Archive | July 2019

Citizen Armies on the way!


This is going to sound a bit previous because this book isn’t due out for another month and when it comes it will come with a re-print of Everybody’s Somebody which is the prequel. So for the first time ever I’m going to have two books out on the same day and it’s making me a bit nervous!

But Endeavour, who are publishing it have just told me that the e-book version will available to pre-order from Amazon at a special price of £1.99 from the 7th of August and I’m a great one for a bargain! And this book, I have to admit is rather special to me.

There have been so many books about the second world war written recently that it quite makes my head spin, especially as the writers, with the best will in the world, don’t get it quite right. And one of the reasons for this is that no-one – as far as I know – has ever spelt out how totally different the people who were alive during the second world war were from the people who are alive now.

I lived through that war and was in London during the first four months of the Blitz and back again in time for the buzz-bombs and the rockets. And I don’t just remember it very well, but have a written record of what it was like (which is much more reliable than memory), because I kept a diary from the time I was seven until I was nineteen.

So I know that the people who endured the war were made of very different stuff from the people who are alive now. They thought differently to the way people think now and that made them speak and act differently. My characters are not late 20th Century or 21st Century people dressed up in the right clothes. They’re the real macoy and I’m very fond of them. Hence this advance notice of their book!

Later on I shall have a cover for the republished version of Everybody’s Somebody and I will put that up alongside the cover of Citizen Armies. But I shall do all that at a more appropriate time when publication is nearer.

In the meantime, I hope you will forgive me for pushing the book at you in this brazen way! I do it with my heart in my mouth.

This entry was posted on July 30, 2019. 2 Comments

The silence of the girls or what the Trojan war was really like.


This stupendous book was on the Shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction which is one reason why I’m writing about it now. It’s a richly deserved place because Pat Barker is a powerful writer, one of the most powerful I have ever read. I started with Union Street back in 1982 and have been a fan ever since.

The Silence of the Girls is Pat’s take on the Trojan war. Not for her the posturing of the famous heroes, however renowned they might be and however much Homer admired them. Their courage in battle is undeniable but there is much, much more to them then hacking other men to pieces and making noble speeches – although, to be fair to Homer, he does show us how petty and tiresome they can be when they quarrel, with Achilles quick to offer  insults and sulking in his tent when he loses the argument.

The men in Pat Barker’s clear eyed version of the Iliad are cruelachille-2165043_960_720 in the extreme and in every sense of the words ‘blood-thirsty’. We first see Achilles hacking his way through the Trojan forces, protected by his God-given armour and his semi-divine parentage, killing at random, brutally and almost carelessly.

Women are treated as the spoils of war, even if they are Queens and/or daughters of Kings. They are passed from man to man, raped, beaten and quarreled over, not as people, but as prizes. The war is a very ugly business and everything these heroes do is brutal, even the burying of their dead.

Virgins and young men are sacrificed and put on the funeral pyres 5, 7, 10 at a time and many of the virgins were just little girls. Animals are killed in the same way and in the same way too. Not just for feasts, but for funerals and they die in pain and terror as Pat shows us. She is passionately opposed to the horror and cruelty of war.

At the end of this stunning, terrifying and shocking story, Briseis, the main protagonist, looks into the future and wonders what future generations will make of her ghastly tale.

‘What will they make of us,’ she says. ‘The people of those unimaginably distant times? One thing I do know: they won’t want the brutal reality of conquest and slavery. They won’t want to be told about the massacres of men and boys, the enslavement of women and girls. They won’t want to know we were living in a rape camp. No, they’ll go for something altogether softer. A love story, perhaps? I just hope they manage to work out who the lovers were.

This entry was posted on July 23, 2019. 1 Comment

34 years and I don’t believe it either!

Hearts and Farthings eBook Cover37 years ago I started to write my very first novel. I was 51 years old and not at all sure that I would be able to do it or that anything would come of it when I had but I went ahead with it anyway.

Because I knew that most new writers are tempted to write about their own lives, I made up my mind that I wouldn’t give anyone the chance to say that’s what this novel was about. So I chose a young man as my central figure and started the story in the 1890s but then of course I started to cheat.

The place that I new better than any other was Tooting and so that is the place that I used as the main setting of my story. I also knew what an immigrant to London in the 1890s would have had to contend with.


My maternal grandfather was called Albert Parodi and kept an off-license at the corner of Mitcham Road and Church Lane. Here he is sitting in the garden of his house in Longley Road with my mother on his lap. I never knew him because he died when my mother was 19, but I heard sufficient about him and the life they all led at Longley Road to feed my imagination.


And here is a picture of the shop with his name on the shop blind.


I lived in the flat above that shop while buzz-bombs and rockets were falling on us during the war. So what with Longley Road and Church Lane, I was steeped in local history, which I found fascinating. For example, the funny little object on the island in the middle of the road with the railings round it was one of the two artesian wells in Tooting, long before the coming of running water. The other was in the slum area known as the Salvador which was demolished to make way for the great Granada cinema.

It took me a long time to write that book because I was teaching then and had to squash the writing into whatever time was left around the edges of what I was doing in the classroom. But it was finished at last and to my total amazement and incredulity it was taken by an agent and published by Century-Futura in 1985 and became a best-seller pretty well overnight. No I didn’t believe it either!

And now the wheel has come full circle and this Thursday as ever is, my present publisher Agora are re-issuing this old warrior as an eBook and paperback. Welcome back old friend!

You can find it on Amazon here. It’s available now as a paperback and the eBook will come out too on Thursday.

This entry was posted on July 13, 2019. 7 Comments

How to cope with a negative review

heartsofoakbookcoverI went to the Chindi meeting in Chichester yesterday evening. It was lively, friendly and only marred for me by the fact that I haven’t got used to my new hearing aids and had to ask my questioners to shout at me and repeat the question! Oh woe! But they were interesting questions and it was a happy evening.

Not quite so happy as the previous Saturday had been. For on Saturday, I received a copy of a bum review for Hearts of Oak. It was written by a young woman, who describes herself on her blog as ‘an English student at university’ and says she is twenty and ‘constantly trying to find ways to put myself out there’ explaining that ‘It’s not the easiest venture, finding careers with an English degree. But I’ve always loved the idea of working for a publishing company, or even to work as a magazine editor.’ I rather imagine that panning another writer’s book is her idea of ‘putting herself out there’.

It was a revealing review because although she says she’s ‘often enjoyed novels which focus on some kind of disguise and adventure’ and then goes on to say the ‘historical setting was especially fun to read’ she then moves on to her reasons for giving the book a 3-star rating. ‘The characterisation’ she says, ‘was, overall, decent.’ But then goes on to tell us that there were moments when my heroine ‘frustrated’ her and in the next sentence put my hero in the same category ‘ridiculously frustrating most of the time’. Well, I thought reading it, she doesn’t like them. You can’t please all of the people, all of the time.

But then, bless her cotton socks, she thought she had better give me a lesson in how to write a character well. ‘The narrative,’ she said, ‘is very much a telling narrative rather than a showing narrative.’ And then went on to explain there ‘was a lot of ‘he did this’, then ‘did this’ rather than an exploration of how he is feeling’. This is the standard advice given to students following a creative writing course, ‘don’t tell, show.’ I wonder if that’s what she is studying at University.

Then having seen off the characters, she turned her attention to the settings. ‘As befitting a 3-star rating, the descriptions of the places could have been a lot better.’ At which point I thought, she hasn’t actually read the book, she’s skimmed through it or, even worse, read the synopsis instead. One of the things that my fans and readers enjoyed most about this book when it first came out was that I took them to so many different places, like the Caribbean, mid-Atlantic, the Mediterranean, Cape Trafalgar  and described them all so vividly. Other people, other times.

I wrote back to thank her for her review, as I always do, and said it was kindly done as she didn’t like the book. I wonder whether she will notice or if she will skim read that too.

Not that it matters over much. She has given me information for a story that will comfort new writers who are given a bum review. I’ve had lots of reviews in my time, some of them glowing and some almost as bad as this one. We have to take the bad with the good.

Best of luck fellow writers. Keep your chins up.

This entry was posted on July 2, 2019. 1 Comment