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Thursday, 28 August 2014

Goodbye, Cheerio - hello awesome!

I remember the first time someone called my  two daughters 'you guys.' It seems like a long time ago, but it had me confused.  Now, as the  influence of American words becomes stronger in Britain, we are all guys and, come to think of it, most of us are awesome too.

So it didn't really surprise me this week to learn that some of our favourite English words are going out of fashion. I mean - who says marvellous or cheerio any more? And who eats marmalade? (Well, er, I do!)

The newly-released pilot list for the Spoken British National Corpus project - put together by Lancaster University and Cambridge University Press - looks at conversation starting from the early 1990s up to the present day.
A jar of marmalade
Marmalade is less frequently spoken about than it once was
Photo courtesy of Sky News
According to Sky News, Language expert Professor Tony McEnery from Lancaster University says: "These very early findings suggest the things that are most important to British society are indeed reflected in the amount we talk about them.
"New technologies like Facebook have really captured our attention, to the extent that, if we're not using it, we're probably talking about it."

Personally, I like some of the Americanisms that have been adopted over here - the English way of speaking does have  a habit of sounding a bit stuffy at times.  But as for 'absolutely.' How did that come to mean 'yes'?

Researchers on the 2014 project, which is still in its infancy, are asking for people to send in MP3 files of their conversations for analysis, though I imagine that a walk down the high street today would be just as revealing.

 What do you think?


Monday, 18 August 2014

Did someone mention CHOCOLATE?

Would you like to spend the next three years studying chocolate?  If so,  it seems that Cambridge University is advertising your dream job. The impressive sounding Department of Chemical Engineering is searching for a student to work on a  fully-funded project.... finding how to prevent chocolate melting in the sun!

But before you get too excited the role will also require 'good mathematical skills and a high grade degree, 'according to today's Daily Mail.

 It's time to confess that I have a special interest in chocolate. My younger daughter, who  grew up on Roald Dahl's best selling book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was  determined to follow in her hero's footsteps  After gaining a degree in food microbiology  she  got her first job working in - you've guessed it - a chocolate factory.  It was her task to taste the first batch  that came off the production - at 7.30 in the morning....

Which brings me back to that dream job at Cambridge University  -  what does the successful candidate have to do? They will 'investigate the factors which allow chocolate, which has a melting point close to that of the human body, to remain solid and retain qualities sought by consumers when it is stored and sold in warm climates.' 

If the project is a success then hopefully we'll be able to eat chocolate all year round - even in a heatwave.

Meanwhile, I'll leave the last word to Roald Dahl himself:
“He turned and reached behind him for the chocolate bar, then he turned back again and handed it to Charlie. Charlie grabbed it and quickly tore off the wrapper and took an enormous bite. Then he took another…and another…and oh, the joy of being able to cram large pieces of something sweet and solid into one's mouth! The sheer blissful joy of being able to fill one's mouth with rich solid food!
'You look like you wanted that one, sonny,' the shopkeeper said pleasantly.

Charlie nodded, his mouth bulging with chocolate.”
Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Don't forget to look out for Baggy Pants and Bootees
here Coming soon in paperback.


Monday, 11 August 2014


Here it is!  The new cover for my debut novel Baggy Pants & Bootees 
 - now available as an e-book and coming out in  paperback soon.

When war baby Sophie joins the macho world of 1960s journalism shes determined to prove that shes one of the boys. But her career is threatened by a phone call from her estranged mother setting Sophie on a quest to uncover the secret of her birth.

Was her father the all-American soldier she dreamt of when she was a child, or someone far more sinister? This is the story the ambitious reporter was destined to write.

Helped by the charming but mysterious David, Sophie uncovers a heartbroken wartime orphan, a GI romance and a terrifying rape that leads to an innocent mans court martial and finds clues to her own unhappy childhood.

Torn between her secret love for Steve, the newspapers most eligible bachelor, and her desire to know who she really is, Sophie follows David to search for her father. Only when faced with the startling truth can she accept the tragedy of love, loss and betrayal, and begin a very different kind of future.

To buy the book or visit my author page click  here

Friday, 1 August 2014


I'm thrilled to announce that my debut novel Baggy Pants and Bootees will be out in paperback in September with a great new cover design.

Reaching number 89 in the Amazon military romance category when it was launched as an e-book in February this year,  Baggy Pants and Bootees received five star reviews from  both sides of the Atlantic.
The book contrasts  sensitive issues  such as illegitimacy and child neglect in post-war Britain with the emerging male chauvinism  of the 'swinging sixties.'  Here's what it's all about:
When war baby Sophie joins the macho world of 1960s journalism she’s determined to prove that she’s ‘one of the boys.’ Until a phone call from her estranged mother after years of guilt and torment sets Sophie on a quest to uncover the secret of her birth.
Was her father the all-American soldier she dreamt of when she was a child, or someone far more sinister? This is the story the ambitious reporter was destined to write.
Helped by the charming but mysterious David, Sophie uncovers a heartbroken wartime orphan, a GI romance and a terrifying rape that leads to an innocent man’s court martial – and finds clues to her own unhappy childhood.
Torn between her secret love for Steve, the newspaper’s most eligible bachelor, and her desire to know who she really is, Sophie follows David to find her father.  Only when faced with the startling truth can she accept the tragedy of love, loss and betrayal and begin a very different kind of future.

Baggy Pants and Bootees is available for pre-order  as a paperback or as an updated e-book version now from here

You can visit my facebook author page here or find me on twitter here


Friday, 18 July 2014


Photography by Robin Banneville
My light-hearted look at summer continues with a poem by William Baron, a Lancashire printer/poet, also known as Bill o'Jacks.  Written in 1911,
 A Wail of the Heat Wave
 still has
resonance today.

The usual thing it used to be
Our summers to decry,
Because they were too wet, you see,—
We longed to have them dry.
But now for months, from morn till night,
We've basked in Sol's bright rays ;
Yet few you'll find who show delight,
Or speak in terms of praise
Of these aggravating, irritating,
Half-cremating, wrath-creating,
Mercury-raising, semi-blazing, scorching summer days.

One feels much like a jelly-fish,
Or limpet washed ashore ;
If this is getting what we wish,
We'll crave for it no more.
Each man you meet reviles the heat
In none-too-classic phrase ;
To be polite, one cannot write
Exactly what he says
Of these hot, oppressive, fierce, aggressive,
Sweat-producing, fat-reducing,
Liquid-yearning, throttle-burning, parching summer days.

O, for a trip to either pole,
With Peary, or with Scott!
Where icebergs rear their white forms tall,
And heat waves trouble not.
A month or so 'mid Arctic snow
Our drooping hearts would raise ;
And soften down the angry frown
Which everyone displays
These roasting, boiling, toasting, broiling,
Record-breaking, sweltering, baking,
Ultra-torrid, beastly horrid, melting summer days.
Guernsey 2014 


Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Fancy a Cupertino?

'The girls have had lots of gin at the nursery party,' my daughter texted me the other day, leaving me a tad dubious about modern parenting skills.  Until she explained that the word she had actually used was not gin but 'fun.' The spell-check, the bane of our electronic age,  was up to its tricks again.

So if you've  ever had a Cupertino, or felt  scared of  sitting on public transport with nothing to read, you might need a copy of  Authorisms, a new book by Paul Dickson which takes a fascinating look at the origins some of our strangest words.

American lexicographer Dickson explores how writers from Shakespeare to Steinbeck have enriched our language with neologisms - those sayings that nearly but not quite got into the English language. Like alogotransiphobia (that's the one about reading on public transport - but then we all knew that, didn't we?)

When my children were small they made up their own words like binkaber for vinegar, gi-normous for huge while  firmly believing that clean clothes should be hung on the ' washing lion.' One even thought broccoli florets were sparrows,  but that's a story for another time.

Funniest of all was the child who sang 'Jesus wants a little wee' at the top of her voice when 'Jesus little ones are we,' would have been more appropriate at this particular Sunday school concert.

Hands up if you've spelt or said a word incorrectly for years before finding out the error of your ways? Or made up your own word and been firmly convinced it deserves a place in the Oxford English Dictionary?  Somehow our sins never seem so bad when they are out in the open.

In case you're still wondering about that Cupertino.  You won't find one in a French cafĂ© (Cuppa tea - no?) Or even in an Italian one, come to that.  A Cupertino is what happens when  a computer's auto-correct turns your word in to something that doesn't make sense.

 Finally I must just add that some of the braziest crooks (sorry, craziest books) I've ever read contain unintentional misuse of words. So over to you. With apologies to Mrs Malaprop. And a certain former American president, of course.

Authorisms - the blurb:

'William Shakespeare's written vocabulary consisted of 17,245 words, including hundreds that were coined or popularized by him. Some of the words never went further than their appearance in his plays, but others like bedazzled, hurry, critical, and anchovy are essential parts of our standard vocabulary today.

 According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Sir Walter Scott ranks second to Shakespeare in first uses of words and giving a new and distinct meaning to already existing words (Free Lances for freelancers). John Milton minted such terms as earthshaking, lovelorn, by hook or crook, and all Hell broke loose, and was responsible for introducing some 630 words.

....Paul Dickson deftly sorts through neologisms by Chaucer (a ha), Jane Austen (base ball), Louisa May Alcott (co-ed), Mark Twain (hard-boiled), Kurt Vonnegut (granfalloon), John le Carrè (mole), William Gibson (cyberspace), and many others. Presenting stories behind each word and phrase, Dickson enriches our appreciation of the English language in a book as entertaining as it is enlightening.'

Authorisms by Paul Dickson is available from Bloomsbury USA. (RRP £14.99)

Media of Authorisms


Sunday, 29 June 2014

What does the future hold?

Chloe Pallister's photo.

It's time for a new-look blog...
Please  watch out for the changes and let me know what  you think!


Monday, 23 June 2014

Anyone for tennis - 1960s-style?

Tennis Champ chooses female trainer screamed a headline in the popular press this week and for a minute I thought I'd come across a 1960s newspaper. It seems Andy Murray's appointment of  the very capable Amelie Mauresmo has sent the clock flying back fifty years.

 The sixties was a time when magazines waxed lyrical about female airline pilots, women surgeons and solicitors as if  sexism  was finally going to be a thing of the past. Anything was  possible, they said  - even a female prime minister. 

Back in the sixties girls leaving school  were  being told to work as secretaries  or school teachers (my careers advisor  had apoplexy when I said I wanted to be a journalist) and university was still for the intellectually elite.  Babies were still more important than  degrees  and looking after the 'man in your life'  still championed by the middle classes.

But back to the tennis.  According to former ping-pong champion Matthew Syed writing in today's Times, 'the really bizarre thing has been the response of those who supported (Mauresmo's) appointment. Did they recognise her personal qualities, her knowledge of the game, her professionalism, her understanding of tactics, the sort of attributes that people cite when a man has been appointed to a high-profile coaching role?  Not a bit of it.' One commentator, he adds, even talked about Murray benefiting from a bit of 'mothering.'

Meanwhile, in the same piece, Jo Bostock of the Women's Sport Trust says coverage of the appointment made her want to 'throw a shoe at the wall.'  She adds 'It drives me crazy when I hear that women coaches care and nurture and help people though the tough times. The women coaches I know are hugely diverse, just like the male ones.'

Well said, but it still begs the question: why are women defending themselves in the first place? Why are we even talking about it? It doesn't stop there. The newspaper has photos of football manager Helena Costa, Syed's former coach Jackie Bellinger and basketball coach Nancy Lieberman with Antonio Daniels of the Texas Legends.

Sure that this must be a late April Fool's joke I flick through the main paper to see if I can find some more up-to-date news.

'Eat up your GM crops They're good for you.' says one headline. 'Divorce to be offered over the counter, says another.

Oh good, we're not in a time warp after all. It's just that time of the year when journalists say 'What on earth can we say about Wimbledon that we haven't said  hundreds of times before?'

Anyone for tennis?


Thursday, 12 June 2014

Stop the Bus - The Driver Wants to Get Off...

A Guernsey bus travels along the Esplanade

'Which way do we go now?' The voice echoed along the length of the bus. 

Everyone looked round.  Could it be one of the passengers? No, it was the bus driver, a capable-looking woman in her mid thirties, who had managed to get lost.  

Whenever I visit  Guernsey, the tiny Channel Island where I was born, I love to relive my childhood by riding on public transport -  retro green buses which have stayed much the same since the sixties.

So there we were, on a warm May day,  motoring  through the narrow winding roads  when we heard the plaintive voice from the front. 'Sorry everyone, but  I've only lived here four weeks.'

'It's left,' piped up the man in front of me. 'And I should know - I've lived here all my life.' Other directions soon followed thick and fast.  As we approached the junction, the driver radioed for help. 'I'm lost on Route 42.'

 Complicated instructions from  Head Office soon echoed across the airwaves.

'Don't listen to that - go left,' said the man in front of me again. 'You'll never get back on  the  route.'

We turned left but  minutes later the bus got stuck on a steep bend.  The traffic stopped and we all held our breath through a mesmerising 16-point manoeuvre.

When the hapless driver made it back to town,  we all gave a round of applause.

 I remember once when I was a child, the regular  bus driver pulled up at a remote stop on the far side of the island and sounded the horn. Out of a cottage door  came an elderly lady who made her way slowly down the pathway with the aid of a walking stick, while the rest of the passengers patiently looked on.

'Thanks for waiting. Bill,' the only lady said,  as she settled down into her favourite seat.  'I'm running a bit late today.'

It could only happen in Guernsey.

Photograph courtesy of Visit Guernsey