Sanctuary from the Trenches of WWI

Enjoyed a fascinating day at Dunham Massey in Cheshire which was transformed into Stamford Military Hospital during Word War I. By the time it was closed in Febuary 1919, 282 soldiers had been treated there. Lady Stamford ran the hospital from her parlour and the nurse in charge was Sister Catherine Bennett.

For this centenary year the hospital ward has been recreated based on original records from Dunham Massey's archives. You can see the original bed from which the others have been copied, read the medical notes and letters from the soldiers, and learn all about their personal stories. Yes, those are real people in the beds, a couple of actors playing the parts as ghosts from the past.

You can also see the room where they played chess as these two young men did while we were there, and also where the nurses escaped for a little break. You can even see a set up of the operating theatre.


The house itself is beautiful, as are the grounds.

Most definitely worth a visit.


Ironbridge Museum

I enjoyed a wonderful day at the Victorian Town, Blists Hill, Ironbridge on Friday. Fascinating place to visit. I do wish I'd had more time to explore but it was lovely to meet with readers and have time to chat. Here I am dressed as a parlourmaid. (I know my place)

 I shared a table with Jean Fullerton, dressed as a nurse with her World War II sagas.

Some of the other authors present whose novels include alternative history, regency romances and historical sagas:

Jenny Barden

Juliette Greenwood as a suffragette

Annie Burrow as a Regency lady

Kate Johnson

Alison Morton

 Here's the group of Romantic Novelists attending the fair:

And a passing steam engine.


Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in Regency England.

The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane acquired its name as when first built in 1662, it was looked upon as being part of the Royal Household. The troupe wore royal livery in scarlet and gold, still worn by royal footmen to this day. It was quite small, originally, seating no more than 700 people and in 1672 was destroyed by the first of several fires.

David Garrick (1717-1779), actor, manager and playwright. He preferred a more natural form of speaking rather than declaiming, as had been the fashion for some time. His own skills as an actor greatly influenced the art of acting, as he brought in a more natural approach, perhaps what we would call method acting, and generally raising standards, not least by insisting on regular and intense rehearsals.

The young bucks in the pit carried whistles to blow and upset any actor they did not care for. Neither did they hesitate to hiss and jeer and pelt actors with food, whether a bread roll, orange or a chewed wad of tobacco. They even threw lighted candles. This became such a threat that Garrick finally banished the audience from the stage, which also led to an improvement in stage furniture and sets. He also greatly improved the lightning which had chiefly depended upon chandeliers and candle-footlights.

The celebrated playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan followed Garrick as proprietor in 1777, and proceeded to stage many of his own plays, his most famous being The School for Scandal, as well as popular ones of the day. Sheridan was tall and thin with a rigid posture, a charming man, if something of a contradiction, of Irish stock, raised mainly by servants after his parents returned to England. He was generally attired in a brightly coloured costume of blue coat and red waistcoat. But he also had a passion for politics and spent less and less time involved with the theatre.

Theatre was extremely popular with the beau monde, who loved nothing more than to be seen, as much as they liked to see the play. The theatre was more often than not packed to the doors, so crowded that some people would be squashed almost to suffocation in the lower passages that led to the pit. Hats would be lost, shoes drop off as toes were trodden on, and several ladies suffered from torn gowns. Drury Lane was the place where the fashionable liked to come to see the great Mrs Siddons. They were content to sit and enjoy the tragedy, but Dora Jordan was famous for comedy, so whether the audience could be persuaded to remain in their seats long enough to view the farce after it, was the challenge she faced.

By 1791 the building had fallen into such a bad state of decay that rather than go through a complex refurbishment, it was decided to build another theatre in its place. Tragically, fifteen years later the theatre burned down for the second time! But it was again rebuilt, this time designed by Benjamin Wyatt on the elegant neo-classical model of the Grand Theatre of Bordeaux, it reopened in 1812.

Sadly, Dora was running out of time by then as she died in France on 13 July 1816, possibly of liver disease. You can find out more about eighteenth century theatre in my two recent novels about royal mistresses who were also actresses. Dorothea Jordan, known as Dora, the most famous comedic actress of her day, and Mary Robinson who became more famous for her poetry and writing in the end, which was where her real passion lay.

I loved writing these stories albeit it was sometimes hard to stick so closely to the truth when they both suffered such appalling treatment at the hands of others. I wanted them to fight back, to enjoy a happy-ever-after ending. But changing their character or events would not have been right. In an biographical historical it was my job to show them as they really were.


Novelista's Meeting

Attended a fascinating meeting with the Novelistas on Friday, which meet at a venue in North Wales. They are a wonderfully supportive and lively bunch of writers, including Anne Bennett, Valerie Anne-Baglietto, Louise Marley, Annie Burrows, June Francis, among others, and of course Trisha Ashley who was celebrating the launch of her new book, Every Woman for Herself, with a glass of champagne. Writers work hard so deserve to party.

I pop over to see the group only occasionally when in the UK during the summer, but they always make me welcome and I love taking a day off from the keyboard to talk to writers. We enjoyed a lovely lunch, did a round robin hearing everyone’s news, or progress with their latest work-in-progress. I naturally told them mine about my latest book, The Amber Keeper, being taken up by Amazon Publishing. Then we talked about the difference between being traditionally and self-published, agreeing how important an editor was.

After that we all enjoyed a slice of Trisha’s delicious home made fruit cake and she signed her book for us. (There are always recipes in the back of her books). She will also be in the cafe of London’s Waterstone's Piccadily, from twelve till two on Wednesday 21st May.


Woollen Woods

If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise.

I enjoyed a fascinating visit to Sizergh Castle near Kendal, Cumbria, yesterday where they are holding an unusual art exhibition for the summer called Woollen Woods. 

It’s being held in the Knoll just by the lake where the trees are now home to many creatures stitched in felt, crocheted or knitted.

Could these be fairies I wonder?


You'll find insects, flowers, bats, mice, birds, butterflies, caterpillars, hedgehogs and even a kingfisher. 

Absolutely delightful, and great fun for visiting children and folk of all ages.

Local schools and organisations have joined in as well as people from across the world.

This owl is from Levens Brownies celebrating 100 years.


The sleepy flamingo and jolly hedgehog are fun too.

Yes, the daffodils are knitted too.

The project is organised by Eden Arts, and if you wish to take part, all you have to do is visit http://www.canopyart.co.uk to download a pattern and entry form and start knitting or sewing. 

Have fun, and do go down to the woods at Sizergh to see them.


The London Book Fair

The London Book Fair was bustling with activity, as usual. Deals were being done all around, which was fascinating to watch, and plenty of evidence of digital and self-publishing. The panels and talks in the Author’s HQ were interesting but attracted larger audiences than could be comfortably accommodated. Definitely more seating needed here. It was much better in the Thames Room upstairs.

The best talk of the Fair in my humble opinion was that given by Barbara Freethy and Bella Andre. What an inspiration those two ladies are. Million Plus bestsellers, and all by their own self-published hands. 

The exciting part for me was being taken to lunch by my new editor. My new book, The Amber Keeper’s Daughter, has been bought by Amazon Publishing and is to be published in their Lake Union Imprint. What a thrill! I’m now looking forward to doing the edits, and I’m sure I shall enjoy working with them. Watch out for more news on this in the coming months.


The Hook of the Novel

A STRONG HOOK is vital as you have 30 seconds to catch the interest of a reader. You start as near to the problem as you can, with action and dialogue - not a long description of the place or the weather. Save the back story and explanations for later.

1. WHAT is the premise of your novel, including the problem your character will have to face? Preferably in one sentence. It may start out fairly trite or cliché, but you make it stronger by adding character motivation, problems and complications, and all the other nuts and bolts of novel writing. Most importantly, you add yourself. You can extend this into the blurb which you can check from time to time to make sure you are still on target.

2. WHO is your main POV character? Choose the person with most to lose. WHY is she is in this situation with this problem? We’re presenting the issue she faces here, not the solution, and certainly not all the back story. That will come out little by little as the story progresses. The best novels are character driven. Choose a narrator based on who is changed most by the story’s events. Powerful points of view from characters we care about. In fiction they need to be larger than life. Interesting, engaging, feisty, highly moral, or in the case of the antagonist strongly immoral. Yet with human flaws. They need to be deep and multi-layered, with strong motivation. Find something about them or their life which creates inner conflict. Look for the unusual, the unexpected or memorable.

3. WHERE and WHEN is the novel set? A sense of time and place is an intrinsic part of the book, as important as character. Write about what you know or know about what you write. Research only enough to get started, to give an overview of the period or place, and deal with specifics later.
You don’t know what you will need until you start writing. Story must come first.

WHAT, WHO, WHY, WHERE, WHEN - All of this should be evident in the first page or two, if not the first paragraph.

Here is the first page of Luckpenny Land, first in the Luckpenny Series and still a bestseller.

‘Anyone would think I was asking to go on the streets.’ The stinging slap sent the honey gold hair swirling about her face, enveloping her burning cheeks in a wash of colour that for a brief moment lit up the shabby kitchen.

Any ordinary face would have been hardened and cheapened by the cold light of the single Tilly lamp, but not this one. The girl’s face was arresting, alive with the urgency of her request. There was strength in the way she firmed the wide mouth, resolution in the sweeping arch of the brow, in the smoke grey of the eyes fringed by a crescent of dark lashes above cheek bones that would hold their beauty long after time had wrought its damage.

But there was no one to be captivated by Meg Turner’s youthful beauty here, certainly not her uncompromising father. Even her two brothers had withdrawn from the scene to a safer distance the moment supper was over, Dan to check the flock for any new lambs, Charlie reluctantly to clean out the sheds.

The remnants of the kitchen fire fell together with a small hushing noise. There was no other sound in the room, save for that of the rain that beat against the window. Outside, great waves of it washed down the hillsides from the high mountain tops, gushed into the overfilled beck and pelted onwards to the River Kent and the distant sea. They were used to rain in Lakeland and paid little heed to it, and the glowering skies seemed eminently suited to her mood. Meg wished she was out in it, letting it wash over her face and limbs, cleansing the pain and frustration from her as it so often did. The wind was rising, she could hear it whining in the great ash trees that lined the track to the farm and gave the name Ashlea to the place that had been her home for all of her nineteen years.

Inconsequentially, she remembered leaving a blanket loose on the line. She’d have to search for it in the bottom field come morning. Nothing that wasn’t battened down would survive the helm wind that scoured these high fells. Though the wind could not penetrate the walls of the farmhouse which were four feet thick, solid enough to withstand the worst mountain weather, and keep her within, like a prisoner.

Meg began to clear the table with jerky, angry movements, swallowing the bitter tears of disappointment that threatened to choke her. She supposed the slap was no more than she deserved. She shouldn’t have dared to repeat the rebellious statement she’d made to Dan earlier when he had caught her pulling pints at the Cock and Feathers.

‘Get your coat on,’ he’d bluntly told her. ‘You’re coming home with me.’

She hadn’t been able to believe her bad luck, having deliberately chosen the inn because it was far from the market area of town where her father conducted his business. Not for one moment had she considered the possibility of her own brother choosing to drink there. But losing her temper would get her nowhere. Hadn’t she discovered so a dozen times? Nevertheless, since it had taken her weeks to find this job, she wasn’t for giving in easily.