Got it covered – again

Gosh it has been difficult! Trying to get the right cover for my new e-book! I publish on Kindle Direct Publishing, and have to upload a cover – I can design it there on Amazon, but I’ve not tried so far… maybe next time.

For various tedious reasons, my usual way of designing didn’t work; fortunately a friend had recommended , and although I struggled a little to get exactly what I wanted, in the end I am quite pleased with it.

So here we are… coming soon, EARTHQUAKE,  the latest Thomas Radwinter novel, a genealogical mystery, a haunted hotel, and a cuckoo in the nest!

Here is a link to my already published books, including the previous four in the series:

Poetry month – proud pied April

Tomorrow is the 1st of April, April Fool’s Day and also the start of poetry month; this idea was started in the USA by the Academy of American Poets, a wonderful organisation with incredible on-line resources. It was started in 1999 and I properly started implementing the ideas in my classroom in 2002 when I began to teach in a school for young people who were out of mainstream education. Nearly all the students enjoyed poetry – writing it more than reading it, I do have to say! So the American Academy of Poets was an absolute gold-mine of ideas for me and my students and opened their eyes – and mine too, to a whole range of poetry not normally seen in schools. Unfortunately as the National Curriculum began to apply to us, we were restricted in our materials, and to my mind the curriculum became narrow and wasn’t able to embrace the different needs of different young people.

So on the eve of poetry month, here is something from the master of the sonnet:


From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leapt with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.

Tagine time again!

It’s nearly time for our annual family holiday; my four cousins and their families (now including grandchildren!) and our family go away each year for a holiday together. We have been all over the country – partly because we like to explore different places, but also because with the number of us we need to have a house which will properly accommodate us!

This year we are going to beautiful Herefordshire, but in previous years we have been to:

  • Derbyshire x 3
  • Kent x 2
  • Cumbria x 2
  • Yorkshire
  • Shropshire x 2
  • Devon
  • Forest of Dean

Now you might think what a mountain of catering and organising… well, we have done it so often in a way we are organised, and we have storage boxes full of all the equipment etc we might need, and for the actual feeding of the gang, each family cooks on a different night. We do plan in advance so we don’t all cook the same thing! On the first night we have sausages and mash or jacket potatoes, and on the last night we have roast hams and leftovers. We always have a roast dinner on Sunday, and there is always a meat pie at some point, usually a curry, often meatballs,  sometimes lasagne… Three or four years ago, our family made a lamb tagine which was voted meal of the week! This year we have been asked to make it again – hurrah! I love lamb in any fashion, but with those gorgeous Moroccan spices it’s just the best!

So here is my recipe for four hungry people:

For the tagine

  • 2 lbs lamb, in pieces, not minced
  • 1 ½ tbsp sweet (not smoked) paprika
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • stick of cinnamon
  • 1 ½ tbsp. turmeric (make sure it really has flavour, worth spending more on better quality for the taste as well as colour
  • 5 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 star anise
  • 3 bay leaves (if you really don’t like bay leaves and some people don’t, miss them out!
  • 2 ½ large onions – really finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli – finely chopped (or more if you like a bit of fire)
  • 25 g fresh ginger, peeled and mashed to a paste
  • 1 ½ pints of chicken or lamb stock (add more if you need)
  • Olive oil and salt

For the garnish:

  • 2 north African preserved lemons chopped very small (if you really don’t like the salty sour flavour, use lemon juice and fresh lemon zest, and a sprinkle of salt)
  • 5 soft prunes/figs/apricots – whichever you like or a mixture, finely chopped
  • a little olive oil and lemon juice
  • Toasted flaked almonds
  • Chopped coriander and mint (lots) – or any other herbs you really like, but the mint is very much the traditional flavour
  1. gently fry the onions garlic, ginger and chilli, then add the spices
  2. when they give off their aroma, add the meat and brown, still on quite a gentle heat
  3. add the stock – not necessarily all of it if it seems too much
  4. bring to a simmer then cook in a very slow oven or slow-cooker for 3-4 hours
  5. check occasionally to see it is not getting too dry and add more stock if necessary
  6. try to fish out as many of the whole spices as you can then add half of the garnish (see below)
  7. serve with the rest of the garnish, couscous/ rice, or any grain you like! A green salad is also nice.

The garnish:

  1. Mix the chopped lemons and fruit –  or add the lemon juice, zest and salt to the fruit and mix well
  2. add the mixed herbs and really combine well
  3. take half of this and stir into the tagine ten minutes before serving
  4. add  lemon juice and olive oil  if you want, sprinkle with the almonds,  and serve

And sky larks meet the sun

More from John Clare’s superb poem ‘The Shepherd’s Calendar, and the month of March… we only have a few more days, and the month is going out like a lamb!

And sky larks meet the sun

The driving boy glad when his steps can trace
The swelling edding as a resting place
Slings from his clotted shoes the dirt around
And feign woud rest him on the solid ground
And sings when he can meet the parting green
Of rushy balks that bend the lands between
While close behind em struts the nauntling crow
And daws whose heads seem powderd oer wi snow
To seek the worms-and rooks a noisey guest
That on the wind rockd elms prepares her nest
On the fresh furrow often drops to pull
The twitching roots and gathering sticks and wool
Neath trees whose dead twigs litter to the wind
And gaps where stray sheep left their coats behind
While ground larks on a sweeing clump of rushes
Or on the top twigs of the oddling bushes
Chirp their ‘cree creeing’ note that sounds of spring
And sky larks meet the sun wi flittering wing
Soon as the morning opes its brightning eye
Large clouds of sturnels blacken thro the sky

John Clare


I have to confess, right from the start, that I have never eaten junket. My dad found it repellent so we never had it at home – I don’t know whether my mum knew of it or liked it… it just never was mentioned, and we had so many other delicious things, all home-cooked, that although I read about it in old story books, I never came across it.

The old word, very old word comes originally from the late 1300’s where a jonket was a fish trap or basket; I remember seeing old eel traps in museums made out of rushes and willow, which I guess were jonkets. The origins of that word is even older, and goes back to Latin – probably I guess from the Normans. The distant origin meant rushes, and when rushes were made into baskets the word transferred, and then later It came to mean a meal carried in a basket, and then a feast or a banquet – and that today is another meaning of the word something fun, a trip or adventure, possibly with someone else paying!

So how did junket also come to mean the wobbly milk dessert – possibly because they were served on a ‘plate’ of rushes, like the Italian giuncata which is almost the same as junket, and is also served on rushes!

I wonder if I should try making junket? here is a recipe:

  • 1 pint milk
  • 1 tbsp castor sugar
  • 1 tsp rennet
  • 1 tbsp rum or brandy
  • nutmeg or cinammon, toasted almonds and or soft fruit to serve
  1. heat the milk very gently for about five minutes until blood temperature
  2. add sugar and stir to dissolve
  3. add the rennet and stir in carefully then add the rum or brandy
  4. pour into a serving dish and leave to set (not in the fridge)
  5. sprinkle surface with the nutmeg or cinnamon, the toasted almonds and serve with the soft fruit if wanted

A west country addition is to spread the surface of the junket with clotted cream and then the spice and nuts. Another variation, which sounds nice is to add the zest of a lemon or an orange to the milk while heating – I guess you could add other flavourings such as rose-water or vanilla!

I’m not sure why my dad didn’t like it, but I guess it was the texture, he had very particular reactions to the texture of food!


Radwinter, how it started and where it’s going!

I’m not sure when I first thought I might write about a family of brothers, but I know why I did. I’m forever saying about strangers in the pub, people in the street, faces on the TV, ‘gosh doesn’t s/he look just like so-and-so’; I thought I identified a similarity in the faces of a TV baker, a famous chef, and a bloke who works in our local bookshop; mostly it was something about the eyes, and the unnerving stare (although bookshop bloke has a friendly stare) The thought of writing about them came and went until I was out with my cousin and we were driving through Essex, not far from the pretty town of Saffron Walden when we saw a sign to the village of Radwinter – and I had my name!

This was some time ago, and over several years I played about with ideas and thoughts and then in 2013 began to write what became the first book in an unexpected series, about the Radwinter family. The narrator was a new arrival, a fourth brother who looked nothing like them, When I started writing, I little knew that there would be a whole series of books, and now I’m just doing the final editing of number 5!

  1. Radwinter – Thomas Radwinter goes in search of his family roots; using the internet he traces his family back to war-torn eastern Europe, and follows their journey from arriving in England in the 1830’s, across southern England. However, the more he finds out about his family’s past, the more he sees his own family, his brothers and his wife differently. His relationship with them changes… and he begins to understand his own character, and to find out as much about his present life as his family’s history.
  2. Magick – Encouraged by his success in discovering his Radwinter ancestors, Thomas Radwinter sets out to investigate his maternal line, starting with the mysterious and alcoholic Sylvia. His life has been somewhat dysfunctional, but now, gaining confidence through his new loving relationship with a beautiful young woman and her son, he is able to confront his own past.
    His genealogical searches take him into the tragic histories of his family and other ordinary people who lived and worked under the appalling conditions of the Victorian age. His skills in finding people from the past encourage a friend to beg him to try and trace her long-lost daughter, a woman, who, it seems does not want to be found. He accepts her request, little realising this will lead him into danger.
    Then the father of his partner’s son arrives; he’s come for his boy…
  3. Raddy and Syl – Thomas Radwinter continues his journey into his ancestor’s history; he has followed his paternal line of the Radwinters, “and what an interesting journey that was. I mean journey for me in a non-literal way, but it was an interesting journey for the Radwinters, literally”.
    He traced his maternal ancestry, the Magicks, “I followed that side of our family… and it led me to some very dark places I can tell you”.
    Now he has to find the history of those closest to him, “in my Radwinter story I found some amazing truths about myself. My childhood was difficult to say the least, and when I started to follow the Magick story, I had to begin to face my past, and confront some of my fears and nightmares. To finish my story I have to look at Sylvia Magick and her husband Edward Radwinter, the people who brought me up… sort of… I think of them now as Syl and Raddy, because it’s easier and less painful.”
    During his search Thomas also seeks a woman who vanished seemingly into thin air from a car stopped at a road junction, and he tries to solve the mystery of Badruddin, the Moroccan an elderly female client brought back from a cruise…
    Thomas little thinks that he may be risking his life to find these different truths.
  4. Beyond Hope – Beyond Hope is the fourth in the series of books following the life and genealogical investigations of Thomas Radwinter; in previous stories he has followed family’s history back several centuries and also found some uncomfortable and very painful truths in more recent times.
    In ‘Beyond Hope’, Thomas decides to share with his three brothers what he has learned about their mother and father… but telling the truth can be damaging, the truth can hurt, and as Thomas later reflects, “I know at first hand, a very, very painful first hand, how old secrets have the power to wound and how sometimes those dogs snoozing away should be left doing exactly that, sleeping dogs should sometimes just be let lie.”
    His revelations cause the close family ties to be tested which doesn’t help Thomas as he struggles with the other commissions he is being paid to undertake; he has been asked by a very elderly lady to find out who leaves lilies on a grave she visits, he has undertaken to investigate a mysterious lama who has a dangerous power over a hard-working teacher and devoted father, and he continues his search for the daughter of a friend who has become involved with a very dangerous man… And all the while his own little family has to face difficult decisions. The fall-out between Thomas and his brothers may only be healed if he can find out what happened to their father who disappeared thirty years ago.
  5. Earthquake – (Coming soon!) Thomas Radwinter’s life seems settled and content as he juggles working as a free-lance solicitor, genealogist and house husband. However a new arrival in the family puts extra pressure on him as he has to balance looking after them and earning some money. A commission from an elderly gentleman to investigate a mysterious death at a little boarding school in 1931 seems intriguing and harmless; a haunted hotel he’s asked to visit seems just to be over-imaginative guests and maybe a less than honest manager. However, during his investigations he has to confront a violent verger, an unbalanced conchologist and a very strange friend from the past… Thomas took on his commissions, little realising when he began his investigation that he would be putting his life and that of a friend in serious danger… “I tried to work out what was going on, and what to do, and what might happen to us – trying my hardest to keep my thoughts well away from a terminal conclusion to events… “

…and here is a link to my other books, Farholm, Flipside, Loving Judah, Lucky Portbraddon, Night Vision, The Double Act and The Stalking of Rosa Czekov


Pie in the Sky

I don’t watch much TV, but late at night, when I’ve finished my writing for the day, I often watch things on catch-up, or on the various channels which offer repeats of old series. At the moment I’m watching ‘Pie in the Sky’ which is a very gentle police procedural, starring Richard Griffiths as a detective who owns a restaurant – ‘Pie in the Sky’ of course! he wants to retire from the police on concentrate on cooking marvellous food, but he is forever being drawn back to solve cases, which he does in the eccentric way TV cops do!

It was first broadcast from 1994-97, and ran for five series of a total of forty episodes. As well as Griffiths as Henry Crabbe, there were other regulars as you might imagine, Maggie Steed as his wife, Malcolm Sinclair as the Assistant Chief Constable, Bella Enahoro as Crabbe’s sergeant, Nick Raggett as Leon Henderson a supplier and odd job man, Ashley Russell as the waiter, Samantha Janus as the waitress and Joe Duttine as the other chef. If you look down the list of other actors who appeared over the years there is just about every famous TV name of the 1990’s and 2000’s.

It is as I said, a very gentle drama, not much violence and any there is toned down compared to the gory stuff shown in similar shows now. The phrase pie in the sky, which means unrealistic desires or ambitions, came from the early part of the twentieth century, apparently made up by a song writer and radical Joe Hill’s in his song The Preacher and the Slave. However it only came into general use thirty or so years later.