Hello, and thank you for visiting my site. I hope that you'll return often and always find something of interest about my world and what inspires me to pick up a pen. (This is a figure of speech, unfortunately. My handwriting is terrible!) Here's what I've been up to recently...
I’ve never been prouder of my adopted city than over the last couple of weeks. An angry comment from a veteran to Councillor Stuart Martin last year about the dismal effort made to commemorate Remembrance Day has led to an explosion of red all over the Ripon district. He and the indefatigable Hazel Barker have spearheaded a tremendous community effort. Well over 50 000 knitted and crocheted poppies, produced and sewn onto netting by many willing hands, lined the route from the Cenotaph to the Cathedral in preparation for Sunday’s parade. Not only that, they’d spilled out into the Spa Gardens, were to be seen in every shop window, all over the Market Place and the Town Hall… I could go on and on! All the stops were pulled out at the Cathedral too, with its Fields of Mud installation (the magnificent creation of local artist Dan Metcalfe), Wall of Remembrance, poppies cascading from the pulpit (and just about everywhere else) and silhouette soldiers on guard. Roundabouts and other entry points to the city sported large wooden poppies produced by the JennyRuth workshops.
Memories of the Concert of Remembrance will stay with me for a long time and not just because my eyes were wet for most of it. During the readings and while the Dishforth Military Wives, Cathedral Youth Choir and Combined Ripon Primary Schools sang and Ripon City Band played, the names of the fallen were scrolling up endlessly on a screen above their heads. All the surnames were local ones, often repeated, which really brought home the losses to individual families in a community that only numbered around 10 000 at that time.
A fabulous light show projected onto the west facade of the Cathedral attracted large crowds on several evenings. Photographs of soldiers and their horses alternated with displays of poppies and lines from well known war poems. Wilfred Owen wrote some of his best while stationed in Ripon, which was home to a huge military camp throughout the hostilities.
Ripon’s contribution to the centenary of what we now call the Great War has been recognised all over the UK and beyond, featured in both local and national news broadcasts and LEST WE FORGET was on everyone’s lips.
12 November, 2018
Some things are just meant to be. Still grieving over the loss of our 17-year old cats Tom and Tabitha, I was browsing through the website of our local Blue Cross rehoming centre when this unhappy looking chap caught my eye. A week later, he was ours. Five years old and with a chequered history, Jago has settled in beautifully and quite taken over the house.
We’ve had our ups and downs already, though. The first – and so far only – time he has been outdoors since we got him, he had a run in with one of the other neighbourhood cats and needed emergency treatment for a badly bitten back leg. It’s still devoid of fur and he will be housebound once more until all danger of infection is past. At this time of year, though, that’s no bad thing. Bonfire Night celebrations, once restricted to 5th November, go on over a much longer period these days and the last thing Jago needs is to be exposed to fireworks.
He’s a very cuddly cat and I hope that he will be as happy with us as we are with him. More reports will undoubtedly follow. Watch this space!
1 November, 2018
It’s always a pleasure to discuss technique with other writers and I almost forgot at times a) that we had an audience and b) were being filmed.
However, this was a PYA (Promoting Yorkshire Authors) event with Danny Crow chairing and Paul Smith behind the camera. Edwin Rydberg’s guiding hand was present behind the scenes.
Fellow members Samantha Priestley and Bryan Pentelow are fantasy writers, John Jackson (a last minute substitute for Victoria Howard) specialises in historical fiction with a strong dash of romance and I – well, you’ve only got to take a look at the books I’ve produced so far to see that I’ve never managed to settle down to any particular genre. Crime, humour, romance – and all often in the same story!
So am I a ‘pantser’ or a ‘plotter’? Well, I have to admit that it depends very much on the subject matter. ‘Shadows of the Past’ began as a memoir of my first summer in France. Then, like Topsy, it ‘just grow’d’ and it’s fair to say that I flew by the seat of my pants through WW2 and the 1980s. ‘Wheels on Fire’ and ‘Workhouse Orphan’, on the other hand, each had main characters with a definite mission. As I knew from the start what these were and how they were going to turn out, I was able to plot step by step what happened in between.
It was good to see some familiar faces in the audience as well as new ones. These library events are becoming a regular feature of PYA and I always enjoy them, whether taking an active part or supporting other authors.
22 October, 2018
The organisers of last year’s inaugural Ripon Poetry Festival hoped that this one would be able to build on its success and it certainly did. There was a full programme of events spread over four days and surely something for everyone.
My own contribution was a modest one, but I was very pleased to have a WW1 themed poem of mine included in the Festival Competition Anthology, which was launched on the Saturday evening in the undercroft of Holy Trinity Church. The following day, I read it again, together with a parody partly inspired by memories of a misspent youth. That was as part of Ripon Writers’ Group’s showcase at Thorpe Prebend House on High St Agnesgate.
You can read both these poems, Noblesse Oblige and The Hippy’s Lament in the Stories and Poems section of this website. I hope you enjoy them.
18 October, 2018
Very much enjoyed supporting fellow PYA (Promoting Yorkshire Authors) member Toni Bunnell at this afternoon’s event in Harrogate Library. As well as reading from her spine chilling novel ‘The Nameless Children’, Toni sang to us and played her guitar, hurdy gurdy and Appalachian dulcimer. What a talented lady!
3 October, 2018
In the summer of 2001, I responded to an appeal from the RSPCA to take in two of their ‘difficult to place’ kittens. Why were they thus categorised, you might ask. The first reason wasn’t too hard to understand. Born of a feral mother, they were going to try the patience of their new family and take a long time to settle in. The second reason really took us all aback, because we hadn’t realised that colour was an issue with many potential cat owners. Silver tabbies were generally the first to be chosen, we were told, followed by ginger cats, ordinary tabbies, black and white and then – and a long way behind – black cats. Some people apparently still associate them with witchcraft or just think them unlucky.
Fortunately for Thomas and Tabitha, 12 weeks old when they arrived chez Cobbett, we’ve never chosen (or rejected) any cat for the colour of its fur. Actually, we’ve hardly ever chosen one at all. Going back to my childhood, Patch (mostly white) ‘came with the house’. Carver (half Persian and half Manchester alley cat) was bestowed on me during my student days, because she was the runt of her litter and no one else would have her. Catkins (black and white) came along as part of a job lot when our elder son wanted a ginger kitten. Smokey (grey) was handed over when her owner died and so on. You get the picture?
The settling in process did take several months, though. At first our new pets were invisible for most of the time, only coming out to eat after we’d all gone to bed and scuttling back to whatever hiding place they’d chosen as soon as they heard footsteps. I still bear a tram line scar on my wrist from the first time I tried to pick Tab up. Given that 17 years have gone by since then, you may well imagine how deeply she dug her tiny claws into my flesh. We also have a large hole in the back of one of our furnishing units. Tab again! Somehow she managed to squeeze into the tiny gap behind it and that was the only way to extricate her. Tom was the first to sit beside me on the sofa and allow me to stroke him. He was always the more confident of the two, twice Tab’s size and prone to bullying her. Nevertheless, the bond between them was very strong and they were rarely far apart. As soon as one learned how to leap up onto a radiator or window sill, the other followed.
The efforts we made to convince the two of them that they were in no danger from us were repaid many times over. After the first few weeks, they were free to roam our garden and the surrounding area, but never disappeared for long.
They loved to be outside but knew that a warm basket or a friendly lap was always at their disposal indoors. Now, a week on from losing Tab, the house seems very empty. Her brother Tom died in May and we’ll never be sure whether missing him brought on her own decline. From bouncing around the garden a few days beforehand, she went downhill very rapidly and there was nothing that the vet could do.
We miss them both terribly but have the consolation of knowing that they were well cared for during the 17 years that they lived with us and met peaceful ends. R.I.P., little friends. We’ll never forget you.
23 September, 2018
The inaugural Books & Beverages session arranged by Promoting Yorkshire Authors at Harrogate Library far exceeded my expectations. (Scroll down to see what those were.) The staff even had to bring in extra chairs for latecomers!
With an hour at my disposal, I was able to explain what motivated me to write ‘Workhouse Orphan’ and go into some detail about the lives of ‘pauper’ children at the turn of the 19th/20th century. The readings covered the double tragedy that force my eponymous orphan’s entry into the grim London workhouse, subsequent separation from his younger siblings and his first impressions of the Yorkshire mining village to which he is dispatched at a very tender age by today’s standards. The story is far from being all doom and gloom, though. Life underground is tough, but David has some good times too. Even so, he never loses sight of his determination to get his brothers and sister out of the workhouse. To find out how he achieves this, you’ll have to read the book!
The audience was very receptive and there were plenty of comments and questions. I signed a fair few copies of ‘Workhouse Orphan’ afterwards and some of my other books too.
It was good to see so many keen readers gathered there and I’m grateful for the support of fellow PYA members Helen, John and Edwin. We all hope that this will be the first of many such successful events.
22 September, 2018
Since joining Promoting Yorkshire Authors, I’ve been privileged to take part in several joint events. Next week, I’ll be flying solo and not without a certain amount of trepidation.
Advance publicity is all very well, but competing events and even the weather can play a part in influencing the numbers. Experience has taught me that I might be talking to a crowded room, a handful of people or just sympathetic library staff. Only time will tell.
WATCH THIS SPACE!
14 September, 2018
The pop-up Rose Theatre, erected below Cliffords Tower, has been an overwhelming success this summer. The historic 13-sided design of a 16th century theatre, created from scaffolding, wood and corrugated iron, housed an audience of 950. Tiered balconies provided seats for 600 and the open-roofed courtyard allowed standing room for 350 groundlings. Outside the theatre, the Village had food stalls, free wagon performances and other forms of Elizabethan entertainment – watered down, thank goodness! There was no bear baiting and the human heads on spikes at the entrance were – I hope – synthetic! The young lady in the photograph above was singing numbers popular in Shakespeare’s day.
Four well known plays were on offer this year, of which I saw two. To add to the verisimilitude of the staging, there were no microphones and the dialogue wasn’t always easy to catch, particularly from the higher tiers of the balconies. Seats in general were expensive, but I treated myself rather than stand for up to 90 minutes at a time. Groundlings were only allowed to sit down when space permitted, either on cushions they had brought with them and/or with their backs to the scaffolding. They were never allowed umbrellas, whatever the weather, as those would have obscured the view of the people behind them. However, they did have much closer interaction with the actors. Those fortunate enough to arrive first were even allowed to lean on the stage itself. The photo above shows the interval in Macbeth – with ‘blood’ being washed away. The groundlings had been shoulder to shoulder during the first act of that performance and would be again for the second, sometimes elbowed aside by characters making their entrances and exits, but nothing seemed to sap their enthusiasm.
Romeo and Juliet appeared to be set in Mussolini’s Italy, at least as far as the uniforms of the Duke and his men were concerned, with a dash of Venetian carnival. With a more open-minded approach to casting than used to be the case, it came as no big surprise that Mercutio was played by a woman and the Duke by a black actor. One of his ‘men’ was both female and black. The leads were played by Alexander Vlahos (Philippe in ‘Versailles’) and Alexandra Dowling (Queen Anne in ‘The Musketeers’), both favourite actors of mine, and their performances didn’t disappoint. The audience was attentive but not reverential, as witness the fact that someone wolf-whistled when Romeo got out of bed in his underpants at the beginning of Act 2. Alex grinned and took a slight bow.
Macbeth was a visual feast of fur and leather with gore by the bucketful. There was a great deal to enjoy, including some impressive sword fighting. Richard Standing and Leandra Ashton led a strong cast and much use was made of the many different ways to enter and exit the stage, including a large trapdoor. At times it emitted smoke and it also provided an all too temporary refuge for Macduff’s children. There were quite a few other surprises for the audience, the main one being that the witches – two women and a man – were represented as conniving underlings/occasional murderers rather than supernatural beings. As no doubt in Shakespeare’s time, there was some doubling up, notably that of Hecate/ Lady Macbeth’s maid and King Duncan/ the Porter. It all worked well, though. I hope the Bard (or Upstart Crow, for fans of David Mitchell) would have approved.
‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘Richard III’ will have to wait for another time. Maybe next year?
4 September, 2018
And here I am again! It’s my 13th consecutive year at the Writers’ Summer School and I hope that I’ll have at least as many again to enjoy. Despite the recent drought, the extensive grounds of The Hayes are looking as wonderful as ever. Their upkeep is due to only two gardeners and I take off my hat to them.
Places sold out very fast for this special year and I doubt whether anyone who attended left disappointed. The programme was bursting with options, literary and otherwise. It’s possible to be on the go from dawn – jogging round the grounds or meditating by the lake – to midnight (or even later), although that could result in being completely burnt out by Tuesday. I came very close to that during my first Swanwick and have learned to pace myself. Whether larks or owls, everyone will have made a different selection, but this is how my week shaped up:
I volunteered once again to be an ‘ambassador’ and enjoyed helping the 70+ new Swanwickers – who all wear white badges as opposed to yellow – to settle in. As soon as I’d finished handing out keys in one of the reception areas, I co-led a guided tour of the site and then co-hosted one of the reserved tables at dinner. During the days that followed I buzzed around in search of anyone looking lonely or distressed and attended the mid-week feedback session. I also did a couple of shifts in the Book Room, run with her usual efficiency by the indefatigable Kate McCormick aka Elizabeth Ducie.
‘Write Your Life’ and ‘Song Writing’, both with the charismatic Paul Dodgson. The first choice was a no-brainer, as most of my fiction has an autobiographical element. As for the second, I’m no musician but some of my new characters will be. To avoid copyright issues, I’ve decided that it would be a good idea to put my own lyrics into their mouths. If only I had Paul on speed dial to add the music!
These were best selling authors Sue Moorcroft and Amit Dhand, the BBC’s Simon Nelson, whose main brief is the development of new writers (!), and storyteller/writer Sophie Snell. I enjoyed them all, but have to say that Amit Dhand was outstanding. Funny and self deprecating, the story of his dogged perseverance to get his first Harry Virdee novel accepted had the delegates who packed Main Conference Hall rolling in the aisles and the queue to buy his books afterwards almost stretched back to the bar. Only three in the series so far, but the television rights have been sold and I foresee many more titles over the coming years.
In Conversation with…
This year’s line up, chaired by our very own Simon Hall (journalist and novelist), consisted of our guest star Jonathan Telfer (editor of Writing Magazine), prolific short story writer Della Galton and crime scene investigator/writer Kate Bendelow. Much hilarity ensued.
Open mic events
I co-chaired the Prose open mic once again with Jen Wilson and read ‘To My Writing Partner’ at the Poetry open mic. That is the sonnet that got me to Swanwick in 2006 when it won me a free place and you can read it elsewhere on my website. Yes, I know. Hi-de-hi, everyone! As I wasn’t taking part in Buskers Night, I was pressed into service to take photographs. (See the gallery below for a selection of these.) Swanwick has a wealth of musical as well as literary talent.
Page to Stage
Three five-minute dramas and four comedies, submitted in advance and selected by an external panel of judges, were cast and rehearsed during the week. That being so, most of the actors needed to read from their scripts, but it didn’t prevent them from playing their parts convincingly. We then cast our votes for the best comedy, best drama, best actor in a comedy and best actor in a drama. The highlight of the evening for me was Steve Barnett’s portrayal of a ghost. A young WW1 soldier shot at dawn for cowardice is protesting his innocence while his mother (played by Faye Wentworth) grieves for him by her local memorial (on which his name is not included). Steve’s performance moved me to tears and I was delighted when he won.
Extra bits and pieces
It was interesting to take part in Kate McCormick’s ‘What are you writing now?’ session on the first evening, to hear the prize winning readings – poetry, prose and children’s fiction – later in the week and to attend Roy Devereux’s ‘Swanwick at Seventy’ presentation. I was also honoured to be the ‘tail end Charlie’ guest on Elizabeth Ducie’s Swanwick blog.
Fancy dress disco – 1940s theme to reflect the long history of the Writers’ Summer School and a tea dance. I improvised an outfit for the former and hired one for the latter. (Most of the costumes came courtesy of Swanwick’s very own Jolly Jesters, who obligingly deliver to and collect from The Hayes each year. That’s a particular boon for delegates who arrive by coach and are very limited as to what they can bring along. See if you can spot me in their collage.)
Celebration cakes provided by The Hayes (one gluten free and one not), group photograph on the lawn and a gala dinner.
Selling my wares
‘Workhouse Orphan’ sold particularly well in the Book Room, as did the still popular ‘Easy Money for Writers and Wannabes’.
Impromptu events and conversations
Too many of these to list here, but they are in many ways the life blood of Swanwick. Catching up with old friends and making new ones, hearing tales of success or failure from all points of the compass, swapping ideas, listening in on jam sessions, lingering far too long over meals or in the bar – particularly in the bar – are often the things I remember long after the main events of the week have faded in my mind.
Please click onto the gallery below for more photos of the week.
Swanwick 2019 can’t come round soon enough!
18 August, 2018