A sense of place

An author guest blog by Morgan Cheshire

When writing historical fiction set in an urban environment, with both gentlemen still living with their families, it can be quite difficult to find a suitable location to forward their romance.

ALWAYS WITH US is set in Victorian Liverpool, with its many hotels, but that meant there was always the risk of being recognised. I needed somewhere away from the city, that Harrison had legitimate reason to visit, which had suitable accommodation, and could provide a reason for not returning home. Enter the village of Eastham, across the river Mersey.

Eastham is one of the oldest villages on the Wirral and has been inhabited since Anglo Saxon times. The oldest part of the modern village is to the east of the A41 and is centred on St Mary’s church, the scene of the funeral of one of Harrison’s clients. There has been a ferry service between Liverpool and Eastham since the Middle Ages, originally operated by monks from the Abbey of St Werburgh.

A large increase in traffic in the 1700s led to a new pier being built and there could be forty coaches a day, both passenger and goods, arriving to cross the river to Liverpool. In 1816 paddle steamers replaced sailing boats, but it was less than thirty years before demand for the ferry service declined after the opening of a rail link between Chester and Woodside Ferry, Birkenhead.

The village had now spread to the west, on the other side of the main road, and to get to the ferry itself you had to drive down through farmland. To increase his profits the owner of the ferry, Thomas Stanley – the Stanleys are an old Cheshire family – built a hotel adjacent to the pier at Eastham Ferry. To attract more visitors to the hotel he also decided to build an adjoining Pleasure Garden and charge admittance. It was a big undertaking and must have required quite an investment of time and money. The landscaped gardens included ornamental trees and fountains, and in the spring Azaleas and Rhododendrons made a colourful display.

The gardens became a popular choice for a day out, especially attracting visitors from the city who came to enjoy the fresh air strolling among the flower beds. There was, however, more to see and do than admire the intricate planting. There were tea rooms to rest and enjoy cakes and sandwiches while listening to music from the performers on the band-stand; theatrical productions also appeared on the open-air stage – presumably ‘weather permitting’, although I have attended an open-air production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream where it rained solidly and there were some very sodden fairies – but luckily the audience was under cover.

For the energetic there was a ballroom to enjoy, a boating-lake, and a water-chute. One of the major attractions was the zoo; lions could be seen in wheeled cages that were drawn around the park, monkeys and an antelope had their admirers, and then there was the bear-pit with its two occupants.

As a child wandering around the overgrown woodland and finding uneven stone steps, slippery with moss, that led down to a strange stone-lined pit felt like finding a place out of a fairy tale – especially as the sun never seemed to penetrate the leaves of the Rhododendron trees. It wasn’t until much later that I found out it had originally been a bear-pit, and given that the original occupants would not have had a very good life perhaps the gloom was a fitting memorial. In its day the bear-pit was a highly popular place, though, and an iron-work dome meant that people could stare at the bears in complete safety.

In the summer entertainers performed in the gardens; these included Blondin, a famous tightrope-walker, who once wheeled a local boy across a high wire in a wheelbarrow. I wonder what Health and Safety would have to say if he tried that today?

Another visitor, in 1854, was the United States Consul in Liverpool, author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote admiringly in his journal about the antique houses and picturesque aspect of the village itself.

As the Gardens prospered so did Thomas Stanley. The Manchester Ship Canal was opened by Queen Victoria in 1894, just before the events of ALWAYS WITH US, and in 1897 an archway was built at the entrance to the Gardens to commemorate her Diamond Jubilee.

The popularity of the Pleasure Gardens was not to last, however.  Eighty years after it was opened it was in decline, and the last paddle-steamer made the river crossing in 1929. The following decade saw the gardens neglected and falling into disrepair; the iron pier and Jubilee Arch were dismantled, and except for local dog-walkers the place was forgotten.

In 1970 it was designated a Woodland and Country Park and visitors returned to stand on the truncated pier and look out across the river to Liverpool, to watch tankers going past before they entered the Ship Canal which would take them to the oil refinery at Ellesmere Port and the docks at Manchester.

Thankfully the hotel remains, and it is possible to have a meal in the restaurant. There are no flower beds but the bluebells can be admired in the spring, and a bird-hide attracts both people and birds. A lot of the rhododendron growth has now been removed and it is possible to wander the paths and find hidden steps, including those that lead to the bear-pit.  However I doubt if many people realise what a thriving centre the Pleasure Gardens once were; indeed I would not have known myself if I had not been searching for the ideal place for Harrison and Daniel to further their relationship!

Manifold Press paperbacks

The Press doesn’t issue paperback editions of all our titles, as the decision to do so is driven by the individual authors. That being said, we’re delighted with the twenty titles that have made it into print thus far! There are new ones on the way, so it seemed to be a good time to take stock of what we have so far.

A veritable rainbow of books from Manifold Press!
A veritable rainbow of books from Manifold Press!

Our current paperback titles are listed here, along with Amazon US buy links:

The Apothecary's Garden paperback coverAlways With Us by Morgan Cheshire

The Apothecary’s Garden by Julie Bozza

Between Now and Then by Adam Fitzroy

Butterfly Hunter (#1) by Julie Bozza

Of Dreams and Ceremonies (Butterfly Hunter #2) by Julie Bozza

The Thousand Smiles of Nicholas Goring (Butterfly Hunter #3) by Julie Bozza

The Butterfly Hunter Trilogy (incorporating all three novels plus the free short story Like Leaves to a Tree) by Julie Bozza

Dear Mister President by Adam Fitzroy

Make Do and Mend paperback coverThe Definitive Albert J. Sterne (incorporating the novel and the stories published separately in the eBook Albert J. Sterne: Future Bright, Past Imperfect) by Julie Bozza

Ghost Station by Adam Fitzroy

Homosapien … a fantasy about pro wrestling by Julie Bozza

Make Do and Mend by Adam Fitzroy

Mitch Rebecki Gets a Life by Julie Bozza

A Pride of Poppies Modern LGBTQIA Fiction of the Great War – anthology including stories by Julie Bozza, Barry Brennessel, Charlie Cochrane, Sam Evans, Lou Faulkner, Adam Fitzroy, Wendy C. Fries, Z. McAspurren, Eleanor Musgrove and Jay Lewis Taylor

A Pride of Poppies - paperback coverRavages by R.A. Padmos

Solemn Contract by Morgan Cheshire

Stage Whispers by Adam Fitzroy

A Threefold Cord by Julie Bozza

The ‘True Love’ Solution by Julie Bozza

The Valley of the Shadow of Death by Julie Bozza

We hope you’ll enjoy these paperback editions and – like us! – are looking forward to more titles coming soon.

AUTHOR GUEST BLOG NUMBER TWENTY SEVEN – Morgan Cheshire

ALWAYS WITH US – the value of research!

ALWAYS WITH USI’d had the characters of Harrison Calderwood and Daniel Harper, in what became ALWAYS WITH US, in mind for a long time. I wanted to explore the way a relationship between two men of different social backgrounds would work, what the problems would be and how they would solve them. I considered various occupations before I made Harrison a solicitor; this made Daniel’s employment background easier to design, and it also meant that Harrison’s social position was good but not exalted.

Next was a location. At first I wanted a country setting and considered the market town of Nantwich, but it did not work for various reasons; neither did Manchester when I considered a city location. Looking at the problem I realised Liverpool would be perfect, and since I live nearby it should have been the first place I thought of.

Liverpool is a place I love and know well, and it had all the ingredients I needed i.e. culture and industry, great wealth contrasting with great poverty – and often literally side by side, as with the slum courts behind one of the most fashionable shopping streets in the city. There was also great philanthropy in practical and political action.

Social history has always interested me far more than battles and monarchs, and it was social history I studied at the Open University. I already had some background knowledge gained from reading about Father Nugent, a Roman Catholic priest who worked with his Anglican counterpart to help the poor of their city, its population swollen by the influx of Irish immigrants driven from their homes by the failure of the potato crop and their misery compounded by an outbreak of cholera in the city a year later.

As well as all this I also have family history interests in Liverpool and so had a good base of research material to draw on, supplemented by the internet.

I like to do on-the-spot research if possible and discover how long it takes to walk from one place to another and what you can see when you get there, so now it was time to venture out.

I have a wonderful ‘Writing Partner’ who doesn’t write herself but has inspired ideas, and is always willing to go on a field trip with me to find out whatever I need to know for a story. ALWAYS WITH US required several such field trips, and all of them somehow managed to include meals out. The first was to Nantwich, which has the most fantastic fish and chip restaurant and an Oxfam book shop in the same street – more than enough reason to visit in themselves – plus it is pretty and full of history, including many original black-and-white buildings, one of which was rebuilt in 1584.

A visit to the local museum provided the factual basis for the clothing factory in the story and information about shops existing in the 1890s, and the factory owner’s house was one I have always admired when passing it on the bus into town.

Southport, where part of the story takes place, required a trip to look at the local history exhibit and a walk out to the sand dunes to confirm what I remembered about the distances involved and the ‘feel’ of the place.

The visit of Harrison, Daniel and his son Joseph to Southport and the sand dunes leads directly to them making a visit to the Liverpool Museum, now a World Museum, to identify the colourful beetle Joseph found in the dunes; fortunately the public no longer have to climb the vertigo inducing steps to what was the main entrance!

I had researched the origin of the museum but hadn’t found out what it looked like on the inside, so I was amazed when Writing Partner and I arrived there to find a photograph in the entrance hall showing what it had looked like in the 1890s. To identify Joseph’s beetle I had spent some time with my book of insects looking for one with the right terrain and appearance to interest a boy of 11, and thus the Green Tiger Beetle took his place on the page.

Liverpool needed several visits, plus a consultation with my friend Rhiannon about where the Calderwood family was likely to live. On the basis of her advice I went, together with Writing Partner and Cimorene Ross (who was over on a visit) in search of houses for Harrison and Daniel. We conquered the local bus service and explored the area above the present Anglican Cathedral, finding a home for Harrison’s future sister-in-law and the church they would have attended. We discovered Daniel’s more modest lodgings further down the hill, and I based his landlady on my paternal grandmother.

Lunch this day was as the Anglican Cathedral; Writing Partner took exception to having her meal served on a plank and asked for a plate, which was reluctantly provided! I wanted chips with my cauliflower cheese (Fiona will agree with me here) not salad and they were reluctant about this as well, but I got my chips in the end and the food turned out to be very good indeed.

I knew what I wanted for the Calderwood home and hadn’t found it, so Writing Partner and I went to Sudley House – a lovely place that should be better known; a few (mental) alterations to that and Harrison had a home. The cakes were good there, too.

Having read this far, you will have realised that food plays a very important part in any research trip – not, I hasten to add, the most important part, but definitely one of the perks! More recently, Writing Partner has already accompanied me on several field trips for ROSES AND CASTLES – which will hopefully be my next book for Manifold Press, later in the year -and we’ve found another excellent fish and chip restaurant, this time in Middlewich. There really is a lot to be said for the value of research!

Price reductions on old favourites

2016 is going to be a year of changes throughout MANIFOLD PRESS – which we’ll explain in more detail as we go along. However we thought we’d start out gently with permanent price reductions on a handful of our classic titles.

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ALOES by Chris Quinton – now $4.95!

A fluke accident puts Perry in a coma. When he awakes, his scrambled synapses have given him a talent; he can tell truth from lies simply by their flavour. This, plus the new client who is far too attractive for Perry’s peace of mind, the client’s contentious family and the dilapidated old mansion Perry has to restore for him – not to mention anonymous threats which escalate to attempted murder – all ensure that Perry’s life will never be the same again!

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ALWAYS WITH US by Morgan Cheshire – now $5.95!

Liverpool, 1896: Wealthy Harrison Calderwood has never given much thought to the poor of the bustling city until he accidentally runs into firebrand Daniel Harper. Through Daniel’s eyes he begins to see how much more could be done to improve the lot of the working people, and at the same time he begins to feel a very strong attraction towards Daniel himself. However this is the Victorian era, Daniel is believed to be a troublemaker, and Harrison has a position to maintain and a family who are expecting him to marry a well-to-do young woman and settle down to a conventional life …

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HOMOSAPIEN by Julie Bozza – now $4.95

Patrick and David are friends who run a gay bookstore, and life seems simple and safe enough until the day when unexpectedly he walks in – six feet tall, gorgeous and built like a dream. But Homosapien isn’t welcome in their world; he’s a professional wrestler, and everything he does is fake. So he can’t really be gay, can he, or interested in either one of them? Can they even trust a single word he says … ?

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SEA CHANGE by Chris Quinton – now $6.95!

Injured on duty and no longer fit for active service, soon-to-be-ex-Coast Guard Bran Kaulana is drifting, filling his days helping out at the Wai Ola Rescue Center, one of Honolulu’s wildlife charities. He’s working with the new veterinary, Steve, a man drawn to O’ahu by his fascination with dolphins. As their friendship slowly deepens into love, the two men are caught up in the mystery of injured seals and dolphins, a ruthless gang of smugglers and a not-so-dormant undersea lava vent.

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THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH by Julie Bozza – now $4.95!

Joshua Delaney and Carmine Angelo Trezini, cop and mobster, should have absolutely nothing in common; yet, accidentally brought together, they rapidly became both lovers and allies against important crime figure Matthew Picano. Of course, taking down a man like that was never going to be easy – but Josh has no idea of the scale of the sacrifice he will eventually be called upon to make.

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If you missed any of these diverse and fascinating titles earlier in their illustrious careers, this would be a wonderful opportunity of making their acquaintance!

Valentine’s Day Giveaway – Day Six

ValentinesDayBanner

Hello again, dear Readers!

With the help of random.org, we have drawn another name out of the virtual hat: today Louise asked for a copy of ALWAYS WITH US by Morgan Cheshire, and that will be heading your way soon, Louise!

Chris, Dianna, Jess, Helena, Louise and all our other lovely readers are now very welcome to enter the sixth day of the giveaway.

Also, don’t forget to check out the new event we have planned for May: Queer Company!

Meanwhile, for seven days from Valentine’s Day, we’re giving away one free book per day, with the draws to be made as close as possible to 12.00 midday UK time starting on Sunday 15 February.

To win the Manifold Press book of your choice all you need to do is tell us – in a screened reply below:

  • your first name,
  • your email address,
  • the title of the book you’d like, and
  • the format you prefer (epub, mobi or pdf).

All our current titles are available, but only in electronic formats.

If you are successful once, don’t let it deter you from entering again; you can win twice before being disqualified for the rest of the giveaway.

So come on in and join us. It’s a great chance to experiment with the work of a new author, or to complete the backlist of a favourite – and good luck and best wishes to everyone who takes part!

New review of ALWAYS WITH US

ALWAYS WITH USMorgan Cheshire’s ALWAYS WITH US is the most recent of our titles to come to the benevolent attention of Elisa at her influential blog Reviews and Ramblings, and once again we seem to have made a good impression on her:

Harrison and Daniel’s relationship is like embers more than fire; there is passion, and warmth, but they aren’t full flames, so much that Harrison, until forced by someone else to analyze his feelings towards Daniel, hadn’t realized they were love.

It would be fair to say that, like Harrison and Daniel’s relationship, Morgan’s book has been a bit of a slow-burner – but, to pursue the metaphor, we also believe that it has great staying-power; it’s a book that people fall in love with, and the feeling tends to last. Thank you, Elisa, for making it possible for even more people to fall in love with ALWAYS WITH US!

Rainbow Awards finalists announced!

Manifold Press published eight books in the eligible period (the year to 5 September 2013) and we’ve just learned that six of them have made the finals!

They are:

THE APOTHECARY’S GARDEN by Julie Bozza
MAKE DO AND MEND by Adam Fitzroy
ALWAYS WITH US by Morgan Cheshire
MONTANA RED by Jane Elliot
BETWEEN NOW AND THEN by Adam Fitzroy
FOOL’S RUSH by Chris Quinton

Congratulations to all our hard-working authors – it’s wonderful to see your work being recognised on a bigger stage – and we’ll be biting our fingernails down to the elbows from now until the results are announced in December!

ETA: Can you believe I managed to miss Morgan’s book from the original list? If she wasn’t such a good friend she’d have good reason to be angry with me about that!

New review of ALWAYS WITH US

Over at Jessewave, guest reviewer LenaLena has delivered her verdict on Morgan Cheshire’s ALWAYS WITH US. It would be quite fair to say she wasn’t exactly bowled over, but she still managed to find things to say about it that we are wholeheartedly able to endorse:

So it’s not a historical novel, but it really isn’t a romance either. I’m sure there are other people out there who disagree with me and who find this love story utterly charming in its restraint. The restraint matches the time period well, of course, and I actually liked the way the communication between the main characters was so very stiff upper lip.

It’s true that some readers will find ALWAYS WITH US rather milder fare than they’re used to – but we’re assured that there are indeed a number of readers out there who prefer a more decorous and slower-burning type of story development, and we’re very sorry that we were unable to meet this particular reader’s expectations.

Statistics for June / uploads to partner sites

Apologies for not posting these yesterday; the Press took a day off to visit its mother and see ‘Despicable Me 2’. (One of these activities was more enjoyable than the other!)

Our best-seller for June through the Press website was Adam’s BETWEEN NOW AND THEN, but for the second month running the highest-selling title overall has been Jane’s oustandingly popular ABOVE ALL.

We’ve uploaded our previous two titles – Morgan Cheshire’s ALWAYS WITH US and Julie Bozza’s highly-acclaimed THE APOTHECARY’S GARDEN – to our partner sites, Rainbow, All Romance, Kindle and Smashwords, and THE APOTHECARY’S GARDEN is also now available in a Print on Demand paperback edition.

For anyone still interested in monitoring our response times – which we record on a routine basis – the average for the three months to 1 July was 5 hours and 45 minutes.

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Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that the covers for our new books differ slightly in format from the ones we’ve been using up until now. Over the next few months we’ll be introducing a new set of covers across the board (including to Smashwords, where we’ll eventually replace the temporary ones). In most cases the difference will be extremely subtle – a new font, and a slightly different crop of the image – although unfortunately with both Julie’s THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH and Chris’s FOOL’S ERRAND we’ve been unable to get hold of higher-resolution versions of the original picture and have had to do the best we can with the nearest equivalent. The plan at the moment is to have all these new covers rolled out everywhere on or before 1 November, however, so watch this space!