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Saturday, 26 April 2014


Fifteen months ago  I wrote here about widower Ben Brooks-Dutton  whose wife Desreen had been knocked down and killed by a car when their son was just two years old. His plight touched so many people around the world and now his emotive book 'IT'S NOT RAINING, DADDY, IT'S HAPPY, available on May 8, is being serialised in the Daily Mail. Ben's blog ' Life as a Widower' has helped thousands of bereaved parents to face up to their own grieF. So,  I've decided to repeat my original blog post today, in memory of Desreen.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

From triumphant to tragic - why do we blog?


'We lose ourselves in talking about happiness but we don't allow ourselves to talk about loss...'

So says  Ben-Brooks Dutton whose wife Desreen was knocked down and killed two months ago. Ben's new blog 'Life as a Widower' is  featured in Today's 'Times 2' supplement giving an insight to the lives of young people who have turned to blogging   to deal with their grief.

A lot has been written about blogging in the last few months : Why do we do it? Why has it become so popular? Is it a form of journalism or just a waste of time? The answer to me is simple - if it's right for you, do it.

When I was in my twenties, I saw an old friend   standing on his own on the far side of the town square.  I deliberately crossed over to speak to him, for he and his wife had just suffered a terrible loss: their full-term baby had been born dead.  After I had offered my condolences he said: 'You're the first person who has had the courage to speak to me today - everyone else has looked the other way.'

I have never forgotten that conversation.  The truth is that in Britain we've never learnt how to openly discuss our grief. The Times  quotes  yet another heartbreaking story:  Alice Olins  started a blog after her son, Bear Hamilton Pullen, died in her womb. 'My body did the cruellest thing possible - it pulled the plug on my baby's life...' she says.

When the young Princes William and Harry were taken to matins on the morning after their mother died, the pain on their faces was palpable.  They should have been allowed to stay at home and sob, but the 'stiff upper lip' attitude of our royal family denied their expression of their grief.

My own blog, named after the island where I was born ( but sadly no longer live) reflects my  crazy sense of humour, but I've charted some personal tragedies, too.

 So my message today is - keep on blogging - you never know who you might  reach.

Ben's book is published by Hodder and Stoughton at £16.99


Wednesday, 23 April 2014

When did you last hold a REAL photograph in your hand? (Every picture tells a story...)

The other day, while clearing out the attic, I found this collage of our family growing up. It was   made by my elder daughter, using home -made flour-and-water glue on cardboard,  when she was around seven years old and I remember wondering how long it would take for the whole thing to turn to pulp.
Thirty years later it is still looking good ( though I'm sure I'll get some stick for reproducing it here)  and brings back all sorts of  memories.
As an author I   use my own memories to portray the  recent past, and  spend months  researching historical events to ensure accuracy and authenticity.  But I never regard my research as complete until I find old photographs of the era -  images that, to me,  can often  say so much more than  the written word.
Holiday snapshots, formal portraits, family scenes from the turn of the century, all of these tell their own story. The words are unspoken but the images speak for themselves.
 My Smartphone now holds hundreds of photographs of family and friends, of places I have visited and amusing moments captured in single moment, while  the internet is awash with shots of baby Prince George and the young royals' trip to Ayers rock. But I bet Kate would  swap them all for a family album. What do you think?

Monday, 14 April 2014

Hello Dolly! The barmaid of the century...

Congratulations to the oldest barmaid in the world, 100-year-old Dolly Saville who still works three shifts a week at the Red Lion Hotel in Wendover, Buckinghamshire. Dolly, who has been serving drinks for almost 75 years, is someone I would really like to meet.

Why would any writer want to research the past on the internet when they could spend half an hour chatting to this wonderful lady over a gin and tonic?

Dolly started working at the hotel in 1940 when George V1 was on the throne, Churchill was Prime Minister and Britain was in the grip of the Second World War, according to articles in The Times and the Daily Mail recently.

'I love the work and I love the people,' she said. 'It keeps me going and it's better than sitting around.'

She has little time for sitting around, however, working three lunchtime shifts a week serving customers, polishing glasses and clearing tables.

Dolly gave up working full time six years ago when she reached the age of 94, and admits that her own two children are happily retired.

Over the last seven decades she has served many famous faces, including James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan, former Prime Minister Ted Heath, footballer Stanley Matthews, singer Vera Lynn, ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn and actress Elizabeth Taylor.

And in all that time she reckons she has served more than two million pints!

You can read more on:

And in the meantime - where's my satnav?  I might just take a trip down to Buckingham.

Monday, 7 April 2014


Yes- it's those curtains again...

I've got a confession to make. I've just put  my  34-year-old daughter's  nursery curtains up in  the spare room. They are for my gorgeous granddaughters when they visit, I hasten to add, but why did  I do it?  Because I love the past. I love anything nostalgic, anything that evokes happy memories. And that includes furniture.

Furniture is often overlooked as a mundane feature of the home. But its resonance in our lives is much more profound, writes author Ian Sansom on the BBC website today. Furniture contains numerous traces of what we are and who we are and who we think we are.
Cupboards, for example, contain our past - as well as our regrets and secrets. Keys which fit no locks, pieces of paper with obsolete phone numbers and pin numbers written on them, stray playing cards, inexplicable plastic things and old French francs. Why do we keep any of this stuff I do not know, except as something to hand on to our own children, to keep in cupboards of their own - our endless inheritance of waste....

Now this is where I have to disagree - how can our heritage be described as waste?  How can we not be interested in where we came from, and what the world was like when we were born? In my writing den I have a photograph of my grandfather's discharge papers from the 2nd Royal Guernsey  Light Infantry in 1919, plus a national newspaper cartoon of my father at the Café de Paris in the sixties  and a collage of my own daughters when they were growing up. The past influences my writing as it has with many authors, humble or famous.

Adds  Sansom:  In 1948 CS Lewis wrote to a friend that he was attempting to write a children's book "in the tradition of E Nesbit". The children's book he wrote was, of course, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, published in 1950, and one of the Nesbit traditions he borrowed was the magic wardrobe. Lewis uses his wardrobe to enter an entirely different realm - his destination is the Celestial City.
Like wardrobes, beds act as transports for the imagination also. Writers in particular love to work on the horizontal. Milton's Paradise Lost was mostly written in bed. As was much of Winston Churchill's history of World War Two.

Now this is where Mr Sansom and I begin to agree again.  I also find it very therapeutic to write from my bed. But that's another story.

Talking of bedrooms -  where have I seen that pine dressing table before? It definitely looks familiar...

You can download my debut novel here.  Baggy Pants and Bootees        

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Everything is Rosie (Thomas) now...

I first read Rosie Thomas' Other People's Marriages in 1993 and have been hooked on her books ever since. Rosie gets into the thoughts of her characters and stays there with them in a way that no-one else quite can.  So, after twenty years, what a thrill it was to meet this brilliant author at Plackitt and Booth booksellers in Lytham, Lancashire, the other day.

Rosie was there to talk about her new book, The Illusionists, which is already  immensely popular, but it's the story of how her writing has evolved over the years that  fascinated me most.  Rosie believes in writing what you know and  her career as a novelist began with every emotional drama  that she, her friends, family  and neighbours had experienced, crammed into her novels.
Later she travelled the world, seeking out glamorous, dangerous and sometimes obscure destinations
for inspiration. Her ambitious trip to Mount Everest base camp resulted in the beautifully  written novel 'White,'  published in 2000, an excerpt of which I've included here.
'You're scared, as well?'
'Yes, looking up there, how could anyone not be?' She had been afraid ever since she had seen the mountain riding in its sea of cloud.  The scale of it was so fearsome.
'Why are you doing this, Sam?'
'Because you won't have dinner with me without.'
Born Janey Morris, Rosie took her nom de plume from her late mother, Rose, who died when she was ten, and her sister's married name, Thomas.  A successful journalist. she began writing novels in 1982.
'I believe that my writing now is very different from those days,' she explained. 'The novels reflect the different phases of my life.' Now the subject matter is deeper, and darker like her
The Illusionists, which is set in Victorian London:
London 1885  A shadowy and threatening place for a beautiful young woman of limited means.  Eliza's choice lie between marriage and stifling domesticity, or a downwards spiral to the streets.  But Eliza is modern before her time and she won't compromise...
Rosie Thomas has written more than twenty novels including The Potter's House, Iris and Ruby,Every Woman Knows a Secret, All My Sins  Remembered and The Kashmir Shawl.The Illusionists is available in hardback from Harper Collins as well as in digital format. Find out more on:

You can also download my debut novel here: Baggy Pants and Bootees