Monday, 11 January 2021

BOATS and how I use them

and how I use them

Compass Point - tide's out.

I'm sure you're aware that as well as designing gardens and writing crime novels I also model narrow gauge railways. I have built a number of layouts over the last 30 years or so and nearly always incorporate boats.

Castle Quay - layout in a wine box.

My love affair with boats and the water started when I began sailing dinghies at the age of about 12. Since then my passion has never gone away. I like things to be correct so I put as much time and effort into getting the details of the boats correct as I do into modelling trains and landscape.

Compass Point - tractor and boat-launching trailer

Not only in getting the details of the boats correct but of all things to do with them, especially in making sure they are correctly tied up and moored.

Crab boat - based one one moored in Rye Harbour

Boats also play an important role in my books as they are set close to the coast in Sussex. The one I'm currently working on - and coming to end of writing - involves a boat, a bit further away, on the Medway. I've had to dig deep into my experiences to write about a boat getting caught in a strong  tidal current, when it's not suited for that type of water. 

Sabots Wharf - a layout in a shoebox

You'll have to wait a little longer to find out what happens, but in case you haven't read the previous escapades of DI Sonny Russell and his faithful hound, Aggie, details of the titles can be found to the right of this blog. The books are available in paperback and kindle.

Nottery Quay - based on the Strand in Rye

Thursday, 12 November 2020




A bit of a tongue in cheek title for this blogpost as I don't actually suffer from writer's block. Words have never been a problem for me. Probably as a result of being 5/8ths Irish - yes really. Plus my mother kissed the Blarney Stone. (I went to Blarney Castle a few years ago but as I suffer from vertigo, there was no way I was going to lean over backwards to kiss it, so the gift of the gab must have come from her.)

However, when I'm writing I sometimes come to a point where I'm not sure how the narrative should progress or in which direction to take it.

I learned a valuable lesson, many moons ago, in a different life, when I was ceramic designer. Then, being young and headstrong, I thought that if I just ploughed on doggedly, when stuck, something would come out of it. I soon learned it was completely the wrong approach. If I did this, whatever I produced would be either absolute rubbish or things would just keep on going wrong. But if I left the problem alone and did something totally different for a while, when I returned to it things seemed to work out. (I will admit that the something different might involve alcohol, but as I said, I was much younger then.)

These days, now that I'm older and wiser (!) I have a different approach. I put the writing aside and take myself and Aggie for a long walk, usually on the beach. Something about the openness of the landscape or the fresh air or the lack of distractions, helps to clear my mind. Then, the plot, or characters, become clearer, and I return home refreshed, knowing the direction the story is going to take. 

I also treated myself to a drum kit, when I reached a recent milestone birthday, and the discipline of concentrating on keeping time is another good distraction.

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Putting plants into the story.

 Putting plants into the Story

Bewl Ridge House

So far, in my books, I have made occasional passing reference to plants and flowers. These references were used to establish the place and the season. In my current work in progress, BLOOD IN THE GARDEN, the fifth book in the DI Sonny Russell series of crime novels, I am trying to incorporate more of my plant knowledge. (I've made a living as a garden designer for some years now so hopefully I know what I'm talking about.) 

Battery Hill seaside garden

David Peters, one of the main characters in the book, runs a large nursery which supplies plants to garden centres and Woolworths (this is the 1950s) so plants can play a major part. His home is based on a place I used to work. It had a very large garden that I maintained for 10 years. Sadly I was never asked to use my design talents on the rather plain borders, so I decided to fill them with beautiful flowers in my book.

Chick Hill vegetable beds

Peters' wife has disappeared and DI Sonny Russell is tasked with finding where she has gone. He thinks this is a waste of time, believing that she is just a little flighty, and will return soon. However, things take a decidedly sinister turn when WPC Nettie Sharpe fails to turn up for work.

Rye Harbour

At every opportunity in the book I have tried to mention plants, so hopefully the reader will be informed as well as entertained.

Sovereign Harbour

All the picture I have incorporated in this post are of gardens I have designed.

Sunday, 16 August 2020

TELLING A TALE - Story settings



I think it's really important to describe the settings in the stories I write. I like to paint a word picture so the reader can fully imagine the location where the action is taking place. In Blood on the Tide, a WWII bomb is retrieved from the mud at Compass Point (Rye Harbour). I tried hard to describe the concern of the soldiers as they sweated to get it out, while watching the tide gradually roll in.

In Blood on the Shrine, DI Sonny Russell is sent to a Buddhist retreat, almost as a joke by superintendent Vic Stout. But Russell is much more spiritual than his boss realises and delights in being there. I drew on my own, not insignificant experiences, of Buddhism to describe the peace and serenity encountered at a retreat.

The story in Blood on the Strand revolves around gold and silver valuables that were stolen towards the end of WWII. The net shops in Hastings play a large part in the story. I wanted to recreated the sight and smells of these iconic buildings and the surrounding fishermen's beach.

In the fourth DI Sonny Russell mystery the occult and fortune tellers come to the fore. During my research I was delighted to discover that the occultist Aleister Crowley, once named 'the wickedest man in the world', ended his days in a nursing home in Hastings. I described a visit made made by Septimus Pike, a sinister antique dealer, to the infamous character and the sad situation he finished up in.

My current work in progress, book five in the series, begins with an investigation into the disappearance of two characters. Quite a lot of the action takes place at a grand manor house, named Sowsden Manor in my story. But, it's actually based on a place I know well - but I'm not telling!

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK - the first teenagers.

the first teenagers

                         Elvis Presley                                                       John Lennon 1958

As my crime novels are set in the 1950s I try to include as much detail as possible, to authenticate the period. I'm currently writing book 5, Blood in the Garden. There are two types of writers, plotters and pantsters. The former are meticulous in planning the characters and settings and know exactly where the book is going and how it is going to end. The latter start with a germ of an idea and write like a reader, constantly finding out where the plot is going and discovering new characters along the way. I'm a pantster. But I'm in good company. Ann Cleeves, who writes the hugely successful books that the TV series of Vera and Shetland are based on is one too.

My current story involves the discovery of a body in the back of a Morris Traveller. The pathologist in my books, John Crooks, tells DI Sonny Russell that he thinks it's the work of Teddy Boys.

My novels are set in a sleepy corner of East Sussex where Teds are unlikely to be seen, in any number anyway, so Sonny Russell goes up to London to see an old army pal who is now a DCI in the Met. 

Now, although I was around in the 50's, and have a vague memory of Teddy Boys, I don't remember much except the way they dressed. So, it's been quite an education to find out about them. You'll have to wait until the book is published to see if I've got it right!

Thursday, 9 July 2020

STRANGE TIMES but Life must go on

but Life must go on.

I'm sitting in my writing studio, listening to the wind howling outside. The branches of the oak tree are rattling on the roof - must cut them back - and the sea looks angry, with white horses piling up. Plus life is extra stressful in my day job as a garden designer, with materials becoming difficult to source. Not surprising in the current circumstances, but still frustrating. However, I'm safe and warm so I shouldn't really complain.

Despite the difficulties in making progress on my current book, BLOOD ON THE GARDEN and, of course, Aggie is in it, assisting her 'master' DI Sonny Russell with his cases.

In this book I've decided to incorporate the plant knowledge I've accumulated in my working life. As an aside, I only started gardening seriously less than 20 years ago, when my work as a freelance modelmaker began drying up. I used to carry a library of 'how to garden' books and plant encyclopedias around in my car when I started. Learning the necessary skills was a steep learning curve, culminating in three medal winning gardens at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show and a career in garden design. So I think I'm reasonably qualified now.

I've used my skills in designing and building a courtyard garden in my little holiday let cottage in Northiam....

 ...And I am gradually transforming the garden at home.

I do like a wild, jungle feel, as you can see, and have all too easily achieved this on the 39 Steps up to my studio. The plants are: Tetrapanax papyrifer - Rice paper plant, Lysimachia clethroides - Gooseneck loosestrife, Alchemilla mollis - Lady's mantle and Leycesteria formosa - Himalayan honeysuckle.
As mentioned above, I'm going to incorporate my plant knowledge in the new book - which will go well with the title. So be prepared for some colourful passages!

Thursday, 25 June 2020

CHANNELING ROWLAND EMETT - a change of direction

a change of direction

Lockdown makes you do strange things. The inspiration for my DI Sonny Russell series of crime novels initially came from a narrow gauge railway layout I built called Compass Point. This was  loosely based on Rye Harbour, the major setting for the first book and subsequently playing a part in the others. I was astonished to find that the layout was started in 2014 and I began writing Blood on the Tide in 2016. How time flies when you're having fun. 

Three books later, I'm struggling with book five, provisionally titled Blood in the Garden. so, by way of a diversion, I've been modelling a new railway, inspired by the drawings and works of Rowland Emett. He produced the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway that was featured in the 1951 Festival of Britain where it carried over 2 million passengers. My interpretation is not a slavish copy as you can see if you look at It's more an homage or tribute to the man.

I know it looks a bit mad but it's been great fun, working to my normal modelling standards, but producing something whimsical. You never know, it might inspire me to start writing - but what?!