Saturday, October 24, 2020



Jacqui James and Basildon's Mayor David Burton-Sampson launch this brand new book

“Basildon Writers’ Group and Basildon Hospital Radio are one of the good things to come out of the Covid crisis – as an Essex man myself, I’m proud of them.”

                                Richard Madeley (Richard & Judy Book Club)

 When Covid 19 closed large parts of Basildon Hospital to visitors, among the casualties were the volunteers at Basildon Hospital Radio.

Operating from a basement, they were heard but seldom seen. Suddenly, they lost access to their equipment used for broadcasting 24/7 to patients, staff, and visitors. BHR chairman, Jacqui James, said ‘We were devastated. We knew we had to get back on air, not only during the day, but all night for the staff and patients who couldn’t sleep and rely on us for entertainment.’

The technical and legal problems caused many sleepless nights for Jacqui and her team of volunteers as well, as they battled to change their station from am to fm at the time lockdown was put into place. Back on air as BHR 87.7 in less than four weeks the station now runs a mixture of live and recorded shows. But, it was no longer possible to raise much-needed funds.

In stepped Basildon Writers’ Group, with an offer to donate all their royalties, from their new book, ‘It Happened in Essex’, coming out on the 19thOctober.The ten local authors have each written a short story, many based in parts of Basildon that readers will know. Then, in a hilarious romp through an updated version of Snow White, also set in Basildon, all the writers take on one another in a duel to write the best ending to ‘Sno White & the Witch’. 

Also in the mix is an ending by guest Jacqui James herself.

In addition to Richard Madeley and ‘Diddy’ David Hamilton, the book has the support of the Mayor of Basildon, David Burton-Sampson, Stephen Metcalfe, MP and Baroness Smith of Basildon. The book ‘It Happened in Essex’ is available in paperback, (£4.99), or Kindle (£1.99), versions direct from Amazon. Contacts: Colin Payn, Basildon Writers’ Group  Mobile 07815865210

Jacqui James, Basildon Hospital Radio

Monday, October 19, 2020


Victoria, Sylvia and Colin Smith 

I am currently listening to Woman's Hour which is celebrating the life of Victoria Wood CBE who was our President of the  Society of Women Writers and Journalists until she died in 2016.  Jasper Rees has written a new book about Victoria entitled Let's Do It, which is sure to be a bestseller this Christmas.

Victoria was a special guest, among other well known luminaries who came to our 120th anniversary held at London's Stationers' Hall in October 2014 and gave a sparkling talk, meeting many of our members who had made the journey from around the world.

Victoria, Patrick and Pamela

Victoria is pictured with Pamela Payne and Patrick Forsyth, members of SWWJ. 


Saturday, October 17, 2020


 As a local history writer and broadcaster, I enjoy writing about the places in which I've lived, mainly in Essex,  and, from the deluge of blog readers, it seems that many expats also like reading about the places where they grew up. This has brought me interesting contacts with residents of the various 'Brentwoods'  around the world (and there are many), primarily in America and Canada. I've recently discovered this intriguing old brochure written in 1970 to publicise the town's Becket Festival Year which then celebrated their 800 years.

Although my latest book BRENTWOOD IN 50 BUILDINGS is also linked to Brentwood Cathedral's history (see front cover), among many other interesting  buildings, I am  still studying the origins of the town which are intrinsically linked to Henry ll's Archbishop of Canterbury's Thomas Becket who was canonised after his murder in Canterbury Cathedral in December 1170.  The strength of  feeling in England and Western Europe after Thomas Becket's death, was shown by the increasing number of pilgrims passing through 'Burntwood hamlet' on their way to visit the saint's shrine at Canterbury to pay homage. The story is a fascinating one and modern day Brentwood still retains the ruins of the St Thomas' Chapel built in 1221 which can be found and visited in Brentwood High Street today. 

 I also discovered another super book reviewer Jim Reeve:

 What an interesting read! I thought I knew Brentwood but Sylvia’s book has opened my mind to what I have missed. The accurate research that has gone into it must have taken ages and out of the 500 listed buildings in Brentwood, Sylvia has chosen wisely and her selection of 50 are full of interest.  She obtained many original photographs and gives the history of each building in a most descriptive and interesting form.        

      It is difficult to believe that the thriving town of Brentwood today was once a small hamlet in the parish of South Weald that was mentioned in the Domesday Book. Brentwood came into its own after Thomas Becket’s murder in 1170 after which he was canonised. Pilgrims from all over the Country flocked to Canterbury Cathedral, travelling via the ancient Essex Great Road to Brentwood, where they rested. As a result, Brentwood is mentioned in many early historical documents. 

      In giving the history of the buildings, Sylvia mentions the many famous people who lived in or visited them. For example, Henry Roper lived in Marygreen Manor and held the stewardship of the young Princess Catherine of Aragon, who first married Prince Arthur and then, on his death, married Henry V111 and became Queen of England. Byron stayed in Gilstead Hall (built in 1726) while visiting his friend and legal advisor, James Hanson. Doctor Samuel Johnson camped in the grounds of Warley in 1778 while visiting the troops and found it very uncomfortable. Soon after, in 1805, the Army built barracks on the land. These were extended by the East India Company when they took over but the Army reclaimed them and used the barracks throughout the two World Wars. In1960 Fords took over the area and demolished the buildings, establishing their European Headquarters in their place.           

    It is said that in 1555 a young Protestant named Hunter spent his last night on earth inThe Swan Public House, before he was burnt at the stake during the reign of Queen Mary. 

    There is so much information in this book on the history of Brentwood and the 50 buildings that, in such limited space, it is impossible to do it justice and I respectfully suggest you go out and buy a copy and like me, you will not be able to put it down!      

Thursday, October 15, 2020


Welcome to new members of our Society of Women Writers & Journalists. Lots to learn about our organisation which started in 1894. (more history in our website
You can learn even more by listening to BBC Radio 4's  Desert Island Discs tomorrow Friday 16 October at 9am which features our President, Baroness Benjamin (Floella).

It's good to hear more about our President's life and times, certainly from the time our children loved her appearances on Play School in the 1970s, and in this current BBC programme, you will hear much more of her achievements, over the last fifty years.  
is a Trinidadian-British broadcaster, writer and politician. She became a familiar face to millions of viewers through her work on children's television, most notably on Play School, which she first presented in 1976.

Sunday, October 11, 2020


Although this year's annual Billericay Fun Walk was threatened due to the covid pandemic restrictions, this  fabulous local fundraising event, the brainchild of our Billericay and Basildon Member of Parliament John Baron in 2002, did take place during September.  It was certainly different, being  a "virtual walk", but nevertheless, extremely successful in the circumstances, with folk putting huge effort into organising their own walking regimes.  Can't wait to learn more about the total amount raised for the dozens of important charities who will benefit. 

With thanks to Alan Woods, editor of Brentwood Gazette

Thursday, October 08, 2020



I've always enjoyed craft work of all types, embroidery, knitting, crochet, macramé, tatting and making clothes, working with unusual fabrics, and although it's a long time since I've created anything useful myself, I'm delighted when I receive a hand crafted gift, especially made by someone I know.


So, you can imagine how lovely it was recently to receive some beautifully-made cases for my specs, tablet and jewellery created especially for me in my favourite colours and on my favourite cat themes.  This craft maker is Jenni Elliott who sells her bags, cards and jewellery via her Etsy shop, Kitty Kent Handmade. Jenni's list of items is growing and it's worth taking a look at her Etsy shop  to see some of her latest creations. 


Another talented crafter friend is Liz Kemp whose beautiful bags and other items have appeared in many of the most famous craft shows that have taken place around the UK in the past.


Every one of Liz’s products is unique, designed by herself. She is often inspired by fellow designers and crafters and likes to play around with texture, colour and shape and sometimes incorporates appliqué and other techniques within her designs. Perhaps the most unique factor is that the fabric from which Liz’s amazing items are created, has been woven by her sister in the Welsh countryside. Liz's ideas are fascinating and the resulting gifts using hand woven tweeds are innovative. 

Liz said:   From my workshop in Essex I design and make my bags, accessories and dog coats. 'Working with textiles I use a variety of carefully selected natural fabrics including silk, wool and vintage, but mostly I use 100% wool tweeds which are woven in Wales by my sister, Stephanie, who is also a WGDC member. 'The tweed is unique, beautiful, soft, hardwearing and lovely to work with.

My designs are unfussy but interesting and I use the design features of the cloth to ensure every bag is unique. 'I like to play around with colour, texture and shape and sometimes incorporate applique' or other creative techniques in the design.' I really enjoy the creative process and pride myself on my attention to detail and quality.' I try to ensure my bags are practical and fit for purpose as well as being stylish.



For those folk who have yet to learn about Etsy, here is a brief profile.  Etsy is the global marketplace for unique and creative goods. It’s home to a cornucopia of amazing items, from unique handcrafted pieces to vintage treasures and some wonderfully amusing gifts, too - again, all made by hand.
We are all in a time of increasing automation and thankfully, it is  Etsy's mission to keep human connection at the heart of commerce. That’s why they have built a place where creativity lives and thrives because it’s powered by real people.  Etsy actually helps their community of craft sellers turn their imaginative ideas into successful businesses. Their platform connects them with literally millions of purchasers looking for something different, something unique, with a human touch. 

Saturday, October 03, 2020


 It will be good to hear the latest from our great friend, the actor Mike Edmonds who came to live in Billericay and attended the local Billericay School. A great speaker with tales of his time  working on Star Wars in 1977 and many other films, theatre and plays including excellent reviews at his time at the Royal Court, he has even starred in his own film  Under the Radar.  We want to hear what Mike has been up to over the last year or so and his plans for the future.   Do tune in to Phoenix 98fm tomorrow, October 4 at 4pm. Mike was guest speaker at the Brentwood Writers' Circle a few years ago and here he is pictured with our former chairman, the author Helen Finch.
Mike behind the camera in a break in making The Time Bandits