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Tuesday 13 December 2016

Free Kindle Book

Tomorrow, in honour of the anniversaries of Prince Albert and Princess Alice, I am giving away for free the Kindle version of my book 'Queen Victoria's Creatures':

Thursday 27 October 2016


I am happy to announce that Queen Victoria's Creatures is now available in paperback and Kindle formats:

And if you are looking for stocking fillers as Christmas approaches, or wanting a little light relief on chilly autumn evenings, you might enjoy a little Victorian era quiz book - also available in paperback and Kindle formats.

Wednesday 28 September 2016

Coming Soon...."Queen Victoria's Creatures - Royalty & Animals in the Victorian Era"

From a garrulous parrot who embarrassed an Archduke, to an injured fawn carried home in the arms of a Queen, animals featured largely in the lives of the royal families in the halcyon days of the European monarchies.
Disruptive dogs, bothersome birds, faithful friends, family pets, livestock and working animals all had their place in palaces, but while these were generally treated with respect and affection, princes saw no incongruity between wilfully slaughtering other creatures for sport.
Throughout the 19th century, hundreds of thousands of birds were shot for entertainment, and, as empires expanded, hunters were proud to exhibit their trophies of more exotic animals, whose heads and skins were boldly displayed on palace walls. This, too, though was the era of a growing awareness of the need to respect and protect our fellow creatures, and a number of royal voices were raised in defence of ‘our dumb friends’. One Queen purchased a large number of caged birds, solely to set them free; while a Duchess took in so many strays that the stench of her home became unbearable to visitors.
 Sometimes amusing, sometimes tragic, the stories of all these animals are each, in their own way, deeply moving, and, perhaps, in the retelling, we, too, can be reminded of the message of Queen Elizabeth of Roumania:
“If man really imagines that he is the lord of the creation…surely he has, before all, a tremendous responsibility toward his inferiors and must, perhaps, some time give an account of the way in which he has treated these animals. If eternal retribution is a reality, if we are responsible, what shall we then suffer for the way in which we have treated God’s creatures.”
This book is dedicated to the thousands of unknown and innocent creatures who gave their lives for Man’s amusement, and the thousands more who continue to suffer such abuse today.

Why I Believe In Grammar Schools

I am somewhat baffled by the argument that Grammar Schools are divisive and geared towards wealthier people. I attended a Grammar School in which there were pupils from very different backgrounds and from all areas of the city and beyond. The wealth of the pupils’ families was of no significance at all to us, as we simply saw classmates, in the same uniform, studying the same subjects and being encouraged to achieve all the we could achieve according to our individual talents.
There are many people who say that Grammar School were divisive as those who did not attend them were viewed as somehow inferior. Again, I think this argument does not hold water. The problem was not with the Grammar Schools but rather with the attitude that somehow academic talent is superior to any other talent – technical, manual, musical, artistic or otherwise. Rather than condemning the Grammar Schools, the question should have been why are some talents viewed as more important than others.
The fact is, I am not gifted manually. I wish I were. I cannot sing opera. I wish I could. Should, therefore, there be no singing lessons because people like me feel inferior to those who can sing? Should there be no university degrees in physics, because I would not be admitted to the courses?  Should there be no drama schools because some people are not good actors? Should there be no apprenticeships in plumbing and electronics because I couldn’t do it?
It often seems to me that rather than raising everyone up to their highest potential, certain politicians prefer to make everyone the same and pretend that we all have the same talents. I certainly do not think children should be made to feel inferior in any way because their talents are not the same as someone else’s, but equally it would be wrong to pretend that some children are gifted at everything when they clearly are not. It would also be wrong to prevent one child excelling at something because another child couldn’t do it. We will never all be Olympic athletes, pop stars, actors, footballers...nor would we all want to be. Education, as far as the Latin I learned at Grammar School goes, surely, means ‘leading out’ as in helping children to discover whatever talents they possess and using them to their highest ability. 
The question I would like to ask is not, “Are Grammar Schools divisive?” but rather, “Why do we value some gifts more than others?” If we stop doing that, then all children could be attend appropriate educational facilities and we would stop pretending that we are all the same. 

Saturday 25 June 2016

After the Referendum

In all the aftermath of the EU referendum, amid all the name-calling, blame and more sensible calls for unity, something has concerned me, which I don’t think has been mentioned. On several programmes, attention was frequently drawn to the fact that the South East and especially London would vote to remain because the people there are better-educated! I am aghast at this for two reasons. Firstly, it implies that northerners are somehow uneducated; and secondly because it suggests that all educated people would vote remain. I am also aghast at the truly unpleasant insults that have been hurled at those who voted to leave, primarily insisting that they are either racists or ignorant. There is no point in going over the old arguments about why leaving was – in my view – a good thing, but it appears that this issue has raised more political passion in this country that I have ever witnessed in my lifetime and has also highlighted many deep divisions within the country. For years the main political parties have been so similar to one another that there has been little to choose between them. Perhaps this is the wake up call that the country needed to discuss all the issues which concern us, in a more balanced way. To me, the fundamental problem lies in the fact that many politicians do not view themselves as representatives of the people, or as public servants, but rather as rulers who have greater intelligence than the rest of us; and also in the fact that we have to accept that within any country there will be conflicting views. In my experience, the smaller the institution, the more successful it is because the people within it feel ‘known’ and feel that their views count. Smaller schools, for example, have been shown to work better than huge schools with thousands of pupils. In the same way, a smaller state works better than a huge one. This does not mean that smaller businesses, industries, schools, countries etc. etc. cannot work amicably together, rather that individuals need to feel that they have been heard. At the end of the day, we had a referendum in which we were all entitled to vote. An outcome was reached and the only way forward is to put behind us the unpleasantness and start building upon what we have, creating and maintaining good relations with other nations, and respecting that, however small the majority vote was, it was a majority. May I suggest, too, that there is a rethink on the ‘uneducated masses’ of the north...the places which produced William Wilberforce, Judi Dench, the Brontes, J.B. Priestly, Delius, John Atkinson Grimshaw, L.S. Lowry, Henry Moore, Andrew Marvell, James Brindley, Charles Halle etc. etc. Now I must don my flat cap and feed my whippet before setting off down ’t pit..eh-up! 

By the way...my latest book "Queen Victoria's Cousins" is available now in Kindle and paperback versions:

Monday 18 April 2016

Free Kindle Book in Celebration of the Queen's 90th Birthday

To celebrate the Queen's 90th birthday, I am giving away FREE the Kindle version of my novel 'The Counting House' on 21st April 2016:

When seven-year-old Georgie, desperate to win the attention of her hero, James, steals a candlestick from a cemetery lodge, she believes that the devil has seen her and will follow her home. Her conviction is heightened that evening when tragedy strikes the family. Guilt-ridden, Georgie sets out on a quest to become a saint, in the hope that God will grant her a miracle. Her sincere but often bizarre efforts lead her through various escapades from a remote Yorkshire farmhouse to being lost in London, when she is accosted by a sinister stranger. The arrival of a distant relative throws her world into greater confusion as she comes to understand the nature of good, evil and accident. The story is populated by a variety of eccentric characters; feisty ex-suffragette, Great Aunt Lucy; the pious but increasingly senile Great Aunt Philomena; beautiful French Aunt Marie and her huge explorer husband; the cruel teacher, Miss Keppel; and the contrasting personalities of Georgie and her friends and siblings.

Friday 12 February 2016

The Dogs Trust

The Dogs Trust is such a brilliant charity!! If you sponsor a dog (or two) you receive regular letters from them, which are so touching!! For Valentine's Day, they have sent cards with a lovely little packet of dog-friendly flower seeds in them - how very beautiful!! These are my little buddies...Brady and Elvis. I have never met them but it is lovely to hear from them! If you are looking to do something lovely this time of year, I cannot recommend it highly enough :-)

Thursday 11 February 2016

Bernadette Soubirous

On 11th February 1858, a young shepherdess, Bernadette Soubirous, saw a 'beautiful lady' standing in a grotto in a rock beside a stream...and so the incredible story of Lourdes began. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and, as people of all nations come together, it shows how peaceful the world could be if we could free ourselves from the arms dealers, the warmongers and the madness that governs so much of the earth...

Friday 5 February 2016

King Leopold I & Baron Stockmar - Two Irksome Characters

In researching my new book, I can’t help thinking that the Belgian King Leopold’s – and later Prince Albert’s - advisor and physician Baron Stockmar was, in his own way, like a cross between Bismarck and Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. He was forever watching people – like Polonius spying from behind the arras – and reporting back to King Leopold about them. Like Bismarck, he seemed to want to control kings and was forever criticising the young royals that he was sent to watch.
King Leopold himself is, to me, a very irksome character, manipulating his nephews into marriages, whether or not they, or their parents, wanted it – a prime example being King Ferdinand II of Portugal, for, although his was a happy marriage, he had had no desire whatsoever to take on such responsibility, or, for that matter, to marry a girl whom he had never even met. King Leopold liked to have finger in every pie, and Stockmar was his eyes-and-ears throughout the courts of Europe. Stockmar’s seemed to view himself as an oracle of all wisdom, offering marriage guidance, advice on raising children, making harsh judgements, and generally patronising everyone who was younger than he was. Between them, he and King Leopold interfered in the lives of the King’s relations far more intrusively than Queen Victoria interfered in the lives of her children and grandchildren. They remind me of two old busybodies - how irksome they are!

Friday 29 January 2016

Victorian Showerers

Apart from her fondness for sea-bathing (with the help of her wonderful bathing machine!), I believe that, unlike many of her predecessors, Queen Victoria took regular baths and regular showers, and according to one of her granddaughters, she was usually scented with orange blossom. Her granddaughter, Grand Duchess Elizabeth, had her bath water scented with rose petals. Prince Albert, too, took regular baths and showers, and so I was much amused when I came across a book published in 1866 which was aimed at guiding people into the best time to take - or to avoid - showers:

"It is not upon creeping out of bed in the morning, that a chlorotic young lady, or a feeble youth, should be advised (as they so often are) to place themselves under the streaming tortures of cold affusion. The shock at such a time to delicate constitutions can hardly be overstated, or its power to do serious mischief. But after a romping game in the nurserybefore dinner, or a goal at football, or a ride in Rotten Row,when the quick pulses of young life are throbbing through every vessel, the shower-bath is of inestimable service."

So, avoid cold morning showers!

Queen Victoria's Bathing-Machine as it appears today at Osborne House

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Happy Birthday, Kaiser Wilhelm II

Happy Birthday to the much-maligned and misrepresented Kaiser Wilhelm II - a man, in my opinion, 'more sinned against than sinning.' I sincerely hope that one day he will be seen very differently, as the 'Apostle of Peace', as he was described by an American commentator in 1913.

His son, with whom he did not always see eye-to-eye, wrote this of him:

With my father it has often seemed to me as though 
speech had been bestowed upon him that he might 
open to his hearer every nook and bypath of his rich 
and sparkling inner world. He has always allowed his thoughts
and convictions to gush forth instantaneously and immediately without prelude and without prologue,
an incautious and noble spendthrift of an ever-fertile intellect which draws its sustenance from 
comprehensive knowledge and a fancy whose only 
fault is its exuberance. Moreover, he is by nature and 
by ethico-religious training free from all guile ; he 
would regard secrecy, dissimulation or insincerity as 
despicable and far beneath his dignity. The idea that 
the Kaiser could ever have wished to gain his ends 
by false pretences or to pursue them by tortuous 
routes is for me quite unimaginable....
In the depths of his nature my father is a thoroughly 
kind-hearted man striving to make people happy and 
to create joyousness around him...
The Kaiser, too, in those years of self-repression 
and of weakness, just as in his days of unbroken self- 
confidence, desired to do his best, and he regarded 
as the best the peace of the realm. Nothing should 
destroy that ; with every means at his command he 
would secure that to the empire. The terrible tragedy 
of his life and of his life's work lay in the fact that 
everything he undertook to this end turned to the 
reverse and became a countercheck to his aims, so 
that finally a situation arose in which we were beset 
by enemy upon enemy. 

Friday 22 January 2016