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.
28th January 2020
A quiet month, spent mainly in reading and copying more of the huge archive of family letters I have here. I have learned that when I was born I was the 22nd great-grandchild (and there were several more after me) for Charles Scorer and his wife Harriet. She, incidentally, was Harriet Veitch, sister of Sir Harry Veitch, who founded the Chelsea flower show. A digression, but a typical one as I work through the papers. There are diaries and notebooks as well as letters. The fascinating patterns and connections make it exciting and deeply satisfying. We know that everybody knew everybody in the Victorian middle class, but it carried on into the twentieth century. My mother went to Howell's Denbigh boarding school, was Head of her House when aged 17, and kept in touch with dozens of Old Girls for the next 75 years. There are letters to prove it. My father, by contrast, came from a very rural South Devon village, where people wrote very few letters, even fewer diaries and didn't keep any of them. Even photos are scanty. I have learned, though, that my grandfather, uncles and father were all rampantly unfaithful to their women and I have quite a few unsuspected cousins out there. Even a few more half-siblings, so the rumour goes. The women weren't perfect, either, of course. My great-grandfather was born out of wedlock to Eliza Tope nee Finch, who was 42 at the time. She had another illegitemate son when she was 46.
Still lots of copies of SABINE BARING-GOULD; THE MAN WHO TOLD A THOUSAND STORIES in my back bedroom. Might have to drop the cover price a bit...Please think about buying a copy. It's very readable!!
14th March 2020
Interesting times for us all, reminiscent of the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001, in some ways. But then the countryside was closed, and I guess now it's the place everyone will head for - fresh air and a good distance from other disease-ridden human beings! One of my forthcoming talks has been cancelled so far. One is happening today as scheduled. Others are unknown. Likewise holidays.
It's a good opportunity for writers, of course. Confined to home, there'll be lots of lovely time for reading. I should make an effort to promote my ebooks better. They've slipped a long way down Amazon's ranking. A reminder - they are THE INDIFFERENCE OF TUMBLEWEED, THE SPOILS OF SIN and THE VIEW FROM THE CART. Quite different from my murder stories.
I'm well into THE ULLSWATER UNDERTAKING now. Simmy has her baby, but she's not letting motherhood turn her brains to mush. Christopher is redeeming himself wonderfully, having been slightly disappointing up to now. Readers have been critical of him. But Simmy does know her own mind and he's quite good enough in her eyes. Ben is back on centre stage, too.
30th March 2020
What does one say when moods, predictions, statistics vary so much hour by hour? I find the best thing is to avoid the news completely and keep in touch with loved ones. Several have confided that they are actually relishing this new way of being. Children and dogs seems especially happy. Letters, phonecalls and emails are even more welcome than ever. And for writers, there seems little need to worry about reduced income - so far, at least. People are keen to have plenty to read. Also, I notice the online Scrabble site is absolutely packed.
The current novel is chuntering along, interspersed with a long list of other activities. Some days the mojo shrinks to almost zero, but on others, there's a sudden spurt of energy. And all this after only a week of isolation. Most of that week was lovely and sunny - now it's cold and cloudy, things are a bit different.
It's too soon to make any future plans, but I have a growing urge to visit Turkey. Never been there and now I want to!!
17th May 2020
Slow days and weeks just roll together in one bland Groundhog Day, and I have had enough of it. There is an added complication for those of us living on the border between England and Wales, because the rules are different in the two countries. But all the rules are annoying and I no longer trust that they're sensible. It's beginning to feel a bit like the Brexit divide all over again. The Conformists and the Rebels. People telling each other what's good for them, on the basis of little more than hysteria and paranoia.
But I did get back to more concentrated writing, and THE ULLSWATER UNDERTAKING is now well over halfway. I've also accumulated a large amount of material concerning the lives of my forebears (mother, aunt and grandmother especially) which is now copied onto the computer and ripe for turning into fiction. People are buying my American e-books in better quantities. I should remind people of them. THE INDIFFERENCE OF TUMBLEWEED and THE SPOILS OF SIN. Both good value, I promise.
I've done a great deal of reading. So many satisfying writers I still have to try. Edward Bulwer Lytton is becoming a favourite, along with William de Morgan and Charles Kingsley. Dense Victorian stories that perfectly occupy lazy afternoons outside. Also Eden Philpotts, Edmund Crispin, Dorothy Whipple - not very many contemporary writers at the moment. I think a sense of history is very helpful just now.
More travel plans simmering. I predict a frantic scramble at the airports at some point. i intend to be at the front of the line!
2nd July 2020
Alarming to see how long it's been since my last update. I finished THE ULLSWATER UNDERTAKING this week, and am taking a few months off from murders before starting ECHOES IN THE COTSWOLDS where Thea is once again house-sitting in Northleach. In the meantime I hope to be travelling, reading and working on my family archive. Delighted that car boot sales and auctions have reopened, but am waiting for charity shops to get back to normal, as I have mountains of books to give them.
I lost count of the picnics I shared with one friend or relation at a time, since we were so blessed with nice weather in May. Still have one or two in the diary. The family are all in good health, but I detect a degree of deflation in some of them. A sort of flattening of the usual bouncy spirits seems to have happened to most people - and for some the overwhelming fear and panic has resulted in something like a living death, never leaving the house. I know a few of them personally. I assume they will eventually recover.
At the other extreme I have friends eager to start new lives in new places, open new businesses, change careers and make all their own clothes. There are great opportunities for those with imagination and courage.
And today the BBC actually interviewed two people who thought the lockdown might have been a mistake. Extraordinary!!
24th September 2020
The short-lived 'normality' of July and August seems to be over, although I have several friends who agree with me that we can't afford to waste our lives sitting at home in a Groundhog Day kind of existence. Scope for adventure and variety is sadly limited, though. It consists of little more than driving to adjacent counties to meet people and wander around a park. I have managed to explore Exmoor - which I had never seen before - and visit Northleach to remind myself of its layout. Thea is due there about now, to guard a house against possibly imaginary intruders... There are also plenty of beautiful hotels still open, with amazingly reduced prices, all over the country.
THE ULLSWATER UNDERTAKING is being copy edited soon, with everything moving more slowly than usual. Meanwhile A COTSWOLD CHRISTMAS MYSTERY is out next month, to keep things going.
My family papers are still giving me enormous interest, and I have now copied about 250,000 words, in an attempt to preserve them in a useable format. I can email them to interested parties, while fairly easily consulting them for the book(s) I want to write about individual personalities. I'm well into my aunt's story, or the part of her life that spans the 1940s. Helpful people ask why I don't just scan them, not understanding that the very process of copying is crucial to the way I then transform them into my own prose. They stay more firmly in my head once they've passed through my fingers.
In recent months I've had numerous lovely emails from readers, saying how much the books have helped them through isolation, loss or boredom. Very gratifying to hear such reports. I've done a lot of reading myself. Favourite book this year has to be 'The Unconsoled' by Kazio Ishiguro. I absolutely loved it. Also discovered Jodi Taylor's time travel stories, which are utterly brilliant.
Finally I should mention a thing called Postcrossing, whereby people send postcards total strangers around the world. It's extremely efficient, and quite magical. I've made new friends through it and it makes the morning post more exciting. www.postcrossing.com
25th November 2020
One excuse for neglecting my poor website is that I have made excellent progress on ECHOES IN THE COTSWOLDS, which should be finished within two or three more weeks. Another excuse is that nothing ever happens these days. One of my few interesting activities is buying from an auction in the Forest of Dean, which does at least get me out of the house to go and collect my purchases. I have acquired some lovely things recently. One of my daughters deplores it, and the other thinks it's great.
I was prompted to add a new entry by my cousin in Totnes, when she reported the death of our last aunt, who was married to the youngest of the Tope brothers. With all my attention this year on my mother's side of the family, I had rather overlooked the paternal branches. There is much to fascinate there, too, but sadly little documentary evidence. Nonetheless, my genius researcher friend has located some newspaper reports, mainly of deaths. One young and distant cousin died when falling off a pony when he was about nine.
The pandemic has inevitably affected relationships, and it has been a case of 'swings and roundabouts' for me. I am much closer to my brother now than ever in our lives. And I have lost one of my closest and oldest friends, for reasons I have yet to understand. She just stopped all contact, dead in its tracks. Several other friends dating back to the 1960s have shared my love of letters and long emails and kept in delightfully close touch. I am now resolved to visit them all over the coming years, which will keep me on the road a lot of the time. Also in planes, as several are in America and Australia. This wasted year has confirmed my passion for travel. I only feel half alive when I can't cover a lot of ground.
Reading has been voracious ever since March. But the size of the To Be Read pile has only grown, because I've been buying obsessively, too.
Outside is muddy, but the trees are glorious. I planted five baby elm trees about 6 or 7 years ago, and four of them are now tall and lovely. Number 5 blew down in a gale, but there are new sprouts coming up from the root, so perhaps it will survive. Barn owls converse across the acres in the early morning, and numerous other birds make use of the wildness I've handed to them. My goal now is to attract nightingales one spring.
2nd January 2021
Happy New Year to everybody who reads this. Christmas was reduced but still very pleasant, with affectionate communications from family and friends. Except for the one mentioned in the last entry. We are victims of the pandemic, since our only meaningful contact turns out to have been face-to-face. Without that, the whole thing quickly shrivelled up. My internet system and phone connection are both about 15 years behind everyone else, and Zoom would be completely out of the question. Which leaves us realising how threadbare the bond between us must have been. I am in a letter group (formerky known as a 'correspondence magazine') with six surviving members. Three of them at least have turned to Zoom, which seems to me a change for the worse. It's not at all the same as well-considered letters (sent by email these days, of course).
As for writing, ECHOES IN THE COTSWOLDS is now with the publisher for consideration, and I have immersed myself in an account of my aunt's life during the war. It's fairly mundane (apart from the frequent love affairs) but even if nobody else is interested, I'm greatly enjoying the project.
I've also finally, after many years, found time for a little bit of painting. I have no talent, but have always wanted to give it a try. All the materials I need are here to hand, so it's a definite Resolution.
I can't see much prospect of travel throughout this year, except perhaps for some jaunts around Britain. That would be quite enough to cheer me, anyway, at least for some months.
Before long I will make a start on THE THRELKELD THEORY. The word is, apparently, pronounced Threkkled, which is much easier to say. It's an unassuming little village, a bit like Staveley, and there are sure to be a few dead bodies lurking there...
I will make every effort to post more entries here, from now on. Feel free to prompt me!!
5th February 2021
Have made a small start on THE THRELKELD THEORY and booked an optimistic two days in a B&B there next month to do some exploring. Otherwise life is painfully dull and slow. My aunt's story (now entitled 'Wendy in Wartime') has kept me at the keyboard, for which I am thankful. Delving into a large cupboard this week I found a lot of papers from my mother's house, which I scarcely examined before dumping them in there five years ago. Not only are there many photos of Wendy and her friends in the 1930s, but there are official contracts, all original, dealing with properties and businesses dating back to 1811. My mother's mother's family - surnames Cooling, Hickingbotham and Rowland. They have been the most shadowy branch of the tree until now.
I'm booked to have my vaccination on the 8th - but there will be no date given for the second dose, which seems somewhat concerning. If you go to an NHS centre they give you a date, but not at the GP practice. I was offered both on the same day, and chose the one nearest to home.
Still reading voraciously. Currently enjoying 'Steamboat Gothic' by Frances Parkinson Keyes (which she insisted was pronounced Kyes, let me tell you). I have developed a liking for very fat novels, preferably written over 80 years ago. I think this one is somewhat more recent, but set in the 19th century.
Very little painting has been achieved, but I am ever hopeful. Outside I have some new fencing which has improved the look of the garden. Now it needs to stop raining so I can get down to some constructive springtime planting, etc.
2nd March 2021
THE ULLSWATER UNDERTAKING will be available very shortly, as well as the paperback of THE PATTERDALE PLOT. I still hope to get to Threlkeld soon for essential research on the next story. Meanwhile, the first volume of what I hope will be a series of narratives about different members of my family is just about finished. WENDY IN WARTIME is a compendium of letters and diaries featuring my mother's older sister, who spent the years after her first husband was killed trying desperately to acquire another. She managed it eventually, having emigrated to Africa. It was fun to do. Next is CLARE TAKES CHARGE which features my granny.
My friend Liz and I have now finished our joint memoir FOREVER FRIENDS as well. We're revising and tidying it now, before deciding what to do with it. It's quite a substantial volume and we're very proud of it.
The winter lockdown has been very harsh and seemed to go on for ever - still not over, of course, but a strong sense that people are breaking out, and good luck to them, sez I! You've got to live while you can. Friends and family have died recently, but none of them directly from the virus A local friend in her mid-seventies spent the past year obediently isolating, using the time for painting and reading, and getting almost no exercise. She died alone last week, apparently of heart failure. I will miss her.
The family has agreed to book a holiday in August, renting a large house for twelve of us and two dogs in the East Midlands. I have a huge list of people and places I urgently want to see. I've been rediscovering old friends, which is a delight. But I still manage to avoid Zoom - assisted by the extremely clunky and inadequate broadband provision we have here.
Reading as much as ever. Currently on 'Someone at a Distance' by Dorothy Whipple. It's so great that she has been 'rediscovered' after years of neglect. As a writer myself, I deplore the way authors can be completely forgotten, even after a spell of relative popularity. Very much the case with Sabine Baring-Gould, of course. And hundreds of others.
The fields are still spongy after huge amounts of rain, but there is a prospect of a dryer time ahead, and the buds are swelling on all the shrubs and trees.
10th April 2021
I'm well into THE THRELKELD THEORY now. The place is pronounced Threkkled. I popped up there last month for some research and am pleased to have chosen it for the next story. Ben Harkness is a central character this time, with a number of viewpoints, as a change from my usual structure of seeing it all through one pair of eyes.
WENDY IN WARTIME has been at the printer for a very long time, with no sign of progress. Higly unusual! My experience of printers, ever since my first job, has been extremely positive. This lot have been decidedly frustrating. I had banked on having the book all done and delivered by next week, but it will be much longer than that. Meanwhile I'm copying more of Wendy's letters. She is now in Africa in the 1950s, describing her difficulties with servants (the houseboy and garden boy) in the most cringe-inducing language. Looked at from a contemporary standpoint, it's almost unbearable. The 'boys' were often married men, sometimes grandfathers, ordered about, paid minute sums, hectored and hit. My aunt herself was not above hitting them. She grew up with servants in England and was bossy by nature, but she must surely have questioned her own behaviour at least occasionally? As a storyteller I am desperate to hear the boys' side, and how they felt about her. The second volume will feature my grandmother, with Wendy and her siblings more peripheral. It's called CLARE TAKES CHARGE. Which she did, at the end of the 1950s. At the age of 73, she orchestrated an epic move for the family from Cheshire to Devon, and nothing was ever the same again for any of us.
The so-called relaxing of lockdown is making almost no difference to anything for another 5 weeks or so as far as I can see. I want museums, cinemas, hotels, planes and pubs to be freely available withut any additional hassle. As someone who loathes the mobile phone and uses it almost exclusively to do a jigsaw on each evening, just to keep it alive, the prospect of apps and suchlike infuriates me. What happened to my civil liberties?? There is almost nothing in my diary for the month of May, although some auctions and car boots are starting up again at last, thank goodness.
It would appear that the most likely place to allow people like me to fly in and carry on normally while there is Texas. That will suit me nicely. I'm watching the restrictions closely.
I realised after a few pages that I had already read 'Someone at a Distance' so I switched to 'The Priory', also by Dorothy Whipple and enjoyed that very much. I'm now reading my second James Wilson novel, 'The Summer of Broken Stories' which is very compelling, despite being in the present tense, which I usually cannot abide. He does it so well, it isn't as intrusive and annoying as most in that tense are. I still wish people wouldn't do it.
22nd April 2021
Endless days of frustration with the shambolic business of producing my ‘Wendy in Wartime’ book. Having published about 20 books since 1992, using my own imprint and dealing amicably with printers, this one has defeated me. It seems a lot has changed over the three years since my last title and the whole process has become impenetrable. I have been, as usual, pretty slapdash, as well as ignorant of the recent developments involving PDFs and ‘artwork’ and formatting and things that used to be perfectly simple. So I submitted the text with a few careless typos still present. When I asked for them to be corrected, I was told that meant beginning the entire process from scratch, with much more money to pay – so the book will have embarrassing mistakes and look a mess. Everything takes ages, so from start to finish will be 9 or 10 weeks, which is fantastically much longer than ever before. I will be giving the 150 copies away for free when they finally arrive in late May. Apply here. It is quite a good story, in fact. I’ve been rude about most of my relatives.
31st May 2021
Quite a lot of book-related activity over recent months. ECHOES IN THE COTSWOLDS is due at the end of July. THE THRELKELD THEORY is almost finished. I've got a faint outline for BETRAYAL IN THE COTSWOLDS as well. Plus WENDY IN WARTIME is finally here, and several kind friends have read it and commented. All but one have told me it kept them turning the pages, and the character study of a single person in a time of war gave them plenty to think about. The exception was a person who thought it a pointless exercise. Made me think about the differences between fiction and non-fiction. If I had made it into a novel, would it still seem pointless?? Looked at in one way, all writing is pointless, I suppose.
Very tentative travel plans, still. A few days here and there and some vague but ambitious plans to get to France and America. After so much rain here, in January, February and May, the appeal of the countryside does wear off. In fact the appeal of this whole country can grow very thin without sunshine.
Both my daughters are breeding from their Shih Tzus this year. One litter of puppies is born - four girls and a boy. The others are due at the end of June. A lovely distraction for the whole family.
I've read several more excellent novels, as well as a biography of Edward Bulwer Lytton by Michael Sadleir, which I found engrossing. The most recent discovery was 'Butcher's Crossing' by John Williams, which is extremely powerful, and quite gruelling.
This week is intended mainly for gardening. It only took a week of warmer weather for the whole place to turn into pure wilderness - I do need at least a few paths to be mown through it. As lways, it's thronged with dozen of different sorts of birds.
21st July 2021
Oh dear - another long gap. It's tempting to say there has not been very much to record, but in fact I've been out and about quite a lot. The horrible weather through much of June has something to do with my silence - it did lower my mood rather. Now we have some serious sunshine, I am galvanised into action. Working on FOUR books at once, although the main focus is on BETRAYAL IN THE COTSWOLDS which is set in Oddington, near Stow-on-the-Wold. Its only real claim on anyone's attention is an 'abandoned' church - which I might well NOT include in the story. I never like to be obvious.
THE THRELKELD THEORY is now scheduled for early 2022, and I am going through a quick revision this week. There is also FOREVER FRIENDS which is now almost completed, and being tidied up. It's a joint memoir with my lifelong friend Liz, and between us we've created something rather good, I believe. We'll publish it ourselves, probably - should be available by early next year. And finally I'm relentlessly copying and processing hundreds of family letters, as I have been for some years now - with a view to writing CLARE TAKES CHARGE which will be the story of my grandmother during the 1950s. Her life was quite eventful, especially during that decade.
The impossibility of foreign travel is rankling more and more, but when it's hot and sunny here I have to admit I'm in a very good part of the world. There are puppies to play with, and at least I can go to the pub without too much hassle. And the garden is always there, waiting for a bit more mowing.
Still reading two or three books a week. A current favourite is Belinda Bauer, who makes many other crime writers look somewhat cliched. Her characters are always so credible and yet delightfully original.
In August there's a big family holiday booked in Derbyshire, but very little in the diary after that. Even the talks that have been tentatively arranged for October might never take place - nothing can be said for certain these days.