when I most needed him, and though I never set out to make him a version of myself, he helped me work through my own insecurities as he did so through book one. He’s as real to me as any friend I’ve ever had, and that might make me sound crazy, but I’ve been called worse.
What drew you to write MM romance?
MM romance offers me a world where I can relate to characters, love their love, root for them, and as a woman, not feel the urge to compare myself to them like in a traditional romance. Traditional romances I’d read portrayed women as in need of a relationship to be seen or made them into hypersexual beings which I am not. I don’t enjoy reading a book and thinking “Why aren’t I like that? Is something wrong with me?”. Also, MM romance offers a great power balance and unique issues for relationships to overcome. It just felt like home from the beginning.
Is there one particular person who inspired you to write?
I was once close friends with another Author who turned me onto the genre by asking me to BETA/ARC read for them. We unfortunately had a falling out, but they planted the seed. It was after I read the Snow and Winter Mysteries by C.S. Poe that I got the urge to write in first person, and that totally changed the game for me! I credit her with helping me find my voice.
A cruel question, but what’s your favourite book/who’s your favourite author?
This probably should be harder than it is for me to answer, but The Mystery of the Curiosities by C.S. Poe is my favourite book. Sebastian Snow is that lightning in the bottle character for me, and the vulnerabilities shown by him, and his hero love interest Calvin were just so darn genuine in that book. Even the hero needs help sometimes. I felt so seen by that series, and the mysteries are absolutely bizarre and a lot of fun to read. C.S. Poe is my favourite author, but Gregory Ashe and Josh Lanyon are right up there.
Tell me a bit about your approach to your writing. Are you a meticulous planner or do you tend towards letting your characters go with the flow?
No matter how many times I say it’s the opposite way around, my characters are the boss and I’m just along for the ride. I do very little outlining or planning. I go in with points A, H, Q, and Z. They fill in the rest.
I love to write outdoors. Where’s your favourite place to write?
I also love to write outside, but I do some of my best work at Starbucks. No idea why. I think it’s because it’s the only place where I’m not being interrupted with curiosity about what my husband is doing, or the urge to hug my really cute dog who also wants to go outside 100 times a day.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
O gosh. Pretty much anything the great Gregory Ashe has said to me. Especially when it comes to pacing and not trying to fit a chapter into a certain length etc. Just let the scenes be the scenes and the sequels be the sequels, no matter how many or how little words it takes to convey it. I got really obsessive about that at one time and since I’ve abandoned that, I’ve found my execution of my objectives has been much easier.
What advice would you give to other aspiring authors out there?
Do it for you. At the end of the day, readers, purchases, reviews…none of those things are promised. Write what you want for you, and if it happens to bring joy to someone else, that’s a nice big cherry on top.
How do you overcome writer’s block?
By reading. If I’m stuck on something, I go read something that is far from what I’m writing as a way of resetting my brain. So if I’m writing hurt comfort, I’ll go read a mystery etc. Also, I’ll sit down and write my characters doing something totally mundane and not related to the story. Sometimes I learn something about them that unclogs the mental jam.
So, what’s next creatively? Are you working on anything else just now?
While Aiden and Jason have a third story on deck, I plan to switch up and release the first story in my LEO/whodunnit series next. I think it’ll be nice to get back to two other characters I love who have wildly different stories. I don’t want to burn myself or anyone else out on one set of characters. I think it’ll light an even bigger fire in me when I’m ready to return to story three.
Then for a bit of fun:
Favourite food A big fat juicy cheeseburger!
Favourite drink Caramel Macchiato’s
Favourite band Alter Bridge. Their music saved me more times than I can count.
Favourite holiday destination Chicago, Illinois. I just love that city!
If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why? Teleporting, because I hate driving! Also, I would love to travel but also don’t really enjoy flying. I just want to click my fingers and be somewhere else. That’d be ideal for me.
Scars and Souvenirs review
BH Lynn’s debut novel is the first MM romance to cross my radar. Within a few pages I was captivated by Aiden’s vulnerability. When Jason was introduced, my protective “momma” mode kicked in. Would he be good enough for Aiden? No spoilers from me so if you want to know the answer to that you’ll need to read Scars And Souvenirs for yourself. Both central characters are strong characters that are each other’s Yin and Yang. The chemistry just works here. I have a clear picture of Jason in my head. Aiden less so.
There’s a sensitively handled subtlety to this tale. It drew me in. I was quickly invested in this one and am already looking forward to reading book 2 As It Was when it is released next month.
Great debut novel.
As It Was
Jason: Three fourths. Seventy five percent. It was a passing grade in school, so why wouldn’t one accept such when it came to life?
After eight years in a disastrous relationship with a controlling drug addict named Ben, I’d resigned myself to being the type of person who just wasn’t meant to find love. I’d stepped up to the plate, swung my bat more times than any umpire would allow, then finally struck out. I had a great career, great friends and family, and over three years I’d hardly found myself missing all that comes with being in a relationship. That was until I met Aiden.
Aiden made me realize I’d been swallowing down that lie for so long that I’d almost convinced myself it was true.
But even the best relationships run into issues, and when my past comes back with a vengeance to threaten my future, I discover that there’s more damage left inside of me than I ever wanted to admit. As my instincts to protect Aiden from that part of my life go astray, and the missteps and pressures add up, I realize that I have to make a decision that will greatly impact our future:
Keep trying to hold my head above water and protect the persona of strength I’d fought for years to build.
Or risk looking like the fraud I feel like I am sometimes and admit insecurities I’ve tried to bury before they drown me.
Can I find the strength to make the right choice in the face of the type of discomfort I’d sworn away after Ben? Can Aiden and I both fight our own fights and still fight for each other? Or will it all be too much, and life will return to as it was?
It’s funny the things you remember from your childhood. Memories of this box of crayons popped back into my head yesterday when I was in Paperchase deliberating over which journals and pens to treat myself to. I love fancy pens and notebooks!
I remember saving up to buy this box of crayons when I was about 10 years old. I eventually bought my box, complete with sharpener, at the ACME on holiday in America in 1980. No idea what I paid for it but $5 rings a vague bell (it was a long time ago even for my crazy memory).
Even back then I loved colourful pens and pencils and crayons. That box of crayons was my treasured possession at the time. I took great care not to overuse any of the colours in case I had to tear the paper down. (Anyone else remember doing that or is it just me?) The built-in sharpener was used sparingly but I loved the wee colourful curls it spat out. Sad but true! LOL
Oh, happy days….
Now life’s busy. Life’s stressful. Those innocent childhood days when the biggest decision was whether to use Indigo or Violet or Purple are long gone but one of my favourite sayings still harks back to those days.
We’re all a little broken but last time I checked broken crayons still colour.
(images sourced via Google – credits to the owners)
I’ve been known to enjoy the occasional meander or two…. Ok it’s a daily occurrence.
If you ever pass me when I’m out walking alone, please don’t be offended if I appear to ignore you. Meandering time is head space time. Time to rationalise the thoughts of the day. Time to reflect.
It can also be time to daydream and create. Many scenes from my book babies have come to fruition after a good meander.
My mind is seldom still and quiet.
Last Sunday, I enjoyed a short (ok very short) meander with my Girl Child when we visited a holistic therapy centre for a mother/daughter treat. We were early for our appointments and decided to explore the trail beside the centre. There were two routes of differing lengths to choose from. We opted for the shorter one just to be on the safe side.
As we walked along the narrow path, we were surrounded by the sights and sounds of spring. All good for the soul.
Then I spotted it….
My imagination has been whirring away ever since. Who lives in this tiny house? A tiny wizard? A fairy? A witch? …..
I can’t help but think that there’s a story waiting to be told about the “person” who lives behind this tiny door.