Big School

Fifty years ago today I went to Secondary School.

The school was Newbold Green Secondary Modern and it was a life-maker. My Junior Schools had been hell-holes with teachers who were either nonentities who I cannot now recall or out and out sadists who I recall all too well, even today.

Newbold Green was not like that. It was a nice school, in modern buildings (probably crammed with asbestos) with lots of windows and pleasant fields surrounding it.

Better yet it had some inspired and inspirational teachers who lit the fires in me and several of my friends.

I had only been at the school a few months when I wrote a story from the point of view of a Guy on a bonfire and decided that I wanted to be a writer.

Later on I decided that I wanted to be a teacher. I have achieved both of these ambitions and was pleased that my first teaching practice was at my old school where I was reintroduced to many of my old teachers.

The great ones were great, the mad ones still mad.

In particular, I thank Mr Johnson, Mr Dunkley and Miss Hobson, my English teachers. And there were others who were as important.

Best of all I met many new friends who coloured and shaped my life. I blame a couple in particular for what I have become!

To commemorate this anniversary I’m making my collection of short stories The Big School free this week. I forgot to do it for today but it will be available tomorrow. Which is kind of nice because I started school on a Monday.

The stories in it are a mixture of fact and fiction, reality and morbid legend. I hope you enjoy them. You can find them here:

and here:

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My new novel #SampleSunday #Historical

Phew, it’s been a long journey but my new novel about Alfred the Great will shortly be available on Amazon Kindle. I’ve posted two extracts on the blog already. Here’s another.
Saxon Helmet
The war-band were standing quietly now on the northern ridge of the hill. They looked towards the west but considering that the newcomers seemed to be their friends they seemed strangely sombre.

The neighing of the horses was louder now and Ulf could hear the sound of their hooves pounding along the timber path which led from Lyng.

And then they appeared. Twenty men, fully armed on powerful steeds. Two men rode at the front, one in a scarlet cloak of finest weave, the other in a tattered grey cloak spattered with mud. The horsemen careered to a halt and the two leaders slid from their horses and looked around.

The eyes of the man in the filthy cloak darted everywhere: taking in the island, the hut, Cenred’s warriors waiting in line, the watery and marshy land around them and the men posted on the mump to the east. He brushed his hands through his hair and nodded. The man by his side turned to their followers and ordered them to dismount.

He must be a rich lord, Ulf thought, staring at his costly garments. Beneath his cloak he wore a mail-shirt with no tunic to cover it. A long sword hung from a thick leather belt which was studded with gem-stones. A rich lord indeed.

The other man looked ill-favoured in comparison. He flung back his cloak but he wore no mail-shirt beneath, only a mud-stained padded tunic in forest green. On his belt hung a small sword in a stained scabbard and a hunting knife. His leggings were tattered and torn as if had spent weeks running through briers and thick thorns. He looks more like a peasant than a warrior, Ulf thought. But he was riding at the head of the column so he must be important. Perhaps he’s the rich lord’s companion.

‘Is there any sign of the Danes?’ the man asked Cenred.

‘None, my lord,’ Cenred answered. ‘The surrounding land seems deserted.’

Ulf frowned. Can this man be a lord as well? Surely he’s too drab and poor?

‘Does anybody live here?’ the man continued. His voice had an authority which his appearance lacked. ‘In that hut, perhaps?’

Cenred nodded towards Brand and his family. ‘Just these five.’

The man gave them a brief glance and then turned to Cenred. ‘I shall need their hut. Give them a tent for shelter.’
Cenred nodded.

‘What about food?’ the man asked.

‘These people have very little,’ Cenred said. ‘We took hay for our horses but did not touch much of their store.’

‘Then we must hunt and fish and forage,’ said the man. ‘Perhaps the peasant can help. He must know the lay of the land.’

Cenred turned and gestured Brand to approach closer. The family drifted after him, reluctant to let him go closer on his own. Ulf hurried to walk by his father’s side.
The man in the scarlet cloak stared at them as they approached. He looked shrewd and thoughtful. The sort of man who made swift judgements and was rarely mistaken in them. He examined them closely, especially Brand. And as he looked at the two women he frowned.

The man in the the threadbare clothes paid no attention to the family. It was as if his mind had now moved far away. By his form and figure he looked to be about thirty years of age. But his face looked older, worn and weary as if the troubles of the world were hanging from his shoulders. He had hair as yellow as summer corn but his eyes were dark as hazelnuts.

‘My lord,’ said Cenred. ‘The peasant and his family.’

The man stirred as if waking from a dream and looked at Brand.

‘You live here?’ he asked in a mild tone. He seemed not to notice his battered face.
‘I do,’ Brand said. ‘This is my land. These men are scum and deserve to die.’

Hild reached for Brand’s arm to try to calm him but he shrugged her off. The man’s mild look had been replaced by one of surprise which looked ready to turn to anger.

‘You have no right to be here,’ Brand said, stepping closer and staring into the man’s eyes.

‘He has every right to be here,’ said the man in the scarlet cloak. ‘This is Alfred, King of Wessex.’

Ulf blinked in astonishment.

Brand turned towards the warrior and then back to the poorly-dressed man. ‘The King?’ he mumbled.

Alfred nodded. ‘For the moment, at any rate.’

The new book will be available shortly.

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Living in towns and cities changes the relationship we have with the seasons. Sometimes this is good, often not.

I’ve recently realised how disconnected I am from the seasons. As the year turns the days get longer and the sun rises in a different place. What has surprised me is just how quickly this happens. Because my apartment overlooks the sea I have been able to track the swiftness of this change in ways I would never have noticed before.

Must go now, times’s getting on.

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A Dance of Smiles and Falsehoods. #SampleSunday #HistNov

Here’s the opening of the sequel to A Love Most Dangerous.


Chapter 1 What is Love?
7 December 1539

‘For goodness sake stop that awful noise.’

Sissy looked up at me in alarm. ‘I was only humming, Alice. It was a little song.’

‘Well it’s a very irritating little song.’

She bit her lip. ‘Sorry. It’s just I don’t notice when I’m doing my needlework.’

I shook my head in exasperation and turned back to my book. I could not find the right word. The verse was almost finished and I was pleased with it. But I needed a word to describe how the maid felt when she first saw her lover. No word was right. Some sounded too ridiculous, the ravings of a love-sick child. Others sounded too cold, too austere to describe a real true love. I wanted the woman to be a woman not an ice-maiden. And I did not want her to spout words like some scholar who had read of love in dusty volumes but never experienced it.

I put down my pen. Was the difficulty because I had never truly felt love in my own heart? I felt myself frown as I thought back on these last two years. Oh, I had known plenty much of love-making. Despite his age and injury the King was boisterous and demanding when he felt in the mood for pleasure. But how much had I known of love?

The King sometimes told me that he loved me. But this was in rare moments, the times when he let his guard down. Perhaps it was when he was hot with lust and intent on wooing me, or perhaps because he was distracted by some passing thought and forgot he must ever play the King. Or perhaps because we had just made love and for a moment he was a little more besotted with me.

But had I loved him? That was the question. Had I loved any man?

Unbidden the image of Art Scrump came to my mind. I dismissed it at once. It was best not to go there. Best not to uncover that nest of baby birds and hissing vipers.

I thought back to the King. Had I loved him ever? Did I love him now?

It seemed a silly question as I asked it, a foolish notion altogether. Of course I did not love him. I was his mistress, his bed-fellow; that was all. And he was my protector, my shield. My master in every way. Pay-master, bed-master, lord and master. Could a servant truly love her master? Could a hound? Yes, a hound could. But a kitten? Now there was a different matter entirely.

‘How’s the poem going, Alice?’ Sissy asked shyly.

‘Not very well.’

‘Ah, I’m sorry. You write such lovely songs.’

‘They’re not songs, Sissy. They’re poems. How many times do I have to tell you?’

She bit her lip, her face contrite. ‘I’m sorry, Alice. It’s just hard for me to understand.

When you read them they sound a bit like songs.’

‘But they’re not songs.’

‘Why not though? I bet Mary could set them to music. Then they’d sound much better.’

I opened my mouth to remonstrate but thought better of it. Sissy would never understand the difference between poetry and songs. To be very honest I wasn’t sure I could explain it either. I would have to ask Sir Thomas Wyatt.

‘Where is Mary?’ I asked.

‘She’s with Susan in the sitting room. They thought you’d best be left in peace to get on with your songs.’

‘Poems, Sissy, poems.’

‘Yes, Alice.’ She put down her needle-work. ‘Shall I get them? Shall I tell them you’ve finished?’

She looked out of the window. ‘Oh look. It must be nearly time for dinner. How this day has flown.’

I glanced out of the window. The sky was a murky, mud-grey colour. I hated this time of year.

The lovely colours of autumn had flown away and the dull dank days of November had settled on the world with all their sullen misery. It had been a particularly dreary November this year. Brooding, heavy clouds blanketed the sky without even the relief of rain. On a few days the wind had whipped up and blown the sky clear. But within hours the clouds had crept back; darker, more determined. It lowered my spirits.

‘When will Christmas come?’ I wondered aloud.

‘Not long now,’ Sissy cried. ‘It’s Advent Sunday tomorrow.’

‘So it is.’ My heart sank. This meant it would be an exceptionally long sermon tomorrow, even more so as the priest would want to impress the Archbishop who was coming to the Palace. At least he was courteous company.

Sissy got up and stood over me. She had that quiet determined look which she had developed of late. ‘It is dinner time, Alice,’ she said. ‘They’ll be waiting to serve.’

Waiting on me, I thought. Even after a year I could not quite reconcile myself to the fact that I was mistress of Greenwich Castle.

‘Come along then,’ I said. ‘Let’s join the others.’

A Love Most Dangerous is available on Kindle, Kindle apps, in paperback and in audio. Click on the thumb-nail on the far right column to find out more. index

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May we Live in Peaceful Times

I was walking by the sea this morning when I saw a crowd of people all looking towards the square near where I live. It’s Menton’s Fete de Citron on Sunday and I assumed that this was some theatre company or dance band giving an early show.

Not a bit of it. A large van had crashed into a motor-bike, there was debris everywhere and the object of the crowd’s attention was an unconscious man who was being strapped into a stretcher.

I cut up alongside and headed home. On my way I saw two old ladies racing to see what was happening. One of them was going so fast I thought she might slip and fall, or even suffer a heart attack. Her friend was some yards in front of her. I guess they were after a ring-side seat.

It made me think of a curse which goes: ‘May you live in interesting times.’ Because although it’s marvellous to read about interesting and exciting times or watch them in the cinema, it’s often the opposite of marvellous for those who have to live through them.

I guess this is one of the reasons I write historical fiction. I am not physically brave and if I lived in medieval times I would be the first to flee a battle and join a monastery, or even a nunnery if that was all there was in the vicinity. Yet I can place my characters in the utmost jeopardy, as callous as a pirate captain making his prisoners walk the plank. If pirate captains ever did such a thing outside the fevered imagination of my fellow, stay-at-home, authors.

Not that I write gratuitous violence. And I avoid giving detailed, gruesome accounts of battles where you wonder how anybody is left standing let alone alive. One of my mild-mannered friends loves such scenes, the bloodier the better, applauding every abattoir of death and blood. 800px-Bayeux_Tapestry_4

I do write about desperate, dangerous situations but I remember the dictum of Alfred Hitchcock and often draw a discreet veil over the details. It’s much more interesting to consider the effect such trauma has on people, or doesn’t.

At the moment, I’m going to tone down the opening scene of my novel about Alfred the Great. It needs to be grim to understand the motivations of characters later in the novel. Yet, now I’m re-reading it, I realise that the people at the scene would have intervened to stop the cruelty at an earlier stage than I’ve allowed them to.

‘Get real, master,’ they seem to say to me. ‘Walk in our shoes a little more carefully.’

May we all live in more peaceful times. And let’s hope the man in the accident gets better soon.

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Blog as memoir

In an idle moment I looked back at some of my earlier blogs on this site. I was surprised to discover that I started it in 2011, when we still lived in England. It’s strange to read about the things we did then and there.

One post talks about how I get my inspiration from the lovely town of Menton and how my wife and I were hoping to have ‘a senior gap year there.’  Menton old town and port

We didn’t take the senior gap year – we emigrated here. It’s not been without its up and downs but all in all it was an excellent move. And now I can get inspired by the town and sea every day. Here’s hoping that I don’t get too accustomed to it.

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The Final Publishing Process.


I get discovered by Amazon’s Lake Union Publishing
I sign up
I discover that editing is not as painful as I thought

Before I started on the editing process I had a phone conference with two managers from Amazon Publishing: Thom Kephar, the Marketing Manager and Gabriella Van den Heuvel, the Author Relations Manager. They were full of ideas and energy and great to talk with. They outlined the process of getting published and a brief overview of how my book would be marketed. I had cause to call on Gabe a lot over the next few days to help clarify all the questions running through my mind.

At the same time I found out that ‘A Love Most Dangerous’ would be released in an audio version and also that it would be translated into German. All this was happening very fast indeed.

I won’t go into the details of the marketing campaign apart from to say that it makes use of some pretty exciting concepts and technologies.






And then, it all began to fit together. The new cover was done, the final copy was sent off and the book became available for reviewers.

A couple of weeks ago I received complimentary copies of the paperback and the audio edition. Here I am, taking a look. I seem to be a little bit pleased by seeing the final versions:




My wife and I spent several days listening to the marvellous story-telling of Heather Wilds. She was terrific, reading with great verve, sympathy and invention. If you like to hear a book read in a wonderful way I recommend you check out her work.

Yesterday, I received a gift from Lake Union Publishing to mark publication day. It was a blank leather notebook, very like the notebook Alice Petherton was given for her poems. It was the perfect gift.

And today, ‘A Love Most Dangerous’ is republished in the new edition.


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