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...
15 November, 2018
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