Time for some more Christmas music so it’s back to the wonderful acapella group Pentatonix singing a lovely modern song called The Carol of The Bells
Today is the the feast day of Saint Nicholas and while many of us are getting prepared for Christmas, there are some countries where the festivities begin early on today 6th December. This is a festival which is celebrated across Europe with gift-giving in Western Christian countries, but it is celebrated several weeks later on 19 December in Eastern Christian countries. It is marked with the giving of presents, parades, feasts and festivals.
The figure is believed to have been Nicholas of Myra, a 4th century Greek bishop of the community of Myra, in Asia Minor who was later made a saint. During his lifetime, Nicholas had gained a reputation for gift-giving by putting coins in people’s shoes and this is where the Christmas tradition of giving gifts originates. In 1087, Italian merchants stole his body from Myra and took it to the town of Bari in southern Italy, which still celebrates St Nicholas Day to this day. It is further believed that his body was taken to Ireland where he is believed to lie to this day.
Saint Nicholas inspired the traditional characters of Santa Claus and Father Christmas. The historic figure is referred to by many names across different parts of Europe, such as Nikolaus in Germany or Sinterklaas in the Netherlands.
According to legend, Saint Nicholas is believed to visit homes accompanied by an evil spirit — known as Krampus in Austrian and German folklore — who punishes badly behaved children. In The Netherlands this character is known as Black Peter which has sparked much racial controversy in recent years.
Before St Nicholas Day, children like to leave their shoes in front of the fireplace or at the front door with the hope of finding small gifts in them on the day.
Not only is today the 5th day of the Advent Calendar but the 5th December is also the Eve of St. Nicholas. Today in Belgium and The Netherlands, families celebrate Sinterklaas when the red-robed man delivers gifts to all those who have been good for the past year. The origin of this tradition appears to be Nicholas, bishop from Myra in Turkey which is why he wears a red clerical cope and miter. It was believed that the bishop saved the town from starvation and that he was famous for leaving people secret gifts and money in their shoes. Sinterklaas appears to have moved to Spain where the Dutch say he now resides. Nobody knows why he moved and since he is now around 1800 years old he probably does not remember anyway.
Sint as he is often called, rides a dapple grey horse, named Amerigo and he writes everything down in a big red book that he carries around with him. Sinterklaas has always been the patron saint of Amsterdam, of sailors and of children. In late November, a few weeks before his actual birthday, Sint sails in from Spain by boat. His arrival is a festive occasion that children eagerly anticipate. Then he processes through the streets while his Pieten (helpers)shower the waiting children with candies and tiny brown cookies, called pepernoten.
From his arrival until his birthday on 6th December, children leave their shoes by the fireplace at night filled with hay and carrots for Sinterklaas’ horse. If the child has been good they will find chocolate or little presents the next morning. If however, the child has been naughty they will receive a note saying that if he or she doesn’t clean up their act there will be no presents on 5th December and even worse Sinterklaas may take the child with him back to Spain in his sack. Many young dutch children live in fear of being taken away!
Finally on the evening of 5th December, there is banging on the front door or on the windows but when the children open the door, there is nobody there. Instead they find a heap of presents in canvas sacks.
I have two seasonal stories available this year so I thought that today I would introduce you to Diary Dates which has already been released.
Postgraduate student Andrew Chin arrives in London not only to study, but to explore life away from his traditional family in Singapore. His adventure begins at the airport, where he finds the diary of a wealthy British businessman and endeavors to return it.
James Howard is twice Andrew’s age, and he’s not used to selfless youngsters. Despite a rocky first meeting, the two develop an unlikely friendship as James introduces Andrew to the city. James is looking forward to the festivities leading up to Christmas in London and maybe a celebration with Andrew. But will a nasty bout of the flu ruin their romantic holiday?
Not if Andrew has anything to say about it.
The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth – The story of a very unusual duet.
It is particularly apt this year that we revisit an amazing chance musical collaboration which produced one of the most popular Christmas songs of modern times. Earlier this year we lost David Bowie but almost 40 years ago at the age of 30 he came together with the 72 year old crooner Bing Crosby to record a Christmas duet which has become classic of the genre.
The androgynous Bowie arrived at the recording for Crosby’s Christmas special and the producers wanted them to do a duet of ‘Little Drummer Boy,’ but when they told Bowie about the song, he said, “I won’t sing that song, I hate that song. If I have to sing that song, I can’t do the show.” The shows writers got to work and 75 minutes later they had come up with an original counter melody (Peace on Earth) and a new bridge for the song. (It didn’t hurt their chances that Bowie’s mother was a big Crosby fan.) The song was presented it to him again and this time Bowie agreed. Bing loved the challenge of the new song and it says a lot for the mutual respect and musicality of both men that an hour later they were ready to record it.
Sadly, a month after the recording, Crosby died after a massive heart attack and never lived to see the final broadcast. I love the fact that the song allowed both men to come together for the most important four lines:
Every child must be made aware
Every child must be made to care
Care enough for his fellow man
To give all the love that he can
Welcome to day two of the 2016 Advent calendar. Today I am looking at the notion of kindness as a gift to be given freely and shared widely. Right at the outset I want to thank the lovely Helen Green (@) for her wonderful Kindness Advent Calendar which I am sharing here.
In the countdown to Christmas we can easily get caught up in the general hectic race to the finish line on Christmas Day. What if we were to spread out the practice of giving to the whole period by indulging in small acts of kindness every day. Helen tries to make this activity available to everyone by keeping the suggestions quick to arrange, easy to achieve and cheap(or free) to do.
Of course the practice of kindness is in keeping with the spirit of Christmas but the great thing about it is that it has the ability to raise our own spirits as we do it.
Click here for a PDF download of Helen’s wonderful Kindness Advent Calendar
Welcome to the first day of my 2016 Advent Calendar. During the run up to Christmas I will be posting on here every day and the content will include pictures, stories, information, music, poems or activities relevant to the season. Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is a version of the Latin word adventus translated from the Greek word parousia meaning “coming”.
Practices associated with Advent include keeping an daily Advent calendar, lighting the candles on an Advent wreath, praying an Advent daily devotional, as well as other ways of preparing for Christmas, such as setting up Christmas decorations, a custom that is sometimes done liturgically, through a hanging of the greens ceremony.
The equivalent of Advent in Eastern Christianity is called the Nativity Fast, but it differs both in length and observances, and does not begin the liturgical church year as it does in the West.
An Advent calendar is a special calendar used to count or celebrate the days in anticipation of Christmas. The date of the first Sunday of Advent varies, falling between 27th November and 3rd December, so the Advent calendar usually begins on 1st December. Some have speculated that the Advent calendar may trace its history back to the time os St. Peter although in its’s present form it has been used by German Lutherans since the 19th century.
Of course these days there are no end of variations to the traditional Advent calendar many of which are a lot more secular. Mine posted here will be seasonal rather that religious but I hope that everyone will take some joy from my eclectic tastes!
Yes I have decided to set myself the challenge of writing a novel during the month of November. The story is called Ursa Major which for those whose first language isn’t Latin, means Great Bear. Many of you will know this as the name of a stellar constellation so it will be no surprise to know that the Bear in the story is a Professor of Astronomy and Space Science.
There are five Tuesdays in this November so you can expect teasers from the novel on each of those days. Here are the opening paragraphs written this morning.
PART ONE: Good Morning Rosetta.
There’s something quite unique about the experience of driving late at night through the countryside. This is especially true when the journey takes you along quiet country lanes on cold winter nights. Sitting in the warm comfortable interior, the car somehow protects you from the elements and yet it connects you to them. This man-made bubble of metal and glass with all it’s glowing internal lights, reaches out to it’s surroundings with bright white beams. They progressively reveal your route as you speed along it.
English country lanes are certainly not uniform. Night driving like this can have you traversing open countryside one minute, then the next you are racing through a tunnel of branches where the trees are attempting to reach over the road and shake hands with each other. Just occasionally the brightest of the stars can be spotted through the wooden lattice but even on a crystal clear night like this, the envelope of light around the car obscures most of the myriad jewels twinkling above.
I’d left the sprawling city of Manchester behind almost an hour ago and was hurrying south to my destination on the Cheshire plain. I closer I got, the more I felt the stresses of the day falling away. Anticipation and excitement grew as I neared my goal and I thought about the significance of what was to unfold over the next twenty four hours. Meeting with the funding board was one of the less pleasurable duties expected of a head of department and this evening had been hard work. Even the most modern of universities could take on an air of pomposity and stuffiness when you were dealing with the upper levels of academic management.
I smiled to myself at the irony of the evening. The last few hours had been spent justifying and defending the funding of my department. The next few hours would hopefully be spent successfully using the resources of that same department to make a major contribution to the exploration of space. One of the last great frontier explorations to challenge the human race.
Bear Among The Books was published one week ago today. Since then I’ve been bowled over by the reviews it’s received from some great readers/reviewers who all seem to ‘get’ my writing, and as an author that means more than I can say. Here is a selection of the reviews from Amazon and elsewhere. (If you want to read the negative reviews, feel free to check out Goodreads!)
5* An Ode to Words and Books.
By Marleen – Published on Amazon.com
I should probably start this review by mentioning that I am a librarian. For that reason all the details about working in and the running of a library entertained me as much as the romance did. On several occasions I found myself thinking ‘oh yes, that’s how we do it too’ and that invariably brought a smile to my face. Something else that made me grin was the fact that I would probably describe myself as a cross between Daisy and Ben; while I love welcoming new members to the library and love seeing them peruse the shelves, I find it very hard not to frown when they disturb the order on those shelves.
But, this review is supposed to be about the book and not about my day job, and Bear Among the Books touched my heart in many ways. It contains a wonderful romance, it’s a declaration of love towards libraries and, maybe more than anything else it’s an ode to words, books, stories, writing, and reading.
“I had always felt sorry for people who didn’t read and never experienced the joy of getting lost in a well-written story.” – Ben
My heart ached for Jason. To love books so much and not be able to read. Scratch that, just to not be able to read is a nightmare scenario to me. A nightmare that Jason is consciously living, as his words about being/working in a library so beautifully reflect.
“It’s like being inside the biggest, richest treasure chest in the world. It’s like a bank vault for people’s dreams and experiences.”
Of course Jason’s illiteracy wasn’t the only thing about him to break my heart. His back-story is horrendous and brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion. He’s such a gentle, kind and big-hearted soul despite everything he has endured and his insecurities are as understandable as they are heart breaking.
Ben was the sort of person I could fall for myself in a heartbeat. Kind, generous, patient, and always putting others first, he is exactly what Jason needs even if everybody else realises that long before Ben is willing to entertain the idea.
Jason’s grandmother was a breath of fresh air and I loved her attitude. The age difference between Ben and Jason is large —28 years to be precise. And while Ben does initially have some understandable concerns about it, I love that it wasn’t turned into a huge belly-ache or an issue for any of the other characters in the story.
“The heart has no wrinkles.” – Alice / Nan
In fact, this is not an angsty read at all. Despite Jason’s past and Ben’s reservations about a relationship, this is mostly a sweet tale about healing and books, about people coming together to do the right thing, and about embracing new opportunities and love when they come your way.
Bear Among the Books is a charming and touching feel good story. Yes, there are one or two moments that will tug at your heartstrings and bring tears to your eyes, but overall, this tale will leave you with a huge smile on your face and a love for the written word that is even stronger than it was before you started reading it.
5* Phetra Novak for GGR Reviews
Bear Among the Books is the new piece of writing by T.J. Masters and to say it’s a brilliant success is an understatement. T.J. Masters has this serene way of writing his story that you find yourself calmed, sort of lulled into the story like a quite participant in the lives of the characters. This is something at least I find masterful, not only because you get this in depth feel for the people in the story, because T.J. Masters takes the time to let you get to know the evolving characters both main and supporting. In this book there’s quite a few characters to keep track of but it’s never difficult to follow along and learn who one of them are.
Ben, one of the two main characters, is strong, confident but not arrogant small town librarian and a man with passion for books and the written word, which I think we all can relate to in one way or another, his simplicity as a character if I may say so should be boring but it isn’t he is everything but and I been pondering that for a bit and I realized it’s because T.J. Masters allows us to be inside his head and take part of what is going on there in a way that sometime other authors rush through, also this is where the supporting characters come in to allow Ben’s character really show, his protective, caring and god honest desire and need to help others become apparent.
Secondly, we have Jason, a tormented young man, merely 19, but who has “the heart of an angel” he’s young, he’s been through hell, but thanks to his nan and eventually Ben (among other people) he find his place in this world. Jason, is fascinating, and intriguing, a young innocent man in many ways because of the situation he’s in but yet very experienced and self-sufficient for the very same situation and life experiences. It is hard not to love him from the moment you meet. He’s smart and caring, and nothing is more important to than his nan because of the fact that she’s the only person in his world, as the book starts, that loves him for the person he is.
As for the supporting characters, I absolutely LOVE Jake (I feel a story there Tim) and Jason’s grandmother, Alice, what a treat! T.J. Masters did spot on with that woman. Also, one of my absolute favorite books by T.J. Masters (besides this one) is Taking the Gardener and Eric and
Tom from that book are also mentioned and visit in this one which is more than nice. While Taking the Gardener is a lifestyle book (BDSM) this is not, they fit right in and that doesn’t surprise me at all. Because Taking the Gardener, even though there are plenty of people who didn’t understand the true meaning of that book, is just like Bear Among the Books a story about finding yourself, about finding your place in life and when you have daring to take that step out from the shadow and live life, your life, to the fullest! Well done, T.J. Masters! Well done!
5* It was amazing
Serena Yates for Rainbow Book Reviews
The book description had me at Ben being a librarian and a passionate book lover, but then there was the riddle of Jason visiting the library almost every day without ever checking out a book – and I was hooked. This is a fantastic story about two amazing men who have a lot to deal with beyond the fact that they are gay. As it turns out, this is not a problem for any of the people in Ben’s life. But the age difference they face is almost thirty years, and Jason has had a traumatic childhood resulting in more issues to overcome than most young men his age. This could have been a book full of angst and drama, but instead Ben and Jason’s story turned out to be a slow-paced, gentle romance that focuses on the growth and changes that happen as they get to know each other.
For all that Ben works well with people, it takes him quite a while to figure out why Jason comes in, takes a huge variety of books off the shelf, leafs through each one, then returns them where he found them without ever checking one out. It’s probably because he never suspects the reason, based on Jason’s behavior, and because he is a little distracted by how good Jason looks. When Ben figures it out, he decides to help Jason learn to read and because Ben used to be a teacher, he has the tools to do it. The process he used – starting with picture books and graphic novels so Jason can focus on the story – was fascinating, and I was with both of them every step of the way.
Jason, even though his point of view is not included as Ben is the sole narrator, came to life for me based on his questions, reactions, and behavior once he has someone who believes in him and supports him. Yes, his grandmother already does that for him since she has taken him into her home, but that is different because she is family and her support is mainly emotional. Something Jason is in dire need of after his stepfather’s cruel abuse and his mother’s cruelty! Ben can help Jason gain self-confidence, give him the reading skills Jason so desperately wants, and become a true partner.
You might think that two men, as far apart as they are in age and experience, will never fit. This story shows that’s not necessarily true. On the other hand, both are lonely with Ben having lost his partner a few years ago and Jason having never had a boyfriend before. Then there is their love of stories and books that unites them as Jason learns to read. But in the end it boils down to the fact that they are attracted to each other, enjoy doing things like cooking meals together, and are simply good for each other. Despite everything they have to overcome and deal with, they are great as a team and as a couple – a pretty sound basis for a long-term relationship if you ask me.
If you like slow-burn romances that become sizzling hot once the partners get going, if an unusual May/December relationship with a few added issues is your thing, and if you’re looking for a gentle love story with a lot of heart, then you will probably love this novel as much as I do. It’s a very special tale filled with warmth and an “everyday feel” that had me entranced without the need for much action or huge plot twists.
My latest novel, Bear Among the Books, will be published by Dreamspinner Press on Friday 2nd September! Here’s the blurb as well as an excerpt. You’ll find a pre-order link at the bottom of this post.
Forty-eight-year-old Ben Thompson is a librarian, a passionate book lover, and a man who embodies the definition of a bear. He’s also lonely after the loss of his long-term partner. Young ex-gymnast Jason Barnes piques his interest, but Ben quickly realizes there’s more to Jason than his good looks. While Jason visits the library almost every day, he never checks out a book.
With gentle persistence, Ben befriends Jason and learns the nineteen-year-old’s tragic secrets. After years of abuse at his father’s hands, Jason was kicked out of his family home for being gay. And despite his apparent love of books, Jason never learned to read. Ben offers to teach him, and the two men bond over their lessons. Ben can’t deny his attraction to Jason, but he wonders if Jason is too young and too handsome to return his interest. With the help of the close-knit library team and Jason’s growing self-confidence, they move beyond the books and into the bedroom, where their own story is just beginning.
Why do so many teenagers leave school unable to read?
In the early planning stages of this novel I decided that one of my main characters was going to be an illiterate teenager who had been failed by the adults throughout his troubled young life. When I first mentioned this to people I got a very bemused response from most. After all, why would Jason spend all his time hanging around in a library if he couldn’t read?
For most of my working life I was a primary school teacher with a passionate belief in the effective teaching of reading. I believe that only reading can open up the widest possible range of opportunities for success in learning. I feel that it is a failure of my profession that so many young people manage to leave school lacking the most basic literacy skills and ill equipped to make their way in the modern world.
There are many reasons why children might fail to learn how to read. Unfortunately our education system assumes that our young people will have learned to read before they get to secondary (high) school. Once there, they face a subject curriculum which has no time for the teaching of reading. In the book, Jason is a bright guy who has had a difficult home and school life. This is a young man who is intelligent enough to understand what he is missing and he aches for the knowledge which he sees as hidden in books and lost to him. Like many illiterate adults Jason feels great shame at his predicament and he has developed a whole range of clever coping mechanisms to survive in a world full of words.
It should be a matter of shame to all of us that that recent studies have ranked English teenagers as among the least literate in the developed world (OECD 2015). One more recent study by Sheffield University has found that as many as 17% of UK teenagers are leaving school as functionally illiterate. More specifically they say that one fifth of teens between the ages of 16 and 19 have a reading age of 11 or below!
This may sound depressing but in real life as in the novel, there are people like librarian Ben who are willing and able to make a difference. We just need many more of them.
Daisy joined me behind the front desk. “I’ll take over here. You’d better go and get on with something important, but keep your eye on him, that’s all.”
Clearly I was not responding as I was supposed to, and I was now being dismissed. “Thanks, Daisy. Actually I feel like doing something a bit more mundane, so I’ll take the returns trolley and stack some books.”
Indeed this might appear like a mundane task, but it gave me an excuse to tour the stacks and check that all was well. Any time spent among the books was also a welcome distraction from admin jobs. I also liked to greet our regulars when I saw them around the place, and I knew a good many of them by name.
As I rounded the stack into the second bay of the fiction section, there was our young hoodlum Jason, sitting cross-legged on the floor, with an open book in his lap. He didn’t appear to be reading, unless he was a speed reader. He was methodically turning the pages over, one after another. Jason looked up and almost seemed on the verge of tears.
“Hello.” I wasn’t sure how to interact with him yet. “It’s Jason, isn’t it?” I tried not to sound too familiar.
“Yes, that’s right.” He closed the book and started to get up.
“I didn’t mean to disturb you. No need to move on my account.”
“That’s okay. This book is boring anyway.” Jason was now standing there looking down at the cover of the book, as if unsure what he was doing.
“What kind of thing do you like to read?”
Jason looked up, and once again his fresh face and beautiful bright eyes stilled me. He seemed to be thinking about how to respond.
“I just like good stories, but I like reading information too, like science or nature.”
“Well that gives you plenty to choose from, then.”
Again he glanced at the book in his hands. “I guess so.”
Jason turned to the shelves, and as he moved to replace the book, I saw there was one on the shelf resting over on its spine, apparently marking its position. As if to confirm this, Jason slid his book in beside the marker book, and then he lifted it back into its correct position.
“If you ever need any help or want suggestions for things to read, just ask. I’m always happy to help.”
“Okay, thanks.” Jason flashed his amazing smile and looked at his watch. “I need to get going. See you later.” Jason looked at me as if he was trying to remember something.
“It’s Ben.” I saw him smile at his own memory lapse. “Don’t forget to collect your library card from Daisy at the front desk.”
“Thanks Ben. Bye for now.”
I watched as our handsome hoodlum strode across the room to leave, and with a sigh of great satisfaction, I went back to replacing books on shelves.
Pre-order from Dreamspinner Press.