Welcome to my blog. I am not a very regular blogger, but I try to keep this site updated with news and information. If there's none of the above I may just share my random ruminations.

Monday, July 15, 2019


Yesterday I received the publicity banner for my up and coming BlogBlitz, for BURIED TREASURE now only a fortnight away.  I am very excited. 

Many thanks to Rachel Gilbey and her 'Rachel's Random Resources' book promotion service for authors.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Author of a Cornish Affair - Jo Lambert - Drops in for a Chat.

Gilli, thank you so much for asking me to come along today to chat on your blog.

A pleasure, Jo, we’ve been writing friends for a long time. Tell me, and the readers, a little about yourself?

I live with my husband and one small grey cat called Mollie, in a village on the eastern side of Bath, which is set in an area of outstanding natural beauty.  It gives me the best of both worlds. I’m within a five minute walk of open countryside if I want fresh air and space but I’m also within easy reach of the city with its excellent shopping and restaurants.

I grew up in rural Wiltshire where I went to grammar school – a year in Marlborough and, after a family move, four years in Bradford on Avon.  After school I attended college where I took a secretarial course which combined shorthand, typing and audio with an OND in Business Studies. Later I completed my Higher National in Business and Finance.  My working life has been a mix of NHS and commercial companies.  My NHS posts included typing pool supervisor, PA and PA/Office Manager. Outside the NHS I’ve worked for two different car companies, a truck and bus dealer, a tyre manufacturer, a couple of international building companies and three architect’s practices - a bit of a mixed bunch.

After managing to reduce my working hours by moving to a job share at the local hospital for a couple of years I eventually  closed the door on my nine to five in 2013 to concentrate on full time writing.

Well done! When did you start writing and how did it grow into your sole career? 

It began way, way back.  I’ve always loved books and I guess writing was a natural progression.  I can remember writing stories in junior school and reading them to my friends.  So I imagine it was at that early stage that the seed was planted.  I’ve written on and off all my adult life but never really thought seriously about getting published until about ten years ago.   After completing my first full length novel I submitted to various publishers without success. Deciding to self-publish, when Tomorrow Comes became my first in a series of five connected books following the loves and lives of four girls growing up in the West Country in the 1960s.  This was followed by Summer Moved On and Watercolours in the Rain, two connected contemporary romances set in south Devon. Keeping to my mix of rural and small-town locations I set my next book on the north coast of Cornwall in the fictitious fishing port of Carrenporth.

Although as an independent author I enjoy being in control and setting my own pace, it’s always been a dream of mine to get a publishing deal.  In February 2018 after completing my Cornish novel, The Boys of Summer, I decided to submit it to Choc Lit. I heard back from them on 17th May 2018, the day before my birthday, with the offer of a contract.  I couldn’t have received a better birthday present!  The Boys of Summer, with its new title A Cornish Affair, has just been published under their Ruby Fiction imprint.

So what’s next?

Well, I’m currently writing another Cornish romance, this time set on the south coast.  And when that’s completed there are two other projects in the pipeline.  One is a sequel to the current book I’m writing, the other a completely new story.  My usual worry after I’ve finished a book is what comes next. On this occasion there are no worries, I’m spoilt for choice.

What do you read when you are not writing?

I have a very broad taste - favourites are romance, historical fiction, thrillers and contemporary fiction.   I do try to fit in as much reading as I can around my writing.  I like to review too, but that’s not always possible.  Memorable reads from this year are The Man I Fell in Love with and The Truth About You Me and Us by Kate Field, The Forgotten Village by Lorna Cook, The Mother in Law by Sally Hepworth and The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell.

In your writing life, what have been your most memorable moments?

One has to be lunch with author Lesley Pearse and the other that all important e-mail the day before my birthday last year.

Congratulations, Jo.  I hope it leads to bigger and better things!

A Cornish Affair

Even in your hometown, you can feel like an outsider …  

In the close-knit community of Carrenporth in Cornwall everyone knows everyone else’s business. Luke Carrack is only too aware of this. He’s been away for two years but nothing has changed – from the town gossips who can’t see past the scandal of his childhood, to the cold way he is treated by some of his so-called family.
The only person who seems to understand is local hotelier’s daughter Cat Trevelyan, although even Luke’s new friendship with her could set tongues wagging.
But Carrenporth is about to experience far bigger scandals than the return of Luke Carrack – and the secrets unearthed in the process will shake the sleepy seaside town to its core …

 Available on Amazon : Kobo : Nook: Google Play and Apple iBook Store


Jo Lambert lives on the eastern edge of Bath with her husband, one small grey feline called Mollie and a green MGB GT. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and the Society of Authors.  She has been writing since 2008. Her first five books, a set of linked romantic sagas following the lives of several families in West Somerset, was followed in 2015 by Summer Moved On, a contemporary romance set in South Devon. A sequel, Watercolours in th Rain followed in 2017,
 In June 2018 Jo signed to Choc Lit and her debut A Cornish Affair, set in North Cornwall, has just been published. Jo is currently working on another coastal romance, this time set in South Cornwall.

When she isn't writing she reads and reviews. She also has an active blog.  Jo loves travel, red wine and rock music and she often takes the odd photograph or two.

Where to find Jo

Website:     http://jolambertbooks.com
Blog:           http://jolambertwriter.blog
Twitter:     @jolambertwriter
Instagram: jolambertwriter185

Friday, June 7, 2019

What do you think of when you hear the word treasure?

In celebrating the cover-reveal of my new book Buried Treasure I'm prompted to reflect on what treasure means to us. 

I have two opposing elements in my personality, the realist and the dreamer. They were both present, even when young.  I was a prosaic, feet on the ground sort of child.  I wasn’t the cleverest, prettiest or most popular girl in the class.  In fact, to be entirely honest, I was awkward, a bit of a loner and an outsider. I wasn’t unhappy and there were advantages to being on the sidelines.  I was an observer.

The contradictory aspect to my make-up is that I believed in fairies, Santa Claus (until quite late on) and crocks of gold at the end of rainbows. I couldn’t help but dream how wonderful it would be if by chance I came upon a magic wand or a fairy godmother.  Then I would be transformed.  I would be the focus of admiration and envy.  How I longed to be envied.

The idea of discovering treasure was the most desirable thing I could possibly imagine. And where to find it was simple. All you needed was a magic lamp to transport you to Aladdin’s cave, that dark rocky place in a desert, illuminated just by the brilliance radiating from the gold and silver coins, the precious gems, the caskets and jewellery piled in breathtaking heaps on the cavern floor.  The only fly in the ointment - the rather disturbing presence of a giant, bare chested genii.

A little later, as my reading expanded, the fairy-tale image was superseded by the possibility of finding a pirates’ map.  A scroll of old manuscript on which a desert island was depicted, with a dotted trail leading from the sea’s edge to a red X marking the spot where the treasure chest had been buried.

The Count of Monte Cristo, was soon added to my list.  On holiday in Cornwall, I was always disappearing into caves in the hope that a treasure chest might still be tucked, undiscovered somewhere in the depths, behind a boulder.

When we were asked to produce a project in my final year at junior school, I decided upon archaeology, probably the nearest science to treasure-hunting that I could imagine. (My family also has a connection to the Mildenhall Treasure. The hoard of Roman silver tableware discovered – in his account - by my Uncle Sydney Ford).  I was very proud to win the project prize - a book token for W H Smiths – and I still have my project somewhere in the house.

My son, Tom, standing beside the Mildenhall Treasure 
My precis of the incredibly broad and complex subject ranged from cave paintings, through the Romans at Verulaneum, to Tutankhamen.  I still find it easy to imagine the visceral thrill that must have gripped Howard Carter and his team as they peered through that first hole punctured in the wall and saw the treasures inside King Tut’s tomb.
Forget the so-called Dark Ages in the history of the British Isles.  I'd probably not even heard of Celts and Anglo-Saxons, and Vikings were just those men with funny hats.

Archaeology remains a fascination, although I'm wise enough to know that looking for treasure (or indeed finding any) is not really the point. I have gone on digs and I have provided archaeological illustrations for several books, either written by, or contributed to by my son Thomas Williams. So, it was an obvious subject when I came to write my seventh book.

Although the title  accurately reflects a material element of my new book, it is also a bit of a tease.  BURIED TREASURE may largely be centred around archaeology, but the title is also a metaphor about the damage that burying the past can inflict on the present.  It is easier to suppress hurt and humiliation, and erect barriers against the world, but it is only by trusting again, and exposing your mistakes to the light, that you can rediscover the best of yourself.


isn't always what it seems

Their backgrounds could hardly be further apart, their expectations in life more different. And there is nothing in the first meeting between the conference planner and the university lecturer which suggests they should expect or even want to connect again. But they have more in common than they could ever have imagined.  Both have unresolved issues from the past which have marked them; both have an archaeological puzzle they want to solve. Their stories intertwine and they discover together that treasure isn’t always what it seems. 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Interview with Lynne McVernon

Thank you for inviting me to your Author Q and A, Lynne

Please give a thumbnail introduction of yourself.

The garden of my cottage

I live in Gloucestershire, with my husband.  My career was in advertising as an illustrator. I still do some illustration, these days for books.

I’ve been writing seriously since my son, Thomas Williams, was little. Now grown up he’s a successful author in his own right and, as his early influencer, I claim all the credit. 

I’m now published by Accent Press.
 Illustration from The Tale of King Harald - by Thomas Williams

What first inspired you to write? 

What or who!  It was my older sister. In her teenage years she was a Georgette Heyer fan and decided to write her own Regency Romance. I was impressed and decided to write my own ‘book’.

My sister and me at around the time we both began writing

What was your first piece of creative writing? How old were you?

At the time I was ten or thereabouts. Although I no longer have it, I can still remember my plot.   My understanding of the history of costume (something I later learnt about in art school) was unsurprisingly hazy. I was familiar with the Empire line through my sister’s enthusiasm for that period, but I thought it was a bit boring. I was far more attracted to the full-skirted Cinderella type frock. So, my own book was set in an unspecified ‘olden days’ when women wore bonnets and crinolines.

If I ever came up with a title, I’m afraid I don’t remember it, nor any of the names I gave my characters.
Accompanied by two other older ladies (possibly mother and a governess?) my sixteen-year-old heroine went on a boat excursion to visit an off-shore lighthouse. There must have been a boatman to pilot it, but I can no longer recall anything at all about him if indeed I gave him an identity.   While on the lighthouse a storm blew up and the ladies were trapped there by the turbulent seas.

My hero was the son of the lighthouse keeper, also sixteen. (Sixteen was the optimum age for romance in my young mind.) Despite warnings not to attempt this, he nobly went out at the height of the storm to make sure the ladies’ boat was well secured. Of course, he slipped on the wet rocks, and was brought back into the lighthouse only half conscious and seriously injured.  Or was he?

The poor chap lay, heroically broken, on the chaise longue (in a lighthouse???)  Instantly going into Florence Nightingale mode to tend to him, my heroine was probably mopping his fevered brow, when he opened his eyes and smiled in a rascally way. He’d been exaggerating his injuries in order to get up close and personal!

I’m afraid I can’t supply a resolution to this tale. Unable to conjure the flirtatious banter required, or any way of conveying a growing attachment between hero and heroine, my imagination and energy failed at this point. Bear in mind that up until this time, my understanding of romantic relationships was confined to the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals that I’d avidly devour whenever they came on the TV on weekend afternoons.

Which writers do you particularly admire?

I love crime fiction and psychological thrillers, but don’t care much for cosy crime. I adore the Kate Atkinson ‘Jackson Brodie’ series, Mark Billingham, Belinda Bauer and Sabine Durrant.  And the new (to me) author, Gillian McAllister.

The historical crime author I love is C J Sansom.  His Shardlake series, set in the Henry the Eighth’s reign and just after, is absolutely incomparable.   And I don’t usually like historical fiction!

For humour and a wonderfully intelligent and witty insights into life and relationships, I love David Nicholls.

In ‘Women’s Fictions’ I am not much of a romance reader, but I love those books about relationships that are a bit more edgy.  Authors such as Lisa Jewell, Marian Keyes and Jo Jo Moyes.  Jo Jo’s books, which are typically more challenging, is the author I most closely identify with.

What do you love about writing?

Creating a believable world, and the characters to inhabit it.  I still sometimes experience a moment of wonder, thinking: None of this existed before I dreamt it up! 

What do you hate about writing?

I am not a plotter.  I have to begin by developing a scenario in which my primary characters meet, then create a back-story for each of them - initially to explain why they are there - and then to begin to establish their motivation. What happens next is often a complete blank.  Insights into my characters, and inspiration about how their developing stories interact, only occur to me once I am embarked on the story.  It means I can’t write a rough draft quickly.  The initial draft progresses slowly, in fits and starts, with loads of editing and toing and froing back and forth through the script. There usually comes a point where I become more certain of where I am going and caught up in the wonder I talked about in the previous question. In other words, until that magic moment, beginning a new novel is like wading through treacle!

Describe your ‘portfolio’ of writing 

Though I have been writing for a long time I don’t have that many published works to my name.

JUST BEFORE DAWN and DESIRES and DREAMS were published by Love Stories. JBD was also published in a Polish version.  The rather strange cover pictures a close-up of a woman's face with what looks lie a cocktail umbrella stuck on her nose!

I independently self-published TORN, LIFE CLASS and FLY or FALL.
The latter three books were then republished by Accent Press.
All three have won a Chill with a Book award. http://www.chillwithabook.com/

I had a short story, Holiday Romance published in TRULY, MADLY, DEEPLY the anthology of short stories, by members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

What is your proudest achievement?

When my first book – JUST BEFORE DAWN - was published.  Though I’d continued to write as a teenager, I’d not taken the hobby seriously.  I was not clever or educated enough to aspire to be a real writer. I stopped when I went from school to art college. I only started writing again, this time with the serious intention of trying to find a publisher, in order to give myself an income  which would enable me to stay at home with my son.
But what started simply as an attempt to make a contribution to the family budget, morphed into an obsession.  This was JUST BEFORE DAWN, the first book I had ever finished. Within four months of completion I was in talks with Love Stories, a small new publisher whose ambition was to fill a niche for more unconventional and edgy romantic fiction than was supplied by Mills and Boon.  Love Stories also published my second book, DESIRES & DREAMS within a year. Sadly, Love Stories went to out of business unable to fight the big boys in the industry.

Looking back, I am even more proud, given how hard I found it to repeat the trick.

What is your current project?

My current project is set in the world of costume design.  I can’t say a lot about it, as I am only a quarter of the way through, and if you read my “What do you hate about writing?” answer, you will know that even I don’t quite know yet how it is going to pan out.  But my last book, which is waiting in the wings to be published, is BURIED TREASURE. I have had great fun designing the cover.

One of the images I played around with
To give you a flavour, I’ll first give a bit of background that led to the writing of the book.
I’ve been involved for many years in the organisation of biannual conferences held at Queens’ College, Cambridge. I also have personal experience of, and interest in, archaeology.  My great uncle Sydney Ford uncovered the hoard of silver Roman table-ware, known as the Mildenhall Treasure, on his Suffolk farm. It is one of the most famous UK discoveries housed in the British Museum.   My son, Thomas Williams is a curator at the British Museum and the author of Viking Britain (for which I also provided illustrations), and of the upcoming Viking London, published by William Collins.

Given all the above I decided it would be fun to weave together these threads and create the story that became........

it's not always what it seems 
Educating Rita meets Time Team, when the conference planner meets the university lecturer. Their backgrounds could hardly be further apart, their expectations in life more different, and, more importantly there is no wish or reason on either side that they should ever connect again. But they have more in common than they could ever have imagined.  Each have unresolved issues from the past which have marked them. Each has an archaeological puzzle they want to solve. They’re stories intertwine and they discover together that treasure isn’t always what it seems. 

The official cover reveal is happening on June 8.  Until then, watch this place.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Life Playlist

I was invited by Jo Lambert to write a piece choosing 5 songs that have been important to me in my life.  I enjoyed dong this so much I've decided to reblog it on my own site. Thank you Jo. 

When I first heard about Jo Lambert’s concept of a Life Playlist, I thought it a wonderful idea. Even after she kindly invited me to take part, I was still excited and pleased. Music thrills me. But when I began seriously to think about the songs……. Oh no! How could I not choose all of the R & B, Soul and Motown songs I loved, or the singer-song-writers going as far back as Bob Dylan, through Joni Mitchell…. Too many to list. At my first attempt I was overshooting my allowance by a multiple of ten.
In the end, the songs I have chosen aren’t necessarily my topmost favourites – if I could even decide which those are – but they are the punctuation to important times in my life.

Jess Conrad

I was a snooty child. I looked down on friends and classmates who were “in love” with pop singers. How stupid! I thought. We’re children! How can you be in love when you’re only eleven? Stars like Elvis, Cliff Richard, and Adam Faith left me unmoved. There were individual songs I liked, and I did think Jess Conrad was handsome (shame about the voice), but it was not until the Beatles – there arrival on the scene coinciding with my awakening hormones – that I ‘got it’.

It was a love affair that lasted for years and even now I watch old footage, and hear those songs with a great deal of nostalgia. But the song I choose from that era isn’t even one they penned themselves. I had never heard anything like it – the rawness, the pulse, the power, the passion – stirred the fourteen-year-old me in ways I’d never been stirred before.  And if you were around at the time this will bring back a smile. 
TWIST AND SHOUT, by the Beatles,  

Though my time at Art School is a very significant milestone in my life, and I look back on it with great affection, it was a relatively brief period. I emerged after two years still the gauche, introverted girl I’d been, living at home and without ever having had a proper boyfriend. Jan, my older sister, was always more out-going than me and had a far wider and more interesting social life.
We went to a party together. Even to my inexperienced eyes it turned out to be a rather staid affair, but the music being played was good. Both my sister and I love to dance. So, when two very flamboyant, loud and funny young men arrived at the party the whole atmosphere changed, and the girls they wanted to spend the evening with were the girls who danced. Shortly after this event Jan decided she wanted to leave home, taking me with her. She organized a flat that we could share with two girl-friends, and a new phase began.

The song that epitomized that life-changing party, and the very many subsequent parties during the next episode of my life as an independent young woman in London.

007 (Shanty Town) by Desmond Dekker.

Read into this choice what you will. Enough to say it was a very happy time of my life.

A few years later I was working happily in an advertising design studio, but was still very unlucky in love. Or perhaps I should say, too choosy. The men I wanted never wanted me and vice-versa. Jan and I were living as a twosome, by then.


I had never met Geoffrey before he turned up in our flat with a band of Jan’s friends and workmates after a leaving party. I immediately liked the look of him, but there was a drawback. Geoffrey was too perfect. A year older than me, he was good looking, clever, in a good job, and interested in art.

But my own social life had recently become more adventurous and I was enjoying myself. I was definitely not ready to settle down. We became friends. My parents loved him. Jan loved him. He was the best friend of her partner, Roger. It all looked too pre-ordained. I could see the road ahead of me running out of other options, so the rebel inside my head would not give in to it.
I was already a fan of 10CC – their discography up to that time is a list of witty, catchy, danceable songs and Dreadlock Holiday has to be a contender for my ‘favourites’ playlist. But around this time the band brought out an iconic song that was a complete change from what had gone before.


It immediately became our song – mine and Geoffrey’s – and, of course, I married him.
But it was not until I had our son, Tom, that life REALLY altered dramatically. I gave up work planning to go back to it later. I’d recently learnt to drive and we bought our first car. My husband had changed jobs. We moved house. And, when Tom was just three, I resurrected a teenage hobby. I began writing again, but this time with serious intent.

Tom and his Great Grand Nan

I was a young mother, was doing something I loved and, unbelievably, was soon to be published. I had my own car in which Tom and I were able to go places and do things. It could be as simple as driving to an out of town super-store, or to my art class where, he attended the creche, but this was an unbelievably exciting and fulfilling time in my life. There is a great soundtrack to this period, the mid-Eighties, which vividly revives those emotions. Think Live Aid! Because I can only pick one, I choose a favourite song of Tom’s.  It brings back those memories of driving around, just the two of us, our music blaring out from the car’s cassette player.

MAN EATER by Hall & Oates
Needless to say, Tom’s interpretation of the lyrics was entirely different from mine. His involves a lurking monster.

My fifth is a totally brilliant song that we used to play, over and over again, on the juke box of a beach bar in Greece. It always makes me want to leap up and dance. But its importance to me is because this was the first holiday I’d taken with my sister since we were single girls. Now that Tom was at University and we were free-agents, it seemed a really lovely idea to go away as a foursome – she and Roger, me and Geoff. We settled on Parga in NW Greece, or more specifically Volos Beach next door. For years I misremembered the name and thought this song was called ‘Or just forget about it’ by Santana.  I have found an utterly thrilling live performance which has had me bouncing around in my typing chair. The vocals are supplied by the amazing Rob Thomas.

SMOOTH by Santana

I very much wanted to bring this piece up to date with the song I’ve adored since the instant I heard it. The first time I actually saw the performer his appearance took me totally by surprise. I’d assumed he was black for one thing. Beards have never been my thing, but given my own son now sports the full Victorian, I have to put my prejudices aside. Even though I’m cheating - having run out of my allowance of song tracks - I have to mention

HUMAN by Rag'n'Bone man

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Memories of Noddy

    On Mothering Sunday......


Irene Kelsey aged sixteen 
In thinking about writing a short piece for Mothering Sunday, I immediately hit a snag. There is no way I can convey my mother - known by the family as Noddy - without considering her relationship with my father.  My understanding of their developing early relationship depends very much on the cache of letters I found after my father died. The letters begin just before he left for France, and continue throughout the war into 1946, when he was out in Germany with the British Army of the Rhine. 

Irene Kelsey's background was solid working class cockney going back a couple of generations, but her own parents had “stepped up in the world” from the East End to owning their own house in Orpington - a middle-class dormitory town in Kent. 

John Allan's character was undoubtedly influenced by his background, which was far more of an odd mixture than my mother's. Theatrical on his father’s side (Music Hall, Musical Comedy, and, going back a further generation, D'Oyley Carte), and quite privileged on his mother’s side. But his family deserves a blogpost of its own and I don't intend to go down that road today!     
L to R Irene & John, and my mother's sister, Joyce,
with a boyfriend of the time 

My parents met and became friends before war was declared. My father enlisted, falsifying his age, and was sent to France with the Expeditionary force.   He was sent back after a few months, following my indefatigable grandmother's repeated appeals to the War Office, thus luckily avoiding Dunkirk. For the next few years  he was stationed quite near to my mother's family home, but they didn't have telephones and communications were solely by letter and an occasional telegram.. 

They married in 1943

In the first letters, the communications are quite formal. It was apparent they didn't know each other very well.  My mother's evoke a shy girl, lacking in self-confidence. 

The letters from my father, however, portray an apparently secure and confident chap. It’s obvious he saw himself - as did she - as a sophisticated and cultivated Professor Higgins figure. His project to lift her up from her humble origins and educate her in music and in art, and in the ‘proper’ way of comporting herself in polite society.    
It was a bit of a con. His parents had fallen on hard times and his own family life was probably a good deal more hand-to-mouth than hers, but he was something of an autodidact and, having stayed on a couple more years at (art) school, he was definitely more educated and worldly than she was when they met. My dad talked the part and it's clear he impressed my sixteen year old mum. And he enjoyed the fact.  

En route to Cornwall in the 1950s

My mother was truthful, open, demonstrative, tolerant, left wing.  My father was more closed, and economical with the facts if they didn't suit him - though not exactly dishonest, he didn’t like to spoil a good story for the sake of few facts. But he was also funny, broadminded, left wing and generally good humoured. 

She was an enthusiastic rock-pooler

As their relationship developed my mother found him out. She was just as intelligent, deep thinking and sensitive as he was – if not more so – and increasingly stood up for herself.  It drove her mad when he pretended knowledge in subjects he had no real understanding of.   
In company with her mother and father, all "Having a fag"!

Noddy was a 'confronter' and, like dog with a bone, would shake a subject to death when she wanted resolution to a problem. But he was an 'avoider', whose method of handling stress was an explosive temper.  

And yet and yet.....  despite the fireworks, my childhood was very happy and secure. I loved them both dearly. And one of my mother's greatest delights was that we, her children, also loved each other, and enjoyed each other's company.    
Doing a turn at Christmas
Charades - Sultan's of Swing. 

Painting in Cornwall

My father was the acknowledged artist in the family - but his talent in lettering and design led him to a career in graphic design, rising to Creative Director of an ad' agency (that no longer exists).  He never painted or drew as a hobby until his retirement. 

My mother was creative, but her need to "make" did not really extend beyond sewing and making most of our clothes. But with the passing years, my mothers interest in art, fostered by my father's support, grew  obsessional. Particularly after they had moved to Shoreham Village in Kent, where she attended local classes and became an accomplished oil painter. 

Exhibition held in Shoreham Village Hall
It was a devastating shock and a huge loss to us all when she died far too young, a few days before her 64th birthday. After her death  our father organised an exhibition of her art, In support of Diabetes UK 
A gingerbread house made by my Mum
 for Tom's second Easter

Lying on the sofa with Tom for a cuddle

Thankfully she lived to meet her grandson, Tom, and to enjoy his first five years.  I am sad she didn't see me become a published author, but at least she knew I'd signed my first contract. and my book, 'Just Before Dawn' was published 8 months after she died.  

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Appeal of the Knave?

....or, what influenced me to become a writer? 

In my view writers are born not made. But I imagine there is always a spark, perhaps a book read at a particular moment, that gets under the skin and turns the vague "if only" into a need.

So many books captured my imagination when I was a young reader. But if I am really honest, the first book that inspired me to try to write romantic fiction was not Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre, or even one of Georgette Heyer’s sparkling Regency Romances, all of which I read and enjoyed at a ridiculously young age.

I must have been around 12 - a critical moment for girls, when hormones are on the rise. At that age I was actively looking for someone or something to feed the romantic impulse which was blossoming inside me. I fixated first on a boy who lived a few houses up from ours and who travelled on the same train as me in the mornings to go to school - him to Dulwich College, me to Bromley Girls Grammar. The crush lasted for a year or so, but I never even spoke to him.

Ethel and her older sister, Ella - known as Nettie and Sissie 
A more reliable source of sustenance was the dusty old hard back I found on the book shelves at home. ‘The Knave of Diamonds', by Ethel M Dell, had belonged to my grandmother (maybe even my great grandmother originally). Although she didn’t try to stop me, my mother did try to dissuade me me from reading this book. Looking back, I don’t think it was the subject matter or the sexist attitudes that worried her so much as the critical disdain then prevalent about the quality of Ethel's writing.

My Book Shelf
Prolific, and a huge bestseller, Ethel M Dell was (arguably) the first writer of romance, as we understand the term. Born in 1881, in Brixton (or Steatham - the accounts vary) she was shy and reclusive, and lived with her older sister, Ella. The two women even adopted a baby girl together. She had begun to write while very young and had many stories published in magazines. Most were stories of love and passion and, for those times, were considered very racy. Her cousins would count the number of times she used the words - passion, tremble, pant and thrill. By the time she met and married her own hero, Lieutenant-Colonel Gerald Tahourdin Savage, she was in her forties and very successful. He gave up his commission.

The Knave of Diamonds was her second novel - published in 1912. In this story Nap Errol, the hero, is of questionable lineage. As far as I recall, he is the product of a liaison between a “white” American and a “red” Native American. This flaw is physically represented by his one blue eye and one brown, and it also accounts for the fact that he’s a womaniser and a cad. He even refers to himself as 'a savage'.
The heroine, Lady Anne, is unhappily married to a drunken brute, considerably older than she is.  Nap falls for Lady Anne, and does all in his power to seduce her but, although she is miserable and quite obviously fancies Nap, she is bound by honour and duty to fend him off and stay true to her marital vows. I can’t recall precisely how we get from this dilemma to the happy ending, but in between are all the ingredients of a good melodrama - drunkenness, beatings, abduction, near rape and redemption. What I do recall is that Nap, when on the point of ravishment, was brought to his senses by her high-mindedness and purity of heart.  One could be forgiven for inferring that had he had a woman of less obvious rectitude in his clutches, he would not have stopped at a fierce embrace.  It goes without saying, however, that all ends well with the timely death of the horrid husband.

Even when I first read it I knew it was very old fashioned, with a strong sermonising moral tone, but I loved it. These days it would be considered shockingly un-PC. But I now believe the influence of this book was seminal in my early attempts to write romance. I can see in it so many of the ingredients that informed my own writing in those early teenage years. The bad-boy hero and the good-girl heroine - throbbing with unexpressed physical passion - who tames him.

Ethel M Dell was a trail-blazer, and I still admire the woman for her output and her imagination. But I do not recommend her books as a style guide. The emotions are over-wrought and melodramatic. The heroines are always tired and in need of lie-down, but the headaches and exhaustion they suffer is certainly not the result of hard, physical work. This was a time when well brought up ladies of a certain class - and all of EMD’s heroines are well brought up ladies of a certain class - had servants. What wears them out is the expenditure of so much breathless emotion.

 PB reprint - undated, but 1950s I guess
By the time I acquired the second book in my collection, ‘Charles Rex’- bought second-hand in Bantry, on a family holiday to Ireland when I was seventeen - I still enjoyed it immensely, but my critical faculties had sharpened considerably. Though still a teenager my appreciation was now a far more complex mix. I’m afraid that the bizarre plot, outlandish antics and overwrought (but never physically expressed) passions made me laugh.  I do not possess the complete canon, but I have something like 20 Ethel M Dell books in the place of honour on the shelf above my computer. Including that original copy of Knave of Diamonds I read when I was a girl. I love them all, but they are of their time, a window onto a world long gone, when a heroine's feelings of desire and longing were “unutterable”.