Thursday, 21 February 2019



DI Sonny Russell's railway carriage home

A slight change in direction with this post. It may not be commonly known that the series of DI Sonny Russell crime novels were inspired by a model railway. For my sins, I model narrow gauge railways - the sort of quirky backwater affairs that were built when there wasn't the cash for a standard gauge railway. 

Gull's eye view

My inspiration, for several layouts, has been the Rye and Camber Tram, a three foot gauge line that ran for all of 1 3/4 miles from just outside Rye and ended up in what is now the Rye Golf Club. It lasted from 1895 until 1939 when taken over by the government to carry parts for the PLUTO project. After the war it was so run down that it was sold for scrap. Al that is left is the intermediate, Golf Links station building a some track set in concrete.

A visit we made in the centenary. 

Anyway, back to the title of this blog. I took the layout to an exhibition last Saturday. This was the first time that the extension - a definite nod to the R&CT - was to be exhibited. All went well until I tried turning on the lighting. The original LED light pipe over the main Compass Point board worked but the new one over the Shinglesea Halt extension failed. Fuses and connections were checked, to no avail, so that end of the layout remained unlit. However, people commented that it gave it a moody feel and it looked like a storm was brewing.

A storm is brewing over Shinglesea Halt

I returned home, ready to fire off a letter of complaint. Imagine my surprise  - and embarrassment - when I checked the light one last time and found a concealed switch on the body! Now I can choose between a moody or sunlit sky.

Compass Point

Sunday, 10 February 2019

BRONZE - my life as a sculptor

my life as a sculptor

Life-size bronze head

Before I turned my hand to garden design, and then writing novels, I worked as a potter, mouldmaker and modeller. I'd always modelled things - houses, robots, racing cars etc, etc, but never human figures so decided to remedy that. I found an evening class in East Grinstead, so once a fortnight, I would drive over there and spend three and half hours, modelling in clay from a live model. 

Bronze seated man

I found it challenging, stimulating and totally absorbing. When finished the clay could just have been fired to make the sculpture permanent, but, with my contacts, I was able to have several pieces made in cold-cast bronze.
The first, was a small figure of a seated man. In the process of sculpting it, I learned a lot about how fabric falls and folds. The second was a 2/3rds lifesize female figure and the third a full-size head. I loved the classes, taught by a superb sculptor, Babette Adrian, and learned a terrific amount about the human form.

2/3rds life-size bronze.

Thursday, 7 February 2019




Detective Inspector Sonny Russell was thoroughly fed up with the weather. He’d been sitting in his railway carriage home for two days, watching the rain batter the windows and listening to the wind howl round the stove chimney like a banshee. Fierce gusts had thundered against the little structure, causing the very fabric to shudder. The storm had been relentless for so long he was starting to get stir-crazy. Apart from opening the back door to collect a scuttle of coal from the bunker and to let Aggie, his little Jack Russell, out for a quick trot round the garden, he had stayed tucked up indoors, the stove pumping out comforting heat, while he read, listened to music and dozed.

extract from BLOOD ON THE STRAND soon to be published


Living by the sea I'm very well aware of subtle changes, and not so subtle changes in the weather. I regularly check the weather forecast although I can often sense when a change is coming. The Met office is most sophisticated now but I'm interested in the way that we were warned in the past about forthcoming storms. Fascinated enough to incorporate a signal mast into my narrow gauge railway layout, Compass Point, which was the inspiration for my DI Russell series of crime novels. On the mast a figure is hauling up a storm cone.


These cones, made of canvas and rope, were used to warn sailors and mariners of expected storms and gales. 

Also, a slightly simpler system of flags was used. Neither as elaborate as modern methods, but interesting and useful, nonetheless.

Friday, 18 January 2019



Shinglesea - Chelsea Flower Show 2007

I do like to keep a theme going. In 2007 I designed and exhibited a medal winning garden at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show - and met and shook hands with the Queen. But that's another story. As detailed  earlier, I've now used the facade of the railway carriage backdrop as the front of a studio/writing room I've built in the garden.

Studio/writing room

Not content with that, I'm now reproducing it in miniature at a scale of 4mm to the foot or 1/76. It's part of a model railway layout, that I exhibit, called Compass Point. Now, if you've read my DI Sonny Russell crime novels, you'll know that the detective lives, with his little terrier Aggie, in a converted railway carriage, not far from Compass Point. In reality, Compass Point is a thinly disguised Rye Harbour and his carriage home is actually at Winchelsea Beach. Meanwhile, here's a couple of pictures of the progress so far. 

The carriage is a cut-down model of a kit by Ratio and the fencing is made from matchsticks, split lengthwise in four.

Saturday, 5 January 2019


extracts from 

James O'Donnell Photography.

Aggie was delighted to be out – the weather didn’t bother her. Heads down, Russell and Weeks were striding into the driving rain while she scampered around their feet, tail up, revelling in the scents she found along the shoreline. The two men said very little to each other. The roaring of the wind and crashing of the surf made conversation close to impossible. The storm showed no sign of abating; if anything it was increasing.

The Shipwrights Arms - Compass Point.

Crossing the railway line he walked along the stony track, past the simple weatherboard structure that served as the station building and up to the Shipwrights Arms. It too was a simple, single-storey structure, but built in local sandstone with a pan-tiled roof, unusual for the area. Sat four square at the end of the quay, hunkered down against the weather, it had withstood gale-force winds, salt spray and lashing rain for more than a century.

After they’d left the shelter of Boulogne Harbour the boat had moved easily to the long swell. But as they’d progressed across the Channel the motion had become less comfortable as the sea became more troubled. The wind had increased with every mile they travelled. Soon it was wailing in the rigging – a discordant keening – a child in the chimney. The craft was sturdy, built to take whatever the weather could throw at it. But even now the timbers groaned and seawater slopped about in the bilge. The two men looked anxiously towards the low shoreline, its featureless contours frequently disappearing in the squally rain.

Thursday, 13 December 2018



A few days ago I wrote about my new 'work in progress', BLOOD ON THE CARDS  and mentioned that it was starting in a WW2 pillbox. So, as part of my research, I visited the one I had in mind, on the bank of the Royal Military Canal at Appledore, over the border in Kent. I wanted to get a feel for the location, imagine what it would be like for the police conducting a fingertip search for a murder weapon. Also, I wanted to see what the atmosphere was actually like inside.

It was, as I expected, pretty grim, but not as bad as some I've been in. There was the usual scattering of rubbish - cans, broken glass and litter and, of course, graffiti. Now, as my books are set in the 1950s I don't think it would read PUNKS, maybe, YANKS GO HOME or BAN THE BOMB or maybe nothing. After all, it was only ten years after the war so perhaps it was still relatively pristine.

Anyway, the visit was most fruitful and I can now write about it confidently. 

Friday, 7 December 2018

THE FORTUNES OF WAR - a writer's inspirations

a writer's inspirations.

Last week I finished writing BLOOD ON THE STRAND, book three in the DI Sonny Russell series of crime novels. Hurrah! and Oh dear! I felt a sense of satisfaction for sticking to something for over a year coupled with a strange sense of loss. I've felt this before and the best thing, I find, is to get on with the next project - straight away. But what to write?

I've long had an interest in the esoteric, particularly Tarot cards and the germ of an idea featuring them had been lurking at the back of my mind for some time. But how to use them in a story? I remembered I'd come across an actual unsolved case known as The Wirral Pillbox Murder where the body of a prostitute was found in a WW2 pillbox in 1955. Despite a huge manhunt, which saw 40,000 people being quizzed across the country, her murder still remains unsolved. 

Now, if that didn't start my imagination rolling, nothing would. Obviously, I wouldn't use the story - I write fiction, after all, but a fortune teller and a body in a pillbox? A rotten cold has meant an enforced rest from anything physical but pounding a keyboard isn't physical - is it? So, I'm happy to say that BLOOD ON THE CARDS has seen the light of day and is now well underway.