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Why Mysteries? Why Winchester? And why, for that matter, a blog at all?

I love mystery stories.  I also love history and historical novels, so it’s no surprise I now write Victorian mysteries.  Why Winchester? It’s a lovely place, the ancient capital of King Alfred’s Wessex – it’s a perfect setting for my books.

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I thought the paperback edition of The Art of Murder would be the next excitement but I was wrong. My new publisher, Endeavour Press, has it on offer as a FREEBIE from first thing today, Monday, 24th to Friday, 29th October. Bargain!the-art-of-murder

I’m not used to this, my previous publisher didn’t go in for this kind of thing and when the first book Scuba Dancing came out eBooks hadn’t arrived so you didn’t get free promotions. It’s all new and slightly terrifying, so much so that Liv (younger daughter) has now set me up on Twitter @nicolasladeuk and I have practically no idea what to do with it. Time will tell.

Anyway, the publisher has asked that I plug the free download all over social media so I’m doing my best, even though – as a nicely brought-up Englishwoman of a certain age I’m cringing to think of shouting: Download my Book. Now! (The saving grace is that as it’s a freebie it’s not actually touting for a sale, so slightly less pushy.)

The book features a couple of Winchester’s most historic places. This is Wolvesey Castle, photo from English Heritage’s website. A fascinating place, much loved by Harriet!

WOLVESEY: OLD BISHOPS PALACE Aerial view 26506_021

WOLVESEY: OLD BISHOPS PALACE Aerial view 26506_021

The other place that gets a mention – and a visit by Harriet and Sam – is the tiny church of St. Swithun-upon-Kingsgate. Not to be missed on a visit to Winchester.stswithuns

Do download the book while it’s free (24th-29th October) and if you like it, please tell your friends and maybe add a review to the lovely ones it’s collecting so far:

‘I spent a pleasant rainy Sunday morning in bed being chilled by the absolutely nasty – and yet so realistic – village characters Ms Slade populates her books with. Cousins Harriet and Sam are delightful amateur sleuths, however, the well drawn characters who share a weekend art school with them are not so nice. Secrets and motives abound and I didn’t figure out “whodunit” before the denouement. If you enjoy classic British crime fiction the Harriet Quigley books will be sure to provide you with an enjoyable read.’

‘If you love a good murder mystery with an Agatha Christie feel, you’ll love this book.’

 ‘If you like the type of mystery that has a group that come together at a venue, including a killer and lots of suspects, you will enjoy this book. It is a cosy mystery, but not silly with it. I did enjoy it, and read it through quickly as I really wanted to see what was happening. It was a little different and the characters certainly made you feel some emotion.’ 

 ‘I’ve always loved this style of writing. Fast flowing with many different characters. Each one with a different tale to add to the growing mystery. If you are like minded with a need to be creative you may think twice about joining an art group, after reading this brilliant book. It is one thing to wield a paint brush, while being creative on an art weekend, but to be plotting murder, well that’s a masterpiece.’

‘Having read the previous Harriet Quigley Mystery, I had high expectations of this novel. All I can say is that they were surpassed, I love the characters of Harriet and Sam, they work well together and have a believable, non-romantic, relationship. Drawn into the story and wanting to know ‘whodunit’ I read this in one sitting – which meant I didn’t put the book down until the early morning! Still my lack sleep was well worth it and I cannot recommend this author highly enough.’

In other news, I’m recovering from the accident I described in my last post. Walking without crutches unless I’m out somewhere crowded, in which case I like to have a crutch handy – it makes people give me a wide berth and hopefully they won’t knock me over! The concussion is a lot better and I’m reading again, which is a relief!a 


The Art of Murder had only been out for a couple of weeks, and I was gearing up to do more promotion, when I managed to fall off a patio and end up in hospital for ten days with concussion and an emergency hip replacement (of what had been a perfectly good hip!) people-on-crutches-clipart-walking-crutches-vector-yh9hzq-clipart

(That’s a free clip art picture – it says! hope that’s right)

Scroll forward a couple of weeks and I’m coming along, walking – mostly with crutches but sometimes without (if there’s someone nearby for reassurance). The bang on the head seems ok and the hospital let me out after daily ‘obs’ so they were happy. It’s just slowly, slowly, from now on for a couple of months.

While in hospital I had family and friends a bit worried because not only was I refusing chocolate (!) but I couldn’t be bothered to read. Both serious symptoms in my case. What I didn’t realise was that the concussion was playing tricks and yes, the hospital food wasn’t brilliant, but it probably wasn’t dowsed in sugar as I insisted it was. Not sure how that explains turning my nose up at chocolate though!

After a week I began to think I might feel like reading and felt a slight tingle – bit like Matthew in Downton Abbey when he realised his paralysis wasn’t permanent. My tingle led me to reread The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelley which was as lovely as I remembered. After that I reread the final Discworld novel, The Shepherd’s Crown, and now I’m pottering happily along, rereading old friends, though not tackling anything new.

I need to get back to promoting The Art of Murder soon and will be looking for any blogger who loves English cosy mysteries and who might like to read mine – set in Winchester and with lots of history and a few messy, murderous bits!

The paperback will be the next excitement and then I hope I’ll be back to normal.

If anyone reads Harriet Quigley’s third adventure and fancies putting a review up on Amazon, that would be lovely – but I really just hope people will enjoy it.  Had some nice reviews so far, including this short and sweet one: If you love a good murder mystery with an Agatha Christie feel, you’ll love this book.’the-art-of-murder





the-art-of-murderFinally, after my previous publisher ceased trading, here we are again and this time with Endeavour Press. The Art of Murder is the third book to feature retired headmistress, Harriet Quigley, and her faithful, if long-suffering, clergyman cousin, Sam Hathaway. Set in Hampshire, as are all my books, this rather messy murder takes place in the heart of the city of Winchester and there’s plenty of local history and nods to real historic sites.

‘A weekend art course at an upmarket B&B near Winchester’s historic cathedral is bound to be relaxing and fun… 

But not when man-crazy Linzi Bray, Chairman of the local art group, is in charge and the house is full of people who loathe her.
Accidents start to happen – in a ruined castle, in a fast-flowing river, in a peaceful garden.
There’s a stalker – or is there?
And there are far too many dead insects, as well as a vandalised Porsche and a pond full of blood.

It’s not the first time former headmistress, Harriet Quigley, and her cousin, the Reverend Sam Hathaway, have been embroiled in a mystery, but this time they’re baffled at the “spiteful game” that seems to be being played.

And then somebody else dies and the games all stop.’

‘The Art of Murder is perfect for avid crime mystery fans – with festering secrets, potential motives and the opportunity for sweet – or spiteful – revenge.’
It’s out as an e-book now and will be followed soon by a paperback which will be fun – haven’t had one of those for a while!


It’s only £2.99, so do try it! And if you like it, tell your friends – any Amazon reviews will be gratefully received.



A Tale of a Toad and a Train (& Richard Armitage)

richard armitage1(We’ll get to him in a minute but for the time being he’s just there as decoration.)

We have a model railway in our garden. ‘Doesn’t everybody?’ I (probably) don’t hear you cry. Not only that, we also have a model village.

I blame the Resident Engineer’s father who once concocted a plan with his Best Man to buy adjacent semi-detached houses so they could knock the attics through and have a massive railway layout. Inevitably, his son went in for the full Hornby but when he reached sixteen he sold his entire collection; he thinks he bought a tennis racquet with the proceeds.

Over the years the Engineer’s gradually bought new engines and track and so on, and tried, but failed, to get our children and grandchildren, (and me), enthusiastic about it. When we moved to Hampshire he decided to build a new layout and very few people believed me when I told them we had a twelve foot stretch of railway track running the length of our bedroom. Nor did they believe me when I said the track went through a hole in the wall, followed a loop in the attic above the garage, and returned to our room. Only those who know him well had no trouble in accepting this, particularly when I mentioned that in winter the hole in the wall was blocked up with a pair of socks.20160730_110847

After a few years I went on strike and insisted that a railway in the bedroom wasn’t acceptable so it was moved to the attic and abandoned until he had the idea of building a garden railway. The track now circles round the conservatory, crosses the (very small) pond via a purpose-built viaduct, follows the line of the path until it reaches the rockery which it meanders round. A recent development sees the track crossing the paving stones to join a new stretch that will eventually climb up another viaduct (no water under this one) and into the shed through a train/cat flap. When inside the shed, only the Engineer knows what mysteries will be performed. Lest anyone thinks I just poke fun at him and his trains, I can tell you that the track is 0-16.5 and the whole is a model narrow gauge railway. See? I do take in some of it.

As for the village, that’s my preserve – it started as a joke and is composed of more-or-less 0 gauge-sized buildings though that’s not a requirement. My criteria for purchasing are less exacting – most of the buildings started life as ceramic biscuit barrels in M&S and other stores, along with some stoneware buildings, the first of which was made by Duncan (our eldest) in Pottery class at school. Almost all of the buildings have come from charity shops and the animals that inhabit the village must have been genetically modified because a lot of them are nearly as tall as the buildings. (The Engineer is too laid back to be obsessive about it all and I still think it’s funny.) Since an oak tree landed on the village in an April storm 20160328_081841there’s been some renovation and rebuilding and the village is now sitting comfortably on its tasteful Astroturf village green. At Christmas, if I remember, there are lights strung round but so far I’ve resisted the suggestion from a daughter that we have a tape of carol singers playing, speeded up to suit the Borrower-sized villagers. (Not that we have any left, not since the nativity scene was ruined and Baby Jesus was washed away in a sudden downfall.)20160730_110911

Anyway, there’s still the toad. More complicated electronics are being invented/installed/cursed so the inside of the station is full of wires and plugs and things. It was also full of ants until recently; they colonised it and filled it with their recycled earth, which is when the toad moved in. We’ve always had at least one toad in the garden so I was delighted when it turned out he was living in the station until the Engineer lifted the building up and found one stuck toad! The innards (of the electronics, not the toad) had to be dismantled and one mildly irritated toad decanted into the crocosmia by the pond. We haven’t seen him lately so I suspect he’s still sulking under a stone somewhere. Pic: Front and back views – stuck toad.

20160718_141643The railway was reopened a year or so ago – after years of neglect – when the Engineer’s birthday happened to fall on August Bank Holiday Sunday. (Can you believe that when I met him he had no idea his birthday was the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth? Unlike Richard Amitage who has the same birthday and knows all about it because he was named after Richard III.) And here he is again – just because – sometimes it’s nice to have wall-to-wall Richard Armitage.

richard armitage1

Some Henges and a New Book

Yesterday we had a day out to Stonehenge, about 50 miles from here. The first time I visited was when I was about eight and on a school outing and we ate our sandwiches sitting on the stones lying around on the ground. The next time was not long before the Resident Engineer and I got married and you could still get up close to the stones. Not this time; not since the late 70s when it became clear that the ancient site couldn’t cope with the increased visitor numbers.

It’s nicely done though; the visitor centre works well and as members of the National Trust – and English Heritage – our cards let us through quickly, though it was a good job we were there quite early. A Saturday in July is probably not the most intelligent time to visit and we were glad to be leaving at midday when we saw the crowds and the fleets of coaches. Still, a mile and a half walk from the centre to the stones was worth it (shuttle bus back); peaceful apart from birdsong, lots of wild flowers and bees and butterflies – none of which we could identify. The stones are fenced off, but not officiously so, and you get an amazing view as you wander round, along with a commentary on your headphones.20160709_114638

(I could have bought a tapestry cushion in the shop but thought better of it, at £50, see above)

As we went in search of a pub lunch elsewhere – the visitor centre was extremely busy – we came across a sign to Woodhenge, less well-known than its stone neighbour. (It’s  bigger than it looks in my photo)20160709_144909

‘Woodhenge is an atmospheric Neolithic site close to Stonehenge. Probably built about 2300 BC, it was originally believed to be the remains of a large burial mound, surrounded by a bank and ditch almost completely destroyed by ploughing. Aerial photography (in the 1920s) detected rings of dark spots in a crop of wheat, and today concrete markers replace the six concentric rings of timber posts which are believed to have once supported a ring-shaped building. There is evidence that it was in use around 1800 BC.  It is possible that the banks and ditches were used for defensive purposes in addition to its ceremonial function.’ (English Heritage)

Unlike most things, it’s free to visit and – surrounded by fields and trees – it’s a peaceful, yet atmospheric spot. Well worth a visit.

And now for the very nice news. The third book in my contemporary cosy mystery series, starring Harriet Quigley, Blood on the Paintbrush, is to be published by Endeavour Press. Not sure when but sometime within the next twelve months, according to the contract! As I blogged earlier, I was wondering what to do with this book with the departure of Robert Hale Ltd, so it’s great to be able to say it’ll be out as an ebook first, followed shortly by a paperback. This will be a welcome novelty after all those hardbacks which are beautifully-made but extremely difficult to sell!

Blood on the Paintbrush: A weekend art course at an upmarket B&B near Winchester’s historic cathedral is bound to be relaxing and fun. Isn’t it?

Not when Linzi Bray, chairman of the local art group, is in charge and the house is full of people who loathe her. Accidents start to happen – in a ruined castle, in a fast-flowing river, in a peaceful garden. There’s a stalker – or is there? And there are far too many dead insects, as well as a pond full of blood and a vandalised Porsche.

It’s not the first time former headmistress, Harriet Quigley, and her cousin, the Reverend Sam Hathaway, have been embroiled in a mystery but this time they’re baffled. ‘It’s so amateurish,’ complains Harriet. ‘Phone calls, anonymous letters, somebody lurking in corners, it’s like some spiteful game.’

 Game or not, there’s a death, but is it murder? And then somebody else dies and the games all stop…

 As always in my books, you get bits of Winchester history, including a scene in this little beauty which featured in a famous Victorian novel!  St Swithun-upon-Kingsgate Church - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:





The Abbey, Some Sheep, and the Deadly Dames

When I was six I bought a book at a jumble sale. It cost a penny and influenced the rest of my life. Not a classic, not a blinding light on the road to Damascus – I was only six after all – but a quiet book for girls, published in 1920. The title? ‘The Abbey Girls’ by Elsie J Oxenham, a prolific writer for girls and young women who produced around eighty books overall, nearly forty of which were sequels to the one I bought. The series came to be known as The Abbey Girls. (My copy wasn’t as posh as this picture of the first edition)abbey girls

My granny and I were great jumble sale attenders, always on the hunt for a bargain, usually a book or three, and I must have been a precocious reader because from my next birthday and for years afterwards I was given an Abbey book for birthdays and Christmas. As my birthday is Christmas Eve, this meant a double helping and an orgy of reading over the holidays.

The Abbey Girls triggered my fascination with books written in the late Victorian, Edwardian and post-WW1 period and infected me with the collecting bug. Many of the books are set in schools but all are written with the aim of influencing young girls. Some, admittedly, are heavily on the side of the Twentieth Century miss as a potential wife and mother but many others – particularly after the war – emphasise the need for a worthwhile career and the fulfilment of a single life. And of course, plenty of them argue that both are possible.a patriotic schoolgirl Influenced by these books I’m currently playing about with a cosy mystery set in 1918 featuring three intrepid young Twentieth Century girls!

What I didn’t know was that the Abbey of the books – set in Oxfordshire in the foothills of the Chilterns – was based on a real abbey. Elsie Oxenham picked up Cleeve Abbey, in the village of Washford in Somerset, and transplanted it to suit her story and she described it in such detail that you can walk round the real West Country ruins and recognise it. Apart, that is, from the features she invented for later books – the crypt, the secret passages, etc.CleeveAbbeygatehouse

Since I found out, about thirty years ago, we’ve visited Cleeve several times but I was delighted when cousins retired to the village next to the abbey, a few years ago. And even more chuffed when I was invited to talk to the local women’s group about my own books last week. They were an appreciative audience who applauded and laughed in the right places, and had no idea I was channelling the Abbey Girl who became an author herself!

Other diversions while in Somerset included being brave enough to play with the resident Rottweiler, and believe me, that’s not something I ever thought I’d say! But the dog is daft and gentle anyway. It’s not easy to make out but the dog, having allowed me to tickle her armpits, was suggesting I should tickle her nether regions – never going to happen!20160601_101718

I also met some adorable and inquisitive Jacob sheep. This is Little Friend who is thinking about nibbling my friend’s jacket. He was originally the skinniest triplet but now resembles a woolly coffee table on legs.20160601_184514


The Deadly Dames have been out and about lately: a trip to Portsmouth in April was fun and so was our May outing to Bognor Regis. I’m not keen on driving to strange places at night so it was a train ride to Portsmouth and for the Bognor gig I hitched a lift with fellow Dame, Charlie Cochrane, which was great.deadly dames at portsmouth

We’re booked in to Hythe Library on 13th September and have plans for further appearances, so if anyone wants a lively discussion on crime novels, we’re your women. Contact me as above.

Finally, with the assistance of my daughter, Liv, I now have a Pinterest account. I knew it would be fatally fascinating and so it’s proving, but I decided I’d like a board for each book, including the three works-in-progress. If you’d like to follow me, I’d be very happy to follow you too https://uk.pinterest.com/nicola8703/

Cruel and Unusual Gardening or How to Threaten Your Plants into Flourishing

The first Terry Pratchett novel I read was ‘Good Omens’ – the book about the Apocalypse, which he wrote with Neil Gaiman. I was very taken with the way the demon Crowley kept his indoor plants healthy and flourishing. He threatened them!good omens

Any plant that failed to thrive would be shown to all the others as an awful warning and taken out of the house. An hour or so later Crowley would return with an empty flower pot that would be left prominently on show.  As the book says, ‘The plants were the most luxurious, verdant, and beautiful in London. And the most terrified.’

Not having demonic powers I can’t claim that my house plants are fabulous but they do live under threat. When they’re planted, fed or watered – or more often when the dead leaves are picked off – I have a mantra that I use. It’s not quite like Prince Charles chatting fondly to his plants, it chimes better with the title of this post – cruel and unusual gardening. This is what I say to the cowering greenery in the conservatory and the few hardy survivors in the rest of the house: ‘You live, you die. Your choice.’



About fourteen years ago I gave a friend an orchid for her birthday and then decided I’d like one as well. Sadly, Jill’s orchid didn’t survive but mine – a victim of neglect and vicious slurs on its abilities – has flourished. This year it went overboard and produced SIX flower spikes. I’ve patted it on the head and suggested that next year seven spikes would be a good thing. (See picture above)

The other spectacular success resulting from my systematic unkindness to dumb horticulture is what used to be known as a Kaffir Lily and is now called a Clivia. My father-in-law had two of these lilies and they were his pride and joy so when he died my sister-in-law and I each took one home. Ruth is a much more caring and competent gardener than I am but although her lily survived, it didn’t flower. Mine, responding in abject terror, began to send out plantlets like anything, along with spectacular bursts of long-lasting orange flowers. I now have about fourteen of the things which undeservedly make the conservatory look as though I actually do some work with the plants. (The secret of the lilies is that they shouldn’t be overwatered – though chance would be a fine thing for any of my house-plants.)


My Victorian heroine, Charlotte Richmond, is mildly interested in plants but coming from Australia, pleads ignorance of English varieties – which is convenient for me. My contemporary sleuth, Harriet Quigley, is more of a gardener and is more like me in that she likes designing and planting but can’t be doing with the grunt labour. She is another one who uses the Cruel and Unusual Gardening technique and her garden is flourishing.


And now for the commercial – THE DEADLY DAMES ride again!



Portsmouth Central Library: World Book Night Eve Friday 22nd April


Portsmouth Central Library is holding a Crime Fiction Quiz and panel event with The Deadly Dames to celebrate on the eve of WBN. It’s on Friday 22nd April, 6.30pm at Central Library.  Tickets are £2 per person (pay on the door).Maximum number permitted in a team is eight but participation in the Quiz is not compulsory – you can just enjoy listening to The Deadly Dames if you prefer! Soft drinks and snacks will be provided, but feel free to bring a bottle.

The Deadly Dames are Charlie Cochrane, Joan Moules, Nicola Slade, Eileen Robertson and Carol Westron, a panel of crime writers who bring their own humorous slant to books, writing, research and crime, past and present. The panel event will consist of a discussion about these topics and others and there will be plenty of time for audience questions.

(For this event, The Deadly Dames will be joined by guest author Christine Hammacott, whose début novel is set in Portsmouth.) Details from your local library or contact clare.forsyth@portsmouthcc.gov.uk by Monday 18th April.






Taking the waters


Until I started writing a book about a holy well I had no idea how many of them were scattered around the British Isles. There are dozens of them! Some long gone and only remembered in the name, others reduced to a muddy puddle in a field, and some that still provide ‘healing water’ and solace to anyone who visits.

According to Wikipaedia: A holy well or sacred spring is a spring or other small body of water revered either in a Pagan or Christian context, often both. Holy wells were frequently pagan sacred sites that later became Christianised. The term ‘holy well’ is commonly employed to refer to any water source of limited size (i.e. not a lake or river, but including pools and natural springs and seeps), which has some significance in the folklore of the area where it is located, whether in the form of a particular name or an associated legend…

A well can be guarded by a spirit – an animal, a nymph, a dryad – though with the advent of Christianity many of the waters became the preserve of Christian saints.
In my latest book (currently in the hands of my agent), the holy well in question is known as the Lady’s Well and the locals are happy to let the incoming Christians believe it is dedicated to the Virgin Mary – but the Lady of the Well is a much, much older guardian.

My first inspiration for the Lady’s Well was not far away at the National Trust property, Mottisfont Abbey. As a member of the NT I often go to wander round the gardens, particularly the magnificent rose gardens and stand and gaze at the Font. This is a spring which is still flowing in the grounds – it’s approximately 12′ deep and 12′ across and at some stage in its history it was lined with clay.  http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/mottisfont


Another research trip took me to Rockbourne Roman villa which was discovered by a farmer digging out a ferret in 1942. This is also in Hampshire and well worth a visit. More details here – http://www.hampshire-history.com/rockbourne-roman-villa/ And a not-very-brilliant photo of the Roman well – taken by me.205

A bit further away from home is the peaceful and mystical Chalice Well at Glastonbury, at the foot of Glastonbury Tor. It is said that the red colouring of the water dates from the legend that Joseph of Aramathea visited the West Country and that he not only planted the famous Glastonbury Thorn, but that he hid the chalice from the last supper in the well – the chalice that caught drops of Christ’s blood. Alternatively, the colour comes from the iron nails used in the Crucifixion. If you don’t like either explanation, it could just be that there’s a lot of iron in the water! Read more here: http://www.chalicewell.org.uk/ (Photo taken from their website so I hope they don’t mind as I’m being complimentary about it!)chalice well

The most recent trip was to the Wishing Well at Upwey, near Weymouth. As my elder daughter was named after Princess Amelia, the youngest daughter of King George III, I was intrigued to discover that the king was a frequent visitor to Upwey and used to take the waters in a special gold cup. http://www.upweywishingwell.co.uk/history.html20160310_124159

My fictitious well is a very loose amalgam of these wells, with characteristics of its own, of course and it’s been fun visiting and making notes. Needless to say the Resident Engineer comes too but it’s no hardship to him as he’s interested in practical history – and there’s little that’s more practical than a well. Besides, these sites invariably have excellent tea-rooms! Or a nice pub nearby.

To read more about the sacred springs of these islands, check out this fascinating and informative website.

Sadly, you’re not supposed to drink the water these days, but as I’ve tasted the er – interestingly-flavoured waters at Bath, in the Pump Room, I can’t say I mind particularly.http://www.romanbaths.co.uk/walkthroughs/sacred-spring-and-associated-objects


Lost in Austen

A few years ago there was a flurry of Jane Austen films and/or television programmes – some of them were adaptations of the books, others were about Jane herself. I have them all on dvd and the only one I didn’t like much was Mansfield Park, but then it’s not a favourite novel either.

Besides this outbreak of Austiniana there was another, very different, take on her most famous novel. ‘Lost in Austen’ tells the story of a young modern woman who yearns for the manners and courtship and sheer romance of Elizabeth and Darcy’s time, a yearning that is only increased when her boyfriend proposes when he is drunk. And offers her a ring pull to seal the bargain.lostinA

Somehow, and it’s never explained how, which is probably just as well, the heroine, Amanda, (played by Jemima Rooper), discovers Lizzy Bennet in the bathroom of her Hammersmith flat. Lizzy has found a secret door that leads between the 21st century and Longbourn, the Bennet family home in Hertfordshire.

Naturally, Amanda steps through the door which Lizzy promptly closes – because she wants to explore the modern world. Amanda, meanwhile, once she’s got over the suspicion that she’s somehow fallen into a Candid Camera kind of show, is enchanted to find herself a guest in the Bennet family, and even more so when she hears there is a handsome new neighbour, Mr Bingley. It all goes horribly wrong when Bingley falls in love with Amanda and she – of course – falls for Darcy. Pic below is Mr Bingley who is sweet, but as thick as a brick!cambridgepunt

It sounds ridiculous, and of course it is, but it’s so charming and funny that you simply don’t care about the logistics, you just want it all to work out happily in the end – I think Jane Austen would have enjoyed it. Elliot Cowan’s Mr Darcy is even besotted enough to comply with her request that he should rise out of the pond in a wet shirt. ‘I’m having a post-modern moment,’ she giggles.darcywetshirtcowan

The performances are terrific, particularly Guy Henry’s utterly disgusting Mr Collins whose habits make you shudder, and who imports his own equally appalling brothers as suitors for the Bennet daughters. Best of all are Hugh Bonneville as Mr Bennet and Alex Kingston as the perpetually worried Mrs Bennet. I’ve always been sorry for her, stuck with a husband who isn’t bothered that she and the five girls will be homeless when he dies. Not only that, he makes snotty remarks about the folly of marrying a beautiful but foolish woman.

In all the Austen adaptations I’ve seen, Mrs Bennet is played as a fool and a scold and the worst example is in the Colin Firth version, where Mrs B screams all the time. She is also played by actresses who are too old whereas Mrs Bennet, whose eldest daughter is only about twenty-two, would almost certainly have been not much more than in her very early forties. The other thing about Mrs Bennet is that she can’t have been just a pretty face – she has to have been sexy, and not one of the earlier screen incarnations has indicated this.

Alex Kingston is terrific as a sexy, silly woman whose life is ruled by the fear of what is to become of her daughters when her feckless, careless husband departs this life. In ‘Lost in Austen’ Hugh Bonneville eventually realises this and there is a lovely scene after her set-to with Lady Catherine de Burgh. Mr Bennet, who has refused to sleep upstairs for some time, is delighted with his valiant wife and informs her that he will ‘sleep above stairs that night.’ Mrs Bennet’s squeal of excitement is pure delight. (I loved the series when it came out in 2008 and loved it all over again when I was given the dvd at Christmas).


In other news, I wondered, when David Bowie died, which well-known actor’s death would upset me as much as the Bowie fans. Should have kept my mouth shut because I found out, a couple of days later:alan rickmansheriff-of-nottingham-the-sheriff-of-nottingham-25662758-462-260

(All photos from places like Wikipaedia and film/tv sites so I hope there’s no breach of copyright!)

Christmas in a galaxy (oops, sorry) land, far, far away…

Long, long ago and in a land far, far away – Egypt, to be precise – the Slade family spent a Christmas away from home. It was – different. The Resident Engineer was working on a project there and we went along as extra baggage: wife, eight-year old, six-year old and 12 month-old. It was fun and weird and unforgettable. (Pic is of us in front of the Step Pyramid at Sakkara)110-img692

Initially it was only supposed to be for six months but we ended up living there for almost a year, long enough for the Big Two to go to the Cairo American College, which was also unforgettable. They both acquired Deep South accents as most of their classmates were ‘oilies’, in other words, the offspring of oil executives from Mississipi and Alabama and places like that. There weren’t that many Brits there so it was a truly international world of new friends for all of us.

When it came to choosing a school we could have sent them to a British one in Cairo itself but the problem there was that the school week was Monday to Friday, while the Engineer worked six days a week with Friday off. Cue the American school that fitted in with the local custom and whose week went Sunday to Thursday, so we had a 3rd Grader and a 1st Grader and we spent far more time around the school than we’d expected. The reason was that it acted as a centre for the expat community and held film viewings under a tented canopy and, best of all, parents were allowed access to the school library.

We had arrived in August when the heat was so intense I thought they’d left the engine running on the plane because the air was thrumming and by Christmas we were happily involved with various activities. The company paid for a maid(!) in the mornings and she taught the baby to speak Arabic, with the result that we’d be surrounded by laughing Egyptians when they chucked her under the chin and were squeaked at indignantly – in Arabic.

There had been anxious questions (from the 6 year old but not so many from her worldly-wise older brother) about whether Father Christmas would find us and whether he would cope with a flat roof on a block of flats and no chimney. He did, of course, though some of his presents had a distinctly local flavour, notably the sit-on camel that the baby received.97-img797

I rode my bike down to the village to look at Christmas trees (baby strapped in her wicker baby chair on the back)136-img841and found a man proudly selling trees made from a broom handle with green fuzzy spikes sticking out at the sides. I was quite taken with the idea but an American neighbour had a spare fake tree which she insisted we should keep and which did sterling service for years until the daughters made me chuck it out. Christmas pudding was easy, I’d packed one when we set out, but the rest of Christmas dinner was an improvised meal, shared by an American family and one of the Engineer’s colleagues, a young bachelor. (Pic is NIcky and two little girls at the Papyrus Institute in Cairo – always dragging the poor kids out to educational things and never been allowed to forget it!)124-img829

A month or so earlier we’d had a dinner party and served duck, which had proved slightly traumatic. It had come as a shock to find that we had to choose our ducks from a quacking flock and by Christmas the eight-year old hadn’t forgiven me for not letting him see the ducks being  – er ‘prepared’ in the market by their vendor wielding an axe. When it came to turkeys I was ready and made sure the dear, blood-thirsty little hooligan was out of the way.

The least welcome present we had that Christmas was chicken-pox, brought home from school by the eldest and generously donated to his sisters by New Year’s Eve. Luckily the friends who shared Christmas dinner with us had either had it (the adults) or in the case of the two visiting children, were probably going to get it anyway.

It was a strange and wonderful interlude in our lives and the elder children remember it quite clearly. Sadly, the youngest only remembers odd snippets – like the kitchen doors being blue, and nothing at all about being carried up inside the Great Pyramid by her father. (I disgraced myself that time by becoming claustrophobic in there and making a break for freedom!) We’ve never been back, though the eldest went to Egypt on his honeymoon and the middle one did a trip almost twenty years ago. I’d like to think we’d go back but probably not while that part of the world is still in turmoil, sadly.

Anyway, in other news: my most recent publisher, Robert Hale Ltd, has ceased trading as a publisher so my agent has just taken my latest book and plans to look for a home for it in the new year. If nobody wants it, I suspect I’ll think about self-publishing, but it’s in the lap of the gods for the moment.

Have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year with love from Nicky and the Engineer! (And the scary-looking Brady Bunch-style kids with a giant doll and chicken pox spots to match Liv’s rose-dotted pyjamas)139-img855