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Wednesday, 4 March 2015

A cure for Writer's Back

Three years ago when I'd injured my back I wrote a blog  entitled Why is my nickname Froggy?
My Writer's Back is, well, back so I thought I'd post it here again. It still makes me laugh ....

' I'm always being asked why my nickname is Froggy. (No it's nothing to do with the bulging eyes or the fact that I' m hard to get hold of.)  I could tell you the story but then you may fall asleep and then you would never get to see the strange collection of frogs that I keep hidden (or not so hidden) round the house and garden.( Mr GA is kindly taking the photos for me at the moment, so that's a bottle of his favourite red I owe him) . Please do concentrate, fellow bloggers,  I said favourite red, not off his head, though the latter is probably more accurate after looking after  me  for what seems like months now.

Anyway, it's not as if I'm any trouble to look after.  Once up in the morning (it only takes a couple of hours) and happily settled on the sofa (sitting not permitted, on doctor's orders, this is my spine we're talking about) I then compile a list of things for my wonderful partner to do for the day. I won't enlighten you on this, either, as it's almost as long as the frog story) and then we discuss in which order I, sorry,  we, think the things should be done.

Between clearing the breakfast dishes, cleaning, ironing and collecting prescriptions, he checks that I have written the right amount of words each day and records this along with the hourly medication which I'm sure he would over-prescribe if only he had the courage. Anyway, it doesn't take him long to pick up all the things I have dropped on the floor (pens, paper, reference books, Thessoorus (never could spell that word - I thought it was a prehistoric animal till I was around 12) and then prepare my lunch.

It's annoying, isn't it, now that Spring is here that insides of the windows look smeared in the sunshine and he does so hate me looking through smeared windows. Fortunately, he's a very patient man (which reminds me - why does the recorded message at our local medical centre say "please be patient" - what else do they think we are?) so he usually gets to do his own thing round about three o'clock.

I just called out for him (I've mislaid the hand bell I used to use) and then the phone went and it was my (former) friend.  She said she'd heard he'd gone back-backing in France (in search of grenouilles probably) and had left a message that he didn't want to be disturbed... Oh well, at least I won't be lonely.... animals (unlike humans) never let you down.'

And this is the one that started it all ...

N.B The above is on loan from my very special friend Lesley Davison in memory of Patricia Simister

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Born too late?

My mother always said I was born too late. Not too late for her, you understand, but too late for me. I have always been fascinated by the past and am never happier than when surrounded by the relics of another age...

Is it possible that I  have lived before? When I was little more than five-years-old my Mum took me to Newarke Museum in New Walk, Leicester, where I wandered into an authentic Victorian street setting complete with cobblestones and carefully reproduced shops. Fascinated, I scrambled over the low perimeter fence and stepped into the cobbler's shop.

Looking at the  man in flat cap and shirt sleeves working on an old last, I failed to notice the security man who appeared out of nowhere. 'Hey, you, little girl,' he shouted,  'Can't you read?' pointing at the sign that said 'No Admittance Beyond this point.'

Of course I could read - I'd been doing that since I before I started school - and I could certainly hear. He didn't need to shout. But I didn't say this out loud. Instead, I continued to stare in wonderment at the spectacle in front of me. 'I think I've been here before'  I replied.

Of course you've been here before,' he retorted. ' We have thousands of visitors every year, but the majority of them, I'm glad to say, obey the rules.' With that he picked me up by the scruff of my neck and deposited me back on the cobblestones.

'Can I go in one of the other shops?' I asked, innocently, determined to remain in this wonderful place for as long as possible.

'Ah, there you are,' my mother ran towards us, clearly out of breath.' I was just about to report you missing. What on earth were you thinking of?'

I was thinking of a time when horses and carts roamed the streets and women dressed in floor-sweeping skirts  like the queen, but somehow I knew this wasn't the right answer.

And that was the beginning of my love affair with the past.

Victorian Cobbled Street,
Newarke Museum, New Walk, Leicester

Image courtesy of

Thursday, 12 February 2015


While celebrities attended the Berlin premiere of Fifty Shades of Grey last night,  a mystery  middle-aged British woman was busy emulating the book's success.

The woman, from Wellington Women's Institute in  Somerset, forsook  the more usual Jam and Jerusalem  to pen an erotic short story along the lines of E L James' raunchy best seller.

According to The Times newspaper the short story,  published in a charity anthology,  has been 'described as filth by both delighted and appalled readers.' 

Retired writer  Bridget Hodges who set up the WI writing group -  called Monumental  Women's Ink after the town's monument -  wanted members to try a different style or genre every month. 'When Fifty Shades came out we talked about it quite a bit,' said the sixty-three year old. 'We thought we would all have a go.  Some didn't seem very keen. It's not for the faint-hearted.'

Titled 'The Conquering Gibraltarian Adonis' the  three- page story, about a husband's return after a long period working abroad, is preceded by a warning to those who may be of a delicate disposition.

One such person is WI member Enid Ray who told her local weekly newspaper 'One does not expect such smut from a group involved in the WI. I was wholly shocked when I read this section. I can't believe they had the nerve to print it.'

The author, according to Mrs Hodges, has asked to remain anonymous - because 'her gran would be furious!'

Meanwhile, the £4 book, a selection of poetry and fiction,  has sold  three quarters of the 200 printed to raise money for cancer treatment at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton.

After today's headlines,  no doubt that they will be needing a reprint very soon. What do you think?


Monday, 9 February 2015

When the past came calling...

Today I viewed a remarkable video that brought the past to life for me in a way nothing else could.
On May 9, 1945 the German Military Occupation of Guernsey ended after five long years.
The events of this day and the years before  had been recounted by my grandparents when I was a child until I felt I had lived through it all myself.
I never tired of hearing their stories, I always wanted to hear more.
Like many others, my grandparents lost a son in the war and never stopped grieving for him.
Eleven-year-old David was evacuated to Oldham, Lancashire in 1940 with his fourteen-year-old brother, Harold James Brown.
Harold arrived back on the island in 1945 married to my mother.
David died of meningitis in 1942 and never came home again.
My second novel, due out later this year, is set in the Occupation of Guernsey. I hope it will serve as tribute to everyone who paid dearly for the island's freedom - some with their lives.
It will be dedicated to you
David Richard Brown
The uncle I never met.
My sincere thanks go to Steven le Provost for allowing me to reproduce this film which was taken by Dr Richard Sutcliffe with colour film he had kept hidden from the Germans
throughout the Occupation.
Le Provost Films

To see the video please click on the link below.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Courage is her middle name.

I've always championed strong women. Their politics don't concern me but their courage does. So I have enormous respect for Alexander Litvenenko's widow, Marina, for continuing to say what she believes.

Last October I attended a literary evening in Southport, Lancashire, where Mrs Litvenenko gave a humbly moving speech about her late husband, a former Russian Federal Security Service officer who was killed in November 2006.

She was joined by Alex Goldfarb,  a close friend and  co- author of the book Death of a Dissident (pictured below.)

 Mr and Mrs Litvinenko and her late husband became British citizens more than eight years ago just weeks before Alexander, (whom Marina calls Sasha,) was allegedly poisoned.

Small of stature, this amazing lady has the emotional strength of someone twice her size, along with a stoic belief that she must never give up the fight.

At the time she told the Southport Visitor “I am coming to this event to help the fundraising for the Litvinenko Justice Foundation so that we can pay for the legal costs of the public inquiry of the death of my husband.
“I believe that it is in the public interest to find out what happened to my husband. I can not bring the people who poisoned him to court because they are in Russia, but I can try to find out how he was killed. '

It was here in England that Litvinenko wrote two books accusing the Russian government of committing acts of terrorism against their own people.

Mrs Litvinenko said: “I am grateful that I am here, in England, where I can speak out like this.
“People should be proud that they are from a country that allows you to speak out. It was a very special day for me and Alexander when we became British citizens.

She added I would of course go back to Russia if it was something serious, but right now it is so unpleasant, I do not want to go back.'

The  event was organised by  Southport  lawyer John Boydell.



Monday, 26 January 2015

Gingerbread Men and Hot Cocoa

A nine-year-old girl has turned the clock back almost seventy years to write a touchingly perceptive story about two young evacuees.

Anya's story

Anya Baxter, a pupil at Kirkham Grammar School in Lancashire,  wrote the delightfully titled Gingerbread Men and Cocoa when she learnt how World War Two affected the people of Britain. The story follows an eleven-year-old girl and her six-year-old sister as they leave their mother and father to live with strangers far from home.

The story evokes a difficult time in our country's history when  children were expected to behave like adults - and most of them, thankfully, did.

To me, Anya's writing and  thought processes are far in advance of her years. As someone who has a passionate interest in the Occupation of the Channel Islands - my father was evacuated from Guernsey with his younger brother in 1940 - I thought I would share this with you.

Gingerbread Men and Hot Cocoa
Anya Baxter
aged nine

I was feeling sick. Outside it was getting darker and darker. We were nearly there. The train went over a huge bump.  My stomach did too! I began to look out of the window to see my surroundings. All that was around me was trees bushes and green farmland. I wonder if I'll live on  farm, I thought. I started to fiddle with my long, brown hair. My mother had put it into a plait to make me look presentable. I took my plait out carefully and put the bobble around my wrist.

Eventually we got there. We all clambered off the train. My teacher told us to walk towards a small group of houses. There in front of us stood lots and lots of adults. I looked down at my little sister, she was only six. She looked as scared as ever. Her little black cardigan barely fitted her and her long grey skirt was too tight at the waist. I was eleven. I  knew my sister might be separated from me, but I knew she would be brave. One by one the rest of the children around me and my sister got chosen.  Every now and them my sister gave me a nervous glance.  Now the only children left were a young brown-haired girl, a small blond boy and my sister and me.  I stared at the adults who were left. Not one of them looked as nice as my mother. I began to wonder what my mother was doing at that moment.

A man pointed at me and my sister. My stomach did a flip! He didn't look very rich at all.  I felt a shove on my back. It was my teacher. Slowly and steadily we walked towards the man. He picked up our bags and beckoned me to follow him. The man lead us to a black van. He loaded our bags into the van and told us to get in. It wasn't a very long journey.

 My sister kept looking out of the window at the back of the van. Suddenly the van stopped. We arrived at our new home. It didn't look as I thought it would. We were told to get out of the van. Nervously I placed a foot on the smooth gravel and climbed out.  In front of me was a neat lawn and six symmetrical flower beds. We walked up to the front door and stepped inside the house. The man's wife was lovely. She had made us some gingerbread men and hot cocoa. They were delicious. The man's wife lead us through the old house to our bedroom. It was quite small, but quite spacious.  For tea we had fresh tomato soup and homemade bread. I thought, when I went to bed that night, about where tomorrow would take me and what would happen.

Do let me know what you think of Anya's story.

Monday, 19 January 2015


Carolyn and Katie Clapham

Make 2015 the year you  rediscover reading.

So say the owners of a thriving independent bookshop as major booksellers report record sales in physical books during the  recent holiday period.

Carolyn and Katie Clapham opened Storytellers, Inc. in the seaside town of St Annes in Lancashire in 2010. At the end of last year the mother-and-daughter team expanded their popular children's book shop into a 'book place for everyone,' stocking everything from YA through to adult fiction and non-fiction. They are now anticipating a busy year ahead.

The shop's original aim was to provide children with a welcoming environment in which to meet, read and play.  Creative director Katie, formerly production editor of a medical journal, works with local schools on writing and reading projects. Managing director Carolyn took the plunge into business after more than twenty years experience at a senior level in the civil service and in the private sector.

The owners are very proud of their professional calendar of children's illustrators, which takes pride of place in the shop window.  Now in its third year, the calendar features many pieces of original artwork from award-winning illustrators and new industry talent.

Free illustrations were donated by  Emily Gravett, Steven Lenton, Tim Hopgood, Mini Grey, Chris Haughton, Lucy Cousins, Chris Judge, Mo Willems, Tom Percival, Rebecca Cobb and Lydia Monks to support The Illustrations Calendar 2015.  Every month the shop sends books and worksheets inspired by the illustrator of the month to participating schools in the area.  In addition several other  bookshops stock the calendar to run their own Illustrated Year project with school customers.

Carolyn and Katie also run a popular Fiction Book Club for adults where local readers meet to discuss their 'book of the month.' This month's choice is Naomi Wood's best-selling novel Mrs. Hemmingway, which brings to life in extraordinary detail the four wives of Ernest Hemingway, one of the greatest writers of our time.

Naomi will be joining the book club's evening session to discuss her work.  Members pay £7 (including the book rrp £7.99) and non members are also welcome for a £4 entrance fee. Storytellers, Inc. also run two junior book clubs, a teen club and a group for adult readers who enjoy books written for a slightly younger audience.

Meanwhile the shop is championing the new World Book Day award which celebrates reading for pleasure in schools. Five schools will get the opportunity to win up to £10,000 worth of books for their libraries, thanks to the generosity of James Patterson, author of the popular Middle School series.

Carolyn believes that children love to touch and feel books. 'If they are introduced to reading at an early age it can be an interest that lasts a lifetime,' she says. 'We hope as many families as possible will be visiting their local bookshops during 2015.'

I hope so too.

Storytellers, Inc.


Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Read this letter - it might make you want to write your own!

'I have made such a nice little purchase today - two little girls of seven years old, rather ugly, and one of them dumb.'

This startling letter was written in 1839 by a Emily Eden, a respected upper class English lady, whilst staying  in Calcutta with her brother who was Governor General of India at the time. The  content is  truly shocking, not but just because it seems barbaric by today's standards, but because as an articulate  means of communication, it is a lesson to us all.

Whilst doing some research into the lost art of letter-writing recently, I came across my original copy of Olga Kenyon's fascinating book  800 Years of Women's letters which is packed so full of revealing epistles that would be impossible to read in one sitting.

Eden goes on to say : The natives constantly adopt orphans - either distant relations or children that they buy - and generally they make no difference between them and their own children; but these little wretches were very unlucky. Describing their sorry state she adds: they have not a stitch of clothes on and one of them is rather an object, the man has beat them so dreadfully, and she seems stupefied.'

In an illuminating foreword to the book author P.D.James, the prolific crime writer who died at the end of last year, writes: 'No literary form is more revealing, more spontaneous or more individual than a letter.'

In this book you can find letters from Elizabeth 1, Queen Victoria, Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf in correspondence with each other, and Florence Nightingale exclaiming 'There is not an official who would not burn me like Joan of Arc if he could, but they know the War Office cannot turn me out because the country is with me.'

All this leads me to think that letter writing is an art that has been lost altogether by today's generation.  Not unlike a short story or piece of prose, the letter of the nineteenth century, for example, was full of imagery, description, consideration, prophecy, indignation, love, pain and a whole host of emotions that we seem to have lost the ability to describe.

I still have copies of the letters I sent to my own grandparents when I was a small child which inevitably started with I hope you are well and went on to describe whatever it was that I had done at home or at school that week.   The letters sometimes took hours to perfect, but they were carried to the letterbox with a strong feeling of pride and satisfaction.  Was this, then, the beginning of my story telling?

And if people are no longer writing letters, but just texting 'RU ok? CU 2nite,' how will they elucidate their feelings in the future?

Instead of making teenage pupils learn about subjects that have long ceased to be relevant to their lives, how about getting them to write letters: letters to themselves, to their families, letters to politicians, to people they admire, to world leaders, to anyone they feel could make an impact on the future.  What do you think?

My original version of the book which has been reprinted many times.
It is still available from the link below.

Emily Eden's  letter, part of which is reprinted above, was first published in her book Up the Country, Letters from India: 1983 (Virago Travellers)


Monday, 5 January 2015

The year I (almost) forgot how to write..

The year I became an author was the year I forgot how to write. Well, almost.

I've been an avid writer since the day I could hold a pen and, after a career as a freelance journalist, had one more dream to fulfil: to become a published author. In 2014 that dream came true with the publication of Baggy Pants and Bootees, a time slip novel about one girl's  search for her GI father. And that's when the problem started.

So what exactly became  more important than writing? First of all there was the advance publicity. Not too difficult, you might think, for someone with my background.  But writing about what's going on in the world and writing about yourself are, well, very different things.

My mother always told me not to blow my own trumpet (fortunately I'm not musical) so self promotion is not on my list of inherent characteristics. Neither is emailing friends and family (and anyone else I can think of) to tell them about my latest career move.

And why did no-one explain to me that twitter, unlike its name,  was anything but frivolous and took longer to build an audience than a busker in a snowstorm. Social media  became social mediation in our house as my on-line presence almost  trebled overnight. 'I'm writing,' I would assure my other half when he caught me logging on at 3am. But then how could I ignore that lovely lady in California who just might want to hear about my forthcoming tome? Or the facebook friend who remembered me from A-level English? Maybe she was ready to rediscover her love of reading? Was it any wonder that I got my 'likes' mixed up with my 'follows' - a very dangerous thing to do, apparently.

What happened next? Well, the novel was published in e-book format and gradually started to climb the Amazon charts. This was when a 'card' ceased to be simply something I bought for a birthday and became an acronym for Checking the Amazon Ratings Daily. Believe me, it can be very time-consuming.

On top of that, I had nothing to show my friends and family; no physical book (yet) with its carefully designed cover, no bookshop window to gaze in, no 'personal' gifts to post to my friends...Instead I had to carry on 'marketing' which, according to my publisher was the best thing a 'novice' novelist could do.

So, I got myself invited to some lovely book clubs, gave  talks here and there, featured on a few blogs, (yes-even got myself on the radio) did some more marketing and caught up with my reading.

Finally it was time to launch the paperback. What a wonderful moment that was. I could tell you all about it but I've still got some more marketing to do...And I'm sure there's something else on my list of New Year's resolutions.

Oh yes - I must remember to write.