Monday, 25 June 2012

Lovely review

I was delighted to find this lovely, perceptive review after coming home from a week's holiday with the family and all the excitement of 'Summer Audience' in Tetbury.

Famous Five Plus review by Jonty Babe

Two previous reviews were:
from Louise Graham
Sue Fortin

When you write books, it is so rewarding to know that people enjoy reading them.

Thank you.

 I am in Dorking Waterstones this Friday, 29 June and Tilford Rural Life Centre for Romany Day on Saturday, 30 June.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Coming Full Circle – some Tetbury memories

I joined Love a Happy Ending before I realised their main book event, Summer Audience, was to be held at my old school – Sir William Romney’s School in Tetbury, Gloucestershire. It was as much a surprise to the group and its organiser , Linn B Halton,altonHalton as it was to me;  one of those amazing coincidences that can happen. Fact is stranger than fiction sometimes.

How wonderful it was to meet other authors previously only known virtually! Through blogging and Twitter and reading each other’s books, we have become quite a close-knit community but there is nothing quite like face-to-face meeting.
On the programme, I was down to talk about ‘Coming Full Circle’ but quickly sussed out that my childhood memories could be a cure for insomnia for most of the audience who had no close association with either the school or the place!
This is for those who can remember the 1950s and 60s, and for anyone who knows or is curious about the lovely town of Tetbury, now famous for being the home of our future king – for, of course, Prince Charles lives a couple of miles down the Bath Road, en route to world-class Westonbirt Arboretum, in the hamlet of Doughton. It is easy to drive past Highgrove without even realising it is there. Also, just saying, but the Princess Royal, formerly or also known as Princess Anne, lives close by at Gatcombe Park; and Princess Margaret  (our Queen’s late sister, of course) went to Westonbirt School.
I was lucky enough to be born in Tetbury, then Miriam Newton, and lived there until I left for university.
The school itself was in quite different premises when I was a pupil. The Ferns in Long Street, had the most wonderful grounds with three or four lawn tennis courts, and places to amble during break and at lunch-time. I remember clearly the gardener/caretaker, Reg Boulton. Looking back, what a delightful job he had!
Some of the pranks that took place may seem unbelievable today! Some pupils rather ingeniously, and under cover of darkness, managed to heave the heavy iron garden roller onto the ridge top of the pitched roof of the three storey stone building. I recall seeing it etched on the skyline as we all arrived at school in the morning, looked up and gasped. How did they do it? Who did it? Would it roll off? How would ‘they’ ever get it down?  There was another instance when a member of staff found his car on the back lawn minus its wheels. To redress the balance, I must stress that it was a fine school with high standards, academically, in sport and in music.
The rather imposing main entrance was for boys, while the very small door next to what was the Co-op, was for the girls! However, in other ways it was very forward thinking, with its Grammar, Secondary Modern introduced in 1952, and X streams in one establishment.  With lateral movement between these streams, it was I suppose, a forerunner  of Comprehensive education.

The school had its 400th anniversary  in Sept 2010. As a teenager I had no idea it was so old. But in fact when Sir William Romney bequeathed  £13 per annum to pay a schoolmaster, it was but a small room in the church. The school had many ups and downs until the old Grammar School was re-opened in 1921 at The Ferns.
My father was Maths teacher and the staff were like family friends so, rather oddly for a child of that era, I knew of them by their first names, Reg Woodward, Ted Prince, Philip Linfoot (Puggy), Jack Forrest , Peter Rodway, John Harding, Wilson Barrett – these were all colourful characters. Amazing names too -  art teachers, Middleditch and Drinkwater. Maybe it is my vivid perception of them as a youngster – but I really do believe they were an exceptional bunch of people. The flamboyant music teacher, Mr Rodway would call round for elevenses – I knew the sound of his car – the crunch and skid of his wheels on the grit as he always tried and failed to do a complete circle to turn round at speed by our garden gate.
My father was , I suppose, eccentric, although to me his behaviour was perfectly normal.  He would go off and paint the bark of trees with treacle; he always claimed he caught a kissing couple who stuck to the tree! At dusk he would pop out ‘to see Ivy in Beverston’ and for a while I believed he had another woman there, until I heard him say he was going off to take a bash at some Ivy  – which is something he always did with his walking stick if he walked past a bush – to see what would fly out. He used to spend many hours setting insects on boards, on our dining room table and visited the Forest of Dean, Silk Wood, Westonbirt Arboretum, Inglestone and Daglingworth common at night with a mercury vapour lamp and large white sheet.
Didn’t every Dad do this? Well, maybe not. Yes, you’ve guessed he was an entomologist, a collector of moths and butterflies.
Many memories are connected with music: My mother sang in a few choirs and taught singing at my junior school and I recall going to hear her as a soloist in Gloucester Cathedral.  So proud, I could not really believe that was my Mum, who was usually busy crimping gooseberry pies or polishing the brass. My sister Denise, 10 years older than me, was the organist in Beverston church; I was taught the piano by Miss Munday (Kathleen) in London Road, sister of Fred Munday of ‘Munday and Morris’ then the ironmongers in Long Street and local amateur thespian;  I remember picking my way back home across Courtfield, dodging the cowpats; magical memories of carol singing with a group from school – teenage lads who played the clarinet and trombone -  Chavenage House, now a hotel, (late correction not a hotel) where we were invited in for a mince pie! Sir William Romney’s school put on many first class concerts. As a child I was taken to chamber concerts at Westonbirt School, and this was regarded as a rare treat! Looking back they were incredibly stuffy, but they did get some famous names there.
Every street, every alley has a memory for me – of people and of things that happened.  Those wonderful names of the ‘posh people’ – Kitcat, Lowsley-Williams, Major Pope.  The great St Mary’s Church where I was married in 1970; summer fetes in Barton Abbotts. I remember the railway station pre-Beeching, when there were steam trains, and the cattle market where there were cattle and sheep in pens;  the Chipping where the Mop fair came round in the summer. Last week I took my grown-up family around some of these old haunts and later, when in the Corinium Museum in Cirencester, bought a sunny watercolour of the historic Chipping Steps. (It was heaving with rain outside!)
Many of us 6th formers would gather at the Post Office early on a dark, snowy morning to deliver Christmas post.  The vet lived in a house at the foot of Gumstool Hill, my dentist was at the top, and the maternity hospital where I was born was somewhere between.  John Harding, the woodwork and metalwork teacher, who was a craftsman supremo, lived in a large house at the top of Fox Hill in Silver Street  and was always busy renovating or building furniture, making old clocks tick or beating copper into shiny bowls. How clearly I remember the waiting-room in the doctor’s surgery close by! My school friend, who came along to the Summer Audience event, lived in a house on the Green.
In  Long Street, The Close is now a restaurant and hotel.  When it was a private house where the Goschen family lived, I would go and play with the little girl there called Mary and I particularly remember that she had a toy caravan where we could while away hours in endless pretend games. Her garden was where you now find the library, many houses and the fire station. The grounds were extensive and beautiful, like those of the old school and I remember what a shock it was when I first saw that the Sir William Romney’s  school  gardens had also become a built up area.
Under the age of five,  going shopping with my Mum was an almost daily routine– dropping in Gilletts the grocers, Philips the bakers, the butchers, the greengrocers, MacFisheries, Webbs the wool shop and Houghton and Neville, the chemist.  Shopping was also a social occasion and I remember writing a story at my first school, Courtfield – Miss Chat talking to Mrs Gossip! What interesting reading that must have been for my teacher, based on me innocently listening in to the chats my mother had en route …
I guess, people my age bathe  in the memory of the freedoms we had  as children and teenagers! My first school was a single-room wooden building run by the wonderful Miss Rymer, where Hampton Street meets Chavenage lane, opposite the ‘Rec’. Like the village school in Miss Read books. Two teachers – open plan – two classes – stove in the middle to heat it. After just a few days, I would take myself to school – crossing the road was not a problem in those days. But that first day was traumatic – no gentle easing in, no experience of playgroup or nursery.
Being able to run free, off to Hermit’s Cave in Bluebell wood, down Chavenage Lane, riding a bike around the lanes to nearby villages – Cherington, Shipton Moyne, Didmarton to see my other friend who also came to Summer Audience, all the way from Scotland - was very much part of growing up in Tetbury. However, there were many wet Sundays, school holidays, and as a teenager I bitterly resented that the last bus back from anywhere was about 6.30 in the evening! I was a great reader of books. I looked after the curate’s son’s rabbit while they were away on holiday and they brought me back The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. How I loved that book – it figures quite a lot in No Gypsies Served.
Influences that made me want to write? I was quite a shy child and enjoyed, not only reading but writing stories and essays. I would tell people when I was about seven that I planned to be an ‘authoress’! The first article I had in print was in the first issue of The Tetburian, a new school magazine, when I was 13 years old. Excellent teachers and – more than anything, that sense of community that I think led me to set my books in an English village. Appley Green is large village, not a small town like Tetbury, and it straddles the boundary of Surrey and Hampshire, but it has that strong feeling of belonging to a community, full of connections and associations. I have already decided that my next book in the Appley Green series will include something of Tetbury  and I cannot wait to start work on it.
To go back is, for me, very emotional, as you can imagine. After university and being married, my husband and I moved around quite a bit, I had a very varied career and three children. Always I tried to have a job that involved writing in some way but launched my first novel, Gypsies Stop tHere, the very day after I retired.
I hope some Tetburians see this and comment.  I would love to hear from you!

PS By the way, the day before the event, I had to take my beloved almost 14 year-old English Setter to the vet for the final farewell. Anyone who loves dogs will know how tough this is to do. I could not speak about it on the Saturday, for fear of breaking down in tears!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

On the radio - again!! BBC Glos

On Saturday I am going back to school. I may have mentioned before that Love a Happy Ending are putting on a stupendous show for booklovers at Sir William Romney's School in Tetbury, Gloucestershire. Love a Happy Ending is a group of talented and diverse authors - 30 of them (actually 29, as they are looking to recruit 1 new member - are you the right person?) - from UK, Canada and USA. 17 of these writers are taking part this Saturday in 'Summer Audience'.

When I was lucky enough to become a member of Love a Happy Ending I had no idea their main book event of 2012 was planned to take place in my old school. Linn B Halton, who spearheads the group, was similarly surprised and delighted.

I was invited to BBC radio Gloucestershire on Tuesday and raced back from giving a talk to the Society of Authors lunch group in Guildford, to be sure I was sitting by my landline in time!

You can listen here - there is a certain amount of gabbling at the end, as I was expecting to talk about me, then some music, then about the event ... but, well, you'll hear what happened.

The brief interview is still there on 'Listen Again.' I was on for about 10 minutes or so at about 16:10 on the programme that starts at 14:30; time on iPlayer is 1:42:00.  This should go straight through to my bit  BBC radio Glos

After Tuesday, 19 June, you can find it here:   clip of interview
I will be reporting back a few days after the event to let you know the full impact and fall-out!

Friday, 8 June 2012

Newsy update

For a so-called retired person, life is pretty hectic. My husband and I really did receive our bus passes the other day, though we’ve not tried them out yet.
Since the launch of Shades of Appley Green in March, I have done Waterstone’s book-signings in Windsor, Godalming, Woking, Camberley, Farnham, Basingstoke, Sutton and have more lined up in Dorking - 29 June; Newbury -28 July (for those not glued to the TV for the first full day of the Olympics, taking part or spectating); Guildford – 1 September; Sutton – 22 September.
You never know with signings in book shops, and I must have done over 30 by now since 2008. I should give up trying to analyse factors like weather/holidays/customer demographic/competing events. On my second visit to Camberley on a weekday, I virtually sold out and so left early. Godalming, on Mother’s Day Saturday  (and, for sure, Shades of Appley Green is all about motherhood and the little town so very like Appley Green ) was, by contrast, very quiet and so disappointing.  Since the week-day had worked so well, I reasoned, maybe this was a good time to reach my ‘market’; so I went to Sutton, more South London than Surrey, on a Thursday. It is a superb store with new coffee shop and armchairs to sit and chat to customers in total luxury.  I had a lovely time there, interesting conversations, and signed books for a good percentage of people I spoke to, but it was so peaceful I could hear my own heartbeat; so I am going back there again for a Saturday in September when we hope it will be buzzing with book-loving readers. There will always be folk who pop in out of the rain, or to pick up a map, children’s book or meet a friend for a coffee but do not actually read books! Some are also in there to browse for later Kindle or Amazon purchases. Sorry, Waterstone’s, but it happens. Think on, you browsing researchers, what would life be like without bookshops - or libraries? Waterstone's will be, or already are, selling Kindles anyway, I believe.
I have had two lovely holidays – one in Japan, and another walking on the island of Lipari. I find it important to achieve a balance now between living-in-general, writing, reading, promotion, family and friends.
Shades of Japanese Green
                and Shades of Sicilian Green   

On Tuesday next week, 12 June, I have been invited to give an after-lunch talk to the Society of Authors local group in Guildford Cathedral refectory - something to do with ebooks. To Kindle or not to Kindle!
Next up after this is an amazing book event in the Cotswolds. 'Summer Audience' on Saturday, 16 June is in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, organised by Love a Happy Ending, an international group of 30 talented and supportive authors, run by the energetic and creative Linn B Halton. When I joined this group a few months ago I had no idea that their main book event of the year was going to be in my old school!  I was born in Tetbury, lived there till I went to University and my father was also a teacher there. I am so looking forward to going back to my roots and meeting the other writers; I will be a speaker in their packed programme, and if you would like to come along to hear me on ‘Coming Full Circle’ I think there may be a few tickets left, if you're quick. As you can see, there will be other fantastic talks and workshops and it will be a thoroughly enjoyable day for anyone interested in books, reading or writing.
Then on 30 June I am off to the fascinating Rural Life Centre in Tilford, Surrey, close to the lovely market town of Farnham. The cover of Shades of Appley Green shows the village green in Tilford. They also have a traditional Gypsy wagon on display and this day will be ‘Romany Day’. Bourne Hall in Epsom are organising this event, in previous years held in the grounds of Bourne Hall museum and library; I have been there with my first two books, Gypsies Stop tHere and No Gypsies Served. It will be another wonderful opportunity to meet many Gypsies, Travellers and other members of the public.
My books are for sale in the gift shop at the Rural Life Centre and the ladies running it suggested that my books and I also take part in another event, Rustic Sunday on 29 July, a craft show filled with live demonstrations of country crafts. I won’t be actively writing – but there to chat to people! I shall probably be stationed near the Gypsy ‘caravan’ – look out for me if you come along. It should be another lovely day out. I shall have to leave by mid-afternoon for a friend’s 60 birthday celebrations, but will be there from early morning until then.
So … there’s always something going on and, as with Kay Brackenbridge, in my Gypsy books, that quiet retirement in the country was never going to happen!