Coming Soon!

A sneak preview of my next children’s novel, due to be published by John Hunt’s Our Street Imprint!

It was first written several years ago and it has taken a long time and a major rewrite to reach this stage, which I will explain about nearer to publication. In the meantime, I can reveal to the world the artwork for the cover:


Like many authors, I’m used to not having much say in my covers and as a consequence being unhappy with the outcome. Long-term followers might recall how bitterly disappointed I was with the inappropriately brutal and garish cover for my ‘cosy crime’ Victorian detective novel Murder in Montague Place) (But the book itself is a literary landmark – and a snip at £2.99 for the Kindle edition!)

But I’m really thrilled with this. Not only is it wonderfully atmospheric and has all the features I wanted just as I envisaged them, but it does look a lot like the real-life location where the story is based – my favourite haunt (no pun intended!) of Polruan in Cornwall.


A less spooky view. I’ve treated myself to a writer’s retreat in the white building with the black sign on it on many happy occasions.












The main reason for this coming about is that I was able to discuss it with the artist myself on this occasion. I do a lot of my writing in my local Caffe Nero, where I was fortunate enough to come across the talented Kay De Garay, whom I had spotted beavering away with a sketch pad. She very kindly offered to take the job on, and here is the result for all to see.

The book should be coming out in the next few months, so watch this space!



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Word Origins

Have you ever thought, as I often do, about the job titles of your servants (‘Maid’, ‘Valet’, ‘Personal Masseuse’ etc) and wondered about the origin of the different words?

I came across a simple but interesting example just recently. In Ye Olde Days,


Ye Olde Days








a servant was in charge of the wine bottles. Actually, mine don’t hang around long enough to need anyone in charge of them, but if they did he would have been known as the Bottler, from the French bouteilier.

I was prompted to delve into this when I was looking (in a purely professional way) at my butler, Ivana, as she poured my morning cup of tea.

My butler, Ivana

My butler, Ivana, waiting for her wages. I’ve told her to put in her request with more more subtlety and decorum, at least when we have guests, but there’s currently a language issue.


I know butlers are traditionally men, but I don’t hold with such gender stereotypes and I secured her services from a particular specialist website that was running a special offer on its subscription charges. She didn’t actually know anything about butling, but after a quick crash course on the subject (as I prefer it to be performed) we were up and running.




Where was I?

Oh yes, so bouteilier, if you hadn’t already guessed, is we get the word ‘butler’ from!


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To Talk Inaudibly…

…wasn’t the name of the new drama about the Brontes, (To Walk Invisible) but it might as well have been. Being a Bronte fan and having visited the parsonage in Haworth on several occasions, I was really looking forward to the new drama by Sally Wainwright – but I was bitterly disappointed.

First there was the sound quality, which seems to be a common problem with modern TV productions. The dialogue was virtually inaudible at times without turning the volume so high that the incidental music and more dramatic scenes became unbearably loud.

But that is the least of my gripes. This simply wasn’t the Brontes that I ‘know’, especially the permanently sour-faced Charlotte and the pugnacious Emily, who at one point squared up to Branwell and threatened to take him outside for a punch-up.

To me the accents were all wrong. Patrick, the father, was Irish. Jonathan Pryce is one of our best actors but I’ve no idea what his accent was supposed to be, and it certainly didn’t sound Irish. In this drama,the Bronte children all spoke with working class Yorkshire accents, which I believe is highly unlikely. It sounded like Coronation Street in period costume (yes, I know Coronation Street is Lancashire – but you know what I mean). The Bronte sisters may have spoken in a slightly more ‘proper’ or middle class Yorkshire accent – but there is written evidence from someone who met her that Charlotte spoke with a distinct Irish accent like her father, at least when she was younger. The Brontes famously didn’t mix with the local children, and I find it hard to believe that they would have lost their Irishness and adopted ‘Ee by gum’ accents, especially to that extent. I’ve read about how painstakingly they reproduced the parsonage, so I’m really surprised they got such a important feature wrong.

Plot-wise, this was really the Branwell Bronte story with the girls coming up on the rails towards the end, and their publishing successes hastily summed up in a couple of paragraphs of text before the end credits. Branwell’s story has plenty of drama, but surely most viewers wanted to know about the more famous and accomplished sisters? Why, for example, wasn’t it set in the twelve month period when Charlotte lost all of her siblings one by one – surely a time ripe for a poignant and powerful story?

The sisters’ ‘story’ was really successive chunks or soundbites of them in intense and earnest discussions, as if that’s what their whole lives were like. It was like a succession of trailers for a longer film. Branwell’s was the only real ‘story’.

The period feel was great, and the attention to physical detail was amazing – I actually thought the’d filmed it in the parsonage until I read about how they recreated it.

But I’ll stick with ‘my’ Brontes – not saintly, not without fault, but certainly not the dour, pugnacious miseries portrayed in To Walk Invisible.

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Heading for the toilets in a local shopping centre, I noticed this sign:


Being keen to keep my feet dry, I decided to turn right and stick to the main toilets…



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Exam Howlers

EWN Smith

EWN Smith

In the past I have mentioned one of my old English teachers, although I can’t remember why for the life of me. Anyway, he was called EWN Smith, and we called him (behind his back, obviously) Compass Face, which we thought was rather witty. He was a good teacher, and had a way with words. I recall him telling one boy, about his homework, ‘It was a big improvement on your last essay, Mather. It was only awful this time.’

Anyway, to my amazement I came across a random, one-off blog posting by his son. I always knew that Compass Face had worked in Africa because he sometimes regaled us with stories of his travels, and I now learned that he was there and in other countries as a chief examiner for the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, marking essays written by sixteen-year-olds taking either O Levels or the local equivalent of them. What his son had posted was an old notebook in which Compass Face recorded “howlers” or amusing turns of phrase from scripts he marked, plus others that he saw on his travels, and he goes on to list a few of his favourites.

I thought I would share some with you:

  • (On a sign board) Vacant man wanted
  • My girl friend & I are very thrusting with each other
  • Pandemonium not only reigned, it poured
  • “The primary aim of education should be to equip a man to earn his own living. This is so important that it should be repeated. The primary aim of education should be to equip a man to earn his own living. Indeed, it cannot be said too often that the primary aim of education should be to equip a man to earn his own living.”  [I strongly suspect that in this case the student was struggling desperately to fill all those scary acres of blank white paper while still trying to sound intelligent and earnest – a phenomenon I remember well…]
  • When the wedding was over the bridegroom clasped his loved one tight in his

    EWN Smith’s actual notebook

    arms, while the little organ began to swell & fill the room

  • Pails & bowels were flung all over the plaice
  • Lateron the doctor gave him piles to relief him his pain
  • Swollen dead bodies were taken to the doctor for cross-examination
  • Both his legs were cut off, & both his hands, & most of his brains were hanging through the side of his head; & he was lying on his bed — crying [As you would, no doubt]
  • In table-tennising a white ball, inform of an egg, is kicked between the two players
  • Table-tennising is controlled by an Empirer. The two parsons toss the tennis ball to each other, & stroke it when they are chanced
  • She had vital stastics — I did like them
  • Pidgin English, West Africa: Aeroplanes = dem breeze lorries for up
  • A Nigerian examiner’s comment: “A good essay, full of minor gross errors.”



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Getting to the Bottom of it


Denim jeans exactly like the ones I wear, but different.

Denim jeans exactly like the ones I wear, but different.

It’s been way too long since we looked at the origin of a well known word or phrase, so to make up for it I’m providing my readers with two for the price of one today – and we’re looking at denim jeans!


I suspect that many people would think, as I did, that they were an American invention, worn by cowboys and ranchers because they were made of tough material. But that would be far from the truth – approximately 4,000 miles distant, in fact.




I always like to get something nautical into my word origins, and I’m happy to be able to report that back in ye olde days of sail



Ye olde days of sail







sailors began to appear in France wearing clothing made of ‘jean’ material, and they were from Genoa, where it was invented. Possibly. But sailors or otherwise, the French name for Genoa is Gênes, and this is where the ‘jeans’ is thought to have originated.

The denim part also comes from France. In the French town of Nimes they produced their own version, and when it became popular it was referred to as being of, or from, Nimes, ie de Nimes.

It was centuries later that Levi Strauss patented the idea (not his, apparently) of adding the rivets to trousers made of this type of material, giving jeans the distinctive look we know today.



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Roll up, roll up for the festive edition of Aquila children’s magazine!




It’s a subscription-only magazine, but well worth it!

The article featuring the Plum Pudding Riot (actually more about how the Puritans tried to ‘ban’ Christmas) is by yours truly, and is said by many to be worth the subscription cost alone.

And now a word from Denzil the Hypnotic dog. Look into his eyes, focus, concentrate…




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