A New Book – About Life, Rationing, and Inconvenient Corpses!

This year is proving to be all about books! No surprise there – my Granny used to say, ‘That child always has her nose in a book,’ and so I did, and still do. However, 2018 is different in that six of my books are being republished and – drum roll, please – Crooked Cat Books have just taken on my NINTH BOOK! the very cosy mystery, The Convalescent Corpse. The ebook should come out around the end of the year, followed shortly afterwards by the paperback.

This is the publisher’s announcement, not the actual  cover for The Convalescent Corpse, it’s too soon for that. Set in 1918, in Ramalley, the same fictional version of Romsey as The House at Ladywell, this book charts the efforts of three young sisters to cope with WW1 wartime shortages, difficult parents, lack of money, a houseful of lodgers – and inconvenient corpses practically on their own doorstep!

I’ve always loved Romsey, ever since I spent all my summer holidays visiting my aunt who lived quite near. My cousins and I used to cycle to Romsey and I’d drag them into King John’s House and the Abbey, to make sure they were still there, so it was a particular delight to find myself living only about five miles from the town. It’s still one of my favourite haunts and I drop in to say Hello to the poignant relic of a young Saxon girl buried in the Abbey. How strange that the only acknowledgement of a life should be her hair in a glass case – who was she? Nobody knows, but I loved her at first sight when I was about seven (I was a weird child, I admit) These days I wander round town, conscious of Freya, from The House at Ladywell, talking in one ear, and now Christabel, whose diary forms The Convalescent Corpse, in the other ear. They’re good company though.

As if that isn’t enough excitement, I’ve also signed with Endeavour Media to republish my first-ever novel, Scuba Dancing, as an ebook, probably early in the New Year. The first book I set in ‘Ramalley’ – this was first published in 2005, followed in 2013 when I self-published  it as an ebook, slightly tweaking a few inconsistencies. I’m delighted now, to have a chance to introduce this very quirky novel to a new audience and was very touched recently, to receive a message from a reader, that Scuba Dancing had ‘helped her through a bout of serious illness.’ 

Earlier in the year I posted that Williams & Whiting were to reissue my first five mysteries – previously published by Robert Hale Ltd – and they’re now all available as ebooks and paperbacks: all three Charlotte Richmond Victorian mysteries, and the firstt two Harriet Quigley contemporary tales. (The third Harriet book was published by Endeavour Press in 2016) Amazon link – https://amzn.to/2uI7UEi

And finally, something non-book related. In January this year The Resident Engineer and I celebrated our Golden Wedding. Fifty years in which we’ve achieved three children, eight grandchildren, lots of travelling, and a great deal of (mostly) cheerful bickering! This is a typical photo, him beaming at the world and me watching to make sure there’s no catastrophe looming. It’s not hard to- guess who is the cautious Capricorn and who the optimistic Leo! (I must have been standing oddly, I’m not really that weird shape!)

I know I make jokes about him, and he winds me up all the time, but my heart still lifts when I hear his key in the door! He drives me mad, but he keeps me sane – which is a pretty good testimonial.

 

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Q&A with Author C.J. Sutton – and from me – a Norwegian glacier!

I usually read the cosiest of cosy mysteries but here’s something very different – the forthcoming debut novel by my fellow Crooked Cat author, C. J. Sutton. (Due out 18th July, pre-order now!)

I recently sent him my 8 Quick Questions and here are his interesting responses – thank you, C.J!

Eight Quick Questions

  1. When you finish a new writing project, who is the first person you share it with?

I am very secretive when I finish a new book and generally keep most details away from family and friends, even during the submission process. Usually I will send my brother a text message with a brief outline as we share similar tastes in books and movies, and he will ask me questions about key characters and plot points. Once the cover art is available I’m very quick to post pictures on all facets of social media, but sharing my written work is something I’m still coming to terms with. I think my wife will probably want to start reading my novels before anyone else, so if you ask me this question in a year I will likely have a new answer.

  1. What is the best compliment you’ve ever received about your writing?

A university teacher once told me that my work was always read first because it put her in the mood to read. That always stayed with me. At the time I thought that if I could put someone with years of education in the mood to read, perhaps this would help in selling books to new readers. Compliments do fight against those darker days of writing, but if you take them too seriously you will end up doing the same with criticism. We all have our own voice and stories to share, so eventually you end up relying on instinct.

  1. Everyone has bad writing days (or weeks, or months). What do you do when you start to hate everything that you’ve written?

I tend to just stick at it. Sometimes the rhythm of words can get the plot points down on the page, and I can polish everything when I feel more creative. Pumping out those words is the most important part of the writing process for me, as editing is an aspect that comes quite naturally. A decent word count for the day can make a bad writing day seem productive. A coffee is also beneficial. I liken it to a re-assuring arm across the shoulder. If all else fails, I just go for a walk and think about football.

  1. We all cast our characters for that hypothetical film or tv deal. Which actor/s would you choose to play your main character/s?

Leonardo DiCaprio would have been perfect ten years ago, but as he’s nearing his mid-40s and the lead character is 30 I need to re-think the answer. As much as his Twilight days will follow him everywhere, Robert Pattinson has really impressed me with his recent body of work and he is capable of portraying such a complex and deep-thinking character. I would pitch him for a left-field shot at playing Dr Magnus Paul, the psychologist at the Asylum. For the main antagonist, inmate Jasper James, I would pitch Christian Bale or Tom Hardy. They can both play confronting characters and have demonstrated this over a number of years. For the unreliable guard Carter, hopefully Al Pacino feels capable of straining that voice once more.

  1. What do you enjoy most in the writing process? What parts of it do you really dislike?

I love writing dialogue. Speech is so important in reading, even if we don’t say the words out loud. I write in a way that tells the reader how words are being said by the character. This is achieved through grammar and this differs with each character. Writing criminally insane characters for Dortmund Hibernate required pauses in speech, capital letters to emphasise screaming and mumbled words. I do hope that readers enjoy the extra dimension this style adds to the novel.

I’m still finding ways to enjoy when the story becomes a product, which requires reading through the manuscript again and again to discover the smallest typo or grammar issue. The first edits are enjoyable, but the latter stages are like wading through a swamp. The only reason I dislike this is because the writing no longer feels fresh to me. I would compare it to listening to the same song over and over; no matter how good it is, you’ll eventually bang your head against the wall.

  1. Research is a vital part of writing. What is the most memorable or interesting thing you’ve learned along the way?

Researching criminally insane patients provided insight into some of the darkest minds the world has seen. The heavy reliance on drugs and electrotherapy throughout the 90s (and prior) was an aspect that I wanted to avoid in Dortmund Hibernate, preferring to focus on the minds and their crimes. I read through books on the likes of Charles Manson to understand how an unstable individual can lead a cult, and also continued my research into psychology. My notes are probably longer than the book.

  1. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? 

Write what you enjoy reading. If you’re interested and having fun, it doesn’t really matter if nobody else reads the book because you’ll have learned more about yourself. Obviously we all want to be successful and sell millions of copies, but what’s the point if the story doesn’t entertain you in some capacity? When you’re in a good space, your writing improves. I’m not sure where I first saw this piece of advice, but it has remained with me.

  1. Finally, in one sentence, tell us about your current project.

Dortmund Hibernate is the most mentally challenging, insane, soul destroying project I have ever worked on, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Insights into the way authors create their books is always intriguing. Find out more about C. J. Sutton and his work – and to pre-order Dortmund Hibernate at a bargain price:

Link to Amazon – https://amzn.to/2M76hGH

www.cjsutton-author.com

https://www.facebook.com/cjsutton.author/

http://www.twitter.com/c_j_sutton

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Just to prove I haven’t been idle lately, here’s a photo of a Norwegian glacier I saw lately!

To find my books, here’s my Amazon.co.uk page: https://amzn.to/2ovRSKQ

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steam Engines, Romans and Four-Poster Beds

About time I did another blog post! My only excuse is that I’m still hibernating as the weather’s been so awful, but a trip to Wales did cheer me up. And it only rained once! As I may have mentioned, the Resident Engineer is keen on steam engines so it was no surprise when he suggested a long weekend in North Wales to take in a special trip on the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway.mapFfestiniogRwy

It was a fundraising event and we were given a tour of the engine sheds, and dinner in Porthmadog at the station restaurant on the Friday, then it was up and about on Saturday morning to catch the train at 8.30. We went up hill and down dale, mountains, rivers, sea, lakes, trees, sheep –  you name it, we saw them, and in spectacular sunshine too. I love trains so I was happy, especially as I had my trusty Kindle with me and could disappear into a book now and then, and the Resident Engineer gave me helpful information at regular intervals eg about the engines (The Ladies: Linda & Blanche) and the bigger one (a Garrett) that we changed to when we returned to Porthmadog and set off for Caernarfon.

Garrett engine

We had a stop-off for lunch, followed by a cream tea served en route.

4poster

I don’t usually do plugs for hotels! but the upmarket B&B we stayed in was fabulous. Just outside Porthmadog, with amazing views of the town and the harbour, Plas Tan Yr Allt proved to be the perfect place for a relaxing break. Shelley thought so too when he stayed there in 1812/13.  If you’re looking for friendly and helpful hosts, excellent breakfasts and a massive room complete with an equally large four-poster bed, this is the place for you: http://www.plastanyrallt.co.uk/

After all the railway delights my special treat was a visit to the Roman town of Caerleon: this is a Roman-style garden. Roman garden Caerleon

In other news, my three historical Charlotte Richmond mysteries are now republished and looking wonderful in their smart new covers. If you’ve enjoyed them (or any of my books, actually!) it would be lovely to have a review on Amazon! drop off your old textbooks atthe OFFICE of the student counciluntil may 31, 2019

The first two Harriet Quigley contemporary mysteries are also being republished and will be out soon, so it’s all go round here!

As for my most recent book, The House at Ladywell, I’m so pleased that readers are enjoying my story of history, mystery, magic and hares! More great reviews including this lovely recent one: ‘I thoroughly enjoyed The House at Ladywell. It takes a lot of talent to write as Nicola Slade does, intertwining timelines; bringing historical characters and periods to life… not to mention the vast amount of research that must have gone into this novel! All of this while creating a story of beauty, emotion, folklore and mystery. I look forward to reading more from this author and her unique voice.’

An intriguing French detective – and some shiny new covers!

The snow’s gone, and even if it comes back – not that likely down here in the Deep South aka Hampshire – there are daffodils and primroses in the garden, the random pheasant sits outside and shouts for his dinner, and the roe deer family peer over the garden fence almost daily. Spring is on its way so it’s time I stopped hibernating so I’m happy to welcome fellow Crooked Cat author, Angela Wren, to answer my 8 Quick Questions and tell us about her fascinating mysteries set in rural France.

  1. When you finish a new writing project, who is the first person you share it with?

My editor. I run a Writing Group and the various drafts of my stories are shared with the group and I get plenty of comment throughout the writing process.

  1. What is the best compliment you’ve ever received about your writing?

My stories are set in France and the absolutely best comments are those from people who have said they felt as though they were in France itself whilst reading my work.

  1. Everyone has bad writing days (or weeks, or months). What do you do when you start to hate everything that you’ve written?

I chuck whatever I’m writing in a drawer and leave it there for a week or two, or possibly longer.  I have one manuscript that has been in the drawer for two years!  Perhaps it will never come out.

  1. We all cast our characters for that hypothetical film or tv deal. Which actor/s would you choose to play your main character/s?

Actually, I haven’t even thought of that.  My central character, Jacques, would have to be French and whoever plays him would have to fit his physical description.  So, Gerard Depardieu is completely out of the running.  There was a gorgeous French tenor I saw in a production of the Pearl Fishers – now he would be perfect, except I can’t remember his name!

  1. What do you enjoy most in the writing process? What parts of it do you really dislike?

I absolutely love stringing the words together once I know what my story is. I can just disappear into my fictional world and stay there for days on end. I find editing particularly difficult and very tiring. I don’t exactly dislike it, because I know how essential a task it is. But if there was any part of the writing process that I could ditch, it would definitely be editing.

  1. Research is a vital part of writing. What is the most memorable or interesting thing you’ve learned along the way?

Discovering the Cévennes in south central France for the very first time. It’s the part of France where my stories are set and there’s a silence and loneliness there that I can’t seem to find anywhere else. It’s also an upland area, the scenery is spectacular, the villages are small and sparse and the weather can change in a moment.  A perfect place for murder, I think!

  1. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Never give up – if the story wants to be written it will be.

  1. Finally, in one sentence, tell us about your current project.

I’m in the final stages of completing book 3 (Montbel) in my Jacques Forêt series of stories which will be out later this year.

Thank you for visiting, Angela, I’m looking forward to meeting Jacques again!

Website : www.angelawren.co.uk

Blog : www.jamesetmoi.blogspot.com

Facebook : Angela Wren

Goodreads : Angela Wren

Contact an author : Angela Wren

~~~~~~

And here are the shiny new covers of my Charlotte Richmond Mysteries, re-issued now by Williams & Whiting!

Interesting Times & Handsome Heroes!

I’m delighted that two of my heroines are in the news this week – not only Freya, heiress to the ancient House at Ladywell, but also my Victorian sleuth, Charlotte Richmond. Find out more below and see some almost entirely gratuitous photos of actors who would look pretty good as my heroes and/or villains!

Williams and Whiting, an independent publishing house, announced yesterday: ‘We are delighted to announce we have signed Nicola Slade in a five book deal.   Three of the books will be in the Victorian widow Charlotte Richmond series and two in the retired headmistress Harriet Quigley contemporary mystery series.   The first Charlotte Richmond book Murder Most Welcome will be published in February, to be followed by the other Charlotte books and the first two Harriet books.’  http://williamsandwhiting.com

I’m so pleased that Charlotte will have a new lease of life, in ebook and paperback, and hopefully will find new admirers as she goes about her daily life in Hampshire, stumbling across far too many corpses!

Left: Nathaniel Parker would be perfect as Charlotte’s husband – is he dead? Or is she about to get a nasty surprise?

 

 

And Noah Huntley would do very nicely as Mr Knightley!

~

The House at Ladywell (published by Crooked Cat Books in November) now has around thirty Five Star reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and other sites, which is fabulous. This a terrific one from Nancy Jardine, author of historical and mystery novels. Ladywellfinalcover

‘This was a thoroughly enjoyable book that I wished I could read in one sitting since I was engrossed. As it happened I read it over one day and one night! The tale of the house at Ladywell slowly unfolds with historical glimpses of the surroundings and the inhabitants over the centuries from the earliest Roman times to the present day. Those snatches of previous residents are skilfully interwoven for the reader as the new owner delves back to uncover details about the previous occupants of the house bequeathed to her. The perpetuity of descendants of one family being in situ over 1500 years and more has, I think, got to be a rare occurrence anywhere but it rings true for The House at Ladywell.
The characters are beautifully drawn and the writing and editing superb. The background of Freya Gibson is eventually revealed but the revelations, I think, further enhance her strong character. I’d love to meet Patrick- that successful author and the man in Freya’s life! The supporting characters are also well rounded, especially Nathan the man who can get Freya anything decoratively speaking and the tiny Mary Draper who is like a little whirlwind.
The supernatural aspects of the house work immediately: the ‘house’ now winding a positive spell of its own! (hopefully all previous negatives having been set in ‘balance’).
To be recommended for those who love a good mystery; a satisfying romance; and those who enjoy a little dash of the supernatural added in for good measure.’

And here’s another great review, this one from best-selling mystery novelist, Lesley Cookman: A really beautiful book, not at all the usual romance or mystery. Shades of Elizabeth Goudge, maybe?

In an ideal world (the one with the deal for the film rights) Patrick would be played by Richard Armitage!

And finally, just to make it easy for you to read Ladywell (and maybe do a review, which would be lovely) here’s the link to Amazon! http://amzn.to/2zdcrii
(Photos taken from promotional sites…)

Street Sheep!

One of the stops on our latest Australian odyssey was Canberra and I blogged last month about our visit to the awe-inspiring Australian War Memorial there. On a lighter note, we were intrigued to find a cluster of statues not far from our hotel.

I love a good statue and my favourite is Sound II, the Anthony Gormley statue in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral.

Sound_II_revisited

In a wet year you’ll find him up to his knees in water but there are – occasionally – times when he’s standing on dry stones. It’s not always possible to do the tour of the crypt because of the risk of flooding, but you can go and look at the statue from just inside the crypt door. In ‘Murder Fortissimo’, the first of my Harriet Quigley mysteries, I had Harriet’s cousin (and sidekick) Sam Hathaway take a troubled soul to see the statue – something I often do myself because there’s a curious peace about it. (I usually go and chat to Jane Austen while I’m in the Cathedral too!)

Nothing soulful or spiritual about the Canberra statues though, although there were 20171005_084210some meaningful pieces – no idea what the pointy beak people are, sorry! Might be angels?

These are wild dogs20171004_185738

 

But these are my favourite! Canberra was built on a sheep station and has been unkindly described as ‘a good sheep paddock spoiled’ and these sheep are a reminder of the city’s past. 20171004_185927

  • 20171004_180343
  • I loved the laid-back ewe(I think it was a ewe!) lounging in a chair and decided she needed something good to read! In the photo above she’s clearly intent on the story and below you can see she’s blissed out after enjoying The House at Ladywell!20171004_180210
  • If the sheep could write she’d be reviewing The House at Ladywell to go with the fabulous four and five star reviews already up on Amazon UK – ‘A really beautiful book…’  Here’s the link to Amazon UK http://amzn.to/2yKDYdk

A Blog Tour – Terra Incognita!

bannerLadywellblogtourBlog Tours are a ‘thing’ nowadays, but I’ve never been involved in one before so it’s uncharted territory as far as I’m concerned. In case you didn’t know, this is how it works: a lot of avid readers review books on their blogs and many of these book bloggers will join a Blog Tour organised either by the author or, as in my case, someone who has excellent contacts and knows which reader will like which book. Debbie, of Brook Cottage Books is an expert and she’s arranged for The House at Ladywell to be read and reviewed by bloggers on her list. So here we go, a bit of blowing my own trumpet!
trumpet
The ebook of The House at Ladywell was published on 14th November, by Crooked Cat Books, and even in that short time people have been posting amazing and lovely reviews, but this one, by Nicola of the Short Books & Scribe blog, is my first ever review in a Blog Tour! And it made me cry because she loved it. http://shortbookandscribes.uk
This is her Amazon review:
Books where a house is a major part of the plot seem to have an invisible rope attaching them to me. They pull me in immediately and I’m rarely disappointed. So you can imagine that The House at Ladywell was a great draw for me. And I’m pleased to say that it didn’t disappoint, in fact I loved it.
Freya Gibson is a woman who has been through a lot and had a really difficult time of it. She then finds herself working for bestselling author, Patrick Underwood. All is going well and then one day she hears that she has inherited a house from a relative she didn’t even know she had. And this is no ordinary house. The scent of flowers seems to linger there, despite there being no flowers in the house. There’s a feeling of belonging for Freya and she straightaway feels a connection and a desire to be there. Right at the beginning she is told she must make a wreath from the rowan tree in the garden and then say an incantation to ‘restore the balance’.

The house is a major character in this novel. We hear of its past through the tales of Freya’s long-gone ancestors. These sections are scattered throughout Freya’s narrative and I did wonder if it would have helped to have the relevant dates and a family tree, but in fact I could fairly easily work out an idea of the timeline and at the end there is some information about the characters and the years their stories are from. I think the dates weren’t provided so that the story could flow and the historical elements could intermingle with the present day ones and that certainly did work well.

The parts from the past were fascinating, so interesting, and they provided a background to the house but I did enjoy Freya’s story most of all as she was the one discovering things about the past, the house and her own life.

There is quite a bit of folklore in this story. Hares play a big part and are revered in fact. I love hares so I liked that they were so important. There’s also a well with water that heals and a real sense that the house and the land are important.

I liked Freya and Patrick as the main characters, but I thought the supporting characters were fabulous too. Mary Draper was just brilliant, and all the other people that Freya meets when she moves to Ladywell add something to the story, however large or small.

This really is such an appealing book. It has modern elements mixed with historical, a love story, and mysteries galore. It’s fabulous!

Link to buy – http://amzn.to/2i7o2Z9

Rowans and Rocks

I’m delighted with the newly-revealed cover for ‘The House at Ladywell’ – a stunning image of a wreath of rowan leaves and berries, very simple and bold and very relevant to the story. 

‘The House at Ladywell’ will be published on 14th November by Crooked Cat Books.

This is what it’s about: ‘A hare carved in stone and the scent of flowers in a house full of echoes – can Freya’s inheritance help her leave the past behind?’

As you can see on the cover I’m lucky enough to have a great quote from Sally Zigmond, well-known historical author (‘Hope Against Hope‘), editor and reviewer. She says: ‘An enchanting blend of mystery, history, romance and folklore’ – which sums the book up pretty neatly!

~

In other news, my art exhibition ended today so the Engineer and I have dismantled it and brought the remaining paintings home. The framed books are marching back up the wall of the staircase and I’m finally relaxing. I sold three paintings on the night and another two during the month when two separate visitors to the cinema each spotted a painting the liked and contacted me. I met them in the gallery café and we did the deal! They both liked my landscapes, which is interesting and gratifying, because they’re my latest experiment in style. More of that, I think!

This is the most recent painting that sold – ‘Sea Pinks on the Rocks’ (The frame was white, not slightly pink as the photo suggests!)

Christmas won’t be Christmas without…

…the Christmas Day Downton Abbey Special (to paraphrase Jo March in ‘Little Women’.) dabbeylogoI’ve been watching the entire story, plus Christmas Specials, over the last couple of months (for the umpteenth time) and I’m now half way through the last series, with the 2015 Christmas Finale saved for sometime on Sunday. I’ve loved every single minute of it, even when Mr Bates, the valet, morphed from a chubby but charming stranger with a secret, into a creepy misery with a line in emotional blackmail and a tendency to loom and menace in dark corners. The rest of the inhabitants of the fabulous Gothic palace were terrific and I miss them; I’m hoping there really will be a film – and I want to be the Dowager Countess when I grow up…   cousin-violet

Failing the miraculous return of my favourite tv programme on Christmas Day here are some more books you’d probably rather not find in your stocking – but might have if you’d been around in the early 1900s.  A couple of years ago I shared some of the more exciting blurbs from my collection of Victorian and Edwardian novels – similar vintage to these (Picture: a tea towel from the Bodleian shop)bodleian_tea_towel

The first three are advertised in the back of a book published in 1909 – you can tell they’re not going to end well…

WO2 by Maurice Drake  ~ A sensational and exciting story of present-day illicit sea-faring. To explain the character of the forbidden trade would be to tell too much; enough that international politics are concerned… An exciting yarn of the sea and its scoundrelism(sic)…

Led into the Wilderness by  ~ William E Bailey John Martin, the hero of this story, is a missionary in a rarely visited island in the East. Here he is ‘tempted of the devil’ and falls. First he yields to a craving for drink and then to allurements of another kind in the person of a beautiful island girl….

Passions of Straw by Evelyn F Heywood  ~ The poignant tragedy of a young woman who, proud, beautiful, ambitious, finds herself wedded to a cynic and a roué. Her husband, having shattered her happiness, finally succeeds in drawing their only child into the whirlpool of his idle, vicious life…

And finally, a cheerful little book advertised in the back of a book published in 1912 – possibly not a forerunner for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Thankfully things have moved along – a bit – since then. (Below: A diagnostic tool of the era)phrenologyhead

The White Thread by Robert Halifax  ~ A book which is practically certain to arrest a serious consideration, both lay and medical. Tilly Westaway herself – the lovable, human little heroine with her secret maternal longings and her desire to ‘put everything right for everybody’ – makes a curiously moving appeal all the way. But it is the vast shadow in the background – the menace of the ever-absorbing, ever-expanding lunatic asylum ward – which will remain in one’s mind long after the book is laid down…(I bet they’re right about that last sentence, it sounds a morbid little tome…)

holly

On the other hand, here’s a book that would cheer anyone up, containing as it does a stalker, a vandalised Porsche, lots of dead insects, a blood-filled fish pond, and a host of other seasonal delights… the-art-of-murder-final-image

Have a Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year (hopefully, in my case, without further adventures involving patios, broken bones and broken heads…)

The Happiest Days…?

Look at that! Nearly three months since I last threw some words at this blog. There’s no excuse except that I’ve been busy writing. The trouble is, though, I’ve been writing TWO books at once – admittedly for the past couple of years – and although they’re nearly done, they’re not quite done. If that wasn’t enough, I’ve started a third book which is something I sneak off and play with, just for fun, but it all tends to put a stop to serious thoughts about actually getting something published.

I must say that the third book is fun to write. My younger daughter calls it my doll’s house and the friend who has read it complained loudly when she reached the end of the pitiful fifteen thousand word total. I hope to finish it sometime but there’s no hurry; it’s set in 1918 and there are three girls, one still at school; a dead (they hope) father; a distant mother who is a suffragette who writes racy novels under a pseudonym; a grandmother who failed dismally as a debutante by being sick all over Queen Victoria’s satin-clad feet, and a houseful of wounded officers in the small stately home next-door.Red Cross Hospital

Recently, I was having a discussion with some other writers about what, if any, encouragement we were given at school. The answer seems to have been, Not Much, for most of them, and school was often a barely-tolerated cross to bear. Not for me though. I loved school. When my mother put my name down at the small primary school down the road – the one that was built from Nissen huts left over from the First World War and were so fragile that a boy once punched a hole through the cardboard wall – she was told in no uncertain terms that she Must Not Teach Me To Read. So she didn’t and as the annual intake happened in the September after your fifth birthday I turned up on my first day aged 5 years and 9 months, unable to read (though not bothered about it). Alone out of the other forty-nine wailing children, I, (horribly precocious), informed the harassed teacher that I wasn’t supposed to be at her school. ‘Oh? Where should you be then?’ ‘I’m going to the grammar school,’ I announced. To which she replied, ‘I’m sure you will, eventually, Nicola. Now you’re here though, perhaps you’d help me with some of these children who are crying?’

I don’t remember learning to read but by my sixth birthday, on Christmas Eve, I could read fluently and was put up a year – the  downside of that being that I was too shy to ask where the girls’ loos were with the inevitable puddle as a result. (The answer was out in the arctic playground, with no glass in the windows, and a long way to walk (run) if it was raining.)

So – school was fine and I had no problems – apart from the entirely ludicrous requirement that had nine-year old girls (don’t know what the boys did) knitting. Not simple knitting though. I was presented with needles and wool and presumably a pattern and told to knit a pair of gloves. With fingers. After a month of hideous nights rent with screams and nightmares – and more puddles – I was a nervous wreck and my mother demanded that they set me to knit a plain scarf.

The grammar school was fine too – Parkstone Girls’ Grammar School – which, after I left school, was transferred to a modern building. (I bet it wasn’t as much fun as when we poked about in one of the old the attics and found a tiger skin rug complete with glass eyes and fearsome teeth!) We weren’t actively encouraged to write fiction as essays on dull topics were the order of the day but there was always an expectation that you could do anything you set your mind to and I did get a couple of poems in the school magazine. It was only after O Levels that I disliked school: not the lessons but the wasted hours doing games and PE, civics, music (which seems, at this distance, to have consisted of learning to sing ‘Who is Sylvia?’ for a whole term!) I should mention games, something I loathed with a passion and to this day the only sport I follow is tennis. (That’s probably because of the Australians of the day, with their long bronzed legs and tiny shorts – step forward John Newcome. Sigh…) My school consisted of several large Victorian and Edwardian houses scattered around a couple of acres. img783The art department was in another house, Torvaine, about half a mile up the road and the hockey field was just beyond that. To my eternal gratitude this field was low-lying and often flooded but we didn’t get away that easily. A little farther down the road was Poole Park with its football and hockey pitches. That was all right, the walk took time out of the lesson, but best of all were the times when our school field was flooded and the pitches in the park were already booked. That meant we had to walk towards Sandbanks (the millionaire’s paradise where, incidentally, my grandfather was offered the chance to buy an acre of land in about 1900 for the princely sum of £5! He couldn’t afford it and as my mother was the fifth child, I doubt if I’d have benefited even if he had.) Once we arrived at the Whitecliff playing field we had to pick up for teams. Naturally I’d made sure nobody ever picked me, though I could run pretty fast if I wanted to. The leftovers were told to play a scratch game out of the way and this is where it was fun. It takes a perverted kind of skill to hit a hockey ball on to the shore just far enough so you all have to clamber down to the beach to retrieve it, and not so far that the ball gets lost in the sea. Much more fun than running up and down after a ball with the hockey mistress (short hair held back by a Kirby grip, aertex shirt, and shorts that were known as ‘divided skirts’) shouting, ‘Where’s the left-wing? Oh – it’s you, Nicola.’

Enjoying school as I did it’s no wonder that I was an avid reader of stories of boarding schools, many of them dating back to the late nineteenth century – these, of course, are the inspiration for my pet project, the WW1 book. I have an awful lot of them, some ludicrous and some so beloved that I read them annually and sometimes more often. There are also modern stories set in schools I’d have given my eye-teeth to attend: Diana Wynne Jones’s ‘Witch Week’ school; Terry Pratchett’s ‘Assassin’s Guild’; Miss Cackle’s Academy and, of course, Hogwarts.

To this catalogue I can now add, ‘The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School’ by Kim Newman. Set in a gloomy boarding-school not long after World War I, this is a school story written by a writer of horror stories! He’s certainly done his research into the genre and it’s great fun to spot all the usual situations but the horrors creep in and it gets extremely scary!drearcliff

The Chronicles of St. Mary’s, the fabulous series written by Jodi Taylor, isn’t on the face of it, a school story, featuring as it does time travel, history, death, murder, mystery, comedy and lashings and lashings of margaritas, beer and head-banging sex. However, the setting is an historic stately home, everyone lives-in at their workplace, discipline is strict (most of the time) and when summoned to the Director’s office, the historians are as nervous as any third-former at the Chalet School.one damned thing