Thursday, 5 August 2021



or why can't I be arsed?

Maybe it's because of the never-ending pandemic. Maybe it's because of the fallout from the stupid Brexit. Maybe it's because of the crap, unsettled weather. Maybe the planets are misaligned. Maybe it's all or none of these. Whatever it is, I just can't raise enthusiasm for tasks that I normally find challenging and usually enjoy. 

Generally, Aggie and I go for a trot to the beach and I find a suitable location and take a photo of her posing somewhere interesting, then post it on social media later. But even those photo shoots are now few and far between. I still try to walk a couple of miles a day and odd things still lift my spirits. Yesterday, it was the sight of a schooner in full sail in the bay which got me excited, but it hasn't lasted. Even railway modelling, where I can usually lose myself and lose track of time, holds no attraction.

I'm not suffering from writers block, either. In fact I've put down over a thousand words of the new book - number six in the Inspector Sonny Russell series - and I know where the plot is going - vaguely, so it's not that. Also, I've got a new laptop so writing is physically much easier. But, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to actually get down to it.

I've been trying to get the latest book, Blood in the Garden, formatted for kindle. Even that is proving to be a trial and I'm wondering if it's worth it. 

Could it be my age? I know we're supposed to slow down as we get older but it ain't no fun. I guess I'll just have to weather it and hope my normal enthusiasm returns soon. Otherwise...

Thursday, 6 May 2021



Well - new book anyway.

Blood in the Garden - trial cover

Well, book five is finished. It's been read and given a 'light editing' by John Nutting, who edits a specialist magazine for the canning industry, write articles for motorcycle magazines and was the one-time editor of the 009 News, a dedicated narrow gauge railway magazine. 

Then it was given a more thorough edit by my better half, who was a sub-editor on a national newspaper for 25 years. Not only does she spot my grammatical mistakes but is very good at suggesting how pedestrian passages can be improved and made much more interesting. 

I've been through the manuscript thoroughly four times - checking all 82,000 words, so, hopefully, we've corrected all the mistakes I made originally. I say, hopefully, because I bet one or two may have been missed. But I'm not too bothered, because even books by well-known authors, who have the services of professionals to read and check their work, have mistakes in them. As Esther Rantzen famously said, 'That's Life'.

Blood in the Garden - trial cover

When I was happy with it I sent it to Eddie, who works at the printers I use, who I trust to format it so it's ready for printing. I've now got the proof back to check. I've also got to insert a suitable dedication and make sure the detail of the other books at the back are up to date. But I still haven't finished. 

I had to write a 1,000 word synopsis to send to Paul, who does a fantastic job of designing my covers. He spent his working life as a graphic designer working on magazines, so knows his way around cover design. I'm now eagerly waiting for him to send me his ideas then we can decide what we're going to use. (The trial covers in this blog are my attempt but I know that Paul will come up with something much better.) So you can see, an independent author has a lot more to do than just write the book.

I feel that Blood in the Garden is a little different than the other titles in the series. It still has the same main characters, is still set in the 1950s and the actions still happens around this corner of the country. But, whereas the other books tended to be plot driven, I think this one is more about the dialogue and the interaction of the characters. It remains to be seen if it's as well received as the others. I do hope so.

Blood in the Garden - trial cover

Strangely, this book has taken a lot longer from inception to now than the other four. I can only think that the pandemic has had something to do with it. Now, I'm wondering what to write next. It will be another crime book and I've started on an idea for more contemporary story but I'm wondering if I should stick to DI Russell and the 50s. What do you think?

Friday, 9 April 2021




Shinglesea 2007

I generally give between 15 and 20 talks every year to a variety of groups: WI, U3A and gardening clubs. The most popular talk is called ‘BEHIND THE SCENES AT CHELSEA’. No, not the football club, or the London borough, but the annual, prestigious Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show where I designed and built three small show gardens. I talk my audience through the process of applying to exhibit, sourcing plants and materials and approaching sponsors. Then how, in ten long days, starting with a patch of bare turf, we create a little bit of landscape that looks like it has been lifted bodily from somewhere else in the country and plonked down on the Chelsea show site. The talk, that lasts about 45 minutes, is illustrated with more than 80 high quality photographs.

Spana's Courtyard Retreat 2008

This used to mean that I had to jump in the car and drive to the venue. As my ‘fame’ spread further, the distances I had to travel had increased so the journey there could sometimes take more than an hour and just as long to return home - often quite late in the evening. On top of that, I had to make sure I could find the hall and that I’d remembered all the equipment I’d need: laptop, projector, relevant connecting cables and extension lead. And most importantly that I’d got the right day. But, like so much else, all that changed a year ago.

The Pilgrim's Rest 2009

Now I’ve become used to giving my talks via Zoom. The upside is that I can do this from the comfort of my own home. No worrying about closed roads or inclement weather that I’ll have to drive through; no last minute panic that I’ve left something critical behind or that I haven’t left enough time to get there (yes, I am guilty of cutting it fine). The downside is slightly different.

The Pilgrim's Rest 2009

People have become accustomed to, and comfortable with, using Zoom so it’s surprisingly easy to access nowadays. The groups are well versed in setting it up so all I have to do is fire up the laptop and click on the link to their group. Once the preliminaries are over I can start my talk and share the photos I normally project onto a screen and this is where it becomes strange. Almost without exception my audience is muted. This means that apart from just four people visible down the side of the screen, I’m basically talking to myself – which is a little weird. But, I’m very grateful that groups still want to hear my talks and long may it continue.

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!