This diary works the other way from most - newest entries are at the bottom. I have deleted many old entries, so it starts rather abruptly, as I make space for new entries by deleting early ones.
6th July 2015
The trip to iceland was a huge success. It reinvigorated my interest in Baring-Gould, which is lucky because I'm jointly organising the 2016 gathering. It will be in Bude, Cornwall, in October. BG wrote a controversial biography of Robert Hawker, the vicar of Morwenstow, which had been severely criticised ever since. We plan to examine the various claims to the truth of the matter. And for light relief there's a splendid smuggling yarn, entitled 'In the Roar of the Sea' to look at. New members are most welcome. See www.sbgas.org
Bunty is adolescent now, very leggy and excitable. Great company for me and the old labrador, of course.
Main news this month is the appearance at last of THE SPOILS OF SIN. I have no idea what the response to it will be, given that it has a lot of explicit sex scenes. Ideally, I'll gain a whole new population of readers, and I know quite a few of my existing readership have been looking forward to seeing it. It was fun to write, and I hope the sex is sufficiently innocent and realistic not to be too horrifying for anybody. The girls, Fanny and Carola, are young and idealistic, hoping to make money from the thousands of single men flooding the western states, by offering them female company. The Gold Rush happens at the same moment as they set up their brothel (they call it a 'boudoir'), which brings added complications. And of course there's a dog...
I'm getting on quite well with THE HAWKSHEAD HOSTAGE. It's scheduled for next summer, all being well. The signing I did in Coniston last month went extremely well. The shop is 'Just for Ewe' and they are selling the whole Lake District series in large numbers.
As for the smallholding, this is the first year I've attempted a serious vegetable plot. Aided by grandson Luke, I now have a lot of potatoes, beans, turnips, peas and beetroot coming up beautifully. It's immensely satisfying.
The sheep are all shorn, too. And for real exercise, I have a lot of thistles and nettles to tackle, using medieval methods which I hope won't inadvertently destroy too many wild creatures. I haven't been able to bear to use a strimmer since I accidentally massacred a poor frog with one. They're horrible things!
13th August 2015
Another busy month, with mixed fortunes. A friend in hospital, for one thing. And my livestock trailer stolen from my field! That makes me furious. I knew it was a bit vulnerable, so I'd daubed Becky's Trailer all over it in blue paint, but apparently that wasn't enough of a deterrent. Everyone for miles around knows it's missing and will watch out for it, so perhaps I will get it back eventually.
Also nice trips to the seaside with family. Dorset last week, and Pembrokeshire still to come. The new dog, Bunty, will have her first sight of the sea. She is growing up to be a very funny little mutt, with a Shih Tzu-style overbite, and more and more fluffy with each passing week.
A few talks coming up - in the Forest of Dean and Droitwich Library as well as an interview tomorrow for BBC Radio Devon. I'm well over halfway through THE HAWKSHEAD HOSTAGE and am still waiting to see how THE SPOILS OF SIN is doing on Amazon etc. Also, reading 'The Goldfinch' by Donna Tartt, which is utterly brilliant.
The potato harvest has been spectacular in my garden. Also the beetroot tastes amazing. But I'm never going to like turnips, sad to say.
Not a lot of travelling to come - a week in France and then a trip to Crete later on. But 2016 will see me in Australia, and also America again, I hope.
Advance planning is already under way for the 2016 Baring-Gould gathering. We'll be in Bude and Morwenstow, comparing B-G and R.S. Hawker which should prove more interesting than many people might expect. Two titans of the Victorian church, with a lot in common, each with his own devoted following. All welcome to come along. Email me if you're interested.
21st October 2015
Again I have been very neglectful. The need to finish THE HAWKSHEAD HOSTAGE kept me very much occupied right up to the day I went to Crete, earlier this month. I've also acquired a machine called a 'brushcutter' which is a heavy duty strimmer, and great fun to use. Large areas of nettle and thistle have disappeared, and I have to resist the temptation to wipe out everything. The local wildlife wouldn't be too happy about that, so I'll restrain myself.
A new biography of Sabine Baring-Gould has just been published, rather to my chagrin. I was supposed to have finished mine by now, and here I am, beaten to the post. But I have to say that the new book says nothing fresh, contains many mistakes concerning dates and other details, and has actually - and perhaps perversely - inspired me to get back to my almost-finished work and beat it into shape. I think I can promise something rather more likely than many biographies tend to be, with a more 'novelistic' tone. Sabine was a complicated man, living in an era that disapproved of open emotion or self-pity. He was careful to leave very little evidence of his feelings, which prompts anyone writingf about him to rely largely on guesses and inferences.
My ebooks continue to sell slowly but steadily, with THE INDIFFERENCE OF TUMBLEWEED by far the most popular up to now.
As always, there are plenty of projects to occupy me, but life certainly promises to be a lot calmer and more static, over the winter.
11th December 2015
Things are really not as calm as I expected, so far this winter. The chaos of Christmas is as bad as ever. Nice chaos, admittedly. I write long letters to dozens of friends and relations, and at the moment there are still about 20 to go. I try to make each one different, but do cheat a bit at times.
The writing is always with me, of course. The final proofread of GUILT IN THE COTSWOLDS is due soon. Meanwhile I am close to halfway through a collection of short stories, called A COTSWOLD CASEBOOK. It's enjoyable to write something so different, but rather slow going. Plus, inevitably, I have been drawn back into the Baring-Gould researches, with lots of thrilling new discoveries. I'm hoping to get that all done by Easter next year.
The new dog, Bunty, is in disgrace. She chewed one of a pair of new and expensive leather boots, and ruined the zip! She also chews books. Dogs can be a mixed blessing.
After Easter I'll have to turn my attention to THE BOWNESS BEQUEST, where Simmy is left something by someone. That's all I know...
Wishing all my readers a Very Happy Christmas.
1st February 2016
January was lost in finishing the book for the end of this year - A COTSWOLDS CASEBOOK, primarily. And then, just before the end of the book, my mother went into hospital and died very comfortably last week. Somehow I managed to complete the last pages, as well as clearing a very large quantity of photos, diaries and letters from my mother's house in Devon. And then I arranged the funeral, which felt slightly odd, given that I arranged so many when I worked for an undertaker. Things differ quite a lot between Sussex and Devon, and times have also changed. Hospitals take days and days to produce the first piece of paper required for the whole process. It has not been unduly upsetting, but the old adage about crime writers having a sliver of ice in their hearts might be at least slightly true. We have a dispassionate eye on the details of what's happening, even as someone is dying. My mother had an extremely full life, not a day wasted in 95 years. A woman of great determination, who never left anything unfinished and kept friends for eighty years and more.
My books are going well in libraries again. Two new titles are coming out over the next four months. The Baring-Gould biography is sitting at the top of the pile now, urgently requiring completion and revision. There will be a big announcement when it is FINALLY available.
10th April 2016
Much of the time since late January has been spent processing my mother's huge quantity of possessions. Her house was stuffed with it all. A great deal of it had become moth-eaten, rusty, damp, mildewed, so was fit for nothing but the bonfire. But we have been keeping a number of auction houses busy with books, craft materials, furniture, fabrics and pictures. One person can accumulate so much ovr a lifetime, and it does make one wonder about why we do it. She hadn't seen or touched most of it for decades.
But everything goes on as it always did. My latest book is GUILT IN THE COTSWOLDS, which had a big launch in Mickleton, where we sold over 50 copies. THE HAWKSHEAD HOSTAGE will be out next month. New paperbacks as well.
However, the really big news is that I finally finished the biography of Sabine Baring-Gould, which I have been writing for so long. It is likely to be called SABINE BARING-GOULD: THE MAN WHO WROTE A THOUSAND STORIES. I am in discussion with a publisher in Devon and hope to have a publication date to announce before very long. It's a big book, and I am hugely proud of it.
Little Bunty is a year old now, and a delight. Gracie, the labrador, is slowing down a lot, in her thirteenth year. I am disposing of all the sheep, and will probably try to create a wildlife haven here, with a lot of trees and long gras for beasts to hide in. There are the usual selection of foreign trips in the diary.
10th July 2016
A shameful three months since I last made an entry. No proper excuses, either.
So - what's been happening? I went to Argentina for three weeks with my friend Liz. We drove around the central part of the country, seeing cities such as San Juan and Cordoba, as well as some very beautiful mountains. The people everywhere were enormously friendly and patient with us. There were countless homeless dogs roaming the streets, looking healthy and well-fed, but desperate for a family. Reduced me to tears more than once.
A COTSWOLD CASEBOOK is in the pipeline, to be published this October. Twelve original short stories all featuring Thea, Drew or people close to them. A refreshing change for me, and I hope for the readers. But back to normal next year, with PERIL IN THE COTSWOLDS. Also THE BOWNESS BEQUEST will appear in the spring. So you see, I have not been idle. And another bit of boasting - this year I came 88th in the Most Borrowed Authors list. Will I ever manage the top 50??
No firm date yet for the Baring-Gould biography. It has yet to have an index compiled, cover designed and subscriptions raised from people who want to buy it. For details go to www.longmarshpress.co.uk
My fields are now full of the expected long grass. Plus great swathes of yellow vetch, purple clover, bugle and buttercups. Also some thistles, which are less welcome. The garden is full of hedgehogs, which suffer annoyance and even persecution from Bunty. I found a dead baby one this morning. I fear she frightened it to death. Ironic, that the idiot dog should focus on these precious pricklies, when she could chase mice or pheasants as much as she likes.
Still plenty of travels in the diary for this year. France, New York and Australia are all coming up. I am also trying to transcribe my mother's memoirs, and get all her papers into some sort of order. To this end I bought a big new filing cabinet yesterday, at an auction. Managed to get it into the house, minus its drawers, and then took over an hour trying to get them in again. Finally achieved it. Going to auctions has become something of an obsession. But yesterday was tainted by someone making off with a lot that I had paid for. Snarl.
Finally, can't resist saying I am more than happy with the Leave victory in the referendum. So are nearly all my friends, as well as people I chat to in the street (and at the auctions). My offspring are not so chuffed, though. I attribute that to their living in the bubbles of London and Brighton, poor things. Out here we've got a real world going on, and the future looks wonderful.
30th Auguat 2016
Finished THE BOWNESS BEQUEST and started PERIL IN THE COTSWOLDS this month, as well as spending almost every afternoon outside in the sun with a book and the dogs. The repetitive days can be very seductive, and I've been in no rush to go out and meet people, or travel abroad. However, I did go to this year's St Hilda's 'crime and mystery' conference. The topic was the various strands of crime fiction - cosy, historical, suspenseful, psychological, and so forth. A good many talks focused on the Goldan Age writers. My books were instantly labelled 'cosy' when I started writing, but I have never felt sure I qualified. During one talk, I learned that the heroine (and it always is a female) of a cosy has to be likeable. Oh dear!! So many reviews of my Cotswolds books refer to Thea's abrasive, intrusive and nosy personality. People complain that they don't like her, and I always wonder why that matters. I also wonder what's wrong with her, when she seems pretty average to me. Nobody's perfect, or consistently likeable - and if they are, don't we find them a bit disconcerting? But I had no idea that I was breaking a rule for cosy crime, probably because I never wanted to be a cosy crime writer anyway. So - do we change the label, or change Thea?? Fortunately, Simmy Brown in the Lake District books is really quite a nice person...
August has been tainted by the unreliability of my internet connection. There have been many days when I couldn't get online. It was probably good for my writing, as well as for the garden, but it was also horribly frustrating - and it's still not right now.
The family holiday in France last month was a big success. Eleven of us drove right through the country in three cars, and fell in love with the Cevennes along the way. Wonderful hot weather and great food.
The Baring-Gould book is making glacially slow progress. Not sure why - it's out of my hands, and I'm trying to be a patient little author. Not really in my nature, especially when I've been promoting it vigorously, only to be told that publication will not be until next year. Sigh.
26th September 2016
The internet still isn't working properly, but the unexpected bonus has been better concentration on the writing, and a lot of time spent outside. It has been a wonderful summer for weather, travel, and general happiness.
I'm approaching halfway in PERIL IN THE COTSWOLDS and enjoying it very much. I think Thea's new way of life has been quite refreshing for me as well as for her.
My quick visit to New York earlier this month was a lovely interlude. I went to art galleries, antique shops and did a lot of walking in the heat.
I'm still working slowly through all the bundles and packets and boxes of papers rescued from my mother's house. It is all completely fascinating. Combined with all the letters I have kept from my own frinds and relations, it's a very big archive. One unexpected project to arise from it is a joint memoir with my oldest friend, Liz. Our friendship is close to 60 years in duration, and we still meet often and travel together, even though she lives in Australia. She has always been very keen on family history and is a published writer, so the obvious thing is for us to write a book together.
A COTSWOLD CASEBOOK will be out soon. Very excting.
19th December 2016
A few friends have commented, in their Christmas cards, on how slack I've been with this Diary. Disgraceful! So a lengthy update is required. Firstly, the gathering of the Baring-Gould Appreciation Society in Bude went very well indeed. Great speakers, and some lovely socialising. The clifftop walk at Morwenstow was glorious. Two days later I flew off to Australia for the rest of October. While there I became intrigued by the life of a rather remote relative, who was the Bishop of Kalgoorlie from 1919 to 1950. I found a large archive of his papers in Perth, as well as material in the small towns of Williams and Kojonup. I became fascinated by his early life, and was very excited to find unknown letters to him from the poet Edward Thomas. They were good friends as students, at Lincoln College, Oxford. He didn't make much impact in Kalgoorlie itself, though. Not a single reference to him in the church there.
Writing filled most of November. PERIL IN THE COTSWOLDS is now finished, and I'm pleased with it. THE BOWNESS BEQUEST is in production, and there will be a paperback version of the short story collection, in the spring. A COTSWOLD CASEBOOK.
SABINE BARING-GOULD; THE MAN WHO TOLD A THOUSAND STORIES is in theory due to appear by June 2017, but progress is frustratingly slow. I am hugely proud of it, a real Magnum Opus. It will be out eventually.
On the domestic front, I've had a small herd of Frisian heifers here for six weeks, eating my long grass, as well as rushes, thistles and nettles. They've transformed the place. I kept one field away from them, and am planting native trees in there. By the end of this week, I will have planted 55, and hope to add more next month. I am thrilled that a neighbouring farm is now selling raw milk, so I walk there twice a week with my little white milk churn, and everything now tastes like it did in my childhood, and there's real cream every day for my coffee.
I've just had an email from the Winchcombe Museum, which naughty Thea found underwhelming in SHADOWS IN THE COTSWOLDS. To my surprise, I was told that people use my novels to guide them on where to visit in the region. Bad mistake! A novel makes no claims to being a guidebook, and should be seen almost as the opposite. Thea is an invented character, and has her own take on things. Personally, I thought the museum was lovely. For heaven's sake, people, go and visit it, and tell them Thea's all wrong!
So - happy Christmas to all my readers, and on we all go into 2017.
22nd February 2017
Another long gap, which has been filled almost entirely with preparing the Baring-Gould biography for publication. I have decided to do it myself, after all, through my small press, Praxis Books. It is 540 pages, with some pictures, and a full index. I have read it through countless times in recent months, and still feel proud of it. There will be a plug for it on my home page. It's a limited edition of 500 copies, initially. Hardback. Only available directly from me. I'm not paying Amazon to do it for me, nor Waterstones. That way, the cover price stays relatively low.
The winter flew by, and signs and smells of spring are now all around. Gardening is high priority now, but I am off to Staveley in Cumbria very soon, to get inspiration for the next Lake District whodunnit.
My daughter's adorable little dog is due to have puppies in two weeks' time. They will be three-quarters Shih Tzu one quarter Maltese, and will be looking for loving homes sometime in May. If they're like their mother, they will be the most marvellous pets. She's a real little darling. Meanwhile my Bunty refused advances from gentlemen dogs, and is unlikely every to become a mum. She doesn't seem to like the idea at all. She's coming to France with me in the summer, for walks in the Cevennes and visits to a lot of small village markets, I hope.
Next month sees publication of THE BOWNESS BEQUEST in hardback and A COTSWOLD CASEBOOK in paperback. PERIL IN THE COTSWOLDS is due later in the year.