Friday, December 08, 2017


Tomorrow, we say goodbye to our very good friend TONY MOTLEY.  We have shared so many wonderful events over the last twenty years.  Watching the performances enacted by the marvellous MAYFLOWER MORRIS MEN  has always been such fun and Tony's colleagues have added merriment and sparkle to so many of our traditional events in Billericay and all over Essex.  We will miss our lovely Tony and offer sympathy to his family.
Tony Motley and Ken Smith

Thursday, November 30, 2017


It may have been snowing outside, but Phoenix 98fm Presenter, Michelle Ward,  made sure our BOOK CLUB guest, the writer and magazine editor CAROL CANNAVAN and I were warmed up with hot orange chocolate as we whisked through the myriad of topics we had prepared to chat about during Michelle's morning radio show.
During November, both of us have been reading, reviewing books, giving talks and signing our wares, alongside writing our own material. It has all been rather hectic.  Carol, of course, has been editing our super SWWJ magazine, packed full of exciting writerly things coming up in the New Year.  

Do check out Carol's upcoming news regarding her book which has been revised and I believe there will be some rather good news for apprentice (and professional) plumbers - a vital and most necessary career.

 I've just heard that Carol has a promotion on the e-book version between 1st and 5th December – it can be downloaded freely.  Here is the link: A Career in Plumbing – – the e-book is usually £5.75 and the paperback is £9.99.

Oh, I forgot we are also making a film linked to my latest book  BARKING & DAGENHAM FROM OLD PHOTOGRAPHS and I have been given permission to interview some of those doughty local folk I met two or three years ago.  Watch this space!

Thursday, November 23, 2017


Congrats to Ellen & Peter Owen at Havering Museum and their hardworking team for last night's enjoyable annual Corporate Evening - brilliant way to showcase a museum (or any place for that matter) in a congenial atmosphere, good food and the opportunity to network with friendly local business folk.
Their history hubs are fascinating and well worth a visit, particularly with Titantic and Suffragette links (both topics I am researching), so many thanks to Havering Museum and their vibrant Chamber of Commerce & Industry friends and supporters. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017


Taking their bow!  Playwright Dawn Knox (blue dress) with Stephen Metcalfe MP (far right), Basildon Mayor and DOT Production cast plus volunteers and Bob Sheridan and his team
Saturday 11 November was such an appropriate date for the final part of the FORGET NEVER PROJECT - SACRIFICE AND LEGACY which commemorated the centenary of the Great War.  The Woodlands School auditorium at Basildon was packed!

Local MP Stephen Metcalfe started this project in 2014 with support from Basildon Borough Twinning Association and Basildon Borough Heritage Group, alongside a dedicated group of volunteers from the local community and schools in the area. Since it started, the project has reached out and touched thousands of people's lives, not only in Basildon Borough, but also in their twin towns of Heiligenhaus, Germany and Meaux, France.

My fellow SWWJ member Dawn Knox was the author of this highly individual play which saw its fourth performance last night. It has attracted enormous audiences in the above twin towns. Three individual young men are remembered. George Burnett from Wickford in Essex; Albert Kiekert from Heiligenhaus and Louis Vallin from Meaux.  We learned about this trio of militia and their families; their hopes and dreams and we know, from archived letters, that none of them wanted to kill their contemporaries in this 'War to End all Wars'. Alas, the English and German lads died in the trenches; the French boy lived to tell his tale.

The performers from DOT Productions were superbly directed by Andrew Lindfield and the actors: Natalie Scotcher who played the narrator/nurse, Zac Hamilton - George Burnett;  James Le Lacheur - Albert Kiekert; Christopher Walthorne - Louis Vallin and Andrew Linfield the British Sergeant.  The pianist and composer was Senne Jonckers and soloist was Neel Hannes.  They had travelled from Belgium and joined the group Fricklesome Amset consisting of Peter Klaus, Hannes Johannsen, Rike Ullenbaum and Sebastian Zimmermann provided glorious music. The students of  Lee Chapel Primary School and the Woodlands' School choir were the tops. What a superb group of young people and what a wonderful performance! 


Wednesday, November 08, 2017


Just a little gathering of some of our excellent Essex writers attached to the Brentwood Writers' Circle which celebrated its 75 years of membership last year. Check out their website and learn some fascinating history.
image courtesy of Julie Gowers)



With thanks to the editor of The Resident whose monthly journal keeps Billericay's residents up to date on community matters. For more detail of The Cater Museum at 74 High Street, Billericay, check out our website

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Sylvia Kent and Brian Hughes MBE
A warm welcome was extended yesterday to Brian Hughes, our first legal author to take his place in the Phoenix 98fm studio Book Club chair.  Brian is working on the last draft of his new book, a memoir,  which already has hit the 300,000 word mark.  Brian knows the Phoenix 98fm studio well, as he appears on several programmes weekly with Scott Ross discussing legal matters, but yesterday, the majority of Book Club, was dedicated to his new book project expected to be published early next year. As yet, untitled.

Presenter Michelle Ward, assisted by Oli, were amazed to learn of Brian's past history with so many adventures and life changes, which resulted into a lively discussion and promoted several calls.

Brian Hughes MBE Oliver and Michelle Ward, our presenter
We also discussed the current books which Billericay Readers' Group are reading, the Society of Women Writers and Journalists' London events - exciting times ahead - and, of course, Brentwood Writers' Circle activities - all perfect connections for those who are thinking of writing their own books.   Do keep your eye on and, of course,


Sunday, October 29, 2017


Following last week's anniversary of the memorable 1917 battles in the Great War, organised by the Essex section of the Western Front Association linked with The Cater Museum, another Essex event is in our diaries. 

Saturday 11 November 7.30pm is our red letter day when we experience local talented playwright Dawn Knox's unique play The Sons of Three Countries Remembered.  Full details are on the poster and as you see, tickets are available from 07849 736101. We look forward to seeing you there. Dawn is an award winning author and one of our newest members of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists. She was a guest recently on Phoenix 98fm radio programme Book Club presented by Michelle Ward.   

Saturday, October 21, 2017


Members of the Western Front Association
Today was rather a special day and one that I would not have missed - the annual gathering of the Essex Branch of the WESTERN FRONT ASSOCIATION in Billericay at our Reading Rooms. Karen and Steve Dennis organised this poignant exhibition in league with Bill Fulton (chairman of the Essex Branch of the Western Front Association) which was appreciated by us all.
Katie Wilkie, Curator

The Curator, Katie Wilkie  of our local Cater
Museum at 74 High Street, Billericay prepared a collection of books and artefacts which attracted many visitors. Katie and staff from the museum came along, together with friends and families with an interest in the Great War.

Here is an image I especially like - Ken Wisdom with his unique poster that he personally created.

Welcome to writers of America and Canada.quent visitors

Ken Wisdom with his wonderful poster

Welcome to new readers from USA and Canada

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Delighted to find other Pitman's shorthand writers around the world, courtesy of the web.  Have found other professionals who learned New Era system and still practise their speeds.   Nice little example below, courtesy of Beryl Pratt. This is beautifully  written as an example, but of course, when you are writing at great speed, it is almost impossible to add vowels and my shorthand looks a scrawl, but at least I can transcribe it, which it what the system is all about.
It's interesting to know that whatever some new writing system is introduced, Pitman's - when studied properly (and it does take a longish time) - will still produce the fastest shorthand speeds in the world. Ask Hansard!
Thanks to Russian writers
With thanks to Russian writers

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


😊Writers love meeting their readers and I enjoyed meeting and signing some of my ten books at a lively gathering today. My titles are mainly non-fiction but they do stay in the book lists far longer.  History is a great "evergreen" aspect and I enjoy being asked to take on different projects which involve research around the county of Essex, England.

By using radio shows and social media, my page view listings increase daily, mainly because my topics are eclectic and touch on so many people's lives.  This week sees my one thousandth article on this Blogger medium (283,000 pv) although I have copies of more than four thousand printed features in press/magazines, albeit over a longish period of time.  Many thanks for dropping by. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

So good to receive latest edition of HOME FARMER, one of my favourite regular journals, well - I do write a wine making feature every month for Paul and Ruth - two of the best editors I have worked with over a very long writing career.  If you care about what you eat and grow, you will find many excellent articles that will intrigue you and extend your expertise and interest. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


Well, it's anniversary time and learning a little more about the centenary of the Russian revolution in October 1917 via BBC Radio 4 morning programme. Learning more about the ghastly murder of the Tsar Nicholas and his family on 17 July 1918.

 This time was not just about political revolution - the overthrowing of the Tsarist regime by Lenin's Bolshevik party - it was an unprecedented thought experiment, a revolution in ideas.  From women's emancipation to early thinking about the biosphere and the role of art and music joined with work. Have just finished Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (courtesy of Essex Libraries). Quite a lot of  rethinking about the Russians and their history.

British writers, thinkers and radicals including HG Wells, Bertrand Russell and Arthur Ransom either visited the Soviet Union or wrote passionately in support of the young regime. Sylvia Pankhurst corresponded with Lenin directly from London, while Bertrand Russell, on returning from Moscow, compared what he saw to the vision of Plato's republic. The Russian Revolution also gave a huge boost to the new and radical social sciences as they were beginning to grow - the idea that social institutions could be subject to critical scrutiny in a clear, scientific manner was thrilling to those Western intellectuals.  Intellectual opposition to 1917 was just as fierce. While energising the field of left-leaning thought, the Russian Revolution also politicised the purpose of more traditional philosophy and it came out fighting.  The historian Justin Champion explores the early years of the Russian Revolution of 1917 as an intellectually explosive and genuinely creative moment - bringing in new ideas, vocabularies and concepts, challenging and transforming Western thinking in the process.

Listen again on BBC Radio 4


Sunday, October 08, 2017


I rarely buy books, particularly yearbooks these days, but this one is a 'must'.  It is the bestselling guide to all areas of publishing and the media is completely revised and updated every year.

The Yearbook is packed with advice, inspiration and practical guidance on who to contact and how to get published. Foreword to the 2018 edition by David Lodge New articles in the 2018 edition on: - Writing popular history by Tom Holland - Editing and writing by Diana Athill - Ghostwriting by Gillian Stern - Writing Thrillers by Kimberley Chambers - The health and wellness market by Anita Bean - Self-publishing online by Harry Bingham - How to choose your agent by Jo Unwin - First Chapters by Emma Flint - Pitching your ideas by Mike Unwin - How to make a living by Alison Branagan All articles are reviewed and updated every year. Key articles on Copyright Law, Tax, Publishing Agreements, E-publishing, Publishing news and trends are fully updated every year. Plus over 4,000 listings entries on who to contact and how across the media and publishing worlds In short it is 'Full of useful stuff' - J.K. Rowling


Our SWWJ team enjoyed such a happy day at the National Liberal Club a few weeks ago when we welcomed our new President Baroness Floella Benjamin and her husband.
Oh, how I wish I could give a talk like that - without notes - brilliant!  and what a lot of work she carries out for children, along with a very heavy work schedule.  We had such a lovely time and hope she can come along to our future events. Check us out at  #swwj

Saturday, September 30, 2017


Have just finished reading this great social historical  book, which is dedicated to Don Wallace, husband of Elizabeth Victoria Wallace - founder of the Castle Rock Writers.  Don and Liz wrote many books linking Denver, Colorado - their US home with their original British origins.

Liz's first book EXTRAORDINARY PLACES... Close to London is still a best seller.  Within, she has chosen 30 exceptional destinations in Southeast England and for people who enjoy learning about our great exciting towns and villages scattered around London, they will enjoy exploring villages and towns in the English countryside, all within easy reach of London.

The presenter at Phoenix 98fm studios in Brentwood, Essex, Michelle Ward and John Farrar, social historian and film-maker, made a programme last week with Liz as the September guest for Book Club. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017


John Baron MP: 2017 Fun Walk breaks records in raising £120,000 for charities
MP awards bonus to charities and thanks sponsors, Barleylands Farm and ‘Family of volunteers’ at presentation evening
At their Presentation ceremony this evening, John Baron MP and other Trustees of the Fun Walk Trust [a registered charity] awarded bonus pot cheques to all those charities and good causes [projects] which took part in this year’s Fun Walk [at Barleylands Farm on Sunday, 21st May]
Because of the generosity of corporate and individual sponsors, each project receives a bonus over and above what they raise themselves in sponsorship on the day. In this year’s walk, for every £100 raised by projects in sponsorship, the bonus pot is adding a further £55.  The total monies raised both by the projects and bonus pot sponsors came to £120,000 [which is a record - last year it was £110,000] with nearly 100 projects in total benefitting from this year’s Walk [Please see attached Factsheet – Photos will follow on Monday morning].
The presentation was held at Anisha Grange Care Home, Outwood Common Road, Billericay, Essex, CM11 2LE.
John said: “The 2017 Fun Walk has been a huge success and our bonus pot sponsors have been integral to that success. Our thanks go to Swan Housing Association, Billericay Football Club, c2c Rail, Abellio Greater Anglia, Hallmark Care Homes, Leonardo MW Ltd, Butyl Products Ltd, McDonald’s Basildon, IFE Global Logistics, Mr Barrie Stone, and others.” “Our thanks also go to Barleylands Farm for hosting the Walk and to Hallmark Care Homes for hosting the presentation evening, to our ‘Family of volunteers’ for organising and running the event, and to the many others who have helped including our marshals and accountants Hunt Smee and Co.”
“Many people and good causes less fortunate than ourselves will benefit from everyone’s generosity. It’s been a great team effort.”

Thursday, September 14, 2017


Frederick John Eales in his uniform of the Essex Yeomanry c 1895
Next year sees the 60th anniversary of the passing of that doughty character Fred Eales (1871-1958) who lived in the building that now houses the Cater Museum at 74 High Street, Billericay.  Fred was the town's last saddler and harness maker who followed his father, Thomas into the trade. Fred is pictured in the uniform of the Essex Yeomanry, in which regiment he practised his trade.  Although I had never met him, I have interviewed so many local folk who kindly gave me stories for one of my early books BILLERICAY VOICES and the strength of Fred's character is apparent.  We have so much information on our local forebears - do visit us at
Fred a year or two before his passing

Wednesday, September 06, 2017


Autumn is now well and truly here and fellow amateur winemakers are checking out the fruit still growing in the garden and allotments.  Some of this can easily be turned into your own organic wine.  I notice that my American and Russian readers seem more inclined to follow this pastime which, for years during the '70s was a popular hobby in Britain.

For many years, I've been working on the best, fool-proof recipes and some of these little gems have been included in probably the very best glossy British self-sufficiency  magazine entitled HOME FARMER. The American winemakers of the world also use some of my winemaking recipes, too, it seems.  Of course, I enjoy seeing my own ramblings on the page, but must pay a tribute to Paul Melnyczuk and Ruth Tott and their editorial skills and beautiful photographs. Although I've worked with scores of magazine editors in the past, I love the way that my Home Farmer editors always send a draft layout before the mag is put to bed. Wish others were as professional.


Thursday, August 31, 2017



Meteorological summer is almost over but the weather is looking good.  As autumn approaches, so some of us who write for a living, are besieged with thoughts, story and feature ideas and (hopefully) commissions for upcoming work.

Maybe some of you have already written your novel, collections of short stories, poems, plays  even a filmscript, but are unable to see a chink in the publishing world.Well, maybe our lovely Writer's Debut Co-ordinator Benita Cullingford's new idea could help writers to see their narrative in print.

The Society of Women Writers & Journalists - the oldest international organisation (founded in 1894) specifically for women writers, is pleased to announce the official launch of our brand new category of membership.

From 1st October, and for the very first time, new and unpublished writers have the chance to join the SWWJ! As a ‘Debut’ member, your fee of £145 will allow you to submit a completed manuscript for detailed advice and a full critique from an experienced published writer in your own field.

It can be a novel up to 90,000 words, a work of children’s fiction up to 60,000 words, a collection of poems or short stories, a play for theatre or radio, or a non-fiction project. Your Debut membership will last for one year and also entitles you to all the benefits of regular SWWJ membership with the exception of a press card and competition entry.

And, with the right guidance, we very much hope that you will achieve publication and be able to join us as a full or associate member at the end of your Debut year! Open to both male and female writers. Advance applications are welcome now, if you want to beat the crowds!

If interested, do take a look at our website at

Friday, August 25, 2017


I'm gradually working my way through a number of books for review. Such an eclectic reading list and some pretty wonderful writers.  

Have just finished reading 'Essex at War' written by Frances Clamp.  She is President of Brentwood Writers' Circle and this is her 15th book.

Frances has lived and worked in Essex for most of her life.  Her career as a history teacher has ensured an impressive knowledge of Essex, compounded by years of broadcasting weekly historical programmes on local radio.

 As a child living in Southend at the start of WWII, the author has unique memories of that terrible time. Watching the barbed wire being erected on Southend beaches; the start of rationing; building Anderson shelters; evacuation of friends and family, all these and other recollections have been included in her new book. She has integrated many stories from people who not only survived, but somehow remained cheerful during those difficult years.

The devastation of World War II affected everyone. Children’s lessons were regularly interrupted when the frightening air-raid siren sounded and Frances has captured the atmosphere of the time, including many tales of bravery, defeats and setbacks both at home and overseas.  

When Germany launched an unmanned flying bomb V1 nicknamed the Doodlebug in 1944, it was particularly hated.  People can still remember listening for the engines to switch off, realising that there were just seconds before the bombs plummeted to earth.
Appreciation of the mighty Ford Motor company, Marconi, E K Cole and other Essex industry is recognised. Frances pays homage to the bravery of the little boats and yachts sailing to the aid of desperate airmen and sailors at Dunkirk.
When America entered the war in 1942, a new, different type of invasion entered the Essex countryside, when the GIs arrived in large numbers. On the whole, they received a warm welcome from the authorities, and particularly the women!

 Memories, photographs and poignant letters belonging to some of the families affected are included in Frances’ narrative. She sums up her meticulously researched book as follows:

“Great Britain is now a very different country from the one that went to war in 1939. The old bomb-damaged sites have disappeared, as have most of the installations that were erected to protect the Essex coastline. Essex men and women, both at home and in the forces, bravely played their part in the war and their contribution can be remembered with pride.”  Buy this book via Amazon or, more quickly, pop into our best Essex city bookshop Foyles in Chelmsford or Waterstones in that same city.  

ISBN 9781473860414
Pen & Sword Military Books
£12.99 UK
$24.95 US

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


I am a little sad that we won't hear our beloved Big Ben's 'bongs' for a couple of years.  This is due to a controversial renovation project that will stop it ringing out for up to four years. Hundreds of MPs and parliamentary workers gathered in the courtyards to listen as the Great Bell chimed noon before being stopped to allow work to begin.

Since 1979 when I first worked in Parliament, I had always been fascinated with the history of the Palace of Westminster and particularly its restoration work completed around 1860 and the great bell itself: couldn't wait to get up to the little turret in Elizabeth Tower (previously known as the Clock Tower) for a close-up. Must admit, it was a little noisy, but loved the charm and chime of the place. These images were taken twenty years ago and here is a view from my window.

A clock tower was first built at Westminster in 1288 with, it is thought, money raised in fines levied on Ralph Hengham, a judge who was found guilty of misconduct. The present tower, designed by Augustus Pugin, was part of Charles Barry's design for a new palace, after the old Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire in 1834. The present clock was installed in 1859.

Monday, August 21, 2017


There was I - searching the evening sky trying to catch a glimpse of the solar eclipse, but too much cloud to see the phenomenon.  What a shame - but here you will see some photos of the last eclipse that Sally and I (and broadcaster and author Claire  Rayner) witnessed on 11 August 1999.  You see, I do keep my pictures in good order and, more importantly - filed!

The venue was that fascinating garden in the sky (originally Derry & Toms' departmental store) in Kensington with gorgeous rooftop gardens and the flamingos performing their elegant strutting in the shallow pools. This place - now owned by others - was a perfect London venue to put on media events and I was a frequent visitor. I used their top gardener in charge of the gardens, for a three-page spread for the Essex Life magazine at the time. Well, it was the Millennium and change was all about us!  It is now a Grade II building.

Derry & Toms building in Kensington circa 1999

Sunday, August 20, 2017


I've just taken on a new writing project which is linked with the past. It's surprising how much you can remember when you are with people whom you knew in days gone by.  In this case, more than fifty years! The problem is locating those folk who attended your school, church and places where you loved to dance, not forgetting friends you've managed to keep in touch with.  Family members with good memories are important and they seem to like reminiscing (which keeps the old brain working)!  The best way to gather material for your  "Book of Reflections" is to start NOW and begin talking to people around you; better still,  I've found the internet's social media pages more than helpful. 

Next week, I will be meeting a group of people from the past and it will be fun to see if we recognise each other.  Now, who could she be? Circa 1963 - Location Barking Town Hall.