Thursday, July 02, 2015

On the move...

Blogger has been getting really weird and unreliable lately, with error messages popping up every time I try to do something, and ominous attempts to get me to update my browser.  Since I'm already running Internet Explorer 11, which is the most up to date version, I can't for the life of me see how I can update... but Blogger is now admitting it 'doesn't work well' with Internet Explorer and that there may be 'unexpected results'.

I'm not going to go off on a rant about blogging sites being equally useable no matter which browser you happen to have loaded.  Instead, I'm voting with my feet.  After many, many years of loyal service, I'm now switching to Wordpress instead.  This will have the added benefit of being able to 'follow' friends' blogs that I want to keep in touch with.

You can find my new blog here.  There isn't much posted yet but you might be interested in some of the old book reviews and I'll obviously be updating it on a regular basis so do keep checking back for new content.  I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Gleams at Kendal Library

I can't remember if I ever got round to mentioning, but Kendal Library are now selling print copies of Gleams of a Remoter World in their in-house shop.  Even better, they're selling them at £7.00 each, which is a nice fat discount on the usual Amazon price of around £12 or £13.

So if you'd like to get hold of a print copy and you happen to be in the South Lakes area, don't forget to pop into the library and ask.  For those of you who don't know Kendal, the library is on Stricklandgate/High Street, roughly opposite MacDonalds.  And I know which one I'd prefer!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Lake disappointment

On Friday evening's local news there was a piece about the last Vulcan bomber.  It's coming up to the end of its flying days, and is doing a flypast around the country to celebrate and/or say goodbye.  And it was due over Windermere on Saturday afternoon.

We last saw this very aircraft, over the lake, two years ago at the Windermere Air Show and an incredible sight (and sound) it was too.  Seeing a massive bomber doing aerobatics over the water, standing on its tail, weaving, rolling, and all to the backdrop of that staggering engine roar, was something neither Dave nor I will ever forget.  So we cancelled any plans for the afternoon and braved the hot sun to toddle down to the lake.

We got there a little early, just in case, and found a convenient bench in the shade with a great view up the lake towards Waterhead, and settled down to wait.  And wait.  And wait.  Around us other frustrated viewers waved binoculars and expensive cameras, and checked details of the Vulcan's itinerary on its Facebook page.

By ten past three we realised we'd long since passed the point of no return and set off home, with never a glimpse of the Vulcan.  We heard later that it did indeed fly over the lake, but due to an emergency involving the air ambulance near Ambleside, had had to alter its flight plan.  When it passed overhead it was so high up that it was barely visible, or audible.

It's obviously just 'one of those things', and if the air rescue was indeed the reason for the change then it's entirely understandable.  Very disappointing, though, as that was almost certainly our last chance to see this majestic aircraft in flight.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Strawberries and peacocks

Yesterday afternoon we were invited by a couple of our friends to a strawberry tea in aid of the charity organisation The Soroptimists.

The event was held at a big Edwardian house on the hillside above (lake) Windermere.  The weather wasn't the best for garden parties, with clouds, a strong if fitful breeze, and frequent heavy showers, so the hostess was forced to move indoors, but it was still very pleasant.

Tea was laid out in the dining room (with a big bowl of strawberries and some delicious home made cakes and scones); there was a raffle to raise funds for the charity, and our friends took us on a tour of the owners' large and stunningly beautiful gardens, with views across the lake to Claife Viewing Station (a Victorian tourist attraction, newly refurbished by the National Trust and on our list for later in the year) on the opposite shore.  And when we strolled round to the rockery, there was even a peacock scratching about in the undergrowth!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Another reduction

Riptide's sale to celebrate National Pride Month continues, and this week it's the turn of the Riptide Rentboys collection.  This features my novella-length story Necessity's Door, and the whole collection of four e-books is reduced from $11.96 to just $4.99.  The offer only lasts for a week and you'd be daft to miss it, so hurry along to the Riptide catalogue now!


Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Wordsworth House

We had a really nice day out on Saturday, visiting Wordsworth House in Cockermouth.  This is a National Trust property, but not one we'd ever been to before.  In fact, we'd only ever been to the town once, years ago before the devastating floods, on a terribly wet day which we spent mostly doing a tour of Jennings Brewery to get out of the rain!

Going back was great.  The town has recovered from the 2009 deluge remarkably well and looked lively and buzzing, full of attractive independent shops, antiques centres, cafes and galleries.  We mooched up and down the main drag, had a coffee, mooched some more, poked about in the antique shops, had lunch, and finally headed for Wordsworth.

The poet lived in this house before moving to its more famous counterparts, Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount.  He and his family were tenants of his employer, the Earl of Lowther, who may even have partly furnished the property to show off his own wealth to their visitors.

The National Trust have done a super job with the place.  Where Dove Cottage is all about Wordsworth the word-smith, this is far more about his life as a family man, and as an employee.  I hadn't even realised that he was employed as Lowther's estate manager - and, judging by the tone of various letters scattered about, very much at the Earl's beck and call.  "You will receive this letter on Monday and will travel to Millom on Tuesday..." without so much as a please or thank you.

The house, although one of the larger properties on the High Street, was by no means a stately home and the interior room sizes and furnishings seem to have been relatively basic.  Ann, Wordsworth's wife, apparently didn't even have a cook or housekeeper, just a single live-in servant, which was surprising for that age.  It all built up into a fascinating portrait of a man who was by no means a 'gentleman of leisure' and had to work hard for his living - not at all the impression you tend to get of one of our most famous poets these days.

The garden was also a delight, with lots of fruit trees, hidden corners, old state roof tiles with bits of Wordsworth's poems scribbled on them, and even some chickens!

Personally I got rather put off Wordsworth by having to wade through 'Michael' at school, but this is still definitely recommended as a day out, whether you're 'into' his poetry or not.

Monday, June 08, 2015

And again...

This week it's the turn of 'Gleams of a Remoter World', which is on sale via the Riptide catalogue for only $2.99 for the ebook - a reduction of $4. 

The book, set on the stunning west coast of Ireland, is a poignant ghost story intertwined with an intriguing mystery.

Grab it now before it's too late!

Tuesday, June 02, 2015


Riptide are currently holding a giant 'blowout' sale with quite a few titles priced at only 99c - and Necessity's Door is on the list!

This is my short and somewhat naughty novella about undercover hi-jinks, heavily based on all those stories about undercover police doing things they shouldn't have. 

You can find out more by following this link to the full list of 99c titles at Riptide's catalogue.  If you can't see Necessity's Door straight away, you may need to click over onto page 2.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Wot no poltergeists

Over the last couple of weeks we've been enjoying a new series on Sky Living, 'The Enfield Haunting'.  This is based on real life events and tells the story of a family in 1970s London who appear to have been subjected to a quite horrific haunting event by a poltergeist, which was investigated by various official bodies and never, quite, disproved.

The series includes some big names (Timothy Spall as Maurice Grosse, the main psychic investigator) and some lesser known but no less impressive talents (including Eleanor Worthington-Cox as the young girl at the centre of the haunting).  And it seems we're not the only ones enjoying it.  This review in The Guardian is also full of praise for the writing, the acting, and the atmosphere, which is nicely creepy with occasional moments of real shock, but without the nastiness or suffering so beloved of horror these days.

The article is more than just a review of the series, going into some depth about the psychological aspects of poltergeist activity and whether or not the Enfield case was genuine, or an elaborate hoax played out by an unhappy schoolgirl (with or without the knowledge of her family).  We'll probably never know, but the article's author makes one surprising and valid point: what has happened to poltergeist activity in the modern technological age?  I hadn't realised, but apparently this kind of psychic activity, which used to be linked on a regular basis to disturbed teenagers, simply no longer happens.

So, was it always a fake?  Are we all so cynical that we assign mundane explanations to anything the least bit weird?  Or have the poltergeists got bored with Age of Warfare and moved on somewhere else?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Garden surprise

It's amazing how places can still surprise you, even after you've lived there for years.  We've been in Windermere full time for three years now, part time longer than that, yet there are still hidden corners to be discovered.

Yesterday, thanks to the NGS 'gardens open for charity' scheme, we found a gem only a few hundred yards up the road: Gatesbield.  This is an arts and crafts house dating from the 1920s, built by a local furniture maker and his wife, and bequeathed by them to a Quaker housing trust for the eldery and infirm.

Normally this is private land, unless you're a visitor or a Quaker attending the weekly service.  But yesterday we had carte blanche to wander the grounds, investigate nooks and crannies and even go in the house.  The gardens aren't huge, but are very pretty with outcrops of natural rock, dells, rockeries, trees, and a nice 'wild' feel in spite of the clustering neighbouring properties.  The house is fascinating: a real Arts & Crafts throwback, surprisingly old-fashioned for 1926, but filled with carved wooden doors, roof beams, carved wooden lintels over the windows, and some examples of the furniture made by hand by Stanley Davies, the original owner.

We paid £3.50 each to get in (most of which goes to some very deserving charities) and the princely sum of £2.50 each for a cuppa and a slab of delicious home made cake.

It made for a fun 'time out' in an otherwise busy day, and a fascinating dip into a previously unknown slice of the town's history.  There are several other local properties open under NGS later on in the year; now we know how interesting they can be, we'll be trying to fit a few more visits in.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Northern lights

Yesterday afternoon we hopped on a train to Preston, mostly to attend the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN)'s spring astronomy lecture on the subject of the northern lights.  The last of these we went to was just before Christmas, and ended up being a little disappointing as the subject matter (comets) gave way to primary school level magic tricks.  This time we were hoping for something more, and weren't disappointed.

We got to Preston early enough for a mooch round the shops, and a quick zoom into the city museum which neither of us had ever visited before.  This is surprisingly small for such a large town, but was still very interesting and packed full of beautiful objects, in particular a wonderful collection of antique perfume bottles which I could happily have marched off with if I'd had a handbag the size of the Royal Albert Hall!

After a disappointing meal at a Chinese buffet (fine at Christmas but has mysteriously gone downhill) we headed to the university for the talk.  This was given by Professor Jim Wild, a staff member at the nearby Lancaster University, and very fascinating it was.  He managed to cover a surprising amount in just over an hour including the history of the study of the lights, some cultural stuff about how they're viewed by different cultures around the world, and the science behind them, as well as a brief 'how to' guide at the end on maximising your own chances of seeing them.  Something we could do with as in spite of living in such a northern location, and in spite of being here during a solar maximum when aurora activity should be at its height, we've still never seen them.  Ah well, keep watching the skies...!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Dumb questions

There's an amusing piece in local news magazine Windermere Now this month, about daft questions put to members of Windermere Lake Cruises staff.

The magazine lists their top ten, including these gems: 

How long does the 40 minute cruise last?
Can I go to the front of the queue as I've got ice creams?
Years ago I went to Ambleside.  Is it still there?
For my sat nav, what is the postcode of the mountains?

And number one, and my own favourite as well:

Can the boat come and pick me up from Blackpool?  (This on a lake that's completely land-locked and about 50 miles from Blackpool...!) 

There's no information on how the staff managed to answer those questions without either splitting their sides laughing or thumping the people concerned... but it really does show there's nowt so queer as folk!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Happy in Hull

Dave had a day's business meetings in Hull on Thursday, and we've spent so little time together this month that I decided to tag along.  I've never been to the city before - the closest I ever got was a day trip to Beverley with my parents, simply years ago - so I was looking forward to exploring.

I'd heard some bad things about the city - poverty, shabbiness, even the risk of being mugged - but in the event I was very pleasantly surprised.  Even Dave, who last visited about eight years ago, said it had come on leaps and bounds.  We arrived late Wednesday afternoon and after dumping our bags at our hotel, shot out for a long and really enjoyable walk round.  This started in the main shopping street and ended up at the same place, but by way of the marina, harbour, and the maze of winding narrow streets that forms the old town.  Everywhere we looked there was something interesting, from traces of Hull's oldest dock to the largest parish church in England, from the swish modern building housing aquarium venue The Deep to lift-up bridges, from a statue of poet Philip Larkin at the railway station to fish carved in the pavements.  The sun shone, the river Humber sparkled, and it all looked surprisingly prosperous and nice.

On Thursday I explored more by myself (Dave being parked in his meetings all day) and discovered the Maritime Museum, free to enter with detailed displays on the whaling and deep sea fishing trades that flourished in the town in past centuries.  Some of the whaling stuff was a little too strong for my stomach, but the information about the whaling boats' frequent trips to Greenland was fascinating.

Finally, yesterday morning we drove over to the top of Spurn Head, a long narrow strip of land surrounded by the sea on both sides, which was formed by erosion and deposition along the coast.  Again the sun shone and a brisk wind blew waves crashing along the explosed seaward side; a mile or so further up the coast you could see huge chunks of the cliff broken off where the sea has eaten away at the land.  On the quieter, estuarine side we spotted vast flocks of wading birds, and a hare, dashing along the shore at a great rate of knots.  Sadly we couldn't walk right along the Point because it was full of lorries, tractors and men working hard to repair the breach which happened during last winter's storms.  It was still fascinating, though, and a lovely wild and windswept end to a very enjoyable trip.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Popping Up in Kendal

Yesterday I dashed over to Kendal for a couple of things.  One was a talk by author Davina Blake about her novel 'Past Encounters', the other a visit to Kendal's new "pop up shop", where the council let out an empty shop unit to aspiring traders on a cut price, week by week basis.  I had thought it might be fun for a group of local (and local-ish) authors to take over the place and use it to sell our books.  However, a quick look round yesterday suggests it may not best suit our needs, as it's very small and very, very basic.  For anyone who's already set up in the trading business, or who wants to own a shop and doesn't mind buying all the equipment first, it's fine.  For us, possibly less so, but it was interesting to go and see it.

The shop comes with a separate, lockable storage unit in a building across the yard at the back.  I also had a chance for a quick peek inside this and it was fascinating, because it apparently used to house either police cells, or the town lock up.  You can still see two tiny rooms, which look like toilet cubicles only without the plumbing, built into the thickness of the walls.  Kendal never fails to amaze me - everywhere you look there's some new and unexpected slice of history.

Davina Blake's talk, at Kendal Library, more than made up for any shortcomings of the pop up shop.  Her book, a World War 2 historical/romance, is set against two main backdrops - one, the filming of 'Brief Encounter' at Carnforth railway station, and two, the so-called Long March to Freedom of Allied POWs towards the end of the war.  The story of how Davina set about research both elements made for an entertaining hour, with lots of illustrations and a cup of tea and a cake thrown in!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

In praise of local museums

We'd hoped to go to Fleetwood today (for a complete change since neither of us has visited the town before) and visit the fishing museum.  Sadly the weather didn't play ball.  Grey skies, diagonal drizzle and strong wind don't add up to the best conditions in an exposed seaside resort, and today we got all three.  So we took a rain check (literally) and headed to Kendal Museum instead.

We've been here before, once for a proper look round and several times to meetings of the local Astronomical Society, but it's an eclectic mix of history, archaeology, local geology, art and stuffed fluffies and always good for poking about on a wet day.  This time we concentrated on some of the natural history displays: lots of taxidermy which these days would be frowned upon, but because the exhibits date from Victorian times actually seems quite educational.  Neither of us had ever realised just how huge an albatross is, for instance, until we saw the pair they have here.

A nice way of losing an entire hour - and better still, it's free!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Great exhibition

Saturday morning was sunny for a change so we hopped in the car and enjoyed a spectacular drive over Kirkstone Pass (not long re-opened after the snow) and alongside Ullswater to the Rheged centre near Penrith.

We've never been here before, having thought it was a typical tourist attraction without much to recommend it.  It certainly is a glorified coach stop, with a handful of shops, two or three cafes, a large car park and a petrol station.  However, unlike most motorway services, it also has workshops, frequent events, and exhibition spaces, and it was the latter we were headed for, to see those Herdwick photos.

Rather remarkably, both the centre and the exhibition itself are free to enter.  The photographs on display are truly sensational, many with an odd almost 3D effect, and all capturing the changing seasons within an unchanging landscape that sums up the central Lakes so perfectly.  There were far more pictures than we expected, lining the walls of three or four separate 'rooms', along with sculptures and extracts from the photographer's own book, so it took us a good half hour to look round the whole thing.

The book looks amazing, and there were also some lovely prints and other general Herdwick-related merchandise available in a small shop nearby.  Sadly, the prices were astronomical.  Much as I'd have loved a framed print or a signed copy of the book, I simply wasn't prepared to pay £225 or £125, respectively, for either.  Needless to say, the minute I got home again I rather wished I had...

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


I rather like Herdies, or to give them their formal name, Herdwicks - the semi-wild native sheep of the Lake District.  They're stocky, staggeringly well-adjusted to their mountainous home, and seem to wear a permanent smile.  A recent television programme about England's highest mountain, Scafell Pike, revealed that the Herdwicks love the open fellside so much that if the farmers try to keep them in lowland pasture too long past the breeding season, they will happily chew through fences and kick down walls to get back to the tops.

And now there's an exhibition of photographs dedicated to these characterful little creatures, based at the Rheged centre near Penrith.  And if the sample on this BBC web page are anything to go by, they're absolutely stunning.  We're going to try to visit at the weekend.  I'll let you know if it was worth it.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Arctic blast

We're stuck in a cold snap at the moment, with daytime temperatures struggling to get above freezing and night times plummeting to around minus 8 or 9c.  Brrr!  The upside is that we have unbroken winter sunshine most days, which looks stunning when combined with heavy snowfall on the fells.

On Sunday we made the most of the conditions for a walk at Coniston.  The route we'd been thinking of, across the fields to Coniston Hall, proved to be ankle deep in mud, so we plodded over a little bridge and followed a lane to a different portion of lake shore, with a Victorian (style?) pavilion, a tea shop (which we rather remarkably stayed out of) and lovely views across the lake.  A path followed the shore past piles of canoes, a boat yard, and open fields, all against a backdrop of snowy Coniston fells, and the weather was so amazing and the views so special that we took simply tons of photos.

It's not the longest walk on the planet, and our ears were the colour of woad by the time we got back to the car, but we really enjoyed the trip and the chance to get some good fresh air into our lungs.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Concrete Jungle

I'm delighted to say that I've just re-established contact with my short story Concrete Jungle, which I quite thought had vanished into the internet maelstrom for ever.  It turns out that, like Philae, it was balanced on a cliff-edge in outer space somewhere just waiting for a ray of sun, and now that sun has arrived in the shape of a new, updated and very nice website over at Ink, Sweat & Tears.

The magazine accepted Concrete Jungle several years ago, but in its old incarnation was almost impossible to search for archived stuff once it had dropped off the main page.  I shrugged, assumed the story was lost to time, and took the link off my website.

Now, thanks to that new site and a very good search feature, I've unearthed it again and you can read the story at Ink Sweat & Tears right now.  It's a lyrical, surrealist piece of prose-poetry about love, which was inspired by the surreal concrete gardens at Las Posas in Mexico, and it's always been one of my favourites.

I hope you enjoy it (again)!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Lakeland photos

If anyone ever wondered why we moved to the Lake District (full of tourists, rains all the time) then you could do worse than check out this link to the winners of the annual Wainwright Society photographic competition.  To say they're stunning is the understatement of the year!  I feel very privileged to have this beautiful landscape quite literally on the doorstep.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Haunted houses?

I was rootling around on Google yesterday doing a bit of research for the ghost novella when I came across a link to this article, eye-catchingly headed "8 Houses That Are Actually Haunted".

Needless to say, I just had to go and have a look, but perhaps unsurprisingly the content failed to live up to the headline.  Not only were many of the details vague and unproveable (footsteps in a supposedly empty house could so easily be someone who'd got in unseen), but 'actually' hardly applies to Borley Rectory since it burned down in the 1940s!

I remember seeing a much longer description of both Borley Rectory (which does sound as though it had a thoroughly unpleasant atmosphere, whether you believe in ghosts or not), and those faces on the Spanish floor, in a book I had as a kid.  Back then, the faces really spooked me.  Now I can't help thinking they look very much like medieval tiles, which would, of course, hardly be out of place on an ancient floor. 

Ah well.  It's still an entertaining read, and good source material if you're looking for a creepy setting for a story or three.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

I'm back!

Like a bad penny I've turned up after a short break, and am busy scribbling again.

At the moment I'm polishing a ghost novella which I first write a few years ago, but which has needed some re-jigging.  I've know for some time *what* needs changing, but not *how* to do it.  Inspiration finally struck the other week and I'm now deep in final edits, chasing down the changes that need to be made thanks to other changes further on in the story.

The story is a complete romp set in an English country house which is reputed to be the most haunted in the entire country.  It's home to heroine Emily, a struggling artist who lives hand to mouth, never quite sure where the next pay cheque will come from or what will need fixing next, and an impressive collection of ghosts.  Tempted by the money, Emily agrees to let Angelic Productions film at the house for their hit tv show Got Ghosts?, which leads to chaos when the show's resident medium Stella stirs up more than she bargains for, and Emily has to go on a treasure hunt for a collection of missing paintings.

It's always been one of my favourite stories and was a complete blast to write.  I'm very hopeful that I can get the final polish done and (forgive the pun) dusted in the next few days, and get a few query letters winging their way to publishers.

Do keep checking back for news; I'll try not to leave it as long without an update this time!