Category Archives: Newsletter

Newsletter for December 2016

WORKHOUSE ORPHANS is now complete and in the hands of my editor, though I have no doubt there will be some tweaks required before the final version. It has been hard going, but enjoyable. There are so many areas to research, particularly as the nineteenth century is not a period I have written about before. It has also made me look into the history of Liverpool more closely. You might think that, living just across the Mersey as I do, I would have done it before and there are aspects of it which I discovered long ago when writing WE’LL MEET AGAIN; but there is so much I didn’t know. For example, during the American Civil War, while the UK was official neutral, the citizens of Liverpool supported the Confederate States of the south. Many of them were troubled in their consciences by the slave owning ethos of the south, but Liverpool relied for much of its wealth on the trade in cotton and Manchester was desperate for supplies for the mills. The northern states were blockading the ports from which the cotton was exported, so ship builders in Liverpool and Birkenhead began building ‘blockade runners’, steam ships built to evade the blockade and bring out the cotton. Researching this, I came across the story of the CSS Shenandoah, a ship whose purpose was to capture and destroy merchant ships belonging to the northern states and in particular to target the whaling fleet which produced much of the north’s riches. She was not built in Liverpool, but many of her crew came from there, and it was in Liverpool that she finally surrendered, as the very last act of the civil war. You will find that her voyage features in my book. Also there, is the creation of the first department store, a new concept in merchandising.

My two protagonists, May and Augustus (Gus), brought up in the orphanage attached to the workhouse, have to struggle against the odds, and in the face of Victorian class prejudice, which required people to ‘know their place’, in order to escape a life of drudgery and brutality. It takes courage and determination, and a few lucky breaks, but they get there in the end. En route, they learn a great deal about themselves and about the society they live in, fall in and out of love and find kindness in strangers. I am very fond of both of them, and I hope you will be too.

Good News!

After a long period of drought I am delighted to tell you that there are four new books to look forward to. I have been commissioned by Ebury Press, part of the Penguin/Random House group, to write four novels set in nineteenth century Liverpool and centring on the inhabitants of the huge workhouse/orphanage which once stood on the site now occupied by the Roman Catholic cathedral. The reasons for how they came to be there, and their ultimate fate, offer many narrative possibilities and I have found the initial research fascinating. Book 1 will focus on a sister and brother sent to the orphanage after their father was ‘lost at sea’ and their mother died. The story of how they transcend their difficulty beginnings and find new lives will take in the foundation of Liverpool’s first department store, blockade running in the American Civil War and the Australian Gold Rush, to give you just a flavour of what to expect.

Hopefully, Book 1 will be in the libraries next summer and the book stores in the autumn, but that depends on me getting it finished by the end of this year. It’s a tall order as so far I have only written one chapter, so I’m going to have to work hard but it’s great to know that there is still a market for my work. The commission came about because the publishing director’s mother read We’ll Meet Again and raved about it. I shall be eternally grateful to that lady!

Newsletter for January, February ad March 2016

This is a hard letter to write. As you know, I was working as a creative writing teacher on board the Marco Polo, en route to S. America. We got as far as Rio and then received a phone call to tell us our elder son had been killed in a road traffic accident in China. He was there on business and he was in a taxi on his way to the airport when there was a collision and he suffered fatal head injuries. Of course, we had to cancel the rest of the cruise and head for home. It took us 28 hours to get back. Since then, life had revolved around arrangements for the funeral, which will take place on March 18th. We have had to wait such a long time because it took weeks to get his body repatriated. It is a time when your whole view of the future is completely disrupted and so much needs to be re-thought. He leaves a wife and two children – Amy was 18 just a week after her father’s death.

Needless to say, I have not been writing; but there seems little point anyway. My career as an author has hit the buffers. Now that Robert Hale Ltd has gone out of business I am without a publisher and so far I can’t get any agents interested in my work. I have two volumes of a projected trilogy set around the time of the First Crusade ready to publish, but no one is interested. I don’t know whether to go back to writing about WWll or try something completely different. We had such hopes of Twice Royal Lady. John Hale said it was one of the best pieces of historical fiction he had ever read, but sales have been disappointing. It seems you have to write either about the Romans or the Tudors to find a readership these days.

Enough of my moaning! Perhaps I will be able to write more positively in a month or two.


It has been a quieter month than October/November, thank goodness! Less rushing around, but still busy. The talk at Darwen was a bit disappointing because very few people turned up; but on the plus side it was lovely to meet Elizabeth Ashworth, a facebook friend and fellow writer, in the flesh. We found we had a lot in common and had a good chat at the end of the session. The ladies who did come along were very friendly and seemed to really enjoy the talk, and bought several books, which was encouraging.

The big new is that we are off on another cruise on January 5th. I’ve been asked to teach Creative Writing on board the Cruise and Maritime ship Marco Polo, cruising to South America. We call at ports all along the eastern coast, including Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, then go over to the Falklands and the Straits of Magellan, and then work our way back northwards. It sounds really exciting, as we have never been to South America before. I shall only have to teach on the days when we are at sea, but that adds up to about 30, so it is a lot of time to fill. I am hoping for a really lively group of passengers to help things go with a swing. Whatever happens, it will be easier than the drama coach job I did on the last voyage!

This means, of course, that I have had to get ahead with a lot of things I might otherwise have left until after Christmas, particularly in the garden. We shall not be home until the last day of February, so clearing up dead stuff and pruning shrubs can’t be left until we get back. That, along with the usual preparations for Christmas, has kept me pretty busy, as you can imagine.

I am still hoping to find an agent who will take me on and, hopefully, get a publisher interested in IRONHAND. I’ve finished the sequel, GOD’S WARRIOR, but the third book in the series will probably have to wait until we get back from the cruise.

I’ll try to keep in touch while we are away, but knowing how difficult and expensive internet connections can be on board ship I shall have to keep my posts to a minimum.

Meanwhile, I wish you all a Very Happy Christmas and health and good fortune in the New Year.



Oh dear! Is it really that long since my last letter? Time just seems to disappear these days.

So, what news is there? At the end of September I was in Whitley Bay again, at the studios of Soundings, to record the audio version of TWICE ROYAL LADY. It’s a pretty intensive exercise, two six hour days plus another couple of hours on the last morning. We work in sessions of one and a half to two hours, and reading aloud for that length of time, trying not to fluff and to bring out the characters and the changes of pace and mood in the story, is quite hard work. But the producers, who sit at the recording desk in the next studio and keep a check on everything, are very helpful and understanding. In spite of the effort of concentration, I really enjoy doing it because it seems to bring the characters to life in a way that reading the text doesn’t – even when it is something that has lived in your imagination for months. I hope that it does the same for people who listen to the books. If any of you have listened to one of my recordings, I’d love to hear from you.

If you remember, I told you that sales of the printed text of ‘Lady’ were disappointing, particularly to the libraries. So I spent a long time checking the on-line catalogues of as many libraries as I could contact to see if they had a copy. To my surprise, I found that several of them had the audio version and not the book. I emailed all those who did not have it, and found that quite a few did not even know it had been published and said they would order a copy at once. It seems that in many cases some unknown person at some central point decides which books get sent to the libraries, instead of the librarians being able to choose. So it would be very helpful if you could check your own library’s catalogue to see if they have it.

In October I went down to London again to teach the Brick Lane group, as mentioned in my last letter. It was an very interesting weekend. There was a wide variation among the members of the group, in age and background. Many of them were of Asian origin, some born in the UK, others recent immigrants, but there were also ethnic Brits, so we had a variety of cultural perspectives. They were all lively, intelligent people, well educated and well read, so they were a pleasure to work with. I hope that as a result of the classes they will be able to come up with some really interesting stories.

As it happened, I already had tickets for the Cumberbatch Hamlet on the Friday night, so that worked out very well. I thought the production was excellent and I admired Cumberbatch’s interpretation very much. It was the first time I’ve seen a Hamlet with a sense of humour! He really enjoyed pretending to be mad and the audience laughed more often than at any other production I’ve seen; but that did not distract from the inherent pathos of the play.

We also managed to get tickets for ‘Farinelli and the King’, with Mark Rylance, another actor I admire very much. It’s an ingenious story about a king of Spain who suffers from some kind of mental instability and can only be calmed by the voice of the castrato, Farinelli. It was staged as if we were back in the C18, with candlelight as the only illumination, and the part of Farinelli was doubled, shared between an actor for the speaking part and a counter tenor for the singing. Rylance is brilliant, as always.

As far as the writing goes, I am at a bit of a standstill. It’s hard to motivate myself when there is no assurance that the work will get published. I’m hoping that I might find an agent who will take IRONHAND on and find a publisher; meanwhile I’m working on the sequel, GOD’S WARRIOR. If the worst comes to the worst I can always self-publish, as I did with THE LAST HERO.

Speaking of which, I was excited a week or so back to hear on the radio that a group of archaeologists from the University of Cincinnatti had made a fabulous discovery while excavating near Pylos. They have found the tomb of a Bronze Age warrior, complete with a wonderful collection of treasure in bronze and silver. Pylos, is, as those of you who have read the book will know, the setting for THE LAST HERO, and much of my research was based on the earlier work of Professor Carl Blegen of that university, in excavating the palace of King Nestor. The warrior whose grave they have discovered lived earlier than that, but he must have been an ancestor of my hero, Alkmaion, and the discovery is further evidence of what a brilliant and sophisticated society existed there. I managed to find the name of one of the leaders of the current excavations and sent her an email, telling her about the book. I’m delighted to say that she is a fan of historical fiction and asked for a copy. I’ve sent it and shall wait with bated breath for her reaction.

So, it’s been a busy month, as usual. On December 4th I am talking about my books at Darwen library, near Blackburn, so if any of you live near there and would like to come along I’ll be delighted to meet you.

Newsletter for August 2015


I’ve been a bit lax in keeping up to date with these letters. Blame the garden and a glut of French beans, runner beans, courgettes etc etc – to say nothing of the weeds!

I have also been busy working, though not doing much writing at the moment. Until I find a publisher for IRONHAND there isn’t much incentive to write more. However, at the beginning of the month I was in London, teaching another two day course on writing historical fiction at the City Literary Institute. It all went well and as a result I have been asked to repeat the course in October for a group in Brick Lane, who are working on a project about the history of the East India Company. We managed to squeeze in a couple of theatre visits while we were there, but I have to admit I was a little disappointed in both. ‘Hay Fever’ is one of favourite plays and I was looking forward to seeing Felicity Kendall as Judith, but it was the last night and I had the impression that she was very tired and couldn’t wait to get the performance over! Next night we saw ‘Constellations’, a two hander with an interesting premise – that in parallel universes the same actions can have very different results. Unfortunately, this led to a great deal of repetition as the same scenarios were played out with different endings.

Later in the month we had a few days away, first on Derwentwater and then in Pitlochry. Both are lovely places and we were lucky with the weather, so it made a nice break. Pitlochry has a beautiful modern theatre, which stages an ambitious summer season. We saw a new play, ‘Pyrenees’, extremely well written and acted and better than anything we saw in London.

So here we are in September and the summer (what summer, I ask myself) is almost over. Next week I’m off to Whiteley Bay to record ‘Twice Royal Lady.’

Newsletter for June 2015

Dear All,

There isn’t a lot to report for this month. I’m working on the last chapter of the new novel, and up against the publisher’s word limit of 100,000. I think I might just be able to bring the story to a conclusion within the limit but I wish I had a bit more leeway. The book has involved a lot of research, particularly the second half in which the hero becomes a merchant plying the Mediterranean in the years just before the First Crusade. There is so much fascinating information about the trade in spices and silk, the origins of which were a mystery to western Europeans at that time; but the political situation in the Middle East was very volatile and confused and I am constantly having to check up on who controlled which area at any particular time – Turks, Byzantines. Egyptians ?? And there is so much technical detail to discover. How many men did it take to row a galley? How long did it take to get from Amalfi to Alexandria? What were conditions like on board? It’s very interesting, but time consuming.

I’m afraid the writing has had to take a back seat in favour of the garden lately. While the weather has been so lovely it seemed a shame to stay indoors and it is looking so beautiful. The roses are glorious at the moment, and so are the peonies. The lupins and foxgloves are going over now, but the herbaceous border has been a blaze of colour for weeks. Now it is the turn of the delphiniums and the penstemons and soon there will be dahlias and cosmos and day lilies. It’s a lot of work, but worth every moment.

I had an enjoyable day last Thursday at the Authors North summer social, run by the northern branch of the Society of Authors. We had a half hour cruise on the River Dee in Chester and then ‘afternoon tea’ at 12.30 in the Town Hall, followed by a very interesting discussion which centred mainly on the problems and advantages of self-publishing. It was good to chat to other writers and share experiences and tips.

I’ve been a bit disappointed by the muted reception given to TWICE ROYAL LADY. There is one really good review on Goodreads and so far nothing on Amazon, or in any of the papers. It hasn’t made the sort of impact I was hoping for. If any of you have read it and can contribute a review I shall be very grateful – and remember, if you want a signed copy you only have to let me know.

I hope you are all having a wonderful summer.

Best wishes


Newsletter for August 2014

 Good news! TWICE ROYAL LADY, my novel about the Empress Matilda, has been accepted by Robert Hale Ltd, the publishers of my last two books. It will be published under their new Broken River imprint as a paperback and should cost £8.99 – much more affordable than the previous hardbacks. Publication date is provisionally set for May 2015.

Meanwhile, Soundings have bought the rights to produce the audio version of APHRODITE’S ISLAND and, as with OPERATION KINGFISHER, I shall be the reader. I don’t know if any of you use audio books. They come in various formats, including MP3 and CD, and I know a lot of people find them very useful on long car journeys, for example.

Our trip to Canada was very enjoyable, but I must admit very far from being a rest cure! We only spent four days in each place, which meant living out of a suitcase, which I really dislike. The wedding went extremely well. It was held in a golf club looking out over the Bow River in Edmonton – a lovely location. It was very simple and informal but everyone present found it moving. We met a great many of my new daughter-in-law’s relatives, who made us feel very welcome. The nicest part was the fact that they all think Robin is a lovely guy and are glad he is marrying Erin! My elder son and his wife and two children were there as well, which I was very pleased about.

After that we all went up to Banff, which allowed us to have some quality time together as a family. The more intrepid went white water rafting and we all went horseback riding. After that the family went home and David and I went on to Jasper, where there is more spectacular scenery to be enjoyed. However, the pleasure was somewhat dampened for me by toothache. I developed an infection under a tooth soon after we arrived in Canada and by Jasper I was forced to seek the help of a dentist. He recommended root canal work, but we were not there long enough for him to carry it out and my own dentist back here cannot fit me in until Sept 10th! So I am currently existing on a diet of antibiotics and painkillers.

Back to work now! I am scheduled to give a talk to the Ellesmere Port Ladies Luncheon Club next Tuesday and there are some finishing touches to be made to Twice Royal Lady. Then I must start thinking about the next book.

Wishing you all the best


Newsletter for July 2014


It has been a busy month! First there was our trip to London for the classes at City Lit. In the end ten people signed up for two days on ‘writing historical fiction’ and we had a most enjoyable time. It was a very varied group, some of whom were already in the throws of writing their first novel, while others had come more out of curiosity than any definite plan to write. The important thing was that they all seemed to enjoy the classes and find them useful, and we had some very interesting discussions on the different genres which come under the umbrella of historical fiction; creation of character; shaping of plot; and styles of writing. The final assessments which the class was asked to provide resulted in five ‘excellents’, four ‘goods’ and one ‘satisfactory’ -not a bad report! (The 10th person didn’t turn up for day 2 – it obviously wasn’t what she was looking for.)

There was a slight hiccup in the arrangements for the weekend, when we arrived at the b&b I had booked at the appointed time of 4.30 and found no one at home! It later transpired that the proprietress had sent me an e-mail saying there would be no one there until 6.30. Well, a) the email didn’t arrive till after I left home; and b) we had arranged to be in central London by 6p.m for dinner before the theatre. In the end we had to check into a hotel for the night.

That night we went to see ‘Bring Up the Bodies’, the adaptation by the RSC of Hilary Mantell’s novel. Sadly, we were both disappointed. It is such a cerebral novel, with such intricate depictions of motivation and thought, that it does not lend itself to the stage, in my opinion. Also, the Aldwych Theatre is a big, old-fashioned building and from our seats in the circle it was impossible to see the subtleties of expression or hear the variations of speech that the play demanded.

Next night we went to ‘Billy Eliot’. What a contrast! Loud, energetic, full of action and movement and the dancing is wonderful. How the boy playing the name part kept gong all through the performance I do not know! He was dancing his socks off almost all the time.

After a brief respite, spent with friends in Surrey, we were off to High Wycombe library where I was booked to give a talk. This was very well received and I sold quite a lot of books.

The following Saturday I was at the Penistone Literary festival in Derbyshire. This is a new venture and I must say the organisers are to be congratulated. Over two days they had brought in a wide variety of speakers and there was a real buzz about the place, with lots of people coming and going. Once again, my talk went down very well and there were good sales.

The one sad thing to report – and it is a major setback – is that my agent turned down the Matilda novel, on the grounds that it wouldn’t make the shelves of Tesco or Asda. Apparently, this is the only criteria upon which publishers make their decisions these days! What does that say about the future of fiction! However, all is not lost. I have other outlets and if all else fails I can do what so many writers are doing these days and publish it myself.

Have any of you been listening to the controversy about the use of the historic present, between John Humphreys and Melvin Bragg? To clear up any confusion, this is when writers or speakers say things like ‘She walks into the room and sits down’ when they are talking about something that happened in the past. Mantell uses it in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and I like it because it gives sense of immediacy, as if you are watching a film or a play. But I know some people dislike it intensely. Oddly enough, I wrote the first draft of Matilda that way, but I’ve changed it to the past tense because I know it is unpopular; but I did feel as I did it that it was making the events more distant – a story that was finished, rather than one which was still in progress. I’d be interested to know what any of you feel about the matter.

My main focus now is on getting ready for our trip to Canada for Robin’s wedding. I’ll be back at the end of the month and then it will be time to start thinking about the next book. It might turn out to be a sequel to ‘Operation Kingfisher’ but I haven’t made up my mind yet.

Newsletter April 2014


Well, the audition for the Lancashire WI must have gone all right, because I am now on their approved list of speakers; but since they seem to book speakers up to a year in advance it may be some time before I get any definite invitations.

 The talks in Sheffield and Ilkely were both a bit disappointing in different ways. In Sheffield I shared a platform with Tim Lynch, who writes non-fiction and was talking about the misconceptions that have been perpetuated about WWl by the writers of the period. His thesis was that most of the soldiers were patriots who were willing to serve their country and their morale was much higher than is generally portrayed. He also had statistics to suggest that the number of casualties in certain major battles was exaggerated. There was quite a good number of people at the talk, but sadly they seemed more interested in his book and memorabilia about the war than in my novels, so I did not sell many copies. Ilkely was the opposite in many ways. The director of the Playhouse is trying to establish an audience for regular literary events but I was only the second person he had invited and only five people attended. They were all most enthusiastic and asked lots of good questions and bought books – I just wish there had been more of them, for the director’s sake as well as mine.

 However, the two engagements did provide the framework for a very pleasant few days away from home. We stayed for four nights in the Peak District and went to visit Chatsworth House and then visited friends near York. Plenty of stimulation for the historical imagination in both places!

I am currently engaged in trying to drum up support for the History Reading Month which is being organised by the Historical Writers Association. The idea is to hold events in libraries and bookshops to encourage people to read both fiction and non-fiction history books. The response varies from area to area but I am interested in the North West, so if any of you out there live in my area and know of any libraries or other organisations who would like to have a panel of writers to visit them, please let me know. If you are out of the area you can find details on the HWA’s website.

 My next speaking engagement is with the Mid-Wirral WI in Thornton Hough on May 28th.

 The audio edition of OPERATION KINGFISHER, read by myself, is now available. So if you want to know what I sound like and how I interpret my characters, this is your chance!

 Meanwhile, it’s back to the Empress Matilda.