A heroine bites a little dust

Some time ago, someone on Twitter mentioned the fact that Virginia Woolf had written a book called ‘Night and Day’ and asked whether anyone had read it. I’m a great fan of Virginia Woolf, whom I studied at college, I was impressed by her skill with language and her wonderful ability to get inside a characters head, a technique she invented, believing that telling her readers what her characters were doing and saying was only half the story and that it wasn’t complete unless she let them know what they were thinking too. She called it, ‘the stream of consciousness’. Nowadays it is used by virtually every writer alive and is called ‘points of view’ or ‘pov’ for short.

It was a terrible and revealing disappointment to me to discover that this book was actually rather badly written. The imagery often felt strained and contrived. In the first chapter she says ‘The air in the drawing room was thickened by blue grains of mist.’ Which seemed a good image to me, but by the last chapter she was writing that ‘The light lay in soft golden grains upon the deep obscurity of the hushed and sleeping household.’ And that seemed over the top. It wasn’t what I expected of her. And the characters, although very clearly drawn, were extremely unsympathetic, being self-centered, idle and, it seemed to me, so firmly rooted in their own class that they were thoroughly out of touch with ‘lesser’ fellow human beings for whom they had no concern at all.

Halfway through I began to wonder when she had written it, and checked. It was in 1919 and it was her second novel written when she was 37. Almost a beginner’s piece.

So if you’re a beginner in this trade, take heart. Even a great like Virginia Woolf didn’t get it quite right in her earlier books. They were published of course because her husband had set up a printing press to ensure that they were. I wonder how these early books would have got on if they’d been submitted to one of our present day agents or one of our rich and powerful publishers. I had to go back to ‘To the Lighthouse’ to comfort myself that I hadn’t made a mistake in my estimate of her talent all those years ago and I hadn’t. The work was every bit as good as I remembered it.

So my heroine only bit a little bit of dust and I can still say respec’ to her.


This entry was posted on December 14, 2017. 1 Comment

Christmas in wartime, amongst other things

Something slightly different for you today. Mary Anne Yarde has been publishing various accounts of historical Christmases this week written by a variety of writers. I think a lot of them, including mine which is about Christmas during the war, would interest you.

A Christmas Memory of World War II
By Beryl Kingston. 


Here is the link to her blog:


Changing our minds about sex

I went to visit a very old friend this weekend and, as old friends do, we talked to one another about all manner of things, one of which was the rather alarming rise in the news items about the abuse of women by powerful men. And it seemed to both of us that we were witnessing a shift in public perception of how women should be treated, which is no bad thing and long overdue. The trouble is, we go on thinking the same things in the same way without very much concern until somebody comes along and says something that brings us up short and makes us really think.

The suffragettes, who had the daring to suggest that a woman should be allowed the vote, had to endure vilification, mockery and brutal forced feeding when they were in prison. The abuse they had to suffer was arrogant and thoughtless. They were women, how dare they ask for the vote? Opposition to a new idea is often angry and brutal.



I’ve seen a good many instances of this kind of arrogant and thoughtless abuse in my own lifetime and that was aroused because of difference of opinion that is being discussed and examined in the media now. There were a lot of randy servicemen about when I was in my teens and from time to time I had to fight them off because they were convinced that they could grab any woman they fancied and she shouldn’t object. ‘I couldn’t help it’ was their cry when they were checked. ‘You’re so beautiful!’ And it wasn’t just randy servicemen. I also got pounced on by a school-keeper who should have known better and a headmaster, who certainly should have known better. And when I was sixteen or seventeen and taking part in a beauty queen competition, I saw the “casting couch boys” in full cry.

The organisers  gave all the finalists a champagne and caviar party after the competition and we’d no sooner sat on the couches and accepted our glasses than a gang of black suited and Brylcreemed men smarmed into our company. They sat beside us, dropping their  smelly arms rather negligently over the backs of the sofas and told us that ‘if we were good to them they could get our names in lights’. I got up at once and left them, steaming with anger at their arrogance and their ugly suggestions.  How dare they think we would even look at them! My beliefs and attitude were poles apart from theirs.

But there were other beliefs and attitudes that were equally out of sync with the new ideas that were beginning to take route. When I started work it was assumed by many people that a woman should be paid no more than half of a mans wage for doing the same work. And this, despite the fact that in two world wars women had worked at men’s jobs and done them incredibly well and yet there were articles in the newspapers justifying the fact that a man should be paid far more than a woman because he was the breadwinner. That seemed an irrelevance to us, if you do the same work, you should get the same pay but it took a long time before that idea was generally accepted.

And now the casual abusers are under-fire and I’m delighted to see that the protest against them is public and massive, it heartens me to see women fighting back so passionately. So I will leave you in their courageous company.

Respec’ sisters! And respec’ all the brothers, husbands, fathers, sons, friends and lovers who are standing side by side with us.








This entry was posted on December 6, 2017. 3 Comments

My life is going with a bang!

Or to be more accurate, two rather formidable bangs. The first one was delivered in the middle of the night by this innocent looking bedside lamp. I’d woken in my usual way to toddle off to the loo and leant across to switch on the light. It didn’t so much ‘switch’ as ‘explode’ with a rather pretty shower of sparks and the total disappearance of the light bulb, leaving me in darkness wondering what had hit me. Much staggering about in the darkness to switch on the central light and to go in search of the bed when I’d switched it off.

The next morning I went on a hunt to find the bulb, it took a bit of doing. There was no trail of glass to lead the way and as far as I could see, no debris of any kind. Eventually it turned up, lurking under one of the pillows – don’t ask!

But an even more dramatic explosion was to follow a day later, when I switched on the washing machine as usual and left it to get on with its work, unmolested as usual, and settled down for a well earned cup of tea. How foolish of me. It wasn’t long before I was interrupted by a very loud bang which was followed by a extraordinary crashing and rattling coming from my usually tame machine. I switched it off PDQ and retrieved my washing which was largely white bed linen, now covered in black rubber smuts – oh frabjus joy! It wasn’t quite as bad as the machine in my picture but it was bad enough. When the local engineer came out to see it the following morning, he discovered that the drum was cracked. Oh frabjus joy kalloo kallay! Now I have a new machine which is so complicated it takes me hours to work out how to use it. Lies down in a now dark room with cold compress on head.

But the fates hadn’t finished with me even then. I felt I had earned a nice quiet evening in front of the television but lo and behold that evil machine had a treat in store for me too. Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me! It had decided to relinquish such niceties as colour and entertain me in black and white – cue for the visit of another engineer who is due here in half an hour. I’m now lying down in my darkened room with two cold compresses on my head, groaning dramatically.


This entry was posted on December 1, 2017. 9 Comments

Happy Birthday William!


It was William Blake’s 260th Birthday on Tuesday. I didn’t miss it William but I couldn’t find the poem so it’s had to wait until my Charlotte came to work for me and of course she discovered it in five minutes!

So here it is with love. I wrote it ten years ago to celebrate the inauguration of a stained glass window in his honour in Felpham Church. It is as appropriate now as it was when I wrote it. Perhaps even more so.


A thirteener for William Blake on the occasion of his 250th birthday

Through fifty and two hundred years we’re still
Lagging behind the courage of your stride
Dear, truth-bold, honest William, in your fiery cloud.
Jerusalem is unbuilded, justice is rarely tried,
Men struggle still in your satanic mill,

And yet your verse, like birdsong bright and loud,
Carols your message, bids us take our fill,
Lifts and inspires, and will not be denied.
Its simple complicated truth sends thrill
On silver thrill, crowds hope on golden crowd.

So God be thanked you never stooped to hide
Your teeming talent and were never bowed.
And happy birthday, clear and dearest Will.

This entry was posted on November 30, 2017. 2 Comments

I have a new assistant

Charlotte and I now have the full time assistance of a literary animal, seen here studying some of the evidence that we shall be using in book 30. He has taken to his duties with great seriousness, is a dab-paw on the keyboard and has rapidly found his way around my library.

Sometimes it is a little difficult to remove him from one of his vantage points so that we can actually get at the book we need, but he takes it in good part and returns to his perusal of the great works as soon as we’ve stopped messing around.

We have to keep him well fed naturally. He is a creature of many talents and cultivated tastes. We shared a dish of Salmon en Croute yesterday evening for example and today he tells me – by speaking very clearly every time I open the refrigerator – that he would prefer roast chicken. Charlotte has kept him well provided with warm milk which he says assists his brain cells.

Expect great things from the three of us for in one way and another we are all inspired!


This entry was posted on November 24, 2017. 2 Comments

Goodbye Uncle Bob

So the odious Robert Mugabe has finally accepted that he’s got to resign and the people of Zimbabwe have been dancing in the streets with the sheer joy of having got rid of him. He began well as the leader of a party opposed to colonial domination but power and wealth went to his head and for far too long now he has been greedy, ruthless and brutal, using his army to subdue his own people and taking so much wealth out of the economy that the poverty in Uganda is now extreme.

Zimbabwe was once one of the wealthiest countries in Africa, now warehouses are empty, fields lie fallow, banks are so short of cash that people wait hours to withdraw even tiny sums and the roads are full of potholes. There aren’t very many jobs and most of them are in government service where the salaries of the workers are very rarely paid. If ever a society was crying out for revolution, it is this one. I would like to think that now they’ve removed him from power the people of Uganda will put him on trial for his misdeeds. A precedent has been set for it.

This same week a man called Ratko Mladic was sentenced to life imprisonment. This man was nicknamed ‘the butcher of Bosnia’ and was infamous for the extermination, murder and persecution of his countrymen and the massacre of Srebrenica. It has taken twenty years to bring him to justice, but at last he has been found guilty of all charges against him and, what is perhaps even more important, the court that managed to do this was an international criminal tribunal backed by the United Nations. How cleansing it would be in a world grown sick of greed and cruelty for the stage to be set, for the hideously greedy and savagely cruel to be brought to justice.

I can think of a great many other leaders whose behaviour is so obscene that we really should be stopping it. Is it power to the people again at last?




This entry was posted on November 23, 2017. 3 Comments