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:

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

THE RAILWAY CHILDREN & St Mary in the Marsh

& St Mary in the Marsh

St Mary in the Marsh in snow

"A horrified expression crossed Weeks’s face. Atkins patted him on the arm. ‘Don’t worry, the train ain’t movin’ very fast by then, just a walking pace, an’ anyhow, you’re gonna stop it.’
‘B-but how?’ Weeks stammered.
‘You’re gonna run down the track, wavin’ a lantern. I’ll make sure you have one.’
Weeks relaxed enough to say: ‘Like in The Railway Children?’
Atkins frowned. ‘You what?’
‘It’s a book by Edith Nesbit.’ Atkins looked blank. ‘She’s buried at the churchyard in St Mary in the Marsh, the other side of Compass Point.’
‘Nah, still don’t get it.’
Weeks was getting quite excited. It was one of his favourite childhood reads. ‘There’s a landslip in a cutting and the children run up the track and stop the train…’
Atkins shook his head sadly. ‘Don’t mean a thing to me. You know your trouble? You read too much.’ He sighed. ‘Anyway, that’s what you do.’
‘O-kay,’ Weeks said slowly. ‘What then?’"

This is an extract from BLOOD ON  THE SHRINE where DC Weeks discovers just how far he's become embroiled with Tommy Atkins' plans to rob a mail train. The Railway children is one of my favourite films, starring the delightful Jenny Agutter and the comic actor, Bernard Cribbins.

St Mary in the Marsh from the Star Inn

The church of St Mary in the Marsh is near Dymchurch, in Kent. It is a beautiful little building that date back to 1133 and the interior is quite exquisite. Close by is The Star Inn and adjacent is a little cottage where Noel Coward lived and wrote.

Thursday, 16 August 2018



Rye Harbour - Chris O'Donoghue 2018

One of my favourite walks is at Rye Harbour, the setting for Compass Point in my series of 'Blood on the...' detective novels featuring DI Sonny Russell  and his faithful terrier, Aggie. (See panel on the right).

The story of Rye Harbour is unusual. It was originally used by a company of soldiers at the beginning of the 1800’s, followed shortly afterward by the first fishermen’s huts and the building of the Martello Tower. When the Napoleonic wars ended, so the smuggling trade, which had long flourished all along the south coast, again increased in scope and intensity. A watch house was built about 1825 to provide shelter and support for the blockade troops and still stands today, complete with the flagstaff for signalling to shipping. The harbour, which is now surrounded by an RSPB nature reserve, is some two miles downstream from the town of Rye and is close to the mouth of the River Rother.

The renowned English painter, Eric Ravilious 1903 - 1942 spent some time living in a cottage, nestling beneath the South Downs, with a group of other artists. He would often travel in Sussex sketching and painting and stayed, for a short time, at Rye Harbour where he painted this iconic picture.

Rye Harbour - Eric Ravilious 1938

He lodged at The William The Conqueror, the pub not far from the The Watch House, overlooking the river.

William the Conqueror - Eric Ravilious 1938

I've been visiting the pub since I was about 18 years old and very little changed until a couple of years ago. The owners, Shepherd Neame, closed the pub and undertook a major refurbishment. I was able to observe some of this as at the same time we were landscaping the little cottage next door. Happily, they have done a wonderful job - the interior has been sympathetically restored, reflecting its location, plus the beer and food is pretty good.

William the Conqueror - 2018

My little garden has been well-received too!

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

SHINGLESEA - A railway carriage repurposed

A Railway Carriage repurposed 

In 2007 I had my application to design and build a garden at the prestigious CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW accepted. My winning design was called SHINGLESEA and was inspired by a railway carriage/holiday home at Winchelsea Beach in Sussex.


I was struck by the juxtaposition of the soft green paintwork, contrasting with the drift of poppies that appear in late spring. (I have this romantic notion that a soldier, returning from the front at the end of WW1, made it his home. In his pocket was a handful of poppy seeds he'd collected from Flanders Fields.)

My design incorporated a railway carriage, an old boat and drought-tolerant plants in a bed of shingle.

My good friend, Robert Patch, built a beautiful facade of a Victorian railway carriage.

We had ten days to build the garden. It was well received and I got a Silver-Gilt medal, not bad for a naive first-timer.

I gave away 15,00 brochure, talked to hundreds of visitors and... met the Queen!