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Thursday, 30 November 2017

A new kind of royalty - or a would-be princess?

Front page exclusive in the Daily Mail yesterday

 Princess-to-be Meghan Markle strode into the history books  this week with a mix of confidence and compassion, challenging the ancient traditions that  have long defined the British royal family.

With eyes for Prince Harry only, many believe Ms Markle  is just what the country needs  if the monarchy is to survive into the next century.

Inevitably labelled the 'spare' to future king William, Harry might well have become just another playboy prince had he not inherited  his mother's desire to make the world a better place. Meghan, with her humanitarian work, stunning looks and spirited nature  has changed all that.

Strong American women have a habit of changing British history. Last night's Channel Five drama/documentary The Queen That Never Was.  showcased Wallis Simpson who was blamed by many for the abdication of King  Edward VIII  in 1936, an event that changed the course of history.

Fascinated by the story of Wallis since I was a child, I have read many opinions of her down the years, most of them harsh, some assumed without any knowledge of the woman herself.

For the first time last night, in what appeared to be uncanny timing, we saw a different side to the woman who helped seal her own fate with a mixture of naivety and ambition.  Morally, it seems, the world was shocked by her actions.  Why didn't she slip away quietly leaving the king to carry on with his life? Why were the couple so open about their relationship - cruising together in the Mediterranean when she was still a married woman - when such things were frowned upon  in far more lowly circles.

If we are to believe this  drama documentary, supported by Mrs Simpson's own diary entries, she was traumatised by the hate people felt for her; she did not want to be queen. She begged the king to let her go but  he threatened suicide if she did not go along with his wishes.

Years later when the Duchess of Windsor, as she was known after her marriage, stepped back on to British soil, clad in black coat and veil, for her husband's funeral in 1972, she cut a very lonely figure. In all those years the British royal family had pretended she no longer existed.

My generation grew up with the words be careful what you wish for ringing in our ears and though we believe we invented feminism, strong women have always made sure their voices are heard.

The tragedy of Edward and Mrs Simpson, as they were known, will never be fully understood, but for once I prefer to look forward than to ponder what might have been. Meghan Markle's childhood friend Ninaki Priddy, who provided the 1996 photograph (above) told the Daily Mail 'She's been planning this all her life.'  Let's hope this story has a happy ending.

'The Queen That Never Was' stars Georgina Rich as Wallis and Alex Avery as Edward.

Friday, 17 November 2017

A View from the Register Office? Great drama, Kay!

If you didn't watch Kay Mellor's new drama on BBC 1 last night, you missed out on her best writing yet. Love, Lies & Records is a new six part series by the BAFTA award-winning writer. The only thing I don't like about it is the title!

According to the hype '...the series follows Registrar Kate Dickenson (Ashley Jensen) as she tries to juggle her personal life with the daily dramas of births, marriages and deaths and the impact they have on her.
After a dream promotion to the top job of Superintendent, Kate finds herself increasingly torn by the endless responsibilities of being a modern working mother. Her daughter’s hiding suspicious messages on her mobile, her son hates her because she’s bought him the wrong trainers and now her stepson’s turned up unannounced to stay.
As Kate tries to hold her work, life and relationship together, things go from complicated to impossible when a disgruntled colleague threatens to expose a secret from her past.'

And what a secret! ( sorry, no spoilers here.)

I'm surprised no-one else has thought of setting a drama in a register office, a place where people find themselves at  the most significant moments of their lives. To me, the unlucky Kate appears far too emotional for the job, taking everyone's personal problems to heart, and yet the viewer is rooting for her all the way. That's the clever bit.

Maybe I like it because the heroine is emotional, vulnerable, and nothing like the strong female professionals we're witnessing more and more on television. A bit like feminism in reverse. Maybe it's because the programme tackles complicated human issues with just the right amount of empathy. Whatever the reason, I'm already looking forward to next week.

A review of the whole series in today's Wall Street Journal is headed A View from the Register Office.

Now that's a great title, don't you think?

Image result for love lies and records

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Ghosts, ghoulies and...ladybirds?

Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home, your house is on fire and your children all gone..

I wonder how many children sang this as a child, unaware of the implication of the words? It seems 1950s children enjoyed stories such as Red riding Hood (beware of the wolf) and Babes in the Wood (don't get lost in the dark)  supposedly without feeling scared.

Back in 1944, when a ladybird caught her eye, the unknown Iona Opie, began to wonder why such traditional rhymes were so scary, and then spent the rest of her life finding out. She began by borrowing James Halliwell-Phillipps' 1842 edition of Nursery Rhymes of England, from the library and soon  her husband, Peter, got hooked on the idea, too.

The couple began buying copious children's books to answer  the question 'what is a nursery rhyme?'  Their first purchase, The Cheerful Warbler, was a tiny book of rhymes from 1818 that cost exactly five shillings. They soon began creating a dictionary of more than 500 rhymes, songs, jingles and lullabies which, seven years later, became The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book. In it they explored the history of children's play, especially in the schoolyard. This was followed by the Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes in 1963.

Some of their early observations were labelled 'timid' but years later Iona was quoted as saying: In 1959 you didn't publish anything worse than the word 'Knickers.' She made up for that with the People in the Playground (1993) which detailed the sexual language games and jokes enjoyed by children at primary school.

 Born in 1923, Iona was the daughter of Sir Robert Archibald, director of the Wellcome research laboratory in Khartoum, Sudan. She was brought up by her mother, Olive, and regularly looked after by maids. 'It didn't occur to me that I was suppose to speak,' she once said. 'My whole attention was given to noticing and taking things in.'

In 1951 the couple's appeal for information about playground games was published in the Sunday Times and lead to an overwhelming response from teachers across the country. The result was The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959) which aimed to prove that the mass media was not ruining childhood traditions.

Reading  Iona Opie's obituary in this week's Times, from which these quotes are taken, it seems that the couple lived a frugal life, without car or television, that 'involved the us of old newspapers for lavatory paper.'
They had three children: James, who became an authority on toy soldiers, Robert,who founded the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising in Notting Hill, and Letitia who 
worked in adult education.

Iona Opie's obituary in TheTimes

Despite the demands of her work, Iona was devoted to her children, loved cooking, and made endless birthday cakes, puddings and pies when she wasn't amassing her collection of 2,000 books. By 1998 she had sold them to the Bodleian for £500,000.

And what of the original ladybird? 'I believe now the ladybird has something to do with witchcraft,' she concluded.  A pretty apt quote for Halloween.

Iona Opie, CBE, author, anthropologist and folklorist, was born on October 13, 1923 and died on October 23, 2017, aged 94.

Monday, 9 October 2017

'Fate' accompli?

When my second daughter was sixteen, a gypsy told her she was going to marry a Yorkshireman. I laughed. Not because I had anything against Yorkshire, (or its men) but  she was still so young and, anyway, who could  predict such a thing?  What's more she would work in a big factory surrounded by lots of people - including her future husband.

That was more than twenty years ago, yet the gypsy's words were as clear as ever as her father and I embarked on our latest trip to York. This beautiful city is famous the world over but I wonder how many of its people appreciate how lucky they are to live there?  Or believe that my gypsy friend really knew what she was talking about? (Daughter Two,  a happily married mum,  is now a microbiologist in the city.)

Yes, the predictions came true. Yet I've always believed in the 'Sliding Doors' theory that we can, if we really want to, influence our own destiny. Otherwise, why are we here?  As a writer it is easy to be self-critical, to compare yourself unfavourably to those who are more prolific than you, or more successful, especially in these days of non-stop social media. So I've tried to live by the mantra: if you think you can, you can, and if you think you can't, you probably can't.

One of the things I promised myself earlier this year was to concentrate on what I really want to do (write novels) and spend less time interacting with those I believe make my goal achievable (everyone else.) So, after writing this  blog almost every week for the last seven years, I have decided to cut it down to once a month.  I have taken a break from my facebook account, leaving only my author page active. I still log on to twitter, but just for a few minutes each day, so that I can keep in touch with what's gong on around me.

Do I feel happier?  No, I feel quite bereft. I've taken away the crutches, hobbled out of my comfort zone and started to rely on myself again. But isn't that how it all started?

From cub reporter to freelance journalist, from mother to grandmother to novelist, I've tried to make things happen.  That's my story, anyway.  You don't have to believe it. Novelists, so I've heard, are good at making things up.

York Minster - the world at its feet?

Monday, 25 September 2017

Who's got The Power now?

'She is as pretty as a picture and powerful as a rocket launcher, and anything she touches begins to hum and buzz and send out sparks within half an hour...'

Journalist Anna Marshall writing about Fleet Street editor Phyllis Digby Morton in the 1950s

'Like needle-pricks of light from her spine to her collarbone, from her throat to her elbows, wrists, to the pads of her fingers. She's glittering inside.'

Naomi Alderman in her current bestseller The Power

I've always believed that history repeats itself and never more so than this week. Just as I finish reading Naomi Alderman's dystopian novel about powerful women of the future,  the Mail on Sunday's You magazine sheds light on a powerful woman of the past. Here's to powerful women.

Sunday, 6 August 2017


'THE' is a very short  word - one we use  a myriad times every day. So why has it  been causing excitement in the world of fiction?

Just in case you hadn't noticed, this three- letter word heads some of the most successful book titles of 2017. Of the top paperback fiction bestsellers listed in Saturday's Times newspaper six out of the ten  titles follow the trend. Just look at the list:

At number one, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is followed by Jane Harper's The Dry. At five is The Power by Naomi Alderman, at six The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena followed by John Grisham's The Whistler at number seven. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, (now a television series) is number eight and Michelle Frances' The Girlfriend comes in at number nine.

So while many experts still believe that you should choose a book by its cover, these days it seems to be the title that's pulling in the readers. And the more a new-release resembles the title of a current best seller, the more  likely it is to attract the reader's attention.

If you watched The Little House on the Prairie as a child, you won't be surprised to know that 'house' is now an in-word for book titles. One of the most popular  is The House on the Hill (I found several different novels with this same title on Amazon) along with Kate Morton's The House at Riverton. Finally, the word 'girl' is also very prevalent as in the bestsellers Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. A throwback, maybe, to Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?

Book titles, despite common belief, are not subject to copyright which explains why we sometimes come across two authors publishing different novels with the same title at the same time. Take, for example,Julie Cohen and Jane Green, both successful authors with recent novels entitled Falling.

But is success just about sales? It's not unknown for a Booker Prize winner to have far fewer sales than many commercial  fiction authors today, though not in the case of  prolific writer Julian Barnes whose 2011 novel The Sense of an Ending had me riveted from start to finish. Clearly he was ahead of the trend.

I wonder what the title of the next number one bestseller might be? The Daughter of The Girl in the House on the Hill above the Hidden Railway Train?

You never know. It might just catch on

The Sense of an Ending

Monday, 17 July 2017

Doctors wanted to switch off our daughter's life support - but somehow she survived. What's next for Charlie Gard?

The doctor's prognosis was grave:We may have to switch off your daughter's life support. 
     'No,' I shouted, leaping to my feet as  as the horror of those words hit home. 'You make her sound like a washing machine.'

     Twenty-five-year-old Amy had contracted E.coli 0157 - a deadly form of  food poisoning  - and her vital organs were  shutting down. She'd had an epileptic fit, her lungs were filling with water, her kidneys had failed and her contaminated blood was being regularly replaced.

     Fifteen years later, as the world waits to hear the fate of little Charlie Gard, I can still recall that heart-stopping moment when the doctor seemed to give up on our daughter's life.  I'm not proud of my reaction, for which I later apologised, but it's the reason why I agree with Charlie's anguished parents at a time when  doctors believe their child should be allowed to 'die with dignity.'

     These days it's easier for me to be impartial. While Great Ormond Street Hospital are being fiercely criticised for their role in the baby's future, I find myself thinking that the doctors 'are only doing their job.' But I also believe that all professionals, however experienced in their chosen field, can sometimes be wrong.

     Even if Amy did survive, her father and I were told, she would be 'a vegetable' with no quality of life at all. But then a miracle happened. She regained consciousness, her lungs improved and eventually she was taken off the ventilator.  Unable to walk or talk, however, she had to learn these skills all over again.

     I can't even begin to imagine how ill baby Charlie really is, or what the future holds for a child with  this type of mitochondrial disease. Maybe it would have been better if the child had died soon after birth thereby releasing the parents from the unimaginable dilemma they face now.

      All I know is that the skill of the NHS doctors saved Amy's life. Today she is happily married and holds down a demanding job.  Surely Charlie, and his heartbroken parents, deserve the same chance?

Amy featured in Woman magazine soon after her miraculous recovery.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Win a signed copy of Baggy Pants and Bootees

Would you like to win a signed paperback copy of Baggy Pants and Bootees?   Then why not go over to my facebook page  Marilyn Chapman Author , like the page and tell me who you would like the book for: you,  a friend, or maybe a  family member who needs cheering up?

Go on - it could make someone's day!

Baggy Pants and Bootees at  Plackitt and Booth Booksellers, Lytham, Lancashire
where my debut novel was launched in 2014
The book was very lucky to be in such esteemed company....

NB - The competition ends at midnight on Tuesday July 4 - good luck!

Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Spirit that Saved a Nation

JUST HOURS after  a young woman lost her home and possessions in London's Grenfell Tower tragedy, she arrived at the emergency help centre to see if someone could find her a new skirt. Why?
Because she needed to get to her job as a checkout assistant in the local supermarket. My first reaction was  disbelief.  Not only is it a great example of  the British 'stiff upper lip,' but also a sign of  immense  courage in the face of  tragedy.

It reminds me of what my Guernsey grandparents used to call the 'War Spirit.' When I was a young child, they told me how an indestructible  spirit helped the islanders endure five long years of German Occupation. And defiant they were - right to the end. Similarly, it seems, the people of London, whatever their colour or creed, have supported each other on a scale not seen for a long time in this country.

After years as a newspaper journalist I wake up these days in fear of the front page news. Perhaps it's time all of us stood together? Let the majority hold hands against the cruel minority and say  We Will Not Be Moved.