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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

When did you last hold a REAL photograph in your hand? (Every picture tells a story...)

The other day, while clearing out the attic, I found this collage of our family growing up. It was   made by my elder daughter, using home -made flour-and-water glue on cardboard,  when she was around seven years old and I remember wondering how long it would take for the whole thing to turn to pulp.
Thirty years later it is still looking good ( though I'm sure I'll get some stick for reproducing it here)  and brings back all sorts of  memories.
As an author I   use my own memories to portray the  recent past, and  spend months  researching historical events to ensure accuracy and authenticity.  But I never regard my research as complete until I find old photographs of the era -  images that, to me,  can often  say so much more than  the written word.
Holiday snapshots, formal portraits, family scenes from the turn of the century, all of these tell their own story. The words are unspoken but the images speak for themselves.
 My Smartphone now holds hundreds of photographs of family and friends, of places I have visited and amusing moments captured in single moment, while  the internet is awash with shots of baby Prince George and the young royals' trip to Ayers rock. But I bet Kate would  swap them all for a family album. What do you think?

Monday, 14 April 2014

Hello Dolly! The barmaid of the century...

Congratulations to the oldest barmaid in the world, 100-year-old Dolly Saville who still works three shifts a week at the Red Lion Hotel in Wendover, Buckinghamshire. Dolly, who has been serving drinks for almost 75 years, is someone I would really like to meet.

Why would any writer want to research the past on the internet when they could spend half an hour chatting to this wonderful lady over a gin and tonic?

Dolly started working at the hotel in 1940 when George V1 was on the throne, Churchill was Prime Minister and Britain was in the grip of the Second World War, according to articles in The Times and the Daily Mail recently.

'I love the work and I love the people,' she said. 'It keeps me going and it's better than sitting around.'

She has little time for sitting around, however, working three lunchtime shifts a week serving customers, polishing glasses and clearing tables.

Dolly gave up working full time six years ago when she reached the age of 94, and admits that her own two children are happily retired.

Over the last seven decades she has served many famous faces, including James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan, former Prime Minister Ted Heath, footballer Stanley Matthews, singer Vera Lynn, ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn and actress Elizabeth Taylor.

And in all that time she reckons she has served more than two million pints!

You can read more on:

And in the meantime - where's my satnav?  I might just take a trip down to Buckingham.

Monday, 7 April 2014


Yes- it's those curtains again...

I've got a confession to make. I've just put  my  34-year-old daughter's  nursery curtains up in  the spare room. They are for my gorgeous granddaughters when they visit, I hasten to add, but why did  I do it?  Because I love the past. I love anything nostalgic, anything that evokes happy memories. And that includes furniture.

Furniture is often overlooked as a mundane feature of the home. But its resonance in our lives is much more profound, writes author Ian Sansom on the BBC website today. Furniture contains numerous traces of what we are and who we are and who we think we are.
Cupboards, for example, contain our past - as well as our regrets and secrets. Keys which fit no locks, pieces of paper with obsolete phone numbers and pin numbers written on them, stray playing cards, inexplicable plastic things and old French francs. Why do we keep any of this stuff I do not know, except as something to hand on to our own children, to keep in cupboards of their own - our endless inheritance of waste....

Now this is where I have to disagree - how can our heritage be described as waste?  How can we not be interested in where we came from, and what the world was like when we were born? In my writing den I have a photograph of my grandfather's discharge papers from the 2nd Royal Guernsey  Light Infantry in 1919, plus a national newspaper cartoon of my father at the Café de Paris in the sixties  and a collage of my own daughters when they were growing up. The past influences my writing as it has with many authors, humble or famous.

Adds  Sansom:  In 1948 CS Lewis wrote to a friend that he was attempting to write a children's book "in the tradition of E Nesbit". The children's book he wrote was, of course, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, published in 1950, and one of the Nesbit traditions he borrowed was the magic wardrobe. Lewis uses his wardrobe to enter an entirely different realm - his destination is the Celestial City.
Like wardrobes, beds act as transports for the imagination also. Writers in particular love to work on the horizontal. Milton's Paradise Lost was mostly written in bed. As was much of Winston Churchill's history of World War Two.

Now this is where Mr Sansom and I begin to agree again.  I also find it very therapeutic to write from my bed. But that's another story.

Talking of bedrooms -  where have I seen that pine dressing table before? It definitely looks familiar...

You can download my debut novel here.  Baggy Pants and Bootees        

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Everything is Rosie (Thomas) now...

I first read Rosie Thomas' Other People's Marriages in 1993 and have been hooked on her books ever since. Rosie gets into the thoughts of her characters and stays there with them in a way that no-one else quite can.  So, after twenty years, what a thrill it was to meet this brilliant author at Plackitt and Booth booksellers in Lytham, Lancashire, the other day.

Rosie was there to talk about her new book, The Illusionists, which is already  immensely popular, but it's the story of how her writing has evolved over the years that  fascinated me most.  Rosie believes in writing what you know and  her career as a novelist began with every emotional drama  that she, her friends, family  and neighbours had experienced, crammed into her novels.
Later she travelled the world, seeking out glamorous, dangerous and sometimes obscure destinations
for inspiration. Her ambitious trip to Mount Everest base camp resulted in the beautifully  written novel 'White,'  published in 2000, an excerpt of which I've included here.
'You're scared, as well?'
'Yes, looking up there, how could anyone not be?' She had been afraid ever since she had seen the mountain riding in its sea of cloud.  The scale of it was so fearsome.
'Why are you doing this, Sam?'
'Because you won't have dinner with me without.'
Born Janey Morris, Rosie took her nom de plume from her late mother, Rose, who died when she was ten, and her sister's married name, Thomas.  A successful journalist. she began writing novels in 1982.
'I believe that my writing now is very different from those days,' she explained. 'The novels reflect the different phases of my life.' Now the subject matter is deeper, and darker like her
The Illusionists, which is set in Victorian London:
London 1885  A shadowy and threatening place for a beautiful young woman of limited means.  Eliza's choice lie between marriage and stifling domesticity, or a downwards spiral to the streets.  But Eliza is modern before her time and she won't compromise...
Rosie Thomas has written more than twenty novels including The Potter's House, Iris and Ruby,Every Woman Knows a Secret, All My Sins  Remembered and The Kashmir Shawl.The Illusionists is available in hardback from Harper Collins as well as in digital format. Find out more on:

You can also download my debut novel here: Baggy Pants and Bootees


Monday, 31 March 2014


April 1 2014



Do you live in Scotland? Do you, like me, have  a huge collection of paperback books?  Then buy while you can because from September 2014 Scottish  residents will only be able to download new e-books : the printed versions will banned.

In the capital  today crowds gathered in front of Edinburgh Castle where the Minister for Reading, Mr Carnt Wright gave a long, drawn out speech.

'The only way to make Scottish Independence work,' he declared, 'is to limit our spending.   
 I therefore have no choice but to ban the printed word..'

Thousands have already signed a petition calling for the ban to be reversed.  Please download your copy and vote NOW (before lunchtime if possible.)

Monday, 24 March 2014

Here's to The Queen Mother's memory... (and her fridge!)

What has the late Queen Mother's housekeeping got to do with my novel  Baggy Pants and Bootees?  The answer, it seems, is a 60-year-old fridge!

According to a report in The Times recently, 'A fridge that belonged to the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, is marking it's diamond jubilee. The Frigidaire, which was made by General Motors, was bought in 1954 for the Castle of Mey, the Queen Mother's home in Caithness.'

And now, the memory of this  household appliance has been brought to life by 24-year-old Sophie Wainwright, the 1960's cub reporter featured in my debut novel.
Frigidaire Appliance Company
TypeDivision of Electrolux
IndustryMajor appliances, Small appliances
HeadquartersCharlotte, NC
ProductsClothes washers and dryers, refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, ranges, room air conditioners, dehumidifiers, microwaves ovens.
Frigidaire is an American brand of consumer and commercial appliances. Frigidaire was founded as the Guardian Frigerator Company in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and developed the first self-contained refrigerator (invented by Nathaniel B. Wales and Alfred Mellowes) in 1916.

My protagonist Sophie is  extremely wary of men. After witnessing her mother's disastrous relationships during the grim post-war era, she refuses to feel anything other than contempt for good looking office Romeo Steve Sibson. Keen to understand her, and determined to thaw out their relationship, Steve gives Sophie the nickname 'Frigidaire.'

'I love this nickname' says one reviewer. 'It really brings the romantic relationship to life.' Find out more at


Tuesday, 4 March 2014


My Writing Process – Blog Tour

The Valentine's Day publication of my debut novel Baggy Pants and Bootees marked the end - and the beginning - of a long-held dream. It also made me realise that the only thing I like better than writing is, well, talking about writing! So thanks go to fellow Safkhet Publishing author Suzie Tullet for asking me to join her in the My Writing Process – Blog Tour #mywritingprocess 

Suzie, who writes fun-packed romantic fiction,  is the author of Going Underground and  Little White Lies and Butterflies which was short listed for the Guardian's Not the Booker Prize in 2013.  You can read all about Suzie here

Meanwhile, I've been asked  some interesting questions as part of this blog tour, so here goes:
1 What am I working on?
As a former journalist my attitude to novel writing is rather unconventional; I work on instinct rather than planning before I begin the actual manuscript.
Mystery, heartbreak, drama - all of these things describe my work in progress -  another time-slip novel.  Why do I favour time-slip? With two  separate stories going on at the same time –  beautifully demonstrated   in Rosamund Pilcher’s acclaimed novel The Shell Seekers – the reader can see how  the protagonist has been influenced by past events.
I prefer not to give away the plot , partly because I’m superstitious, but also because it is  evolving - ie  the characters are still  deciding  what they want to do next!  
2 How does my work differ from others of its genre?
 I still write my dialogue a bit like a journalist – it’s hard to break the habit – but then I love dialogue as it makes the story so much more realistic.  I want to make the reader laugh, even when I am ultimately telling a sad story, because I think we all need a sense of humour to survive.  In short, I like to face real issues.
When my second daughter was born she had a port wine birthmark on her forehead.  Keen to make contact with others in the same situation, I wrote an article about how I dealt with this in Parents Magazine.  The magazine kindly sent on to me all the responses they received from readers and I was amazed how many people my story had touched. 
3 Why do I write what I do? 
Over the years my tastes have changed a great deal; A level English literature taught me to appreciate J.D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and the books of Stan Barstow, George Orwell
Later, my husband introduced me to the works of Ibsen, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov  etc and though I enjoyed these (particularly Ibsen’s the Master Builder) I could only stand back and admire the skill involved in such works.
 Later  I began to read  books such as Other People's Marriages by Rosie Thomas and Erin Pizey's The Watershed and  finally realised that these were the  kind of novels I wanted to write.
As a reader I want a good plot, poignancy and realism,  but I want to learn something too -– it’s not enough for me to just be entertained.  I hope this comes over in my writing.
How does my writing process work? 
My writing begins with flashes of inspiration which can arrive at any time – even in the middle of the night.  I always have a pen with me to jot down my thoughts.  Sometimes an idea will come from a chance conversation.  For instance, I was talking to …..oh no, I can’t tell you that…there’s always the chance the lady in question will read my next book!
For a time slip novel I write the two stories separately then integrate them at the end so there is a consistency and flow for the reader.  I much prefer to write the initial chapters by hand – this means I can do it whenever the mood takes me, but always transfer it to my laptop when it has begun to take shape.

I write because I want to and, now that I’ve had my debut novel published, I hope that more people will continue to read what I write.  But if they didn’t, I would still write. It's a simple as that. 

You can click on Baggy Pants and Bootees  to find out more.
And now I'd like to welcome my two guests  - Peter Kenny and Jack Barrow, who will be taking part in the tour next time. 

For Peter Kenny, variety is essential. He's written everything from TV ads, junk mail, journalism, poetry, plays, lyrics,  stories, libretti and more. His thought provoking blog peter kenny: the notebook can be found here: 

Peter was born in Guernsey and I was lucky enough to meet him at the first ever Guernsey Literary Festival where he read some  haunting poems about his island home.

Meanwhile, Jack Barrow is known for his controversial views. Jack, who 
lives in Hertfordshire, England,  writes about popular philosophy in modern life. He says: 'I have a particular interest in the way people are rejecting mainstream religion and creating their own philosophies from the bottom up. These ideas cannot really be described as theological in the way that western religions are and they seem closer to eastern mysticism, such as Buddhism or Zen, while being dressed up with symbolism drawn from folkloric sources.

Jack's  first novel, The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil is now available worldwide after receiving excellent reviews in the UK. He is currently working  on a travelogue, 'which is distracting me from working on the second novel about an end of the world religious cult, Morris Men practised in the martial arts and the accidental destruction of a literary festival...' Find out more about Jack on:

Friday, 28 February 2014


Wordsworth wrote one of my favourite poems about March - a month he really loved. As the new month approaches I thought it might be interesting to compare what was happening then and now.

"The cock is crowing,
The stream is flowing,
The small birds twitter,
The lake doth glitter,
The green field sleeps in the sun;
The oldest and youngest
Are at work with the strongest;
The cattle are grazing,
Their heads never raising;
There are forty feeding like one! 
Like an army defeated
The snow hath retreated,
And now doth fare ill
On the top of the bare hill;
The Plowboy is whooping-anon-anon:
There's joy in the mountains;
There's life in the fountains;
Small clouds are sailing,
The rain is over and gone!"
-   William Wordsworth, March
Events on Saturday March 1, 2014 - What's On in London from All In London