Monthly Archives: August 2013

Newsletter August 28th


Hello everyone,

Doesn’t the summer go by quickly? I can hardly believe autumn is just around the corner.

Things are looking up a bit on the sales side for THE LAST HERO, though they are still slow. I’ve been doing a lot of publicity on various social websites, including facebook and bookblogs. There is an interview with me on Catalina Egan’s site and another on Prue Batten’s and also a very good one with Richard Lee, the chairman of the Historical Novel Society, on their site. If anyone wants to have a look the links are here: ; ; ;

I’m still hoping for a few more reviews on Amazon, so if you have read the book please review it.

My new website is now up an running and I think looks very smart. The address is the same – – so do pop in and have a look.

The printed version is causing me a few headaches. The first batch, as you know, came out with print that was far too small and I also discovered that the designer had misspelled my name on the spine, so I am having to get a new print run done. It should be available in just over a week, but I am away from Sept.9th, so if you are planning to order a copy it might be best to wait until after I get home on the 17th.The original version is still available at £5.50, if you don’t mind using a magnifying glass to read it!

I have just come back from giving a talk to the Liverpool Jewish Luncheon Club, who were all very receptive and seemed to enjoy it. I like talking about my work and the talks always seem to go down well. My next date is as part of the Wirral Bookfest on Oct 7th and I am hoping to get some more invitations, particularly to talk about the Leonora books with the centenary of the outbreak of WWl coming up.

Now I really must get back to doing some new writing. I’m working on a book about Queen Mathilda (or Maud as she is sometimes called). She was Henry 1st’s daughter and married to the German Emperor at the age of 12; but when Henry’s son was drowned she disputed the succession with her cousin Stephen. She’s a complex character and her life was full of twists and turns, so it should make a good novel.

I hope you are all having a good summer and look forward to hearing from anyone about the books, the website or any other matter.

Best wishes



 This is a remarkable book. The author, Tom Harper, succeeds in combining a story set in the 4th century BC with a modern thriller; a discussion of philosophy with dramatic action; myth with mysticism.

In the first story thread, the narrative is put into the mouth of the philosopher Plato and the chapters are headed by quotations from his various writings. But this is not the assured, clear-thinking Plato that we see from his writing but a middle-aged pupil of Socrates still feeling bereft from the loss of his mentor and wrestling with fundamental questions. He travels to Sicily in search of Agathon, another of Socrates’s pupils, and en route he encounters the proponents of other philosophies, notably the adherents of Pythagoras, who believe that numbers hold the key to the universe. Pythagoras saw a close connection between numbers and music, and music is a recurrent theme throughout the book. Harper’s thesis is that something happened to Plato during his time in Sicily which brought him to a state of enlightenment, which is expressed in his later work.

The second story, which is intertwined with the first, is about Jonah, a singer-songwriter with a rock group. Here the musical theme is repeated and Harper is very acute on the way music can transport us into a different state of being. The connection with the older narrative is made through Jonah’s wife, Lily, an archaeologist engaged in a dig in southern Italy where the ancient Greek city of Thurii once stood. The discovery of a golden tablet engraved with mystic instructions is the mainspring of the story. The instructions seem to be a guide to entering the Underworld and returning and a Greek magnate, desperate to learn the secret of immortality, kidnaps Lily. Jonah’s story is the tale of his desperate search for her.

The two narratives climax in a spine chilling descent literally into the Underworld beneath the volcano Etna on Sicily. Here the story switches between Plato and Jonah, as the fate of one mirrors the fate of the other. Dream and illusion are interspersed with reality until the protagonists and the reader hardly knows one from the other. Out of this chaos Plato finds the enlightenment he seeks and Jonah, a modern day Orpheus, leads his wife back to the living world.

This is a gripping story which expands both the emotions and the intellect.


Hello everyone.

 Well, it has been a very disappointing month for me. In spite of all my efforts, THE LAST HERO is not selling. It’s heart breaking after all the effort I have put into it, and the love and care that has gone into the writing. My heartfelt thanks go to those few loyal readers who have bought it. Can I now ask you to do me a further favour? Please will you go to Amazon and post a review of it? A few good reviews will undoubtedly boost sales. Just in case some of you are having difficulty finding the book, the link is .

 I am going ahead, however, with the printed version, which should be available within a week or two. The cost will be £7.99 plus £1.50 for p&p. .

My other big project this month has been a re-design of my website, which is ongoing. I can’t afford the exorbitant prices the professionals ask for this work, so I’m doing it myself, which means a steep learning curve. The old site will still be accessible until the new one is ready.

As a relief from all this, there is always the garden. Hasn’t it been lovely to have some proper summer weather? Officially, David is in charge of the vegetables and I’m i/c flowers but at this time of year it does mean a lot of time spent harvesting and preserving the crops. We have had a big crop of raspberries which have to be frozen or turned into ice cream or jam. (I do the jam, my other half is in charge of the ice cream.) Now there are blackcurrants – more ice cream, and summer puddings – mange tout peas which need to be picked every day, heaps of courgettes to be made into ratatouille, and French beans. I feel like Barbara Good from the Good Life! But it is nice to be able to go into the garden a pull a lettuce for lunch, and get tomatoes and cucumbers from the greenhouse.

The family (Number 1 son plus wife, daughter and son) are away on holiday, so I don’t have to cook Sunday lunch as I usually do. Instead, I have to feed the rabbits. Well, at least their food doesn’t require cooking!

So, there it is, for another month. I hope to write more cheerfully next time.

Kind regards


Newsletter June 28th 2013


This month has been devoted almost entirely to preparing for a new venture. I am going to publish a novel independently, as an e-book. It has presented a steep learning curve, partly because fellow writers tell me that marketing is as important as writing the book and social media are the channels to use. So, as some of you already know, I am now on Facebook and also trying to make sense of Goodreads and find sites which might let me do a guest blog. I have also had to find someone to design the cover. The difference in the prices I have been given is incredible, but I have now found someone whose charges are reasonable and who has produced what I think will be a very effective cover. All this has been taken care of by my publishers previously. Actually uploading the book seems to be the easiest bit – I hope!

Let me tell you about the book. It has a long history, which will explain why I have decided to go it alone.

It is called THE LAST HERO and is set in Bronze Age Greece, around 1200 b.c. Many years ago I read THE KING MUST DIE by Mary Renault and was immediately fascinated by her idea that the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur might have had a foundation in fact. This led me along two complimentary research paths. One took me to Robert Graves’s two volumes of interpretations of the whole cannon of Greek mythology, where he suggests that all the stories are based on misunderstandings of ancient religious rituals. The other led me to the facts uncovered by archaeological digs at Troy and Mycenae and other Greek sites of that period. I knew, sort of, that these digs had proved that the story of the Trojan War probably had some foundation in fact but my researches revealed an amazing civilisation, centred on Mycenae, the city of Agamemnon, but extending all through Greece. It was so rich that its rulers were buried with masks of beaten gold on their faces and so powerful that its cities and palaces were surrounded by massive walls. Yet two generations after the victory at Troy those cities began to be destroyed. Pylos, on the west coast, the city of King Nestor of Iliad fame, was the first to go and soon after, the archaeologist’s digs revealed, Mycenae underwent extensive rebuilding to improve the defences. Yet within a hundred years it, too, had been razed to the ground. All that remained visible was the Lion Gate which had led into the city and for two thousand years Mycenae and all those who lived in it were consigned to the realm of myth. How did this happen?

My research into this question eventually inspired a long novel, the first I ever wrote. I was lucky enough to be given an introduction to an agent, who loved the book. For more than a year he touted round every publisher in London, but always with the same result. ‘We love it. It’s very well written. But we can’t see a market for it at the moment.’ Disillusioned, I put it aside and got on with my life. Years passed. I had three slight thrillers published, which sank with scarcely a ripple. More time passed and I almost gave up writing. Then one day I read a small item in the Writers’ News. The Historical Novel Society was offering a prize for a short story. The title was to be ‘The Conquerors’ and the prize was two weeks on the Greek island of Kythira on a writing course, and the tutors would be Helen Carey, the author of the Lavender Hill quartet, which some of you may have read, and Louis de Berniere, then at the height of his fame after ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ . I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to win, but I couldn’t think of a story. The deadline was Jan. 1st and about a week before Christmas I forced myself to sit down and think. The Greek venue gave me the clue and I remembered my old interest in the myths, so I wrote a story which retells the myth of Odysseus and Circe, using Renault’s technique of interpreting it as a real event. I got it in the post just in time for the deadline and sat back to wait. Months later, when I had given up hope, I got a letter to say I had won!

Since the Greek idea had been a success, I got my novel out and started a rewrite. I took it with me to Kythira and Louis fell in love with it and encouraged me to finish it. It is, he maintains, as good as anything by Mary Renault. I finished the rewrite and began the soul destroying business of sending it round to agents. Eventually, it as taken by Vivien Green of the Sheil Land agency, who remains my agent to this day. History couldn’t repeat it itself, could it? It could! The MS did the rounds, with the same results as before ‘love the book, but can’t see a market’. I put it away in the cupboard again.

Eventually, as you know, I found success with WE’LL MEET AGAIN, which led on to the FOLLIES quartet and then the Leonora stories. I had almost forgotten THE LAST HERO, until Richard Lee the chairman of the Historical Novel Society remembered it and suggested the possibility of e-publishing. So that is what I am going to do, and I hope and pray that all you folks out there will prove the publishers wrong and show that there is a readership for it. Please don’t be put off by the distant era. It may be far away in time, but I think you will find the book has all the qualities you love about the others. It is still Love and War, after all. And I think you will find the heroes, Alkmaion and Alectryon, as real and sympathetic as Merry and Felix, or Tom and Ralph.

The book will appear on Kindle initially and then, I hope, in other digital formats. I apologise to those of you who still love the feel of a ‘real’ book and don’t read digitally; but I do plan to have a short run printed for anyone who wants one. Perhaps if you could let me know if you would be one of those it would help me to know how many to print.

So what else have I been doing? Well, there is always the garden. The azaleas are over, but now the roses are coming into bloom and the herbaceous borders are beginning to look good. If only we could have some warm weather! I’ve read Kate Atkinson’s ‘Life After Life’ – if you want to read my review go to my blog on the website. I am currently in the middle of ‘The Emperor’s Spy – Rome 1’ by M.C.Scott. Manda Scott is one of my favourite writers. Her Boudicaa quartet had me in an iron grip from start to finish.

That’s about it for this month. I’ll let you know when THE LAST HERO is published.

All the best




Was anyone listening to the first item in Women’s Hour this morning (Tuesday July 9)? I happened to catch while making soup. It was a discussion about ‘angry women’ based around a novel called ‘The Woman Upstairs’ in which the protagonist declares that she has always been a ‘good’ girl – obedient, good student, good mother, good daughter – but she is seething inside because this has been at the expense of developing her own creativity. This brought to my mind a dilemma I frequently face myself. I once shocked Louis de Bernière by remarking that I couldn’t settling to writing until I had hoovered the bedroom carpet (this being shorthand for all the various domestic chores that require time). From his reaction, and that of other women in the group, you would think I had said I could not settle to write until I had drunk the fresh blood of an innocent child!


I once read an interview with a well-known comedienne and writer who maintained that she would never stoop to cleaning a floor or ironing a shirt, the implication being that such activities would demean her creative genius. I have read of women writers who shut themselves in their office, or the garden shed, at 9 a.m. with a notice on the door warning that anyone who disturbs them does so at their peril. How do they do this?


The question that comes to my mind is, if not me, then who? Do these other women simply allow the chaos to build up until they and all around them are wading through the detritus up to their knees? Or do they assume that someone else, someone less ‘creative’, will clear up after them? Of course, there is always the option of paying someone to do the work, and there are plenty of people out there who will be glad of the job. It is an option I have considered, but then I think of all the other things the money could pay for – my weekly riding lesson, visits to the theatre, the occasional meal out – and I decide to carry one doing it myself. That is my choice, and others will choose differently. What I object to is the hubris that implies that if you are ‘creative’ that places you in a category above domestic chores, and that those who undertake them belong to a lower order of being.

Any comments?



I have been a fan of Atkinson’s writing for many years, both of the more ‘literary’ books like ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’ and of her excursions into crime fiction with Case Histories . I like her way with words and the dry, ironic humour. But I have to say I was disappointed in this book.

As with ‘Human Croquet’, she has experimented with the idea of time. It is a theme which has fascinated many writers. The idea that it might be possible to turn back time to a crucial moment and alter the course of events is one which JB Priestley played with in ‘Dangerous Corner’ and ‘Time and the Conways’ and Martin Amis reversed it completely in ‘Time’s Arrow’. Robert Frost touched on the idea of a casual decision that alters the course of a life in ‘The Road Not Taken’. But Atkinson has gone much further. Since the days of Albert Einstein, the idea that time is not a current flowing ever onwards has interested physicists and philosophers and there is a theory that there may be parallel universes in which the same event may occur simultaneously with different outcomes. It is this concept that informs ‘Life After Life’.

The protagonist, Ursula, experiences repeated reincarnations but they are simultaneous, not sequential. Each one ends with her death, by various means, but then time turns back, she chooses a different path, and her life continues. Beginning with a chapter in which she dies at birth she experiences death by drowning as a child; falls from a window; catches the deadly flu that killed so many after World War l; is raped, suffers an abortion, a miserable marriage and death at the hands of her brutal husband; avoids rape and goes on to become a senior civil servant with a lover in high circles. During the Second War she might be killed in a bombing raid, or be one of the rescuers; or she might have become a German citizen and a friend of Hitler’s mistress Eva Braun. In each incarnation she retains some sense of the previous life, a feeling of deja vue or a premonition of impending doom; and this leads her in one episode to organise her life deliberately in order to become one of Hitler’s circle, so that she can shoot him before he starts the war.

We all know how it feels to look back at a moment in our lives and wish we could recall an angry word or change a decision. Sometimes it is amusing to speculate about how different our lives might have been. But we know it is not possible. We choose our path and have to follow where it leads us. We expect the same to apply to our fictional heroes and heroines. It is seeing how they cope with the exigencies and traumas that their choice throws up that intrigues and excites us. If every time something goes wrong for them they can simply turn back the clock and put it right, the story loses all dramatic tension. I am afraid this was what happened for me with this novel. Each time I turned a page and found Ursula’s life beginning again I mentally sighed ‘Oh, here we go again!’ And as the variety of outcomes became a virtual blizzard towards the end of the book that changed to ‘Who cares, anyway?’

My verdict? An interesting experiment, but in the final analysis not a successful one.

A POSSIBLE LIFE by Sebastian Faulks


I have to admit I found this book puzzling. I almost gave up after the first few pages but I’m glad I persisted, if only in an attempt to discover what Faulks is getting at. The book begins with the story of a young man who is recruited into SOE as a secret agent, is betrayed and finds himself in a Nazi extermination camp – events which Faulks himself covered so dramatically in ‘Charlotte Grey’. But here they are narrated in the flat, unemotional style of a police report and framed as just one of a series of occurrences in an unremarkable life. The narrative then jumps to the life of a poor working class boy in London at the end of the nineteenth century; then forward to a futuristic tale of scientific research in the late 21st century; back to a remote village in pre-revolutionary France and then to the rock and folk music scene of 1970s America. All these stories I found much more engaging than the first one, which seemed designed to keep the reader at a distance; but do they add up to something more than the parts? As far as I can make out, Faulks’s thesis is that the individual life is an illusion. We are all made up from the atoms and elements which constituted other people’s bodies in earlier times and the sense of the unique personal self is purely an biological accident of evolution. This is an interesting philosophical proposition, but in my opinion it is not enough to turn what is in essence a series of short novellas into a coherent whole.