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New Year, New Adventure

Hello everyone!

I’ve been remiss over these last months about keeping in touch, but the fact is I haven’t had anything to tell you. Penguin decided to stop publishing my kind of fiction, which left me homeless and with the lockdown and everything else that was going on there wasn’t much incentive to produce new work. I am happy to say, however, that things are looking up on the writing front. I am now working with a company called Joffe Books, and independent publisher specialising in on-line sales. They will publish my latest novel early in the New Year. It is called OPERATION BOLT LIGHTNING and it’s a thriller set in World War ll, which I know will please many of you. I’m not going to give away the plot but I will tell you it brings me back to my earlier happy hunting ground of SOE.

Joffe are also re-issuing three books I had published by Robert Hale. OPERATION KINGFISHER came  out as an e-book last Sunday and TWICE ROYAL LADY and APHRODITE’S ISLAND will follow in the New Year. I know many of you prefer a ‘real’ book but there will be a paperback edition available from Amazon soon after the digital version is published. Since the books were previously only available as hardbacks I think this makes them much more accessible. The link for anyone wanting to get the e-book of Kingfisher is

I have more news. My first venture into non-fiction will be out in April. INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN THE MIDDLE AGES will be published by Amberley Books. It may sound a rather dry subject but I promise you it’s not. I got into it through the research for my novel IRONHAND in which the hero becomes a successful merchant trading around the Mediterranean at a time when the competition for exotic spices from the east and silk from China was opening up new horizons and bringing Europeans into contact with Arabic civilizations that were far ahead of us is medicine and mathematics and astronomy and many other subjects. It was this contact with the knowledge of the ancient Greeks, passed on by the Arab and Persian scholars, that sparked the Renaissance. It was an era of discovery and of swashbuckling adventurers and I found it really exciting. I hope you will too.

Please can I ask you for one big favour? If you read any of the books, post a review on Amazon. The number of reviews a book gets is in direct proportion to the amount of exposure it is given, so reviews really make a difference to sales.

Short Story anthology

Those of you with an interest in Medieval history might enjoy this collection of short stories put together my members of the Historical Writers Association.

I have contributed one of the stories, THE QUEST, which I hope will serve as an introduction to my two First Crusade novels IRONHAND and GOD’S WARRIOR.

Here’s the link.

Short Story Collection

Modern productions of Shakespeare

I know many of us have been watching the National Theatre Live performances being streamed on YouTube. I am enormously grateful to the NT for allowing us to see productions which we would otherwise have not had a chance to see. However, it has brought to my mind a complaint I have had in mind for a long time now, about the contemporary approach to staging Shakespeare.

I was really looking forward to the NT production of Twelfth Night but I have to confess I turned it off after the first ten minutes or so – unheard of for a bard lover like me. I wasn’t impressed from the start, but it was when Orsino and the disguised Viola were made to deliver their lines while shadow boxing that I gave up. It is a short scene but fraught with subtle ambiguity, completely obscured by ridiculous and unnecessary ‘business’. It confirmed mysuspicion that modern theatre directors are so terrified that audiences will not be able to understand the words that they have come to the conclusion that the best way of dealing with the problem is to speak them very fast and very loudly, while peforming irrelevant actions in the hope of distracting the audience’s attention.

I did stick with the performance of Antony and Cleopatra to the end, but even there I felt the same attitude to the verse was in evidence. Sophie Okenedo as ‘the serpent of old Nile’ sounded mostly angry and aggressive. Where was the subtle seductress who kept Antony in thrall for years? ‘Nor custom stale her infinite variety’ as Enobarbus says. Her stock in trade is the sudden changes in tone that keep Antony wrong-footed and desperate to please her. In this production I found myself wondering what he saw in her. Ralph Fiennes convinced as a strong man gone to seed through too much good living, but gave me no glimpse of the clever and wily Antony who won the Roman crowd round with his ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen’ speech in Julius Caesar. Again, too much of his internal struggle between honour and lust was lost in the rush to get the words out before the audience got bored.

It is so unnecessary. Everything we need is there in the lines. It was not a capacity for speed and action that made Shakespeare ‘the immortal bard’. It was the beauty and subtlety of his poetry. I know some of the words are unfamiliar to modern ears, but if spoken with real comprehension by the actors any difficulty can be overcome. I have produced Shakespeare’s plays with teenagers and I know that by patiently unravelling the meaning of the text with the actors the lines can them be made completely comprehensible to the audience. We need to be able to listen to the poetry, not have it obscured by noise and irrelevant action.

I often think poor Shakespeare must be turning in his grave. He made it perfectly clear in Hamlet’s speech to the players how he wanted his work to be performed. ‘Speak the speech, I pray you, as I prononced it to you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand – thus – but use all gently…. Suit the action to the words, the words to the action, with this special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature …’ I am afraid that many of our current actors and directors have opted for the Town Crier approach!

A New Departure

I suppose it is unusual for an author who has had a successful career writing in one genre to suddenly embark on a series of books that take her in a totally new direction, but this is what i have done. To me it does not seem such a sudden break. I have always had a fascination with medieval history and I have long wanted to escape from the label of ‘saga writer’ or ‘author of historical romance’. I have never understood why sagas and historical romance novels are shunted off into a sub-category of their own, as if they are nor ‘proper’ historical fiction. My books have always been as carefully researched and as faithful to the historical facts as any of the better respected titles. However, this is my attempt to join the likes of Elizabeth Chadwick and Robyn Young – and my idol Dorothy Dunnet – and write ‘proper’ historical fiction.

IRONHAND and GOD’S WARRIOR are set in the period between the Norman Conquest and the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 by the warriors of the First Crusade. It was a time of ferment, with minor warlords competing for territory all over Europe, while Turkish soldiers were harassing pilgrims on their way to the Holy City. It was partly to distract these bellicose lords and divert their energies elsewhere that led Pope Urban ll to call for a crusade to free Jerusalem from the infidel. This was the beginning of one of the most dramatic episodes in the history of the Middle Ages.

It was also a period that saw the first flourishing of trade between Europe and the Levant, not only bringing exotic spices and silks to the markets of Italy and Flanders but also allowing the dissemination of the wisdom of ancient Greece, preserved through translations into Arabic. It was the first stirring of that great flowering of art and culture that later became known as the Enlightenment. For some reason it is not a time that has attracted much attention from fiction writers – a deficit that I hope to repair.

My hero, Ranulph, orphaned by the Conqueror’s ‘harrowing of the North’, is haunted by the guilt of having inadvertently caused the death of a man who abused him. He becomes convinced that God has a special purpose for him; but before he can be ready to accomplish it he has to undergo a long apprenticeship, first as a sailor, then as a mercenary soldier, then as a merchant and finally as a galley slave in the service of the Emir of Malta. By the time Count Bohemond comes looking for recruits to join his army heading for Jerusalem, Ranulph is ready to play a key part in the trials and struggles that follow.

Historical Novels Review of Workhouse Orphans

I have just read a very snooty review of my book in the magazine of the Historical Novel Society. The critic begins by saying that this is not the sort of book she normally reads and, after damning with faint praise for most of the article, concludes that it is an enjoyable read and would probably appeal to those who like sagas and ‘rags to riches’ stories. Since this is exactly the brief I received from the publisher I guess that means it is a success. It ‘does what it says on the tin’!
But it does beg the question, why give a book to be reviewed by someone who does not understand the genre? All the reviewers in the magazine are amateurs and books are allocated by editors who deal with the work of a particular publisher. Couldn’t he have found someone who enjoys that kind or book?
As a consolation, the book continues to receive 5 star ratings on Amazon.




I shall be having a launch party at Linghams Bookshop in Heswall on Tuesday September 12th, 6.30 for 7pm. Tickets £5.00 to include a glass of wine.




Newsletter for July 2017

Well, it’s that time of year again. Picking and freezing I lay waste my powers – to misquote Wordsworth. There are strawberries and raspberries from the local PYO farm to make into ice cream and summer puddings; French beans and mange tout peas and tons of courgettes to be frozen somehow, or turned into something else. To say nothing of keeping on top of the weeds!

But it doesn’t matter. For once I am well ahead with my writing. WORKHOUSE ORPHANS, my first Holly Green book, will be out in paperback on August 24th. The sequel, WORKHOUSE ANGEL, is finished and at the copy-editing stage. It should be in the libraries before the end of the year and out in paperback next summer. And I hope to finish the third book in the quartet by next spring. So for once I am free to enjoy the summer without feeling I should be at my desk.

I have found the research for these books really interesting. I knew very little about workhouses and the people who had to live in them but I soon had to expand my field of enquiry to take in Victorian society in general, and Liverpool in that period in particular. As always, I found the story taking me off in unexpected directions. Who could have guessed that it would lead me to the American Civil War and the blockade running ships built for the south in the dockyards of Liverpool and Birkenhead? Did you know that the final act of that conflict took place in the Mersey estuary? Or that Birkenhead Park was the first civic park designed for public use, and was the pattern for Central Park in New York? Book Two has taken me to Ireland, to look into the aftermath of the famine and convent education for girls, and the lives of Irish tinkers. And I found myself reverting to more familiar territory when the story led me to a travelling company of variety artistes.

Book Three will require research into nursing in the mid-Victorian era and the work of Florence Nightingale.

One good thing has come out of all this. I have found myself reading or re-reading Victorian authors – Dickens and the Brontes in particular. Nicholas Nickleby and Jane Eyre were potent sources of inspiration.

We have had two holidays this year. The first was a cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest with Viking and I must say we were very well looked after. It was a fascinating journey, with so many beautiful and interesting cities and landscapes on the way. I should have liked to spend longer in Vienna, but Budapest was definitely the highlight. Then, at the beginning of this month, we went with our son and his wife to the Verdon Gorges in the Alpes Maritimes, north of Nice. It is a spectacularly beautiful area and we had glorious weather. The only bad things were the journeys out and back. We flew into Nice quite late in the evening and had to queue for a long time to pick up our hire car. Then the sat-nav went mad and took us on a scenic tour of the area – which might have been nice if it had not been pitch dark! We finally reached our rented villa at 3am! Then, coming back, our flight was cancelled. After a long wait in another queue we were sent to a hotel for the night and told we could fly back the next day to Gatwick. Considering the fact that our car was at Liverpool airport, this was less than convenient. However, it turned out that there were seven of us in the same boat and easyjet sent us back by taxi. The other five were really lively companions and we passed the time chatting and telling travellers’ tales. I think I may also have sold a few books!

I hope you are all enjoying the summer and finding time to do some reading.

With best wishes


Newsletter for February 2017

I am delighted to tell you that my new novel, WORKHOUSE ORPHANS, which is published under my new pen name of Holly Green, will be in the libraries from March 3rd. Please put in a request for it straight away, so you will be at the head of the queue when it arrives.

I am already half way through the second book in the series, hoping to get it finished before the summer comes, so I will have a bit more time for the garden. This book takes on the story of May and Gus, but the main focus is on Angelina, the little girl to whom May became devoted in the workhouse but who was then adopted. This has led into new areas of research, including the beginnings of the Fenian movement in Ireland and the lifestyle of Irish tinkers. I have also been looking into convent schools in nineteenth century Ireland and have found a very interesting novel called ‘Land of Spices’ by Kate O’Brian, set in the convent of the Faithful Companions Of Jesus near Limerick. Well worth a read on its own account and invaluable for research. The next step is to investigate the role of children on the Victorian stage. I hope this is enough to pique your curiosity without giving away too much of the plot!