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Friday, 18 January 2019

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The dark, winter months are a great time for curling up with a book, and I find that it's also a time when  my thoughts turn to books that I loved when I was a child.

A particular favuorite was C.S. Lewis's The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first of The Chronicles of Narnia. C.S.Lewis spent some of his youth in the Surrey Hills area of the UK where I live. He arrived to stay in the house of a private tutor to whom his father sent him to finish his education, up until then, a very unhappy period of his life.


In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis describes his time under the tutelage of William T. Kirkpatrick, the retired headmaster of his father's old school, as one of the happiest of his life. The Surrey Hills are a beautiful part of south-east England, still unspoiled in spite of their proximity to London. At the beginning of the twentieth century, they must have been even more idyllic. Lewis went on to spend the majority of the rest of his life at Oxford University, but he retained a fondness for Surrey. It's thought that Kirkpatrick was the model for the professor in The Chronicles of Narnia.

Narnia fans were delighted when, a few years ago, the conservators of Banstead Common, an area not far from the Surrey Hills, decided to commemorate Lewis's famous stories with a sculpture trail created from standing deadwood. It’s something that will, I'm sure, give great pleasure to many future generations of adults and children.

I'd love to hear about your favourite childhood books and any stories associated with them that you'd like to share.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

It's Not Just Reindeer

Just before I head to the shops to buy the carrot for Rudolph, I'd like to share with you some weird and wonderful Christmas traditions that I read about recently.

At Christmas time in Catalonia, families bring home the caga tio, a hollow log decorated with a smiley face. The children of the house care for him and keep him warm with a blanket, feeding him almond sweets and orange peel until Christmas Day. On Christmas morning, they beat him with a stick until he defecates presents!

Germany has a traditional called Schrottwichteln, roughly translated as Scrap Santa. Originally, people would wrap up and give unwanted, funny household items as prettily as possible to amuse the receiver, but now most people buy something cheap and jokey to give.

Maybe some Dump on Trump loo paper?

In the Czech Republic, they like to eat fried carp on Christmas Eve. To make sure it's as fresh as possible, it's often bought several days ahead. If you have no garden pond, the carp lives in the bath until the family is ready to cook him.

In Sweden, it has, apparently, been a popular tradition since the 1950s for families to watch Donald Duck cartoons together on Christmas Eve.

Of course, most families have their own personal traditions. Whatever yours may be, have a wonderful Christmas.  

Sunday, 2 December 2018

You're welcome for Christmas in Nuala!

I'm delighted to announce that the latest Inspector de Silva mystery, Christmas in Nuala, is now available to buy in Kindle from Amazon or to download free with Kindle Unlimited. (Just click on the image in the side-bar to reach the Amazon page.)

Perfect for fans of Golden Age mysteries, it's an intriguing and colourful short read for the holiday season.

The little town of Nuala is full of Christmas good cheer, until a brutal murder overshadows the festivities. The mystery he needs to solve baffles Inspector de Silva. It’s just as well he has his wife Jane to support him in his race both to unmask the villain and save an endangered romance. This colourful series set in Ceylon in the 1930s is perfect for fans of Golden Age mysteries, and Christmas in Nuala makes a great short read for the holiday season.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Inspector de Silva is on audio!

November has been an exciting month for me as the first of the Inspector de Silva Mysteries series to be published by the American audio publisher, Tantor, was released this week.

 I'm delighted with the result and feel very privileged that an actor of the calibre of Matthew Lloyd Davis is the narrator. It's been a fascinating experience hearing him bring my characters to life. As well as narrating audiobooks, Matthew is a director and actor who has made regular appearances with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, and in London's West End.

So, if you're looking for ideas for Xmas presents,or just want to treat yourself, a good cozy mystery might be the answer! Amazon usually make audiobooks extra appealing with a generous discount if you already have the Kindle version. As a recent convert to Audible, I'd forgotten how relaxing it is to be read to. Once one gets to adulthood, it's a rare thing, and Matthew has the trick of making it seem as if he's reading the book just for you.
The next two books in the series will be out on audio by the end of the year.

Friday, 14 September 2018

The Lion, the Wizard and the Princess

A view of Syon House in the 18th century by Canaletto.

It’s surprising enough to find a grand ducal house set in acres of rolling parkland a bare nine miles from Piccadilly Circus and only a stone's throw from Heathrow Airport, but that’s not the only surprise in store when one visits Syon House. Owned by the 12th Duke of Northumberland, it has been in his family for generations and frequently played an important part in English history. One very interesting guest to the house was Pocahontas, the famous Powhatan princess. In 1616, she spent about a year living nearby, in what was then the small town of Brentford (now part of London), and it’s believed that she often visited Syon.

The Percy Lion, the emblem of the Northumberland family.
At the time of her visits, the member of the Northumberland family who owned Syon was the 9th Earl, Henry Percy, known as “the Wizard Earl” for his interests in astronomy and other fledgling sciences. (Nothing to do with Harry Potter!) He was unlucky enough to have a distant relative, Thomas Percy, who was one of the plotters who tried to kill James I in the Gunpowder Plot. Thomas was shot attempting to escape, and Henry, even though he had nothing to do with the plot, remained under suspicion for many years and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. As an aristocrat, however, he was able to live quite comfortably and enjoyed the company of his great friend, Sir Walter Raleigh, who was also held in the Tower.

Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland.
The connection with America and Pocahontas came about through another relation, George, who left England (perhaps to avoid being dragged into the repercussions of the Gunpowder Plot) and founded Jamestown in Virginia. Captain John Smith took part in the expedition and this led to the legend, celebrated in the famous Disney film, that John Smith and Pocahontas fell in love. In fact, she was probably a very young child at the time, and many historians have debunked the idea, claiming that there’s far more evidence that the relationship was one of father and daughter. She was, apparently, a delightful and very bright child. 

Pocahontas with her father at the time of John Smith's visit - unknown artist.

Pocahontas did, however, end up marrying an Englishman. His name was John Rolfe and he was a Norfolk farmer who had travelled to America in the hope of learning the secrets of tobacco farming. The English were keen to grow the valuable commodity at home and make more profit from the sale of it than they could when it had to be shipped from America.

Pocahontas, now Mrs Rebecca Rolfe, wearing Jacobean dress and a pair of silver earrings made for her by the 9th Earl. Artist unknown.

Under Rolfe’s influence, Pocahontas eventually converted to Christianity and changed her name to Rebecca Rolfe. What an extraordinary experience it must have been for her, not only to have a different name and religion but also to be brought to London by her new husband, a city so different from the unspoiled wilderness she was used to.

Sadly, she had no immunity to the diseases that were rife in London and fell ill, probably with tuberculosis. The move to Brentford and Syon was intended to benefit her health, but it ultimately failed. John Rolfe decided they should return to her homeland, but whilst waiting at Gravesend for their ship to sail, Pocahontas died, leaving Rolfe a widower with their young son, Thomas, to care for. She was only twenty-one. A tragic end for a brave and adventurous young woman.     


Thursday, 2 August 2018

The Fussy Librarian

Thanks to a wonderful fan, I had the opportunity of talking with The Fussy Librarian this week. Here's the link if you'd like to know more. If you're not already acquainted with the site, The Fussy Librarian is a great place for readers and authors alike.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Summer Reads

This is just to let you know that there are dozens of good free summer reads to chose from over on, including my short story, The Magic Touch. Follow this link to find out more.