Sunday, 15 May 2022



Burning charcoal

Why the strange dual title you may ask? Let me explain. In my current work in progress, BLOOD ON THE DUNES, the main character, a runaway from a children's home, is hiding in the woods. He has a copy of Baden Powell's Scouting for Boys which he's read from cover to cover and is skilled in woodmanship and all manner of outdoor skills. So he plans to build a shelter, a bivouac, so he can stay concealed. He pushes deeper into the woods and is delighted to discover a readymade shelter. He doesn't realise that's it's an abandoned Charcoal burner's hut.

Construction of a charcoal burner's hut

Charcoal burning is an ancient tradition going back over 3,000 years. It was discovered that charcoal provided sufficient heat for iron-smelting, glass-making and working with precious metals. It was the discovery that charcoal could be used to smelt tin and copper together, hence the Bronze Age, which lasted from c3,500-800 BC. It continued to be used into the Iron Age although as this required much higher temperatures, coal and coke rapidly replaced it from about 1700 onwards. The production of charcoal then went into decline and almost died out until a revival during WW1 when it was used extensively as a filter in gas masks. Again, the craft faded away until a brief revival for the same purpose in WW2. Nowadays production is limited to the use on barbecues and in some incenses.

A charcoal burner's hut

So much for the history lesson, now to plagiarism. I wrote about a couple of  felons who took shelter in a charcoal burner's hut after a train robbery in BLOOD ON THE SHRINE, but didn't go into much detail. But, I went back to that book and 'borrowed' some of what I'd written for inclusion in the new book. I must stress that I haven't copied it verbatim, just used some of the ideas I'd written down. It also sent me down a research rabbit hole looking into the ancient craft. Here's a link if you'd like to know more. 
New Forest Charcoal Burners - Real New Forest Guide

Saturday, 16 April 2022



    I've just returned from a Maker's Market in the nearby village. It was mainly crafts and brocante so my books stood out as being quite different. It was an early - 8.45am - start and very little happened for the first couple of hours. In fact there were far more stallholders that visitors and I started to think it was going to be a bit of a damp squib. Fortunately, more people arrived, it picked up and by the finish, at 2pm, I was pleased with the number of books I'd sold.

But... and there had to be a but, didn't there? While enjoying myself, chatting to my potential readers, I couldn't help thinking about what I should have been doing. 

I'm really keen to get on with Blood on the Dunes, book six in the series, as it's taken a lot longer than the others. This is only partly due to the pandemic, more to do with the book itself. Like the writer Ann Cleeves - Vera and Shetland - I write as a reader, i.e. I start off with the germ of an idea but I've no real clue as to where the story is going and keep writing to find out how it's going to end. This time, I knew the ending before I'd even reached halfway. So It was either going to be a very short book or I'd have to start again. However, after several long walks on the beach with Aggie I started formulating an idea on how to extend it. 

I'd introduced a15 year old boy who'd disappeared from a children's home. Initially, he was written as a minor character, then as I became more interested in him, his character started to develop. Now much of the story revolves around what happens to him. I really didn't see that coming!

As I mentioned earlier, I realised I should be getting on with something else. Sadly, that's not writing but garden design. I'm up against deadlines on two large projects, so I'd better conclude this blog and get on with them!

Wednesday, 16 February 2022

I'M STUCK! Time to bump someone else off.


Time to bump someone else off.

I'm just over a third of the way through writing BLOOD ON THE DUNES, and I'm struggling. Normally, at this stage in a book I have several story threads going in different directions, not actually knowing when and where they will come together. But whether it's because of the pandemic or something else I seem to have reached a point where I know where the disparate stories are going to resolve, and I'm not even halfway through!

Without giving too much away, a skeleton has been revealed in the sand (hence the book title) and a man has been found dead after a big storm. Also, a boy is missing from a children's home. Unfortunately, I know just how these are connected, but it's far to early to reveal the connection. I've given this a huge amount of thought, on my walks on the beach with Aggie, without coming up with any sensible ideas. Then, yesterday, I had a brainwave. I'm going to have to produce another body!

This might sound drastic, and, on the face of it, not very realistic, but I think I can blend another death into the story, convincingly. I just hope it will provide enough fodder to help carry the story on for another 50,000 words. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 28 December 2021



As a writer I think it's really important to get all the details in a book right, even if it's a work of fiction. Subsequently I spend a lot of time researching all sorts of odd and esoteric things, many of which never get used. But, it's something I really enjoy doing. In the past I would have had to spend a lot of my time in the library doing this research but, now we're in the 21st century, most of it can be done online. As they say, 'Google is your friend.' Also, Wikipedia is a resource I turn to frequently.

Canadian Club

In the book I'm currently writing the skeleton of a Canadian soldier is revealed in the dunes after a violent storm. Later a bottle is found nearby and Lewis, the forensics man, is tasked with identifying it. Turning to Wikipedia I was able to discover the distinctive shape of a Canadian Club bottle, which Lewis was able to establish as being the one found in the dunes.

Stonepit Lane.

Later in the book, Detective Inspector Sonny Russell and WPC Nettie Sharpe are travelling in a police Wolseley. They are trying to track down a boy missing from a children's home and are looking for a farm where a woman who had visited him at the home is said to live. I decided that this is located in a little hamlet near Benenden called Standen Street. Before we moved to the coast we lived there for 10 so I decided that's where the fictitious farm would be located. We been here, in Pett Level, for nearly 11 years, so in order to remind myself of the lie of the land I've been looking at the surrounding fields and woods on Google Earth. This will allow me to accurately describe the journey through the lanes to the farm and landscape they travel through.

It might sound like a chore but I see it as part of the privilege of being an author. 

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.