Thursday, 22 January 2015

A working break

I posted this photograph a couple of years ago as I was starting work on my current novel. It’s Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden and its relevance to my novel is that it is the place which I visualise as Radcliffe Court, the theological college in Cambridge where Judy’s uncle is Principal. And here I am, back in this lovely old building working on the run-down to a final version of The Picture of a Forest Girl. I chose to come here for a few days of uninterrupted writing simply because I love the place. It is not far from Delamere where my story is set, but that is incidental.

I didn’t fully realise until I arrived how much being here would help me to enter into how Judy felt whenever she stayed with her aunt and uncle as a complete unbeliever amongst a community of ardent believers bordering on the fundamentalist. Now that I’m here I can much more easily sit alongside Judy at Radcliffe Court. Not that the ever-changing community here is anything like the student population of Uncle Freddie’s college but there are sufficient correspondences to greatly assist the imagination. This was definitely the right place to come for a working break.

Judy’s grandfather owned a pub – so when I go out to the Glynne Arms this evening I will still be working. Writing’s like that!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Leaving Gilead reviewed

I just came across this lovely review of Leaving Gilead on from littlegirlietaylor:

"This was a wonderful read, I adored it and,I am quite sure anyone who reads it will feel the same. Sad and heartbreaking at times and then happy and wonderful at other times. My name is Sue, and I had a lot in common with Susan, I left a cult at 16 yrs of age, had a son, and went on my way, I would recommend this to anyone, especially anyone who has been in a strict religion or a cult, this is truly the way they are, the mother of Susan could have been my dad, and her dad could have been my mother. It so seems that the stories are the same, but the names just change. I have exchanged stories with so many around the world, and the stories, right down to the very words are the same, they have certain words and phrases that they use, and each person will present with them in their stories and they are also presented here very well also. This is how you start to realize that something is wrong and that your parents, children, grandchildren, brothers, or sisters might be involved in a cult type of atmosphere. Truly a wonderful read, cannot say enough for it."

Thanks, Sue, for that. I was very conscious whilst writing this book that I was really telling the stories of so many folk out there. Glad you enjoyed it.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014


As we approach Remembrance Sunday next month I am reminded of the first Remembrance service which I conducted after being ordained. I was a recent arrival in a northern town, the new minister of the largest of the “free” churches and soon after the various welcomes were done and boxes unpacked, I had a letter from the Town Mayor inviting me to attend a meeting of all church leaders at the Town Hall. The mayor's idea was that the town should have a civic remembrance service with all churches represented. What he wanted was for a short opening service in the Town Hall after which everyone would walk to the War Memorial to conclude with an act of remembrance. It seemed like a thoroughly good idea to me – though I would now want to bring in non-religious groups as well, but that's another story.

The only ministers who turned up for the meeting were myself (Methodist), the Baptist minister and the Salvation Army Captain. Both the Anglican clergy sent apologies, one to say that because the War Memorial was outside his parish he would not be able to take part. They had their own War Memorial inside the church and so, as always, they would do their own thing. The other Anglican wrote to say that as the Town Hall was outside his parish, he would not be able to be involved – but the War Memorial was inside his parish so he would lead an act of remembrance there along with other members of his church. And anyone else who wished to do so was welcome to join them.

I objected. Surely what we were proposing was unified thing, a single Civic Service beginning in the Town Hall and concluding at the War Memorial. The vicar shouldn't just say he's not going to be involved and then walk in and take over at the end. “Quite right,” said the mayor. “I will write and tell him so.” And so it fell to me, the new guy in town, to organise and lead the whole thing and conduct the Act of Remembrance. And the vicar didn't show up at all.

When we got home that morning, we heard something to put church territorial sensitivities into perspective. A newsflash on the radio said that a bomb had gone off at the War Memorial in Enniskillen...

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Rather more than just a boat trip

Half a century ago when my friend, David Bowker, and I were yet-to-be-enlightened enthusiastic Jehovah's Witnesses, we began our time as “pioneers” - full-time knockers on doors – in Salford's Docklands area. It was a grim place then with row upon row of run-down terrace houses backing too closely upon each other and fronting directly onto the too narrow streets.

David and I had bought into the Watchtower illusion – we were brought up with it. Soon, very soon, this dismal dockland and all else would be swept away by God at Armageddon and the world would be transformed into a paradise for the sole benefit of Jehovah's Witnesses. Well, all these years later the old dockland is certainly different.

Last weekend, after a very long absence, I revisited Salford Docks. Or Salford Quays as it is now styled. And what a transformation! I had come with Margaret because part of her birthday treat for me was a trip along the Manchester Ship Canal to Liverpool. Our journey began near the Lowry Centre just across the water from Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium, and the site of W. T. Glover's long since vanished factory where I began my working life.

Perhaps the most notable symbols of transformation were the teams of rowers out on the water. Years ago I would not have dreamed of the possibility that anyone would ever want to go rowing on what was then very dirty, oily, smelly and polluted water. But there they were.

To do justice to the five-hour trip would take far long than I can devote in one post. Let me just say that, far from crossing anything off my to-do list, I found myself adding lots more things to it – places to visit for a longer and closer look, people with whom to share the experience, and episodes for my writing.

This bridge, distinctly reminiscent of Sydney's Harbour Bridge, is at Runcorn close to where the Weaver Navigation joins the Manchester Ship Canal – and not far from where, in my current novel, Solomon Whitaker began his final boat journey after unloading his cargo at Frodsham.

At last, we reached the end of the Canal. Beyond the locks here is the open water of the Mersey Estuary and, beyond it, Liverpool – similarly transformed from the place it was when I left the northwest for Cambridge thirty years ago.

The more I visit my old haunts in the northwest, the more I want to keep coming back to re-acquaint myself with a place I loved and to get to know the new place it has become.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

"Without my imagination...

I’m not usually a fan of coach trips,preferring to plan my routes individually according to my own inclinations. Last week had to be exceptional, though. We were in Iceland, so what better introduction to that amazing country could we have than with Reykjavik Excursions’ splendid tours?

First thing on Wednesday morning we set off for a day visiting some of the places I’d learned of years before in geography lessons and never seen in real life. The first stop, though, was for morning coffee somewhere quite unexpected. A tomato farm. I guess Ben, who had joined us from southern Spain, was familiar with tomato growers but probably not with one quite like this Icelandic establishment which brings together the organic and the high-tech – and releases a boxful of bees shipped in every week from Belgium to maintain the year-round pollination necessary to keep this place going.

Leaving behind the tomatoes we drove to Geysir. Cool mountain springs? Nope – quite warm ones. Most of the visitors gathered around the biggest of the geysirs and watched, fascinated as the pool surged and bubbled until suddenly it boiled over.

We couldn’t move on, of course, without first climbing the peak overlooking the hot springs. And, yes, the view was definitely worth it.

From Geysir we drove to the Gulfoss waterfall. An awesome sight.

The last leg of the day’s trip took us to the Thingvellir National Park where we were able to enjoy some walking in Iceland’s great rift valley where the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates of the earth’s crust meet. Or rather, don’t meet. They are very slowly drifting apart at a rate of about seven millimetres per year.

As we stood in  awe of the unimaginable natural power simmering away so close to us, we were very conscious of the fact that the volcano at Bardabunga was all the time threatening to erupt - and possibly close the airport by the time we needed to come home. It hasn't erupted yet, but  it could do so at any time.

Waiting for our return flight from Keflavik Airport, I spotted among the posters and photographs advertising the island's attractions, a quote from an Icelandic author which rang bells with me:
"Without my imagination I couldn't go anywhere." (Vigdis Grimsdottir) Iceland stimulated my own imagination and I want  to go back!

Saturday, 2 August 2014


This is Henry, our dear old greyhound who died this week:
When he came to us about seven years ago he had never lived in a family home and it took him while to get used to it. Bertie, our bearded collie who was still missing his sister, adopted him as his new best friend and Henry learned how to be a family member. Gradually he learned to play and have fun. He was a great companion to all of us, a very friendly dog who introduced us to lots of new people when me moved to our new home here in Leominster. We're going to miss him lots.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Back it up!

I've been working on the part of my novel where Solomon Whitaker begins the laborious process of learning to write. He is determined to master the art because he has an important story to tell which must not be lost to later generations.

So I was quite naturally mousing around the cybershelves for titbits about learning to read among the working classes of 19th century England when I came across this delightful quote:

They spent nearly three hours one evening preparing a letter to a far-away sister, the mother painfully composing the sentences, the lad painfully writing them down. The glorious epistle was at last complete, the first great triumph of a combined intellectual effort between mother and son. Proudly they held the letter to the candle-light to dry the ink, when the flame caught it and ...the work of three laborious hours destroyed in three seconds. It was more than they could bear. Mother and son sat down and cried together.
From a biography of Will Crooks (G. Haw, 1907)

Even in the early Victorian period the motto above every mantelpiece had to be, back it up now!