Tuesday, February 12, 2019


Not long to go now - hope you are all ready for those red roses and Valentine Day cards?  This year, I was in good time to write my article for one of my favourite glossy magazines.   I chose the theme of "love" and how, if nurtured, will last a lifetime.  Here we are with page one of my feature which appears in this month's ESSEX LIFE MAGAZINE, published by Archant, a great journal to which I have contributed since the early 1990s.  Hope you enjoy my little piece of naval history!

Saturday, February 02, 2019


Could it really be fourteen years since Sheila Norton paid a visit to our Writers' Circle in Brentwood, Essex?  This award-winning author has certainly been busy in the intervening years and I can honestly say, she hasn't changed a bit since 2004.  Sheila gave her audience this afternoon a fascinating talk about her start as a rookie writer and the value of entering (and winning) a couple of competitions which certainly helped her journey into this strange world of writing that so many of my colleagues enjoy. Her first eight books have been so successful and her later change in direction even more so. Next week her nineteenth book The Pet Shop at Pennycombe Bay will be published by Ebury Press, so we we all have a chance to see what Sheila has in store for us.

We are a family who love cats and Sheila's latest theme using these feline characters to tell their tales, is certainly going to be a winner. Her books have been translated into many different languages and her success goes from strength to strength. Well, why not see for yourself and log into her website www.sheilanorton.com and browse through some of her latest titles? She offers readers  her quarterly newsletter and we can even hear some of her stories via audio books including 'The Vets at Hope Green' and 'The Pets at Primrose Cottage'. libraries.

Friday, February 01, 2019


The emotional range of the poet Wendy Cope has always impressed me from villanelle to haiku, yep, we writers have all have a go at both - I'm not terribly good - but Wendy's work is so very clever and her output is amazing. 

In our history of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists - soon to celebrate the 125 years since being founded in Victorian times (by a man - no less!) - we are proud of the wonderful poets who were members - among every other genre of writing that you can think of. At least one of our members, Alice Meynell, almost became Poet Laureate in 1913, but that was a difficult time politically, for women, as your historical knowledge on suffragettes will reveal.

Right this minute, on Friday 1 February, Wendy is being interviewed on BBC Radio 4's  Desert Island Discs by Lauren Lavern. Do a 'catch up' and listen to one of the best poets in this country today. Better still, read her work published by Faber & Faber. 

In my history of the SWWJ, I devote a chapter to the success of our poets, and you will recognise some of the most celebrated names in international literary history. 

There is plenty more to read about our members from the time we began this Society on 1 May 1894 and I am delighted that many of our leading academics continually make contact with us on www.swwj.co.uk when they are composing their own work.

Oh, what a joy to bump into Wendy and two other superb poets, John Agard and Fleur Adcock relaxing over a drink at our ALCS party in Westminster - an exciting and entertaining trio! Wasn't I lucky?
John Agard Fleur Adcock and Wendy Cope snapped at a London writers' event

Wednesday, January 30, 2019


Such sadness with the news of the passing of one of our former SWWJ members, Wendy Hughes, a successful and prolific writer.  A  courageous and amazing lady, much loved and admired by all who knew her.


Here they are again - that delightful duo - Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are back in the spotlight with their new film which is gaining a whole new appreciation society.

One of my guests on Phoenix 98fm radio a few years back was Roger Robinson, a self-confessed Laurel and Hardy addict! He was introduced to the comedy duo, courtesy of Saturday Morning Pictures in the 1950s. As a member of ‘The Sons of the Desert’,  Laurel and Hardy Appreciation Society, for the last 16 years,  Roger has organised monthly meetings for the local group, ‘The Saps At Sea’, in Southend.

He is the editor and feature writer of a quarterly Laurel and Hardy magazine ‘The Perry Winkle’ which is sent to fans in the UK, Europe and America. The comedians appeared in Southend for a week during a tour in 1952 and Roger’s extensive research around their appearance resulted in the acclaimed ‘A Spot of Trouble in Southend’ book. The book includes many rare photographs, extensive information about supporting acts and personal letters. It was originally published in 2012 and a revised and updated version was published in 2015. 

In 2014, Roger wrote ‘UlverSTAN – The Bill Cubin Story’ to raise money for the Laurel and Hardy Museum in Ulverston, Cumbria, where Stan Laurel was born. Bill Cubin was a larger than life character, twice Mayor of Ulverston and the founder of the museum, now run by his grandson. The book is a touching tribute to a lovely man who was ultimately responsible for creating the permanent connections with Stan Laurel with a blue plaque of the house where Laurel was born and a bronze statue of Laurel and Hardy in the centre of the town.

A year or two back, Roger wrote his third book ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ which also has a Laurel and Hardy connection. Ron Stokoe is 90 years young and has lived in Southend since a child. He has had a remarkable life which includes being evacuated at the beginning of the Second World War,  joining the army in 1944 where he was posted to India, setting up his own taxi business, working at the Ekco factory and still organising Norfolk Regimental Reunions. When he was a taxi driver in 1952, he met Laurel and Hardy and their wives at Southend Central Station and took them to the Palace Hotel, where they stayed for the week. 

Hope I manage to see this film!

Saturday, January 26, 2019


Can it really be twenty years since the Essex Book Festival team gathered in Chelmsford to plan that very first Book Festival in 1999? I've been trying to find the initial brochure that brought so many readers (and writers) into the Chelmsford Library on launch day, aided and abetted by BBC Essex. 

Our current Festival Events Diary is outlined in our website www.essexbookfestival.org.uk and you can see for yourself what's in store.   Essex Festival Director, Ros Green, is always full of surprises and this year, she and her team have surpassed themselves.  On offer there are over 130 events taking place in 45 venues across the county and our theme for 2019 is UNCHARTED WATERS, inspired by the 80th anniversary of Arthur Ransome's Secret Water, which we will be marking as part of our opening weekend in Harwich. 

Since Essex Libraries founded the Festival in 1999, we are thrilled to be hosting events in over 24 libraries countywide. With so much controversy regarding closure of libraries in Britain, we really must support and make most of these wonderful places -  USE IT OR LOSE IT! 

Hope to meet many of you at some of the libraries in Essex hosting the Festival events from 1st to 31st March. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019


Currently writing an article for editor Hayley Anderson for her on-line  Enjoy Brentwood More! website looking at some of the schools that no longer exist in the town - shame, as so many local folk have great childhood memories.  This pic is on front cover of one of my earliest books Brentwood Voices published by Tempus Publishing (now the History Press of Stroud) showing Mr "Pop" Davis, headmaster of Junction Road Juniors. Not sure if some of those students were particularly happy about having their picture taken.  Date? Probably 1948/9. Shame the publishing illustrators did not use the whole line-up!