The Mysterious Case of the Wartime Diary


Two years ago, I bought a hand-written diary. It looked interesting, although the online seller told me that there was no name on it and they had no idea who had written it, having found it amongst their parents’ possessions, after they’d died. I sent away for it anyway, and read it over Christmas 2016. Once I’d puzzled out the spidery writing, It was so interesting – it was written in 1944, and was the diary of a man who had lived in Loughton (in Essex and near to the North East edge of London), who had been a member of the World War II Home Guard. Being too old to be called-up, but still of working age, he divided most of his time between working as a fruit and vegetable trader at Stratford market in East London, and attending meetings and trainings for the Loughton Home Guard.

It was so fascinating that I read some of it aloud to the dog, but he started looking quite sad when he heard about the food rationing, so I thought it best to read the rest to myself in silence.

If only I knew who the writer was! How could I find out, I wondered to myself. As he had been based in Loughton, I decided to contact the Loughton and District Historical Society, to see if they could give me any help to find out. At first it seemed that the limited references to names and places in the diary weren’t enough, but as I puzzled out more entries and started to transcribe them, more clues appeared, and then – finally – I had enough information for the Society to find out his name – the writer was a man called Henry Norman.

Once I’d finished transcribing Henry’s whole diary, I showed it to the chair of the Loughton and District Historical Society, and he agreed that it was really interesting. But looking at the Society’s website, I noticed that they had their own publishing imprint – would they be interested in publishing it, I wondered? Yes, it seemed that they would!

This was very exciting, but I was concerned about copyright. I knew that the copyright for the diary would rest with the writer, or, if he was dead (which he was), it would rest with the residuary beneficiaries of his will. I would have to track them down.

This proved to be almost as difficult as finding out who the writer was in the first place, as he hadn’t had any children, so there was no obvious place to start. I contacted the Probate Search service, and found that for a fee of £10, I could apply for a copy of Henry Norman’s will. Crossing my fingers, I filled in the online form, and waited.

When the will came back, it seemed that Henry had left his estate to be divided equally between two of his sisters – but… they had also both since died. Handing over another £20, I sent away for the sister’s wills, and then waited again, hoping that, this time, the beneficiaries would still be alive.

A week later, and back the wills came, but I was still out of luck. It seemed that the sister who had died first had left everything she owned to the other sister, so I was still searching, but at least Henry’s estate was no longer divided. After sending away another £10, I learnt that this sister had also since died, and had left everything to be divided equally between two other siblings – a brother and a younger sister. A bit of research soon showed that they too had both since died. Off went another £20, and when the next lot of wills came back I found out that the brother, Richard, had died first, leaving everything to his younger sister (so again, thankfully, the copyright was held by only one person). This, youngest sister had also since died, leaving everything to her daughter. Could she be still alive…? Off went more money to the Probate Search Service!

No – she had died in 1991, leaving everything to her husband – who had also since died, but he, in turn, had left everything to be divided between his two children, Gary and Gail – I held my breath as I looked for them online, hoping that they would be traceable. As I searched, I came across a reference to someone of the same name as the daughter I was now looking for – working for the Women’s Institute. Could this be the right person? There was only one way to find out – I emailed the Women’s Institute, and asked them to please forward my email on to Gail, in the hope that she would be one of the siblings I was looking for.

I had a horrible feeling that if my email was passed on to her, she would assume that I was a scammer, and would fail to reply, so I didn’t hold out much hope. Then one day I opened my email inbox to find something wonderful – a reply! It turned out that yes, she was the person I was looking for, and she would also be able to put me in touch with her brother, Gary, the other joint holder of the copyright.

Neither Gary nor Gail had had any idea that their great uncle Henry had kept a wartime diary, but in emails back and forth one thing was clear – they were both happy for me to have it published! Very pleased, I contacted the Historical Society to let them know that we could go ahead, and then, in a further email from Gary, he mentioned something very interesting… Henry’s brother Richard had also written a wartime diary – and Gary had got it! ‘Please could I read it?’ I asked. Gary was very happy for me to borrow Richard’s diary, and I was delighted when it arrived in the post.

Richard’s diary was written in a slightly different style to Henry’s, but still covering his wartime activities as well as his daily work, and hi diary was equally interesting. Of course, the next question had to be – could we publish this one as well?!

As Richard had inherited Henry’s estate, via his sisters, fortunately Gary and Gail were owners of the copyright for both diaries, and luckily for me, they were happy for us to publish the diaries together. The detective work could end and the editing and transcribing could start.

Finally, this week the combined diaries of Henry and Richard for 1944 and 1945 have been published, and I’m thrilled to see them united as a proper book.

If you’re interested in finding out more, the diary, published as ‘Loughton in Wartime – Diaries for 1944 and 1945’, is available from the Loughton and District Historical Society via at a price of £6.50 per copy (plus £1.25 UK postage – email with any enquiries and orders, or to ask about postage to the rest of the world).



A Writer’s Chronicle


As a break from writing, I do a lot of reading, and because I’m interested in history I’ve recently been reading the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It’s a history of what happened in England between 60 BC (when Julius Caesar tried to invade Britain) and 1154 AD (when King Stephen died), and it’s written mainly by monks. In the earlier sections of the chronicle the writers were simply putting down what they’d read or heard from others, but in the later sections they were recording events shortly after they happened, and, in many cases, it’s clear that they were eye-witnesses. It certainly opened my eyes to the fact that Anglo-Saxon times were very violent. Clearly the ordinary people must have lived much of their lives in fear, not only of regular marauding invaders, but also afraid of the king and the earls who were either in power at the time, or hoping to wriest it from those who were.

I love history, so I found it really interesting, but, as a writer, one thing that really struck me was the amount of fantastic words that are included in it, that have since fallen out of common use. Some of my favourites (that I intend to try to use as much as I can!) are –

  • ‘Swinck’ (sometimes also spelt ‘swink’ or ‘swinc’) – to harass someone. Also, ‘swinkful’ – someone who’s planning to either cause trouble or do a bit of harrassing.
  • A ‘baptismal friend’ – on the surface, someone who was very spiritual, but actually, someone who was likely to be standing around the font at christenings, gossiping.
  • ‘thitherwards’ – wandering off in a vague direction.
  • ‘heavy-timed’ – a difficult time.
  • ‘nighest’ – nearest.
  • ‘tilth’ – land that’s been tilled.
  • ‘very manifold commotions’ – a lot of trouble.
  • ‘firmament’ – the sky.
  • ‘hairy star’ – comet.
  • ‘the abode of the whale’ – the sea.
  • ‘be-ebbed’ – stranded in the mud on the bank of a river that has, unfortunately, turned out to be tidal.
  • ‘betwixt’ – between.
  • ‘Christmas-tide’ – the 12 days of Christmas, all of which was set aside for feasting and mirth.

I was also interested in the fact that Christmas and Easter weren’t the only common religious Christian feasts; important celebrations happened several times during the year, when all the important people in the land would gather at the King’s court (which was wherever he happened to be at the time). There was –

  • ‘Candlemas’ (2nd February – celebrating Jesus’ presentation at the temple).
  • Lammas Day (1st August, although it can move) which celebrates the wheat harvest.
  • ‘Michaelmas’ (29th September – the feast of St Michael and the Archangels. Michaelmas was also important as it was one of the ‘quarter days’. The other three days which were quarter days, were ‘Lady Day’ on 25th March, ‘Midsummer Day’ on 25th June and Christmas Day. These were the four days of the year when servants could be hired, school terms started and rents needed to be paid.).
  • ‘Martinmas’ (11th November – the feast of St Martin, also sometimes called ‘Old Halloween’ or ‘Old Hallowmas Eve’).

All of these, and many others besides, seemed to be occasions for feasting and general merriment.

However, I was shocked by the huge amount of plagues and famines. Famines often seemed to be brought on by diseases of cattle or by poor weather leading to the failure of the crops. How hard life was, might be one of the reasons why people’s aged were described, not as ‘twenty years old’ but as ‘twenty winters old’ – clearly, you were much less likely to survive the winter in those days that you are now – assuming, of course, that you weren’t slaughtered by marauding invaders.

I also really liked reading about the very down-to-earth points that the writers thought fit to include, such as what the weather was like, and when comets or solar or lunar eclipses had been seen, which made it all seem very real. Also, in the section that described the death of William the Conqueror in 1087 AD, I found it amazing to read, ‘If any person wishes to know what kind of man he was… then we will write about him as well as we understand him: we who often looked upon him and lived sometime in his court.’ Wow! The person writing this section had actually met William the Conqueror!

Anyway, as I write this I can see the dog giving me a swinckful eye as he threatens heavy-times and very manifold commotions, if I don’t take him out to wander thitherwards, so I’d better finish for now. Until my next blog-post – enjoy preparing for Christmas-tide!


Wither reference to ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle – Illustrated and Annotated’, Edited and Introduced by Bob Carruthers, pub. in 2013 by Pen and Sword Military Books, Yorkshire and Philadelphia.



The perspective you adopt when writing a book is very important, as it colours everything that the reader finds out – the perspective (or viewpoint), of the character you’ve chosen, gives the reader all their information about what is happening, as the reader sees and learns usually only from the point of view of that one character. It might be the protagonist or the antagonist (or it might change throughout the book) but, in most cases, whether you’re writing in the first or the third person, you have a reasonably fixed perspective.

However, perspective has more than one meaning. The Oxford Learners Dictionaries defines it as either ‘a particular attitude towards something’ (as in the perspective you adopt when writing), or, alternatively, ‘the art of creating an effect of depth and distance in a picture by representing people and things that are far away as being smaller than those that are nearer the front’. I now know that this is the type of perspective to keep in mind, when buying things online!

I always look very carefully when buying things, to make sure that I know what I’m getting, and to be sure that whatever I’m buying sending away for will arrive in the right size. This is pretty straight forward with clothes – it’s either the right dress size or it’s not. With other items, though, it can be trickier, and it’s far too easy to get things wrong when you’re looking at a screen rather than standing in a shop. I learnt this the hard way, when I self-published my first children’s book and started doing school visits.

As the book was called ‘The Secret of the Wooden Chest’, I thought that it would be a nice touch to carry all my pens, bookmarks, etc., into the classroom, not in a boring old bag, but in a wooden chest similar to the one in the book. I had a look around some local shops with no luck, and so, being a modern girl, I looked online.

I soon came across something that looked ideal – certainly wooden, and not too fancy but not too rustic either. There was some small print underneath the picture, but I skipped over that bit and clicked ‘Buy’.

From my seat in the kitchen, a few days later, I heard a thump – the postman was pushing a parcel through the letter box. I was mystified. I hadn’t ordered any books or DVDs lately, had I? There was the wooden chest of course, but there was no way that would go through the letter box. Whatever could it be?

I trotted into the hall and picked up a tiny package, carrying it back to the kitchen where the dog’s eager nose waited, keen to suck in all the available information about the person who had wrapped up this mysterious item. I found the scissors, and, with the dog’s whiskers quivering dangerously close, I started to cut the tape and unwrap it. It would have been a tricky job, even without the dog’s help. The person who had wrapped it (who the dog had now identified as a fifty year old male, brought up as an only child in Basingstoke, but now living with his girlfriend in a two-bedroomed flat in Bristol), had done a thorough job, and it was several minutes before the final piece of paper fell away. The dog snatched the wrapping up and carried it away in triumph to his blanket, for further examination. I was left with the parcel’s contents.

To call it a wooden chest would have been overly generous – it was everything I needed a wooden chest to be – but in miniature! If I placed it next to a doll from my children’s doll’s house, it looked about the right size for storing blankets, or possibly for actually hiding in. If I put it next to a medium-sized teddy bear, it looked about the right size for carrying books and papers to school, but if I looked at it from my own perspective (that of an average-sized human being), it was fine to hold a paperclip – or maybe even two paperclips – but that was about it. It was about an inch high and clearly designed to be used as some kind of presentation box for jewellery. If I’d wanted to put a ring into it, it would have been fine; a necklace – maybe; but a pen, a pencil, a pack of bookmarks, a paperback book and a page of densely written notes – definitely not! I went back to the laptop and checked the details of the item I’d ordered. There were the measurements in black and white – I just hadn’t read them.

After more searching (and careful reading of the small print), I finally found a wooden chest that I thought would do the job I intended it for, and before long the postman was driving the dog into a frenzy by ringing the front door bell, thankfully unable to force this new delivery through the letterbox. But the whole experience did make me think – whether you’re writing or ordering things online, get your perspective right, or, at the very least – double check the measurements!



Writers’ Road Trip – Talliston House


This summer, some writer friends and I had the chance to go and have a look around Talliston House in Essex, which is owned by a fellow writer. When I was told the name of the house, I imagined a sprawling stately home set in acres of parkland, probably with a large lake, a sweeping drive and several servants to bow us in through the grand entrance. I googled it to find out more, and was surprised to learn that it is, in fact, a three bedroomed, semi-detached ex-council house – but further googling taught me that this was no ordinary ex-council house… The owner, John Trevellian, had spent the last twenty five years transforming his home into a wonderland, where all the rooms are furnished and decorated as if from different periods of history and different locations around the world. It sounded really intriguing!

On the morning of the visit I said goodbye to the dog, who settled down for a nice sleep, and set off nice and early, collecting my fellow travellers en route and arriving in plenty of time. As we walked up the path to the front door, shading our eyes against the late-summer sunshine, there was little hint of what lay inside – although I did notice some intriguing brass bees set into the paving stones under my feet. The door creaked open and we walked in, and, wow – what a difference – this was certainly no ordinary house!

From the clock-filled, marble-tiled front hall, we went into the living room – or what at some point, must have been the living room. Now it was the hall of a Dark Age, Welsh watch tower, panelled from floor to ceiling in dark wood and filled with rich fabrics, paintings and hangings. A huge, granite mask of the god, Pan, hung over the fireplace. It seemed incredible to think that this room could be no bigger than my own living room at home – where in another world the dog was, no doubt, still sleeping the sleep of the just. By some unknown sorcery, Talliston’s living room seemed three or four times bigger, at least!


Walking through the door at the end of the room, I had to stop and blink a few times. It seemed difficult for me to get my head around the change, as I walked from a room in a dark, mediaeval tower, into the bright and airy kitchen of a Louisiana 1950’s home. It seemed almost too much for my brain to take in. Rhythm and blues music played quietly in the background as I looked around at the baskets hanging from the cream-coloured walls, the floral china and the gingham-print fabrics.

Peeping into the bathroom of a Norwegian boat-house as I passed by, I went out of the back door, and into the garden; the courtyard garden of an Irish cottage, filled with wonderful plants, dramatic planters and the biggest and most fruit-encrusted grapevine I’d ever seen in the UK. From there we stepped across to what had possibly once been the site of a garage, but was now a Canadian lakeside lodge; clearly out in the wilderness and rough-hewn, but filled with worn yet solid chairs and all the comforts you could need – and of course a woodstove; essential in that harsh climate.


After walking down the side of the house, past a standard vine (also covered in fruit – I didn’t even know they came in a standard variety!), we went back inside to an exquisite Japanese vivarium. This was no ordinary room, either, being set in the future and designed to be used as a way-point – a passageway – to a near-space laboratory.

Back to the hall next, and then up the stairs and into the black-panelled bedchamber of a Scottish tower house, haunted by the ghost of a child who had died there, in the scarlet-curtained bed…


Walking into the other large bedroom, I was plunged once more from dark to light. Now I was in a bright guestroom inside the Moorish Alhambra Palace, in Spain. With pale wood, mosquito nets and white-painted walls, this was a room from which you felt you could stare out over the distant, sun-drenched mountains.

The boxroom was a cooler place, set in Twentieth century New York, and clearly the office of a private investigator – someone who investigated not only worldly mysteries, but those with a more occult twist as well.

Some of my friends ventured up the steep ladder from the landing to see the final room; a Cambodian, bamboo spirit house – but the sight of the ladder put me off, and thinking more down-to-earth thoughts about broken ankles and trips to A and E, I went back downstairs to collect a cup of tea from 1950’s Louisiana, which I took outside to drink in the Irish garden.

On the way home, I thought about what an experience it had been, to see this house! For me, one of the most striking things was the sense of shock, on being plunged without warning, from one time and place to another. When I got home, I told the dog it felt a bit like going straight from a steaming hot bath to a cold shower. He cocked an eyebrow at me and backed away apprehensively – he hates being immersed in water of any temperature. But he did seem interested in the little brass bee I’d bought while I was there. Hmm – I need to find somewhere for it in the garden, and then I can have my own, mini version of Talliston, right on my own patio. I’m sure the dog won’t mind – not as long as he can still get into his own favourite sunny spot, anyway!


Party Time!


Last Friday afternoon, I said goodbye to the dog and travelled down to London feeling slightly nervous – I was setting off for an event held every year by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) – the annual agent party. It was the second year I’d been, so I already knew a little bit about what to expect; the first half would be an opportunity to hear lots of different literary agents discussing what they’d like to see in a submission from a children’s writer, and the second half – the scary bit – would be a chance for me, and all the other writers attending, to pitch our new books to the agents. Who knew – if we were lucky, some of them might be impressed and ask us to submit our new manuscripts to them when they were ready!

This year’s party was at a new venue – the lovely, chandelier-encrusted Bush Hall in West London’s Shepherd’s Bush. Soon after I arrived and sat down, the evening’s host, Sarah Grant, introduced the first panel members; Amber Caraveo (Skylark Literary), Alice Williams (Alice Williams Literary), Nancy Miles (Miles Stott Agency) and Gemma Cooper (The Bent Agency). Sarah kicked things off by asking the agents what information they would like to see included in a submission package. Gemma said that she wanted to be told which other books the submission was similar to (‘X meets Y’), and also liked to see ‘a character that jumped out of the page’. Nancy was looking for a succinct elevator pitch, and ‘a strong voice that says something in an original way’. Alice thought a professional approach was crucial, and for picture book writers, two or three texts. Amber said that she wanted to know a bit about the writer, while also pointing out that really – it’s all about the writing! For illustrators, a spread of pdfs was important, giving a good range of ideas.

Sarah also wanted to know if the agents had a wish list – or indeed a hate list! Amber was pretty clear that she didn’t want to see any animal stories. However, all was not lost for the animal story writers amongst us, as Alice said that she loved pony books. Nancy wanted to see books in any genre that were fun to read, and Gemma said that her dream book would be something similar to ‘Wimpy Kid’.

Next, Sarah introduced the second panel of agents – Lydia Silver (Darley Anderson), Lauren Gardner (Bell Lomax Moreton), Becky Bagnell (Lindsay Literary Agency), Therese Cohen (Hardman and Swainson Literary Agency) and Max Edwards (MMB Creative). When asked what they liked best in a pitch, the second panel thought that ‘X meets Y’ was useful, but Sylvia also thought that knowing what made a particular story ‘a bit different’ was important. Becky said that the key to successful pitching, was practice, Max wanted to see what the overall theme and motivation in the story was, and Lauren advised us to ‘keep three things in your minds, that you want me to take away’.

Sarah then asked what the agents looked at first, when they read submissions. For Lauren, the cover letter was the first thing to look at, while Becky went straight to the manuscript. Max said that we should keep it professional and be sure to get the spelling and punctuation right, as he would be looking for ‘reasons to reject’, and would stop reading if we hadn’t followed the guidelines. Becky, however, gave some hope to the mistake-prone amongst us, saying, ‘I don’t care if you get it wrong, so long as the writing is good’!

When asked what they looked for in a client, Therese thought that it was important that she could ‘get on with, and be honest with’ a client, and Becky was hoping for ‘someone who was open to editing’.

As Sarah kept the questions coming, we learnt that it’s important to think ahead to the next book, and that agents work with international colleagues to sell foreign rights. The agents also thought that there were a lot of benefits to taking a client who had previously self-published, as this helps understanding of marketing and promotion.

When the second panel had finished, we all stood up while the chairs were cleared away and then we gathered around the agents’ tables, queuing up for the opportunity to pitch our books. I got some good feedback from several agents, and, from more than one, heard the wonderful words, ‘yes, send it to me’!

Travelling home later that evening, I kept coming back to what the agents had said at the end of their panel discussion; ‘keep writing’, ‘keep reading’, and, most importantly – ‘have fun’! Certainly the dog knows all about that – he’s always first in the queue for any party!

Barbara the Banana Plant


Last summer I knew that, as usual, I wouldn’t be able to get any writing done during the school holidays, and so I had a go at growing strawberries – although not very successfully, as some people might remember (see But even though we didn’t manage to grow any fruit, the dog and I found the whole experiment very interesting, and it certainly kept us entertained until the schools went back and we could return to our usual term-time routine – writing (me) and sleeping (him).

At the beginning of this summer, I wondered about having another go at the whole strawberry growing thing, but then decided to try something different – as we were having such a hot summer, this year it would be bananas! Now, I know that bananas are a tropical plant, but I’d also heard that in some areas of the UK they can be grown successfully, so I thought I’d give it a go. I suggested the idea to the dog and he was wildly in favour – sharing my daily breakfast banana is one of the highlights of his morning.

I started googling – apparently there are some varieties of banana that you can only grow in the UK if you keep them indoors over the winter. The dog thought that this was a wonderful idea, and suggested that with that variety he’d be able to pick his own fruit whenever he felt like it, saving me the bother of having to wait on him. To his disappointment, I shook my head. That didn’t suit me at all; I wanted a plant that would know its place (the garden!) and keep to it. I carried on googling.

After more searching I finally came across a banana plant that could survive most of the frosts that we might get in the southern half of the UK, and could be grown either in a flower bed or in a patio pot. Yes – this was surely the plant for me!

I placed my order and waited, keen to see what it would be like – and whether it would survive the delivery service. A few days later there was a ring at the bell. With the dog barking merrily in the background, I opened the door and there it was – a huge cardboard box. I’d already been to the garden centre and bought a large patio pot and some compost, and it was the work of a moment to get the plant out of its box, upend the bag of compost into the pot, plonk in the plant, and carry the whole thing outside onto the patio.

Instantly the garden looked more tropical – much more in keeping with the searing temperatures we were experiencing at the time. The dog came outside to see what was going on and I showed him my new plant. He wasn’t impressed – there didn’t appear to be any bananas growing on it. He gave me a quizzical look, and I explained to him that the label said we would have to wait for four years to get any fruit. He snorted and with a shake of his head, stomped off, back to his place by the electric fan. Whatever could I be thinking – buying a plant that wouldn’t grow any fruit for four years? Why, he’d be nearly at dog retirement age by then! I ignored him and stayed outside, fussing over my plant.

When my husband came home, I explained that I thought the new plant should have a name – he suggested Barbara, and so Barbara she became. Each day I’d go outside and water her, chat to her and generally look after her. One day I was fussing over her as usual, when I noticed a new sprout coming out. ‘Oh, well done, Barbara – that’s a lovely new leaf!’ I said at the top of my voice, full of enthusiasm and pride. Too late, I looked over my shoulder and realised that one of my neighbours was fixing his shed roof from the top of a step-ladder – well within earshot. I was a bit more careful after that to check who was nearby when I went outside for a chat with my leafy friend.

Most evenings we’d sit on the patio – at first beside her luxuriant foliage, but soon beneath it – because if there was one thing that Barbara knew how to do, it was grow! Every couple of days, a new leaf – at first curled into a tight cone, but soon opening out – would appear from the centre of Barbara’s stem, each leaf bigger than the last. During the really hot weather, she could grow over six inches in a day, and she soon had to be re-potted. I started to get a bit worried – how big would she get?! But then, as the hot weather eased off, so did she and her speed of growth slowed down. Now a new leaf only showed itself every four or five days, and it took them longer to unfurl – Barbara was starting to shut down for the winter.

I wasn’t worried; I knew from reading the label that she’d die right back to almost nothing over the winter, and then, hopefully, sprout right back up again next spring. As the wind started to blow the autumn leaves around outside, I set up the laptop and brushed off a summer’s worth of dust. The dog watched me thoughtfully and then climbed onto his chair, closed his eyes and sighed happily. Bananas or not, he was content to get back into his routine – and as long as I didn’t forget to share my supermarket-bought banana with him in the mornings, he didn’t care where it was grown!

National Dog Day – what about a day for writers?!


Last month there was yet another day of celebration for the dog – on 27th August it was National Dog Day, and just like on Christmas Day, Little Christmas Day (see blog post ) and his birthday, there were presents, treats and cards galore – this time, all especially for him.

He absolutely loves opening presents. He was delighted to discover that we’d got him a new blanket, which he immediately lay down on. There were also home-made dog biscuits, and a game of ‘pass the parcel’ in which – surprisingly – the music always stopped when the parcel was in front of him. I think it’s safe to say that he really enjoyed himself, as, in fact, did the rest of us, but it got me thinking about all these special days we have, for this and that.

I found a list on Wikipedia of all the various special days that are celebrated around the world, and it was fascinating reading. There’s a huge list of them, including, of course, all the famous ones like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. In reading down the list, I found it difficult to choose my favourite – I suggested to the dog that maybe it would have to be either World Chocolate Day, or possibly, Ice Cream for Breakfast Day! He immediately objected strongly to this, and suggested that if I was looking for something other than National Dog Day to celebrate, then it should be National Puppy Day. I had to explain to him that as far as Wikipedia could tell me, this was only celebrated in the USA. He huffed petulantly, and pointed out that I hadn’t even mentioned Take Your Dog to Work Day. I realised that on 24th June, when this day is apparently celebrated, I hadn’t even known about it. Quickly passing him a dog treat to ease my guilt, I decided to move on to looking into which days are related to writers and writing.

Wikipedia informed me that in various countries around the western world, there are several days that are linked to writing or literature. These are –

  • National Science Fiction Day (2nd January) – celebrated in the USA.
  • Family Literacy Day (27th January) – a day celebrating literacy in Canada.
  • Dr Seuss Day (2nd March).
  • World Writers’ Day (3rd March) – established in 1986, and founded in London by the International PEN club, to promote support among writers, internationally, and to bring together respected international writers for discussion.
  • World Poetry Day (21st March) – established by the UN.
  • Tolkien Reading Day (25th March).
  • International Children’s Book Day (2nd April).
  • World Book and Copyright Day (23rd April).
  • National Writing Day (27th June) – an annual day to inspire writing, across the UK.
  • Author’s Day (1st November) – established in Illinois, USA, in 1928 to celebrate American Authors.
  • International African Writers’ Day (7th November).
  • Day of the Imprisoned Writer (15th November) – an international day established in 1981, to recognise writers who stand up for freedom of expression.

All these days connected with writing and literature looked great, but what struck me was that none of them were just about generally celebrating writers, in the way that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day just generally celebrate mothers and fathers. And this in a world where the vast majority of writers (both self-published and traditionally published), earn very little money from their writing, with only the rare, famous few making a good living from it. In fact, the vast majority of unpublished and self-published writers slave away with no financial reward at all.

Surely, I suggested to the dog, it was time for a National (or even International) Writers’ Day, when all book-lovers would show their appreciation to any writers they happened to know, feting them with cards, flowers and gifts? He yawned – for some reason he seemed to be getting a bit tired of listening to me – and, settling down on his new blanket for a well-earned snooze, he pointed out that there were only six months to go until World Sleep Day came around again on 17th March, and maybe we should start celebrating that now, instead.

Oh well – it was only a suggestion!


With many thanks to Wikipedia and their wonderful (and very informative), ‘List of minor secular observances’.

Writers’ Rejection Letters!


Recently the dog hurt his foot – poor chap. It didn’t look too serious but we popped him into the car and drove him to the vets, where he nervously crept into the surgery and sat down, wide eyed, by the reception desk. He sniffed the air – hmm, that smell was suspicious, and reminded him for some unknown reason of sharp needles. He sought shelter underneath a chair, licking his foot apprehensively while we waited.

Soon enough it was our turn to be called in to the vet’s lair. Fortunately she was confident that his foot would soon heal and be all back to normal, but after issuing us with a tube of cream and an eye-watering bill, she decreed that for five days he must wear the ‘cone of shame’ around his neck, to stop him from licking and chewing at his foot.

We drove home, and once there, the cone was put on. I thought it made him look even cuter than usual, but the dog was far from convinced. Whatever could that mad doctor be thinking – making him look so ridiculous? And at a time when he already had a sore foot to contend with, as well! But the cone was on, and on it stayed for the prescribed duration.

Not only did the cone make it impossible for the dog to chew his foot, which was, after all, the plan, but it also clearly embarrassed him. Oh, the shame of being seen in public with something so ludicrous tied round his neck. It was almost as though we wanted all the other dogs to laugh at him!

Seeing him suffer emotionally was hard, but it was all worth it in the end. Just as the vet had said, at the end of five days the foot had healed and the cone could come off – and very pleased to see the back of it, he was too! But it made me think about what makes us feel ashamed, embarrassed or down-hearted, especially as a writer.

I’ve been writing for children for a few years now, and alongside self-publishing my children’s chapter books, I’ve also submitted manuscripts to a multitude of agents, hoping to persuade one of them to take on one of my books, and fight my corner with the big guys – the mainstream traditional publishers. So far I’ve had words of encouragement, requests to see more and suggestions for improvements, but have I had an agent offer me representation? No, I have not!

When I speak to my writer friends, I’m very aware that many of them already have agents and that I don’t. I know that there are a lot of us in the same boat – many more, in fact, than there are in the ‘agented’ boat. Come to think of it, it would probably take a supersized luxury cruise liner to accommodate all of us ‘unagented’ children’s writers, whereas it’s quite possible that the ‘agented’ amongst us, might well find some empty seats on a vessel the size of a Thames River Cruiser. Nevertheless, ‘do you have an agent?’ is a common question to be asked at writers’ events, and I always feel slightly embarrassed when I answer, ‘No, not yet’, feeling my eyes drawn down to the ground – a bit like the dog when he’s out for a walk in his cone, and another dog comes into view. But should I feel like that?

Recently I read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ (A brilliant book, by the way, filled with great tips for writers!), and I particularly liked the bit where he talked about his early years of writing. He says, ‘By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.’ He didn’t throw the rejections into the bin, embarrassed by them, and so, I decided that I wouldn’t either. Since then I’ve been keeping my rejections, printing out the emails and keeping them all together in a file. You never know – maybe when I’m famous people will clamour to see them, amazed at the ineptitude (or just sheer bad luck), of the agents who’d rejected me (I wish!). I’m also shifting my viewpoint, and trying to see the rejections as completely necessary steps on the way; letters to learn from, rather than knock-backs. After all, I’m yet to hear of an author who has never been rejected. And I hope that, if the dog ever needs a cone again in the future, he will try to see it the same way – holding his head up proudly as he marches on, his eye on the prize (or in his case, the bag of treats!).


Drying the dog


Bathing the dog at our house, is a major undertaking. To start with, he doesn’t really like going in the bath (let’s be honest – he hates the bath!), and also he takes ages to dry. He’s a Tibetan Terrier, and so, being bred to cope with the snow and ice of the Tibetan plateau, he naturally has a very thick coat. Usually, we rub him down with a towel and then spend the best part of half an hour drying him with the hair dryer, which he hates – if anything – even more than the bath.

Then recently, things changed. A month or so ago, we’d taken him to a Tibetan Terrier festival, where he had the chance to meet loads of other Tibetan Terriers. But, equally important for me, there were lots of stalls there selling things for dogs – some of which were specifically designed with Tibetan Terriers in mind. On one stall I saw some strange, towel-type things, but they seemed to have a large hole in the middle and a zip at the bottom. Intrigued, I asked the lady what they were and she explained that they were bags, specifically designed for drying dogs with thick coats. I was a bit sceptical, but then someone else came up to the stall, and commented that these bags were in fact fantastic for dogs that don’t like hair-dryers. Apparently, zipping the dog into the bag when they are soaking wet (head sticking out through the hole, of course!), traps the dog’s body heat, which draws the moisture away from the dog and is absorbed by the towel. It sounded unlikely but interesting, and I bought one to try at home.

Two weeks later, the dreaded bath day came round. I put the laptop and writing notebooks away, and the dog was taken upstairs, bathed and then escorted back down. As he was led back into the kitchen, swathed in a bath towel and with water dripping off the end of his nose, he looked understandably apprehensive – after all, this was usually the point at which that noisy, hot-air machine was turned on. But not this time – after issuing a few dog treats, his head was popped through the hole in the bag and the zip was done up at the bottom. He sat there, wet and mystified, while we reread the instructions that came with the bag. The label said to ‘use our common sense’ regarding how long he should be left in the bag. Hmm. What to do? I turned to the dog, and asked him how long he thought it should be. He looked at me for a moment, as if he couldn’t believe his furry ears. Why had we seen fit to put him into a bag in the first place? Whatever would I ask him next? How long should he perch at the top of the Christmas tree, maybe?

Receiving no useful advice, I decided to go with five minutes, and so, five minutes later, we took the bag off. Incredibly, he was almost entirely dry! I could hardly believe it, and neither could the dog – he looked on in joyful disbelief as the redundant hair-dryer was carried away from the kitchen.

And so, getting back to the writing much sooner than I’d expected, I had a puzzled but pleased – and dry – dog sat at my feet. It made me wonder about whether they can invent a special bag to put my writing into – something that will draw off all the extra words that I don’t need – all the unnecessary adjectives, the ‘very’s, the ‘then’s, the ‘and’s, and the bits where I repeat myself without even realising it. Now that would be another bag I’d be happy to pay good money for!



One of the banes of modern life is surely the amount of phone calls and emails that we all receive from scammers. Sadly, many people are taken in by these professional-sounding and convincing scammers, and some people end up losing a lot of money, time and often, valuable personal information in this way.

Being at home at lot while I’m writing, I receive a lot of these phone calls. Partly in order to reduce the amount of time the scammer has to call someone else, who may be more vulnerable than me, and partly, I must admit, for my own entertainment, I tend to spin these calls out – it’s such fun. After all, when the dog is fast asleep, tired out after his morning walk and tucked up on the living room floor under a spare fleece, I have to find my entertainment where I can when I need a break from the  laptop!

This morning it went this way –

Ring, ring…

Me – ‘Hello?’

Scammer – ‘Oh, yes, hello Madam. I’m ringing from BT to tell you that, unfortunately, your internet security has been compromised.’

Me – ‘Gosh! Really?’

Scammer – ‘Yes, but don’t worry. I can help you fix it!’

Me – ‘Can you really? Oh my word, that’s fabulous!’

Scammer – ‘Of course, Madam. I’m happy to help. Now, if you’ll just turn on your laptop, I’ll be able to access it and show you where the security breaches are.’

Me – ‘Will you? This is so wonderful! I’ve got friends who’ve been scammed, but it’s never happened to me before! I’m so excited! What shall I do first?’

Scammer – ‘What? No, erm…’

Me – ‘Come on, really, what shall I do?’

Scammer – ‘Okay… Well, can you put your laptop on?’

Me – ‘Oh, what a shame – I can’t turn it on right now.’

Scammer – ‘Don’t worry, Madam. When is a good time for me to call you back?’

Me – ‘I don’t really know. Don’t worry, I’ll call you. What’s your number?’

Scammer – ‘Erm… 321 456321.’

Me – ‘Sorry, can you repeat it?’

Scammer – ‘Er… 321 789321.’

Me – ‘Gosh, silly me, I’ve got that wrong again. I know – where’s your office based?’

Scammer – ‘Er.. what?’

Me – ‘What’s your office address?’

Scammer – ‘Well, erm, er… 118, New Street, London.’

Me – ‘Oh, brilliant! I live just round the corner. Put the kettle on and get the biscuits out – I’ll pop round!’

Scammer – ‘Eek!’

At this point, she hung up.

Interestingly enough, when I googled it, New Street in London didn’t seem to have a number ‘118’. Good thing I checked first – otherwise I might have spent an hour on the train, only to find that the kettle wasn’t boiling when I got there – and, worst of all, from the dog’s point of view – no biscuits!