Tuesday, 19 March 2019

The most delightful building in London.

Most people who take an interest in history know that King George III was afflicted by a long period of madness that we now understand to have been caused by the disease, porphyria. It's perhaps less well known that he was the first British king to take an interest in science, amassing over his lifetime a very fine collection of scientific instruments and clocks.

In the 1760s, he commissioned the most popular architect of the day, William Chambers, to build him an observatory at Richmond upon Thames, now part of London but at that time, out in the country. Landscaping was provided by Capability Brown.
The building was completed in 1769, in time for the King, the Queen, and two astronomers to observe the Transit of Venus, the passage of Venus across the sun. Occurring only rarely, the transit was thought to provide a method of measuring the distance from the earth to the sun, as well as of determining the size of the universe. Two obelisks were also set up in the park to create a meridian line, and before the Royal Observatory moved to Greenwich in the 19th century, Mean Time was calculated from Richmond.

In the twentieth century, the King's Observatory became the headquarters of the Meteorological Office. It was from there that the weather forecast was taken to decide when to launch the troops into France on D-Day. The two sheds used in forecasting, the only Grade I listed sheds I've ever come across, still stand in the grounds. They were built without nails so that they would be non-magnetic.

A detail from the Chinese wallpaper in the dining room. William Chambers had visited Canton on two occasions, and a lot of the interior decoration reflects his interest in Chinese art.

Parts of the stunning collections of Chinese and Georgian porcelain on show

The building's fortunes declined after the Met Office's departure, but it has now been restored to its former glory by the current leaseholder, a wealthy and philanthropic businessman, who, like Chambers, has a great interest in Chinese art. The freehold remains the property of the Crown.


Monday, 11 March 2019

Adventure on the high seas for Inspector de Silva!

I'm delighted to announce that the latest Inspector de Silva mystery is now available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback. To grab your copy, just click on the image in the side-bar or go to:

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Local Hero

With the imminent launch of the new book in my Inspector de Silva series, which sees de Silva and Jane off to Egypt to visit the Pyramids, in mind, how could I refuse when I had the chance to ride a camel on a recent trip to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands?

My husband and I visited the island hoping for winter sun, but found there was so much more to do there, not only riding camels! A highlight of the trip was discovering the work of their most famous artist, Cesar Manrique (1919 - 1992). I have to admit, we'd not heard of him before. He had an amazing career as an artist, architect, designer, sculptor, and activist. When tourism took off in Lanzarote in the late 1960s, he was the driving force in the campaign to prevent the island being spoiled by insensitive development, with the result that, for the most part, you see  low-rise buildings in the traditional Moorish style, rather than concrete and glass monsters.

One of Manrique's houses is now home to the Cesar Manrique Foundation, a beautiful, airy gallery where some of his work is displayed.

 In the basement, we marvelled at the rooms he designed out of the spaces left by gigantic larva bubbles, the result of Lanzarote's volcanic terrain. The walls are partly plastered and whitewashed and partly left in the original basalt rock, creating a striking contrast.

Another treat was a visit to the house where he spent the last years of his life, before, tragically, he died in a car crash. The old building he restored is delightful: traditional in materials and construction but brought up to date with all mod cons and a gorgeous pool, and surrounded by colourful gardens.

Manrique was interested in the art of painters like Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock and emulated the scale of their paintings using vast canvases that he worked on on the floor of his studio. He also loved to use a variety of materials to build up texture in his paintings, for example sawdust, resin and glue.

The house is on the edge of a small town in the north of the island called Haria. I like to think that Manrique, a ferociously hard worker, occasionally found time to enjoy an espresso and a chat with other locals at the delightful cafĂ© in the shady main street. 

Coming Soon!

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.