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Saturday, 29 December 2012

Thirteen steps to superstition...why I'm dreading the New Year!



We lived at number 13 when I was a child and one day, when my mother refused to buy home-made pegs at the front door,  a gypsy put a curse on our home.  Everything went wrong after that:  we sold the house  and I've been superstitious ever since.  I won't travel on the 13th, write a cheque on the 13th, and once even refused  an operation on the dreaded day, preferring  to suffer in silence...

I got married on Friday March 12  because I didn't want my wedding anniversary on the 13th, and I've always avoided Friday the 13th  by staying at home.There are thirteen steps to  the gallows, so legend says, and that's enough to frighten anyone.

The Greeks, who took the whole thing very seriously, had a word for fear of the number 13 - dekatriaphobia. Sounds painful, doesn't it?   Sounds pretty ridiculous, too, come to think of it. So as the seconds tick by to midnight  remember the old saying:

Don't trouble thirteen
Till thirteen troubles you
For if you trouble thirteen
 You'll trouble others too

Superstitious?  Me?  Not any more...


to you all!



Friday, 21 December 2012

The Host of Christmas past...

With  summer now just a memory, here's a seasonal poem from our best-known Poet Laureate:

 'Advent 1955' by Sir John Betjeman

Last year I sent out twenty yards
Laid end to end, of Christmas cards
To people that I scarcely know -
They'd sent a card to me, and so
I had to send one back. Oh dear!
Is this a form of Christmas cheer?
Or is it, which is less surprising
My pride gone in for advertising?
The only cards that really count
Are that extremely small amount
From real friends who keep in touch
And are not rich but love us much
Some ways indeed are very odd
By which we hail the birth of God

Happy Christmas to you all...


Monday, 17 December 2012

Happy Birthday from Father Christmas!

On my 5th birthday I rushed out of the front door to greet the postman who was struggling up the driveway. 'Do you know what day it is today?' I asked excitedly.

'Christmas Eve, of course,' he winked, handing me a pile of envelopes. 'Everyone knows that.'

'No - it's my birthday,'  I replied tearfully before slipping on the icy doorstep and gouging a hole in my scalp.  I ended up in the emergency department of the city hospital with 10  stitches in  my head. That's one birthday I'll never forget.

As the day comes round again, the old childhood feelings still rush back - one present instead of two, nowhere to put my birthday cards, and absolutely no time for a party on my special day.  I remember one year going to stay with relatives who presented me with an amazing iced fruit cake. It was covered in silver baubles with my age in large numbers perched on the top.  I was so excited as I lit the candles and got ready to cut the first slice.

'Oh, we can't cut it,' my aunt said in a horrified voice. 'It's the Christmas cake too!'
Sure enough, the candles came off that night and my beautiful cake was trimmed with holly and a great big smiling Santa.

And please don't get me started on those jolly cards that say 'On your Christmas Birthday.' They were no doubt invented by someone who was born in the middle of June.

Seriously, though, as we approach the season of goodwill, lets remember why we celebrate  December 25th.   Christmas Day isn't just for baby Jesus - it really does belong to us all.


Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Until The Twelfth of Never...

I was going to put off writing this blog until tomorrow, but then again it might just be too late...
For Wednesday the twelfth of the twelfth two thousand and twelve is a day when anything might happen - including the end of the world!

Of course, that's only if you are a pessimist and I'm very much an optimist (as well as a fan of hyperbole, as my hoards of good friends will  tell you.) Besides, people have been predicting the end of the world ever since - well - ever since time began.
Interestingly, it will be another 88 years before all three numbers in the date are the same  (thats 01.01. 2101 if you want to put it on your calendar.)

But if all is well and you're reading this on Thursday morning, please don't get too complacent. In just a couple of weeks' time, according to the ancient Mayan calendar,  we will be facing the apocolypse anyway. This time 21.12.2012 is the day of reckoning.

A 'rotating calendar of stone,'  the Mayan calendar  was not so much  an almanac, but a 'gauge of the evolution of consciousness.' No doubt before social networking, and the invention of His 'n' Hers calendars,this was the only way of telling what your friends and family had got planned..

 I have always believed that we all worry too much about the past, the present and the future.  They all exist of course, but not always in the same order.

It's a pity George Orwell isn't still with us. I'm sure he'd have a few timely things to say about the end of the world.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Forty million free books!

Forty million  free books for children! That's the proud legacy of the Booktrust Charity in the twenty years since its inception.  To writers and readers alike, it sounds  like a miracle. So why do I feel uneasy? Because the charity, which is backed by the deputy Prime Minister's wife,  has just had its £6 million a year funding  fast-tracked by the Education Department.

Mrs Clegg, otherwise known as Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, 'hosted a lavish reception for Booktrust in October at one of London's most grandiose venues, the historic Lancaster House,' according to today's Daily Mail.  It goes on to say 'There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Booktrust, which has given away 40 million free books to schoolchildren in the past 20 years.'

Very impressive, of course. ButI can't help feeling it would have been so much better  if they  had raised some of the cash themselves.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Floods of tears? No - let's just get on with it!!

One of the most moving images of flooded Britain this week was of a couple in their eighties surveying their ruined cottage - once the centre of their world.  As the wife started to take crockery out of a mud-soaked cupboard she was asked what she thought of insurance companies  refusing to cover claimants who try to renew their home policies.

 Looking thoughtful she said: I can see their point. It must be costing them a lot of money to  repair all this damage.  

We witnessed no signs of self-pity , no  'look at us we have worked for this all our lives' - just humble acceptance of the situation.

Believe me, my heart goes out to everyone in Britain who has  suffered from the appalling floods, especially the sick and those with young children.

But I can't help thinking that some people might have come up with a very different cry: Who's going to pay for all this, then? What are we supposed to do now?

Back in the North West, the floods have reached no further than our back garden. We're lucky, I know, but we'd be luckier still if we had half as much courage as that amazing couple. Let's just hope they are getting all the help they need.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Help me - I'm snookered!

Can you tell me where and who?

Searching through some old papers  recently I found this photograph of my father, Harry Brown,  (second from right) presenting a snooker trophy, probably taken towards the end of the Nineteen  Fifties.  Dad was a sports journalist, (though he mostly wrote about football,) and worked on the Leicester Mercury around this time. I'd love to know what the trophy was for, and the names of the others in the photo. 

Curious - me? My nickname's Alice in Wonderland...

Monday, 19 November 2012

Sex and Swearing? Not Us! Meet the Romaniacs...

  The six  Romaniacs shortlisted for the Festival of Romance 2012 New Talent  Award -  (in no particular order)  Celia, Lucie, Catherine. Laura, Sue, Jan, Liz, Vanessa, Debbie

One of the highlights of the Festival of Romance for me this weekend was meeting The Romaniacs.  An amazing group of nine talented writers, the Romaniacs represent this year's Romantic Novelists' Association's New Writers scheme which showcases the writing talent of the future.

The girls met a year ago at the first-ever Festival of Romance in Hertford  and have since developed a close friendship, not to mention a feisty blog that is followed all over the world.

At this year's conference 'After Fifty Shades - What Next? ' the Romaniacs were among those who dared to  predict  the future of women's fiction. (I can't give away too many secrets...)

On the subject of blogs the question was simple : what makes people sit up and take notice?

'Sex and swearing' quipped one of the panelists. Whether or not she was serious, I duly took note.

Romaniac Celia Anderson won the Piaktus Prize for her novel 'The Chocolate Project' which will be published as an e-book in the new year.

 Congratulations also go also to Lesley Eames who won this year's New Talent Award with her work-in-progress When Storm Clouds Rage.

The rest of us enjoyed every pink-tinged minute and, hopefully, will  be back again next year.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Calling the BBC...

Image courtesy of

Calling the BBC

Why am I calling the BBC?

Why am I calling the BBC?

Why am I calling the BBC?

Why am I calling the BBC?

Why am I calling the BBC?

Why am I calling the BBC?

Because the BBC used to be a calling and now it's just a calamity.

I wish to put forward Andy Pandy for the next Director General. Now there's someone who knew how to pull the strings...

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Feeling Guilty? Click here..

Well - that put paid to half the population... Now, all you women out there, as I was saying - what is it about guilt that gets to us like no other emotion? We feel guilty because we work, guilty because we don't, guilty because we're too fat, too thin, too pretty, too ugly, not clever or adventurous enough,well, let's be honest, we're just Jerusalem-jam-packed full of the stuff!

Listen to a man, any man, found guilty of 'mal-administration' such as fiddling his expenses, claiming invalidity benefit after winning the local marathon, or 'forgetting' he had another wife and child in the next village. He will never say that it's his fault.  The most likely excuse goes something like, 'I thought everyone else was doing it?'

When I was at school I had a tendency to say 'It's my fault,' when anything bad happened, just in case it actually was.  I remember, aged about eight, finding out that someone had broken the large glass thermometer (on display in the entrance hall)  that was a gift from one of the Governors.  The whole school was kept in the hall that morning until the culprit owned up. Strangely, I don't remember the outcome, just me racking my brains to see if I had got up in the middle of the night and  committed the awful crime whilst asleep in my pyjamas.   I still shiver at the thought.

Meanwhile, the latest study by the US Carnegie Mellon  University tells us that guilty women make better friends. Clearly they rush around doing everything they can for you in the hope that you'll be pleased with them, approve of them and love them forever.   I have to say that I can't think of anyone I know who is remotely like that. But I can't stop any longer to discuss it now because I promised to  take my best friend's dogs out for a walk half an hour ago.  And they'll no doubt be waiting for me. And, well, you know just how fickle animals can be...

Friday, 2 November 2012

New Talent - Old Tricks!

I mentioned Sophie's Secret here recently as part of 'The Next Big Thing' writers' blog and someone must have been listening. For my work-in-progress, a time-slip novel with a twist, has just been shortlisted for the Festival of Romance 2012 New Talent Award. 

      'You - new talent?' was my daughter's response when I told her the news.
      'New-ish!' I replied indignantly.
      'Does that mean you'll get to wear a new dress?'
      'Yes - and killing, I mean, killer heels.'

I think I can still hear her laughing...  Anyway, click on the link and take a look at all the amazing people from the publishing industry who will be getting together in Bedford over the festival weekend. And in the meantime - did someone mention Botox?

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Earth calling BT - is anyone there?

BT have made me smile this week - or not so much  smile as laugh out loud!  I reported my mum's landline in Lancashire as faulty the other day, from my mobile phone. The automated voice said: Press 1 if you are unable to make or receive calls. So I did. Then came: Is the faulty line the number you are calling from? Er, well, no actually- it's faulty. After a few more questions I was asked if I would like to receive text messages on the progress of the fault.  Yes please. True to their word, BT sent me texts, a blow by blow account of the fault's resolution.

Which brings me to my point: maybe they should think about re-investing in mobile phone technology? Or better still, get a fleet of carrier pigeons.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

What happened to the Forgotten Evacuees?

What happened to  all the Guernsey children banished from their island home during World War Two? This is the question historian Gillian Mawson  answers in her new book Guernsey Evacuees: The Forgotten Evacuees of the Second World War,  published on November 1 by the History Press. My own father was evacuated to Oldham, Lancashire, in 1940, and, as part of The Next Big Thing  Wednesday blog, I've invited Gillian to tell us how the book came to be.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

In 2008, I discovered that around 17,000 Channel Islanders had fled the islands to mainland Britain in June 1940, just before the Nazis occupied their islands. Some did not return to Guernsey after the war but remained in the communities in which they had settled. I had to find out more about this! I began to search for surviving evacuees, and this practically took over my life. I have interviewed over 200 so far and organised several evacuee reunions. I have also formed a community group for those who live in northern England, and we share their wartime stories at public events in an interactive way.

What genre does your book fall under?

British social history – the history of Britain's World War Two Home Front

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a film?

Eleanor Roosevelt: Meryl Streep
Guernsey Headmasters: David Morrissey and Benedict Cumberbatch
Teachers: John Simm, Julie Walters, Victoria Wood
Mothers: Emily Blunt, Joanne Froggatt,
Mr Fletcher: John Savident
It would be wonderful to have some of the children from the actual evacuees' families as the children in the story.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
An unforgettable and untold true story of Second World War British evacuation

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It is being published by the History Press – a specialist history publisher.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
7 months working 9 til 5 Monday to Friday

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
'Churchill's Children' by John Welshman, 'When the Children Came Home' by Julie Summers

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Meeting the evacuees and realising that in the majority of cases, their amazing and emotional stories had not been shared with the general public. I was also given access to teachers', children's and adult evacuees' diaries which paint a vivid picture of their experiences in England during the war.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I use the evacuees' own words throughout the book, in order to bring it to life for the reader. I discuss the young mothers who left the island with their infants, leaving their husbands behind. Guernsey schools were evacuated to England and some teaches re-established their schools in England for the duration of the war.

 They received assistance from the British public, but also from Canada and the USA. One Guernsey school was financially supported by wealthy Americans, with one little girl exchanging letters with 'Aunty Eleanor' - Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt, the American President's wife. For a detailed look at the chapters, see:

Thanks, Gillian, and finally please keep an eye out for the blogs of writer Peter Kenny who, along with Richard Fleming, is the author of The Guernsey Double, a book of delightfully original poems about the island.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

What is The Next Big Thing?

If you'd like to discover what books you could soon be reading, why not join in The Next Big Thing -  where writers and bloggers discuss their  work-in-progress? Today it's  my turn:

What is the working title of your book?

Sophie’s Secret

Where did the idea come from for the book?

A relative of mine discovered recently that his father was an American GI.    I wanted to show how the birth of an illegitimate  child  impacts on the lives of the generations that follow.

What genre does your book fall under?

Historical fiction 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a film?

I’d prefer to wait till I’m asked! However, a modern-day Ingrid Bergman would be my ideal protagonist.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

You can change the future - but what if you try to change the past?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I hope it to have it represented by an agency.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

It will have taken about a year by the time it’s finished.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Novels by Dilly Court and Colette Caddle

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My inspiration to write has always come from my father, the late Harry Brown, who lost his beloved brother as an evacuee at the outbreak of World War Two, but never lost his sense of humour.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s a love story   spanning two generations,  from the horror of the Coventry blitz  to the emerging 'freedom' of the sixties.

Of the many writers I admire, two will soon be joining me in  The Next Big Thing. They are Gillian Mawson, whose book 'Guernsey Evacuees The Forgotten Story,' out on November 1 (The History Press) is very close to my heart and Linda Mitchelmore whose first historical romance 'To Turn Full Circle ' (Choc Lit) is currently enjoying excellent reviews.  She will be  discussing  her latest work-in-progress 'No Turning Back,' the second book of her  trilogy, this time next week. Look out for more recommendations soon.

Finally - thanks to Jack Barrow for his recommendation.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Want to say No? Yes please!

 I once got a  call from a friend begging me to go to a dinner party. 'If you don't come, she said, 'we'll run out of  conversation.'  I said yes, of course. Because those of us who  talk too much  are also the sort who never say 'no.'

All my life I've had too much to do and too many places to go because the little 'n' word has never been part of my vocabulary.  I don't mean to get involved, you, see, I just start chatting and it sort of happens.

'Dobby's mother not very good at sewing,' my  then 11-year-old daughter said mournfully as I painstakingly embroidered her  full name on the front of her new tennis kit.

'Don't worry,'  I said, taking pity on Dobby's mum. 'Just tell her I'll do hers, too.'
The following day the  kit duly appeared. 'What Dobby's surname? I inquired innocently.
 My daughter  passed me a piece of paper. The words 'Dobroslawa Przybyszewki'  were written in neat capitals. 'That's her name,' she replied. 'We call her Dobby for short.'

Then there was the time I agreed to collect  charity envelopes from one of the roads in our village. 'It's only 30 houses,' the organiser cajoled. 'You can do it in less than an hour.'

Two hours, three downpours,   four slammed doors  and several insults later, how I wished I'd just refused.

Now I've said 'Yes' again - this time to joining in a Sponsored Silence.
 'You - stop speaking?'  my other half burst out laughing when I told him.  'Now that I'd like to see!'

He's still here as I write,  shaking his head in disbelief.

Meanwhile, HUSH, Britain's only E.coli support group is busy planning  SHUSH for HUSH  next month . Along with mother-in-laws all over the country I will keep quiet for  as long as possible to help them raise desperately needed funds.

 Take a look at my page on

I promise I won't say a word...

Friday, 5 October 2012

Want to borrow a book? Take a pew!

Photo: Bookstore Selexyz Dominicanen, in Maastrich, Netherlands. Originally built in 1294, this unused church was turned into a bookstore in 2007.
With thanks to the Reader's Nook

How would you feel about going to church to borrow a library book?

The idea came to me when I saw this wonderful photo of a disused church in the Netherlands, built in 1294 and converted into a library in 2007.   I'm not suggesting we convert our churches, of course,  just make use of them on the days they are empty.

All over Great Britain we have beautiful old churches of all denominations with dwindling congregations and dwindling revenue to match. Meanwhile, local authorities are struggling to keep open our local libraries, many of which are often the central point of the community. Churches need funding and libraries need a place to go - so why couldn't the two work together to their mutual benefit? Before anyone suggests I'm being sacrilegious, I assure you I am not. Quite the opposite in fact.  Isn't it time more people got to see the inside of some of our country's historic buildings before they are closed forever?  Isn't there a correlation between great architecture and great literature?

The idea would work particularly well in rural areas where community services are constantly being pruned or stopped altogether.  An area of the church could be dedicated to books at certain times of the week with the provision, maybe, of coffee and a warm place to chat.  Methodist churches regularly invite the congregation to coffee and cakes after  the morning service - so perhaps it's a short step to include books too?

The once-popular Borders book chain  went into administration in 2009, partly due to competition from the internet. Today the sales of e-books are, in some cases, overtaking their paper counterparts. I am all for progress and regularly use my kindle, but the truth is that we will always have a place for 'real' books, even if only as a  reminder of our glorious heritage.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Room at the Top? In Praise of High Fliers...

The Red Arrows, Guernsey, September 2012

John Braine's unforgettable 1957 novel comes to life again on BBC 4 tonight, the same day as Casual Vacancy,  J K Rowling' s first  novel  for adults, hits the shelves.  There appear to be interesting parallels.  Both highlight the vagaries  of the  the good old British class system which, along  with sex politics and money, has spawned tales of greed and ambition  since Shakespeare picked up the quill.

Why should a 55-year-old novel have its place on our screens when the world is awash with aspiring young novelists?  Because, in my view, Room at the Top is  a history book for the next generation and should be compulsory reading for anyone over sixteen.

John Braine's protagonist, Joe Lampton, is a working class Yorkshire  lad with eyes on the boss's daughter and a chip bigger than the whole of Harry Ramsdens  on his shoulder. By no means the original 'angry young man,' Joe nevertheless spoke for a whole host of men in post-war Britain who wanted to better themselves.  Ultimately, however, he 'sold his soul' to achieve his ambition.

J. K. Rowling describes her book as a comic tragedy and it is indeed  tragic that  modern society has made little progress with its 'them and us' view of the world. I look forward to reading  Casual Vacancy, heralded as an everyday story of the rich versus the poor.  In the meantime, I'm on the side of the world's would-be high fliers even if, like Joe, all they do is make us sit up and take notice.

 Ambition may have its downsides but I'd swap it for bigotry every time.

Friday, 21 September 2012

The opening chapter - Weather or Not?

Notice in a Guernsey open air cafe - September 2012

Did you know that a large percentage of would-be novelists start their  first chapter with a description of the weather? This, we are told, is not a good idea.  Yet great novelists have, throughout time, begun their novels in just this way and their names have gone down in history. Take Thomas Hardy in the opening chapter of Far from the Madding Crowd:

Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.

 I've cheated a little with this example because it's  on of my favourites, yet Hardy often
referred to the weather in his opening chapters. And so did Dickens. Foggy marshes, damp and dreariness in the cemetery, all of these make Dickens Great Expectations addictive from the beginning and provide us with a fear that is almost tangible. Who could not be moved by  the evil convict Magwitch or the terror enveloping young Pip?

 Look at the opening chapter of Bronte's Jane Eyre: There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question.

In Ernest Hemingway's 'A Farewell to Arms,' rain  represents death while snow is symbolic of hope. His wonderful 'The Sun also Rises,'  apart from being one of his best novels, refers to - er - the weather. Hemingway was a journalist before he became a novelist so at least I'm in good company!

The truth is that all rules are made to be broken. Success makes anything possible. But for the rest of us, writing is something we do from the heart and shouldn't be restricted by endless rules.  In our genre-obsessed literary world it's hard to write anything these days that doesn't fit into a specific category.

My message to would-be novelists who want to write about the weather is, therefore, simple. Write what you feel, 'weather' or not, and don't listen to too much advice. As Ernest Hemingway once said: The first draft of anything is shit.  Not exactly how I would have put it but, well, I certainly know what he means.

Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and .diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The actress and the priest...

Louis de Bernieres at the Guernsey Literary Festival

I arrived at the Guernsey Literary Festival this week just in time to see novelist Louis de Bernieres make an entrance - and I'm so glad I did. Despite being born in Britain, this surprisingly affable author has an exotic-sounding name that sits comfortably with his collection of works set all over the world. Grateful as he may be to Captain Corelli's Mandolin for catapulting him to fame (not to mention wealth) I can't help wondering if he finds discussing the novel after so many years  just a tiny bit tedious.

He began his talk with a never-before-heard short story about an actress and a priest, that had us all rolling with laughter. 'This is funny and a bit silly but I've only just written it and you are the first to hear it so  you can make up your minds,' he said.  Based  in Norfolk, where the author now lives, it follows the mixed fortunes of Roman Catholic priest Papa De Lyon, (my spelling) , known locally as 'Paper Lion' and a long retired eccentric actress who wants to convert to Catholicism on her own rather bizarre terms.  Louis de Bernieres is, of course, famous for his prurient sense of humour and on this he didn't disappoint.

An adult author, his one children's book Red Dog, written in 2002 and set in Western Australia, was presumed to be for adults and therefore treated as such, much to his amusement.  It was made into an Australian film  two years ago.  Fans of his novels know they are written as stand-alone chapters that subtly connect  to make a whole. Deceptively easy to read  they are clearly far more complicated to write and include The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts, Birds Without Wings, Senor Viva and the Coco Lord and The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman. I am currently reading A Partisan's Daughter (a paper version, signed by the author, of course) a wonderful mixture of sadness, perception and joy which was shortlisted for the  Costa Novel Award in 2008.

After the talk I asked Louis de Bernieres if he thought that the future lay in digital publishing.  He smiled, raised a copy of one of his novels and said 'Whatever happens we will always have these.'

I do hope he's right.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Harry Brown at the Cafe de Paris...

I've recently rediscovered a vintage cartoon from the heyday of  London's most famous venue, The  Cafe de Paris, whose roll call of past guests comes straight from the pages of Who's Who. Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly, Noel Coward,The Agha Khan, Princess Margaret, the Prince of Wales, Lord and Lady Mountbatten all once graced the venue in London's Piccadilly along with, oh yes, Harry Brown. No, sorry, he wasn't rich and famous - he was just my dad.

In the 1950's Dad, a journalist, was invited to cover a prestigious sportsmen's dinner at the Cafe de Paris along with a well-known cartoonist from one of the tabloid nationals.The cartoonist did this wonderful doodle of Harry in his monkey suit as a memento of the occasion and it took pride of place in my childhood home for  many years.

Established in 1924, the Cafe de Paris was renown for staying open during World War Two when most other similar venues were shut down.  The wartime maitre d', Martin Poulson, was famously quoted as saying it would never get bombed having 'four solid storeys of masonry above.'  Yet on March 8 1941 two 50kg landmines came through the Rialto roof and 80 people were killed - including the hapless maitre d' himself. After the war around £7,500 was spent on refurbishing the blitz damage.

Incidentally, the Mountbattens were known for their choice of menu when they arrived in Piccadilly: a dozen and a half oysters and Steak Diane.... Makes a change from Mcdonalds...

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Drugs for all...

Photo: ~Book                                                     

Here is something  I think should be posted in every doctor's surgery all over the country, in schools, hospitals, pubs and clubs and anywhere people are searching for something to help them escape from the pressure of their lives...It reminds me of a very old lady who was  featured on television a few years ago during National Book Week. She was sitting in a wheelchair surrounded by novels of all shapes, sizes and genres - with a huge beam spread across her face.  'I might not be able to walk,' she said, 'but I can travel all over the world, swim, ski, ride on the back of a camel and stay up till dawn just by flicking through the pages of a book.' And, of course, she was right.

Maybe we should be able to get them on the NHS?

Monday, 27 August 2012

How To Turn Into A Novelist...

Today I have a guest on my blog - novelist Linda Mitchelmore - who gives us a refreshing and honest account of her journey towards publication.  Linda is one of those people you can't help but like and this is reflected in the success of the hundreds of short stories she has had published  all over the world.  She also has romantic memories of her first trip to Guernsey when she and her partner drank rum and blackcurrant to the sound of the lapping waves...a girl after my own heart then!   So, over to you Linda...

It was a long time coming…not so much the gestation period of an elephant to get my novel, TO TURN FULL CIRCLE, into print…but more a herd of the things.

I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme and submitted six contemporary novels – most of which went to second reads but alas without an agent to take me on – before I changed genre and decided to write an historical romantic novel. The NWS suggested I send my manuscript to Choc Lit – for which you don’t need an agent but for which you do need a male point of view. My novel, at that stage, didn’t have a male point of view, but I took NWS advice and I wrote one in. I sent off the first three chapters and synopsis and sat back to wait for Choc Lit’s decision.
It wasn’t long before they got back to me asking to see the rest – and warned me there might be quite a wait before I heard if they were going to take me on, or not. I’d been in this position a few times with previous NWS entries so I wasn’t building up any hopes when I parcelled up my book.
But I liked my heroine, Emma Le Goff, and I didn’t want her story to end with this book. So I began a sequel, starting where TO TURN FULL CIRCLE ended.
I was eighteen chapters in with my sequel (working title NO TURNING BACK) when Choc Lit got back to me. It had been a longer wait then I’d been told to expect, but I’m a patient lady! And besides, I was going on the premise that no news is good news.
All the same, I was almost too afraid to open up that e.mail. I’d always thought I’d whoop and cheer and maybe shed a tear or six of joy, but I didn’t.
My husband came into my writing room with a cup of coffee as I sat staring at the screen reading over and over that Choc Lit were interested in offering me a contract and would I like to go to London to meet them.
“Oh,” I said, “Choc Lit are interested in offering me a contract.”
“You couldn’t inject just a bit more enthusiasm into that, could you?” he joked.
But he cracked open some champagne for me anyway, even though my signature wasn’t on the dotted line yet.
So….off I went to London. Lyn Vernham, of Choc Lit fame, came to The New Cavendish Club to meet me. I was a lot more enthusiastic this time – and also rather nervous. It could still all have gone pear-shaped for me. Choc Lit need to know that their authors can do the media stuff – booksignings, talks, interviews and so on. I’d been in charity anthologies before and had done about half a dozen booksignings so I was fine with that. I cringe now to think how I sold myself….in the nicest possible way, of course. And confession time had come because I hadn’t mentioned my profound deafness to Choc Lit before that meeting.
“I’ve planned Emma’s story as a trilogy,” I prattled on.
Lyn smiled at me and said, “Good.” And then she offered me a contract. And so began the start of the wonderful, exciting, and – at times – scary next part of my journey to publication.
It was decided to keep my own name for the novel as I’ve had 300+ short stories published worldwide now and readers will know my name. Linda Mitchelmore – novelist …it still seemed unbelievable to me that this was really happening after so many years of trying. But I was getting used to the idea!
I had a bit of a wait while the edits were done and sent back to me to work on. Did I say edits? For me that was a bit of a re-write and then another jiggle or two. My heart was in my mouth that my efforts wouldn’t be what Choc Lit wanted and that my lovely balloon of hope would deflate again.
But then book cover designs began to come my way. Which ones did I like? Hate? Think were suitable? A publication date – 7th June 2012 - for TO TURN FULL CIRCLE was announced on Choc Lit’s website. So, it was really happening, then? I began to breathe a little more easily.
TO TURN FULL CIRLCE was entered for the RNA’s Joan Hessayon Award and I set off to London again for the awards ceremony. I didn’t win, but another Choc Lit writer – Evonne Wareham – did, so that was all right then!
I had another month to wait for my book to hit the shops …and what a day that was! My local, independent, bookshop – The Torbay Bookshop – hosted a launch evening for me. I was shameless in my PR for my own event! I had flyers printed and sent them to everyone I knew in my area – and to some out of it. I left bundles of the things in Paignton and Brixham libraries. I touted them around the neighbours. I kept a bundle of them in my bag and I took them with me everywhere I went in case I bumped into someone I knew who I’d left off my list. I even pinned one up on our local Sainsbury’s ‘local events’ noticeboard (I asked first in case anyone is wondering!). And it seemed to work – the bookshop was full to bursting for the launch despite it being the worst June evening for weather on record.
Must just add that the publication date for NO TURNING BACK is June 2013… so, I'd better get on…


Monday, 20 August 2012

Humour and Heartbeak

Jojo Moyes made me cry yesterday. She made me read her novel Me Before You  in one sitting because I couldn't put it down, because I haven't felt such empathy with two characters I've only just met for a very, very long time.  I don't really do book reviews on this blog - I leave that to the experts - but every so often a book comes along that shouts to be recognised, to be picked up and devoured, and this is one.

It's not a subject that will appeal to everyone. The right to die is currently in the news following the appeal to the High Court by  58-year-old  father Tony Nicklinson, who has suffered from locked-in syndrome since a catastrophic stroke seven years ago.  His agonised face when he heard he must  carry on living,  despite being trapped in his own body, was flashed all over the world.

But Me Before You isn't just a story about quadriplegics, about Dignitas or about the rights and wrongs of living with disability.  This is an amazingly touching love story that brings together two people whose lives, but for a motor cycle accident, would never have crossed.

It isn't easy reading, despite the hype that it's a 'glorious romance.' But it should be compulsory  for those of us who sometimes question the meaning of  our complicated, yet fulfilling lives.

So, no, I'm not going to review the book. I'm just going to say that you really should take a look.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Every Paralympian deserves a gold medal

I once asked a woman I was interviewing for a job to explain her idea of stress. 'My son was in an accident when he was 12,' she said, 'and he's paralysed from the waist down.'

I have never forgotten that woman's words. Her son went on to  successfully compete in the Paralympics , no doubt with his mother's encouragement ringing in his ears.

Today we hear that a record 2.2 million seats have already been sold for the  Paralympic Games. At the opening ceremony on August 29,  athletes now leaving the Olympics will be replaced by 4,200  Paralympians, all of them with success stories  of their own.

However loud we cheered for our home-grown medalists  we should get ready to cheer a little louder for these fearless athletes who have never known the meaning of  the word 'can't.'

'Thanks for the warm-up,' joked one Paralympian on the last day of the Games. 'Now for the real thing.'

Monday, 6 August 2012

Wood you like to join me?

This is my new writing place - a wooden arbour tucked away at the back of the garden. My fascination with words started when I was very young and my mother taught me to recite poetry.  The first  poem I ever learnt went like this:

  Old Wood gave me some wood and said would I carry the wood through the wood. And Wood said if I would he would give me the wood, and if Wood said he would, Wood would!

This showed me the importance of  punctuation and intonation when reading out loud, and demonstrated how words could be spelt differently even when they sounded  exactly the same.

The other poem that I have never forgotten was even more prosaic.

It was a dark and stormy night
And the rain came down in torrents
And the Captain said to the mate
'Bill - spin us a yarn'
So Bill began...

It was a dark and stormy night
And the rain came down in torrents
And the Captain said to the mate
'Bill - spin us a yarn'
So Bill began...

I'm still waiting to hear how it ends... 

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Never mind the Olympics - Anyone for bowls?

My sort of sport

'Were you any good at sport?' a friend asked recently as I sat in front of the TV doing my bit to support Team GB.  'It's not something that runs in the family,'  I replied, shaking my head sadly. Then I remembered my grandfather,  James R Brown, a member of his school football team, who later  excelled at bowls, winning a coveted trophy  in 1936. When I was a child he taught me how to play bowls - at Beau Sejour in Guernsey where that  win took place.

 St Sampsons School Guernsey, 1907.
J.Brown (far right)

Later, his son, sports journalist  Harry Brown worked at the Football League in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, and edited their first official hard back book published in the late sixties.

Then again, I could mention my elder daughter who excelled at tennis, or her sister who captained the school hockey team, but they might never speak to me again.

So the answer's still the same - I was no good at sport - but I might just remember someone who was...

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Stop the bus - I want to get on! Beating the Olympic bus lanes.

The year was 1962. The place was Guernsey. The bus driver stopped. It wasn't a bus stop so some people shook their heads.   As a child I took no notice. We waited, engine running, until the driver tooted his horn.  And then, on the other side of the lane, a cottage door swung open and a very old lady appeared. Slowly, with the aid of her stick, she made her way to the garden gate.  Still the seconds ticked by. The bus driver jumped down from his seat and helped the old lady on to the bus. 'You're late today, Flo, he said kindly, guiding her to her seat. 'Nonsense,' she said, her face breaking into a smile. 'It's you, Joe, who is early.'

Compare that with the way the world sees us today:  Bafflement and long waits reigned on London’s roads this week as drivers struggled to comprehend the new lane changes, diversions, banned turns and parking restrictions for the Olympics, which officially start tomorrow.
As host city, London is as cosmopolitan as they come, but transport is its weak spot: Traffic often clogs up its narrow, historic roads, bus schedules can change at a moment’s notice and the subway (the famous underground) suffers from daily delays and century-old infrastructure.
The road changes, which were coming into full force yesterday morning, are causing additional pain.
“Drivers do have somewhere to go, but it’s been a bit confusing,” said Paul Watters, head of road policy at the Automobile Association. “We know it’s going to be tricky and difficult, and it’s bound to be full of teething problems. We’re almost there now, so hopefully it will be better.”

Is this really what we call progress?

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Holiday's in Victorian England - A comma-n complaint?

Welcome to all who have a fear of misplaced commas -  here's  one in urgent need of removal. Back in April one Gordon Thorburn  published a book about Victorian England, and as I'm a fan  of the era, I decided to take a look. The book cover is beautifully finished in brown and white sepia print, but the title - now that's a different matter. 'Holiday's in Victorian England'   has  recently become a talking point for all the wrong reasons.

This month's  'Oldie' magazine (which I usually read over my husband's shoulder) takes up the story. 'For a website whose business is principally literary, it was interesting to see Amazon offer  (this) newly published title.  Gordon Thorburn's book has now had its cover amended, but it can still be seen on Amazon with its erroneous apostrophe intact.' 

It reminds me of a heading I saw once years ago whilst I was still a cub reporter. 'TRAGEDY FOR YOUNG PUP'S, it said in 72 point bold (the biggest you could get at the time). It was, indeed, a tragedy.

Well that's it for this blog post. I've found an old fashioned pub that does wonderful steak and chip's followed by free coffee's.  It, is, if you'll pardon the expression, just too good to miss...

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Paddle your own canoe - anyone for the Water Olympics?

History often highlights the genius of invention - and this 1950's converted van with 'built-on' canoe wouldn't look out of place on the rain-sodden roads of today. In fact it could well start a new fashion.

Visiting a vintage rally recently reminded me why I love history - and particularly historical fiction. There was an air of  nostalgia amongst the polished, painted and perfected motors of the past that evoked a real sense of  life in post-war Britain.

Have you ever wondered why some people hang on to relics of the past, nurturing them like small children, trying to keep themselves, as well as their possessions, forever young? It's because we don't want to grow old. Twenty-something are now having botox, thirty-year-olds worry about finding a suitable man to father their children, whilst older women are busy telling everyone that 'fifty is the new forty.'

Meanwhile, we all watch as the world changes,  wondering what to expect next.  Floods in summer, sunshine instead of snow, seem to have become the norm.  Maybe we'll all need to build a Noah's ark, or at least have a van-cum-canoe on the drive. But for now we can wallow in the past -  and still look forward to the future.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

This bread was made for walking...

I love all things French (it could be to do with my ancestors) so was amazed to see this French  stick in a  supermarket on the Fylde Coast recently. The  first ever edible walking stick maybe?

At the same time I discovered  the delectable  written  by an Australian girl who' s addicted to travelling round  France.

Do you think she'd appreciate my photo? Or would she dismiss it as a load of old boulangerie...?

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Fifty shades of grey hair...

What is it about grown women and sex? Do they think it's just been  invented?

 When I was thirteen our (all-girls) form teacher took us for Latin.  I loved English, so had chosen the 'dead' language  in the hope that it would  help me to become a writer.  Every morning, when she took the register,  Miss Wright made us answer in Latin,  our surnames denoting the  pecking order with the  addition of 'please.'

'Please' in Latin, translates as  'si placet' (with the emphasis on the hard 'c.') .   We trainee teenagers carried it off without a hitch, until it  came to six, which sadly, is 'sex' in Latin.  And yes - you've guessed it - I was number six. Each day for a whole year I shouted  'Sex si placet,' to the great amusement of all my friends.  Childish, puerile even, if girls can be called such a thing.

Move forward to 2012  and 'Fifty shades of Grey.' Middle aged women are reading this masochistic tome on their Kindles,  giggling, like teenagers and sniggering behind their hands.  Did I miss something? Has sex been re-invented? Are pensioners the new teens?

D. H Lawrence, eat your heart out.  Lady Chatterley might just have become a Dame... 

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Free 9ct gold ring? It must be the 1970's....

If your name is JOHN and your wife is CHRISTINE - this heavy 9ct gold signet ring is yours FREE!

This was the message in the window of  a Blackpool jewellers when John Muir caught sight of it back in 1971. John, who worked at the Department of Employment in the town, was amazed when he walked past Prestons Ltd and saw the second-hand ring.

 'I had just got engaged to  my fiance, Christine, at the time,' he told the Blackpool Evening Gazette, ' and I couldn't believe my eyes.  The ring had John  inscribed on the top face and Christine on the underside.  Even though we were only engaged, Prestons very kindly gave us the ring.'

John has kept the  message from the window (above) but, sadly lost the ring a few years ago.

 On March 25 this year the couple celebrated their ruby wedding anniversary so, if you've seen a similar ring in a shop somewhere, maybe you could let us know?  In the meantime, I can't help thinking  this story says a lot about life in the North of England forty years ago. Can you  picture the same scenario today?  The resort, I suspect, would be overflowing with   'Christines' and 'Johns.'

Give us a ring...

Friday, 6 July 2012

The calendar that saw into the future...

Searching through  my Guernsey memorabilia yesterday, I found this old *Bakelite calendar that once stood on the mantel in my grandparents' parlour. When I was a child  I used to love clicking the metal pieces in the corners to change the date, though sadly they no longer work. Looking again, I saw that  the date had stuck on September 11....  Just a coincidence?  Or is this  a psychic calendar? I wonder what else it knows about the future!

Nineteen thirties/forties Bakelite calendar

*Bakelite , according to the OED, is 'an early brittle form of plastic made from formaldehyde and phenol.'

Friday, 29 June 2012

Soap gets in your eyes... (or how Lifebuoy saved my life)

A fascinating reminder of the past - from Guernsey Museums (below) - landed in my in-box yesterday and got me thinking about soap. Not Coronation St or Eastenders, you understand, but the sort we used to wash ourselves with long ago!. My grandfather had a greenhouse in his garden in Guernsey when I was a child, and he wasn't allowed back in the kitchen until he had 'got the dirt off' his hands.  So by the back door he kept a 'dipper' - a metal bowl with a handle - where he  used to scrub his hands (and mine) with Lifebuoy toilet soap.

In the early nineties I visited Port Sunlight Village on the Wirral - home of Lifebuoy (and, of course Sunlight) toilet soap.  In the factory shop they had several bars of Lifebuoy on display and I asked if I could buy  one. 'Sorry, no,' said the assistant, explaining that manufacturing had now stopped. When I asked if I could get hold of the soap, to bring back childhood memories, (it smelt of carbolic) to my embarrassment, my eyes filled with tears.

Later in the day I went back to the shop for one last look and the assistant beckoned me into the back room. 'I want you to have this,' she said, pressing the soap into my hand. 'I've been worried all day after seeing you so upset.' She made me promise 'not to tell a soul,' which I haven't, till now.  Needless to say, I still have that bar of Lifebuoy today, and wouldn't part with it for anything.

Do you remember Sunlight Soap, Kensitas cigarettes or Pepsodent toothpaste? Our next exhibition is a trip down memory lane, looking at the brands and packaging from yesteryear. To tie in, the Museum Shop is stocked up with vintage branded products.

Beautiful things we sell.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Eighty-two thousand poppies...

Guernsey poppies growing wild...

How I wish I could have seen the 82,000 poppies
released into the sky by the last-flying Lancaster bomber today.
The poppies represented the tens of thousands of men who died in World War Two and, no doubt, the trail of 
broken hearts
left behind.
God bless them all.