Where they live…

I have such a clear and vivid idea of where my stories take place but sometimes I forget to properly describe the locations, forgetting that my readers don’t know. In ‘Lucky Portbraddon’, I made a conscious effort to describe the settings and where my characters lived. The novel starts with the family, five cousins and their families, meeting at their grandmother’s big country home, Slake Hall. The first park of the story takes place her, and I try to weave descriptions into the narrative by words and phrases and odd sentences here and there, not one big chunk of writing.

however, when the story moves away from Slake Hall as the characters go home after Christmas, their homes need to be described. I tried not to have any other big chunks, so a short description was followed in the rest of the scene in a  more subtle way – I hope!

Slake House, where the grandmother actually lives:

Slake House, Grandma’s home, was not big or grand. It was rather sturdy, square and squat on the corner of a road on the outskirts of Easthope where the town became country. There was a terrace of smallish Edwardian villas beside it, but Slake House was white with a blue tiled roof overhanging the upstairs windows. It had a garden at the back, stretching down to a rather wild and overgrown hedge leaning over the wall.

Ismène’s flat:

Her flat was in the first of two blocks, built among a stand of trees, looking out over the sea. It was on the site of a Victorian hotel which had been pulled down among great controversy over its heritage status a dozen years ago. The flats on the north side looked out over the sea, the flats to the south looked towards the town over a small parking area.
Ismène was glad she lived among the trees. In the spring the ground was carpeted in a succession of flowers, snowdrops, aconites, primroses and bluebells… it was probably a crime that the block had been built in the bluebell wood but it was a lovely setting for those who lived there.

Nick’s house:

There was a place to park directly outside his little terraced house in Coldharbour Lane. As usual the bottle green velvet curtains of the front room were pulled to, even though it wasn’t yet dark; there had been a time when they seemed never to be closed even at night, and Ruby had often looked in the window, seen Nick watching TV, a pad on his knee as he drew something, and knocked on the glass to be let in.

Tyrone’s house:

Alex stepped into the tiny hall with its familiar smell of apricots; the walls were painted cream with a hint of some inoffensive colour, and there was a family joke that the house was getting smaller because it was so often redecorated that the paint was inches thick on the walls… The kitchen was almost clinical in its cleanliness, pure, someone had said… Carla was obsessive about cleaning and Alex and Nick secretly called it the OT, the operating theatre.

Noah’s house

He wandered into the little shower room converted from the old outside toilet. In keeping with the rest of the house it was simply decorated, plain tiles with a randomly wavy blue line running at waist height. There was a dimpled window and a Velux light so the room was bright and seemed bigger than it was. What a pleasant and restful house this was, a comfortable house…

Alex’s new house:

“12, Dark Fort Drive. Let’s go and look.”
The house was on its own, pre-war, stone clad and with a Dutch style roof. Virginia creeper covered part of it, with clematis twining through, pink blossoms nodding against the green. The high walls contained a pleasant lawned garden with shrubs and rose beds around the edge. There were double gates which could be closed to ensure privacy.
“Very pretty,” Alex commented as they walked up the drive lined by crab apple trees and silver birch.

If you haven’t yet read Lucky Portbraddon, here is a link:



A sad skating fatality

I came across this sad little entry in some information i was looking at about skating on the fens; it is the tragic accidental death of a young woman in 1903. her name was Dorothy Kate Newton, but I can find no other information about her.

I was looking at records of skating in the fens of East Anglia and Lincolnshire; it used to be that most winters the rivers and lodes would freeze, and latterly the sewage farms would deliberately flood to create a skating rink. I remember when I was a young child, maybe for or five, my dad skating on the river, towing me around by his scarf.

Here is the sad story of Miss Newton

17th January, 1903

A sad skating fatality occurred at Cowbit Wash, at a point known as Brotherhouse Bar, about six miles from Spalding. A young lady, her brother and a man to whom she was engaged started off towards Crowland, skating on the new river which runs through the Wash. The water here is very deep and the ice giving way, all three fell in. Every effort was made to rescue them but the girl was drowned and the two men were in imminent danger, one of them being taken from the water in an exhausted condition. The deceased was the daughter of the district manager of the Wombwell Main Colliery Company.

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River Cruise on Board M.C. Belle, September 5th & 6th,1937

My dad’s 1937 summer cruise of the River cam continues; he has some sad news, but he continues to have fun with his friends who join him and Sammy on the motor launch:


We rose at 6:30a.m. this morning and fished in the swell below the staunch. Don caught a little silver bream.

We learned from Mr Knight the Snick spaniel ‘Digger’ had been destroyed on Friday as it was suffering from liver trouble.


Boiled eggs were served up for breakfast with very hot coffee. Round about our boat are real enthusiastic fishermen who came yesterday about 8p.m. and who are still fishing now. The best part of it was that they didn’t have a touch all night! I think our rest in bed was a bit more sensible.


We managed to get up this morning at 8:15a.m. and we had finished breakfast and cleaned up by 9:30a.m. we went for a walk across the fields to Brands Farm to get some milk. We found that the milk was under contract for the Milk Marketing Board and so she had none to give us. we ordered a dozen eggs there, and two large loaves and were promised a pint and a half of milk next milking time.

We went into Bluntisham where after a while we managed to find a general store where you can buy anything but meat.

We returned for dinner and served up veal and ham roll with potatoes and baked beans followed by apricots.

Though we fished in the afternoon we did not do much good and so in the evening we decided to spin for pike with the spinners which Mr Knight kindly brought from Donald’s. Donald fixed up his tackle on the fly rod and I had my roach rod with a 4lb silk line. Anyway we both landed a pike about a pound a piece. We had to stop after a little while as the light had gone.

Fishing… maybe at the staunch, maybe on this holiday… who know now? An idyllic scene.

When we entered “The Boat” we found a big party, Mr and Mrs Knight and George, Mr and Mrs Bradshaw and Jim, Leslie Holt, Earnie King and Gus King. After “Earnie Ting” had proved himself at a game of darts Jim Bradshaw then fetched his piano accordion which he could play very skillfully and we began a sing song. We soon moved into the room with the piano and there we had fine solos, duets, trios, presented by many friends. Mrs Bradshaw played the old time music for the “old boys” while Jim gave us popular dance tunes fr “us young ‘uns.”

Sammy and Snick and Jim with his accordion

It was very late we had seen everyone off in their cars. George Knight and Jim Bradshaw slept in the hut and after seeing them safely in bed we soon found ourselves asleep in our own little boat.

P.S. Swim below the staunch at 11a.m.

Donald must have been very sad at the loss of his family pet Digger. The boys were certainly keen on fishing, with all the particular equipment they had to catch specific fish. What a charming picture of the customers of The Boat, sitting round singing and enjoying each other’s company whatever their age.

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Inklings and gimlets

I have a fascination with words, odd words, funny little words, words which seem to mean something but don’t and whose origin seems apparent but isn’t. here are some thoughts I had a while ago on inklings and gimlets – of course the Inklings were a literary club at Oxford with members including Tolkien and C.S. Lewis… but that’s another story…:

I thought it might be something to do with printing, from the early days maybe where there was an actual ink put on actual plates, and the people using it might get inky, or be called inklings… But no, I’m wrong.

Apparently the word is older than printing, and comes from Old English, from inca, meaning a suspicion or a doubt; inca progressed into Middle English and became a verb, inclen, which is to hint or to speak in an undertone. However, before Old English there was a root which went back much further and was much older,  to a Proto-Indo-European word yenǵ which meant illness; the word travelled forward in time to Proto-Germanic inkô, to ache or to regret… I had never thought of a connection between ache and regret, but doesn’t aching just describe how you feel when you really, really regret something, and almost physical not merely mental or emotional sensation? Inkling can also be compared to the ‘lost twin’ language of Old Frisian, to the word jinc  which means angered; English’s other cousin,  Old Norse, has the word ekki  which means pain or grief – and again, aren’t those two emotions so closely connected? Ekki has moved into modern Norwegian as ekkje which means lack and/or pity.

Now gimlet,  I’m not sure I exactly knew what it was or its origin, thinking it might be something sharp and pointed, possibly like a needle, and maybe it referred to the hole in the needle… but then I thought maybe I was thinking the eye of a needle and a gimlet eye and blurring the two.

Apparently a gimlet is a tool, a boring tool, with a shaft and a cross handle at one end and a pointed screw at the other, a little like a corkscrew as I understand it. A gimlet eye, therefore, is a piercing look, someone who is sharp-eyed or observant to the nth degree; this use of the word was first noted in the mid 1750’s. The actual word comes from Old French which transferred into Anglo-French, the original word being something like guimbelet or guibelet; this Old French came in turn from Old Dutch wimmelkijn which meant a little wimmel which was the word for an auger or drill;  an auger doesn’t just make a hole by being sharp and pointed, it has a screwing action to drill into something. Coincidentally, proabably from a similar origin, Middle English had a wimble.

Gimlet was used as a verb, meaning to piece something, but it could also be used in a nautical sense, to swivel an anchor round to get it in the right position – an extra ‘b’ was added in this sense and it became to gimblet – which is very like the French guimbelet. Another naval connection is the cocktail called the gimlet, made from gin or vodka and lime juice sweetened or not, and an optional splash of soda.

There is story that the cocktail was invented by a British naval officer, Surgeon Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Desmond Gimlette. Gimlette was born in 1857 and was certainly in the navy when cocktails became popular. Naval officers drank gin (I know this because my father-in-law was a naval officer; he drank gin, the ranks drank rum) Gimlette, apparently, thought it healthier to dilute gin with lime juice and soda water; there is actually no evidence at all that he did this, but on the other hand there is no evidence that he didn’t! Other sources mention that the cocktail was invented in 1928 and was so named because of its piercing quality and penetrating effect.


Martin Luther King… and my friend Barbara

When I was about eight or nine my school in Cambridge ‘twinned’ with one in Cambridge Maryland and my penfriend was a Barbara who was the same age as me. We kept writing for many years, but eventually our letters to each other stopped as so often happens with penfriends. I often thought of her over the years though, our friendship had a big impact on me. She was only a little girl but the awful things she described – people trying to stop her going to school, angry men shouting at her, difficulties in doing the ordinary things I did like going to the cinema… all because she was an African-American.

My parents were passionately anti-racist, even all those years ago, and the things we heard about happening to people of African heritage in the USA, and the way people of different ethnic groups were treated in South Africa under the apartheid regime appalled them. My grandparents had a pub in Cambridge, the Portland arms, and during the war American soldiers stationed nearby would come in. One day some African-Americans hesitantly entered and my grandmother smiled and said – as she would have said to any customer, ‘Good morning gentlemen, what can I get you to drink, sir?” They were amazed to be greeted and welcomed in this way and my grandfather refused to accept money because they were soldiers, fighting just as his own son (my dad) was fighting, in and for a foreign country. There were stories of fights in town during the war between the black and white American troops – the Cambridge lads always joined in too, on the side of the black soldiers!

So in the 1960’s Martin Luther King Jr was very much admired among me and my friends, and I often thought of my penfriend Barbara and that this man was such a hero in his actions in the Civil Rights Movement to end racial discrimination. I was shocked, appalled and devastated at the news of his assassination in 1968.

Martin Luther King was born on January 15th, but today, the 17th, as the third Monday in January is his observed birthday which has been a commemoration of him since 1983.

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Radwinter… 1-4, book 4

Over the last two weeks I have been sharing excerpts from my novels about Thomas Radwinter; he starts by tracing his own family history, and then later investigates other people’s stories, and not just genealogical ones, but mysteries in their everyday lives.

Each of the four novels starts with an introduction from Thomas which is amended in each novel as his personal life changes.

His story started in the autumn of 2013 but two years later his world had changed completely, for the better. However, in his search for his family roots Thomas has discovered some uncomfortable truths, and now wants to share them with his brothers:

Beyond Hope

Actually it was a bad idea… I decided I really ought to tell my brothers about what happened to Raddy and Sylvia… They had a right to know, and it was a burden on me to have that knowledge alone… also Kylie, who is never wrong, kept nagging me… not nagging me in a nagging way I don’t mean but… well… anyway…
I don’t think it would have happened the way it did, except Marcus sort of precipitated it… and somehow or another, I agreed to meet him on the anniversary of Sylvia’s birthday at the cemetery where her ashes are scattered.
It was the first time I’d been there since her funeral… um… seventeen years ago. I can’t really remember it, for many reasons. I guess the main one is that she was a spectacularly useless mother, a drunk, and one by one, us four boys left her – I was rescued by Marcus when I was in my teens and lived with him until I married for the first time.
I don’t remember John or Paul at her funeral, but I guess they must have been there… anyway, I’d agreed to meet Marcus at the cemetery, ‘…and you can tell me the story about her and Dad, the true story… it will be rather fitting, don’t you think?’ he said.
Fitting… maybe not, but I agreed, reverting in a way to how I was BK, Before Kylie, when I was childish and submissive…

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but Paul and John were there too. None of us knew there was a particular spot where her ashes had been put, but Marcus led us to it, a small plaque with her name on beneath an azalea full of blooms despite the vile weather. He was quite snappy with Paul that he’d never been here.
We hadn’t said anything very much apart from greetings and bro-hugs, but I thought how serious we all looked, not at all like our usual selves.
I don’t mean we’re always grinning like Cheshire cats or laughing our heads off, but Marcus these days always looks calmly benign, Paul looks positively smug, and John has a gentle, contented expression, reflecting his new found happiness. Like me he has recently married, his lovely Polish wife is Justyna, and he has a baby daughter, Julia.
Today, Marcus looked distant and severe as I remember him from my childhood, Paul looked grim and ready for anything, as if flexing his muscles under his black leather jacket, and John looked distracted and almost gloomy.
I guess it’s the memories of our different childhoods with Sylvia Mae Radwinter, née Magick… And today I have the horrible task of telling my boys the truth about her, the dreadful truth… It’s been a great burden, shared only with Kylie, and she reckons telling them will lift it from my mental shoulders… I deviate and try and be amused by ‘mental shoulders’.
“Thomas, I know you have something to tell us about Mum and Dad,” Marcus looked like a disapproving headmaster.
“I do,” I replied somewhat more forcefully than I meant to. I was nervous, I guess, and felt awkward holding an umbrella. Marcus had one too, Paul had a beany hat which must be soaked by now, and John had a hoody, darkened by the downpour. It would have been better to be indoors somewhere, sitting round a table with a cup of coffee or a pint of beer. “And I have to say that I’m not sure I should tell you… some things are better unsaid, unknown…”
Paul made a little impatient noise, John was staring at the ground and Marcus was looking at me with his icy blue eyes.
I took a deep breath and told them a story, a story of a young woman with a brutal husband who had three children, and then a beautiful daughter by another man. The other man was a distant cousin, and they had loved each other as long as they’d known each other.
The husband, a monster, not only abused his wife, but, I believed, abused the little girl… I don’t think he knew that another man was her father, I think he was just a vile rapist…
My brothers were staring at me now, staring as if they didn’t know me, had never seen me before… They had never seen me like this; this was my lawyer persona… cool, cold almost…
That little girl was Sylvia, Sylvia Mae…
“You can’t know that Thomas… it would have been before the war… eighty years ago…” Marcus protested. He had adored Sylvia as the three of us hadn’t… and he had always been her favourite. “You have no way of knowing that,” Marcus was icily disapproving and suddenly very, very angry. In the past I would have made a blustering, embarrassed and ashamed apology and immediately backed down.
“I do know it, Marcus, and I have evidence to support it.”
Paul glanced at me and moved his shoulders slightly, encouraging me to continue. John was staring fixedly at the rose bush, but I felt that his thoughts were elsewhere, and wherever they were it was not a happy place.
I didn’t rush to answer Marcus, how I have changed!
“On a December evening in 1956,” I began at last, “Sylvia was alone at the lodgings where she lived in Castair. She had somehow managed to leave home, leave the man who had abused her. I think the person who saved and liberated her was Raddy, your father Edward. He was an amazing young man and we should be very proud of him.”
Paul made a little noise, a little emotional coughing sound.
“Earlier that year Sylvia had been attacked in the street and when Raddy went to her defences he ended up with the head wound which left that scar across his forehead… he nearly died, and the brain damage he suffered affected his life… the headaches, the hangovers that weren’t hangovers…”
“No… God, no!” Paul exclaimed. He snatched the sodden beanie hat from his head and rubbed his hand over his short spiky silver hair. “No… Poor Dad…”
I continued; one evening the vile man who had brought Sylvia up went to her lodgings and forced his way in… I didn’t know exactly what happened but there was an incident… he was hit over the head with an iron umbrella stand and killed.
Fucking hell, Paul murmured, John was staring at me now, his blue Radwinter eyes like icy sapphires. Marcus was pale and his eyes were burning into me. I had a mental gulp but straightened my mental shoulders and continued.
Sylvia had run to her mother, Grace who had called Raddy. Leaving Sylvia safe, Grace and Raddy had gone back to the lodging house and arranged the body so it looked as if he had drunkenly fallen downstairs… the inquest’s verdict was exactly that.
Sylvia’s true father had taken her mother away to the Isle of Wight, the four of them agreeing to stay apart…
I looked at Marcus; he’d told me several months ago that he’d overheard a conversation between Sylvia and her mother brokenheartedly agreeing that they should keep away from each other… Marcus was only a child at the time but had been very disturbed by it…
Now he looked as if he’d seen a ghost….
“You mean mum killed her own father?” John spoke for the first time, staring at the azalea again.
“Yes, I do mean that.”
Apart for the sound of the rain pattering on the umbrellas and leaves of the plants, there was silence.
“I don’t believe it,” Marcus said at last.
“I do,” said Paul, and seemed to mean something else. He’d told me he hated her, he’d told me she used to hit John… not smack, not slap, but hit he’d said.
I looked at John now and he was staring at me. Suddenly he turned away and stood with his back to us.
“Fuck!” exclaimed Paul, too loudly for this place. I think Marcus would have reprimanded him except he looked in shock.
I suddenly felt really, really angry… I don’t know why… or maybe I did deep down…

If you would like to find out what happens to Thomas, here is a link to my book:


… and here is a link to my other e-books:


Donald (Snick) ready for a swim

River Cruise on Board M.C. Belle September 4th, 1937

My dad and his friend Sammy seemed to cruise from pub to pub along the River Cam in 1937; they were eighteen years old and no doubt having the time of their lives!

At 7:30 p.m. we made our way to Overstaunch which we reached at 8:15. We went to see Mr and Mrs Ellis at the “Boat” as we found it was now called. Breakfast was the next item on the menu and after this we went through the lock and moored above the staunch.

We enjoyed a perfect swim round the lock and superb dives into the deep clear water from the diving board just off the pier. Unfortunately Donald was doing some submarine exercises and cut his foot on  a broken bottle but it has been washed and bandaged and seems alright at the moment. At any rate, he is running around the boat swatting wasps at the moment.

Donald (Snick) ready for a swim

Dinner consists of lovely potatoes with a big lump of butter and a tin of peas followed by a tin of pineapple.

We have a perfect evening swim in front of the boat and after baiting up, we hope to get some real good fishing, nothing under 2lbs!!!

We fished all afternoon and in the evening until we could not see and then made our way to “The Boat” where Mr and Mrs Knight were. We had a good talk and after being given some lovely young spring onions we went aboard for supper, where we had cheese and onions.

Lovely potatoes with a big lump of butter