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Sunday, 8 May 2016

Happy Birthday Ma'am - and Mum!


You'll see lots of photos of the queen in the next few days but probably not of my mum.  So here she is, enjoying her own 90th birthday celebrations, along with some of the highlights of her life.

Joyce aged five

On her wedding day in 1945
with my father

For more information on the Queen's official birthday celebrations go to:

May 6 2016 on her 90th birthday

We made our mum a collage of some of the special moments in  her life and she remembered every one.  So If you have a friend or relative who was is now in their eighties or nineties why not do the same? And talk to them about the past. It helps keep their stories alive.

Friday, 29 April 2016


Do ever wish you had the courage to stop what you're doing and follow your dreams?  A new book coming out next week tells how fifty very different women did just that.

Eat Pray Love Made me Do it  looks back on Elizabeth Gilbert's international bestseller and the impact it had on ten million readers.. Here's the blurb:

In the ten years since its electrifying debut, Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love has become a worldwide phenomenon, empowering millions of readers to set out on paths they never thought possible. In this candid and captivating collection, nearly fifty of those readers – as diverse in their experiences as they are in age and background – share their stories.

Featured in the June edition of Red Magazine, the book's  authors Lisann Valentin, Tracie Cornell and Theresa Thornton explain how they were inspired to reinvent their lives.

The feature in June's Red magazine

Unhappy in her job as a corporate lawyer, Lisann Valentin decided to set up a book group 'thinking it could be a way to find insight' to her problems.  The first book the group chose was Eat Pray Love and, almost instantly,  Lisann's self-discovery began. She'd always wanted to be an actor and after making he decision to leave Wall Street  now spends her time acting and directing.

Tracie Cornell, 46, found the courage to leave her unhappy marriage after discovering Gilbert's book. 'Reading about what Elizabeth went through, her years abroad, created a door for women like me to walk through,' she says. 'It created a space for us to leave our unhappiness behind.'

The final author, 55-year-old Theresa Thornton, was juggling her office job whilst raising her two children after a financially- draining divorce. She read Eat Pray Love and decided to  pursue her lifelong fantasy; to be a singer. After saving for a singing workshop in New York she literally found her voice. 'Singing fills my soul and makes me happy,' she told the magazine. 'I sing for me.'

Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It  (Bloomsbury £8.99) is available from May 5.

Monday, 18 April 2016


Q Why don't students have time to read entire books?

A Because graduates tend not to be avid readers.

This pronouncement caused quite a stir when it hit  the British newspapers earlier this week - because most of us thought it must be a joke.

Jenny Pickerill, professor in environmental geography at the University of Sheffield told the Times Higher Education magazine 'students struggle with (whole books), saying the language or concepts are too hard.'

'Recommending whole books would overwhelm them' agrees Jo Brewis, professor of organisation and consumption at Leicester University. 'Graduates and post graduates seem mainly not to be avid readers.'

Professor Brewis wants students to read more as does Len Fisher, visiting fellow in physics at the University of Bristol who regrets the  move towards seeking information on the internet since books 'drive and encourage readers to think for themselves in a way that just looking up the answers does not...'

After a long conversation with my six-year-old granddaughter who has just finished reading a whole book, I have come to the conclusion that if this is  2016, then April makes fools of us all.

Monday, 11 April 2016


My mother as a child with my grandmother in Oldham, Lancashire

'Nearly ninety and her first selfie...' said the  caption on my daughter's facebook page last week. The photo showed my mother with three  generations of her family - the youngest just two years old.

A few days after that photo was taken I returned to Leicester to meet writers' group The Belmont Belles, before  sneaking off to look at my old grammar school, Newarke Girls',  now a community college.  From a distance it looked exactly the same - an elegant building, with a central clock tower, surrounded by an acre  of green grass, with a long pathway leading down to the main road.

It was along that path that I walked for the very last time one sunny Friday afternoon in  the  late 1960s. Three days later I was a trainee reporter on the Lytham St Annes Express in Lancashire.   It felt a long way from my Guernsey home.

Meanwhile my two daughters have done their own bit of moving around - one has worked in Australia and the United States, the other travels Europe with her work. She is also a dedicated Derby County Football Club supporter who was born in Lancashire and lives in Yorkshire!

Not to be outdone, my two  granddaughters support  Leeds United most of the time and Derby County when their father's not looking.

Which brings me back to my mother, who was  born in Lancashire in 1926 and went on to marry a Guernseyman when she was just nineteen.  She wants to keep the selfie - well - to herself. But here she is ten years ago on her 80th birthday. Happily she's still got plenty to smile about.

Happy Birthday Mum

The old Newarke Girls' School, Leicester, as it is today

Thursday, 24 March 2016


'I squirmed with joy, which I experienced for the first time, and continued writing excitedly.'

Before you leave this blog ( squirming)  I deny all responsibility for the above sentence. It  was composed by... a computer!

Let me explain. Eleven works of robot-assisted fiction were amongst the 1,450 entrants for a Japanese fiction competition recently. The Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award, named after one of Japan's most famous fiction writers, invited 'artificial intelligence programs' to submit their works.

The judges did not know which authors were human and which were robots, but were given a strong hint by the one quoted above entitled 'The Day a Computer wrote a Novel.'

According to the Times newspaper today, another entry entitled 'My Job' has a character asking  'Are jobs being cut, as cheap, clever, humanoid robots are replacing humans?'

One story, it seems, using  'sentences from inputs by its human masters' actually made it through the first round of the competition. Instructed to include the elements of time, weather and what the character was doing, it came up with the following:

'The clouds hung low that day in an overcast sky. Inside, though, the temperature and humidity were perfectly controlled.  Yoko was sitting lazily on the couch, passing the time playing pointless games.'

The judges commended the story, though found it's efforts were 'a bit thin on characterisation.'

Phew - that's a relief! 

Happy Easter everyone.

Monday, 21 March 2016

In praise of depressed spinsters...

Oh, how I wish I had met Anita Brookner, the 'famously miserable'   novelist who died  recently.

Like many readers, I first discovered Anita  Brookner's writing in 1984 when her third novel  Hotel Du Lac won the Booker Prize - the most coveted literary prize in Britain.

Writing in the Daily Mail this week social historian  A N Wilson  observed: 'Though she denied her novels were autobiographical,  they chronicle the lives of  lonely miserable women who have the unerring knack of falling for unsuitable men.'

Her novels, as fans will confirm,  were full of  depressed spinsters,  but in real life she had  a dry wit that could, sometimes, be  misunderstood. 'I feel I could get into the Guinness Book of Record as the world's loneliest, most miserable woman,' she once said.

Anita Brookner grew up in  a large Victorian villa in South London 'the only child of clever, ill-matched parents.'  Though she never married, she had two great loves - art and fiction - in particular the work of Belgian writer Georges Simenon.  Simenon was well-know for creating Inspector Maigret, but most of his work at the time comprised dark, psychological novels.

According to Wilson, Brookner's novels could be described in similar terms. 'They all chronicle, in one way or another, men and women who cannot find happiness in personal relationships but can't be happy without them.' he says.

In retrospect it is hard not to feel a little sorry for this extremely intelligent and talented woman who never seemed to meet her match. Hotel du Lac, about a woman who jilted her partner on their wedding day, made her famous and she went on to write a book a year (by hand) for almost two decades.  History has it that she fell in love many times, but always with unsuitable people.

As for me, I prefer  to remember  for  her  incredible talent and this wonderful quote (below) on writing.

You never know what you will learn till you start writing.
Then you discover truths you never knew existed

Anita Brookner

Wednesday, 9 March 2016


Love, Loss and legions of laughs... If you've every wished you could sum up Shakespeare's plots in just a few words, The Times newspaper is here to help.

Ahead of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death on April 23, 2016, the Times 'Shakespeare special'  has ranked  the bard's 39 plays in order of merit. 

Can you guess the name of the  sample, below, ranked at number three?

The plot:Second-string Scottish nobleman nabs the crown, egged on by his unscrupulous wife, spurred by three local well-wishers.

The quote: Life is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing

The clue: Shakespeare's shortest tragedy.

The answer: see photo, above.

For those of you who, like me,  grew up on Shakespeare, coerced from an early age into  analysing every word, this is refreshing stuff. Tongue-in-cheek, okay, but entertaining all the same.

Today  Benedict Nightingale, the paper's chief theatre critic from 1990 to 2010,  ranks the Bard's ten best love scenes.  At Number One is Much Ado about Nothing.

Top quote: I do love nothing in the world so well as you.

The pitch: A quarrelsome duo discover they don't hate each other.

Happy ever after? Benedict and Beatrice share an improbable love, but one more likely to succeed than most.

Far from being 'dumbed down' as its critics may fear,  it seems to me that is a positive way to introduce successive generations to an extraordinary talent of which we, as a nation, are rightly proud. And if it brings Shakespeare a host of new fans it has surely achieved its aim.

Meanwhile, tomorrow's Shakespeare special will be charting the great man's ten best death scenes.  Which means I have work to do. It will take me the rest of the day, at least, to guess which they are.

Monday, 29 February 2016


A little girl I know is going to school on World Book Day dressed as a mermaid.

'How are you going to get there?' I asked.
'I'll swim' she replied.

Her chosen book for the day is The Singing Mermaid by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks which she'll carry  with her.  Every child in her school will be dressed as their favourite book character  as they swim, walk, run or saunter into the classroom on Thursday morning.

And this little girl had a difficult decision to make as the bookcase in her bedroom is crammed full of her favourite stories - and  some of her mother's favourite childhood books too.

'Join our Festival of Imagination' says the World Book Day website 'turning millions of kids into millions of readers.'

 Now I'm a fan of e-books - my debut novel Baggy Pants and Bootees reached  7,000 in the Amazon kindle charts  - but the physical book is a joy that will never go out of fashion.

For many of you a love of books began in childhood, but do you remember the one that held you spellbound more than all the rest? And what are the children in your family doing on World Book Day?  I'd love to hear from you.

World Book Day is on Thursday March 3 2016

NB If you are  having trouble joining my google site please click 'subscribe to' on my blog page.

BFG costume kit

You can find out more about World Book Day here

Monday, 22 February 2016


A real-life 'Forever Young' story crept into the pages of The Times newspaper this weekend.  Tucked away in the Marriages and Engagements register at the back of the paper was a photograph of 75-year-old Penelope Roy and John Fryer, 77 who married in Surrey, England, earlier this month.

Nothing unusual about that, you may say, except that they first fell in love more than 50 years ago  when  students at the London School of Economics.  John was in a long-term relationship back then, and though they enjoyed each other's company as friends, they split up without ever admitting their feelings for each other.

Penelope was 73 when she typed  John's name into an online search engine. A newspaper story about a high-profile court case in Canada where John was the  expert witness, enabled her to track him down.  John was then a scholar-in-residence at the University of Victoria Law School in British Columbia.

'It all came flooding back,' he told the paper. 'It was a feeling that 50 plus years had just disappeared.'
After talking on the telephone long FaceTime sessions, described by Penelope as 'very intense,' soon followed.

In June 2014 John met Penny at St Pancras Railway Station and they  lunched at the National Portrait Gallery. 'People don't realise the strength of shared experience in your youth,' she explains. The following month she visited John in Canada.

Reminiscent of the 1992 film Forever Young with Isobel Glasser and Mel Gibson this, says Penny, is 'a bittersweet story with regrets over missed opportunities taken over by the joy of being together.'

Adds John :'I feel very privileged. Most of us don't get a second chance.'

NB If you would like to be featured in the Times, you can email

John and Penelope on their wedding day and in the early 1960s