Thursday, 1 November 2018



Kate, the landlady and boyfriend Bob

Following on from a post last month when I discussed the inspiration for the Shipwrights Arms in my novels, I paid a visit to 'Doris's' aka The Red Lion at Snargate, near Appledore. As it was October 31st, the theme was naturally, Halloween. My daughter, Saskia, made a spooky spider costume for Aggie and cleverly carved her likeness on a pumpkin.

Spooky spider Aggie

My effort was much simpler, inspired by Jack Skellington in Tim Burton's delightful, Nightmare before Christmas. And, despite stiff competition, it one first prize.

My winning pumpkin

All the entries.

The Goacher's bitter was rather too easy to drink and I'm afraid I celebrated rather too well.

Monday, 29 October 2018



I've long been a fan of the Morris J type Van. It was launched as a Morris Commercial in 1949 and continued in production until 1961. It boasted (!) a 1476cc four cylinder engine driving through a three-speed gearbox.

It was available in several variations:



Ice-cream van

I like them so much that I have featured two different vehicles in my book, BLOOD ON THE SHRINE, available from Amazon in kindle for only £1.99.

Here is an extract featuring the van used by the baddies!

Bates put the van into gear, and was just driving towards the gate when he stopped. ‘Hang on, there’s something wrong.’
‘What do you mean?’ There was panic in Atkins’s voice.
‘I think we’ve got a flat tyre.’
‘Bloody hell! Is that all? Christ! I thought something terrible had happened. Come on, let’s have a look.’ Sure enough the nearside rear wheel was down on its rim.
Sammy and Baker had to get out of the back again and the mailbags needed to be heaped to one side so they could get at the spare wheel. Bates got the jack and cursed as it would not fit under the sill because of the extra weight. So they had to take the mailbags out and pile them on the drive. Then, when the van was jacked up, he found the nuts were corroded on to the wheel and he couldn’t shift them. ‘For crying out loud!’ Atkins exclaimed. ‘Are we ever going to get away?’
Bates was flustered and breathing heavily. ‘I need a lever. A bit of pipe would do.’
‘For Christ’s sake! Go and find something.’ Bates went off with a torch while the others stood around, smoking. Finally, he came back with a length of galvanised gas pipe that he had found in the barn. He fitted it over the end of the wheel brace and using his considerable weight on lever, the first nut suddenly came free, and he tumbled to the ground.
Atkins could not suppress a laugh. ‘Come on Butch. Quit clowning around. We’ve got to get off.’
Bates stood up, a hurt look on his fleshy face. ‘I ain’t clowning around,’ he said indignantly.’
‘Sorry, mate. It was just funny, that’s all.’
Bates harrumphed and finished undoing the other nuts. The wheel came off easily and the spare was soon in place. Bates retightened the nuts then lowered the jack. ‘Oh, no,’ he said miserably.
‘What’s the matter now?’ Atkins snapped.
‘You won’t believe it - the spare’s flat.’
‘Jesus! I thought this was your pride and joy. Don’t you look after it?’
‘Course I do. It’s just one of them things.’
‘What do we do now?’ Sammy asked.
‘We’ll have to pump it up – see if it holds air,’ Bates said.
‘I suppose you have got a foot pump?’ Atkins asked.
‘I think so. Give me the torch and I’ll have a look.’ Bates rummaged around in the back of the van for what seemed like an age but was actually only a couple of minutes and finally emerged triumphant. Even so, it was not a great pump and even with them taking it in turns, it was nearly 10 minutes before the tyre had enough air in it.
‘Hoo-ray,’ Atkins exclaimed. ‘Right. Let’s get the van repacked and get this bloody show on the road. I’m starting to get nervous now.’

Sunday, 21 October 2018



 Johnny Doughty - photo Steven J Downey

Where no bridge is available, a stretch of water can be crossed in a boat - and if you don't have one, hopefully there will be a ferry.

Johnny Doughty

Sadly, there is no longer a ferry at Rye Harbour. It probably finished operating in the late 1960s, early 1970s. For decades it was used to take trippers across to the dunes, where there was a salt water lagoon where they could paddle and swim. Also it connected with the Rye and Camber Tram, which ran from 1899 until 1939, carrying fishermen, golfers and holidaymakers.The last ferryman was called Johnny Doughty.

Not only did he ply his trade but he also sang folk songs. He made an iconic record called Round Rye Bay for More. I remember sitting next to him in the William the Conqueror pub (thinly disguised as The Shipwrights Arms in my DI Sonny Russell crime novels) while he was being filmed for a TV programme.

Walberswick Ferry

Luckily, 150 miles away, in Suffolk, there is a ferry that still operates, crossing the River Blyth, from Walberswick to Southwold. But, what is unusual, is that the operator is a ferrylady!

Dani Church 
Walberswick - motor ferry

Dani Church is the fifth generation to operate the ferry and has been doing so since 2001. The ferry runs from Easter to November, usually rowed but occasionally using a boat with an engine.

Compass Point

I've paid my own tribute to these doughty souls (pun intended) on my model railway layout, Compass Point. Although the layout is inspired by Rye Harbour, the ferryman's hut and boat are closely based on the one at Walberswick. The difference is that my ferry is operated by a man, named Jack Spratt.

Reedham Ferry

Finally, a quick trip further into Suffolk brings us to Reedham Ferry. This wonderful craft does carry cars - but only two at a time!

Friday, 12 October 2018

STUDIO/WRITING HUT - re-purposing an iconic structure

re-purposing an iconic structure

Back in 2007 I designed and built my first garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Amazingly, I was awarded a Silver-Gilt medal and I met and shook hands with the Queen.

The garden featured drought tolerant seaside plants put directly into 4 tonnes of shingle. The backdrop was the facade of a Victorian railway carriage, beautifully constructed by my good friend and bespoke furniture designer, Robert Patch. Since then the structure has been languishing in his workshop and I kept promising to do something with it.

Finally, this autumn, work has started, utilising it as the front of a garden building I can use as a studio and writing room.

The floor is also re-purposed, made from four, eight foot by four foot decking panels. As the garden slopes at 1 in 4 I had to get two strong chaps to carry them up to the top!

The structure is going to sit very happily in the garden and blend in beautifully. Also the views from inside, towards the sea, are stunning. I can't wait to finish it! Aggie is looking forward to it too.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

THE SHIPWRIGHTS ARMS - liquid inspiration

liquid inspiration.

Compass Point

Extract from BLOOD ON THE TIDE
"The Shipwrights Arms was a modest building, with stone walls, tiny recessed windows and a pantiled roof. It sat right at the end of the quay, next to the station, hunkered down against the weather. It had withstood any number of gales and powerful storms and had survived, battered but unbowed. Inside was a small, low-ceilinged room, the once white paintwork now the colour of nicotine, stained dark from years of coal fires and the smoke of a lifetime of tobacco pipes. The woodwork was an even deeper colour, with a tar-like quality. Indeed, tar may well have been used as a ready substitute for paint. The room served as the solitary bar and a door marked PRIVATE led to Alf’s compact accommodation. The landlord was far from being the archetypal mine host. Rangy and thin, he barely spoke more than a sentence at a time, always wore a suit and tie and had bookshelves crammed with classics in his living room. He stood, impassive, in front of a brace of barrels of ale sitting on a rack behind the wooden counter. There was a foxed mirror on the wall above a shelf, reflecting a line of brown bottles. Below the barrels, shelves held clean, upturned glasses; pints and halves. The floor was bare floorboards, with a dusting of sawdust and sand and apart from a couple of stools, the only other seating was comprised of three chairs that had seen better days, arranged around a battered tin-topped table, next to the unlit fire."


The Shipwrights Arms - Poole

The inspiration for the Shipwrights Arms on my model, Compass Point, and in my books, Blood on the Tide and Blood on the Shrine, came from two sources. The name came from the one time pub, across the water from Poole Quay, where I worked as a barman when I was a student there. Sadly this was demolished many years ago, just part of the planners desire to render Poole characterless.

The Red Lion, Snargate.

But the atmosphere came, most definitely, from The Red Lion at Snargate, near Appledore on Romney Marsh, colloquially known as 'Doris's' after the late landlady. I first went there in the mid 1970s, and it has hardly changed since then, when it still had an atmosphere of the 1950s. Almost uniquely, it has been in the same family for three generations, since the beginning of the last century.

Di, Aggie and Greer

We visited today, after viewing the wonderful floral displays at Winchelsea church. We took our 83 year old friend Di, who remembers taking hops there when she farmed in Headcorn, next to the aerodrome that she started. If you're interested in reading more about her life, there is a book, Redhead in the Clouds, which Greer wrote, available on Amazon.

Thursday, 20 September 2018


STORMY WEATHER - Gales ahead

With autumn gales upon us I thought I'd share the opening lines of BLOOD ON THE STRAND, the third novel in the Detective Inspector Sonny Russell series.

‘Bloody hell! We’ll never be able to land in this!’ The onshore wind, force six gusting seven, made it far too dangerous to approach close enough to the shingle beach to unload the wooden crate. The deck of the fishing boat dipped in the troughs and broke through the crests of the angry sea, spray and foam flying, soaking the men. It was all they could do to remain standing.
          ‘We’ll just ’ave to push it over the side and let it drift in. With this wind and tide it’ll quickly reach the shallows.’
          ‘What about the other one?’
          ‘Less said about that, the better.’
‘’Ow are we going to explain it? The fact that it’s empty - that the contents ’ave found their way elsewhere.’
‘I’ve been thinkin’ about that…’ His words were snatched away by the wind.
The man raised his voice to a shout. ‘I said, I’ve been thinkin’ about it. We pull the top off completely; chuck it over the side and say it must’ve sunk.’
‘But what if it won’t sink.’
‘Don’t matter. It’ll be empty an’ as far as anyone knows, the contents are lyin’ somewhere on the seabed.’
‘If you’re sure…’
‘Unless you’ve got a better idea… Come on, let’s get them overboard, Sailor and Frankie will be looking out for them. Then we’ve got to get this boat back to Nottery Quay, before anyone notices it’s missing.’

Thursday, 13 September 2018

HAGSTONES - magical talismans.

magical talismans

Hagstones are simply stones that have a natural hole through them, caused mainly by the weathering effects of water on a weak part of the stone. DI Sonny Russell, in the Blood on the ... series of detective novels, often picks them up and slips them in his pocket when he's walking along the shingle beach, with Aggie the terrier, near his home. 

But that is where the simplicity ends. Over the centuries they have been called Adder Stones, Eye Stones, Fairy Stones, Hex Stones, Holy Stones, snake Eggs and Witch Stones. (Hag is another name for witch).

They are believed to have protective powers, particularly because magic cannot work on moving water and the holes are made by that element. People often thread them on a string or wire and hang them on the gatepost of their house to keep evil influences out.

When I had my first medal winning garden at Chelsea I swagged 150 hagstones across the chestnut fence. And do you know, It kept all the witches of Chelsea out of the garden!

However, I have learned that it's not so much good luck if you pick them up when you see them on a stony beach, but bad luck if you don't. So beware. Either be prepared to go home with bulging pockets or avert your eyes and don't look down.

My thanks to my fellow Author Emma Batten, for reminding me of hagstones on her blog: