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 March 2019
My three new 'non-crime' paperbacks (described above) are now available on Amazon (and nowhere else). They're also sold as ebooks. The paperbacks are 'Print on Demand' which I have discovered is a very second rate system, with almost no decent production standards. Bookshops and libraries do not sell them, because there's no discount. I took a venture, as an experiment, and have learned quite a lot. The novels (Spirit of Destiny and Spoils of Sin) don't look too bad, but the Baring-Gould biography is embarrassingly awful. However, the content is all there, and the ebook is a good buy. The paperback is infinitely inferior to the hardback (still plenty of copies available from me - see Home Page of the website) but worth buying perhaps, just. If you do buy it, feel free to voice opinions about it, to Amazon and Sharpe Books - and me!
THE STAVELEY SUSPECT is now out in paperback, and THE GRASMERE GRUDGE in hardback. Simmy and Christopher are still together...and we see more of his auction house in action.
THE PATTERDALE PLOT is making good progress. Oh - and SECRETS IN THE COTSWOLDS is due out in the autumn. So it's all happening.
I'm still working through my mother's old diaries and letters and learning just how dire my parents' marriage was. Quite enlightening, as well as quite painful. These days, my father would be accused of 'coercive control'. But then, so would a lot of men in the 1940s and 50s - and beyond, I suppose. They got away with such very bad behaviour.
I'm impelled to try and 'raise awareness' of the extremely excessive use of bubblewrap by book distributors. I've just tweeted about it. One box of 20 advance author copies yielded a huge mountain of the stuff, quite incredible. Let's BAN BUBBLEWRAP!
Don't I sound curmudgeonly today! I'm also revelling in little Caitlin, the garden, planning travels and reading a lot of wonderful books. Currently enjoying 'Joseph Vance' by William de Morgan. It is absolute joy, funny, clever, slow and delicious. De Morgan wrote very good fiction, as well as making fabulous tiles and ceramics.
15th April 2019
Such cold weather! My grandson and I did a car boot yesterday and there was a freezing east wind. But we sold a lot of stuff, which is always satisfying. Not a single book, but a few pieces of china and lots of Luke's outgrown games. It's fun watching all the people and dogs. Makes nonsense of the talk about doing away with cash.
I'm over halfway through THE PATTERDALE PLOT and am enjoying it. I went up there recently for more local colour and discovered Hartsop and Crookaback, which are tiny settlements close to Patterdale. Started thinking about the next title - maybe The Hartsop Happening....?
Easter has been a long time coming this year. My daffodils are almost finished, and the Great Egg Hunt, which is now traditional in my jungly garden, will be amongst a lot of dead and dying flowers. Progress has been halted by the bitter winds we've had.
My Baring-Gould biography is shortly to appear as an ebook, on Amazon only. The two American historical novels are now back as they were - with the original title for the first one: THE INDIFFERENCE OF TUMBLEWEED. My experience with the would-be publisher who made a dreadful mess of the paperbacks turned out to be painful and frustrating, and is now firmly at an end. I am going to Montana again this summer, hoping to gather material for a third title in the series. It will be set in 1866, with the same characters, twenty years on from where we began. Other projects are simmering nicely. It looks as if I have another busy writing year ahead of me.
6th June 2019
After a fairly uneventful winter, life became rather turbulent from the 1st May. First a big oak tree blew over in my field. It didn't cause any damage, but was a major loss and a sad sight. Then I had car trouble, which turned into a mild adventure, partly due to my not possessing a mobile phone, or being covered for breakdowns. But I was duly rescued by kind people and all was well. Later in the month, my sister's daughter died, aged 38. A real tragedy. The funeral did not take place for three weeks, and was harrowing as expected. But I am still a staunch supporter of a full traditional funeral. Without it there would be no collective moment for expressing the great sadness we all felt, and still feel. I think the British do funerals better than almost any other culture. But I was sorely overloaded when the man who was my English teacher at school, 55 years ago, also died, the same week as my niece. I had kept in touch with him all my life. The funerals were consecutive days. My poor hanky had quite a soaking.
I have finished THE PATTERDALE PLOT. SECRETS IN THE COTSWOLDS is due out at the end of August. My ebooks are all restored to normal service. I'm intending to spend July writing non-crime fiction and memoirs, before starting the next Cotswolds title. The Montana trip is very soon now.
Long grass everywhere, with a host of wild creatures living in and above it. Lovely birds, hedgehogs, newts, and small rodents all live here on my land. The apples are looking good, and all my little trees are growing happily.
12th July 2019
Got the box of advance copies of SECRETS IN THE COTSWOLDS yesterday. Anyone who finds Thea less than a perfect wife and mother will have their views confirmed in this one. Have delivered the final (I hope) revision of THE PATTERDALE PLOT which should be out next spring. So it's all ongoing, as usual.
Meanwhile I have a wealth of notes gleaned from my recent trip to Montana. I'm picking up the story of Fanny Collins, who features in THE INDIFFERENCE OF TUMBLEWEED and THE SPOILS OF SIN. She ifsnow in her thirties and the Civil War is just coming to an end. She has found a new way of earning her living, which does not involve the 'servicing' of men. In Montana there is gold, new towns springing up, the mighty Missorui river and quite a lot of Native Americans.
The acres are sheer wilderness, with an explosion of butterflies enjoying the long grass and many meadow flowers. Scents of honeysuckle, meadowsweet, clover and others. Great mounds of purple vetch replacing last year's thistles. Amazing how every year there's a new dominant plant.
Anyone wishing to buy the ebook of my SABINE BARING-GOULD:THE MAN WHO TOLD A THOUSAND STORIES should persevere in searching for it on Amazon. The top of the list to come up says 'currently unavailable' which refers to the cancelled Sharpe Books version. Keep on scrolling! The book is a great bargain and well worth reading, I promise.
20th August 2019
SECRETS IN THE COTSWOLDS is out this week, and I am just about to finish tweaking THE PATTERDALE PLOT. Next project on the stocks is A COTSWOLDS CHRISTMAS MYSTERY where Thea and family have guests, there are some sudden domestic dramas, as well as Something Nasty happening close by. The whole thing is seen through the eyes of Drew's daughter Stephanie, now aged 11. The plan is for it to be available for Christmas 2020.
My Oregon Trail novels are attracting new readers, and after my recent lovely trip to Montana, I've embarked on Book 3 - THE FRAUDULENCE OF FREEDOM.
And I am still revelling in my grandmother's splendid letters from the 1950s. Several drawersful yet to go.
The whole family decamped to North Yorkshire earlier this month, staying in Hawes where they make Wensleydale cheese. I went to the cheesery (as we called it) four times! The shop is a wonder, all by itself. Hawes also has Hardraw Force - England's highest single-fall waterfall. After a lot of rain it was absolutely spectacular. Add in sweet little Sedbergh, historic Dent (with vampire), gorgeous Ripon and its cathedral, stone walls and a million sheep and it all made for a superb holiday. Sadly, though, my cat died while I was away. I thought she'd last several more years yet. Now I only have Bunty, the little mongrel dog.
Have booked a week in New York before Christmas. Have lost count of the times I've been there, but it never grows stale.
25th September 2019
Just back from a few days in Trieste, which had climbed to the top of my must-see list. A place rich with history, and packed with gorgeous buildings, most of them monumentally big. It sits between the sea and a steep mountain escarpment, creating wonderful views from all angles. But it was also very frustrating. Efforts to find specific museums were frequently thwarted. There are no helpful signs, and Mr Google Map was clearly having an off day when he did the Trieste page. We were marched up a very steep hill for no reason at all, when we went in search of the castle. Incredibly, we never found it!
I should not have indulged in a trip at all, as it turned out. Allison & Busby are reissuing my first seven titles in a new format, and they all need to be proofread. Despite having been checked innumerable times, there are still a few typos and inconsistencies. More than that, I welcome the chance to read them all again in detail. I was afraid they would seem inferior to later work, but the fact is, I'm finding them quite startlingly good - which sounds immodest I know. There is a freshness to them, and clever plotting and pretty great characterisation. So I am hoping they will reach a whole new audience, as they deserve to. The first is A DIRTY DEATH, first published 20 years ago now.
Meanwhile I also have to write the next Thea story. A COTSWOLD CHRISTMAS MYSTERY, which is told through the eyes of young Stephanie Slocombe, Drew's daughter.
The Montana book is going to have to wait a while before I can get back to it. The homestead is yielding good crops of apples, blackberries and sloes. The young trees are all flourishing, and I think my resident hedgehog family are okay, although I don't see them every evening. I've got quite a few public appearances in the diary, too. See the 'Appearances' page of the website.
13th November 2019
More travelling in the past week - I had a few days on Jersey. I'd never been before and was greatly impressed. One surprise was how much French there is everywhere, as well as the delightful 'Franglais' mixture, which has its own name, which I forget.
Not much progress with writing, sad to say. Too many distractions. I've been having work done on the house, as well as looking after my little grand-daughter quite a lot. The reissues had to be proofread, which took very many hours. It was nice to read them again, I must admit.
Another diversion was a weekend in Tavistock, at the 'Go Gothic' festival. I sold a good number of Baring-Gould books, and had dozens of enjoyable chats with interested visitors. Tavistock is a very energetic little town these days, with all sorts of activities.
I'm off again next month, to New York. Providentially I will miss the election. I seem to know a lot of people who don't intend to vote - or who will write 'None of the Above' on the paper.
21st December 2019
Currently I have no internet, probably due to excessive rain and water everywhere. But have managed to find somewhere to connect up, so as to write a Christmas greeting to readers everywhere. My next Cotswolds title will be A COTSWOLD CHRISTMAS MYSTERY which I've been writing for several months now. As actual Christmas arrives, I find myself confusing fact with fiction, and wondering where Hepzie has got to. My own dog has a temporary companion, whie her owner is away, and the two get up to serious mischief, given half a chance.
I received today advance copies of the seven reissues of my early 'westcountry' titles. They have new covers and look wonderful. There's a launch event (some time after the actual date) in Okehampton on 22nd February. It would be lovely if some of my old schoolmates showed up!!
THE PATTERDALE PLOT will be out before too much longer, and ideas are circling for THE ULLSWATER UNDERTAKING (very provisional title). Meanwhile I am steadily copying material from my family archive. Currently on letters from the early 50s, interspersed with some much earlier ones.
The New York trip was great and I managed to catch the entire election coverage - which I enjoyed enormously.
Hapy Christmas, everyone!
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.
I've got a daunting list of public appearances in the diary. Some are 'closed' groups, such as WIs, but others are very much open to everybody. The York festival at the end of March is the next big one, where I'm delivering a talk called 'Crime Fiction as Fairytale'. There's a lot to say - still collecting ideas for that. Then there's Stowmarket at the end of April, CrimeFest in Bristol in early June. I appear to have missed out on being on any panels, so will be free to simply roam around chatting to old and new friends. Have a look at the Appearances page on this website.
THE PATTERDALE PLOT is out very soon. I have copies already. The Christmas Cotswolds story should appear at the end of this year, and after that there'll be the Ullswater book sometime next year, with luck. I haven't started it yet. ECHOES IN THE COTSWOLDS will probably slide over into 2022. That depends on how obsessed I get with memoirs, sagas and American histories..
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! I must say it's shocking how stupid many people are letting themselves become over something very unlikely to cause them very much personal pain or suffering.
But like anyone else, I dislike uncertainty, and not being able to make plans. 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!!