Author of contemporary and historical fiction
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My highlights of autumn, 2019

While there’s always a sense of excitement at the start of a new year, at the same time, there’s a tendency towards nostalgia for the year that’s just passed. I decided that in my first blog of 2020, I’d indulge my nostalgia and look back at the some of the events in which I participated towards the end of 2019.

I hope you enjoy these snapshots of my life last autumn, among which you may well feature!

IN SEPTEMBER. I finally made it to a York Tea, and a really enjoyable, if grossly fattening, occasion it was, too, with champagne, scones, jam and cream, sandwiches, cakes and goodies galore. In addition to the tea, the Joan Hessayon Award was announced during the afternoon.

We didn’t go home hungry!


John Jackson, organiser of the York Tea, welcomes everyone.

Lorna Cook wins the Joan Hessayon Award with The Forgotten Village.



Alison May announces the candidates for the Joan Hessayon Award, and then the winner.


Janet Gover sat on my other side.

Imogen Howson and Katrina Power listen to John Jackson’s welcome.

I enjoyed talking to Evie Dunmore and her mother, who sat on one side of me.


Ever the opportunist, on the way home from my visit to the North, I took advantage of being on the M40 to the north of Banbury, and went to the superb British Motor Museum, which is at Junction 12 of the M40. It’s well worth a visit, and is a must if you’re setting a novel in the 1920s and 1930s.


A 1923 Austin Seven Chummy. This was Britain’s cheapest ‘real’ car until 1927, when the Triumph Seven came along.

The 1923 AEC S-type bus could carry 54 passengers, making it the largest bus running in London.











Also, running around the museum walls is a pictorial history of everything related to motoring, again in decades.

Highlights of the history of the period, a decade at a time, are depicted around the walls.












IN OCTOBER. October began, as my every month begins, with the RNA Oxford Chapter’s lunch, known as the Ox lunch. For the past  15 years, I’ve been the organiser of the Oxford Chapter. On the first Tuesday of every month, we meet – RNA members, and friends who are interested in writing – in The Victoria Arms, Old Marston, for a writerly chat over lunch, and very pleasant it is, too.


The Victoria Arms, Old Marston, the monthly haunt of the Oxford Chapter.


Not long after October’s Oxford lunch, I headed for Greece, south of Kalamata. This was later in the year than I usually go there, but I’d been invited to take part in the Mani Literary Festival, which was to be held at the beginning of October. It proved to be a wonderful event – a lively, exciting atmosphere, with input from many different writers, representing many different genres. I took part in five events, and enjoyed every single one of them. Congratulations to Theresa Stoker and Melanie Wicks for their excellent organisation of the festival.


With Carol McGrath, on the pre-festival visit to Patrick Leigh Fermor’s lovely house.

An unusual table in the house. While I loved the pattern, I wouldn’t want to live with something so busy.

Pictures of snakes, which had been moved from the bathroom, the walls of which they’d filled when he was alive. Apparently, he was fascinated by snakes.


Getting ready for Pedalo Peril, our balloon debate, superbly organised by Stephanie Rouse. You’ll have spotted instantly, I’m sure, that I’m dressed as Portia from The Merchant of Venice.


I delivered a workshop on Pacing at the Mani Lit Fest, and a week later, back in England, I delivered a workshop on Plotting at the Thame Art & Literary Festival, known as TAL. Both lasted two hours, and both were great fun to do.

Thame Art & Literary Festival programme, advertising my workshop on Plotting.

Part of the varied programme of events offered in the Mani Lit Fest.














Before leaving Greece, we spent several hours in the amazing ruins of the ancient city of Messini, which are located on a picturesque hillside.

A small section of the extensive Messini ruins.

A wonderful expanse of ruin

A Corinthian pillar, one of many to be seen.


No matter how busy I was, there was always time for a meal. Out of the many meals with friends that I enjoyed last autumn, I’ve singled out the lunch with my very good friends, Charlotte Betts, Barbara Alderton and Carol McGrath. We’ve found a place that all of us can reach with ease – The Deddington Arms – and we try to get together for lunch there every few months.



IN NOVEMBER. I love Umbria, and I’ve already set two novels there, Evie Undercover and The Art of Deception. Having been there several times this year, on the last occasion to do some olive-picking, the desire to set a third novel there is stirring within me. Picking olives was hard work, but tremendous fun. A net is spread on the ground and you pull the olives from the branches with your hands, or you shake the branches, using with a long pole with four electric prongs at the end.


Millie, the cat, most ably supervised every stage of the olive-picking process.


A large net is spread on the ground. It’s slit to the centre on one side, so that it can fit snugly around the base of the olive tree.

Crates of olives are driven up the slopes, where they’re loaded on to the van, ready to be taken to the frantoia, the olive press.












The frantoia, where the olives are pressed.


The crates of olives are weighed before the olives are pressed. These came to 145kg.

Two hours later, the finished product.















After that brief break in my writing-related life, I returned to London to attend a Social Media Course run by the superb Anita Chapman. The aim was to improve one’s interraction on the social media, and the course certainly achieved this in a friendly, most enjoyable way, and with excellent food.


Delicious food to keep us going.

Gathering in the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, London.

My little corner.


What could be better than a drink at the end of a day of learning?

The RNA Winter Party is always one of the year’s highlights, and this year’s party, in the new venue, the Leonardo Royal Hotel in London City, was no disappointment. It was superb.


In the lounge before the party, with Charlotte Betts and Carol McGrath.

With Charlotte Betts, Carol McGrath and Talli Roland.


In the bar before the party, with blogger extraordinaire, Anne Williams, of ‘Being Anne’.


With Carol McGrath

With Clare Flynn







With Sarah Bennett

The hall starts to empty.











The London SE Chapter Christmas lunch is another autumn event to which I always look forward, and this year’s surpassed all expectations. We met in The Green Man, next door to Great Portland Street Station, which is the venue now used by the chapter. The lunch was superbly organised by the super-efficient Lucinda Lee, aided by Juliet Archer, who provided the excellent comic entertainment that has become a feature of the Christmas lunch, and a fabulous time was had by all. Many thanks to the chapter organiser, Lucinda Lee, for her hard work throughout the year and her unfailing good humour.


With Jean Fullerton and Catriona Robb.

Looking above Talli Roland’s head to the upper part of the room.

Lucinda Lee


With Henriette Gyland

Sitting opposite me, Janet Gover and Talli Roland.

Juliet Archer entertains us.


In the Lebanese coffee shop with Henriette Gyland, Janet Gover and Anita Chapman.

With Christina Pishiris.

The lovely ceiling, entwined with plants, in the Lebanese coffee shop at which we stopped after the lunch.


IN DECEMBER. The Reading Chapter Christmas lunch – yes, more food! – took place in Cote, as it’s now done for several years,organised by the very able chapter leader, Julie Roberts. By swapping to a different seat after the main course, we got to chat to almost everyone there.

The Reading Chapter.

Since 2012, when my first novel, The Road Back, was published, I’ve got into the habit of signing and selling my novels in Wallingford Market, which is held in St. Mary’s Church. I do this on the last two Saturdays before Christmas. Happily, each year, I’ve had more novels to sell. One of the advantages of going there every year is that I’ve come to know many of the regulars, both those who go to sell and those who go to buy. A considerable number of them have now bought all of my novels, and stop for a chat when they buy the latest novel, which is really pleasant.


In the process of getting my table ready.

Cat’s Singers are on hand, singing Christmas carols during the morning.












FINALLY, to finish the year with a sunset – a sunset in Umbria. I wish you all a very HAPPY NEW YEAR, and all the best for 2020!


<-- 8 Jan 2020: Moved "'date,author,edit', " from before to after on Liz's request' -->

TRUMP TOWER! Blame this blog on a writer’s curiosity.

A writer without any curiosity is like a lock without a key.

Our curiosity about the world around us, about the people we encounter, both those we know and those we don’t, about what might simmer beneath the surface of what we’re told, of what we read, of what we can see for ourselves – fuels our novels. Our curiosity leads us to our central plot and characters, and stimulates the research that will provide the flesh with which to clothe our initial skeletal ideas, and bring our story to vivid life.

My curiosity came into play when I was in New York not so long ago. I’d gone there to research a story line for the first of a series that I’m writing, The Linford Series, and on my final Sunday afternoon, having seen everything that I’d planned to see, a New York friend asked whether I’d like to go to the Guggenheim, the New York Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art or to the Frick Collection.

Hm, I said. I’d like to go to Trump Tower.

I fear that in that moment I slid to the very bottom of the cultural scale, but I was curious to see the New York residence of a man whose taste ranges from gaud to ultra-bling. Since I’m assuming that some of you might also be curious about the Trump residence in NY, I thought I’d share my photos with you.

I wasn’t the only person who wanted a souvenir photograph taken in front of the entrance. Many had friends, as did I, standing behind the railing, snapping away.

I’d thought that the gold-framed glass doors would be as far as we’d be allowed to go, but not so! To my amazement, we were able to go inside and up to the first floor, so in I went. And look at the very first thing I saw! Yes, STARBUCKS!!!

I hadn’t expected that!

But I had expected to see tight security when I stepped across the Trump threshold, but there wasn’t a single guard to be seen. I had a somewhat voluminous bag with me, as you’ll see from the above photo, but no one was checking bags. I just walked straight in.

To get to the Trump Starbucks, visitors take an escalator that rises above, and overlooks, the tables in a large cafeteria below, the walls of which were – of course – the colour of gold.

Rivulets of water ran down the back of one of the golden walls, creating a waterfall effect.

Once at the top of the escalator, never one to walk past a coffee outlet without stopping, I found a seat in Starbucks – with difficulty, I must say, owing to the limited amount of seating.

Disappointed at a total lack of charm or character – this was the worst Starbucks I visited during my stay – I stared back down at the entrance. The security guards were at last in place, I noticed.

Lest you think Trump, with an unexpected degree of modesty and reserve, was allowing the name of STARBUCKS to dominate the lower part of Trump Tower, I’m afraid I must disabuse you. Everywhere I turned, there was another prominent name – a name that was even more dominant than STARBUCKS, and visible in many more places!

See if you can spot the common denominator in the following three photos.

                   TRUMP’S ICE CREAM

                   TRUMP RESERVE

                      TRUMP BAR

Before leaving the building, I decided to indulge my curiosity in one last area – the ladies’ loos. I’ve seen some amazing loos during my travels over the years, and I thought that the Trump ladies’ loos were bound to be up among the best of them. I imagined that they’d be golden, flower-bedecked and the ultimate in luxury. But was I disappointed!

The overall tone was beige, not gold! And there wasn’t a single flower to be seen!!

How dull, I thought, and left the building.

Later that evening, when I returned to the apartment where I was staying, feeling in need of something to erase my memory of the garishness I saw that morning, I looked back at some of the photos I’d taken two days earlier, and in particular, at the photo I took of one of the clusters of sparkling chandeliers that hung above me when I went to the New York Metropolitan Opera House to hear Renee Fleming sing in the wonderful Der Rosenkavalier.

Now that’s more like it, I thought!

Over and out!

<-- 8 Jan 2020: Moved "'date,author,edit', " from before to after on Liz's request' -->

From the murder capital of Britain – a moving goodbye to Colin Dexter!

On Thursday, 26th April, the City of Oxford, plus a host of the many friends he’d made over the years, said a moving goodbye to Colin Dexter, O.B.E, creator of the memorable character of Inspector Morse.

The Memorial Service was held in the beautiful Christ Church Cathedral, St. Aldates, Oxford.

View of Christ Church Cathedral, from across  Tom Quad.

I was thrilled to have been invited to be among the guests, and before I sign off, I shall tell you how I came to know Colin. But first, the Service and the Reception.

My invitation to both the Memorial Service and the Civic Reception afterwards.

The Service opened and closed with Barrington Pheloung & Players, the composer of the Morse theme. Not surprisingly, the Morse theme closed the Service.

Tributes included:

* a speech about Colin, followed by a reading of one of A.E.Housman’s poems by Peter Waine, Chairman of the Housman Society, of which Colin was a member,

* a tribute to Colin, a dedicated crossword player and clue-compiler, by Jonathan Crowther, setter of the Observer Azed crossword,

* a tribute by Kevin Whately – Inspector Lewis  – speaking first as one of the Morse actors, and then reading from ‘Death Is Now My Neighbour’, the 12th novel in the Inspector Morse series.

Kevin Whately

On the back of the programme, there was ‘A Crossword for Colin’. This was a crossword compiled by Colin in 1993, that had been cleverly amended for the occasion by his close friend, Don Manley.

The Memorial Service was followed by a Civic Reception at Oxford Town Hall.

Philip Pullman addressing the room


Listening to the speakers.

After circulating with wine or juice, we took a seat at one of the tables and listened to the speakers on the platform give their recollections of Colin.

One of the many interesting things that Philip Pullman, the first speaker, said was that Colin had written five Morse novels before he’d ever been into a police station! He went on to say that you don’t have to visit every place you write about, you don’t have to be a man in order to write about being a man, you don’t have to be a baker to write about being a baker, you don’t have to murder someone to write about a murderer, BUT you do have to be clever if you’re going to create a character who is clever. Colin Dexter, a classicist with a particular love of Greek, was a very clever man.

James Neville talked about Colin’s passion for Classics, Wagner, and real ale hostelries.

Val McDermid talked about Colin and the Crime Writers’ Association – he was the first event in the first Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. They had first bonded over a shared love of ‘The Archers’. In an amusing speech, she described him as a highly sociable and charitable man, who always had time for his fans and to help new writers. He was a self-deprecating man, she said, with a wicked sense of humour.

Val McDermid

After the talks, one of the Morse fans had compiled a montage of clips of many of Colin’s cameo appearances in ‘Morse’, ‘Lewis’ and ‘Endeavour’, and this was shown on a large screen in the front of the hall. It was highly entertaining, but also quite moving as we watched Colin change from the young man he’d been when the TV series was first made, to the older Colin of recent years.

Just before we attempted to do justice to the sandwiches and cakes that were set out on large round tables and down the centre of the room, Kevin Whately came on to the platform with Sally Dexter, Colin’s daughter, who, with Don Manley, had organised so much of the afternoon, and he presented her with flowers.

Sally Dexter and Kevin Whately


Long tables lined the centre of the room.

Scones with jam and cream. I managed to take a shot before the plate was empty.













I spoke to several familiar faces afterwards. Kevin Whately tells me that, alas, there won’t be any more episodes of ‘Lewis’. Not so with ‘Endeavour’, though. Colin said many a time how excellent he thought Shaun Evans, and how well he’d captured the onset of the Morse mannerisms that would intensify over the years.


Kevin Whately and Lady Macclesfield.

Shaun Evans and Abigail Thaw











At the end of the Reception, every guest was given a goody bag. Inside, there was a postcard copy of the oil painting, done in 2011, that hangs in The Morse Bar of the Randolph Hotel, Oxford; the book Cracking Cryptic Crosswords, which was written by Colin, and a booklet in which he answers questions put to him by fans about himself and Inspector Morse.

The goody bag.


Now to the question of how did I get to know him?  I think most authors would agree that at some point in their quest for publication, they had a stroke of luck which helped them on their way. My stroke of luck was meeting Colin, who was later to read The Road Back, my debut novel, when it was still in manuscript form. Not only did Colin read the novel, but he said that he liked it so much that he wanted to endorse it. The words that he wrote are on the front cover. They are:

A splendid love story, so beautifully told.


With Colin Dexter at the launch of The Road Back in Waterstones Oxford

To wind the clock back, Colin Dexter was always a great supporter of new writers, and a friend to the Oxford Writers’ Group, to which I belong. Indeed, it was at an OWG party in 2011 that I was introduced to him.

We quickly found out that:

* we both shared an addiction for The Archers, but were very critical of the recent themes and the large number of ‘new’ voices,

*  Colin knew Belsize Park, where Patricia, in The Road Back, was brought up, as was I,

*  and we both loved cryptic crosswords.

The following day, the Chair of the OWG received a phone call from Colin, asking if he could be put in touch with me so that he could give me a book he had witten.

We met in The Morse Bar at The Randolph Hotel in Oxford, and he gave me Cracking Cryptic Crosswords. During our conversation, we got on to Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard – don’t ask! – which I’ve always liked. We started to recite it in unison. I faded before the end of the second verse, but Colin continued. Although he was already a sick man at that time, his mind was still fully alert, and his passion for poetry as strong as ever.

That was the first of a number of afternoons in The Morse Bar, me with a glass of white wine, he with a glass from which alcohol was missing. Tourists were regularly introduced to him, and as his books were on sale in the hotel shop, as was a model of Morse’s car, he was frequently asked to sign these. His real pleasure, though, was chatting to the people to whom he was introduced.

With Colin Dexter in The Morse Bar of The Randolph Hotel.

Eventually, his declining health made further such visits impossible, and his wife would make me a coffee in his home and we would chat there.

He was a good friend to me, and to many other people connected with writing in one way or another, and he’ll be greatly missed. Hopefully, from his cloud on high, he will have stopped doing his crossword on Thursday for a moment or two, switched off the Wagner, and listened to his Memorial Service and Reception, and he will know how highly esteemed he was, and always will be.


Looking back from the entrance to the Cathdral, to Tom Tower, the bell tower above Tom Gate, through which we came into Tom Quad. The bell is called Great Tom.


Colin Dexter, O.B.E. Rest in Peace.





<-- 8 Jan 2020: Moved "'date,author,edit', " from before to after on Liz's request' -->

Fragments of the RNA Summer Party 2017

Twice a year – once in the summer and once in the winter – RNA members and friends gather together in the Royal Overseas League in Park Place, off St. James Street, in order to party, and party the RNA certainly does in style! This year’s Summer Party, which took place on the evening of May 18th, was no exception, and as I do every year after the party, I’m posting some of the photos I took during the evening. I very much hope you enjoy looking at them.

When I arrived at the Royal Overseas League a little ahead of the AGM, I repaired to the bar, and whom should I meet there, but …


Mandy Baggot, Kate Nash, Jane Holland and Gill Stewart

After the AGM, we headed for the room where the party was to be held. Because I got there before the party was officially due to begin, some of the photos below were taken before the room had filled up. But from the moment we arrived, the fun began.

Virginia Heath, Carrie Elks

The contenders for the Joan Hessayon Award, 2017










Peter Jones

Lynda Stacey














Jules Wake, Julie Stock, Jane Crane

Victoria Cornwall, Haydn Stacey, Morton S. Gray


Brigid Coady

Bernardine Kennedy/Marie Maxwell













Maggie Sullivan,Gill Stewart. Imogen Howson, Kate Johnson

Alison May, me, Maggie Sullivan, Gill Stewart, Imogen Howson, Kate Johnson


Publicist Katrina Power

Julie Vince, Maggie Sullivan












Kathryn Freeman

Henriette Gyland













Jenny Barden, Janice Horton

Janet Gover, me, Julie Roberts, Claire Dyer, Sue Mackender











Artist Charlotte Fawley, Eileen Ramsay

Leah Mercer, Henriette Gyland & Laura E. James listen to the Joan Hessayon announcement










John Jackson

Sue Moorcroft














Apologies that the following two photos are so indistinct. I wasn’t in the best place for seeing last year’s Joan Hessayon Award winner, Clare Harvey, make her speech and congratulate this year’s winner, Kate Field.

Kate Field (behind the podium)

Clare Harvey











Kate Macwhannell, Camilla Macwhannell

Susannah Hamilton, Jenny Barden, Jean Fullerton, Sara O’Keefe












Allie Burns, Sarah Bennett, Annie Lyons

Roger Sanderson, Norma Curtis, Jan Jones












I’ll leave the last words with Immi Howson and John Jackson, though I can’t imagine what John can be saying!

Over and out!


<-- 8 Jan 2020: Moved "'date,author,edit', " from before to after on Liz's request' -->

Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t I?

Everyone else is doing it, I thought, so why shouldn’t I?

By ‘everyone’, I mean the TV and newspapers. They’re now full of highlights from 2016, and as I’ve enjoyed watching/reading them, I’ve decided to do the same myself. It’s been a wonderful, very crowded, year, but I’m going to limit myself to one memory for each month, and to just a photo or two for each.

Where better to begin than in …


For the past eleven years, I’ve been running the Oxford Chapter of the RNA, which mainly means organising a lunch at The Victoria Arms, Old Marston, on the first Tuesday of every month. I agree, not exactly demanding! It seemed appropriate, therefore, when looking back at the year, that my first entry should be something I’ve done twelve times in the past year, and the photo below was taken at The Vicky Arms while the first arrivals were waiting for the others to get there.

Barbara Hudson, Heather Rosser, Maggi Fox, me, Jean Fullerton, Janet Gover, Mary Nuttall

Barbara Hudson, Heather Rosser, Maggi Fox, me, Jean Fullerton, Janet Gover, Mary Nuttall



With memories of my fabulous retreat the year before in France in wonderful Chez Castillon, I jumped at the suggestion made by Rosie Dean that I join her and Cara Cooper in a retreat in Kent, and in February the three of us met up at The Seekers, where we spent several superb days. We each had a little guest cottage, and worked there until the evening, when we downed tools and went off to a pub/restaurant for an evening of food, laughter and writerly conversation. Not to mention the odd G&T!

On a retreat at The Seekers

Outside my cottage at The Seekers

The grounds of The Seekers, a fabulous place for a retreat.

The grounds of The Seekers Trust, where we’d walk in the morning when in need of a break.






With Cara Cooper and Jann Sprenger on our first evening

In the pub with Cara Cooper and Rosie Dean on our first evening



I did a number of talks this past year, and was on several panels. All have been really enjoyable, and I could have highlighted any of them; however, I’ve chosen to highlight a Hertfordshire Literary Festival event in March in which I participated – a Romantic Afternoon Tea. Janet Gover, Jean Fullerton and I formed the panel, after which there was tea and cake, and time to talk to those who’d come to the event. It was a really lovely afternoon, and we were told that this was the largest turnout during the Lit Fest for an adult event.

The flyer for the Herts Literary Festival, 2016

The flyer for the Herts Literary Festival, 2016


The largest turnout during the Lit Fest for an adult event

What a turnout!

With Janet Gover and Jean Fullerton, fellow panellists

With fellow panellists, Janet Gover and Jean Fullerton.











Never one to miss a social event unless it was completely impossible to make it, the moment I heard about a tea to be hosted by the Chelmsford Chapter in Colchester in April, I knew that it’d be a perfect occasion on which to meet those who lived on the other side of the country. Scones, cakes and fizz, served up in a lovely place full of RNA friends – it sounded the ideal way to spend an afternoon, and I instantly emailed organiser Fenella Jane Miller and booked myself a place.

The tea, which was held in the historic Grade 11 listed building, The Minories, which stands across from Colchester Castle, exceeded all expectations, and a marvellous time was had by all.


The flyer for the Afternoon Tea in Colchester

The flyer for the Afternoon Tea in Colchester


Liam Livings & Kelvin Woolmer

Liam Livings & Kelvin Woolmer

Lynda Stacey

Natalie Hames & Lynda Stacey in front of the Minories, where the tea was held.












May is always the month of the RNA Summer Party, and 2016 was no exception. The party was held in the Royal Over-Seas League, in Park Place, London, which is off St. James’s Street, and was a sell-out. No one gives a party like the RNA!

Maggi Fox

Maggi Fox

John Jackson

John Jackson












Kathryn Freeman, Laura E. James & Berni Stevens

Kathryn Freeman, Laura E. James & Berni Stevens



At the beginning of June, the Oxford Chapter lunch moved to a different venue – temporarily! It was shortly to be the birthday of Anita Burgh, who’d for years been a pillar of the Oxford Chapter. Annie had moved away from the area earlier in the year, so we decided to take the lunch to her in this, her birthday week. The sun shone on what was an extremely enjoyable day.

The cakes!!

The cakes!!


Julie Roberts (standing) with Maggi Fox & Jean Buchanan (sitting)

Julie Roberts (standing) with Maggi Fox & Jean Buchanan (sitting)

Anita Burgh with her birthday cakes, the icing being the covers of three of her many novels

Anita Burgh with her birthday cakes, the icing being the covers of three of her many novels















I always go to Umbria, in Italy, in July, to a 14th century house on the side of a mountain just outside a small Roman town. For the most part, the Italians who live in this very beautiful area don’t speak English, and I started to learn Italian so that I can talk to them. Alas, though, since being published, I’ve not done any more Italian, with the result that I’m slowly forgetting what I knew. That cannot be allowed to continue, and I intend to brush up the language before I go there next July. My novel, EVIE UNDERCOVER, was inspired by the house – it was wonderful setting a story (a contemporary rom com) in a place I know so well.

paperback and ebook

paperback and ebook


One of the antique bridges leading into Bevagna. The old wash house can be seen beneath the arch

Not a bad view to have when you're eating breakfast.

Not a bad view to have when you’re eating breakfast.












THE LOST GIRL was released in paperback in August so this has to be my event for the month. There were several write-ups in the newspapers, and I gave a number of talks at the time, including going on Radio Marlow to talk about writing the novel.


Paperback Publication Day

THE LOST GIRL Paperback Publication Day


With Chrissy Hayes, Clare Bones, Vanessa Woolley and a lot of microphones

With the team at Radio Marlow


September was the Historical Novel Society Conference, which was followed by a writing retreat in The Gladstone Library, Hawarden, North Wales, which was followed by my first visit to Crete. I’m going to break my self-imposed limit of one item per month and put a memory from all three.

I was a member of the HNS committee, which helped the overall organiser, Carol McGrath, with the conference, which was held in the Maths Institute, Oxford. The conference was a sell-out, and included a large number of visitors from the US. Among the many brilliant speakers were Tracy Chevalier, Melvyn Bragg, Fay Weldon and Kate Williams. I was very lucky to be invited to be on a panel, entitled Far and Away, with Karen Maitland and Laura Morelli.

After all the work on the conference, what better to do than go on a writing retreat in North Wales with writer friends? And that was what I did.

By the end of both the conference and the retreat, I was ready for a different sort of break – the sort you have in the sun by the sea – and it was off to Crete I went.

HNS 2016 Conference Organiser, Carol McGrath


With Jenny Barden on a pre-conference site visit

With Jenny Barden on a pre-conference site visit


Far and Away. With fellow panellists Karen Maitland & Laura Morelli

Far and Away. With fellow panellists Karen Maitland & Laura Morelli

Tracy Chevalier, a keynote speaker

Tracy Chevalier, a keynote speaker










The imposing Gladstone Library


Three of my fellow retreaters: Carol McGrath, Fenella Forster and Charlotte Betts


My first lunch in Crete, on the beach in Almyrida


My first glimpse of Knossos

My first glimpse of Knossos



At the end of October, I met up for the first time with someone I’d been friendly with for a couple of years on twitter – Carol Hedges. Carol and I had been saying for a while that we really must meet, and in the end we finally did so, meeting for a coffee in Caravan, near King’s Cross. It just shows that twitter and Facebook can be a great way of making new friends.


Carol Hedges & I finally meet

Carol Hedges & I finally meet



By now, you may be wondering if I ever get down to writing a novel! Happily, I do! For the past year, I’ve been back in 1930, living in my head with three families, each of whom lives on a tea plantation on the outskirts of Darjeeling. THE SECOND LEAF tells their stories. From the two photos below, I think you’ll agree that it’s a pretty stunning place in which to live, even if it is only in one’s head.











Although I go to the Ox lunches and to some of the Reading lunches, I also occasionally go to a SE Chapter meeting in London. Even if I’m unable to attend any of their meetings throughout the year, I always seem to manage to get to the Christmas lunch. Funny that! Last December was no exception, and we had a really pleasant time in the Sir John Balcombe, near Marylebone, which is now the venue for the meetings.

Waiting for food

One of the tables, waiting for food


Anita Chapman and Jules Wake

Anita Chapman and Jules Wake


FINALLY, it’s been a really lovely year, a year full of creativity and friendship. I’m never more aware of how lucky I am that I belong to a writing community than when I sit in my sitting room at the end of the year, surrounded by lights and cards. With each card representing a friend or friends, many of them writer friends, or a member of my family, it’s as if I’m surrounded by friendship.

I wish each and every one of you a very happy, healthy New Year. May your 2017 be filled with the warmth of friendship. 

In my sitting room






<-- 8 Jan 2020: Moved "'date,author,edit', " from before to after on Liz's request' -->

Happy Birthday, Anita Burgh!

Tuesday, 7th June, was the first Tuesday in June. The monthly RNA Oxford Chapter lunch is always held on the first Tuesday of the month at The Victoria Arms, Old Marston. But not this June!

In the week that would be ending with the birthday of Annie Burgh, pillar of the Oxford Chapter, and long-time friend and mentor to writers published and unpublished, we decided to break with tradition and take the lunch to Annie, who now lives near Cleveden.


Annie at the last Ox Lunch before she moved away

Annie at the last Ox Lunch before she moved away


As you’ll see from the few photos below, the weather approved of our decision, and the sun shone down on Annie and Billy’s lovely garden.


Annie chats to Maggi Fox and Rebecca Leith (sitting), Carl Pengelly, Bev, Julie Roberts and Catherine Jones (standing)

Annie talks to Maggi Fox & Rebecca Leith (sitting), Carl Pengelly, Bev, Julie Roberts & Catherine Jones (standing)

Catherine Jones, Katie Carr, Gilli Allan chat while waiting for others to arrive

Catherine Jones, Katie Carr, Gilli Allan chat while waiting for others to arrive











Jean Buchanan (sitting) and Catherine Lawless

Jean Buchanan (sitting) and Catherine Lawless

Maggi Fox

Maggi Fox













Billy waits for everyone to sit down

Billy waits for everyone to sit down

Julie Roberts (standing) with Maggi Fox & Jean Buchanan (sitting)

Julie Roberts (standing) with Maggi Fox & Jean Buchanan (sitting)















Bev, me

Bev, me

Gilli Allan, Jean Buchanan

Gilli Allan, Jean Buchanan













Bev and bottle, Julie Roberts, Katie Carr and Catherine Jones

Bev and bottle, Julie Roberts, Katie Carr and Catherine Jones

Chatting, a glass in hand














Carl Pengelly, Catherine Lawless & Catherine Jones at the buffet

Carl Pengelly, Catherine Lawless & Catherine Jones at the buffet

Rebecca Leith, Maggi Fox, Catherine Jones, Julie Roberts, Billy and Catherine Lawless wait while the others get their food

Rebecca Leith, Maggi Fox, Catherine Jones, Julie Roberts, Billy, and Catherine Lawless wait while the others get their food











At the table

At the table


You can’t have special lunch, in a birthday week, without cake! Katie Carr organised the cakes, which were iced with icing covers of three of Annie’s books. Each cake was a different flavour. Not only did they look amazing, but they were absolutely delicious.


The cakes!!

The cakes!!




Annie with Katie Carr

Annie with Katie Carr

Annie, Katie Carr and Bev, who's getting ready to pour wine for our toast

Annie, Katie Carr and Bev, who’s getting ready to pour wine for our toast











Crowding round to look at the cakes

Crowding round to look at the cakes



I shall leave you now with a last glimpse of Annie and the cakes, on what was a really lovely occasion. I hope you’ve enjoyed the few moments I’ve been able to capture here, with the aid of Julie Roberts and Carl Pengelly, who kindly added their photos to mine.

May the coming year be a healthy, happy one, Annie!

<-- 8 Jan 2020: Moved "'date,author,edit', " from before to after on Liz's request' -->

The RNA Summer Party. What else!

Repetition is the enemy of authors; nevertheless, I intend to repeat myself by saying what I’ve said after every RNA party – the RNA knows how to throw a fabulous party! The Summer Party 2016 was no exception, and a terrific time was had by all.

Once again, the party venue was the imposing Royal Overseas League in Park Place, off St. James Street, near Piccadilly. From here on, despite belonging a profession that enjoys using words, I’m going to let the photos speak for themselves.



The Royal Overseas League



Let the party begin! Tania Crosse, Julie Roberts, Tracy Glover, Tony Robert




Starting to gather for the party

Starting to gather for the party


Terri Fleming, Charlotte Betts. Behind them, Maggi Fox and Jean Fullerton talk to Kelvin Woolmer

Terri Fleming, Charlotte Betts. Behind them, Maggi Fox and Jean Fullerton talk to Kelvin Woolmer


Kathryn Freeman

Kathryn Freeman

Berni Stevens, AnneMarie Brear

Berni Stevens, AnneMarie Brear











Maggi Fox

Maggi Fox

John Jackson

John Jackson











Lyn Vernham

Lyn Vernham, with Kathryn Freeman behind her

Alison May

Alison May













Jane Eastgate, Haydn Stacey, Lynda Stacey


AnneMarie Brear, Sarah Waights, Kate Johnson, Kathryn Freeman

AnneMarie Brear, Sarah Waights, Kate Johnson, Kathryn Freeman


Fiona Lindsay

Fiona Lindsay

Eileen Ramsay

Eileen Ramsay













Laura E. James

Laura E. James


Gill Stewart, Henriette Gyland, Imogen Howson, Jean Fullerton, Laura E. James

Gill Stewart, Henriette Gyland, Imogen Howson, Jean Fullerton, Laura E. James


Julie Vince, Keer

Vicky Walker, Julie Vince, Linda Taylor


Rowan Coleman, Fiona Harper, Julie Cohen, Roger Sanderson, Jan Jones

Rowan Coleman, Fiona Harper, Julie Cohen, Roger Sanderson, Jan Jones


Guy Bispham, Alison May, Kate Johnson, Evonne Wareham, Imogen Howson, John Jackson

Guy Bispham, Alison May, Kate Johnson, Evonne Wareham, Imogen Howson, John Jackson


Me, talking to Lynda Stacey

Me, talking to Lynda Stacey


Kate Johnson

Kate Johnson, sitting next to Evonne Wareham


Kate's fabulous shoes!

Kate’s fabulous shoes!



Ellie Darkins, Anita Chapman

Donna Ashcroft, Jules Wake

Donna Ashcroft, Jules Wake












Liz Finn

Liz Finn

Jules Wake, Ian Skillicorn

Jules Wake, Ian Skillicorn











Anita Chapman and me


If I were asked to sum up the RNA in one word, that word would be FRIENDSHIP. Writers of romantic fiction are the most friendly, supportive people. I hope that some of the enjoyment they find at meeting up with each other is conveyed by these photos.

<-- 8 Jan 2020: Moved "'date,author,edit', " from before to after on Liz's request' -->

Afternoon tea? Don’t mind if I do.

I don’t know why, but the words SCONES & CREAM have a way of leaping out at me, wherever they appear. Funny that.

A recent leaping-out was on the invitation extended by the Chelmsford Chapter of the RNA, who’d had the inspired idea of organising an Afternoon Tea, which was to take place in Colchester last Saturday.




Faster than you can say carrot cake, I’d emailed Fenella Jane Miller and Jean Fullerton, the organisers of the event, and booked a place. Sandwiches, scones, cakes and fizz, served up in a lovely place full of RNA friends – it sounded the perfect way to spend an April afternoon.

And indeed it was!

The tea took place in a lovely Grade II listed building, The Minories, which stands almost opposite Colchester Castle.


Natalie Hames & Lynda Stacey in front of The Minories

Arriving there, we gathered in the Batte-Lay tea room, where we caught up with ‘old’ friends and were introduced to new.

Fenella Jane Miller

Fenella Jane Miller


Jenni Keer & Sheila Norton

Ann Barleycorn

Ann Barleycorn



Heidi-Jo Swain



Sheila & Alan Norton with daughter Cheryl, &        Ann Barleycorn

Faye & Maynard Cunningham, with daughter Kim

Faye & Maynard Cunningham, with daughter Kim











Our tables were soon groaning beneath a profusion of delicious things to eat, and soon we were groaning, too!

Natalie Hames, Samantha Yagiz, Lynda Stacey & cakes

Natalie Hames, Samantha Yagiz, Lynda Stacey & cakes

Fenella and Jean did a superb job of making sure that everything went smoothly, and then, when we could eat no more, Jean introduced the guest speaker, successful author Victoria Connelly.

Jean Fullerton introduces Victoria Connelly

Jean Fullerton introduces Victoria  Connelly


Victoria, mid speech













During her highly entertaining talk, Victoria made an impassioned plea for writers to guard against distractions that took them away from their writing, which was the most precious thing, and which was where the writer’s focus should be. She recognised that writers today were no longer expected just to write a good book, but they were also now asked to do much of the promotion too; for example, to spend their days on blog tours. But, she said, ‘Readers don’t want a blog post – they’re probably not even aware of most of the blogs out there anyway – they want another book from you, so get to it!’



Sue Merritt asks Victoria a question

Liam Livings & Kelvin Woolmer

Liam Livings & Kelvin Woolmer










Victoria finished her lively speech by saying that there’d never been a better time in which to be a writer as we can now write with or without the involvement of middle men. All that’s needed is ‘the passion and determination to put one word in front of another, to create our characters and build our worlds.’

Kelvin Woolmer chats to Natalie Hames

Kelvin Woolmer chats to Natalie Hames

Smiles all round from Lynda Stacey, Jean Fullerton & me.

Smiles all round from Lynda Stacey, Jean Fullerton & me.











All that entertainment punctuated with good advice, plus cakes, fizz and friends! It was a brilliant afternoon. Thank you very much, Jean and Fenella, for organising it.





<-- 8 Jan 2020: Moved "'date,author,edit', " from before to after on Liz's request' -->

Oh, Indian Summers! What went wrong?

Indian Summers, trailed as lasting for five series, has just been axed while series two is still under way – there’ll be no series three. The initial audience of five million has dropped to one million.  On an advertising channel, such figures were always going to sound the death knell.

So why, despite the money lavished on the programme – the first series reputedly cost £14m to make  – and despite a strong cast headed by Julie Walters, and despite the exotic, turbulent background of the British Raj in the 1930s, did the programme fail to hold the viewers?


In a word — planning. To add a few more words, there appears to have been a failure to outline the contents of all five series before embarking on the detailed planning for series one.

SPOILER ALERT. If you’re not up-to-date with viewing and intend to catch up, don’t read on!

Indian Summers is set in Simla, the summer seat of the British Government during The Raj. Lying in the foothills of the Himalayas, Simla offered an escape from the intense heat in the plains below. The aim of the programme was to depict the events and relationships among the group of British socialites and government representatives who went up to Simla for the  summer months. In doing so, over the course of the five series, they would cover the birth of modern India.

For a project of this scale, advance planning is essential.

JK Rowling said that before she started the first Harry Potter book, she’d worked out the story arc for the five novels. With Indian Summers, the narrative effort seems to have been confined to the first series, and the second series has been left to struggle along as best it can. Which hasn’t been much of a best. Take, for example:

Characterisation. Cynthia Coffin (Julie Walters) was a prize bitch in the first series, which gave the series life.


In the second series, not only was there unfortunately little for her to be bitchy about, but halfway through the series she was reborn as a figure for whom the viewer should feel sympathy! Her husband, we’re told, was serially unfaithful – indeed he was revealed to be the birth father of Ralph, a revelation which had all the excitement of a damp squib – and she’d suffered several miscarriages owing to the medical conditions he’d passed on to her.  Gone was the woman we loved to hate.

Gone also was the Reverend’s snide wife, Fiona, whose attempts at being accepted by the Simla socialites, made for good viewing in the first series. In series two, she’s a pallid shadow of her former self, and doesn’t seem to have a role to play.


Taking over the role of malevolence and unpleasantness in series two is the new bad guy, Charlie Haverstock, the husband of Ralph’s sister Alice. But what he’s allowed to get away with is so unlikely that viewer-incredulity is the resultant outcome. Can viewers really be expected to believe that Ralph and the English community, hidebound by rules and their code of etiquette (eg all nasty goings-on should go on behind closed doors), would allow Charlie to humiliate Ralph’s sister every time they were in company, and more than likely abuse her in private?









To turn now to one of the good guys, Ralph. He was the ‘hero’ in series one, and much of the interest was centered on him, strong, upstanding and powerful as he was. But in series two, he’s greatly diminished in stature.



Would the Ralph of series one have allowed his adored sister to be so publicly humiliated? Would the original Ralph have agreed to his wife to indulging in nooky with the Maharajah in order to win the Maharajah’s assent for something Ralph wanted? Would Ralph have publicly acknowledged, and brought into his home, his mixed race son at the time when this was highly frowned upon and he was lining himself up for higher office? No, to all questions.

And if the characterisation is undergoing ill-thought-out changes, which indicate a lack of planning and consequent desperation, what about the cohesion of the story, which features the Indians as well as the British?

Background. The background to Indian Summers is the rise of the Indian Nationalism. Indian factions are fighting the British – fair enough, they want us out of their country – and they’re also fighting each other. Why? This is never made clear in Indian Summers.



While I don’t want a history lesson on a Sunday evening – I want exciting story lines, gripping characters and to find myself at the end of each episode longing for the next episode – I do want sufficient understanding of the background to know what’s going on and to know for what the characters stand. Instead we have confusion as nothing is really explained.

I’m not even sure what Ralph wants, which is so important that he allows his wife to prostitute herself. If that was made clear, I must have blinked at the wrong moment.

Instead of us being given sufficient information for narrative clarity, we are left to struggle with a ‘story’ that seems all over the place, set against a background of confusion, with little vignettes that don’t seem to be going anywhere.

So, with apologies to Margaret Mitchell, Frankly, I and a great number of viewers no longer give a damn!

Do you agree or disagree with me? I’d be interested to hear.

<-- 8 Jan 2020: Moved "'date,author,edit', " from before to after on Liz's request' -->

A tip about tips – literally!

To clarify the heading, the ‘tips’ in question are my fingertips, and the ‘tip’ is something that might save you money.

To show you my tips, here I am, holding a tiny Julius Caesar – I have the complete works of Shakespeare in miniature, each one being the unabridged play. I thought a reference to Shakespeare most suitable for the weekend upon which we mark the 400th anniversary of his death.


You’ll note that my nails are a deep plum shellac. Since I have them done once a month only, you’ll appreciate that they get long, although not talon-long, and that being shellac, they’re hard. The result all too soon, alas, of something as hard as (my) nails hitting the keys with force as I type my novels is a bald computer keyboard, which has to be replaced.

About a month ago, while working on the third – yes, the third – keyboard I’d had since January, I noticed that the letter E had almost vanished, and the O was looking iffy. The erosion had begun again, I realised. It always started with the E, since E is the vowel that appears most frequently in the English language, and O swiftly followed suit. After the E and the O, I’d say goodbye to the T, to the R, to the S, and so on.


I sighed deeply. I’d soon have to buy my fourth keyboard of the year. My frustration was great – there wouldn’t be a thing wrong with the keyboard I’d have to throw out, apart from the lack of the letters I use most frequently. But as I can’t touch type, that ‘apart from’ couldn’t be ignored.


I was sitting back in my chair, staring miserably at my keyboard, when my eyes landed on a bottle of clear nail varnish that was on my desk next to the computer. I’d fixed a nail a few days earlier and hadn’t returned the varnish to its home (A not unusual situation, I’m afraid – it accounts for the mess of things that builds up on my desk).

I sat upright. I wonder, I thought, and I leaned forward, picked up the varnish and painted every key on the keyboard with it. Then, about ten minutes after that, I gave each key another coat of clear nail varnish for luck!

It was an inspired thought, though I say it myself! It’s now a month later, and the remains of the E and O are exactly as they were four weeks ago, and not one of the other letters has started to disappear.

It wasn’t the cost of each keyboard, which is relatively inexpensive, that hurt. It was having to throw away a keyboard that was perfectly good, apart from one thing. It always felt such a waste. But happily, that’s a feeling I won’t have again for a very long time now.

So my tip to you is CLEAR-VARNISH YOUR KEYS!

Spring seems to have arrived at last. Enjoy!


<-- 8 Jan 2020: Moved "'date,author,edit', " from before to after on Liz's request' -->
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