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Friday, 30 December 2011

Twelfth Night

Thanks to everyone - from the United States to  Russia, Canada to  China - and most of all from the wonderful island of Guernsey, who have visited my blog in the past year. To writers and readers everywhere,  here's to a happy, peaceful and productive new year.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Do they know it's Christmas time?

Outside my window, swaying in the breeze this morning is a daffodil bulb reaching out  to the  winter sun. Next to it the crocuses are peeping through the ground, just as certain that spring is on its way. Do they know it's Christmas time at all?

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

'Jesus wants a little wee...'

Trying to get into the mood for writing my Christmas cards this afternoon I put away my laptop and pondered  on  the season of 'good will' and what, ultimately it's all about. Just then a text arrived on my phone with a photo of my two-year-old grandaughter, Mille Grace, in her nursery school nativity play. My heart melted. Christmas is about little children - their dreams, their beliefs, their future. The adult world is a frightening place where our little ones will one day  belong.  So let them sing 'Jesus little ones are we', or as my own young daughter once said ' Jesus wants a little wee. ' Let them dress up, dance and sing while they still believe in Santa.  The New Year - and their futures - will all too soon be here.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Kindle - Dream or Disaster?

Seen a new novel you like the sound of?  Want  to read it now? Wait no longer - with Kindle you can.
That's the sort of copy I turned out regularly in the eighties when I worked for a small advertising agency. All of it was glib and no-one, I suspect, believed a word of it. So for some time now I  have remained unmoved by all the publicity generated by the Amazon Kindle.  Worse still, I  have treated the  e-book phenomenon with scorn, believing nothing could take the place of the trusty old book: the smell of new paper as you scan the pages, the lure of the cover as you hold it in your hands, the sight of your book shelves bulging with literary talent from every corner of the world... (sorry I'm back in advertising  land again)  How could this compare with the lowly Kindle?

But then, blog reader, (with apologies to Jane Eyre) I  bought one. (Or more accurately was given one as a present by my daughter.)

And now, I simply take a different view. I can read the latest books wherever I go and edit my own work at the same time. I can browse through great literature as if  I were in a library,  without  even moving from my chair.  And best of all, I can buy a book at the touch of a button.

I remember the first time I had a feature published in a mainstream magazine; I rushed into the newsagent and bought four copies, one of which I have to this day. It was real, tangible, something I could keep to hand on to the next generation.  These days my house is full of vintage books which reveal so much through their  smell,  feel, and texture. They are full of photographs -a mysterious sepia print or a delicate tapestry-passed down to us from another age.  How dull life would be without them.

So I still don't believe that e-books will ever entirely replace the real thing , but  I hope for now that the two can sit side by side in a rapidly changing world. 

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Occupying Love

Stop Press!  I've just finished the final draft of my new book 'Occupying Love' and I've dedicated it to my favourite Guernseyman - Harry Brown.  Read on to find out what it's all about...

When Lydia Le Page is trapped in the Channel Islands  at the start of the German Occupation, she transforms from a feisty young student with a promising career ahead of her, to an enemy collaborator burdened with a terrible secret.
It is Guernsey in 1940 and the island people have been robbed of their children and hounded out of their own homes.
Crushed by the death of her father after an argument with a German officer, Lydia vows to seek her revenge.  She discovers an ally in Martin Martell,  the enigmatic  rector of Torteval Church, who persuades her to join the Resistance. Inexplicably drawn to each other, though loathe to admit it, neither is aware of the other’s past.
Does he know she’ll be asked to seduce the Kommandant? And will they be able to put their feelings aside, or will he put a stop to it before it’s too late? As Martin is arrested, a terrifying secret  has yet to be revealed, one that could threaten the lives of  these two extraordinary people torn between desire and duty.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

What a 'privy' lege....

My photographs  of the exquisite vintage costume museum in Alstonefield, Derbyshire, produced plenty of interest this week, but I should add that  some of the displays do have a lighter side. My favourite scene (above) has to be of the man reading his newspaper while sitting on the outside 'privy.'

My compliments to owner Notty Hornblower for showing us the 'other' side of life. If you want to know more or would like to donate clothes or memorabilia to the museum please contact:

Friday, 4 November 2011

If I could turn back time...

One of the pleasures of writing historical fiction is getting  into character. Growing up in the sixties I longed to go back to the days of majestic staircases and sumptuous ballgowns, though the reality may have been quite different. 'Be careful what you wish for,' my mother used  to say, 'Or you might end up as a scullery maid.'

I spent a wonderful day yesterday at Hope House Costume Museum and Restoration Workshop in Alstonefield, near Ashbourne, Derbyshire, run by longstanding family friend Notty Hornblower.This beautiful museum is the realisation of a lifelong dream for Notty who has gathered together a unique collection of outfits and

accessories dating from 1790 to the 1970's. My favourite display  is 'Brides  Revisited' showing exquisite vintage wedding dresses, hand-stitched veils and  bejewelled satin shoes dating back to the turn of the century, some with the original photographs of their owners wearing them on their special day.

Notty has appeared on BBC's Antiques Roadshow, ITV's Heart of the Country and various other TV channels, as well as being regularly featured in several lifestyle magazines. Most importantly, her love for all things vintage has benefited  many different charities.

If you want to know more visit

Friday, 28 October 2011

Anyone for an argument?

There's nothing tourists like better than an English seaside town, and Whitby, in North  Yorkshire is quirkier than most. Here you can taste some of the freshest fish in the county, (second only to Guernsey mackerel) and  have an argument while you're at it...

I've always had a fiery temper - it must be the French blood in me - so I couldn't resist taking this photograph whilst doing some research across the border recently.

Could it be that quarelling  was a Yorkshire pastime? The truth, it seems, is a little more mundane. Yard is the ancient word for an alleyway, and this  one was built by a certain Thomas Argument who, naturally, named it after himself. He built five cottages off the yard, most of which still stand today.

Sounds like Mr Argument had a fair bit of wealth - as well as a sense of humour. And who could quarrel with that?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

It's the end of the pier....

As November 5th approaches, there is one particular bonfire night that has stayed in my memory for a very
long time.

I had been to visit friends in North Fylde and as we crossed the border from Blackpool to St Annes, a red glow lit up the horizon, like a magnificent  sunset as far as the eye could see.

'The Corporation have gone to a lot of trouble tonight,' I remarked to the taxi driver sleepily.'That's the biggest firework display I've ever seen...'

'I don't think  Guy Fawkes has got anything to do with it, Miss,' he replied. 'That's one heck of a big blaze.'

I opened my eyes wide.  This was 1974 and St Annes Pier was on fire. The architecturally-acclaimed Moorish Pavilion  was completely destroyed whilst the fire  caused serious damage to the floral hall, jetty and some of the vital substructure that had been in place since 1885.  All that could be seen the following day at the end of the pier was blackened ruins.

Today, the pier's length is reduced to 182m (600 ft) but  is still a 21st century attraction  to people from all over the country.

Looking back, it's a good job I wasn't on duty that night - I'd have missed the story of the decade.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Do I look like my grandfather? Who nose?

I love this photograph of my paternal grandfather, Private James Richard Brown of the 2nd Royal Guernsey Light Infantry, who was discharged from the army on May 6, 1919,  after losing one lung and damaging the other. The photograph was given to me by my late father, Harry Brown, who, as you can see,  inherited the strong nose and determination of his ancestors.

My father had three daughters of his own (no sons, although he longed for an heir) and guess who
inherited the nose....?

Well, you can't have everything. Let's just hope I inherited the determination as well.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Pennies from heaven...

A little piece of Guernsey history surfaced in the heart of York last weeknd when I found this silver threepenny piece for sale  in a city centre vintage shop.  The 1956  coin, with its unusual 12-sided scalloped edge, had been made into a necklace, presumably for visitors who liked to keep an eye on their money...
It features a Guernsey cow on one side and the three lions from the Royal Standard on the other - showing that  islanders are  still proud to be a part of Great Britain. Having done a bit of research I've discovered that these 'polygonal' coins were made of copper-nickel, 21mm in diameter and 1.5m thick - probably a different take on our own good old 'thrupenny bit.'

York Minster

While York sweltered in temperatures of 29 degrees, the visitors arrived in their hundreds from France, Germany, Japan and America - many keen to see the ongoing restoration of the magnificent York Minster.

Talking of France, I discovered that York is twinned with Dijon, in the Burgundy region  to the South-east of Paris,  which is famous, of course, for making mustard.  I bet it aint 'arf  hot  over there...

Friday, 23 September 2011

Shakespeare's Sisters...

Oh to be in Stratford when September's here...

(With apologies to Robert Browning - and Shakespeare - of course)

I've just spent two days in  Shakespeare land with my favourite sisters - Diane and Elaine. Everything was perfect - from the white swans swimming on the Avon to the lovely guy who insisted on taking a photo of us all by the river. Stratford  understands tourists. The locals are proud of its history ( so they should be) and recognise the financial stability it brings - and thankfully no-one tried to sell me a Bard mug!  There were flowers everywhere - outside shops, cafes, restaurants, hotels and pubs - and everyone was smiling
Just one complaint - the railway station was a relic of another age.  If I was an American tourist, I'd have turned right round on Platform 3 and made my way home again. Come on England - we can do better than that...

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Baby, look at me now...

This image of a baby in a gas mask really sums up, for me, the horrors of World War Two.  I took this photo
on Lancashire's Lytham Green recently during the Forties weekend where hundreds of people gathered  for a brilliantly sunny celebration of England.

Band music drifted across the grass as 'soldiers' and 'sailors'  strolled around with their glamorous girlfriends in tow, 'starlets' strutted in satin and seamed stockings whilst  a German officer peered out menacingly from
beneath his leather eye patch.

There were vintage cars, American and German armoured vehicles and  a mass of memorabilia that  had
everyone reaching into their hankies.  The baby, of course, was only a doll. Golly - fancy that!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Hot off the Press - it's 'Paraffin' Brown...

It's more than twenty years since the death of Guernsey's most infamous journalist, but I'm happy to report that he's still making headlines.

Nicknamed 'Paraffin' for  his fiery temper,  my father Harry Brown was featured this week in the Guernsey Press, along with the story of the 'Guernseyman' magazine he was determined to make his own.

Says writer Shaun Shackleton 'He was a 19-year-old returning home after the Occupation and he harboured a dream - to be a journalist.  So Harry Brown started his own magazine... We follow the story of 'Paraffin' Brown and his dream come true - the Guernseyman.'

Dad was never one to fight shy of controversy. 'Is divorce here too easy? Are islanders ignorant? Do local
lads prefer blondes? These were some of the tongue-in-cheek articles he wrote in an attempt to drag Guernsey into the twentieth century.

I suspect no-one took him too seriously. Not only was the war over, but he'd suffered his own personal tragedy - the loss of his 11-year-old brother -  and he needed a reason to carry on. After the pain and suffering,  he just wanted to make people smile.  As I browse through this week's articles in the Press, I feel sure that's exactly what he did.

So here's to the freedom of the press - and here's to a man who, in his own small way, made it possible.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Winning the Sex War...

'There is something delightfully feminine about a wife who  spends a little more than her
husband's actual income...'

This brilliant quote comes from   a 1930's copy of Woman's Own  I found at an antiques fair in York this weekend. In his article ' praising women's faults,' Guy Trent explains: 'We admire your feminine tantrums,  your naughty unreasonableness, your funny little vanities...but most of all we love you for your dependence on us.'  Victoria Beckham - please take note!

I'm addicted to vintage women's magazines. They catalogue social history and the changing roles of the sexes over the years. Remember the bra burners of the swinging  sixties? They'll be in their sixties themselves by now taking Ibruprofen for back pain and  wondering just what they have achieved.

By the fifties 'Picture Post' was championing motor cycle sport for women whilst still telling us to don our best hats for Ascot. And in 1985 Peugeot were urging women to buy their very own sportscar -  only £5,995 on the road...

But back to that Woman's Own.   'Now it's YOUR turn'  it finishes   'to tell us what you feel about the men. Five shillings each for the best letters and  only one fault at a time please.'     You couldn't make it up...

Here's to the next generation of women - says 'thoroughly modern Millie...'

Monday, 15 August 2011

A summer Tale..

                My favourite place to write is in my own garden-who says we haven't had a summer?

                        And summer wouldn't be summer without some Guernsey photos, too...

Can anyone spot the Guernsey cows?

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Parlez-vous Guernsey French?

When I was small my grandparents would talk to each other in Guernsey French whenever there was something they didn't want me or my sisters to hear.  The result? I learnt quite few words for myself, especially those concerning chocolate or treats!  So I was delighted recently to discover in a second-hand bookshop a glossary of 1,000 'Gernesies' words by Eric Fellowes Lukis.  'An Outline of the Franco-Norman Dialect of Gernsey' (Revised Edition 1985)  also charts the fascinating history of this wonderful language.

Says the author in the foreword 'It is almost a miracle that a language existing only as a spoken dialect for nearly a thousand years and continually exposed to French influence, could have retained so much of its ancient heritage.'
Whilst searching through the book I have found several fascinating words  like 'charlotaer'  which means 'pamper' and gavlottaer' - 'to lounge about.'  There's the devilish 'pimperluche', a perfect word for a 'wasp' and the unlikely-sounding 'babiloubuene' which means, apparently, indiscretion.

Controversially, the author has built up a case for the revised spelling of the language insisting that 'the French spelling adopted in the 19th century cannot represent accurately the strange un-French sound of Gernesies.'

I think I might I agree with that  - it was mostly Double Dutch to me...

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Bowled over...

I always knew that Guernsey people were friendly, but top marks go to the Island Bowl at St Sampsons for going that little bit further...

When my daughter, Chloe, and her husband Phil discovered their ferry back to England was delayed by ten hours they were struggling to entertain eighteen-month-old toddler Millie Grace.

Having checked out of their apartment they headed for the bowling alley where staff took pity on their plight.

'As soon as they realised we had nowhere to go,' says Chloe, 'they switched the flat screen tv on to cartoons and told us to make ourselves at home. Nothing was too much trouble. It was great not being pushed out when we'd finished eating and we reckon they all deserve a medal.'

I'd love to think that would happen in England - but somewhow I wonder. Three cheers for Island Bowl...

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A novel way to lose weight...

I came back from Guernsey this year having managed to lose weight, despite the consumption of cream teas and other local delicacies...

The secret? The Constitution Steps. One of the oldest stone flights on the island, these aptly-named steps are akin to climbing Mount Everest (by my standards, anyway) and are better than any regular workout at the gym.
Our lovely apartments, La Madeleine, stood at the top of a continental-style terrace overlooking the harbour. According to the brochure there are several different paths to reach the apartments. However, it adds, 'Constitution Steps are not recommended.' Who could refuse such a challenge?
Every morning my intrepid husband braved the 150-something steps down to the town to buy a newspaper, returning, slightly red-faced, several minutes later. Not to be beaten I then emerged to 'skip' downwards and climb my way (very slowly at first) back up again. Below is the view of the harbour from half-way up.
Most people stop at this point, ostensibly to admire the scenery, whilst actually attempting to regain their breath.
By the end of the ten-day holiday, I had the whole thing down to a fine art and felt
fitter and, dare I say, slimmer, than when I arrived. But then I do like telling stories - they're so much more fun than the truth...

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Secret of the Secret Garden

I have just read Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden, an intriguing book that follows the life of a young English girl abandoned on a ship bound for Australia at the turn of the century. It reminds me of my favourite children's story, The Secret Garden, written exactly a hundred years ago by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Although she wrote mainly for adults, the Victorian author captured the hearts of children the world over with this delightful tale.

The author's own secret was the tragic death of her 16-year-old son, a loss from which she never fully recovered. Written in his memory, the story provides the happy ending that she herself was denied. Born in Manchester, the family moved to the United States when she was a teenager and she spent much of her life travelling between the two countries. She was much criticised in the press for being away from her family and this affected her deeply when her son died of consumption.

The book fell out of favour until the 1960s when a new generation of children, and adults, took it to their hearts again.

I captured this shot in Guernsey, an island famous for its glorious gardens. What better place to read - and write?

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Getting Away With It...

One of my favourite authors is Julie Cohen whose books reflect her personality - warm, wacky and with a deep underlying concern for the emotional issues we all have to face.

Her latest novel, Getting Away With It, is the story of identical twins, one good, one bad, whose lives collide when their mother devlops a life-changing illness.

Written through the eyes of Lisa, a former stuntwoman in LA, it is set in the fictional English village of Stoneguard,where privacy is a word no-one understands. As Lisa takes on her sister's life, including her devastatingly handsome boyfriend, things get very complicated.

Getting Away With it is out now in paperback. A fun, sexy and thought-provoking read.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Thanks to Radio Lancashire...

My daughter, Amy, and I were interviewed on Radio Lancashire last night about the day she almost died from E.coli.  Nine years ago when she was 25, Amy suffered a serious complication of the deadly bacterium, called HUS, (Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome) which causes toxins in the blood to attack the heart, lungs and kidneys.

I felt quite emotional listening to her talk to the interviewer yesterday. The  husky voice  has become her trademark after  weeks spent  with a tracheostomy helping her to breathe. Amy was one of the lucky ones.

When she left the Intensive Care Unit of the Royal Preston Hospital she donated a cd player inscribed with the words 'Thank you for my Life.'   I think that says it all...

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

My daughter beat the deadly E.coli...

One of the hardest features I've ever had to write concerned my then 25-year-old daughter, Amy, who almost died from food poisoning in 2002.  Reading about the latest E.coli outbreak in Germany brings it all back to me.

Amy had just started a new job as a teaching assistant in Lancaster, when she rang and asked if she could come home for the weekend.  Surprised, as she had recently found herself a flat, her Dad and I said yes and awaited her arrival.  She didn't make it.

After further frantic calls saying she was  violently sick and unable to walk, we collected her from Lancaster. Within 24 hours she was in Blackpool Victoria Hospital with acute kidney failure. She was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit of the Royal Preston Hospital where she remained for the next six months.

Amy had HUS (Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome), a deadly complication of E.coli that usually affects young children. It caused major organ failure from which she was not expected to recover. As a vegetarian she had not eaten contaminted beef which, at the time, was thought to be the major culprit.

Against all the odds, Amy eventually came out of the coma, unable to walk or speak, and unaware of what had happened to her.  The school in Lancaster kept her job open for her and, almost a year to the day, she returned to work, to an amazing welcome.

Today she is happy and healthy and  engaged to be married.  Her story is a wonderful testament to the doctors at Preston who told us that her case was so rare, they didn't know how to treat it.

My heart goes out to the families in Germany.

You can read a version of Amy's story on the HUSH under testimonies.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Life's an empty beach...

Where in the world could you go in May and find yourself an empty beach with the sun shining above and the wind rippling on the water?  Try Guernsey - I just did and the peace and sheer beauty of this friendly island never fails to amaze me....

Then there are the flowers that grow by the roadside.....

And this time, the first ever Guernsey Literary Festival which was a huge success!  Not to mention, of course, the wonderful  yellow butter and  delicious Guernsey cream which bring back happy memories of my childhood. 'Cheery for now' as the local people say.  I'll be back.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

These lovely Guernsey flowers arrived at my home as seeds last Spring and I managed to nurture them, as you can see, despite the cold climate here in the North of England!
They were sent to me by Christine Robert whose father, the late Frank Mellanby, was a close friend of my Dad, Harry Brown.  Frank was my God father and very well known in the island as a fine sportsman and a warm and genuine man.
I shall be visiting Christine and her mother, Hilda, later this month but, in the meantime, I can't remember the flowers' name.  Sorry, Christine, I'll make it up to you with a meal at The Auberge...

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Whichever Way you Look at it...

Guernsey's got perspective...


        Guernsey's the place to be....       
Can't wait till I'm there in May!