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Welcome to my author blog. I post about my writing, things I enjoy such as photography and life in general. Feel free to look around, comment and get involved. I love to hear from you and especially new visitors. Your visit is appreciated.

Another Jolly: the lull before the storm – Mevagissy and Fowey Cornwall

Mevagissy, Cornwall. (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Mevagissy, Cornwall. (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Those of you who pop in here regularly know that in addition to writing related posts, I often include photos and information about my ‘jollies,’ – my trips out and about this beautiful country.

It’s been a hectic time for me of late. I needed a short break to recharge my batteries and when an old school friend invited me to stay with her, I couldn’t resist.

Mevagissy (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Mevagissy (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Mevagissy (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Mevagissy (c) Jane Risdon 2016

I will get to the ‘jolly’ in a while.

Not only have I been beavering away at Ms Birdsong Investigates (getting there, I promise) and other projects in the pipeline,

I also have the honour to be included in several anthologies of short stories. 

My story, Haunting Melody

will be published on October 20th 2016


Madame Movara’s Tales of Terror

which is a 300 page collection of some fabulous short stories by 29 authors, including yours truly.

Hardback and Paperback editions (limited). Paperback has two different covers from which to chose.

Hardback and Paperback editions (limited). Paperback has two different covers from which to choose.

Ghostly Writes Anthology Oct 2016 Plaisted Publishing

Ghostly Writes Anthology Oct 2016 Plaisted Publishing

The book is in aid of Save The Children

and is published for hard and Paper back for a limited period only.

Madame Movara has been graced with a foreword by Hammer Horror Icon and former Bond girl,

Caroline Munro.

My inspiration for this story, which starts on Big Bear Mountain, California, comes from a true experience in a recording studio some time back.

Going up Big Bear

Going up Big Bear

Caroline Munro

Caroline Munro

There will be Limited editions of the Hardback and Paperback copies available, illustrated throughout. 

The paperback version has two different covers from which to chose.

Madam Movara’s Tales of Terror is already available via


Later in October one of my short stories is to be published in another anthology which is FREE.

Ghostly Writes anthology is published by Plaisted Publishing and features many fabulous stories including mine:

The Beneficiaries of Secret Cottage.

Be careful what you wish for when an unknown relation dies and bequeaths you all their world goods.

The Beneficiaries of Secret Cottage

The Beneficiaries of Secret Cottage

Ghostly Writes Anthology Plaisted Publishing

Ghostly Writes Anthology Plaisted Publishing

It is possible this will also be in paperback. Details as soon as I have more.


In November there’s another anthology, more in keeping with my writing as a Crime writer, which I have been included in:

A Stab in the Dark: Cons, Dames and G Men.

A Stab in the Dark: Cons, Dames and G Men

A Stab in the Dark: Cons, Dames and G Men

There are in excess of 16 authors contributing stories and mine is called:

Cue Murder.

Set in the 1930s of Hollywood and the Movie business.

Inspired by the death of The Mexican Spitfire, Lupe Velez with whom Elizabeth Risdon, one of my husband’s aunts, appeared in many movies.

The Mexican Spitfire

The Mexican Spitfire

The anthology is a tribute to The Golden Age of Detection and Film Noir.

And it is FREE and will be for Kindle. More details to follow as soon as I have them.

A Stab in the Dark anthology including my story, Cue Murder.

A Stab in the Dark anthology including my story, Cue Murder.

More details about all these publications later in the month. Do keep an eye out.


So as you can see I really needed to take a break.

Cornwall is gorgeous any time of the year.

I’ve spent many years in the county visiting friends, working and visiting many

National Trust properties and gardens. This trip I didn’t have time for such visits.

The weather was amazing considering Autumn had just started.

There was only one wet, cold, and windy day but I didn’t mind, we stayed in and nattered and caught up with all the news.

It’s been a while since we’ve been in the same country at the same time.

We had a lovely visit to Mevagissy where I used to spend a great deal of time some years ago.

I found it more crowded than it had been before, even though the ‘season’ is more or less over.

I hope you like some of the photos I took of the fishing village.

View from my window to the left (c) Jane Risdon 2016

View from my window to the left (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Morning in Gorran (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Morning in Gorran (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Here is the view from my bedroom window early morning with the sun playing off the sea. Magic.

To the left and right over the fields and down the cliff you can spot the sea.

Gorran early morning sunrise (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Gorran early morning sunrise (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The silence is endless and the sky is vast in every direction.

I recall seeing the Solar Eclipse from the same balcony in 1999 when we were staying there.

Our artist was performing at the Eclipse festival in aid of the charity, Surfers Against Sewerage.

Next we visited another famous fishing village, Fowey, famous for some many reasons including being the home of Agatha Christie.

Fowey (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Fowey (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Fowey, Cornwall (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Fowey, Cornwall (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Not far away is what was the home of Daphne Du Maurier, but this trip I didn’t get to visit Par where Menabilly (her huge home) used to be.

I was a little disappointed at both Fowey and Megavissy this visit.

Fowey (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Fowey (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Everything seemed so much more commercial and tourist-driven, which of course it has to be in this day and age. But the very quaintness, the real fishing village quality, seems to have been lost in endless tea shops, restaurants and novelty shops.

I know the fishing industry is almost non-existent and people have to make a living, don’t get me wrong. But the thing we all went there to experience, has been lost.

Because there were so many people (and dogs, dozens of dogs) everywhere it was almost impossible to take a photo without strangers in them and the number of cars up and down the ‘car-free’ streets was just too off-putting.  

Boat trips around the coast Foewy (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Boat trips around the coast Foewy (c) Jane Risdon 2016

My friend told me that huge cruise ships come into the area just outside the harbour and boats of tourists now disembark and throng the streets most of the year.

So, not as peaceful and attractive as I remembered from my many visits and stays there in the past.

Also the popularity of the POLDARK TV series has caused an influx of fans looking for the locations of various episodes in the villages of Cornwall.

I recall the original series on BBC in the 1970s, with Robin Ellis in the role of Ross Poldark – who never had to strip to gain viewers – and it strikes me Cornwall was a bit slow back then to capitalise upon the popularity of an excellent series. I have read all of Winston Graham’s Poldark stories and I have to say I prefer the 1970s adaptation…personal taste of course.

Since the Cornish Pasty has been given a special status by the EU (European Community) bakeries have taken the utmost advantage and I nearly dropped on the spot when I checked out and compared Pasty prices from bakery to bakery.

I couldn’t find one under £6.50 – you have got to be joking! Not that I actually like them, but even so….

Cornwall is still beautiful, if somewhat crowded, even off-season. 

My school friend lives on a wonderful spot high about the sea and with green fields, trees and hedgerows around her and not a sound to be heard other than the birds and the cows nearby. It reminded me of how things were down there less than 10 years ago.

My next ‘jolly’ took place a few days after my return and I shall post the photos and information soon.

I hope you enjoy the photos, not as many as usual but at least a taster.

Meantime keep an eye out for the anthologies I have mentioned. Links and details follow soon. Madame Movara’s Tales of Terror can be pre-ordered at for the hardback edition


for the Scream paperback edition 


Spider’s Web edition

all available

for a limited period only.

Thanks for dropping in.

Jane x

As usual all Cornwall photos are (c) Jane Risdon 2016 All Rights Reserved.

Madame Movara’s Tales of Terror:A Bond Girl and Hammer Horror Movie Icon, An International Children’s Charity and 29 willing Authors

dare u read

Sitting bolt upright in bed, Spike listened hard. There it was again, a thin airy melody drifting just above the sound of the storm outside. He concentrated hard trying to pin-point where it was coming from this time. A few weeks ago when another storm hit he’d heard the same melody playing in the library of his ancient cottage, but when he’d entered the room the sound had gone. He’d put it down to his imagination. Now he wasn’t too sure. Now he was getting scared; it seemed as if the melody was in the room all around him, stronger, seeping into his very being.

He shivered. Surely someone was in the room. Dread creeping over his now sweating body, his eyes gradually adjusted to the darkness, and yes, in the corner he could swear he saw…something.  Gripped by increasing terror he found himself paralyzed as, whatever it was, moved closer to him, the tune getting louder and louder almost bursting his eardrums. Feeling the weight of something pushing him down on the bed Spike fell into darkness, unable to breathe.


Madame Movara’s Tales of Terror Anthology

in aid of The International Children’s Charity

better known to most of us as Save The Children.


Early this year multi-genre Welsh author Kelly Hambly put out a call for authors to contribute to a book she wanted to put together in aid of a children’s charity and, having written for several other charity anthologies in the past, I couldn’t  say no.

I know, I write mainly crime.  But what a challenge for my imagination and in aid of such a brilliant cause.

 So like the man from Del Monte, I said Yes.

 Kelly is the power behind everything: she is project coordinator and editor of the Madame Movara’s Tales of Terror Charity Anthology.

13122945_961081430672242_8709709667915856710_o Madame Movara

So far as an author in her own right she has published ten novels, mostly Young Adult.

Her novel The Town Halloween Forgot is now set to be a feature film.

Kelly says:

Back in February I  had an idea to put together a book for a children’s charity. I’ve always wanted to create one but other things had got in the way.

What made this particular time apt was that I had read an article about a child who had been saved from starvation by this fantastic lady – (I forget the details now) and it was then that I thought – hey, why don’t I do this for real and give something back.

With a little encouragement I thought I’d give it a go and posted that I was looking for a 1500 word horror story and would anyone be kind enough to donate.

I honestly expected nothing and prepared to go and hide in a corner out of embarrassment.

What followed was nothing short of a miracle (for me anyhow) and since then the project has snowballed.

Madame Movara's Tales of Terror

Of course, no project of this size can be done alone.

We’ve had a talented illustrator to work on the cover, horror artist and writer Charles E Butler and also

Artist, Jamie Jones, whose created the interior artwork for the paperback and the best of all – a foreword by

Hammer Horror and Bond actress Caroline Munro.

Our thanks to her.

Caroline Munro                                                                                                                    14192014_1040492009397850_4440646809528383740_n

Not forgetting the 29 talented authors who have given their time to write for us  and without whom this book would not have been possible.

Andrew Scorah, Richard Gurl, 

Erik Hofstatter, 

Simon Burnell, Ailsa Abraham
Jane Risdon, David Monk

Charlotte L R Kane
Eric Mcfarlane
Loraine Von Tonder
JC Michael, Nell Peters, Alice J Black, Emily H King, Regina Reil, Beverley Lawman, 

David Owen Hughes, Jack Rollins, Calvin Demner, Charles E Butler, K.A Hambly, Kevin Wimer, Kevin Kennedy,

Michelle Ledford, James Kinsbury, Alice La Roux, Ross Jones, Sue Barnard and Peter Oliver Wonder.

Since then we have been featured in the world’s number one horror magazine, Scream Horror Mag with more to follow.

The Anthology is in Hardback and is illustrated throughout.

Hardback edition:

Paperback editions are available soon and are Size A5, with a gorgeous glossy covers. You get a choice of two different covers for paperback:

Spider’s Webb edition:

Scream edition:

Buy from

Follow Madame over on: facebook

I hope you will check out the contributing authors too, who write in a variety of genres. And also the illustrators and artists involved in creating this wonderful cover.

For information about Caroline:

So, not long now to publication date 20th October 2016.

I know I am excited and I hope you will be excited enough to rush over and pre-order your copy now.

In Aid of The International Children’s Charity.

 Don’t forget to give me your feedback once you have read all the stories.

Mine is called Haunting Melody.

I chatted to Kelly about it earlier this week:

Enjoy our anthology and thanks for benefiting

The International Children’s Charity.

Jane, Kelly and everyone involved in

Madame Movara’s Tales of Terror.

dare u read



Photographs: I dabble. I aim and shoot….when I am not writing

(c) Jane Risdon 2009 Wakehurst Place

(c) Jane Risdon 2009 Wakehurst Place

As you know I love to take photos and quite often they are visual notes for my writing.

Taken at Beaulieu

Taken at Beaulieu                                   

But, I also take photos as reminders of places I’ve visited and experiences I’ve had.

Autumn in a local Park

Autumn in a local Park

Cowdray House, Midhurst Sussex. (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Cowdray Park, Midhurst Sussex. (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Some I use to illustrate my blog and others are just filed away for me and family to look at now and again.

Hedgerows along my walk

Hedgerows along my walk

I always take far too many.

Thanks goodness for the digital age.

(c) Jane Risdon 2010 Beauleau House

(c) Jane Risdon 2010 Beaulieu House

If I had to take photos on film and have them developed, I’d think twice before shooting a couple of hundred at a time.

Beachy Head, Sussex (c) Jane Risdon 2009

Beachy Head, Sussex (c) Jane Risdon 2009

These are not in any particular order or even taken at the same time or place, but here goes – let me know what you think.

Oh, and my camera isn’t fancy,  often just my phone camera.

I just aim and shoot.

Wakehurst Place

Wakehurst Place

These photos are all taken by me during various visits to places of interest, or  on my various walks. 

Simba (c) Jane Risdon 2011


The Garden (c) Jane Risdon 2010

The Garden                                                                                                                                           

Alaskan Malamute (c) Jane Risdon


Several visitors here tell me they love my photos which is so kind of them. 

They tell me they love the little snippets of history or points of interest that go with each photo.

I must say, I enjoy posting them too.

I thought I’d take a break from writing today, to share some photos. No snippets today, I’m in a visual mood.

I’ve visited Wakehurst Place twice now and simply adore it.

I blogged about one such visit a while back.

You can see more photos and read all about it at

My visit to Canterbury Cathedral where I visited the tomb of a distant relation, a former Arch-bishop of Canterbury, can be found at

There are two parts, this is the link to part one.

Canterbury Cathedral where a relative is buried

Canterbury Cathedral where a relative is buried

St Michaels and All Saints where I got to wind the ancient clock

St Michaels and All Saints where I got to wind the ancient clock

 My visit to Cowdray Park (one time palace) was wonderful too.

So much history and Midhurst was just so pretty.

I’ve written more and posted photos at

Beaulieu House has the most amazing  motor museum as well as wonderful gardens and ruins, not to mention the house itself.

I am yet to blog about my visit there.

Taken at Beaulieu

Taken at Beaulieu

I have not posted photos of animals before.

I don’t have any but friends owned the Alaskan Malamutes pictured, who are sadly no longer with us.

They were ancient.

Molly, Lola and Simba belong to a relative.

I do hope you have fun looking at these and taking a peep at my blog posts. Let me know.

All photos have been taken by me. (c) Jane Risdon 2016 All Rights Reserved.










Autumn Walk

Autumn Walk

Beaulieu National Motor Museum

Beaulieu National Motor Museum

Alaskan Malamute


Flowers by the roadside (c) Jane Risdon 2010

Flowers by the roadside 

Crime Writer Nell Peters is my guest author today: discussing research and the suspension of disbelief.

Crime Writer Nell Peters

Crime Writer Nell Peters

Ann Polhll Nell Peter book blurb 4

Today I am very pleased to welcome fellow Accent Press Author and Facebook pal, 

Crime writer

Nell Peters.

Hi everybody! I’m very happy to be Jane’s guest today – she writes such informative and interesting blogs (with great pics!), I will have to mind my Ps and Qs and make sure I don’t send everyone running for the nearest stash of alcohol and or cake.

I thought I’d combine and discuss two already closely associated elements of writing here – research and whether fiction should always be 100% factual, as it were.

It was last autumn that I really started to mull over the latter in some depth, when I was a reader for the Romantic Novelist Awards, presented in March 2016. Though I don’t tend to read romance per se, that’s not because I feel it doesn’t warrant my attention – it’s simply that I have very little leisure reading time and I usually go for crime, which is what I write.

However, as a contest reader, I could legitimately sit and read other peoples’ books for most of the day without feeling the slightest twinge of guilt – such luxury! I was allotted five books in various categories and given strict scoring criteria to follow – so, there I sat like Lady Muck in a very dilapidated (but oh so comfy) big leather chair, with everything to hand, including the all-important pen and notebook, lest I forget anything along the way.

Ann Polhill Nell Peters Book Blurb 9

If someone else were judging my book, I’d want them to be scrupulously fair and that’s what I aimed for.

However, the first book I tackled had me bitterly regretting volunteering for the assignment. I drank far too much tea and ate many more biscuits than were good for me, just to sustain myself sufficiently to reach those longed-for words, The End.

I may not read the romance genre as a rule, but I do know a cliché-ridden, overly contrived plot when I see it. And there were a hefty number of inconsistencies in terms of the heroine – I don’t want to say too much, for obvious reasons, but the daffy woman supposedly had impressive qualifications all the way up her arm, well before the age of thirty.

I don’t question that someone can be academically able and daffy at the same time – I am reasonably well qualified, but a complete ejit when it comes to practicalities. I possibly shouldn’t be allowed out on my own and it never ceases to amaze me that I have actually reached my great age intact.

What I did question was the author’s blatant lack of investigation into exactly how long it takes to achieve these accolades – so, I did her digging for her and she was out by quite a few years, even allowing for the fact that parts of one qualification taken might preclude the need to complete some modules of another.

But this was a fictional tale – did it really matter? For many other reasons, that book received a minus score from me – the only one that did.

The other four books were much more enjoyable – one historical, one epic (though I couldn’t quite see why it would be called that) and two contemporary.

The subject of research was obviously a factor in the historical novel, but it was a well-written book with an intriguing then-and-now plot, and I was happy to assume the author had got her facts straight and woven her fictional tale around them.

One of the contemporaries had as a main character a young woman who was terminally ill with a very rare, degenerative disease. It was a stroke of extremely bad luck for the author that, having studied that particular disease, I remember quite a bit about it.

The author had obviously explored her subject to some extent, though not enough, and for me that grated.

But if I hadn’t had prior knowledge, I’d have accepted the facts as presented and read the otherwise agreeable book without a negative thought.

The score I awarded did not reflect what I felt was my unfair medical knowledge advantage (for want of a better term).

I do varying amounts of research for my books – as much as I feel necessary. For instance, I use a lot of psychology and so more often than not, I check data just to make sure the old memory bank is not playing tricks. Or sometimes to confirm the spelling of those seventeen-syllable words that social scientists are so fond of bandying around – Phenomenological anyone? And that’s one of the less-daunting terms.

Ann Polhill Nell Peter Book blurb 3

With the world at your fingertips via the Internet, it’s hardly difficult to ensure you aren’t committing dreadful clangers to print in your name.

Putting me to shame, Jane is a positive demon in terms of the research she undertakes as background for her WIP.

Last year she took several CSI-type online courses in forensics, passing with a noteworthy high score, and more recently she was looking into the forensic psychology of witnesses to crime. Respect.

Nell, it’s not my aim to bamboozle readers with facts and figures, but I felt I needed to understand some basic facts about the processes undertaken by the experts and detectives following the discovery of a body;  what anthropologists and archaeologists and crime scene investigation officers do at the scene of a crime, and how DNA and Fingerprints are used and what the implications are of keeping all this information on the National Data Base.

It led me to Criminal Justice and Forensic Science and as you say, latterly, Forensic Science: Witness Investigations. I’ve learned so much which I can draw upon in order to try and make my writing as accurate as possible, but my readers won’t necessarily ever see any of it in print.

Nell, sorry for the interruption:

However, knocking us all into a cocked hat (whatever that expression means!) is fellow Accent author Kirsten McKenzie, who lives in Auckland, New Zealand. Last year, Kirsten flew to the UK to take part in an archaeological dig – all in the name of research for her WIP.

I’d love to do that. Sounds awesome.

Maybe I could blag a trip to Barbados to check out what the effects of sunbathing on a white-sanded beach, surrounded by palm trees and cocktails with lewd-sounding names for a month, has on the human psyche – for inclusion in my next masterpiece, natch…

Ann Polhill Nell Peters book blurb 7

Hang on, I’m coming too….

All this swotting takes time and it’s easy to fall into the waiting trap of hitting the reader over the head with way too much information, just because you’ve invested the hours and effort necessary to read around your subject in depth, in order to appear informed in print.

Several days’ toil may end up condensed into a sentence or two – they will be significant sentences to move the plot forward, of course, but it’s not much to show for all the blood, sweat, gnashing of teeth and hair-tearing.

I agree.

I read a lot of crime, thrillers, and espionage books and one thing I cannot stand, as a reader, is page after page of description of missile systems, crime scenes with lots of blood and gore, and the actual violent act itself.

I like to use (or not) my own imagination when it comes to a lot of what I read. I love Robert Ludlum, but sometimes he can write pages and pages of complex technological detail about weapons and such, which has me skipping great chunks of his books.

When the TV series Broadchurch aired in the UK, there was outcry over plot inaccuracies, in particular court procedure and the way solicitors conduct their business.

Like me with the terminal illness, I can see that if you happen to be a judge or other form of law officer, howling errors might gall – but do we not read or watch fiction with the sole purpose of being entertained, or as a diversion from the monotony of everyday life?

Authors of fiction are essentially taking the place of the storytellers of yesteryear who, without the dubious benefit of Wikipedia to check their every syllable, probably made it up as they went along.

Ann Polhill Nell Peters Book Blurb 6

And why not? A good novel will grab the reader’s interest from the first page, if not paragraph, its required function to transport imaginations to another place, time, dimension, culture, whatever – pure escapism and distraction, and if there’s a bit of thought-provoking going on in the background, that’s great.

The reader can identify with, root for, or disapprove of the characters manufactured by the writer and accept or reject the plot, however feasible or unlikely it may be – it is their choice whether to suspend reality and go with the flow, or give up on the book as a waste of time, possibly even an insult to their intelligence.

We ask our readers to suspend their disbelief, Nell, so I agree that it is possible to have some unbelievable events take place, and we hope the reader will go with it and enjoy the plot, getting caught up in the story. We do it watching television and movies all the time.

I am minded of the TV series Midsomer Murders for example – three murders in rural communities every week – and we all swallow it.

Enjoyment of all genres of fiction is a very subjective thing, as it is with art, music, fashion, sport and a whole host of other stuff – just as well, as it wouldn’t do for us all to be identical in our tastes. How dreadfully boring that would be …

Thanks for having me, Jane.



It has been a pleasure Nell.

I have read By Any Other Name and loved it.  It’s a very clever plot which has me guessing all the way through. 

I have Hostile Witness on my Kindle.

Ann Polhill Nell Peter books blurb 2

Wishing you much continued success.

Nell Peters writes crime novels for Accent Press and has other assorted publications festering on Amazon KDP.

Nell Peter: Hostile Witness

Nell Peters: Hostile Witness

She lives in Norfolk with a husband who works away a lot and (temporarily, she hopes) #3 son, who returned to stay at the family home for three months – a year ago. Nell has three beautiful granddaughters – quite a novelty after four strapping sons, and three handsome grandsons. If only she were rich and famous (easy on the famous), she’d be deliriously happy.

Her Accent books can be found at: and

Nell Peters: Hostile Witness

Nell Peters: By Any Other Name


Samantha Connolly is my Guest Author today: she just got married on a Ski Slope and Taught English in China

Samantha Connolly Author

Samantha Connolly Author

Please welcome my guest author Samantha Connolly who is going to tell us about her writing journey.

She has just published her first book so I thought it would be interesting to chat to someone at the beginning of their career.

Let’s find out about her – here is Samantha in her own words:

I’m born and raised in England, travel part of the year to the US, and I love to write. Since as far back as I can recall, I was talking away to myself, telling myself random stories or whatever. I suppose I was a weird child!

I read a lot, got into writing poetry, and prose followed later. I’ve always loved writing. I find, too, that as an adult I really need to write. When I’m happy, sad, stressed, overwhelmed, I write.

I write fiction and struggle to journal because I always re-read what I’ve written and think that it’s just too personal. I almost hate to see it on the page – something I wish I’d hurry up and get over to be honest!

Whilst I filter some of myself into my writing in one way or another, there are times when I like to jump right outside of this world and myself altogether.

Fantasy comes in very handy for this – and I love fantasy, so it makes sense.

I have eclectic tastes in my own and others’ writing, and I also blog, as you’ll see from my website.

Samantha Connolly Blog colour photos

I’ve been working in offices off and on my whole adult life, taught English as a Foreign Language in China for all of a heartbeat – a heartbeat that I’ve never forgotten and am still so grateful for – and  I work as a Writer and Editor.

Samantha, forgive the interruption:

We spent a lot of time (hubby and I) in Taiwan and Singapore working with Chinese artists.We picked up a few words in Cantonese and Mandarin, but they were so keen to speak English it was hard to get anywhere with it. I can, however, sing a whole album we recorded in Mandarin and apparently I sound very convincing. Just saying…

I got married to my long-term partner last year on the slopes; he had a ski and I rode the gondola up to meet him and marry him! It was amazing.

Other than that what can I say… lots of interests…currently trying to be a better baker than I have been in times past … I do love the process of baking. It’s therapeutic, and I’m (slowly) getting better at it! And as an overall? Screwy teen becomes real adult person should cover it – and here I am!

Samantha Connolly blog photos

Sounds quite sane to me and fun. I love the marriage on a ski slope idea. But knowing me I’d break something.

Many congratulations.

What kinds of things have you written to date?

Tons of things!

My earlier work is all nicely hidden away in notebooks and computer files. But a lot of my stuff’s on my website.

Like me then, so glad I am not alone in hoarding material.

I write in all kinds of genres. I’m really interested in issues surrounding mental health and I like things that are a little off the wall, quirky.

I like deep and meaningful. And fantasy… and whilst I’ve not gone the route of having my own kids, I love childhood stories!

The Sister Worlds

I recently published my first novel, The Sister Worlds, a young-adult fantasy, and this is available on ibooks

Good luck with The Sister Worlds, how exciting. I have never heard of anyone publishing on iTunes before.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently researching for and starting work on a new novel, whilst working on poetry and short stories. I’m also focusing on some lovely ideas that my close friend, Artist & Yogi Expert, Tracy Long, and I have been coming up with.

It’s so much fun! Let’s just say it’s a little magical! And it brings out all the best feelings in us Jane.

It sounds wonderful, I am sure you will have lots of interest.

In addition, an exciting development is my new role as Prose Sub-Editor for the magazine, Under The Fable, who previously published one of my short stories, and I’m just embarking on freelance copywriting.

Good luck with that also, I am sure you’ll find clients after being on here. Fingers crossed.

Is your novel writing focus on fantasy only?

No, I love to write fantasy, love all things mystical and magical, but I also want to produce works that focus on the human condition, so a more literary fiction, and historical fiction also.

What/who is your inspiration? 

Philip K Dick, Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood. All very different!


Philip K Dick’s famous ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ inspired Ridley Scott’s film ‘Blade-runner’ and I loved the book and the film was great. In that story, Dick focuses on what it means to be human and for me it reminds us what is good about humanity and all we take for granted, whilst being a truly impressive work of science fiction.

I hadn’t heard of Woolf until I was at uni – quite strange to think of that really now, as she’s an ingrained habit to re-read at this point of my life. Her first published short story ‘The Mark on the Wall’ was also the first of her works I ever read,  and that was it, I was hooked. Woolf enjoyed exploring literary themes and her experimentation with the narrative mode stream of consciousness reeled me in.

Margaret Atwood is a wonderful Canadian author who focuses on society in so many varying ways and very much deals with issues of human relationships. One of her early works, ‘The Edible Woman’ remains my favourite with ‘Lady Oracle’ a close second.

Who is/are your influence? Why?

Life is my influence, not a person or people. Life is complex, straight forward, bizarre, mundane, and downright extraordinary. If I don’t write I will go mad making up stories in my head and mumbling them on the tube!!

Samantha Connolly photos 2016.jpg colour shots

What do you read mostly?

I read a lot of novels and short stories, and occasionally poetry. My tastes are in many genres.

I like to read the kinds of things I like to write although I absolutely love to be gripped by a good crime thriller. When I try to write those, however, I just wind up getting caught up in the detail of the lesser characters, and they become my focus.

I’m more about the weirdness or profoundness you find in the backdrop. Poetry is always my go to when I need to re-connect with my writing and have slightly lost my way…at those times I find it hard to consume longer works.

I tend to read several books at once, moving between them depending on my concentration span and mood. For example, I recently finished Atwood’s collection of short stories, The Stone Mattress, and am currently reading her latest novel, The Heart Goes Last, whilst also reading

The Strange Death of Liberal England by George Dangerfield, Sane New World by Ruby Wax, A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gayle, and two collections of poetry; Six Poets: Hardy to Larkin by Alan Bennett, and I’ll Dress One Night As You by Chrissie Gittins.



Who is your favourite author?  Why?

Margaret Atwood. Because she gets it.

Well, I am sure there will be plenty of readers out there who will ‘get’ Samantha’s work too, and soon.

Samantha, thanks so much for being my guest today. I wish you all the best for your future writing success.

Here is the ‘official’ biography for Samantha:

Samantha holds a degree in English Literature with Film Studies from Kingston University, London, which she gained age 30.

Since then she has been writing seriously, having undertaken a fiction writing module via Open University and completed her first young adult fantasy novel, The Sister Worlds:

The story of two sisters, torn apart at just seven years old, who remain clueless of each other’s true fates – not to mention their real origins – until the world is facing chaos and they are re-united. As war breaks out around them, the girls steel themselves for what they need to do; getting re-aquainted while saving a world or two is enough to test anybody, after all.

Samantha began telling stories from a young age, hiding herself away for an hour or so here and there while she spun her tales, living by her imagination (as much as possible within the bounds of reality!) whilst growing up.

She began writing the odd poem during her teens, but it wasn’t until her late twenties whilst at university that she understood her true love for writing.

Her tastes are eclectic, not only in her own writing, but in the form and genre of the writing of others.

She is inspired by Virginia Woolf and Christina Rossetti, amongst many others, including the work of Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen, Philip K. Dick, Ellen Miller, and Zeruya Shalev.

She has most recently been drawn to the work of Abraham Verghese and Patrick Gayle.

Her love for the magical and fantastical in fiction is a constant; she has particularly enjoyed the work of Veronica Roth in this respect, and once studied Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep in relation to Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner.

Samantha also has a strong interest in human relationships and mental health, and a love for the innocence of young children and the life and hope they instill in tired-out grown-ups.

With experience as an editor, proofreader and researcher, Samantha is well accomplished and finds this useful when writing and, of course, editing her own work.

Creek in Rockies

Creek in Rockies

Her previous proofreading and editing experience comprises a website research and editing project for the charity Re-Cycle, the proofreading and editing of a website story – also for Re-Cycle – together with the editing of their August and September newsletters; also a novel, short story, and flash fiction piece for author Elizabeth Los, a novel excerpt for author & translator Jasmine Heydari, and the website area and biographies for global broadcast production company Clean Cut Media Ltd.

She has also read and edited various documentation including minutes, website material, presentations and more, as part of her administrative background.

Samantha has had three articles published to date and some short fiction. She previously ran a creative writing group on a voluntary basis for Mungos charity.

She is currently writing her second novel and working on a number of exciting new projects, whilst working as Sub-Editor for UnderTheFable magazine and embarking on freelance copywriting.

She regularly writes fiction pieces both for her own website, and to be entered into various competition.



Well, I am sure there will be plenty of readers out there who will ‘get’ Samantha’s work too and soon.

Samantha, thanks so much for being my guest today, it’s been a blast!

 I wish you all the best for your future writing success.

To connect with Samantha and find out more about her and to find her book

The Sister Worlds

Click on the links.

The photos on this page are locations which feature in Samantha’s writing:

China and Canada and any others are all (c) Samantha Connolly 2016

All Rights Reserved





Photography: walking, thinking, plotting and writing – visual notes.

Westminster Abbey (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Westminster Abbey (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Anyone visiting here often knows I enjoy photography, walking, and visiting places of interest such as ancient houses, cathedrals, churches and interesting old villages.

Greensted Church (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Greensted Church (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Rye in Sussex - an inspirational place. (c) Jane Risdon 2014

Rye in Sussex – an inspirational place. (c) Jane Risdon 2014

I love visiting the gardens of the great estates we are so fortunate to have in Britain. Not only are they interesting and relaxing…

 They inspire me.

Virginia Waters, Windsor Great Park (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Virginia Waters, Windsor Great Park (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Rather than take a notebook and mess around finding pens, or typing notes on to my phone in glaring sunlight, I prefer to take photographs. I know these will trigger memories when I come to write.

Some walks are for sheer pleasure and I take photos just for fun and to create lovely memories. One such recent walk was at Virginia Waters in Windsor Great Park. I love it there, here are some of the photos I took during my second visit.

Virginia Waters (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Virginia Waters (c) Jane Risdon 2016

I don’t see violence or murder when I photograph something of interest. It’s hard to put into words. I suppose I get a ‘feeling.’  I look into a dark forest and I might get a flash of an idea for the location of a dastardly deed, or a character might pop into my mind, but what actually sets these thoughts in motion, I have no idea.  Looking at a scene of intense beauty shouldn’t inspire images of death, or conjure up a personality type for a one of my characters. But they do. 

Virginia Waters, Windsor Great Park (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Virginia Waters, Windsor Great Park (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Walking (often) on The White Horse in Uffington (Oxfordshire) is spectacular. You can see 6 counties from the top where there was once a Neolithic settlement, and archaeologists are often on a dig up there, and of course you can see the White Horse itself. The area is part of the ancient Ridgeway giving  a panoramic view.

The White Horse at Uffington in The Vale of The White Horse

The White Horse at Uffington in The Vale of The White Horse

Actually, at one time you could walk on the horse and Dragon Hill and there wasn’t a charge for the car-park, as there is now…you just went there.  Further down the hill and along a lane you come across Waylands Smithy…a Bronze-age burial chamber.

Wayland Smithy near White Horse Hill Uffington, Oxfordshire.

Wayland Smithy near White Horse Hill Uffington, Oxfordshire.

Somewhere our son spent the night when he was about 10, just to see if it was haunted and if there were witches there! I don’t think you can do that any longer. The National Trust runs the site.

It was whilst walking on White Horse Hill that I first got the idea for setting Ms Birdsong Investigates in the Vale of the White Horse. The rural setting, with its natural beauty and pockets of isolation seemed just the place to set her story.

View across The Vale of The White Horse (c) Jane Risdon 2011

Views across the Vale of The White Horse from White Horse Hill (c) Jane Risdon 2011

Facing an uncertain future after ‘voluntary’ retirement from MI5 I could imagine her fleeing to a such place where she  could try to come to terms with her changed circumstances and possibly reinvent herself.

Ms Birdsong's New Home in Ampney Parva

Ms Birdsong’s New Home in Ampney Parva

The fictional village of Ampney Parva sprang to mind – an amalgamation of many villages I’ve visited over the years when travelling around England.  It would be a rural village at the foot of  White Horse Hill with few occupants, most tracing their families back over generations in the area.

Huge Estate and Manor Hoouses Ampney Parva (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Huge Estate and Manor Houses outside Ampney Parva (c) Jane Risdon 2016

There would be one or two newcomers – ‘new money’ – recently settled in the area occupying some of the big  country houses which had been sold off to pay death duties perhaps,  but some of the larger estates were still owned and lived in by the same family over many generations; landed gentry living just outside Ampney Parva, secluded and mysterious.

When I started the divine Ms B (as I call her) she was a very different character to the one she is today, as I work on completing the first book in the series of Ms Birdsong Investigates. Originally she was going to be a modern-day Miss Marple, but a family wedding in a lovely Manor House on a 6,000 acre estate changed all that and as soon as I got home I started writing book two, based on my experiences at the wedding.

The Observatory Science Centre, Herstmonceux. (c) 2010 Science Projects Ltd.

The Observatory Science Centre, Herstmonceux. (c) 2010 Science Projects Ltd.

The 'Safe House' book three Ms Birdsong Investigates (c) Jane Risdon 2013

The ‘Safe House’ book three Ms Birdsong Investigates (c) Jane Risdon 2013

I’d also been taken to Herstmonceux Observatory for a birthday treat, and suddenly I had book three ready to be written, which caused a serious problem for me; the original Ms B I had written about was nothing like the Ms B from two most recent books: Murder at the Observatory and The Safe House.

I’ve had to complete books two and three, returning to book one to re-write her story and change her character so everything would tie in together. It has been a long slog.  

Book one has meant a great deal of research into the Security Services, organised crime and the various agencies trying to track and bring international criminals to justice, and a massive re-write…I am still battling with it.

 Enjoy the photos.  Quite a few have appeared in previous blogs I’ve posted on here.

Photos (c) Jane Risdon All rights Reserved.

Thea Hartley (Phillips) is my Guest Author today: an amazing woman

Today I am pleased to welcome author

Thea Hartley (Phillips)

as my guest at the end of her blog tour.

I think you will agree, once you’ve read about her journey to writing, that she is a remarkable lady.

Thea was born and bred in Merthyr Tydfil, and attended Cyfarthfa Castle Grammar School.

Thea Hartley Author

Thea Hartley Author

She married young, and lived on the local Gurnos Estate, having three children by the age of twenty. Aware that she had not explored her educational opportunities, she became a mature student, obtaining a Psychology degree from The University of Glamorgan, followed by a Masters’ and PGCE at Cardiff University.

Thea became a practicing Psychologist and lecturer, a career which spans  over thirty years.

During this time, she had research and educational papers published, plus some fictional articles and inclusion in two poetry anthologies.

Unfortunately, in 2007, Thea developed a degenerative eye disease, which  deteriorated rapidly, until she was no longer able to work.

Finding herself at home, for the first time in many years, she decided to write the book she had always wanted to write:

A biography of her Grandfather, Tommy Horton, who moved to Merthyr in 1900 to pursue his fortune.

He had led a very colourful, interesting life, culminating in opening the first factory to produce ‘condoms’ in the UK which opened in 1913.

Thea got in touch with the RNIB, who were extremely helpful in providing the training and equipment to allow her to write despite her failing sight,

This new writing career led to “The French Letter King” her first, acclaimed novel.

The French Letter King

The French Letter King

This became the  first volume of a trilogy about her family.

Since then, Thea has ventured into several genres, including a series of Psychological Crime Mysteries, featuring Resa James, 

psychological thrillers, historical romantic fiction and her latest release

Wear Bright Colours for Me

which explores the fascinating subject of reincarnation.

Such a fascinating life and what an amazing person your Grandfather seems.

Do tell us about your latest book:

Wear Bright Colours For Me

Wear Bright Colours For Me

                                              Wear Bright Colours For Me.

I wrote this book after reading articles and factual books about reincarnation and the theory of karma.

This made me think…” How could this work? What could happen throughout different lives? How would the same groups of people meet up? And Could there really be such a thing as Soulmates?”

Coincidently (or not!) my daughter had a dream in which my late husband appeared to her,

telling her to pass on a message to me …

Wear bright colours for me.” Was that message. I took this as the book’s title.

In addition my small grandson had bonded with a little girl in nursery from the moment they met.

They really seem ‘attached’ to each other, as if they have always been together. This reinforced the idea of ‘Soulmates. ‘

I can related to this Thea. Our son was very young when he first went to nursery and had a special girlfriend – cute as a peach – who he declared undying love for and he told us he wanted to marry her.

He used to save any pennies or sweeties he had just for her. Very serious stuff at the tender age of three.

Back to you Thea:

The result of all these ‘coincidences’ is my book.

A fictional account of two main characters and their nemesis. The ‘Soulmates’ meet in life after life, but are always quickly separated due to tragedy mostly caused by their enemy, who also appears in each historical period.

Other characters also reoccur in different guises, as do common threads.

Each historical period and culture was fully researched, making them stories in their own right.

The question is…will these soulmates be able to finally be together by means of living in a way which produces ‘positive’ karma? Can they overcome the curse of many centuries past. ? What will happen to their nemesis?

This is a story of love, tragedy, mystery, the paranormal, suspense and history. A unique and fascinating read.

It sounds wonderful and a gripping read.

Do share and excerpt with us:

They had almost reached each other’s arms when froth bubbled from Asgaran’s mouth.

He took a cloth and wiped it, seeing that the cloth was now covered in blood.

Asgaran felt dizzy, all his senses whirling. He fell to the ground in a fit… every limb and muscle shaking violently.

“My God what’s happening?”, he tried to ask.

Alina knelt beside him, she tried to quieten him by holding his arms and wiping his head and body with a damp cloth.

However, this was ineffective. “I have been poisoned,” he gasped, knowing without doubt who had been behind it.

Asgaran’s eyes rolled back in his head, he stopped jerking and became still.

His soul departed his body and he too, found himself in a black, whirling, vortex with a small light at the end which became bigger as he was propelled towards it.

Asgaran was on his journey to rebirth, in order to resolve his karma and complete its journey.

No doubt Pylories was there also, waiting to challenge him once again.

Alina wept, large fat tears fell, as she lay on her husband’s body, covering his expressionless face with rivulets of sorrow.

Wow, thanks so much Thea, I’m reaching for the Kleenex now.

To find Thea on Social Media:

Face book.

Twitter  @thea1710


LinkedIn. Thea Phillips.


Wear Bright Colours for Me:

Books by Thea Hartely

                Books by Thea Hartley

Here are Thea’s books – she also writes under other names:

The French Letter King

The French Letter King

The French Letter King

Secrets of the French Letter King (no cover available)

Kith and Kill

Kith and Kill

Kith and Kill

Sticks and Bones

Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones

Kill and Cure

Kill and Cure

Kill and Cure

Tooth and Claw

Tooth and Claw

Tooth and Claw

Thea also writes as Thea Phillips:

Rapture Recaptured writing as Thea Phillips (no cover available)

Sensuous Secrets  writing as Thea Phillips (no cover available)

The Counterfeit Wife

The Counterfeit Wife

The Counterfeit Wife

No Refuge ( Amazon Number 1 in free Psychological fiction.)

No Refuge

No Refuge

Gossip Columns. ( winner of the Nano writing challenge 2013) (no cover available)

Thea also writes as T.M. James:

Necessary Deceptions. Writing as T.M. James (no cover available)

The Carousel …..a children’s book (no cover available)

Thicker than Blood.

Thicker Than Blood

Thicker Than Blood

Wear Bright Colours for Me (out now)

Please list books you have coming out soon:

Gone and Forgotten (no 5 in Resa James  Crime Series)

Gone and Forgotten

Gone and Forgotten

The Fall of The French Letter King (Final book in The French Letter King, trilogy) (no cover available)

Thea’s Blog Tour – you can find her guesting on these blogs:

Thea's Blog Tour

             Thea’s Blog Tour

Thea thanks so much for sharing your writing story and telling us about your books.

I am sure everyone is filled with admiration for your achievements given your sight problems and  they’ll be anxious to read your books, especially your latest, which is tantalizing.

Wishing you all the best, thanks again,




Greensted Church: The world’s oldest wooden church – part 4 of my latest ‘jolly’

Greensted Church (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Greensted Church (c) Jane Risdon 2016

A little break from writing-related posts:

Here is the fourth post about the most recent of what I call my ‘jollies.’

Following on from our really interesting and enjoyable visits to Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral

and Eltham Palace

we stopped off in the village of Greensted, and had a look around what is known as

The oldest wooden Church in the World and the oldest ‘Stave Built’ timber building, still standing, in Europe:

St. Andrews Church, Greensted.

The church represents 1,300 years of English History and Christian worship.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

The Tower (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The Tower (c) Jane Risdon 2016

It bears witness to the work of not only Norman, Tudor and Victorian builders who variously extended, repaired and restored the building over the ages.

The name Green-sted suggested that the Saxons who first settle there found a clearing or place (stede) in the West forest of which Epping and Hainault Forests are only remnants.

The Saxon settlers worshiped their Pagan gods in ‘grooves’ in the forest and at first the East Saxons resisted attempt to convert them to Christianity by Augustine and Mellitus from Rome.

Greensted Church: oldest wooden church in the world.

Greensted Church: oldest wooden church in the world.

Finally St. Cedd, a Saxon trained at the Celtic monastery of Lindisfarne was successful. His base was a deserted Roman fort near Bradwell and his cathedral (now called St Peter’s-on-the-Wall) can still be seen there.

St Cedd began his work in about 654 AD and it is thought the first church at Greensted was built soon after. An Archaeological dig in 1960 revealed the impression of two simple wooded buildings under the present Chancel floor which were thought to have been built late 6th or early 7th century.

51 timber planks (still visible today) date from about 1060 AD when the Nave was added according to Dendrochronological dating of the timber. The construction methods were more advanced that those for the sanctuary which can be viewed on the sketch notes still available.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

Ancient Timbers (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Ancient Timbers (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The logs had been held upright by being placed into a trench. If the dates are correct it was most likely one of the many sanctuaries used by missionaries and priests.

The nave was windowless, except for a few ‘eye’ holes (eag thyrel) and light would have come from lamps around the altar.

The opening from the sanctuary to nave was probably small and surmounted by a crucifix.

Many know the hole (on the niche by the Saxon doorway) as a Leper Squint, but archaeologists doubt this, proposing that it is more likely to have been a small window or that the ledge held a Holy water stoup in the Middle Ages.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

The dedication of the church to St Andrew suggests a Celtic Foundation.

In the 9th century Danish invaders became a serious threat and produced a host of Saxon martyrs, one of whom King Edmund of East Anglia is especially remembered there.

 He was crowned King when he was 15, at Bures, Suffolk, on Christmas Day 855 AD, and was martyred by the Danes on November 20th 869 AD.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

He refused to give up his Christian beliefs and was scourged, chained to a tree and shot with arrows and finally beheaded – depicted in a stained glass window in the church.

He was enshrined at Bury St Edmunds, attracting many pilgrims, and later he was moved to London for safe-keeping and eventually returned to Bury in 1013 AD.

On its way his body rested at St Andrews.

His martyrdom is depicted on a beam in the church. His head was thrown into a thicket in the forest some distance from his body.

Beams (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Beams (c) Jane Risdon 2016

When his followers found his head it was being guarded by a wolf hound which would not leave until the head was reunited with its body. 

He later became the first Patron Saint of England but later the Normans replaced him with St. George.

William the Conqueror, having conquered the Saxons in 1066 AD set about making his mark on older churches, rebuilding them, and the flint footings of the Chancel well and Pillars piscina inside the sanctuary (basin for washing communion vessels) are all that remain of Norman work.

Remains of a wooden headstone (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Remains of a wooden headstone (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Crusader Grave (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Crusader Grave (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The coped stone coffin lid against the South wall of the Nave is thought to be the final resting place of a Crusader.

Being made of stone and not wood, suggests that he was seen as a local hero. 

The oldest grave, lying adjacent to the entrance of the church, is that of a 12th century Crusader thought to be a bowman.

Crusader's Grave (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Crusader’s Grave (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Henry VII’s reign was extensive alterations to the church. The Chancel was rebuilt in brick and the thatch replaced by tiles on the Chancel and Nave Roofs in about 1500 AD. Three dormer windows were added to give light to the Nave and the South porch was added.

Probably the Chancel arch was widened at the same time.

A fragment of 15th century glass can be seen at the centre of the Quatrefoil window at the West end but it was set there during Victorian restoration.

Windows (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Windows (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Dormer Windows (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Dormer Windows (c) Jane Risdon 2016

In 1848/49 the church underwent severe restoration works and in 1990 works were undertaken to stabilise the church as it stands today. 

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

The Rector, Philip Ray recorded details of the Saxon joinery as it was investigated at the time and wrote the first account of the church. Diagrams from his book, ‘History of Greensted Church’, are shown in various brochures on sale in the church.

In 2005 the spire was completely re-shingled in Oak.

The Spire and Tower (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The Spire and Tower (c) Jane Risdon 2016

In 1987 the large Victorian font was replaced by a wooden one built of Oak using a hand adze. It was designed by Sir Hugh Casson R.A.

The Font (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The Font (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The earliest wall memorial is dated 1585 and is dedicated to Jone Wood. 

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

Although the results of the dendrochronology indicates the church was constructed about 1060/1063 AD, rather than the earlier date of 845 AD, it remains the oldest wooden church in the world and the oldest wooden building still standing in Europe.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

Little is known about the buildings which stood on the site before then although there have been interesting Roman finds in the area.

Chair (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Chair (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Door (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Door (c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

I discovered this interesting piece of history:

The Tolpuddle Martyrs: The six Dorset farm labourers who were taken to court on a legal technicality because they agitated for better wages and conditions by forming a Trades Union, are linked to Greensted. 

After conviction in 1834 they were condemned to transportation to Australia for 7 years.

They had hard and harrowing times working in chain-gangs and being sold for £1 each.

There was a public out-cry at their treatment, in England, and a society was formed to try to obtain their release and eventually their sentences were commuted in 1837.

They were unable to return home due to opposition of Dorset farmers, but they were granted farm tenancies in Greensted and High Laver.

Whilst living in the Parish one of the men James Brine, of New House Farm (now Tudor cottage), married Elizabeth Standfield, daughter of one of his fellow victims, on 20th June 1839 and the entry is still in the present Register.  

Their tenancy wasn’t renewed due to local opposition led by Philip Ray, who’d become Rector in 1837, and they emigrated to Ontario in Canada.

Monuments (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Monuments (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Grave Stones (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Grave Stones (c) Jane Risdon 2016

I loved this little church and all its history. The graveyard is pretty and the houses nearby fit so well into the landscape as does the church.

You can purchase gifts such as jars of marmalade, jam and pickles as well as booklets about the church and postcards and drawings.

Donations go to the upkeep of the church. If you are interested in visiting this delightful church here are the details. I couldn’t find a website.

St Andrews Church, Greensted-Juxta-Ongar, Near Chipping Ongar, Esssex CM5 9LD

Tel: +44(0) 1277 363268

The church is open daily as follows: Winter 10am-4pm and Summer 10am – 6pm

Guided tours by appointment and are free but of course a donation towards the church would be appreciated.

Guide books, Postcards, Pictures, Souvenirs, Pickles, Jams and Marmalade are on sale inside the church.  There aren’t any toilets but the village is not far and you can park in Church Lane.

I hope you enjoy this quick look around the church. Let me know.

Don’t forget there are other ‘jollies’ on my blog. Just go to the menu/blog and scroll down.

As ever all photos are (c) Jane Risdon: All rights reserved.

Thanks so much for dropping in.

Jams, Postcards and gifts (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Jams, Postcards and gifts (c) Jane Risdon 2016                                           

Churchyard (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Churchyard (c) Jane Risdon 2016          

Thriller writer James North is hosting me: we’re talking forensics, crime investigations and writing.

Portrait of James North

Thriller writer and former US Naval Intelligence Officer

James North

is hosting me on his blog.

We are talking Crime Writing, Forensic Psychology, Witness Investigations, Clandestine burials and more

Drop over and say hello if you have time.

Check out his fabulous books at the same time.

Featured Image -- 8578

I shall be doing a series of blogs during the summer sharing what I’ve learned on

the various Forensic University Courses I’ve undertaken of late,

referred to in the post for James.

Until then, I hope you enjoy my article for him today.


As always let me know.

Thanks Jx

Eltham Palace: once Medieval and now Art Deco – part three of my ‘Jolly.’

Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Welcome to part three of my recent ‘Jollies’.

In addition to our fab visits to Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral

we visited the amazing

Eltham Palace

set in 19 acres of stunning gardens in Eltham, Greenwich, London.

Eltham Palace Great Hall (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Eltham Palace Great Hall (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The palace was once an important royal palace, hosting Kings, Queens, and international statesmen.

It’s one of the few medieval palaces to survive with substantial remains intact, and was one of only six royal residences large enough to accommodate and feed the entire Tudor court of 800 plus people.

The court continued to host famous visitors there until well into the 16th century. These included John II of France defeated at the Battle of Poitiers, visiting on his way back to France and who was accompanied by Jean Froissart, who chronicled the event later. Froissart later returned to Eltham in 1395 to present Richard ll with a collection of his poems.

Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

In 1385 Leo V the exiled King of Armenia came to seek support in regaining his throne from the Turks.

Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Richard’s clerk of works, the poet Geoffrey Chauncer, was mugged twice – in 1390 – on his way to the palace and lost £40 of official funds as well as his horse.

Henry IV received Manual Palaeologus, the Byzantine Emperor, at Eltham at Christmas 1400, where entertainment included a mime performed by 12 London aldermen and a parade with a jousting tournament on the outer court on New Year’s Day.

Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

In 1416 Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor, discussed Church affairs there with Henry V (r.1413-22) and forged an alliance with him.

Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Prince Henry (later Henry VIII) spent much of his childhood at Eltham and in 1499 as a 9-year-old met the Dutch philosopher Erasmus, who he embarrassed by challenging him to write a poem. Within three days Erasmus produced a verse in praise of England, Henry VII and the princes Arthur and Henry.

Christmas Eve 1515 Cardinal Wolsey took the oath of office of Lord Chancellor in the chapel at Eltham.

Venetian suite Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Venetian suite Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Queen Elizabeth I (r.1558-1603) visited Eltham occasionally.

Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

James I (r.1603-25) found the palace ‘farre in decay’ and subsequent repairs were undertaken.

Charles l (r.1625-49) was the last King to visit the palace.

Anglo-Saxon pottery has been found at Eltham, although little is known about any settlement until mentioned in the Doomsday Survey of 1086 when the manor of Eltham is recorded as being in the possession of Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, the half-brother of William the Conqueror (r.1066-87).

It changed hands several times until Bishop Anthony Bek acquired it from William de Vescy.

Venetian Suite (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Venetian Suite (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Initially a moated manor house, it was given to Edward II (r.1307-27) by Bishop Bek in 1305. Under Edward IV (r.1461-83) significant changes were made, especially additions to the great hall in the 1470s, which still stands today.  

The Great Hall (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The Great Hall (c) Jane Risdon 2016

It is very impressive inside the hall, which has wonderful wooden beams and I had visions of Tudor kings eating great banquets there.

Great Hall (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Great Hall (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

At its peak the palace occupied some 1,000ft by 500ft at its widest point, far exceeding that of Hampton Court.

Great Hall (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Great Hall (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Eltham palace was eclipsed by Greenwich and Hampton Court palaces in the 16th century and declined in the early 17th century.

Amazingly for 200 years after the Civil Wars it was used as  farm.

Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The walk up to the palace took us from a cafe area where we paid our entry fees – the car park is close by which is convenient –  along a lovely open garden area on one side and a more laid out garden on the other.

Manin Entrance Hall (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Main Entrance Hall (c) Jane Risdon 2016

As we walked the palace suddenly came into view on our left hand side.

Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

It is gorgeous, very impressive and magical.  

Right ahead of us we saw lovely brown and black beamed cottages.

Drive (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Drive (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Turning left we crossed Edward IV’s 15th century moat bridge with weeping willow in the foreground.  

The bridge once had a drawbridge at the rear end which was only discovered during repairs in 1912.

The Bridge Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The Bridge Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

We saw Queen Isabella’s stone south moat wall (1315-16) in front of part of the great hall and what became the Courtauld wing.

Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

 In the

1930s Stephen and Virginia (Ginie)

Courtauld were looking for a semi-rural property within easy reach of central London.

Eltham met their requirements – mine too, but sadly my bank account doesn’t  – and the  engaged architects Seely and Paget to build a house for them, adjoining the great hall, boasting an ultra-modern design, using the latest technology.

Electric Fires (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Electric Fires (c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

Leading designers and craftsmen  were employed to create a range of lavish interiors and outstanding gardens (imagine the wealth), providing the setting for their extensive collection of art and furniture with ample space for entertaining which they went in for on a fantastic scale from what I gather.

Piano Entertainment (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Piano Entertainment (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The moat Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The Moat Eltham Palace (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The Courtaulds left Eltham in 1944 and the site was occupied by the Army educational unit until 1992. English Heritage took over in 1995, repairing and restoring the 1930s house and gardens.  

In 2015 the rooms of Ginie’s nephews, Peter and Paul Peirano, her walk-in wardrobe, and the basement rooms were opened to the public.

The wardrobe displayed some of her evening dresses and some furs.

The Furs (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The Furs (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Mrs Courtauld's Wardrobe (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Mrs Courtauld’s Wardrobe (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The basement was fascinating in that modern technology of the day was evident; all mod-cons as we say.

The home was full of labour-saving devices such as  one of the most advanced system of electricity in the world.

Concealed lighting (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Concealed lighting (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The Courtaulds varied lighting effects to enhance their new home, with down-lighters, spotlight  and concealed lighting.

Most rooms had electricity powered fires, servants’ bell pushes and synchronous clocks which were regulated by the incoming mains supply.

Wartime entertainment (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Wartime entertainment (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Basement Entertainment in the War (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Basement Entertainment in the War (c) Jane Risdon 2016

They had an innovative loudspeaker system which could broadcast records to rooms on the ground floor.

Marquetry (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Marquetry (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Basement (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Basement (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Telephone system (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Telephone system (c) Jane Risdon 2016

There was an internal automatic telephone exchange and a GPO payphone for the guests to use.

In the basement there was a centralised vacuum cleaner – the dust came down tubes from each room into a main cylinder in the basement and the kitchen contained two Jackson’s electric cookers and an electric Kelvinator refrigerator. – all rarely in use at the time.

Vacuum Cleaner system in basement (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Vacuum Cleaner system in basement (c) Jane Risdon 2016

They used electricity to heat the showers serving the squash courts changing room and a fire alarm system which could automatically call the fire brigade.

Gas powered the hot water central heating which fed pipes embedded in the ceilings.

In the entrance hall and great hall and bathrooms the heating was under the floor.

Marbled bathrooms (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Marbled bathrooms (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Bathroom bling (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Bathroom bling (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Entrance Hall (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Entrance Hall (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Eltham’s standard of design and services is unique for a British domestic building, and is comparable to that of a luxury hotel or ocean liner such as Cunard’s Queen Mary.

Bedrooms with phones (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Bedrooms with phones (c) Jane Risdon 2016

I think generally we all found the Palace a little disappointing.

There wasn’t as much Art Deco on show as we expected.

However, what was there was very interesting and worth seeing.

The Palace was very busy with visitors and so taking photos without including a complete stranger in them proved difficult.

Liner Luxury (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Liner Luxury (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The wooden marquetry on the doors and panels especially caught my attention. It was superb.

Dining Table and Chairs rediscovered (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Dining Table and Chairs rediscovered (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The dining table and chairs – designed by Malacrida – had been sold off years ago and were discovered  by a property store manager of Pinewood Studio while waiting to see the doctor.

He picked up a copy of a 1999 World of Interiors to pass the time and it featured an article on Eltham’s restoration.

He realised that the photo looked familiar and tore the page out and returned to Pinewood where he found the furniture in the store.

It had been modified over the years. He contacted English Heritage who subsequently purchased the furniture for Eltham.

Art Collection (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Art Collection (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Stephen Courtauld intended the house to provide a setting for his art collection.

In 1919 he endowed a scholarship in engraving at the British School of Rome, serving on its council from 1921 to 1947.

Art Deco (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Art Deco (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Main Entrance Lighting (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Main Entrance Hall Lighting (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Royalty and celebrities continued to grace the Courtauld’s home and they held large dinner parties, annual summer fetes with dance bands and fireworks, and during the war fitted the basement out as a dormitory  where they and their guests retreated during air raids.

Over 100 incendiary bombs fell on the estate during the Battle of Britain.

Gardens (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Gardens (c) Jane Risdon 2016

We enjoyed our visit to the Palace, but we didn’t get into the grounds due to lack of time.

It is a fascinating place, mainly because of the history and the technological innovations in use in the 1930s as far as we were concerned. 

If you have enjoyed learning  little about Eltham Palace and its history you  can discover more from English Heritage.

Eltham Palace, Court Yard, Eltham, Greenwich, London SE9 5QE

Tel: +44 (0)20 8294 2548 

English Heritage is the custodian of over 400 historic monuments, buildings and sites with over 10 million visitors per year.


Meet DI Gillian Marsh – My Guest Author Anna Legat’s unlikely heroine.

Today my Guest Author is


Back in February I was honoured to be a guest on her blog and so today I am returning the favour.

Anna Legat - Author

Anna Legat – Author

 Anna is going to tell us something about

A Day in the Life of

DI Gillian Marsh

 Anna’s detective.

Anna, who is DI Marsh and where can we find her?

DI Gillian Marsh is the troubled heroine of my crime series,

published by Accent Press, launched on 28th April 2016.

Swimming with Sharks by Anna Legat published 28th April 2016

Swimming with Sharks by Anna Legat published 28th April 2016

The series includes Swimming with Sharks,

Nothing to Lose,

Nothing to Lose by Anna Legat

Nothing to Lose by Anna Legat

Thicker than Blood,

Thicker than Blood by Anna Legat

Thicker than Blood by Anna Legat

 and a few more titles yet to be confirmed.

Impressive, good luck on your publication day.

Let’s drop in on Gillian and see what she is up to:

Meet Gillian – Gillian Marsh, DI.

DI Gillian Marsh begins her day foraging in her fridge for scraps of food. She is hungry – always hungry, which comes as no surprise as her fridge is habitually empty. She doesn’t have the time or the inclination to replenish it.

Grocery shopping is the last thing on her list (if there is a list). She’ll eat anything that will pop into her mouth, she isn’t fussy. Fritz, her cat, is. He only consumes freshwater fish, such as trout or salmon, straight out of a sachet.

Right now, as Gillian inspects a mouldy piece of Edam, Fritz is yodelling at her feet, demanding instant gratification. First come – first served, and he was the first one to cross the kitchen threshold.

Considering Gillian’s appetite, her frame is surprisingly tiny. She metabolises food faster than you can say instant coffee. She feeds Fritz, and begins to strip mould off that piece of Edam. Two pieces of toast jump out of the toaster, and another two go in. Gillian doesn’t sit down at the table to eat.

She eats on the move, a chunk of Edam in one hand, a piece of toast in the other. Her dressing gown has slid off her left shoulder and parted along her left breast, revealing her naked body, toned and alert, and totally unresponsive to the basic demands of modesty.

Anyway, Gillian has lost her dressing gown belt. Corky might’ve chewed it, or she might’ve strung it in the garden to hang her wet laundry on (the washing line broke ages ago and there’s no man in the house to repair it). Gillian doesn’t really care to remember such trivial matters – her mind is constantly occupied with the case at hand.

She is thinking.

She is always thinking, and as we already discovered, she is always eating – Gillian is a master multitasker.

Because of her preoccupation with the case at hand, Gillian tends to forget a lot of incidentals, like most of her appointments, like the Sunday lunch at her parents’, like the fact that she was supposed to collect her daughter from the train station at four– like the fact that she even has a daughter.

And a set of parents.

She forgets these things, and there’s no one to remind her. Gillian is a loner. People tend to get on her nerves (and on various other parts of her anatomy). Especially people in authority, like DSI Scarfe – Scarface.

If only he’d just concentrate on playing golf and attending garden parties and let Gillian get on with her job!

Six toasts and a black coffee with three sugars later, Gillian heads for the shower. She likes standing in the shower until the water runs cold, thinking. She is inventorising evidence from her current murder investigation.

Inventorising is Gillian’s own linguistic invention, a cross between revising and inventorying, the mental equivalent of a hamster in a wheel.

Gillian is churning facts in her head, facts and suppositions, scenarios.

She doesn’t hear when the phone rings downstairs and Tara (her daughter) leaves a message that she won’t, after all, be on the 4 o’clock train – she’s off to meet Charlie’s parents.

Not that the message would make any difference to Gillian’s timetable (we know already she remembers nothing about collecting her daughter from the train station later today).

There is no time for thorough drying. The towel is wet anyway – Corky had dragged it to the bathroom floor and slept on it (he doesn’t have any fixed abode). Putting a tight pair of jeans on your body is a tricky proposition – Gillian performs one-legged manoeuvers on the landing while, at the same time, attempting to negotiate the stairs.

She succeeds; did I mention that she was a master multitasker?

She arrives at work on a Sunday, which is all the same to her. Says hi to DS Webber, who is there for reasons of his own. He wants to know what happened to her hair. ‘I washed it,’ she tells him, and shrugs. It probably stands on end resembling an electric orgasm only her hair can achieve.

But her hair is an incidental and, as we might guess, she has missed all of her hairdresser’s appointments and doesn’t even know that her hairdresser has given her the sack.

What she doesn’t know, won’t hurt her.

Gillian and Webber determine to interview their prime suspect in a particularly gruesome botched exorcism case – Father Dreyfus. To their surprise, they find Dreyfus in the middle of Sunday mass (is it really Sunday?).

Gillian wants to interrupt the proceedings but Webber tells her to wait, so they sit through the liturgy until at last Gillian remembers the Sunday roast at her parents’.

She only remembers it because her stomach rumbles – she’s bloody hungry…

Anna, if Gillian could get you to alter some part of her personality, if you were writing her from scratch, what (if anything) would it be do you think?

I’ve been wondering about that one aspect of Gillian’s personality she would ask me to alter, given a chance, and I think it would be her disregard for incidentals.

Deep down, I think, she’d love to remember them all because otherwise she will have to live in constant fear of waking up one day and not remembering her own name.

In that respect she does take after me, her creator.

Oh dear, that could be embarrassing.

Do give us the blurb on your new book Swimming with Sharks:

Swimming with Sharks by Anna Legat published 28th April 2016

Swimming with Sharks by Anna Legat published 28th April 2016

Swimming with Sharks is the first volume in the series. 

When forty-something Nicola Eagles goes on the holiday of a lifetime to the Maldives, she never dreams she’ll fall in love – she’s too shy, too set in her ways. But then she meets someone who changes her life for ever…

Just when things seem to be going right for Nicola, though, she disappears without a trace.

Was it a voluntary disappearance, or was she abducted – or murdered? When her absence is noted back in the UK, DI Gillian Marsh is sent to investigate.

Gillian is a good detective but her life is dysfunctional to say the least – and as she delves deeper into the case, she realises that she may be out of her depth professionally too.

For Nicola’s disappearance is just the start…

Life without Me by Anna Legat

Life without Me by Anna Legat

If you’d like to find out more about Anna and her detective, DI Gillian Marsh you’ll find them by following these links.


Amazon UK

Amazon US

My guest spot on Anna’s blog:

We both hope you enjoyed A Day in the Life of DI Gillian Marsh and that you’ll leave Anna some comments here. I am sure she’ll really enjoy finding out what you think.

Thanks so much Anna, it’s been fun.


Westminster Cathedral – part two of my March ‘Jollies.’

Westminster Cathedral.

Westminster Cathedral (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Westminster Cathedral (c) Jane Risdon 2016

My visit to Westminster Cathedral is the next part of my March ‘Jolly, ‘which I really hope you’ll enjoy as much as I did.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

Following a wonderful visit to Westminster Abbey we walked up the road to Francis Street, it was raining, and the street was busy with late afternoon shoppers and tourists, but nothing could ruin my first view of the largest and most important Catholic church in England and Wales.

I have no idea why but I can’t recall having seen it when I lived and worked in London. Again, I put it down to youth and the excitement of the ‘Swinging Sixties,’ and imagine my mind was on music, fashion, and all that went with living through those wonderful, crazy times. Well, that’s my excuse.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

Later this year a novel I’ve co-written with award-winning author Christina Jones, about life and times in the 1960s, is due for publication via Accent Press. Keep an eye out if you are interested in the music, fashion and general vibe of those times.

The Cathedral is set back from the road and couldn’t be more different to the Gothic Westminster Abbey. The bricks are red and the style of the cathedral is early Byzantine.  I just knew we were in for a special treat.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

So, here’s a little history for those who enjoy it and for those who don’t, please just skip to the photos.

1248: A weekly market and annual fair are authorised to be held by the Abbot of Westminster in Tothill Fields future site of the Cathedral.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

1651: Following the defeat of Charles ll at the Battle of Worcester, the defeated Scottish prisoners are quartered in Tothill Fields. 1,200 of them are buried there.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

1665: Tothill Fields is used as a burial site during the Great Plague (Black Death).

1834: Tothill Fields Prison is opened on the site of the future Cathedral.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

1850: The Diocese of Westminster is created by Pope Pius lX at the Restoration of the Catholic Hierarchy, with Nicolas Wiseman as first Archbishop. After centuries of discrimination and persecution, Catholics were given full rights as citizens in 1829. In the decades following immigration (from Ireland, above all) swelled the numbers and confidence of the Catholic community, so that when Pope Pius lX restored the Catholic dioceses and bishops in 1850, it was ready to assume a prominent role in the life of this country.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

1867: Initial purchase of a cathedral site near the present Cathedral for £16,500. 1868 – more land is purchased for £20,000.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

1883: Tothill Fields Prison is demolished.

1884: Cardinal Manning buys part of the site of Tothill Fields Prison for £55,000, offset by the sale of land purchased in 1867-68.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016                       

Cardinal Manning had hesitated about spending any more money following the purchase of the site in the rapidly developing area of Victoria, preferring that is should first be used for schools and the relief of the poor. Cardinal Vaughan had no such qualms.

1885: Herbert Vaughan, third Archbishop of Westminster, begins building on the prison site, with John Francis Bentley as the chosen architect. The first foundation stone is laid on 29th June. 

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

Cardinal Vaughan’s first preference was for a Gothic Cathedral or a Roman style basilica, but subsequently adopted the early Byzantine style, for three reasons: Firstly, there would be no possibility of comparison with the exquisite and authentic Gothic architecture of Westminster Abbey, and secondly Byzantine churches allow for a large, uncluttered space, most suitable to the Catholic liturgy, and thirdly because decoration in Byzantine churches is applied (rather than integral to the architecture), they can be built quickly and relatively inexpensively, while decoration is left to the resources of subsequent generations. 

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

The structure of the Cathedral is complete. First regular celebration of daily Mass and Divine Office on the Cathedral. Edward Elgar conducts his first London performance of John Henry Newman’s ‘The Dream of Gerontius.’

1906: Unveiling and blessing of the Baldacchino at Christmas Midnight Mass.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

1910: Consecration of the Cathedral.

1918: Eric Gill completes the Station of the Cross.

1930: The body of St John Southworth is enshrined in the Chapel of St. George and the English Martyrs.

1935: The Lady Chapel mosaics are completed.

1948: The Cathedral domes are clad with copper, now an attractive shade of green by the way.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

1955: Statue of Our Lady of Westminster is placed in the Cathedral and in 1962 Mosaics in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel are completed.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

Chapel of St Joseph (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Chapel of St Joseph (c) Jane Risdon 2016

1964: Marble work of the nave and narthex is completed and in 1975 construction of the piazza is completed, opening views of the Cathedral from Victoria Street.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

1982: Pope John Paul ll visits and Mass is celebrated in the Cathedral.

1995: HM the Queen visits during centenary celebrations. It’s the first visit of a sovereign to a Roman Catholic liturgy since the Reformation.

2005: The body of Cardinal Vaughan is re-interred in the Chapel of St. Thomas of Canterbury.

Cardinal Vaughan (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Cardinal Vaughan (c) Jane Risdon 2016

2010: Pope Benedict XVl visits and a Papal Mass and blessing of the mosaic of St. David is held. The opening of the Treasure of the Cathedral Exhibition takes place.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

We were amazed at the numbers of people inside who were sitting in quiet contemplation and prayer and also at the long queue for Confession. With this in mind we kept a respectful distance and didn’t intrude where they were.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016 Waiting for Confession

 NOTHING prepared us for the amazing ceilings or the explosion of glitz and glitter all around us. After the grey stone of Westminster Abbey, this was such a surprise. In fact the camera had a job coping with the dazzling reflection coming off so many surfaces.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

It is a lovely building inside, quite surreal really. A stark contrast to Westminster Abbey. We spent most of our visit with our eyes turned upwards, marveling at the wonderful ceilings and each little chapel we entered almost made us gasp out loud. 

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

Westminster Cathedral, Cathedral Clergy House, 42, Francis Street, London SW1P 1QW

Tel:+44(0) 20 7798 9055

                                                                                                         Service Times; +44(0) 20 7798 9097


(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

I hope you have enjoyed these photos and the brief history of Westminster Cathedral. Let me know your thoughts. All photos are (c) Jane Risdon 2016; All rights reserved. The next installment of my March ‘jolly’ follows soon. 

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

Gerald W Darnell – Mystery writer – is my guest author today

Dad17 Gerald Darnell photo 2016

Mystery Writer Gerald Darnell

Today I am pleased to welcome Mystery writer Gerald Darnell to my blog as my special guest.

I’ve asked him to tell us something about himself and his writing.

I was actually born in Florida (where I now live) but grew up in a small West Tennessee town.  After graduation from college (University of Tennessee) I joined the working world and remained until my retirement in 2007. 

My working role was mostly as an executive for a few Fortune 100 companies, and I spent the last 20 years working with a major computer manufacturer. 

But, basically what I did was travel – and I definitely did a lot of that.  Out on Monday AM and back on Friday PM – flying around the world.  Somehow I managed to find a wonderful woman and made her my wife.  And we ‘somehow’ managed to have and raise a wonderful daughter together. 

Incidentally, my wife is a school principal so I understand the rules and FOLLOW them well.

Murder and More by Gerald Darnell May 1st 2016

Murder and More by Gerald Darnell May 1st 2016

I’ve lived in a number of places, going basically where my company told me to go.  However, except for a short stint in Boston I managed to remain mostly in the south – Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky and Florida.

My travels did give me opportunity to read, and I read a lot of books on a lot of airplanes.  They are mostly in the attic now, but when I open one an aged boarding pass will usually fall out – reminding of how long it had been since reading the book and where I was going.

Do you think your location (where you live now) is important as a source of inspiration and setting for your work, or doesn’t it matter?  Do you find the story finds its own location?

Oddly where I live now has little to do with my writing inspiration – it’s where I lived before.  My novels take place in the 1960’s around Memphis, TN and a small southern town, Humboldt.  That’s where I grew up. 

My character, Carson Reno, has an office in the Memphis Peabody Hotel and manages his Private Detective business from there.  In the late 60’s I ALSO had an office in the Memphis Peabody Hotel, so my fiction has a lot of FACT to it…sometimes.

Dead Men Don't Remember by Gerald Darnell

Dead Men Don’t Remember by Gerald Darnell

Tell us how you first began writing and why. What first inspired you to write?  Was it a life-long urge pushed to the background whilst you earned your way in the world, or have you always written?

My first experience in writing (for money) was penning stories for outdoor magazines. In addition to traveling, I also spent a lot of time in the woods and wilderness – fishing and hunting.  It wasn’t much money, but it sure was an experience seeing my name in print for the first time.

Along with reading while traveling around the world, I also kept some pretty good notes about my adventures.  One day, 14 years later I decided to organize these notes and put them on paper – this became my first (and only) non-fiction work,

‘Don’t Wake Me Until It’s Time to Go’.

Don't Wake Me Until It's Time To Go by Gerald Darsnell

Don’t Wake Me Until It’s Time To Go by Gerald Darnell

How do you describe your writing and genre?  Do you think you fit into a particular box or have you created your own?

I definitely write mystery novels, there is no question about that. 

I have two series published ‘Carson Reno Mystery Series’ and ‘Jack Sloan Mystery Series’.  

The first is about a Private Detective in the 1960’s and the latter is about a ‘down on his luck’ former cop who travels some of the darker areas of Miami and other cities during the late 1990’s.

Reelfoot by Gerald Darnell

Reelfoot by Gerald Darnell

I call my writing ‘Fiction for Fun’.  

I use real places with semi-real characters to tell a story that didn’t happen…but could have.

Who or what inspires you?

Interesting question and I’m not sure of the answer.  I write for a hobby and simply enjoy the task. 

Getting into a novel and having the characters talk to me is inspiration enough, I guess.

Whose books do you read and do you always read similar genres to your own? If not, why not?

I spoke earlier about my reading habits and I’m sorry to say that I don’t get to do enough of that anymore. 

But…yes I would say the majority of the thousands of books I’ve read were in similar genre to what I write today.

Killer by Gerald Darnell

Killer by Gerald Darnell

Who are your favourite authors and why?

I don’t get to read enough (as I just said).  However, I try to keep up with John Grisham – mixing in with James Patterson and Robert Ludlum.   No panty waist stories for me – I want my books full of mystery and excitement!

Crossing by Gerald Darnell

Crossing by Gerald Darnell

Can you recall the first book as an adult you read?

Agatha Christie ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’

Do you have a brain spewing ideas or does an event set the little grey cells dancing? What kicks an idea into words?

My motto is ‘a little libation never spoiled a book’. 

Never really ‘brain spewing’ ideas, but a little bourbon and water tend to move things along faster.

Tell us about the first book you ever had published and how this came about – are you self-published or do you have a publisher?

I have used publishers and I have self-published. 

Fingerprint Murders by Gerald Darnell

Fingerprint Murders by Gerald Darnell

My first book took 14 years to write, so I had plenty of time to think about.  Publishers are fine…sometimes.  However, gratification or failure can certainly be realized faster with self-publishing.

How many books have you written and do you have a favourite and why?

I have written 15 fiction novels and one non-fiction. 

My favourite is my Carson Reno Mystery called ‘the Illegals’. 

Illegals by Gerald Darnell

Illegals by Gerald Darnell

Not sure why, but I guess because some of the story is closer to real life than I wanted or perhaps because of things that were happening in my personal life while writing it.

Please list your books and a little piece about each.

14 Carson Reno Mystery Series books. 

Period set is the 1960’s and the place is Memphis, TN.

Carson is a Private Detective along the lines of Phillip Marlow or Sam Spade. 

The books contain humour, period relevant pictures, no graphic violence and no graphic sex.  All are PG13 rated.

1 Jack Sloan Mystery novel. 

Quite different from Carson Reno, this book contains all the things Carson Reno books don’t!

1 non-Fiction. “Don’t Wake Me Until It’s Time to Go’. 

A humorous story about me and my adventures in the woods and in the business world.

Horse Tales by Gerald Darnell

Horse Tales by Gerald Darnell

Do you write in long-hand or are you straight to the computer when working?

Only notes in long-hand, all writing is on the computer.

Do you ever stare at that blank page and wonder what the hell?  How do you motivate yourself?  How do you work?

As I said earlier, ‘a little libation never spoiled a good book.’

 Do you work silence or do you have a soundtrack as you write, and if so whose music do you play?

Mostly silence, but I do enjoy Jazz music sometimes when it fits my mood.

Murder in Humboldt by Gerald Darnell

Murder in Humboldt by Gerald Darnell

When you get an idea do you have the full story in your head and write from beginning to end, or does your story just spill out as you write without any real idea where it is going?  Does it write itself?

Never a full story, my characters take me where they want.  Occasionally we will go back and turn left instead of right, but more often than not they know where the story needs to go.

Have you any formal training in writing?  Taken classes in Creative Writing for example? If not, would you ever consider it or do you think learning on the job is the best route to take?

No…no and no. 

Justifiable Homicide by Gerald Darnell

Justifiable Homicide by Gerald Darnell

I wasn’t even a good English student in school, but some of my friends tell me that our old High School English teacher would be proud of what she created in me. 

If they only knew…

SUnset 4 by Gerald Darnell

SUnset 4 by Gerald Darnell

What are your aspirations as an author?  Do you want to be a NY Times best-seller or are you writing for your own satisfaction; fame and fortune would be a nice by-product but not your sole motivation?

I write as a hobby, not for fame and fortune. 

I have another motto that I like to share with young authors “Don’t write to get rich, write to enrich others’.

Describe your writing day – or do you write at night?

Do you write every day?

I write usually at night and I don’t miss many days at my keyboard.

Everglades by Gerald Darnell

Everglades by Gerald Darnell

What are you working on now?  

My second Jack Sloan novel, it’s called ‘Ghost.’

I understand you are about to have a new book published? 

Pre-released and available for purchase on May 1. It’s called ‘Murder and More’

Murder and More by Gerald Darnell May 1st 2016

Murder and More by Gerald Darnell May 1st 2016

Good luck with this.

Please provide links and back cover blurb.

Website link

Here is back cover blurb.

Carson’s feud with a local crime reporter continues, and then suddenly the husband of his client is brutally murdered – a husband he’s been hired to investigate. Mysterious characters weave a web of blackmail and suspense, while leaving Carson with more clients than he can handle.

The Memphis police have warned Carson to back off, but an employee of a friend is missing from a murder scene and he’s determined to find her and the killer.

Follow Carson to New Orleans, Humboldt, Memphis and Florida where he chases numerous suspects trying to track down a missing person and the killer he’s been hired to find.

Enjoy this unusual adventure for Carson Reno, as he struggles to solve the case of ‘Murder and More’.

Wow thanks so much.

If you wish, share a couple of paragraphs or a short chapter from one of your books here.

Dead End by Gerald Darnell

Dead End by Gerald Darnell

From my most recent book ‘Dead End’

A filthy mixture of snow, ice, Arkansas mud and blood filled my mouth – the gritty mess was making it almost impossible to breathe.  Eyes still closed, and trying not to choke, I rolled my head to the left and spit the nauseating mixture onto the bright snow.  Apparently my nose was broken, because after relieving my mouth of the irritation, it quickly filled with the warm and sweet taste of blood – my blood.  Oddly, despite the trauma of the last few minutes, my thoughts and head were remarkably clear – making me wonder if I might be in the early stages of shock – I’d never been there before.

Silence was everywhere, only disturbed by the sound of light snow falling, and thankfully covering my dry lips. I licked at the welcome moisture and slowly opened my eyes – not knowing what I might see.

A fuzzy grey sky, white falling snow and fading daylight stared back at me – looking down at where I lay – in a dirty, wet ditch, somewhere in Arkansas.

The human body is a smart and complex machine.  When any of the five senses aren’t working properly, it directs another to pick up the slack.  Without sound or vision, my suffering nose was receiving input about my current situation and relaying that information to the brain – it didn’t like what it was hearing! The smells of burning rubber, radiator fluid, raw gasoline and the heat associated with a crashed car engine were reminding me of why I was in this ditch and why my mouth was full of blood – the real world was coming back and it wasn’t pretty!

Our getaway was cut short by the wrong turn down a dead-end road – but pursuers had left us no choice. The dark, snowy, lonely roads of rural Arkansas weren’t familiar to the driver, and what seemed like the perfect opportunity for escape, quickly turned into disaster.

Straining to add vision to the messages from my nose, I looked to my right and confirmed what I already knew. The car was resting nose down in the ditch and only a few feet from where I lay. Steam rose from a broken radiator, and its warm fluids dripped onto the snow; then the melted mess found its way to the bottom of the filthy trench I was in.

The engine stopped running with impact, but somehow bent and crushed headlights remained on – dimly shining against the ditch bank and tall grass. Light reflecting back on the destroyed car, painted a surreal and bizarre picture for my weak eyes.

An open passenger door was the reason I was in this ditch, and my ejection spared me most of the shock from the crash. I knew my nose was broken, and I certainly had other injured parts not discovered; but I was alive – for now. Somehow I’d managed to avoid the bullets, and only escaped the violent collision by choosing the peril of jumping from a moving vehicle – unfortunately the driver wasn’t that lucky!

The head and face made a perfect imprint in the smashed windshield – open and lifeless eyes staring at me through the bloody glass and asking for help. I had none to offer. Impact from the sudden stop against the ditch bank was enormous – however, I don’t suspect the body felt a thing.  Moments before running out of road, a bullet crashed through the driver’s side window; taking most of their head with it, before slamming into the dashboard.

Even knowing it was useless, instinct told me to get up…get up and go check on my friend – the one I had promised to protect. Whoever fired the bullet that removed most of my friend’s head was probably only a few yards away and already rushing over to finish their work.

Unfortunately, my .38 wasn’t in its holster where it belonged – I knew that.  During the short and speedy chase I had managed to fire two rounds at our pursuer – neither one having much effect on their aggressiveness. The gun was in my hand when I left the vehicle, but it wasn’t there now – apparently separating itself from me somewhere in the process.

Weapon or no weapon, I needed to get out of this ditch and on my feet – stand up to run or stand up to fight.  Either way, I needed to stand up!

Putting my right arm against the soft ground, I rose slightly before moving my left – the pain was deafening! I slumped back into the mud, cursing myself for letting this happen. My left arm was useless, either broken when I left the vehicle or from another bullet that I never felt.

Looking away from the carnage I closed my eyes to help tolerate the pain and tried to recall recent events. Events that led me to a ‘one horse’ town in Arkansas, events that had killed my friend and events that put me in this dirty snow filled ditch without the ability to get out!

It started only a few days ago – which now seemed like forever. A client I was hired to protect – a simple task – had gone badly.  Now, I have a dead friend, a dead client and a task not so simple.

Price of Beauty by Gerald Darnell

Price of Beauty by Gerald Darnell

Many thanks for agreeing to be my guest author Gerald, it’s been a pleasure having you here and I wish you much success.

Gerald Darnell Mystery Writer

Gerald Darnell Mystery Writer

If this has whetted your appetite for Gerald’s books do check him out here:







Thanks for visiting here today and finding out about Gerald and his writing. Do let us know what you think. x

Westminster Abbey: the second of my February Jollies.

Westminster Abbey (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Westminster Abbey (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Every now and again I like to have a change from writing about writing so:

Welcome to the second of my recent ‘jollies.’

I am so happy my photos and posts about a few of my visits to some of our great houses, gardens, cathedrals, churches and other places of interest, are so well received.

Your comments are always welcome and much appreciated.

My last ‘jolly,’ to Waltham Abbey Church was very popular and I learned a great deal from those commenting and telling me about their own visits and what they’d learned of the history of the Abbey Church. Thanks so much everyone.

Westminster Abbey (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Westminster Abbey (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The day following our visit to Waltham we visited Westminster Abbey.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

A year or so ago I was supposed to take a guided tour around the Abbey with my younger brother and two of his friends, one of whom was using a wheelchair, the other friend was her carer. Sadly, due to a few problems before we left home, with our disabled friend, we arrived at the Abbey just as they closed the doors at 1pm.  

Apparently the Abbey closes to tourists at 1pm on a Saturday.  Something we failed to know.

We attempted to gain entrance to St Margaret’s Church close to the abbey so as not to go home without our fiend at least visiting one place of interest after so much effort.

After a bit of a to-do we succeeded in getting the wheelchair up the steps kindly helped by members of the public, only to be told off by some security guys who appeared from nowhere and insisted they find and lay a ramp for us.

It seems that they don’t usually allow wheelchair access. We had the not so funny experience of being half up and half down the steps waiting for the ramp to be laid, so we could wobble up the rest of the way on the ramp. Pushing the chair was a feat in itself and all three of us had to push.

By the time we entered the church our friend in the wheelchair had had enough of it all. She was tired and cold and disappointed. It was all getting too much for someone as frail as she.  So we only had a glance inside the church before she wanted to leave.  The ramp had disappeared (health and safety reasons apparently) so we had to carry her and the chair back down the steps.

Not very impressive.

Before I leave St Margaret’s behind here is a little blurb about it.

In Westminster Abbey the public were not allowed inside the Quire area which was reserved for the monks , so the monks built St Margaret’s for public use. The abbot appointed a monk to take services there.

The present church was built between 1482-1523. In 1614 it became a ‘parish church of the House of Commons’. The front pew on the south side is reserved for the exclusive uses of the Speaker.

Houses of Parliament (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Houses of Parliament (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The stained glass windows are gorgeous. The east window was made in the Netherlands around 1526 but not installed until 1758. It commemorates the marriage of Henry V111 to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

Over the west door is a window commemorating Sir Walter Raleigh, who was buried beneath the altar.

We were amazed to learn that Frank Sinatra is among the names of people from around the world who donated money towards the restoration of St Margaret’s at the end of the 20th century.

We were all bitterly disappointed but managed to enjoy the rest of our afternoon elsewhere and we even found time for lunch next to Tower Bridge. 

We even managed to see the Jubilee Barge which has been used by HM The Queen

Royal Barge (c) Jane Risdon 2014

Royal Barge (c) Jane Risdon 2014

(c) Jane Risdon 2014

(c) Jane Risdon 2014

Tower Bridge (c) Jane Risdon 2014

Tower Bridge (c) Jane Risdon 2014

So back to the Abbey.

Anyway, this time my brother and I were early and spent several hours wandering around and enjoying its splendour.

I know we didn’t see everything – I think you’d need several visits and I suggest if you decide to go you look at their website and plan what you really don’t want to miss seeing.

Also use the audio guide, as we did, otherwise you’ll possibly walk past so much without knowing what you are missing.

Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside the Abbey, and of course reproducing photos from their brochure is not legal, so my apologies for the sparsity of my own photos.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

Westminster Abbey is a magnificent building which I’m sure you are all very familiar with.  Because of the vastness of the place and the enormous number of things to see I can’t cover everything I would have liked, so I thought I would give a few snippets of information, perhaps not that widely known.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

There is a lot of information about the Abbey with photos, on their website.

I used to work not far from it and the Houses of Parliament, when I was at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which back then had various offices around the city, as well as offices in the Old Scotland Yard building – The Curtis Green building – where I worked.

Curtis Green designed by Norman Shaw. Public domain

Curtis Green designed by Norman Shaw. Public domain

Curtis Green Building Public Domain

Curtis Green Building Public Domain

If you recall the TV series – in the days of Black and White only – called No Hiding Place, you will probably be familiar with the building which housed Scotland Yard back then: the opening shot has a black Police car coming out of the parking area, between two brick pillars, with its bell ringing.

Curtis Green building was once home to Old Scotland Yard (c) Adrian Brooks of The Times

Curtis Green building was once home to Old Scotland Yard (c) Adrian Brooks of The Times

Strange then, that all the time I lived and worked in London, I never managed to go and look around either of them.  But, it was the Swinging Sixties and I was young, and my head was elsewhere obviously.

My older self is horrified that I didn’t .

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

I didn’t realise so many people are buried or memorialised in the Abbey –  more than 3,000 people in fact – and there are more than 600 tombs and monuments.  They are running out of space and so many have stained glass window memorials to commemorate their lives, or the wealth that enabled them to buy their piece of immortality.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

Founded as a large Benedictine Monastery it is uncertain exactly when the first church was built upon this site, the Abbey has served not just as a place of worship, but has witnessed the coronation of kings and queens for over a thousand years and still welcomes members of the royal family to services throughout the year and serves a local congregation and others who visit.

Doors into The Abbey (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Doors into The Abbey (c) Jane Risdon 2016

It has been at the heart of the nation, standing alongside the Houses of Parliament, The Supreme Court and the offices of government and is a symbol of the connection between Church and State, and welcomes visiting heads of state and other distinguished visitors at many special services marking occasions of national celebration and mourning.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

George ll as the last monarch buried in the Abbey, but royal funeral services are still held in the church. Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997 and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, in 2001, had their funeral services held there. The Queen Mother’s service was the 13th funeral of a queen consort, the previous one being that of King Edward V11’s consort, Queen Alexandra, in 1923.  The first one was that of Queen Edith, wife of Edward the Confessor, in 1075.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

The first church built upon the site stood on an island which, at the time, was called Thorney Island – a swampy inhospitable place, then on the outskirts of London, surrounded by the tributaries of the Thames.  Myths and legends have sprung up to explain its origins.

One such story says that King Sebert (died AD 616), king of the East Saxons, founded the church in 604.   Monks in the 14th century exhumed what they thought were his bones from the cloisters and reburied then in a place of honour by the high altar.  However in 2003 archaeologists found what they now believe is the king’s grave, miles away, in Essex.

Those of you who have read my post about Waltham Abbey Church will recall that King Sebert (Sabert) also founded a wooden church in the area of the present choir in that abbey in c610.

Commemorative Window (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Commemorative Window (c) Jane Risdon 2016

It is thought the monks embellished a lot of these stories claiming ancient origins, to establishment of their abbey – the west minster, or church – was older than St Paul’s Cathedral, the east minster.  We do know that in 960 Dunstan, the bishop of London, brought 12 Benedictine monks from Glastonbury to found a monastery at Westminster.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

100 years later King Edward the Confessor founded his church on the site and from then on the history is certain. Unfortunately the day we visited his tomb was closed off from visitors – we only got a glimpse of it from its rear.

Edward the Confessor’s church was the first in England to be built in the shape of a cross with north and south trancepts forming its arms. If, like us, you enter the abbey via the north transcept, you’ll be impressed with the height of the vaulting. At 102 feet, it is the highest in Britain.

The area called the Quire was the scene of a horrific murder in the Middle Ages. Back then criminals could seek sanctuary within the abbey and once within the precincts the law could not reach them. In 1378 50 of the king’s men ignored the rights of sanctuary and chased a prisoner into the Quire. One of the soldiers apparently ‘clove his head to the very brains,’  and also murdered a monk who tried to rescue the prisoner.

 We saw the Cosmati pavement, something I was eager to see. It is in front of the high altar and well worth seeing. It is one of the Abbey’s most precious possessions – a medieval pavement designed and laid in 1268. The abbot of the monastery, Richard de Ware had admired the pavements laid in Italian churches and invited them to England to lay a similar one in the Abbey. It consists of 80,000 pieces of porphyry, glass and onyx set into Purbeck marble.

The patterns recreated also incorporate an inscription in brass letters, which seemed to foretell the end of the Universe as the year 19,683 after the Creation.

The 700 year old pavement was recently cleaned and restored which took 2 years and was completed in time for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in April 2011.

In Henry V11’s Lady Chapel, at the far east end, is the RAF Chapel, dedicated to those who died in the Battle of Britain in 1940 (World War 11) and was dedicated in 1947. A small hole in the wall, now covered in glass, was made by a bomb that fell just outside the chapel.

(c) Jane Risdon (c) 2016

(c) Jane Risdon (c) 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) and several of his colleagues, who were responsible for the trying and beheading of King Charles 1 in 1649, were  also buried in this are, but their bodies were thrown out after the monarchy was restored in 1660.

Original Colours still visible after The dissolution (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Original Colours still visible after The Dissolution (c) Jane Risdon 2016

In the north side of the Lady Chapel is the tomb of Queen Elizabeth 1 (1553-1603) and in the vault beneath her coffin rests her half-sister Mary (1516-1558).  In the north aisle is an ornate casket designed by Christopher Wren, set into the wall, and thought to be the remains of the ‘Princes in the Tower,’ 13 year old Edward V (1470-83) and 11 year old Richard, Duke of York, (1472-83).

In a vault beneath the eastern end of the south aisle are members of the Stuart dynasty, including Charles 11, William 111 and Mary, and also Queen Anne. The vault was last entered in 1976 when there was a suspected gas leak – there wasn’t one – but what they did discover was that Charles 11’s coffin had collapsed and it was possible to see his funeral clothes and his buckled shoes, plus the ring he wore on his little finger.

 Westminster Abbey is a wonderful place to visit, I could have stayed there for days, obviously there’s so much history to take in and the carvings and architecture alone would keep me more than happy, but alas, there is only so much time…we had to leave. I was very disappointed at not being able to take photos except in a few areas, however, I hope you enjoy those I have taken. I don’t feel I have done our visit justice given the restrictions, but hope that you’ve discovered something new and of interest in spite of this.  

Around Westminster (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Around Westminster (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Westminster (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Westminster (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Our next ‘jolly’ will be just as interesting and with photos.  After the Abbey we wandered off for something to eat and then visited Westminster Cathedral…talk about a lovely surprise.  I had no idea….but that’s for my next post.

Westminster Abbey, London SW1P 3PA

Tel: +44 (0)20 7222 5152    Email:

Check their website for times of services, events and when tourists are allowed in.

Photos (c) Jane Risdon All Rights Reserved unless otherwise stated.

Do pop back and leave me your comments and share your experiences. Always fab to hear from you.

Waltham Abbey Church: another lovely ‘jolly.’

Waltham Abbey Church (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Waltham Abbey Church (c) Jane Risdon 2016

A couple of weeks ago I was taken on another series of what I call ‘Jollies.’

Those who pop in here from time to time know what I mean – a ‘jolly’ is when I am taken somewhere wonderful for a treat. My latest series of ‘jollies’ was absolutely awesome and I shall post each visit in due course.

Today I thought I would share my visit to Waltham Abbey Church.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

I have visited the Church before and I took loads of photos, but for some really weird reason not one of the photos survived my camera locking. So this time I was feeling rather paranoid about the whole visit and decided to use my phone camera.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

Waltham Abbey Church has been on the site it now occupies for a 1,000 years and a church has been on the site since the 7th century. When people first worshiped here they had to trek across fields to reach it.  Today we parked in a busy street surrounded by lovely old buildings, and walked about 20 feet to the main entrance.

Waltham Abbey Church (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Waltham Abbey Church (c) Jane Risdon 2016

We picked a fabulous afternoon to visit. No-one else was inside the church other than my brother and I and the Verger, David Smith, and a man, Jonathan Lilley, playing a grand piano to the accompaniment of a young Chinese Flautist,  Yao Yao Lu, rehearsing for a lunchtime performance the following day of French Virtuoso Flute Minor and C.P.E  Bach’s Hamburg Sonata. The young girl was from a music college and  don’t be surprised if you to hear great things of her in time to come; amazing.

Yao Yao Lu & Jonathan Lilley (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Yao Yao Lu & Jonathan Lilley (c) Jane Risdon 2016

We crept around as you can imagine, stopping now and again to watch the performance which sounded so wonderful throughout the church.  Our own private virtuoso performance.  Such luck. 

A small wooden church was founded by King Sabert of the East Saxons in the area of the present choir c610. Offa the Great, King of Mercia founded the first stone church c780 – some of its foundations support the present church.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

The stone church was erected by Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, later King Harold ll, in the 1060s, and replaced the earlier one which had housed a famous cross, brought from Somerset c1020. Harold had been healed of paralysis after praying before the cross and it remained a focus of pilgrimage throughout the Middle Ages.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

The life-sized stone cross with a carved figure of Christ on it, was found buried at the top of St Michael’s Hill in Montacute, Somerset and brought to Offa’s church in Waltham on the orders of Tovi the Proud, Lord of both Montacute and Waltham.  It became and object of pilgrimage – The Holy Cross of Waltham.

The carvings and woodwork are breath-taking.  We wandered around, all alone with haunting music of the rehearsal filling our ears. The acoustics were just perfect.  If we hadn’t got plans for the following day, we would have returned to hear the recital.  The Verger told us that they frequently hold such events.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

A community of 12 secular canons (priests) was established by Harold to serve the church and parishes belonging to it. The canons lived in the town and most were married.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

On his way from the Battle of Stamford Bridge to face William of Normandy at Hastings, Harold stopped at Waltham to pray. The Sacristan, Turkill, recorded that the figure of Christ bowed to him and afterwards looked down instead of upwards, which was taken to be a bad omen.

Harold was killed at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and his body was brought to Waltham and buried before the high altar. Today it is believed that his grave lies outside the east end of the present building which is greatly reduced in size since Harold’s day.

Reputed burial place of King Harold killed 1066 (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Reputed burial place of King Harold killed 1066 (c) Jane Risdon 2016

King Harold's Resting place (c) Jane Risdon 2016

King Harold’s Resting place (c) Jane Risdon 2016

1177 – King Henry ll, as part of his penance for the murder in 1170 of Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, refounded the church as a priory of Augustinian canons.

1184 – The priory was raised to the dignity of an Abbey, with an Abbot, a Prior and 24 Canons. The existing nave was kept as the parish church; the entire building was three times its current length.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

14th century – a Funeral guild was established and built the Chapel of the Resurrection (now the Lady Chapel) and the undercroft beneath, the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre (now the crypt and visitor’s centre). The guild provided its subscribers with a funeral in the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre and an annual memorial service.

Graffiti on the stone Pillars (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Graffiti on the stone Pillars (c) Jane Risdon 2016

1529-34 – Thomas Cranmer’s meeting with two of King Henry Vlll’s advisor’s in a house in Romeland, Waltham Abbey, led to the King’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon. Leading to the break with the Pope and the establishment of the Church of England.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

1540 – The monasteries were dissolved and Waltham was the last English abbey (but not the last monastery) to be closed. The Augustinian canons were sent away and in 1544 the canon’s part of the abbey was pulled down, but the townsfolk claimed the nave as their parish church, and it was spared. Three years later the Abbey site was leased to Sir Anthony Denny.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

1552 – The original tower (at the east end of the present church) collapsed and the nave began to lean westwards and in 1556 a new tower was built at the west end from debris to prop up the building.  The tower is the only one built in England in the reign of Mary Tudor. 

We always seem to discover ancient graffiti and the photo here is of some we found on one of the stone pillars. Every Cathedral and ancient building my brother and I  visit, he leaves a coin in a crack in the  stone structure to be found (hopefully) many generations in the future.  We both wonder if anyone will ever find them and what they’ll make of their find.

1859-60 – The Victorian restoration of the building – Edward Burne-Jones designed the stained glass at the east end, and William Burges the painted ceiling. The ceiling depicts signs of the Zodiac. Pictures on the ceiling show people doing different jobs such as picking flowers, grape picking, weeding, sawing logs and ploughing. These were painted on canvas by Edward Poynter and the background painted direct onto the ceiling boards by Charles Campbell, a sign-writer.  

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

1875-76 – A new altar and the carved reredos behind it were designed by Burges and the upper guild chapel was restored as a Lady Chapel – dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

Lady Chapel (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Lady Chapel (c) Jane Risdon 2016

The room beneath the Lady Chapel, originally the Guild chapel shows a mutilated 14th century carving – The Waltham Madonna. Mary is headless and the Christ child has been lost, though there are traces of his fingers on the chain of her cloak. The carving was probably by Alexander of Abingdon, who worked on the Eleanor Cross at Waltham cross.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

Above the font is a memorial in alabaster to the ‘Rough Riders,’ men of the volunteer Imperial Yeomanry, killed in the Boar War of 1900-02. There are few memorials from the Boer War and this one is unusual as not one of the men remembered are from Waltham Abbey.  Apparently their commander, Richard Colvin, lived nearby and asked if the men could be commemorated at the Abbey.

Edward Denny, his wife and children (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Edward Denny, his wife and children (c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

Something which I found interesting: on the next pillar to the west of the organ, there were grooves worn into the pillar by chains that held the books, which, by law, had to be provided for people to read as few could afford their own copies, and these would have included Cranmer’s Bible of 1539 and the paraphrases of the Greek New Testament by Erasmus, and later Bishop Jewel’s explanation of the teachings of the Church of England, as well as a copy of Fox’s Book of Martyrs, which was written in Waltham Abbey.

Grounds and ruins of the orignial Abbey (c) Jane Risdon 2016

Grounds and ruins of the original Abbey (c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

Going outside into what are the remains of the Abbey Gardens, there are many ancient graves and tomb stones and the ruins of the medieval Abbey, the last part demolished as part of the Dissolution. And of course, the stone which marks the probable burial place of  King Harold.

The path leading from the church to the grounds has coloured tiles depicting various patterns. We couldn’t find any information about them.

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

(c) Jane Risdon 2016

As always I took far too many photos which I have shared here with a small history of the Abbey Church. I hope you enjoy reading about it.

There are some lovely old houses and buildings in he near vicinity of the Church and a very nice tea room close by.

My next blog will be about our visit to Westminster Abbey and the following one will feature our visit to Westminster Cathedral. We also visited Eltham Palace and I will write about that later as well.

Let me know your thoughts on Waltham abbey Church and our visit if you find time. I hope this gives a flavour of what you can expect from a visit.

All photos are (c) Jane Risdon 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Audio tours of the Abbey are available to visitors for hire. The upkeep of the Church is entirely the responsibility of the congregation and donation boxes are supplied.

The Abbey Church of Waltham Holy Cross & St. Lawrence, Abbey Church Centre, Abbey Gardens, Waltham Abbey, Essex EN9 1XQ

 Tel: Parish Office +44(0) 1992 767897

Open: Mon, Tue: 10am t0 4pm, Weds: 11am t0 4pm, Thurs, Fri: 10am to 4pm, Sat. 10am to 4pm and Sun. 12 Noon to 4pm.

For information about Weddings and other events: Parish Office:

For information about concerts:

Mothering Sunday: consider the gift which keeps on giving….

Chantry Chapel of Our Lady (Eastbridge Hospital) (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Chantry Chapel of Our Lady (Eastbridge Hospital) (c) Jane Risdon 2015

This weekend in the United Kingdom families will be celebrating Mothering Sunday.  Mothers will receive gifts and cards, be taken out to lunch or dinner and generally spoiled.  Graves of long departed mothers will be visited and fresh flowers left, and thoughts will turn to the person who brought us into this world.

Some of us will be visiting our parent under different circumstances.  Our parent may well be sick, possibly cared for in a Hospice by those with specific skills and a vocation for caring for the terminally ill.  My own mother is still alive and well, however my father passed away after a brief spell in a Hospice, where he was cared for extremely well.  

So I have personal experience of the wonderful care the Hospice movement provides.

Hospices, by the way, depend solely upon contributions to finance them.

I would like to suggest a gift for those whose Mother will be spoiled this weekend, and which will not only give her much reading pleasure, but will also give a gift to such a Hospice – I call it the gift which keeps on giving…

In 2014 I was very privileged to have been  included in an Anthology, In A Word Murder, which was the idea and creation of Margot Kinberg, whose friend, Maxine Clarke, crime writer, blogger (Petrona) and editor, passed away having been cared for in  The Princess Alice Hospice in Surrey.

Margot wanted to benefit the Hospice in memory of her friend and she set about collecting a group of authors, and their short stories, for inclusion in the anthology with all proceeds from the paperback and e-book going to the Hospice.  

The authors include award-winning crime writer Martin Edwards, award-winning poet and novelist Pamela Griffiths, author Paula K Randall: Assistant Professor and crime writer Margot Kinberg: cosy mystery writer Elizabeth S. Craig and crime writer Sarah Ward –  not forgetting myself of course, and with the cover designed by artist and writer, Lesley Fletcher.

In A Word: Murder

In A Word: Murder

The stories included in the anthology are set in the world of publishing; book, magazine, online and music publishing, and feature a crime.

For example:

I have two stories included. In Dreamer, a London-based rock band in 1989 find themselves on the brink of success, with an American super-star manager wanting to sign them, an international record and publishing company contract on the table and huge advances for the taking.  But there is a fly in the ointment; the lead guitarist isn’t part of the package because the American manager wants shot of him or he won’t sign the band, which means the record/publishing contracts won’t happen. The band plot to get rid of the lead guitarist, but there’s only one problem – he writes the songs! Things get very nasty….

In my second story, Hollywood Cover Up, a young English girl lands the job of a lifetime in Beverly Hills, PA to one of the most powerful media men in the business. She is having the time of her life mixing with the movers and shakers in the entertainment business, until she sees something she shouldn’t at the birthday party for a Presidential candidate. She is ‘let go,’ but, unable to gain further employment and with her resources dwindling, she decides to write a novel about her experiences. She gets a publishing deal and that’s when the trouble starts. Eventually she goes into hiding, in fear for her life. She has her former employer hot on her trail, the politician and even the Secret Service all have their own reasons for wanting her dead.

This collection of short stories by award-winning authors, is great value for money and as I mentioned, all proceeds go to The Princess Alice Hospice in memory of Maxine Clark.  

Maxine Clarke Memorial Blog – Petrona:

If you are trying to think of a gift for Mother this Sunday, or at any other time during the year, I would love to think you have considered In A Word: Murder, for the reasons I have given. Hospices do a great job caring for those at the end of their lives and in a very special manner – a different way of caring to that received in our fabulous hospitals.

If you find your way to purchasing this great collection, do let me (us) know, and do give me some feedback from Mother.

Whatever you do and whatever gift you give this Mothering Sunday, have a wonderful time with those you love.

In A Word: Murder – Paperback and e-book:

Links to the contributing authors:

Martin Edwards:

Pamela Griffiths:

Margot Kinberg:

Paula K Randall:

Elizabeth S Craig:

Sarah Ward:

Lesley Fletcher:

Jane Risdon:

(c) Jane Risdon 2014

(c) Jane Risdon 2014

Cowdray Park (Coudreye): A Tudor and Stuart Palace – now in ruins. Another ‘jolly.’

Cowdray House Midhurst. (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Cowdray House Midhurst. (c) Jane Risdon 2007

By now you’ll be used to me and my little ‘jollies,’  visiting lovely houses and gardens and sharing my experiences and my photos with you.

Today I thought I’d share a past visit with you.

A visit to a wonderful ruined Manor House in 2007: Cowdray House.

I came across the photos at the weekend and had forgotten all about the visit and how much I enjoyed it until I saw them again.

Plaster work inside Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Plaster work inside Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

We visited on a lovely sunny day in August 2007 and enjoyed a leisurely stroll round, using a head-set to guide us as we explored the ruins. 

The entrance gate ceiling (c) Jane Risdon 2007

The entrance gate ceiling (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Here’s a little history to put you in the picture.

Cowdray House is in Midhurst, Sussex, and is the most beautiful ruin.  It is set in 16,500 acres of West Sussex countryside. There is a golf course, holiday cottages and much more on the site today, but back in 2007 it had only just been opened to visitors when we visited.

Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

The house has been in existence in one form or another since the Middle Ages.  The village of Midhurst pre-dates 1066 when it developed as a Saxon Village.

In 1158 the estates of Midhurst and Easebourne, which had been owned by Savoric Fitz Cana from Normandy, are split upon his death between his son, Savaric II, who keeps Ford, near Arundel, where his father had made his home, and his other son Geldwin who inherited Midhurst, and it is here Geldwin builds a fortified manor house on St Ann’s Hill.

Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

In 1197 the estates are reunited under Geldwin’s son, Frank, who returns to Ford. This is the family home until 1284. The Hill only being occupied infrequently. By this time the family call themselves de Bohun and later Bohun, and in 1284 Sir John Bohun moves from Ford to his new home, Coudreye, on the site of Cowdray ruins.

There are various marriages and royal visits to Coudreye and in 1488 Sir David Owen (great-uncle of Henry VIII) marries the de Bohun heiress and after her death in about 1496 acquires Coudreye.

Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Sometime during 1520 and 1529 Owen gradually demolishes Coudrey and begins building Cowdray (hope you are still with me).

There seems to be some funny business to do with the illegal sale of Cowdray  to Sir William Fitzwilliam for £2,000 by Owen’s son, Henry, in about 1529, though Sir David Owen continues to live there.

In 1533 Sir William is licensed by Henry VIII to empark and crenelate Cowdray.

IN 1537 Sir William is ennobled as Earl of Southampton and in 1538 Henry VIII visits for a few days in August, and William’s half-brother and heir, Anthony Browne, receives Battle abbey.

I gather they know how to impress and influence the monarchy to their advantage.

A dispossessed monk (there was some shenanigans to do with the Dissolution of Easebourne Priory) curses the family ‘by fire and by water.’

Hold that thought….

Lady Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury is imprisoned at Cowdray from November 1538-September 1539.

Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

1540 sees Sir William created Lord Privy Seal – he’d already been Lord High Admiral 1536-1540.

In 1542 Sir Anthony Browne inherits Cowdray.  And in July 1545 The Mary Rose sinks and Henry VIII visits Cowdray in the August. He’s been several times by now.

In 1548 Browne’s son (also Anthony) inherits. and in 1554 Sir Anthony Browne is ennobled as 1st Viscount Montague upon the  marriage of Queen Mary to Phillip of Spain.

There’s a pattern developing here; royal  visit, rewards…but it can’t last.

The 1st Viscount finds himself under house arrest at Cowdray in 1588 (Defeat of the Spanish Armada) because he is a Catholic. In 1592 the 2nd Viscount inherits not long after a visit from Queen Elizabeth 1st.

1595 Montague issues his Book of Orders and Rules for the direction of his household. And in 1605 – Gunpowder Plot – the 2nd Viscount is imprisoned briefly for complicity.

Guy Fawkes came from Midhurst and he was employed at Cowdray in his youth – makes you think!

In 1611 he is imprisoned once more for refusing to take the Oath of Allegiance to King James 1st and is fined £6,000.

Ungrateful lot!

Inside Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Inside Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Kitchens at Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Kitchens at Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

1629 sees a 3rd Viscount inherit and in the 1630’s Robert May is employed as Chef at Cowdray.

1643-60 During and after the Civil War, two-thirds of the Cowdray estates are sequestered and all plate etc. seized. The house is Garrisoned by Parliamentary forces but escapes demolition.

1682 the 4th Viscount inherits and orders an inventory of furniture.

More deaths and inheritances take place throughout the rest of the century. Capability Brown is employed to ‘modernise’ the gardens in 1770.

Once more fire semi-destroys Cowdray (September 24th 1793), and the 8th Viscount drowns on the Rhine in Switzerland (early October) and the title passes to a descendant of the 2nd Viscount, who dies childless and the Viscountcy becomes extinct.

Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

1794-1840 and the estates are inherited by the 8th Viscount’s sister, who married Colonel Poyntz who out lives her and dies in 1840. The family lives in the former Keeper’s Lodge in Cowdray. Two sons are drowned off Bognor in 1815 and the estates pass to three daughters who cannot agree upon the division.

That curse seems to be coming true.

1843 sees the estates sold to the 6th Earl of Egmont for £300,000.

Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

In 1874 the 7th Earl inherits. Keeper’s Lodge is rebuilt and becomes the present Cowdray Park (1878). 8th Earl inherits in 1897 and the estates are sold in 1908 to Sir Weetman Dickinson Pearson who in 1917 becomes Viscount Cowdray.

1913-19 Sir William St. John Hope is asked to report on the ruins of Cowdray, Easebourne Priory and St. Ann’s Hill. Some restoration work is undertaken.

Various Viscounts inherit and in 1995 the 4th Viscount Cowdray inherits and in 1996 Cowdray Heritage Trust is created and from 2006-7 major conservation work is undertaken.

Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Cowdray (c) Jane Risdon 2007

From March 2007 Cowdray has been open to visitors. We visited soon after, in August.

It was such an interesting place to visit. There was a lady (guide) sitting inside the ruins who told us about some Graffiti we’d spotted, which had been left by various occupants of the property which  I found too difficult to photograph as it had faded so much.

Midhurst (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Midhurst (c) Jane Risdon 2007

There is a lovely little restaurant just before you enter the site of the ruins and there are lots of interesting things on sale, such as pottery, and other items usually available at such places.  It was clean and all brand new.  The staff were friendly and helpful. We watched a typically English cricket match just outside the main ruins at one point.

 It was a lovely day out. Later we walked around the village of Midhurst which is delightful. The buildings are fascinating – do look up if you visit.

Midhurst (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Midhurst (c) Jane Risdon 2007

The church is so pretty and there is a lovely lake at one end of the village which we sat beside whilst drinking a glass of wine (or two) as we watched birds on the water.

In addition to Guy Fawkes, other famous occupants of Midhurst village included H.G. Wells. Also, pop singer Billy Piper, Actor Trevor Eve and his wife Sharon Maughan. I took a photo of the blue plaque outside H.G. Wells’ home, but cannot find it.

Midhurst, Sussex (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Midhurst, Sussex (c) Jane Risdon 2007

The Cowdray Heritage Trust is Heritage Lottery Funded.

Village Church Midhurst (c) Jane Risdon 2007

Village Church Midhurst (c) Jane Risdon 2007

As ever all photos are (c) Jane Risdon 2007 All Rights Reserved.

I really hope you enjoyed reading about my visit to Cowdray Park and if you get the chance do visit the ruins and the village. 

The present Lady Cowdray recently renovated the Tower and there is an art studio, Lady Cowdray Renaissance Art Studio,  situated in there  (2016) and art courses are held. The artist in residence is David Cranswick and he can be contacted at for information and bookings.

You can get details of opening times at Cowdray and information about their Holiday lets and more, by contacting or phoning the estate office at +44 (0)1730 812423

Cowdray, Easebourne, Midhurst, West Sussex GU29 OAQ England.

Let me know what you think. I’m always interested in your feed-back.  Thanks for your visit.

Jeff Lee: My Guest Author who doesn’t scare easily – he’s from L.A.

Jeff Lee (Author)

Jeff Lee (Author)

At the end of last year I read a book which made me laugh out loud.  I enjoyed it so much I left a review on Amazon and decided to invite the writer, Jeff Lee, to pop in here to chat about his book, his life and the city he loves; Los Angeles.

I love L.A. and so many of the locations for his story are very familiar to me, and I’ve met a few Vonda’s in my time, all of which added to the enjoyment of this rip-roaring tale. I base many of my stories in this wonderful city for the same reasons he does.

The book I enjoyed so much is ‘The Ladies Temperance Club’s Farewell Tour.’

What a fab title.

I hope you enjoy his interview and will leave your comments at the end as usual, for Jeff to read.

 Welcome Jeff, tell us  about yourself:

First off, Jane, thanks very much for interviewing me.

Ok, on to a little bit about myself. I write full time. Mostly, fast-paced, hysterical crime novels that poke a ton of good-natured, satirical fun at Los Angeles, crime, murder, sex and the entertainment industry.

download for Jeff Lee

I’ve spent most of my adult life here and I love this town. I mean, can you think of a more fertile hunting ground for a satirist? I’m retired now, having spent more than 40 years thinking up and writing ads, commercials, brochures and billboards that left a lot of readers shaking their heads and laughing.

I once did a print ad campaign for the L.A. chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, focused on their ‘clients’ who were available for adoption. We used the same photo for a couple of different ads – a group portrait of half a dozen dogs, all looking happy and irresistible. And I decided to have a little fun with some of the commonly held stereotypes about the singles life in this town. The headline on one ad read, “Some L.A. males are actually hungry for a commitment.” Its partner’s headline said, “Some L.A. females don’t care what you drive.”

I still write in that same iconoclastic, wise-ass voice. Only now, I don’t have to worry about hurting a client’s feelings, or getting some network’s mammaries in a wringer. And that’s where the fun truly lies.

It certainly does Jeff

It would appear that your location is important as a source of inspiration and setting for your work, or doesn’t it matter?  Does the story finds its own location?

Like I said, I LOVE this town, and I know an awful lot about it, since I’ve been living here since the earliest days of disco. So, I like to inject a lot of this area’s personality and idiosyncrasies into my books. I’ve had reviewers comment that they felt Los Angeles was actually an unnamed character in my books.

I’ll drink to that.

You mentioned your former career. Please share your ‘official’ bio so people understand more about you.

Born near New York City and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jeff Lee has spent his entire writing career in Los Angeles. For more than 40 years, he has been a copywriter, producer and creative director for some of the advertising industry’s most recognizable agencies, winning numerous awards for his creativity and wise-ass sense of humor. Typical for his industry, none of those ad agencies are still in business, but he appears to have pretty solid alibis for the deaths of each one.

Retired from advertising, Jeff now spends his time on his own writing, having produced three novels in his Adventures in La-La Land, L.A.-based comedy crime series – The Ladies Temperance Club’s Farewell Tour, Hair of the Dog, and Chump Change. And, looking at life from the other end of the comedic spectrum, he also penned Bird Boy, a cautionary, para normal novel about extreme teenage bullying and the frightening places it could lead. Each of his books debuted to rave reviews, garnering all 4 and 5-star reviews.

Jeff is currently slaving away in his dungeon, hard at work on Hurricane Kretschman, the fourth novel in his Adventures in La-La Land series. And annoying everyone within earshot with his jokes.

Trained as a cook in the Army, he still enjoys being creative in the kitchen, and admits that few things in life compare with the thrill of discovering you’ve just given a nasty case of food poisoning to 140 heavily-armed troops.

A multi-decade resident of the Los Angeles area, Jeff has resided there almost long enough to apply for his L.A. native papers. He currently lives with one of his sons, a dog that’s a diagnosed foot fetishist, and a cat with half a Hitler moustache, that thinks it’s part golden retriever.

Tell us how you first began writing and why. What first inspired you to write?

That’s a tough one. I’ve been writing since I was about 12. I wasn’t exactly the class clown; more like the class Jonathan Swift. That’s more than 55 years of always poking fun at something on paper. Add to that a 40+ year career as an advertising copywriter and professional wise-ass. But I’m no different from every other copywriter who’s ever typed out the words, “But that’s not all…”

We all have a desk drawer somewhere, stuffed full of short stories, novels, screenplays and god-awful poetry. Particularly in this town, where everyone is a hyphenated writer. You’ve got your bank teller-writers; cop-writers; chef-writers; parking lot attendant-writers; undertaker-writers; realtor-writers…well, you get where I’m going here. “

Jeff, I can’t tell you how many times my lunch or dinner has been enhanced by the presentation of the collected recordings of one of the waiting staff, for my enjoyment and consideration – occupational hazard.

Fame & Fortune beckons

Fame & Fortune beckons

The first thing I can remember writing as a creative exercise was a report for my 8th grade teacher, on the American Civil War. He had a PhD in American History and was truly rabid about the subject. And every one of us 12 year-olds had only a couple of months to produce a minimum 50 page-long, typewritten and fully annotated research paper on the subject. I made it to around page 35 before my sense of humor started rearing its ugly head, filling the second half of my research paper with jokes, one-liners and a ton of irreverent humor. For which, I received a grade barely above failing and the handwritten comment, “I had no idea the Battle of Gettysburg was such a hoot. Stop making fun of our country’s history.”

How do you describe your writing and genre?  Do you think you fit into a particular box or have you created your own?

You mean my writing style? I prefer to write for the ear, instead of for grammatical precision. Almost fifty years of writing radio and TV commercials will do that to you. I write the way people speak and think, which makes it much easier on the reader.  And why my books are chock-full of sentence fragments.

And one-word paragraphs.

And paragraphs & sentences that start with the word “and”.

Which gives me a writer’s voice you won’t find anywhere else.

And has earned me the undying hatred of high school English teachers from coast to coast.

Who or what inspires you?

Everything inspires me in one way or another. My first book, The Ladies Temperance Club’s Farewell Tour, was inspired by a ham and cheese omelette and breakfast conversation I was having with someone, about RV’s – I think you call them ‘caravans’?

Another, Chump Change, was inspired by a pocket full of quarters and a morning spent washing my t-shirts, jeans and unmentionables at the local laundromat.

You just never know where that next idea for a book is going to come from. At least, I don’t.

Whose books do you read and do you always read similar genres to your own? 

When I have the time to read, I tend to pick up authors whose style is at least somewhat similar to mine. Carl Hiaasen, Fannie Flagg, early Dan Jenkins, Janet Evanovich, early Tom Robbins.

Who are your favourite authors and why?

My absolute favorite author has to be William Goldman. The man is a literary god, who’s written the novels and/or screenplays for, among other things, Boys and Girls Together, Soldier in the Rain, Magic, No way To Treat A Lady, Harper, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and dozens of others. He’s also written the screenplays for A Bridge Too Far, plus the novel and screenplay for The Princess Bride. And may have also script doctored Goodwill Hunting.

Toss in Faulkner, some Hemingway, James Clavell, Ludlum, Trevanian, Ian Fleming, Leon Uris, Joseph Heller and thirty or so others, and you’ve pretty much got my list.

Sunset Boulevasrd

Sunset Boulevard

Can you recall the first book as an adult you read?

There have been so many that I can’t recall which was first. I do remember devouring Shogun in two evenings.

Do you have a brain spewing ideas or does an event set the little grey cells dancing?

LOL. My brain is constantly spewing out ideas, especially for book themes. My problem is, I forget to write them down.

What kicks an idea into words?

After coming up with an idea for what might make for an interesting book – AND THEN WRITING IT DOWN, I like to spend some serious time thinking the idea, plot and characters through. Then I’ll fire up the computer and start pecking away at it.

Tell us about the first book you ever had published and how this came about – are you self-published or do you have a publisher?

I finished writing my first book, The Ladies Temperance Club’s Farewell Tour, some time in 2005. Then I started sending out query letters to literary agents.

Six years and 500+ rejections later, I finally said the Hell with it and published the book myself on Amazon (trust me, they make it sooo easy).

Do you have an agent?  How did you find one or if you don’t have one, are you considering employing one? Did your agent obtain your publishing contract or had you done the leg-work already?

Interesting question. I don’t have an agent yet. But I DO have a collection of more than 500 rejection letters I’ve received from them.

When I was briefly with my publisher, an agent had nothing to do with it. I found the publisher myself and approached them. Since I’m self-publishing my eBooks, I have no need now for an agent to handle them. But I’m still interested in finding one to handle everything that isn’t eBook related. Like, paperback & Hard cover rights. Publication rights for other languages. Movie and TV rights. I would love to find an agent conversant with those disciplines.

How many books have you written and do you have a favourite and why?

So far, I’ve written four novels: The Ladies Temperance Club’s Farewell Tour, Hair of the Dog, Chump Change and Bird Boy. Farewell Tour and Chump Change are both available as eBooks on Amazon. I’m going to be re-publishing Hair of the Dog and Bird Boy, and they will be. Too. But right now, they’re not available.

Tell us something about each of your books

This book made me laugh out loud

This book made me laugh out loud

The Ladies Temperance Club’s Farewell Tour is a fast-paced, hysterical road trip, involving three middle-age best friends, a humongous RV, massive quantities of Chardonnay and a stiff, frozen solid and wedged into the large freezer in the RV’s basement. The body belongs to the waste-of-skin boyfriend of one of them, and the three are on a white wine-powered quest to find the perfect place to bury his worthless body. Imagine Thelma and Louise…on the road with Lucy & Ethel.

This is the one I read and enjoyed so much. I have to admit the Thelma and Louise reference didn’t sway me having never seen the movie.

Chump Change

Chump Change

Chump Change is really a longish and satirical love letter to many of the things I love about life in Los Angeles – all the pomp and posturing; all the success worship; all the shallowness of life among the fit, tanned, and morally clueless folks whose big goal in life is to wind up on a reality TV series. We’ve got a crew of un-wise guys who steal an armored car hauling part of the city of Los Angeles’ monthly parking meter swag – roughly $300,000 in twenty-five cent pieces.

They, in turn are being pursued by a group of villains who want that seven and a half tons of quarters for themselves. There’s a corrupt televangelist who wants to use the loot to finance his first venture into biblical-themed porn to peddle to the faithful; his wife and co-minister, who’s laughably insane over winning toddler beauty pageants; the city’s parking meter czar, who would just as soon shoot you as talk to you; and a defrocked talent agent, looking to fund a TV show pilot that will get him back into the reality series biz.

I’ve read (and thoroughly enjoyed) The Last Ladies Temperance Farewell Tour which had me laughing out loud at the antics of your three female femme fatales as they go on a  West Coast (USA) road trip, hauling their guilty secret along with them in their RV. What inspired this story?  Do outline the story for my readers here.

When my then partner and I had our little ad agency, one of our clients was a huge club for the owners of RV’s and trailers. I used to love to hear stories about some of the shenanigans that went on at some of their huge jamborees and get-togethers. One day, over lunch with my client, she started re-regaling me. Next thing I knew, I was daydreaming about my book’s story. I think the best way sketch this story out would be to pick up the book’s back cover copy. So, here goes:

This book made me laugh out loud

The Last Ladies Temperance Farewell Tour

“Vonda Mae Ables could never hurt a soul. Now she’s on the lam in a huge RV, with her best friends, gallons of Chardonnay and a stiff in her freezer.

Vonda has suffered her alcoholic boyfriend’s abuse for twenty years. But when she finally stands up for herself, she overdoes it and crushes his skull with a football trophy.

Rather than turn herself in, she enlists her friends to help ditch the body. They stash the boyfriend in the freezer of his humongous RV and take off for Arizona, planning a quiet desert burial.

Unfortunately, the plan goes more sideways with every mile. Vonda finally finds a likely place to plant the dead SOB, but now he’s frozen solid and stuck in the freezer.

Exhausted from their day of digging and unsuccessfully trying to extricate him, the women stop at a local cafe. While they’re drinking dinner, a gang of Harley-riding repo guys makes off with the RV and a Good Samaritan reports the theft. Vonda panics when the police arrive to investigate, knowing that if the cops recover the RV and discover what’s in the freezer, she might have to turn that old trophy on herself.

Imagine THELMA AND LOUISE—on the road with Lucy & Ethel.

It’s about good friends, good wine, manslaughter and the crazy lengths we’ll go for those we care about.

You are in the middle of a new book, with some of the characters I met in the Farewell Tour – The Harley riding Fish, Kenny and Einstein – and I can’t wait to read their adventures.  Can you share a little more about this new book with us?

Actually, that’s a tough question to answer right now, since I’m not even 25% through with the first draft yet. Since I don’t outline, but prefer to let my characters write the story for me, there any number of directions this book could scamper off to. But, what I can share is the overall theme of the book: Harley riders Fish, Kenny and Einstein have taken a couple of weeks off, and are going to spend their vacation getting to, and taking part in the event that’s almost a holy requirement for every Harley Davidson rider and enthusiast.

They’re on their way to Sturgis, South Dakota for the annual motorcycle rally. Just our three heroes and five hundred thousand of their closest friends – hard driving, hard drinking, hard partying “hog” riders. And they’re accompanied on their journey by an off-duty female cop who’s got a thing  for Fish, her own full-race Harley, a very short fuse and a violent temper to match.

Venice Beach

Venice Beach

Do you write in long-hand or are you straight to the computer when working?

I write exclusively at the keyboard. My handwriting is so atrocious I should have gone to medical school and had career scrawling out prescriptions. And two, it’s a lot more efficient to compose at the  keyboard than to write it all out in long hand, and then have to copy everything to the computer.

Do you ever stare at that blank page and wonder what the hell?  How do you motivate yourself?  How do you work?

Only at the end of every single chapter. I sit staring at the screen for a while. Then I say to myself, all right, genius. You’ve gotten your character out of that pickle. Where to from here?

What props (if any) help you settle down and work in comfort?

None, really. Just maybe a cup of coffee. I hate to sound so boring, but that’s about it.

Do you find yourself distracted with endless coffee breaks, sessions on Facebook? Music, TV? Do you work silence or do you have a soundtrack as you write, and if so whose music do you play?

Of course! That’s half the fun of expressing yourself on paper. I’ve got to be in a quiet place in order to write. No TV. No talk shows. No (Pick your favorite country)’s Got Talent. For me, all that stuff isn’t background; it becomes the foreground, and I forget all about what I was trying to write. That’s why I can’t listen to music when I write, either.

When you get an idea do you have the full story in your head and write from beginning to end, or does your story just spill out as you write without any real idea where it is going?  Does it write itself?

I usually have a rough idea about a theme for the book, and where I might want to take the story. But since I live in a democracy, I like to let my characters have a vote, and they usually override me. In Farewell Tour, I had such a good feeling for the characters, I pretty much left them free to write the story for me.

Have you any formal training in writing?  Taken classes in Creative Writing for example? If not, would you ever consider it or do you think learning on the job is the best route to take?

No formal training as a writer, as such. But, I’ve also spent 40+ years writing professionally in advertising. I know my unique voice; I know how to make a lot of seemingly un-funny things hysterical; and I’m not afraid to take big chances.

What are your aspirations as an author?  Do you want to be a NY Times best-seller or are you writing for your own satisfaction; fame and fortune would be a nice by-product but not your sole motivation?

Nothing extravagant. I would just like to earn enough from my writing to afford to have “people”.

So, when some producer hits me with a suggestion that defies both logic and physics, I can respond by gushing, “Sounds de-vine, darling! Have your people call my people, and we’ll set up a meeting.”

But now that I think about it, it would be seriously cool for some toy manufacturer to come out with a line of Jeff Lee action figures. Especially if one comes with a Kung-Fu grip. You listening, Mattel?

Have your people call my people and we’ll set up a meeting.

Melrose Avenue

Melrose Avenue

Very Hollywood Jeff;  Let’s ‘do’ lunch, meaning let’s chase a lettuce leaf around a plate together, or just a glib invitation soon forgotten as I recall.

Describe your writing day – or do you write at night?

I try to wake up early. Usually, before the local drunks have called it a day. Have a little coffee, and then spend the next eight hours answering all the emails and notifications that came in overnight.

Then I’m ready to actually write for two or three more hours.

Quit for the day to let loose the dogs of cooking in the kitchen.

Then I pass out from exhaustion, some time between midnight and 1am.

Do you write every day?

I try to. But there’s an old Yiddish proverb that roughly translates to, “Man makes plans, and God just laughs.

In my case, the Almighty’s got a Hell of a sense of humor!

Do you set yourself targets – word count or chapters per writing session?

Nope. Who needs the pressure? Since I don’t have a publisher’s deadline breathing down my neck and fogging up my glasses, I choose not to.

I average between five hundred and 1500 words per day, depending. If I can hit within that range, huzzah! If I fall short, there’s always tomorrow. I mean, what am I gonna do — threaten myself with breach of contract?

I don’t scare easily.

Let’s have a taster of one of your books

Ok, Jane. As a parting gift for you and your readers, here’s a little sample of the way I hammer words together.

It’s the first chapter from my book, Chump Change.

It’s a short 6-page chapter, but it’ll give you a quick view of the love affair I’ve been having with L.A. for all this time. Along with a couple of landmarks you’re sure to recognize.


Chump Change

Chump Change

Chapter 1

If you’re trying to get from one end of Los Angeles to the other during rush hour, you’ve got two choices.

Assuming you’re the head of Disney, ABC or 20th Century Fox, your corporate helicopter can whisk you where you need to be before the Grande, half-caf two-pump Chai Latté in your cup holder has a chance to cool off.

But if you’re anyone else, you’re stuck sharing the Ventura, Santa Monica or San Diego Freeways with three or four million of your closest friends.

Which means, sometimes the best way to get where you’re going in L.A. is just to be born there.

The man checked the rear view mirror on the left side of his handlebar, pulled in his clutch lever and kicked his Harley down into second gear. Then he eased his old school chopper into the space between his traffic lane and the one on his right and moved out at a steady thirty five miles per hour. Meanwhile, the rest of the vehicles on either side of him continued inching forward like a herd of caterpillars, all busily converting the Sepulveda Pass section of the San Diego Freeway into the world’s longest parking lot.

The rider’s name was Moe Fishbein.

“Fish” to his friends.

In this town, everyone was a hyphenate of one kind or another. You had your actor-producers; your actor-directors; your parking valet-screenwriters and orthodontist-talent managers.

But Fish was a hyphenate of a different color.

He was a chef-attorney-repo man-bounty hunter, enjoying a few days off.

Fish had worked his way through night law school as a restaurant sous chef and passed the California Bar exam on his first try. Then, a few years later, he turned his back on the partnership offer at Uptight, Rigid, Repressed & Lipshitz to live at the beach and just dabble.

These days, he practiced a little law here, a little vehicular repossession and fugitive apprehension there.

He might never earn enough to get a write-up in Forbes.

But then again, as founder and CEO of Big Dog Recoveries, he worked when he wanted; for whom he wanted; and still managed to support a lifestyle that included a home perched above the cliffs on the North end of Malibu. Not to mention days off playing on seventy K worth of custom designed “old school” chopper, blasting up and down the coast and carving some of the local canyons with the two heavily tattooed, hog riding junior members of the firm, who lived in his guest house.

Small wonder Fish spent a lot of his waking day smiling.

He pulled to the curb in front of a modest $800K post World War II starter home a block South of Ventura Boulevard, climbed off his Harley and started hoofing it down to the busy thoroughfare. If the San Fernando Valley had a main drag, Ventura Boulevard was it, a twenty five-mile long collection of boutiques, trendy salons, overpriced little restaurants, discount furniture and lighting galleries and garish strip malls that stretched from just outside Universal Studios in Studio City, all the way out to the Kardashian’s back yard in Calabasas.

To Fish, the Valley was a lot like Long Island–with palm trees.

He strolled a hundred feet up Ventura Boulevard, held the door for a junior development exec from NBC who was too busy texting on her smart phone to nod a polite thanks, and then walked inside.

The huge neon sign above the entrance pretty much said it all:

“ART’S DELI.  Where every sandwich is a work of Art.”

Muslims the world over might pray to Mecca five times a day.

But for members of the tribe who resided within a time zone or two of Studio City, one of the holiest spots on Earth had to be Art’s Deli.

Starting fifty some-odd years ago with a passion for cold cuts and traditional Jewish fare that was just like momma wished she used to make, Art and his wife opened a small storefront deli just down the street from where Ventura Boulevard collided with Laurel Canyon. The place was a monument to good food and gargantuan servings, and it became an instant hit, doubling and then tripling its size as the stores on either side became available.

Fish scanned the inside of the eatery, looking for his appointment.

Over in one corner, he spotted a couple of stand-up comics he recognized from their HBO specials.

In another, sat a height challenged “bad boy” rock star with a pirate bandana wrapped around his head, a tendency to punch first and ask questions later, and a voice like a cat caught in a Cuisinart.

Fish watched as a pair of middle aged, former Valley Girls approached him for an autograph, interrupting the flow of the ketchup he was pouring over his breakfast.

Bad boy’s unspoken answer was the handful of loosely scrambled eggs and Del Monte he tossed at his two fans.

Little guys with big-ass egos.

Fish chuckled silently while a Cheshire cat-like grin spread across his face.

You gotta love this town.

Since he still couldn’t spot his appointment, he let the hostess seat him in a booth along Art’s Art Wall, an unbroken surface that ran from the front of the deli back to the rear and separated it from the high end toddler boutique next door.

Equally spaced along the wall were humongous four foot by six foot, framed full color photos, extreme close-ups of some of Art’s creations. Each sandwich was posed with its two halves facing each other at an angle that lovingly displayed every moist, glistening layer of rare roast beef, ham or pastrami and every luscious globule of fat in all its glory.

And earned the wall full of oversized food portraits the nickname of “Jewish Porn”.

Fish rested both arms across the back of his booth and tilted his head straight up, taking in his upside down view of the entire wall. He started to chuckle as he caught himself wondering what would have happened, had Hugh Hefner had been born into the tribe. The centerfolds in Playboy would probably have sported a completely different look.

“Sorry I’m a little late, Fish.”

“Lemme guess. Car trouble? You couldn’t find your way?”

“Something like that. Anyway, sorry if I held you up.”

Fish slowly tilted his head down from his view of the wall full of salacious Hebraic wall decor.

“No sweat, Arnie. I mean, you gotta take that left on Wilshire at Crescent Heights, stay on it until it turns into Laurel Canyon, then follow it over the hill and hang another left on Ventura. Hey, I know it’s a long way from brain surgery, but some guys just can’t handle the pressure.”

He chuckled and motioned for Arnie to take a seat.

“Here, take a load off.”

Having been an attorney for a number of years, Fish didn’t have a lot of use for most barristers.

Or even much respect.

Especially for Arnie.

At best, they were usually long on brains and education, but missing that special chromosome that governed conscience, ethics and morality. Dig deep enough into any big-time financial or political scandal and you’re bound to unearth a few law school graduates rooting around in the muck.

At worst, they could be too bumbling and/or unimaginative to do anything but make life a living Hell for their clients.

Like Arnold Kaufman.

Arnie Babe to his showbiz clients.

He was bright enough to graduate UCLA Law in the middle of the pack, but had to take three runs at the California Bar exam in order to pass. From there, he did what any newly minted lawyer with limited talent and big family connections did–he became a Hollywood agent.

Eventually, he pushed his first and only client into her big break in the movies.

Too bad she had to go and get clipped by a hit man who paraded around in black Armani and talked like Marilyn Monroe.

After that, Arnie made the jump from agent to producer, selling his former client’s life and death story for a movie that was so bad it premiered on airliners. And not American or United; the only place to catch that turkey was aboard a Southwest Airlines Flight.

But that was then.

“OK, Arnie. You called this little meeting. What’s it all about?”

Arnie Babe started rummaging around in his briefcase. “Fish, you ever heard the saying, ‘Opportunity only knocks once?”

“Yeah, so?”

“So, right now it’s pounding hard on your front door, Buddy. With both fists.”

He tossed a stack of slick looking brochures onto the table top. “Pitch” folders that TV production companies put together to sell broadcast and cable TV networks on their ideas for new series.

“And it wants to make the two of us rich.”

“So, why is opportunity being so generous with me?”

“Reality TV, Fish. You ever hear of it?”

“Y’mean like that father and son who build custom choppers together, but hate each other’s guts?”

Fish tossed the brochures back onto the pile.

“Thanks, Arnie. But I need that kind of opportunity like a moose needs a hat rack.”

“Don’t knock it, my friend. That show’s made multimillionaires out of both those guys. The same for those nut jobs who fish for crabs out on the Bering Sea. Or what about that guy who whispers at dogs?”

Arnie dug another brochure out of his briefcase and set it face down on the table. “You get a hot reality show and you can make millions off it. Trust me.”

“And you want me to help you produce a reality TV Show?”

Arnie shook his head.

“No Fish, I want you to star in your own reality show. What do you think of this?” He held up both hands with index fingers reaching skyward and thumbs pointed at each other to frame what he was saying.

“Fish … Bounty Hunter to the Stars.”

He turned the brochure over and slid it in front of Fish.

The show’s title was printed in huge letters that took up two lines of type.

Below that was a photo of Fish, on his old school chopper, along with his two assistants, Einstein and Kenny, on theirs.

All Fish could do was shake his head and chuckle.

His cell phone suddenly rang and he switched it over to speakerphone as he answered.

“Speak,” he chuckled at the phone.

“That you, Fish?”

“Yeah, Elias. What’s up?”

“I’m in a real bind here. And I need your help.”

Elias Hope was the owner of There’s Always Hope, a bail bond agency he ran out of a tired old double wide trailer along one of the rare stretches of Hollywood Boulevard that hadn’t gone insultingly upscale yet. Elias was a good guy, one of Fish’s major sources of income. And if he was in a pickle, only one thing could have put him there.

“You got a Failure to Appear for me?”

“What do you mean, an FTA? We’re talkin’ a foursome here.”

What Elias had was Norman Shimazu, Robbie Gubbins, Antwon Porter, and Javier “Bosco” Chubasco, four knuckleheaded, lifelong friends with big dreams of making it in the exciting and high-paying field of car theft.

They’d gotten picked up a couple of weeks ago in a huge award banquet sting at the Queen Mary, a joint venture run by LAPD and the County Sheriffs. The four were charged with a smorgasbord of small time misdemeanors and Elias bonded them out.

Their hearing was yesterday, only they must not have gotten the memo.

Hence, the Failure to Appear warrants. If Fish could round them up and deliver them forthwith to the nearest pokey, he’d pick up a fast eight grand. If not, Elias would be out eighty large for all their bails.

“So,” Elias said. “Can you help me out here?”

“No worries, man. I’ll bring Einstein and Kenny, and we’ll grab these guys up tonight around three, when they’ll either be asleep or sleeping it off. You got an address?”

Arnie kept his eyes glued on the sheet of paper on which Fish was writing Norman Shimazu’s last known residence.

Fish promised to give Elias a call as soon as central booking handed him the body receipts for the four and then hung up.

”See what I mean?” Arnie Babe piped up as Fish slid his cell phone into his shirt pocket. “You’re a natural for this, Buddy. Next couple of calls you go out on, let me come along with a cameraman. We’ll get enough video to put a killer pilot together. And you won’t even know we’re there. Trust me.”

Thanks so much Jeff, I have my copy of Chump Change and will be diving in to familiar locations and characters soon.

 It’s been fun and a delight to host you on my blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed it too. Many thanks.  I hope my readers enjoy learning about you and will seek your books following the links provided and give us both their valued feedback. I wish you all the best for your future writing career.

Jane, this has been a real pleasure. Thanks for inviting me, and I hope none of your readers’ eyes have crossed by now.

Seriously, I’ve had a wonderful time. And I’d love to do this again.

You can find Jeff following these links:

Farewell Tour’s Amazon link:

Chump Change’s Amazon link:

Amazon Author Page:

Facebook Author Page:


Twitter: @jfredlee

 Let us know what you think folks, please leave your comments, thanks.

Vegas or Moscow? One of my short stories

Las Vegas Public Domain

Las Vegas Public Domain

Moscow courtesy of Jenny Walker 2013

Moscow courtesy of Jenny Walker 2013

I thought I’d share a very short story I wrote a while back. It’s under 5,000 words long, but I enjoyed writing it immensely.

It started out as a piece written for submission to a short story competition, but in the end I decided not to enter. As with most of my writing about Music, I draw from my own experiences or those well documented to give them some authenticity.

 Not that I am saying I am a Mafia member – Italian or Russian – I am not.  But having worked in the Music Business I got to hear stuff, meet people,  and read a lot of books about famous characters…you know the sort of thing.

This story is not based on any particular individuals or events

and is drawn from my imagination entirely.

Just saying….I don’t want any horse’s heads in my bed or concrete boots to wear.

Here goes:

Vegas or Moscow?

Marty Palermo  looked around the conference table at some of the most powerful men in the Music business and waited for someone to have the guts to speak up.  He knew where the bodies were buried, knew their deepest secrets, and knew how to damage them if push came to shove.  It amused him to see them squirm, to see the anxious looks on their faces and to smell their fear.  They reeked of it lately, more than usual.

‘Well?’ Marty looked at the President of Five Music, David Klein, raising his eyebrows, barely able to conceal the smirk playing around his mouth, he watched the small bald man’s dark eyes dart around the table, searching for a saviour.

‘What? Lost your voice?  Nothing to say now that you know I know what’s coming, eh?’  It was that time of year again; here come the threats if they didn’t get more money, better treatment – whatever!  Marty waited for the annual attempt at a power play. As much as it amused him to see them wriggle, he was getting tired watching them flexing what little muscle they thought they had left.  They’d been beating around the bush for almost ten minutes now. Just cough it up; grow some balls.

David cleared his throat, his hand smoothing his shining pate. ‘I know you’re pissed off Marty, but you’ve gotta understand, we had no choice.’  He fidgeted in his seat, beads of sweat forming on his top lip.

‘No choice?’ Marty thumped the table, the bottled water jumped and so did the three men sitting around it.  ‘There’s always a fucking choice.’  He bellowed at them.  Secretly he always quite enjoyed the pretense, but he didn’t let it show. Let them sweat. Three fish on the end of his line.

‘Marty, please, you gotta keep calm, we can work this out.’   Ricky Rossini raised his hands; always the peacemaker, the Vice President hated seeing his long-term friend bullied by the cocky VP of Business and Legal. Marty was going to learn soon enough that the world didn’t revolve around him these days.

‘Yeah, we can work it out, let’s all keep the stress levels down. I’ve had a coronary don’t forget.’ Ernie Roth touched his chest defensively.

The VP of Finance was retiring at the end of the year and wanted to spend time on his ranch breeding horses and generally chilling after years of living in Los Angeles, keeping one step ahead of the movers and shakers ready to trample over him given the slightest opportunity. ‘I’d like to get some quality time before I snuff it.’

‘How the hell can we forget Ernie, you never stop reminding us.’ Marty snapped.

‘Look, Marty, you know how it is, we wanted to tell you, didn’t we guys?’ Ricky looked at the other two who nodded, relieved that he seemed to be taking the lead.  ‘You gotta understand, we got leaned on.  We had nowhere to go.’

Marty was confused.  What the hell were they trying to say? ‘Spill it for Christ’s sake.’

‘You know we’re grateful for what your father, The Family and you’ve done for us Marty, we didn’t want this, we just didn’t know what to do and then, well, and then it got out of control.’ David found his voice again.  ‘We didn’t dare tell you, they’d threatened us, our families. It was….’ He trailed off looking at the others for help.

This wasn’t about more money or power then – Marty’s patience was being tested now. Being leaned on?  What the hell was going on?

‘Fuck the excuses, I said spill.  Better talk to me now or I’ll be flying to Vegas and you know what that’ll mean.’    They knew what that meant. He always dangled the threat.

 (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Public Domain

Five Music had been in business five decades and for most of that time they’d ruled the Charts, ruled Radio and ruled the Music business in LA.  They’d sailed close to the wind. They were the hard men of music and only fools butted up against them and those fools were soon dealt with.  Back in the seventies they’d pleaded the Fifth Amendment when the Payola scandal threatened to swallow each and every one of them.  Serious jail time was on the cards and their saviour came in the form of an Italian Attorney, Chuck Palermo, Marty’s father, whose platinum coated contacts with a certain Italian ‘Family,’ located in Vegas, with an offer to ‘do them a favour,’ managed to get everything to ‘disappear.’ In return for a large share of their business he would look after them and their interests.

‘Welcome to the Family.’ Chuck told them.

‘We look after our own,’ he said and he did; the Family did, and from that day onward the company thrived, never again under attack from the authorities or from rivals. When Chuck died Marty filled his shoes just as he’d been groomed.

They’d been in bed with the Italians from Vegas for decades.  Well, until now.  Unfortunately the three men couldn’t see any way round Vegas finding out, but first they had to tell the attorney.

‘Remember doing the contracts for ‘Crimea,’ to write all the music for ‘Malibu,’ last year, and the crap their management tried on about wanting control of this and that, like they were some sort of mega noise or something?’  Ricky took over, sitting upright and trying to appear confident. This sucked big time; he felt like a stupid kid in front of his teacher.

‘Yeah, I stuck a flea in those Russians’ ears.  They got the message.’  Marty recalled the pair of thugs trying it on, though what that had to do with whatever was going on with these three, he had no idea.

‘If the band hadn’t had such a huge following with massive download sales, I’d have kicked their butts back to Moscow,’  he said.  ‘Fucking Russians are everywhere these days.’

He’d planned on getting rid of the managers soon after the band signed, but none of the band spoke English and in the end it hadn’t been worth the aggravation. They seemed to settle down after a while, stopped trying to play hard-ball at every opportunity.  Everyone assumed they’d got the message, but now he was wondering.  Not that crap again he hoped.

‘Malibu’ was the world’s most successful TV series, reaching two billion viewers in two hundred countries weekly and owned by Five Music’s Production Company, Fifty Percent.

‘They should be over the moon, getting their music on the show’s been a major earner for the band and their management thugs.’

‘But Marty, they didn’t get the message. Those guys sent some heavies round for a ‘friendly word’ with each of us a while back. They made threats; they really put the heat on.  I’ve got kids, we’ve all got kids. It was terrible.’  Ricky shuddered.  ‘They meant business, serious business, and we had to do it. We had no choice.’

‘What the fuck are you saying?’ Marty was losing patience, this wasn’t about the annual wobble.

He put his face up close to the sweating man, dragged him to he feet.  The others gasped, shocked.   ‘And we don’t mean business Ricky?’

Marty kicked his chair away and loomed over the table. ‘You guys forget who’s calling the shots, who keeps things nice for you guys, who runs this fucking business?  You forget or are you just stupid?’

He walked round the table standing behind the others. ‘You forget who made all that money your wives’ love to spend all these years? You got short memories, or what, tell me?’

‘We, we know what you’ve done, The Family’s done for us, but what could we do?’  Ricky whined.  His fleshy, face ashen. ‘They made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, you know, like your Dad did.’

‘Who thinks they can put the heat on?’  Marty’s was purple with anger. ‘Who thinks they can mess with The Family?’

‘You gotta understand, they’re more powerful than you can imagine. For Christ’s sake, those guys are fucking ex-KGB!’ Ricky shrieked stabbing his podgy finger at the attorney.

For a few seconds whilst he swallowed the information, Marty said nothing.  The men exchanged fearful looks.

‘Like who said?’ Marty thought about the two thugs managing the band. He’d heard stuff about the Russians in LA, buying up buildings, heavy-handed with tenants, and from what he’d been told, many of them were into gangs and small-time organised crime of some sort, but ex-KGB; he didn’t buy it. They were just trying to muscle in where they imagined they’d found a gap, but he didn’t rate them much.  Small fry.  He’d sort them before Vegas found out, no big deal.

‘You got your head stuck up your ass, you gotta see what’s going on in this town.  It’s changing, the old alliances are dead Marty; the Families are losing their grip, you wise-guys are history.  These Ruskies are mean sons of bitches.’ Ernie found his voice at last.

Marty couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  The stupidity of them, thinking they could get their protection elsewhere and he wouldn’t – the Family wouldn’t – find out.  And if they found out it wouldn’t be a problem? Yeah right.  They thought he’d smooth it over. No way was that going to happen.  After all these years they couldn’t split from Vegas.  It wasn’t and never would be, an option.

‘After all I’ve done for you bastards over the years, you knife me in the back, you crawl to those red-necks first time they put the heat on.’  The Italian felt his blood pressure rising and took a deep breath.  ‘Well I can put the heat on, know what I mean?’  He glared at them.

 (c) Jane Risdon 2013

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

Ricky stood up almost nose to nose with the younger man.  ‘You think we stand a chance against them?  It’s your Dad and Vegas all over again for us.  We had to make choices, we couldn’t tell you until now, but it’s sorted, finished.’  He poured a glass of water and guzzled it.  ‘We were stuck between a rock and a hard place; Vegas or Moscow.’

‘I expect you to come to me, to tell me, you dicks.  Not go dealing on the sly. How the fuck did you think you’d get away with it?’  Marty pushed his hands down on Ernie’s shoulders and the man shrank under the weight.  ‘Did you think there wouldn’t be consequences?’

‘We got protection, like we did from you guys. Now, if we need to get protection against you, The Family or whoever, well, they’ll look after us. You wise-guys are history, what could we do?’  David moved round the table to join his conspirators, safety in numbers.

The young attorney’s blood ran cold as a thought occurred to him.  He loomed over the three men he wanted to beat to a pulp.  Stupid, stupid, fucking stupid, they couldn’t have, could they?

‘What the fuck did you give them?  What do they think they’ve got?’

‘Fifty Percent.’ David spoke at last, his voice hoarse.  Sweat poured down his face.

‘Fifty percent of the company?’ Marty was shocked.

‘Our Production company, all of it, not fifty percent of it.’  David whispered.

‘What?’ Marty could hardly believe his ears.  He was going to have to fly to Vegas and face The Family after-all.  This was deadly serious.  These guys had sold them out, had done the dirty and he was stuck in the middle.  He wasn’t going to be the fall-guy; he was going to have to do some creative thinking if he was going to survive.

‘And ninety percent of everything else.  We get to keep some back catalogue too, but mainly artists not selling well or who’re about to go into the Public Domain.’  Ricky  was sheepish for once.

‘We get to stay on the board, salary and stuff, but we’ll be just figure-heads because of our name and clout.’ David’s voice faltered.

‘Fucking nuts!  You are so dead!’  Marty yelled, his hands tight fists itching to smack their heads in.  In the old days his Dad would’ve given each of them a ruby necklace after emptying his Gluck into them.  If he hadn’t, The Family would’ve sent someone to do him as well.  Their fucking clout!  As if.

‘Stay on the….what about me?  What about Vegas?  You think they’ll take this, you are out of your skulls; you are so dead, and your families are dead too, believe me.  I’m fucking dead!’ Marty had to think.

‘What’s going to happen?  What will they do, Vegas, I mean?’  Ernie was shaking so hard his teeth chattered.

‘I need to think before I tell them.  What’s the deal with the Ruskies, when do they think they take over?  Where are the papers you signed?  Was there an attorney there?  Get me copies, like yesterday!’

Laurence was pacing, trying to figure a way out.  The stupid, stupid bastards. All the friggin’ hints and the run-around they’d been giving him lately. Why hadn’t he realised it was something else, not the usual.  If only they’d told him as soon as they got leaned on, he could’ve got some guys in to sort it.  Now he wasn’t sure if it was too late or not.  Visions of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre flitted across his mind and he shuddered inwardly; no kidding, there’d be consequences.

After a hurried look around, the three older executives left the offices by the elevator to the underground car-park; their swagger gone, their shoulders sagging and fear exuding from every pore.  They’d spent another hour with Laurence before leaving him.  Suddenly they didn’t feel so sure things would work out the way their new ‘partners,’ had promised.

‘You go home, stay there, don’t do shit, you get me?’ Marty yelled. They got it all right.

They got into their expensive chauffeur driven cars and headed home to await their fate.

The attorney sat in his office, deep in thought.  He’d got copies of the documents the men had signed over to the Russians and had read them through several times.  He had to hand it to the Russians, they’d covered every eventuality and his colleagues had, as far as was possible, covered their asses too.   Still, it wasn’t their asses he was worried about.  He was going to be in some serious shit back in Vegas.  He’d allowed himself to get too close, too friendly, too ‘into’ the Music business in Los Angeles, which he had to admit he loved.  He’d not forgotten his masters back in Vegas, but most of the time things ran smoothly and he’d had little cause to get them involved in running the company. 

These days most wise-guys knew to keep their distance from Five Music and so life was pretty good in general.  But now, well, now he was going to have to use all his negotiating skills and his wits to try to stay alive and to somehow turn this situation to his advantage.  But how?

There was a noise from the outer office and just as he was about to call out, the door flew open and six huge men in dark clothes stood glaring at him; two pointed guns at him, and he raised his hands.  His first thought was robbery; someone had come for the office equipment and anything else they could find, but then the taller man spoke.

‘You are Marty Palermo, yes?’  He had a heavy accent.

Marty nodded slowly, ‘Yes, what is it?  What do you want?’  His heart pounded in his ears.

‘We’ve come to make you an offer, Marty.’ The man walked round to Marty’s side of the desk and pointed the gun at his temple.   The Italian shook from head to foot.

‘Vegas or Moscow?’  The man smiled and waited.

(c) Jane Risdon 2014

I hope you enjoyed my tale, do let me know what you think.

Gas Lamps, Harry Randals, Sat Navs and iPads: a brief update

Before the Internet

Before the Internet

I posted this once before but I thought I’d offer an update to the story and post again.

I hope you don’t mind.

Those of us who have grown up in the middle and latter part of the twentieth century, take a lot for granted.  We know how to use a telephone and may well have first used one in a red phone box with the old-fashioned, ‘push button A or B’ method of making a call  usually via the ‘operator.’  Many didn’t have phones in their homes back then and so a call box was the only option. We then got to grips with phones in our homes and now, of course, we nearly all carry a mobile or cell phone. Just think what they are capable of.

Press Buttons A or B

Press Buttons A or B

Our family got a Television when I was quite young so I can recall ‘Watch With Mother’, ‘The Wooden Tops’ and ‘Bill and Ben the Flower Pot Men’ – all in  Black and White – back when Children only had an hour of Television programming daily.   Now television is going twenty-four hours a day with an over-abundant choice of channels to watch.

I was lucky to grow up taking electricity for granted and never questioned its availability.  It was there to light my bedroom when I did my homework, powered my hair-dryer and record player.  We listened to ‘the wireless’ back when wireless didn’t mean WiFi.

Imagine then, my conversation recently with an elderly relation (aged 83 at the time ), who has been given an iPad as a gift, to keep her occupied and provide some company and interest as she sits alone day after day gazing out at the world passing by her front window.  She has mastered the TV remote and digital TV, can send texts and has used a microwave for decades, but the iPad filled her with terror.

‘You seem to forget, I was born into a home with ‘Harry Randals’ and Gas lamps,’ she sighed, ‘I’ll never get my head around all this.’  I should explain that ‘Harry Randal’ is a well-known English way of saying ‘Candles,’ for those of you reading this outside England.

Harry Randle holder (Candle holder)

Harry Randle holder (Candle holder)

She is right.  She was born into a home with gas lamps, and the only lighting upstairs at night was by candle light.  There wasn’t an indoor bathroom or W.C. and so the ‘Gerry’ was kept under the bed (‘Gerry’ is another name for a chamber pot), for emergencies on cold nights when a trip down the garden path to the outside ‘privy,’ was a step too far.  Bath night was in  a tin bath in front of the fire in the living room, the water heated on the blackened stove fired by coke and logs.

Ceiling Gas lamp

Ceiling Gas lamp

It was rare to own a car back then, rich people had them, but normal every day folk used their feet to get about or a bicycle – her mother rode something called a ‘sit up and beg’ which I have to say is still in use around the village to-day, having been sold several times since they owned it.  it is still going strong and was made in England!  So I guess you can imagine how alien many of the items we use to-day would appear to someone from her era.  

(c) Jane Risdon 2014

(c) Jane Risdon 2014

She never learned to drive although her family did have a car which was the preserve of her late husband, she being content to be a back seat driver.  Now she competes with Sat Nav (GPS), from the rear of any car she is travelling in, shouting at the female voice giving instructions, telling her that she is going the wrong way, the directions are wrong and ‘why doesn’t she listen?’  It is all a bit ‘too much.’

Satnav replaces Ordnance Survey maps

SatNav replaces Ordnance Survey maps

My elderly relation opened the iPad, hands shaking with the start of a stress headache.  I knew how she was feeling.  We spent several hours going through ‘how to’ do this and that when suddenly she asked to send an email.  Although it was obvious she had no idea just what an email is – she kept getting it confused with texting – I did eventually get her to understand that we needed to get on to the Internet to send emails.  She wanted to know if I could turn on Facebook so she could send emails….it was hard going.

I rang and arranged for a sister to set up broadband access for her as I had to go back home.  However, I was sure my relation knew how to do the basics with her iPad, and could keep herself amused until she was on-line.  My head was killing me – you forget how much we accept about technology and using it; we (I – the baby boomer generation), seem to have the basics where technology is concerned; well, enough to get our heads round most things we use daily.   It is all a bit much for someone growing up in the early nineteen thirties.

Public Domain - Steve Jobs - iPad launch

Public Domain – Steve Jobs – iPad launch

Broadband was installed and ready to go, so I called in to get her up and running, ready to learn the next steps.  All the time I tried to get her online she chatted non-stop, asking me questions that had nothing to do with the situation I was dealing with. 

‘One step at a time,’ I kept telling her.

‘How can I goggle at people?’ If she asked me that once she did a million times. 

‘If I goggle at people, how can they know and can they goggle me back?’

‘I want to email Face-time, make sure I can email Face-time.’

‘Get me onto Facebook, but I don’t want perverts getting me.’  ‘Make sure you blockade them.’

There was a problem with her connection and no amount of relocating the router and checking her Password would sort it out.  I rang the company who informed me there was ‘nineteen hours, fifty-five minutes and four seconds,’ until my case could be dealt with by the technical team, however, ‘my call was appreciated and I was valued,’ etc.

So I had to put it all on hold and come back another day as time was moving on and I had things to do.  My relative then decided she didn’t want any of this ‘nonsense,’ and would I take it all away. 

‘I’ll just send emails on my phone.’  Which of course would be another migraine, setting up and teaching her to do. Ye Gods!

‘You don’t know what you are doing, I’ll get an electrician in.’ Was her parting shot.

Ten days later and my sister and I have been fiddling with the phone socket, the router and following instructions being issued my our, now expert, elderly relation who has had a conversation with another relation six thousand miles away, who knows all about putting in broadband, and getting the iPad to work – well he should, he gave it to her and there is a hefty price on his head now!

We decide that we need to get extension leads and use the main phone line into the house instead of the socket our relation insists on using.  The leads are not long enough and the router doesn’t like being anywhere else.  By this time my sister has a migraine too.  Our ‘expert’  has told us both how to set up the router, connect the leads and filters and how to ‘get online,’ more times than we’ve had spam!

To cut a long story short, we got it sorted and gave her another lesson in getting online, and sending email.  We told her we would do more next time.  We didn’t want to overload her with too much information too soon.  Within days we were getting bombarded with emails and phone calls…..’I have not had a goggle from anyone, why is that?’

The latest is that a brother called in to visit and managed to get her using Google.  He messaged Facebook to say he had to disappear to the local (pub), to sink a few pints for an hour or so, before he went back to see how she was getting on.  Apparently she now wants to ‘Surf the net’, so she can find out what we are all doing to keep us all ‘logged on,’ and ‘wasting time on the internet.’

It has been a quite a journey from Gas lamps and Harry Randals to Sat Nav and iPads for one lady born before the invention of The Internet.   She has taken to it like a duck to water and has opened up a whole new world for herself; one she is not just watching, but is taking part in once again. 

The rest of us will never rest in peace again – she’ll find Facebook and then God help us all! – my Facebook page.

That was then (2014) and this is now:

God indeed needs to help us – she is now on Facebook and life will never be the same again!

There is NO hiding place.

No comment unnoticed and noted. NO photo unseen and questioned. No activity fails to be judged or admonished.

We can all run but we cannot hide.

An 85 year old has been let loose on Facebook.



Season’s Greetings and Many Thanks to You All

Rocking Christmas

Wishing each and every one who has visited and followed me here during the ups and down of 2015,

a very happy festive season and a wonderful 2016.

Thank you so much for your friendship and for making this blog so enjoyable for me and, I do hope, enjoyable for you too.

I’ve had so much fun reading your comments and reactions to what I have posted,

and best of all, having a giggle with you.

The last 18 months has been really exciting for me.

In April 2014 I signed my first ever publishing contract with Accent Press

and in October  2014 I saw my short story,

The Haunting of  Anne Chambers, appear in the Anthology, Shiver.

Shiver from Accent Press Oct 2014

Shiver: Accent Press Oct 2014

Followed by Wishing on a Star (anthology) which included my short story,

Merry Christmas Everybody, published December 2014.


Wishing on a Star: Accent Press Dec 2014

Thanks to Accent Press and all their fab staff  for all their help and for giving me the opportunity to share my work.

A special thanks to my editor, Greg Rees.  You are a star.

I am really excited to announce that in May 2016 

Only One Woman

Publication May 2016

Publication May 2016: Accent Press

co-written with my life-long friend and award winning author,

Christina Jones, 

is to be published by Accent Press.

It is available for pre-order in paperback or ebook from Accent Press

Those who follow me might be surprised to discover that this does not feature any CRIME.

Only One Woman:

One boy, two girls, and a journey through the heady, mad, rock’n’roll 1960s.

June 1968: Renza is preparing to leave school – and England. Her family is moving to Germany and she can’t wait – till the four gorgeous boys who make up pop band Narnia’s Children move in next door.

She falls head over heels for lead guitarist Scott, but after a romantic summer of love together, Renza has to go … December 1968: Stella meets Scott at a local dance where Narnia’s Children are playing.

Scott’s the most beautiful boy she’s ever seen, and she falls for him hard … As the colourful, exciting final year of the sixties dawns, both Renza and Stella realise there can be only one woman for Scott…

 See more at:

Chrissie and I go back a long way and we pooled our experiences of the late 1960s music, fashion scene and the whole vibe of the last wonderful exciting years.


I am busy writing and working towards the publication of Ms Birdsong Investigates later in 2016/2017

Once more it has been a  fantastic year meeting new like-minded folk and I’ve had a blast visiting your blogs too.  

I’ve really had a lovely

experience meeting new bloggers and readers and finding out about the wide range of subjects you blog about too.

Some of you have been a great support to me since I started this blog about 4 years ago, and I want to thank you all so very much

and tell you how I really appreciate every comment and interaction with you; too many of you to list but I am sure you are well aware who you are.

Thanks so much to all those generous authors and bloggers who have hosted me throughout the year and are too numerous to list here – links are on my blog if you want to check them out.

 I never expected to play host to other writers when I started this way back when.

But I have discovered a whole new wealth of talented writers who may well have passed me by had I not been here.

It’s been fun finding out how other

writers work and what makes them and their characters tick, and I know from comments left by you here, that you love it too.

If you are still stuck for Xmas gifts, do consider giving a book by one of these lovely people – do check out my posts with them.

Thanks to all my Guest Authors including:

Margot Kinberg –      

Margot Kinberg, Author Blogger and Assistant Professor

Margot Kinberg, 

Margot kindly invited me to contribute to In A Word: Murder – anthology, published in paperback and ebook, in aid of The Princess Alice Hospice, in memory of her friend, Crime author, editor and blogger – Maxine Clarke:

Anthology of Crime Stories

Anthology of Crime Stories

Mar Preston –  

Central Coast SinC Mar Preston

Jenny Kane –

Jenny Kane

Jenny Kane

John Holt –

John Holt

John Holt

TC Chandinha –

T C Chandinha

T C Chandinha

L W Smith –

L W Smith (Laurie Smith)

L W Smith (Laurie Smith)

Barbara Freethy –

Barbara Freethy, Author of the Calloways

Barbara Freethy, Author of the Calloways

I’d like to give a special mention to author and blogger, Kim Scott, to highlight awareness of her efforts to raise funds for her treatment for her life-limiting disease Sarcoidosis:

Kim Scott –

I really cannot miss this opportunity to remind you all about a fabulous singer, Sarah Weller, who I saw at Ronnie Scott’s in Soho back in March.  She was performing at a 91st birthday tribute to one of my all time favourite singers and actresses,

Doris Day.

Doris Day - public domain

Doris Day – public domain

Sarah kindly allowed me to use some of her personal photos of the show in my blog feature on Doris and Sarah.

Read all about it here and if you get chance to see her in concert, do check out Sarah Weller.  She is NOT a tribute act, but she sings Doris Day’s songs and tells her life story through anecdotes about the Movies and Music Doris Day.

Sarah Weller celebrates Doris Day's 91st birthday

Sarah Weller celebrates Doris Day’s 91st birthday

Sarah Weller –

A few years ago I contributed a short story, The Look, to an anthology published by FCN Publishing,

in aid of three charities, and the book is still available via Amazon.

I Am Woman campaign

I Am Woman campaign

The proceeds go to: Women’s Aid, Breakthrough and Women for Women.

Do please consider  

I Am Woman (vol 1) in aid of 3 charities

I Am Woman (vol 1) in aid of 3 charities

I Am Woman (vol 1) –

when looking for Xmas gifts.

Once more thanks to each and every one who has visited, commented, and been a friend to me here during this last year.

You are all so very appreciated.

I wish each and every one of you a very Happy, Healthy, Safe and Secure  Festive Season and New Year.

I look forward to having a good old natter with you all again in 2016 and to visiting your blogs and reading your posts.

Rock On.


Jane xxxx

My Guest Author – Mar Preston: A Day in the Life of….Homicide Detective Dave Mason

Central Coast SinC Mar Preston

A Day in the Life

with Author Mar Preston

I thought it would be fun to invite Mar to write about a day in the life of one of her main characters with some details about them as a person, about which her reader’s may or may not be aware.

So here goes.  I hope you all enjoy reading this and that you’ll let us know your thoughts later.

I asked her:

How does your character’s day usually begin? Let us know how your character might spend a typical day, working or being a parent, whatever it is they might get up to.  Perhaps they have two jobs, or are retired?

Mar replied:

Dave Mason is 37 and a homicide detective in the Santa Monica Police Department. Santa Monica is an upscale glitzy seaside suburb of Los Angeles and hardly the murder capital of the world. Santa Monica is home to the homeless, a city of haves and have nots, ripe for dirty politicians, psychopathic homeowners, car thieves, and celebrity troublemakers. So Mason works homicide as well as major crimes against persons. His 10-hour shift four days a week starts with checking his phone and email for a message from his nine-year-old daughter who lives too far away with her mother and new step-Dad, a comic book artist.  When he finds something from her in his email box, it makes him smile. Most days he meets with his partner Art Delgado at the Public Safety Building two blocks from the ocean in downtown Santa Monica, a few blocks from the mall, which brings tourists from every corner of the world.

Today he’s scheduled for a krav maga training, the Israeli self-defence system. He and his partner Art will pull themselves away from the minutia of the four or five cases they’re working for an hour or so of dirty street fighting practice that will get his blood up. With the high tension anxiety/sudden low tension life he leads, the irregular meal times, and too much coffee– like a lot of detectives– Mason struggles to keep his weight down. He played beer league hockey until a few years ago but then his knees went.

He and Art Delgado head down later to the basement forensic specialist lab to check the white board where any hits on cases they’re working are displayed. It’s also a chance to hound the forensics people on some fingerprints they sent in two weeks ago. Mason takes a call from his long-time lady love Ginger McNair at 10:15. Another non-profit fundraising job is about to collapse under her, no fault of Ginger’s. Mason doesn’t always say the right thing to Ginger—he always knows how to talk to some dirt bag in the interview room–but this time he does. They arrange to meet for lunch at Chez Jay’s on the bluff above the oceans. Both of them know a detective’s life is iffy.  Anything could happen at the last minute—and does.

Mason and Delgado usually work cases together but when one of the occasional whodunit murders comes along that eats up the budget and gives Mason hives, Laura Fredericks is assigned to them.  Fredericks is an over-eager, loud and brassy investigator with a crush on Mason. 11:15 a.m. and they get a report of a dead body in the high-end real estate part of the town.  Is it a natural death, a suicide, or a homicide? Delgado has to testify in an old court case, and so Fredericks is assigned to go with Mason to check it out. Even cops can’t get through the traffic in Santa Monica quickly.

Fredericks fusses and fumes, cursing slow drivers.  Mason goes silent while she brags through the entire 8-square mile city about taking down the krav maga instructor. She could put Mason down in a heartbeat and she knows he knows it. Finally he tells her to tame down her mouth or get out and walk. Her red-head freckled face goes pink with embarrassment. Sometimes she can’t stop herself. Mason makes a string of short calls on his cell phone keeping other cases going. Illegal use of cell phones while driving really sets a good example for the citizens.

The dead body is a suicide so Mason and Fredericks are back at the station for a meeting to update the Sarge.  Their major cases are 459 burglaries. Then a call comes in that the new subway to the sea that’s in the test phase has crashed into a truck. A sign of things to come some hot August Sunday when the subway brings half a million people to the beach looking for a good time? Back about 3 pm to snatch a half-hour writing reports, which usually takes up too much of his day. Eighteen new emails: updates from the forensic specialists, stupid cop jokes, BOLOs, notifications from the FBI and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Four insistent phone messages he can’t ignore. He postpones his weapons qualifying test for another week hoping sometime this weekend he can get in some practice. Gnawing hunger pains at 4 o’clock.  He clatters downstairs to the vending machine in the lobby for a candy bar.

Another call: a disgruntled girlfriend diming out the cheating boyfriend Mason’s been dogging for a two-year-old gang murder in a low end part of the city (which might be high-end anywhere else.) Is she believable? Will she change her mind if this goes to court?  Go now. Move it, Mason. Down to a beach parking lot…more traffic. She isn’t there, but now he’s got a name and a phone number.

More report writing. More knock and talks on doors looking for a witness to an assault on a Korean tourist staying at one of the luxury a B&Bs overlooking the ocean, the pier and the little roller coaster. His daughter calls and Mason’s face brightens as they plan a weekend together with Ginger. Ginger knows how to have fun. His day ends with a call from the wife of the victim of a carjacking. His spirits sag. No, nothing new to tell her. He slaps his partner on the shoulder as he passes his cubicle, checking out for the day. Maybe Ginger will have a frozen dinner to heat up for him in a hurry. He knows he’ll feel more energy when he hits the tango lesson and the music starts flowing through him.

Mason passes the Watch Commander’s office with the dancing display of the map of Santa Monica showing the location of all the cars out on patrol around the city.

He accomplished something today he hopes.

The dirt bags haven’t taken over yet.

Wow, that was really cool, so Mar tell us:

Does he juggle a career and a family? If has either/both, does his career drive him to the detriment of everything else, home life for example?

Mar replied:

Mason’s divorced now for a few years, a move by his ex-wife he didn’t see coming. He’s a little obtuse sometimes, surprising in an investigator who’s tuned in to a bad guy’s every secret thought. His daughter lives 70 traffic-choked miles away through the Los Angeles sprawl. At nine, she likes spending time with her old Dad, but he worries about when she becomes a teenager. Her mother has a new baby and a new life and the custody arrangement is now amicable. Mason knows all about cop divorces and is grateful that he and Haley’s mother have sorted things out in a friendly way.

That’s cool, so I asked Mar:

 Does Dave have a love interest?  How does this ‘interest’ impact his story? Does this significant ‘other’ often drive the story, interfere with his character and his plans?  Are they important to the story or just there in the background?  If there are kids, how do they fit into Dave’s story?

Mar gave us the lo-down:

Mason’s love interest in Ginger McNair, his long-time girlfriend. They are political opposites, a factor which appears in the books in a minor way. Her perspective on the world is a lot more trusting than Mason’s. He’s asked her to marry him but she says, “Oh yeah, cop marriages. You want me to be number two out of four?” Maybe she’s right.

Ginger skids from one non-profit fundraising or public relations job to another. Contracts get cancelled, agencies get blown up, and executive directors embezzle. It’s discouraging for Ginger. She bounces back, but every job loss takes a toll on her. Mason keeps telling her it’s not her fault and he’s always there to encourage her to go on. Yeah, she knows he’s a great guy. But he’s a cop and growing up in a law enforcement family with her father and brother deputies in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, she knows the averages. But she loves Mason and his daughter Haley. Maybe someday she’ll marry him when he’s retired from all his cop business.  She did persuade him to take tango lessons and they’ve gotten pretty good. They’ve made up some bad fights on the dance floor.

Cops and their love lives eh! Next I asked:

I asked Mar:

 When you first envisaged Dave’s character, did you have his whole life mapped out?

She replied:

I wish I could say I had Mason and Ginger’s life mapped out from my first novel No Dice. It astonished me that I could write 300 plus pages and it never occurred to me they would be series characters.

book1 No Dice Mar Preston

I asked:

 Does he have political views?  Strong views about controversial topics for example?  Perhaps you steer clear of involving your character in strong viewpoints, being vocal about them – why?

Mar replied, mentioning Santa Monica, a place I know well:

Mason never had strong political opinions until he met Ginger who was running a Santa Monica election campaign. Like a lot of cops, he came out of the box cautious and conservative. Ginger is an avowed progressive. She faces him down nose to nose with arguments that make him think. There’s not much chance either will ever change fundamentally. These arguments are played out in the books around the ideas of urban development.  Santa Monica, also known as Silicon Beach—is a leftist, progressive city for the most part.  People have strong opinions about urban development, environmental regulations, and smart growth. This is back ground for some of the books and sometimes the McGuffin.

Oh, I miss that place. So Mar…

 Do you think Dave’s views might alienate him in some way from his readers, or perhaps stimulate their interest in his character even more, even though Dave’s views and opinions might be worlds apart from their own?  Are you worried about writing anything too controversial?

I’m hardly worried about tackling controversial topics.  My book On Behalf of the Family featured an honour killing in a rich Muslim family in Santa Monica.

Red & Black new cover FAMILY-C Mar Preston

Wow, very topical, so I asked:

  What made you decide upon the physical attributes of Dave’s character?  Is he the amalgamation of several people you know, or have you created him from scratch?  Your perfect man for example – someone you might/might not care for if you met them in real life?

Isn’t your protagonist always some reflection of yourself? Like a lot of cops, Mason is tall, strong and assertive, and aggressive when he needs to be. I’ve met a lot of cops who are like him: most of them I’ve liked. I’m not so blinded that I don’t realize there are cops who need to be chained up in the back of the station. But Mason’s not one of them.  I wouldn’t want to meet him on the inside of the crime tape, but I’d love to dance with him.

If only our characters popped into the ‘real’ world now and again!

So Mar…

 What made you decide upon Dave’s personality/character?  Was his profession or personality the driving force behind you creating him?  Is he a music fan?  Which genre and why? Does he read?  Which authors and why?   Help us get to know something about Homicide Detective Dave Mason.

Cops aren’t great readers, and mysteries and TV cop shows make them laugh. Tango and fado music have gripped Mason in a way he can’t understand.  This, along with the tango, he keeps to himself.

What are Dave’s character’s flaws/faults or failings?  You’ve created him with these if he has them, why was that?  Did you want a perfect all rounded lead character or a flawed one?  Is he kind and caring or a bully, arrogant, cruel….?

Mason’s life-consuming job and his dogged pursuit of every case makes him a less-than-good romantic partner, especially when his second priority is his daughter Haley. Ginger, his girlfriend, has no illusions about where she features in his life, and it’s good that she has she is self-sufficient, which bothers Mason.

Tell us:

  Does your character, Dave, convey a moral message or aren’t you bothered about that sort of thing?

Mar Says:

I don’t know. I hope not. I’m too old and disillusioned to preach some kind of moral message to anybody else.

I always want to ask authors this:

 Does your story write itself or do you plan and outline in advance, every aspect about your character and their life and exploits? Was this difficult to write, especially if it was not part of your ‘plan’ for them originally?

Mar says:

I wish I could outline in advance. It would save me so much agony and rewriting. But I get an idea in a blinding flash and just race in, hitting a white wall by about page 50.

Think we’ve all been there:

 Setting for a character and their story is important.  What made you decide upon the setting you have chosen?  Is the setting fictional or one you are familiar with?

The setting for the Dave Mason Santa Monica series is an exciting city where I lived for a generation. I wish I hadn’t left for many reasons. Now it’s far too expensive to move back. The setting for the Dex Stafford Kern County Sheriff’s Office series is the tranquil mountain village in central California where I’ve lived more recently. Of course, only nice people live here and there hasn’t been a murder for thirty years, so using Pine Mountain as a setting requires a devilish delight in crime and bloody imagination to write well.

  Mar, is your life style similar to your character’s life style in any way? Similar background/family/occupation/profession, education?

I only wish I’d lived such an exciting life. My paid work was as a social science researcher. Good work in itself, but not nearly so exciting as my fictional cop Dave Mason and Dex Stafford.

In and around Santa Monica life can be very exciting not just for the cops, Mar.

 Would you like to be your character?  What do you like/admire about Dave the most?

Mar says:

I never wanted to be a cop or date a cop. But I admire the good ones and they are the overwhelming majority of every law enforcement organization. They are inspired by the true desire to help people and get the bad guys off the street so that the rest of us are safe.

Thanks for the fab insights into Dave Mason’s day.

Mar, please write a little about your recent book/story involving Dave and why he is experiencing what is happening to him in this particular story.  Is Dave Mason character part of a series?  List all your books featuring him.

My recent book is A Very Private High School which draws Mason into the world of elite private education, fraud, and carjacking. Mason is a series character and appeared first in No Dice, then Rip-Off, and On Behalf of the Family

Rip-Off Cover large -2 Mar Preston

Dex Stafford, a sheriff’s homicide investigator based in the dusty flatlands of Bakersfield, California appeared first in Payback and will appear soon again in a yet untitled novel in 2016.


Looking forward to this Mar, good luck with it.

Tell us briefly about yourself and why you write, and why you write in this particular genre. What is your inspiration?  What is your next project?

I write because I’d like to live in a life more exciting than the one I actually live. I can chase bad guys down dark alleys, have guilt-provoking romances, and make myself tall, strong, and young. Hey, what a deal! You should try it.

I’ve also written three eBooks on Writing Your First Mystery available on Amazon

Mar, thanks so much for being such a good sport and taking us into a Day in the Life of Dave Mason and for telling us something about yourself and your writing and books.  It has been fab.

I do hope everyone enjoyed this as much as I have. Do comment here and let us both know your thoughts.

Thanks so much and good luck with your books present and future.

For links to Mar and her books, take a look below:—step-ebook/dp/B00UVXYIV8/

Mar Preston: Writing Your First Mystery

Plotting Your First Mystery: Mar Preston

Mar Preston: Creating Killer Characters

A fourth is about to be published called Finishing Your First Mystery

Mar’s website is

YesMarPreston is her twitter handle

And her Facebook Author page is

Mar’s email address is

Virginia Water Lake in Windsor Great Park: another ‘jolly.’

Virginia Water Lake (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Virginia Water Lake (c) Jane Risdon 2015

I’ve been off on another ‘jolly.’  You know what that means; photos and blurb.

Somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit and enjoy.

Virginia Water Lake.

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

The lake, not the small town, though I’d like to visit that when I get chance.

Apparently I visited there as a child but I cannot recall it, and anyway, even if I had been there as a child, I couldn’t have appreciated it the way I can, and have, as an adult.

Virginia Water Lake (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Virginia Water Lake (c) Jane Risdon 2015

For those without a clue where Virginia Water is, here is the blurb:

The town of Virginia Water is a commuter town in Surrey, England.  It might rings some bells if I mention The Wentworth Estate and The Wentworth Club, where the first Ryder Cup was played.

It is also home to the headquarters of the PGA European Tour (pro golf) and the estate was in the headlines in 1998  when General Augusto Pinochet was kept under house arrest in one of the properties there, prior to his extradition.

The estate is situated in the Borough of Runnymede; you know the place, where the Magna Carter was signed by King John.

The town takes its name from the lake in the nearby Windsor Great Park and the lake’s name was transferred from a previous stream which was probably named after the ‘Virgin Queen.’ Elizabeth l. 

The River Bourne provides water for the lake and it exits the lake at the eastern end after cascading down a waterfall.

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

The bodies of water stretch over the boarders of Runnymede, Old Windsor, Sunninghill and Ascot. Think rich and famous and you’ll get the idea – the area oozes wealth.  Sir Elton John has lived in the area and author Bill Bryson spent his early married life in the village, to name but a couple of well-known names.

Windsor Great Park was once part of a vast Norman hunting forest. It was enclosed in the late 13th century.  It is the only Royal Park managed by The Crown Estate.

Covering 2,020 hectares of parkland, it includes a mix of formal avenues, gardens, woodland, open grassland and a Deer Park.

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

The Great Park and its forest are renowned for its scattering of ancient oaks, which all add to the magnificent history of the Great Park.

Windsor Castle can be seen at the end of the long drive.  We all know who lives there: HM The Queen.

It is open to the public for walking, running, dog walking, cycling and rollerblading, fishing, flying model aircraft, horse riding and picnicking, plus so much more. 

Virginia Water Lake:

From Saxon times through to the present day, every century has left its mark on the landscape.  One of the most interesting areas to explore is the southern shore of Virginia Water Lake.

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

The artificial lake was created in the 18th century under William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, the Ranger of the Park at the time. It was first dammed and flooded in 1753. Until the creation of the great reservoirs, it was the largest man-made body of water in the British Isles. Few details exist of the building of the lake but it has been suggested that prisoners of war from the Jacobite risings, who were encamped at nearby Breakheart Hill, were involved.

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

Check for changes but The Valley Gardens and Virginia Water is open all year round from dusk until dawn,  entry fees apply, and there is a car park fee.  

There is a restaurant at the entrance. In 2013 the Virginia Water Pavilion, an impressive structure fabricated by sustainable timber supplies from the Windsor Forest,  was opened and offers improved visitor facilities to the area. As well as public conveniences (with baby changing and disabled facilities ) there’s a Visitor Services Team available to help and advise and also seating with stunning views across the lake and a place to take refuge if the weather turns bad.  There is seating outside also.

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

Some trivia for you to digest:

The shores of the lake have been used for lakeside scenes in the Harry Potter films, and for boat scenes in Robin Hood. It seems that the Scottish alternative was unsuitable because of the number of midges.

The lake is also the site of the British Record capture of a Pike (fish) weighing 58lbs 5ozs.

During WW2 the lake was drained, as its recognisable shape was thought likely to provide enemy guidance at night to Windsor and to important military targets in the area.

No point in doing that these days; they can use Google Earth.

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

Anyway, back to our walk around the lake.

The circuit  around the lake is about 4.5 miles (7.2Km) about half of which is paved and the other half is ‘natural’ path. Wheelchairs and pushchairs should manage it easily. 

Cascade Virginia Water Lake (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Cascade Virginia Water Lake (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The famous cascade, a short walk from the Virginia Water car park, next to a fab pub where they serve food, also dates from that time. There used to be an earlier cascade a little further east apparently, on a previous pond head, but it seems it collapsed.

We entered from the car park, resisted the pub – until later – and took off around the lake taking a left turn from the entrance.

A word of warning, wear good shoes, especially if it is wet underfoot.  The walk around the lake is easy but good shoes or boots make life worth living.

The landscape design was developed further during the reign of George lll. It was Thomas Sandby, the renowned topographical draughtsman, who was responsible for most of it.

Leptis Magna Virginia Water Lake (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Leptis Magna Virginia Water Lake (c) Jane Risdon 2015

In 1818, George lV installed the Leptis Magna ruins.  Which is the next place of interest we stopped at, having spent a few minutes watching the cascade not too far from our entry point.

Leptis Magna ruins – a Roman Temple – built from columns and lintels brought from the ancient city of Leptis Magna, in the early 19th century.

Interesting, but a bit of a puzzle. Why you ask?  Sorry, no reason that I can think of except for the passion back then for all things ancient and classical, and the fact that many rich noblemen took the ‘Grand Tour,’ of Europe and had to bring back a few souvenirs.  

Leptis Magna Virginia Water Lake (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Leptis Magna Virginia Water Lake (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Think Butlins holidays and ‘Kiss me Quick,’ hats from the 1950s and 1960s, postcards and silly ornaments with the name of the seaside resort printed on them.  I guess, in the 19th century, bringing a Leptis Magna home was something to remember the trip by.

Just saying.

Following the lake (on the right of us) we found the site of the Chinese fishing temple.…well where it once was; we think. It’s one of the most elaborate adornments to the lake’s shore apparently.  A Mandarin yacht, known as a Chinese junk, plied the waters, adding to the exotic effect so we were told by a notice.  I have no idea what I was supposed to be looking at, but the yacht had definitely sailed. Typical.

Good paths (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Good paths (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Later on in the 1930s  and 1940s The Savill Garden and Valley Gardens were established, continuing the grand landscaping traditions.  I seem to recall a trip out to Savill Gardens, one Sunday afternoon, some years ago, with my mother and one of my numerous siblings, when we had a fab pub lunch (we always end up in a watering hole) and a very long and delightful walk around the gardens.  

We didn’t enter from the Virginia Water end of the estate, but somewhere else and so missed seeing the lake on that occasion.   The gardens are well worth a visit, especially in the Spring and Summer, but actually there is something to see all year round.  It’s that sort of place.

Stunningly beautiful and so very peaceful. It’s food for the soul.

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

Virginia Water is a must in Autumn.  The trees were magnificent in their golden splendour, though some were yet to change.  So wonderful in fact, that my phone camera couldn’t cope with the sheer brilliance of the colour contrasts.  We hadn’t planned on a trip to Virginia Waters, so I didn’t think to bring my proper camera, and I am so upset that many photos didn’t come out clearly.  Still, my brother had his iPhone and that seemed to cope brilliantly.

We came across few people on our 2 hour walk, although judging from the car park, there were dozens of people visiting.

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

We had the lake and woodland paths to ourselves and the sun shone right up until the last 15 minutes of our walk, when it tried to drizzle, but  it gave up and the evening sky started to come in.

Sun going down (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Sun going down (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Totem Pole (C) Jane Risdon 2015

Totem Pole (C) Jane Risdon 2015

I was so excited that we managed to find the Totem Pole which I’d heard so much about as a youngster.  It is 100 feet high, and was a gift to HM The Queen from the Government of British Columbia, Canada. It didn’t disappoint.

From the People of British Columbia Canada - gifted to HM The Queen (c) Jane Risdon 2015

From the People of British Columbia Canada – gifted to HM The Queen (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The woodlands surrounding the lake have been continuously planted since the middle of the 18th century. The Frost Farm Plantation at the south-western end of the lake) is also a designated SSI (Site of Special Interest) because of the maturity and biodiversity of the area.

Well, apart from raving about the beauty of the scenery, the tranquility and sense of open space, there’s not much more to say.  I think I’ll allow the photos to tell the rest of the story. After an approximate 8 mile and 2 hour walk, we headed to the pub by the entrance for a well deserved vino collapso.  Luckily we’d eaten at a lovely restaurant on the way there, so there wasn’t any need to have dinner.   

I slept like a log that night.  All the fresh air and exercise knocked me for six.

If you get the chance, especially if you find yourself visiting Windsor Great Park, do make a point of seeing The Savill Gardens, The Valley Gardens and the magnificent

Virginia Water Lake.  

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

You won’t be disappointed.

The Crown Estate Windsor Great Park Tel: +44 (0)1753 860222


I hope you have enjoyed my trip around the lake – do let me know.

All photos (c) Jane Risdon 2015 All Rights Reserved.


Grab a Coffee: Jenny Kane is my Guest Author Today.

coffe mug and beans Public Domain

Pull up a chair, grab a coffee or a nice strong cuppa, and meet author Jenny Kane who is my Guest Author today.

Jenny Kane photo for blog Nov 2015

As you know, I don’t host authors that often, but now and again I indulge myself and today I am happy to welcome Jenny Kane – who happens to share the same publisher with me: Accent Press.

Jenny was kind enough to host me on her blog, The Perfect Blend: Coffee and Kane on  13th April 2015

and I am happy to reciprocate here.

Jenny Kane is the author of the contemporary romance Christmas at the Castle (Accent Press, 2015)

The bestselling novel Abi’s House (Accent Press, 2015)

The modern/medieval time slip novel Romancing Robin Hood (Accent Press, 2014)

The bestselling novel Another Cup of Coffee (Accent Press, 2013),

and its novella length sequels Another Cup of Christmas (Accent Press, 2013),

and Christmas in the Cotswolds (Accent, 2014).

Her fourth full length romance novel, Another Glass of Champagne, will be published in 2016.

Jenny is also the author of quirky children’s picture books:

 There’s a Cow in the Flat (Hushpuppy, 2014)

and Ben’s Biscuit Tin (Coming soon from Hushpuppy)

Jenny says:

One of the most important decisions I make when I’m about to write a story is where to locate the tale.

Last Christmas, I wrote Christmas in the Cotswolds, and thoroughly enjoyed taking Pickwicks’ waitress, Megan, away from her workplace in Richmond, on an artistic adventure in the lovely Gloucestershire countryside.

This year, Christmas at the Castle, the fourth adventure for the characters from Pickwicks Coffee House take regular customer, and writer in resident, Kit Lambert, to a literary festival in the beautiful Scottish village of Banchory, North East of Aberdeenshire.

Christmas at the Castle: Kit’s Scottish Adventure

Christmas at the Castle Jenny Kene Blog interview Nov 2015

Christmas at the Castle is a seasonal treat from Jenny Kane, featuring much-loved characters from her bestselling novel Another Cup of Coffee.

A taster to enjoy with your coffee:

When hotshot businesswoman Alice Warren is asked to organise a literary festival at beautiful Crathes Castle in Scotland, her ‘work mode’ persona means she can’t say no – even though the person asking is her ex, Cameron Hunter.

Alice broke Cameron’s heart and feels she owes him one – but her best friend Charlie isn’t going to like it. Charlie – aka famous author Erin Spence – is happy to help Alice with the festival…until she finds out that Cameron’s involved! Charlie suffered a bad case of unrequited love for Cameron, and she can’t bear the thought of seeing him again.

Caught between her own insecurities and loyalty to her friend, Charlie gets fellow author Kit Lambert to take her place. Agreeing to leave her London comfort zone – and her favourite corner in Pickwicks Café – Kit steps in. She quickly finds herself not just helping out, but hosting a major literary event, while also trying to play fairy godmother – a task which quickly gets very complicated indeed…


Jenny adds:

I only ever write stories based in places I know well.

The Deeside area of NE Scotland, where Christmas at the Castle is based, was my home for a few years at the turn of the century.

I lived in the village of Banchory and worked in the branch of WHSmith’s you can see on the High Street.

While I was there, I was a frequent visitor to all the local castles, including the breathtakingly stunning Crathes Castle, which is the location of the story.

From the first moment I ever set foot onto the grounds back in 1998, I was in love with the place.

Jenny Kane blog interview Nov 2015

Owned by the National Trust for Scotland, Crathes Castle, was originally built by the Burnett family, and with its thick whitewashed walls, incredible wall and ceiling paintings, and atmospheric rooms, remains one of my favourite buildings in the world.

Complimented by a mix of formal grounds and woodland, no matter I write about Crathes,

I will never be enough to do it justice.

Crathes is as much a character in this festive novella as Kit, and her fellow literary festival planners, Alice and Charlie, Crathes is, throughout my book at least, under the careful management of the handsome Mr Cameron Hunter…

Here’s an extract for you to enjoy:

Cameron Hunter rocked back on his desk chair and stared out across the estate grounds of Crathes Castle.

From where he sat he could see the sweep of the formal gardens that huddled neatly around the foot of the sixteenth-century tower house, and on to the woodland beyond.

He still couldn’t believe he’d managed to land a job in one of the most picturesque places in the country.

On crisp winter mornings like this one, when the fallen russet leaves crunched underfoot and the evergreen leaves shone with the spidery touch of Jack Frost, it seemed madness that he’d actually hesitated before applying for the estate manager’s post.

Returning to the pile of paperwork on his desk, Cameron’s gaze fell on a stack of ‘Christmas at the Castle Literary Festival’ flyers.

It had seemed like such a good idea at the time.

The chance to impress his new boss and attempt a “kill or cure” technique on the ghost of his former relationship at the same time.

Cameron often wished he’d never set eyes on Alice Warren.

He hated that he couldn’t stop loving her, even when she made it clear that their time together had just been a bit of a fling.

He thought he’d be safe taking a job back in the area now that Alice was living in Edinburgh.

Yet on his very first trip into Banchory after taking the job, he’d seen her chatting to another girl outside the newsagents.

On his return to the office, unable to stop himself, he’d found himself searching for Alice Warren on Google.

Telling himself that this wasn’t stalking, but that he was merely acting in self-preservation, Cameron had discovered that his ex was running Warren Premier Events, a successful event management business in Edinburgh.

Seconds later, he’d come up with the idea to get her to organise an event for him.

That way his lingering obsession with her would either be shot stone dead and he could get on with his life, or Alice would realise she’d made a terrible mistake and that she loved him after all.

Pushing the sleeves of his thick Aran jumper past his elbows in annoyance at himself, Cameron absent-mindedly signed three documents.

Even though he knew he was behaving like a lovesick teenager, he couldn’t help but hope it would all work out.

Contacting Alice via the Warren Premier Events website, Cameron had asked her to help for old time’s sake.

Trying not to feel pathetic, he justified his actions to himself with the thought that, whatever his reasons, there could be few better places for a literary festival than in a castle at Christmas time…


Although this is the fourth book in the Another Cup of series,

Christmas at the Castle can be read as a standalone story.

If that mini extract has whetted your appetite, you can buy Christmas at the Castle from:

Many thanks Jenny for sharing your work with us.  

I wish you much success for your latest and future books.  

Keep your eye on Jenny’s blog at for more details.

Twitter- @JennyKaneAuthor

Facebook -

Jenny also writes erotica as Kay Jaybee

Many thanks Jane, 

Jenny xx


1NHnnocdwao tea cups Public Domain

Please let Jenny (and me) know what you think.  Comments are always welcome and it’s fun to make contact with you here.

Many thanks for your visit – do pop in again. 

Blast from the past: Short story from 2013 – Under Cover

In 2013 I wrote this Short story for publication on Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog.  It was also Pod-cast by her soon after.

It was well received and encouraged by this I thought I’d eventually turn it into a longer story, perhaps even a book.  But then other stories took precedence, especially the divine Ms Birdsong Investigates and projects for my publisher, Accent Press, so the story was pushed to the back of my mind, and there it might have remained, had I not been reminded of it recently.

 It came to me in the middle of the night when, for no apparent reason, I sat bolt upright in bed wide awake.

Something woke me, my subconscious I suppose, working away on my stories , and in only a few seconds it dawned on me; this piece fitted right into another story I’ve been working on –  I should incorporate the two stories.

So I have, and they work brilliantly together, but I’m not giving anything away here; it’s a work in progress for some other time.

But I thought it would be fun to post the cause of all my excitement – the 495 word  story – once more. So here it is:

handcuffs_03_hd_picture_166679 (1)

Under Cover

For the last three years she had lived another life, had buried her real self, taking on the mantle of a hardened Madam, a trafficker of girls, the worst kind of criminal and, for the umpteenth time, she had fought nausea as she negotiated with the Eastern European.

Her control back at the command had shown concern the last time they’d met.  He could see the physical and mental toll this assignment was having on her, but they were committed now; there was no going back.  The team had spent too long infiltrating the organisation and she was their only hope.  During the time she had been under cover she had alerted them to more shipments of girls than he cared to recall, and the risk had grown with her every betrayal.

She knew it was only a matter of time before they rumbled her and her life wouldn’t be worth a fig if the team were unable to protect her and extradite her, at exactly the right moment.  The latest shipment had arrived at Heathrow only hours before and were already on their way to a secret location in London where there would be an auction of the girls, some as young as eight, and where the special unit of police would be waiting to raid them.  Her message had been received and the team was ready for any trouble which might ensue.

Marko eyed her from the bed as she gathered her clothes and prepared to shower and dress.  He didn’t trust her anymore, she seemed nervous and remote these days and his gut didn’t feel right; she didn’t feel right.  For a long time he’d had suspicions. She seemed to be softening towards the girls under her control and he was debating whether to remove her from her role as Madam of the main whorehouse, which she’d run so successfully.  Too many things had been going wrong lately.  Too many shipments had been discovered and although he had managed to remain more or less anonymous and untouchable, he knew his luck would run out unless he acted soon.  Was it her?  He hoped it wasn’t but he would soon know; the trap was set.  If the latest consignment of girls was discovered, and raided, he would know.

She lingered in the bathroom, fully dressed, senses heightened.  Marko had been a bit distant and had appeared suspicious of her movements all week.  He seemed to make a point of repeating the instructions for the latest intake of girls – where they would be, even giving her more detail than usual about on-line bidders.  Something wasn’t right.  She needed to contact control.  Marko’s kiss goodbye seemed final somehow.

As she pulled the door gently towards her, the phone rang.  She hesitated, listening to the conversation, her ear against the door; terror gripped her as she heard his words.  As she turned a strong pair of arms grabbed her and she screamed.


Have you ever done the same thing? Written two completely separate stories and something makes you link them together and when you do, they work like magic. 

Our subconscious minds are amazing organs.

In The Chair 50

Thanks to Jan Ruth for interviewing me in The Chair this week. Who would I invite to a dinner party? What would we eat? Which of my characters would I like to be? There are castles, celebrities and champers….hope you enjoy this. I did.


Welcome, Jane Risdon

How would you describe your writing style in only three words?

Jane:  Fast-paced, twisty, realistic.

11102784_844407928976852_7866671121152746412_nIf you could have a relationship with one of your fictional characters who would it be and why?

Jane: This is a hard one. Most of my characters are criminals and I am not gay, so having a relationship with the divine Ms B (Birdsong) is a no-go area. Having given it a lot of thought, I think I might well go for Ms Birdsong Investigates and her ex-lover and ex-MI6 partner, Michael Dante. He and she have had a long relationship which was rocky to begin when he was first seconded to MI5 for a series of operations, however, it quickly developed into a passionate and mutually respectful partnership, which ended violently when Ms B was ‘voluntarily’ retired from The Service when an operation they were involved in, went belly-up. She ended…

View original post 1,056 more words

West Green House and Garden: Hangman Hawley, Shenanigans with the Housekeeper, and IRA Bombs – life on a country estate.

West Green House and Garden (c) Jane Risdon 2015

West Green House and Garden (c) Jane Risdon 2015

I know I am in danger of becoming a visitor attraction blogger, but I am not – honestly!

It’s just that when given the opportunity to visit some of the most gorgeous cathedrals,  castles, villages, houses and gardens, we have in England, I feel it my duty to share what I see with all of you.  It would be so mean not to.

Recently I was given another little treat out and this time to a gem of a place I never knew existed:

West Green House and Garden.

West Green House and Gardens (c) Jane Risdon 2015

West Green House and Gardens (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The 18th century house and gardens sit in a quiet corner of Hampshire – the epitome of a small English manor house – surrounded by farmland. The whole estate covers 10 acres I believe.

Country Life described it as “embowered in trees, with quiet old world gardens spreading around it. This charming building seems the perfect embodiment of tranquil contentment and serenity of spirit, yet there hovers over it the unquiet ghost…”.

To get there is a joy in itself.  

Driving down leafy narrow country lanes, passing huge well established houses set back from the road, with long winding driveways, nestling within their own landscaped grounds.  The area exudes money and establishment.  But I loved it.

West Green Gardens (c) Jane Risdon 2015

West Green Gardens (c) Jane Risdon 2015

I loved the fields with grazing horses, the dappled sunshine hitting the road through the leafy canopy of ancient trees and hedgerows, and the silence – apart from birds complaining loudly, as they streaked from their hiding places above our heads, as the car wound its way cautiously along lanes still abundant in summer flowering weeds and foliage.

The air was fresh but with underlying scents and fragrances only the countryside can yield. 

We drove into a large field next to the grand house, set aside as a car park for visitors.  

Green houses could be seen across from us, visible through a row of several varieties of apple tree, groaning with fruit to our left.  

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

We were later informed it is a bumper year for English apples: the weather and all that.

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

I should mention that The Mater was with us on this particular trip, designed to be easy for her to manage, with plenty of places to sit and rest her 85-year-old legs if necessary.  There was also a lovely little tea room with tables outside, for when she wanted her coffee fix.

West Green apples (c) Jane Risdon 2015

West Green apples (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Sadly for her and luckily for us, there weren’t any Edinburgh Wool Shops for her to peruse – but let’s no go there!

Back to the fun part.

During the past 100 years West Green has undergone four periods of transformation apparently.

West Green House (c) Jane Risdon 2015

West Green House (c) Jane Risdon 2015

It was built by General Henry Hawley who is often described as ‘Hangman Hawley’ after the ghastly brutalities he perpetrated in the 1745 Rebellion, particularly at Culloden.  

Scottish readers might not want to dwell on this when thinking about visiting the house.

Cute Restrooms (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Cute Restrooms (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Hawley was a bit of a lad I think.  He left his estate to his housekeeper’s second son, William Toovey Hawley, whose descendants lived at West Green until 1898;  seems the wages of sin might not be death after-all! I think we can all imagine what the general got up to.

Garden Rooms at West Green (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Garden Rooms at West Green (c) Jane Risdon 2015

At the beginning of the last century the Playfair family employed architect Robert Weir Schulz to remodel the north front of the house and design new gardens, but after 5 years the family left West Green and a new owner, Evelyn, Duchess of Wellington, continued to perfect the gardens.

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

The Duchess, later with her cousin, Yvonne Fitzroy, lived and gardened at the house until 1939, largely through the generosity of Sir Victor Sassoon, who bought the house for the Duchess until her death in 1939 – why don’t I ever meet someone like that?

Anyway, Sir Victor left West Green to the National Trust (I adore the NT) in 1957, but it did not actually become Trust property until Miss Fitzroy died in 1971.

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

The National Trust’s first tenant was Lord Alistair McAlpine (tar-mac roads come to mind), whose lasting contribution to the house and gardens is a collection of neo-classical ornaments designed by the architect, Quinlan Terry.

In 1990 the IRA (Irish Republican Army) detonated a bomb inside the forecourt, causing so much damage that the Trust considered demolishing the house.  I have no idea why the IRA wanted to bomb it.

Chinese Garden (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Chinese Garden (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Subsequently, Australian Marylyn Abbott, purchased the lease in 1993 and the National Trust relinquished  their financial and management commitment to the property for this period, and Ms Abbott began the painstaking task of rebuilding and making a new garden; so beginning a new era in the history of the house – restoring its ‘serenity of spirit’.

Bird CAge Island (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Bird Cage Island (c) Jane Risdon 2015

I thought the whole place was just magical.  The house wasn’t open to the public, though I understand you can book a private tour in advance. The gardens are so pretty, well designed, and easy to walk around.  We didn’t see everything, but we managed to get around most of the formal gardens which were delightful.

Each year flamboyant designs of fruit, flowers, herbs, and vegetables are planted in the last week of March, and great pride is taken to ensure the planting is never exactly the same, so the gentleman at the entrance, taking our money, informed us.

Vegetables and Plants together (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Vegetables and Plants together (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Apple and pear trees of all varieties have been planted everywhere.  Some climbing overhead, trained like roses upon arches, others close to the ground interwoven with seasonal planting.  Wigwams of sweet peas, stands of corn, sunflowers, pots of artichokes, arbours of peas, beans and nasturtiums add height to regimental lines of vegetables and flowers.

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

 Always planted in shades of the same colour, it can be all red, or yellow, or orange, or perhaps it is a contrasting black and white year so we were told.

 Two vegetable patches are planted each season, sometimes one is planted as a story garden.

Near the entrance there are two brilliantly painted red dragons by Nick Muscamp, which rise out of dozens of spring-flowering black red paeonies supported by clipped cloud trees, framed by hornbeams.

Dragons (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Dragons (c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

Two tiled pagodas were the inspiration for this part of the garden that border the path to the lake field.

We passed a lake with a Chinese style bridge crossing over to an island where ducks, swans, and geese lazed around watching us, watching them.

Chinese Bridge to Bird Cage Island (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Chinese Bridge to Bird Cage Island (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The island is called Bird Cage Island; there is a large bird-cage there funnily enough.

All plants in this area are of Oriental origin and a small group of red toned Acer Palmatum complete this garden, making superb Autumn colour, we were told.

Acers (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Acers (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The lakes reclamation and its follies had been the largest undertaking in the restoration of the gardens. Choked with weeds, leaking, its surrounds thick with brambles, the lake had become a swamp and was remade in 1990.

 Nearby there was an obelisk – a monument to a Gardner working there some 40 years.

Monument to a gardener (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Monument to a gardener (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The lake field contains the architect Quinlan Terry’s most notable collection of small designs: a Doris Temple, a Grotto, to control the lakes overflow, a stylised cage for pheasants with a bronze roof, topped with a large Pineapple which, in Victorian times, was a symbol of wealth.

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

The Arcadian lake field is entered to the east guarded by Chinoiserie pagodas and from the Walled Garden through old iron gates that open on to an ornamental pond, said to have been a medieval stew pond. 

Paradise Garden (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Paradise Garden (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The Walled Garden is entered through a frame of old Wisteria Senensis, opening on to a design that forms two patterns.  There is a feeling of mystery and age captured by the planting and design here.

Parterres in the traditional French manner – tightly clipped box hedges forming hearts and ovals – decorated by topiary balls, cones, and pom poms, are simple and striking to see.  In one walled garden a chequer board parterre is the centre-piece for an ‘Alice’ garden filled with flowers from the story, in red and white.

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

There is a Paradise courtyard inspired by traditional Islamic gardens, planted by Marylyn Abbott in 2004, with a simple design of water, trees, and grass framed by the white trunks of Betula Utilis var Jacquemonti.  The trees in the island are Malus ‘Evereste’ that appear to be growing from small pots, but are in fact rooted in the earth.

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

There are several water gardens and the grandest is the Nymphaem, whose focal point is a wall designed by Quinlan Terry, modelled on the fountain of Santa Maria della Scala in the Via Garibaldi in Rome.

Two benches decorate the garden, specially commissioned white benches, designed by Jill Facer and Malcom Last, in 1999.

There is a garden with 5 bridges planted with blue and white Clematis and Wisteria and Japanese Cherry trees.

Open fields and rolling countryside is visible from various places in the garden, all adding to the beauty and simplicity of the gardens and house location.

The house can be glimpsed through iron gates with piers crowned with stone lions.  It is square in a colonnaded courtyard.  There are busts of gods, emperors and dukes looking down from niches in the house’s facade.  I loved the house.  It was perfectly formed and situated to my liking. 

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

In late July and early August West Green House hosts weekends of Opera in the Green Theatre. Set outside at night it has been described by Opera Critic, Michael White, as “Stylish, sassy; West Green House is one of the most charming new arrivals on the country house opera circuit, and one of the most promising. It dares to do what others don’t and does it with panache.”

There is a beautiful architect designed theatre, imaginative programming, and a ‘second’ performance of lights illuminating the garden, making West Green House Opera a unique occasion. We were informed.  My brother and I would love to try it next year and if we do, I’ll let you know all about it.

You can book and find out about programmes:  Tel: + 44 (0)1252 845582

On the way in and out of the gardens you pass through the inevitable Gift Shop, and I must say there were some lovely items for sale including a huge copper bath (distressed) on claw feet, and two amazing long narrow doors which I am sure an interior designer night love.  I’m not sure if they’d love the prices tags, but if you can afford it, the price never matters apparently.

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

(c) Jane Risdon 2015

We had a quick wander through several green houses and conservatories, which were lovely to see, all designer lay-outs and expensive furniture,  and each had grape vines laden with fruit dripping from the roofs, proving too much of a temptation for someone who shall remain anonymous (don’t look at me), as did the apple trees on the way back to the car.  I gather a ‘certain someone’ was going to be having baked apples for desert the following day.

West Green House and Gardens (c) Jane Risdon 2015

West Green House and Gardens (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Gift Shop (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Gift Shop (c) Jane Risdon 2015

On the way home we stopped off for lunch at a 16th century pub called The Leather Bottle, which has really changed little since it was built, even though there had been a fire some 50 years ago, so I am reliably informed by the family Oracle with whom we never argue, mainly because we never win!

The Leather Bottle (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The Leather Bottle (c) Jane Risdon 2015

You might be interested to know that the pub began life as three cottages.

The name Leather Bottle was often associated with pubs which dated before the time of glass bottles.  Leather bottles were hung outside such places to advertise they would provide refills for ale and wine there.

The pub eventually became the White Inn (1714).  Though it was also known as The Leather at various times in its history.

At the time Queen Anne died the area was becoming busy with coaches on their way from Reading to Southampton, and a toll road was in use.  The area was notorious for robbers and highwaymen – especially on the route from Basingstoke to Bagshot apparently, and William Davis (known as The Golden Farmer, because he only stole gold), used the pub until he was hanged at Tyburn in 1670.

Another to use the pub  was Colonel Blood – famous for attempting to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London, who gave himself the name Parson Blood at the time, in order to fool the Keeper of the Jewels.

He made sure he got to know the keeper of the jewels, Talbot Edwards, and used his nephew to chat the keeper’s daughter up and distract the keeper as he tried to steal them.  He failed and was caught.

The King (Charles 11) known for taking a liking to adventurous and outrageous folk, somehow decided to pardon Blood, and infuriated everyone by restoring the robber’s lands in Ireland, because his adventure amused him so much!  It is also thought that Colonel Blood may have agreed to spy for the king.

It seems crime does pay.

The Leather Bottle, Reading Road, Mattingly, Near Hook, Hampshire RG27 8JU

Tel: +44 (0)1189 326 371 

I do hope you have enjoyed my brief trip around West Green House and Gardens – not forgetting the Leather Bottle, which you might like to visit.  The food is excellent and not ‘pub grub,’ by any means.  The chef is excellent too, at least when we dropped in.

If you fancy visiting West Green, here are the details:

West Green House and Gardens, near Hartley Wintney, Hampshire, opens Easter to September on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.  Just turn up after about 11am.   The parking is free, but if it has rained take your wellies as the car park is in a field and the area around the lake is grass, and possibly a little muddy.   There is ‘Pick your Own’ available, and I don’t mean helping yourself.  You pay for what you pick.

More Information: Tel: +44 (0)1252 845582

West Green House and Gardens (c) Jane Risdon 2015

West Green House and Gardens (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Let me know if you ever find yourself visiting. I’d love to know what you think. I think it is an adorable place and would love to see much more of it at some point.  I took far too many photos – too many to share – but I hope those I have posted give you a flavour of the place.

All photographs (c) Jane Risdon 2015. All rights reserved.

UPDATE:  Since posting this I have been contacted by West Green (their lovely PR person)  and they have added my blog to their website.  Apparently Marylyn Abbott is thrilled with my piece and experiences there.

Here is their link – do visit as there is lots to see and experience there.

Another Jolly: Knole House – once home to Vita Sackville-West and a Palace for Thomas Cranmer, and Henry VIII

Knole House (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Knole House (c) Jane Risdon 2015

In my last blog I posted about my latest ‘Jolly,’ when I spent a few days with family members and was treated to a visit to the National Trust property Sissinghurst Castle Garden, former home of the poet, author, and famous gardener,Vita Sackville-West, and her husband  Howard Nicolson.

My next ‘jolly,’ with my sister and her husband, was to Knole House, which was, and still is, owned by the Sackville family.  Vita Sackville-West always felt resentful about not inheriting the house, which passed to a male heir. 

She loved the house with what she described as an ‘atavistic’ passion.  She said, ‘Sissinghurst and St Loup are my spiritual homes.’ She later wrote. ‘and of course Knole, which is denied me for ever, through “a technical fault over which we have no control”, as they say on the radio.’ The technical fault being her gender.

Knole House (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Knole House (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Knole came to dominate the Sackville family life and led to bitter fights for control, creating a complex family tree of ownership. Through it all, the treasures remained on show in the house.  The house remained in the possession of the Sackvilles until 1946 when the National Trust took over.  The current generation of the Sackville family still lives in their own private apartments in the house.

Knole House (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Knole House (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The size of Knole is overwhelming. It reached its present size by the early 1500s but was always too big for its inhabitants.  Each generation added to it, but its character remains the same. 

It is more like a small town than a house or a palace, which it was when owned by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.  Unfortunately for him Henry VIII liked it so much that he forced the Archbishop to give it to him in 1538.

Knole was built to impress, to make a statement about the wealth and influence of its owner, Cranmer.  It was a symbol of power. In 1603 Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset, took ownership of Knole. The Sackvilles were an aristocratic family who made the most of their royal connections and collection of royal treasures.

Knole House (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Knole House (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The rooms contain rare fabrics and furnishings, many of which came from the royal palaces.  As Lord Chamberlain, Charles Sackville could take his pick from unwanted royal furnishings.  It was an accepted perk of the job. Designed as sumptuous apartments in the early 1600s, the showrooms have not been lived in for 300 years.  They became home of the prestigious collections and a reminder of the wealth and power held by the family.

Knole House renovations (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Knole House renovations (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Visitors come from everywhere today to visit the showrooms at Knole, as they have for hundreds of years, keen to peep inside this fabulous house.  It was really busy when we arrived late morning, and extremely hot too.  Part of the house was undergoing conservation; scaffolding was covering one large section, which was shame as it got in the way of photos I’d have liked to have taken.  Conservation work is being done by the Heritage Lottery Fund – a 5 year programme to preserve Knole for future generations.

Knole House (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Knole House (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Vita spent a very happy childhood there. In ‘Knole and the Sackvilles,’ (1922), she wrote that Knole ‘has a deep inward gaiety of some very old woman who has always been beautiful, who has had many lovers, and seen many generations come and go’.

‘It is above all an English home.  It has the tone of England; it melts into the green of the garden turf, into the tawnier green of the park beyond, into the blue of the pale English sky.’

As we approached the house, having driven up a long driveway to the car park, we could see deer roaming, quite tame, right up to the visitors. We decided to sit for a while with a cooling drink (cider) purchased from an on-site ‘cafe,’ as it was already scorching hot when we arrived in late morning.  

Knole House and Park (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Knole House and Park (c) Jane Risdon 2015

A cricket match was being played on the nearby field and people sat watching and enjoying picnics in the shade of huge trees.

There are 600 deer in the herd consisting of light coloured fallow deer, which were joined, in the 19th century, by darker, shorter, stockier, Japanese Sika Deer.

  Kent’s last medieval deer park is unusual because it’s enjoyed more than 5 centuries of continuous management for its deer herds. Until the early 20th century the hunting of deer was a hugely popular sport among the aristocracy. There were about 700 deer parks in England in the 16th century. Knole was the only one in Kent.

Knole House and Park () Jane Risdon 2015

Knole House and Park (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The park is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), best known for its insects.  Apparently there are small grassy mounds, around, built by colonies of Yellow Meadow ants.  A typical colony contains around 14,000 ants!  Thankfully we didn’t see any.

Knole House and Park (c) JaneRisdon 2015

Knole House and Park (c) JaneRisdon 2015

During the 16th and 17th centuries, timber from the park was sold to Chatham (shipyards).  During both World Wars areas of the park were used for military camps, but apart from the metalled roads built by the Army, and the bomb craters beside the golf-course, which commemorate Knole’s site astride ‘Bomb Alley’ between London and the Channel, there is little change.

Knole House and Park (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Knole House and Park (c) Jane Risdon 2015

 Before looking around the house, we decided to take a walk through some of the acres of parkland, woods, and open meadows, keeping an eye out for golf balls; walkers can cross the course in various places and caution is advised.

Did I say it was hot?  Understatement.  The sun was relentless and thankfully we were able to get some shade from the enormous trees on the estate.  I thought I’d melt.  

Knole Park (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Knole Park (c) Jane Risdon 2015

We walked miles across parkland, through shady dark woodland, and across vast open, wasteland with grass and sandy paths which we followed up hill and down dale.  We barely met a soul, even though the car park had been full when we set off.

Knole House and Park (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Knole House and Park (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Eventually we made out way back, in a loop, to the house, and had some lunch and a much-needed rest, sitting under the temporary scaffolding and awnings erected as a make-shift cafe.  I supposed the original cafe might be where the conservation was taking place.

Knole House (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Knole House (c) Jane Risdon 2015

We entered the West Front of the house underneath a tower – the central gatehouse with 4 battlements – built by Henry VIII between 1543-1548, and into  a vast courtyard with lawn on either side of the main path, called Green Court, the largest of 7  courtyards at Knole.  Then we walked underneath another tower – originally the West Front – into the main courtyard (Stone Court) and then on into the Great Hall where, one year, my companions had attended a Christmas Choral event, which they tell me was magical.  Looking round the vast hall I could see how atmospheric it might be with Christmas decorations and lighting.

Knole House (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Knole House (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Knole House and Park (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Knole House and Park (c) Jane Risdon 2015

I cannot possibly describe the whole house in any great detail; there was so much, it is so vast. Taking photos was not allowed inside, either, so I was rather disappointed.  I can only suggest a visit or a look on the Internet to see much more than I am sharing here.

Knole House and Park (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Knole House and Park (c) Jane Risdon 2015

 I can say, however, how helpful and informative the staff were.  We were often joined by a NT volunteer, seeing our specific interest in a painting or piece of art, or the wonderful tapestries which were undergoing restoration in some of the rooms, who would step up and tell us more or answer our questions, with obvious delight in their subject and love for Knole house.

We had such a laugh when a little Indian boy of about 4 asked his father why all the chairs, lining the walls in one room, were so old and shabby. He asked why would anyone sit on them, and why didn’t they get them fixed or buy new ones?  He kept on, like kids do, asking why.  In the end his father took him to one of the volunteers who tried to explain about the age of the chairs, and that kings and queens had sat on them.  He was not convinced and told the lady that kings and queens should spend their money and buy new ones.  In his house the chairs were not old and damaged.

Knole House (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Knole House (c) Jane Risdon 2015

As with so many of the large houses and estates of England, death duties and taxes have led to the break up and sale of so many of these wonderful, historic assets.   Knole passed to the National Trust in 1946 after years of negotiation, with an endowment towards its upkeep.  The family retained possession of the park and many of the house’s contents, and were granted a 200 year lease on various private apartments within the house.

Knole House and Park (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Knole House and Park (c) Jane Risdon 2015

If you’d like to enjoy Knole house and the park, and all it has to offer, here are some links:

Tel: +44 ()) 1732 462100.

The National Trust takes care of over 300 historic houses, castles, chapels, monuments, and gardens, including where literary first editions of the classics can be found, and where Jane Austen and others lived and wrote. 

Plus hundreds of

Medieval fortresses, Public houses (pubs) that welcomed Charles Dickens, and views that have inspired our painters and poets.

742 miles of coastline including The Giants Causeway to the White Cliffs of Dover, and over 247,000 hectares of land; open plains, rolling hills and ancient woodlands, and landscapes captured by artists such as J.M.W. Turner and setting which feature in the books of Beatrix Potter and many others, where you can walk, ride, and stay and much more. 

Membership of the National Trust helps care for our special places –  forever, for everyone.

I had a fabulous day and would happily go back again to explore more of the house and park. Hopefully when the weather is much cooler.

It is possible to have a tour of the park on board a red double-decker bus and if I recall correctly, it only costs £2.50 per person

Photographs (c) Jane Risdon 2015: All Rights Reserved.

Knole House and Park (c) 2015

Knole House and Park (c) Jane Risdon 2015

A new Jolly: Sissinghurst Castle Garden – Vita Sackville-West, Virgina Woolf, and Violet Trefusis come to mind.

Sissinghurst Castle Gardens (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Sissinghurst Castle Gardens (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Lucky me!  I got to enjoy another special treat with a trip to some gorgeous places recently.

Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

I am spoiled I know, but what’s the point of being a big sister if you can’t be indulged by the younger siblings now and again.

I have the BEST siblings going.

A few days away with one of them recently was a wonderful way to re-charge my batteries.

Deep in the countryside with views over a lush valley at one side of the cottage and in the distance, views to the sea on a clear day from the front.

The fields directly behind the cottage host a large herd of very inquisitive cows, who love to pop their heads over the fence when they spy anyone in the garden, and ‘moo’ their greetings whilst their heads turn this way and that, watching what’s going on with the humans.

Family garden (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Family garden (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The garden was full of colour still, shimmering in the heat of the day – we had two glorious days –  with the scent of Honeysuckle and Roses drifting on the air early mornings, and late evenings, mingled with the aroma of mown hay, and the sweet smell of the cattle.

The village itself is steeped in history and the buildings are of varying age, but there’s nothing ‘new,’ which I like.

The added bonus is that there are two ancient pubs there; one almost directly opposite, but noise isn’t a problem thankfully.

I spent a while there last year and posted lots of photos of our trips out to Wakehurst Place, Batemans (Rudyard Kipling’s home), Ightham Mote, and Begesbury National Pinetum – just to name a few of the places we visited.

If interested in photos and the history of where we went, go to blog on the menu above, and scroll back a while. There’s lots to see and read about.

My brother-in-law cooked the most amazing meals for me, and my sister and I went out each day visiting local places of interest and beauty.

We got to sample her home-made blackberry liqueur, eat home-grown tomatoes and vegetables, and one evening we lay on sunbeds under the stars at 12 midnight, watching shooting stars and satellites go over, trying to work out which stars we could see twinkling overhead.   All enjoyed with a little ‘something,’ to keep us warm.

Another evening we were joined by an old friend of theirs, whom I had met once before, and we sat in the garden eating a fabulous three course meal – courtesy of my brother-in-law – drinking Prosseco, and enjoying a good old natter, trying not to flinch as several bats circled us, and a mouse crept into my sister’s vegetable cage’s on a mission to nibble as much as it could whilst she was otherwise engaged.

Last year she was robbed blind by field mice and rabbits who regarded the garden to be their very own larder, much to my sister’s disgust; hence the vegetable cages.  But you know that where there’s a will, there’s a way… still, she had more than enough left to make various jams, gins, vodkas, and liqueurs  – the sloes, and blackberries, came from the lanes near-by.

Don’t you just love eating what you grow – or someone else grows – organically too.

We both enjoyed a wonderful day out at Sissinghurst Castle and Gardens,

created and made famous by the  poet, author, and gardener,

Vita Sackville-West, and her husband Harold Nicolson, diplomat and author.

Sissinghurst Castle and Gardens (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Sissinghurst Castle and Gardens (c) Jane Risdon 2015

When they first came to Sissinghurst Castle in 1930 they didn’t dream they were making something new or pioneering.  

‘It was part of  ‘our romantic Saxon, Roman, Tudor Kent,’ Howard wrote to his wife once.

In 1932 they set about creating the now world-famous garden at the heart of the estate.

Sissinghurst Castle Garden (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Sissinghurst Castle Garden (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Vita’s long series of articles in the Observer from 1947 until 1961 subtly and even surreptitiously, without actually naming her home and gardens, advertised the garden to the wider world – she longed to put it on show.

Gardens at Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Gardens at Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

 She was enthusiastic when the BBC wanted to make a Sissinghurst documentary in the mid 1950s.

Gardens at Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Gardens at Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Sissinghurst is more than a garden. It is a garden in the ruins of a great Elizabethan house, set in the middle of its own woods, streams, and farmland, with long views on all sides across the fields and meadows of the Kent countryside.  

It had once been a  pig farm as well as a medieval manor house with a moat.  

The Moat at Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The Moat at Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The family who lived in the small manor house at that time shared their name with the place; the de Saxingherstes.  

Nothing remains today of the original house except for part of the moat.

Whte Garden (c) Jane Risdon 2015

White Garden (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The 16th century prodigy house had been visited by both Mary and Elizabeth, England’s great Renaissance queens, before falling into ruins and being neglected for 300 years.

View from the Tower at Sissinghurst of South Cottage and rose garden (c) Jane Risdon 2015

View from the Tower at Sissinghurst of South cottage and rose garden (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The Queen herself (Elizabeth 1) was persuaded to visit for three days in August 1573. Richard Baker, to be knighted a few days later, presented his queen with a silver-gilt cup on whose crystal lid a lion held forth in the royal coat of arms.

There was hunting in the park and revels by night.  The house was the hero, ‘by day time, on every side so glittering by glass; by nights, by continual brightness of candle, fire, and torch-light, transparent through the light-some windows…’

The Tower at Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The Tower at Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Many times when Vita wrote of Sissinghurst, the atmosphere she summoned was of that embedded history, a certain rich slowness, even a druggedness, as if evening, when colours are soft and thickened, were its natural and fullest condition:

The heavy golden sunshine enriched the old brick with a kind of patina, and made the tower cast a long shadow across the grass, like the finger of a gigantic sundial veering slowly with the sun.

Everything was hushed and drowsy and silent, but for the coo of the white pigeons sitting alone together on the roof…They climbed the seventy-six steps of her tower and stood on the leaden flat, leaning their elbows on the parapet, and looking out in silence over the fields, the woods, the hop gardens, and the lake down in the hollow from which a faint mist was rising…’

By the late 16th century the site had been transformed by the affluent Baker family who built the magnificent Renaissance courtyard house, complete with vaulted gallery, 37 fireplaces and tower at its centre.

Sisinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The house was leased to the Government during the Seven Years War (1756-1763), and used as a prison camp for 3,000 captured French sailors who largely destroyed the house.

It is from this period Sissinghurst became known as Chateau de Sissingherst or Sissinghurst Castle.

In 1796 the Parish of Cranbrook took out a lease on Sissinghurst Castle Farm , creating a poor house where up to 100 men were offered housing, employment and food.

By the 1800s Sissinghurst was home to the Mann Cornwallis family who repaired the remaining buildings, leaving their legacy on the tower weather vanes marked ‘MC 1839’.

Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Today Sissinghurst is also a working farm with cattle, sheep and pigs and home to a rare species of wild flowers, insects and birds.

Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

 The garden is now looked after by a team of gardeners and volunteers.  There are several ‘rooms,’ each very different in their planting scheme, colours and scent.

Gardens at Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Gardens at Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

 I thought the ‘room,’ which was all white (every flower was white) was stunning.

The garden was not at its best, summer having taken its toll so my sister told me; she visits often as it is her most favourite of all places, but there was still enough to delight, and the whole place teemed with over-seas visitors and those like me; enjoying a wonderful day out in the 38 degree heat!!

Within the garden are several buildings dating from the original Tudor period.

Flowers at Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Flowers at Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

   South cottage and the South side of the house are still occupied by the Nicolson family.  

The White Garden (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The White Garden (c) Jane Risdon 2015

The Priest house to the North of the garden is available through National Trust cottages.  

The National Trust now owns Sissinghurst.  

Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Gardens at Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Gardens at Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

For over 50 years the gardens have been tended by 4 women head gardeners.

My sister and I climbed the tower steps, narrow, and winding, and looked in on small rooms as we headed for the roof; one of which was Vita’s work room. 

Sadly photography isn’t allowed inside the tower and buildings.

Vita kept her notes and manuscripts in the turret beyond the work room.

It was here in 1962, her son, Nigel, found the locked Gladstone bag which contained the manuscript confession of her love for Violet Trefusis.

Garden 'rooms' view from the Tower (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Garden ‘rooms’ view from the Tower (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Gardens at Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Gardens at Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

After Trefusis’s own death 10 years later, Nicolson published the manuscript as the basis for ‘Portait of a Marriage’, his study of his parents’ lives and sexuality.

Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Rd brick buildings (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Red brick buildings (c) Jane Risdon 2015

It was here in 1931 Vita wrote the poem which she called ‘Sissinghurst.’ It was the best thing, Harold thought, she ever wrote and she dedicated it to Virginia Woolf, who had been her lover.  

The poem addresses the core of Sissinghurst; it is a place apart.

Buried in time and sleep,

So drowsy, overgrown,

That here the moss is green upon the stone,

And lichen stains the keep.

For here, where days and years have lost heir number,                       

Garden rooms at Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Garden rooms at Sissinghurst (c) Jane Risdon 2015

I let a plummer down in lieu of date,

And lose myself within a slumber,

Submerged, elate.

I must say I can see exactly where she is coming from with this poem.  I found Sissinghurst to be magical and beautiful; where time has stood still.  Tranquil, mesmerizing, and arousing.

All the senses are in play as you rove around the gardens and the buildings, with the sounds of birds and bees competing with the  symphony played in the moat as the water moves past the apple orchard opposite the woods.

I felt as if I’d gone back in time and any moment a lady in a beautiful gown would appear in one of the sculpted nooks and crannies which you come across as you walk from one vista to another.

It is a magical place and I do hope I get to go again one day.  I still had so much more to discover according to my sister.

If you would like to know more about Vita Sackville-West and her beloved Sissinghurst Castle Garden, check out these links.

Sissinghurst Castle, Biddenden Road, Near Cranbrook, Kent TN17 2AB England.

(2 miles north-east of Cranbrook, 1 mile east of Sissinghurst villlge on Biddenden Road, off the A262)

Tel: +44(0)1580 710701

Facebook Sissinghurst Castle – National Trust

Twitter @SissinghurstNT

The next part of my recent ‘jolly,’ is in the pipeline:  Knole House.

(more like a town than a house)

 I hope you enjoy this as much as I have compiling and posting it, and that you’ll let me know.

Jane x

As ever all photographs (c) Jane Risdon 2015 All Rights Reserved.

Revenge: Flash Fiction from 2013/2014 – a blast from the past.

A blast from the past – well, 2013/2014 actually.

Revenge (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Revenge (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Another of my Flash Fiction stories written to a maximum word count; this time 100 words.

This has been posted before, in 2013/2014, via Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog,

but, as I am often asked to post some of my older pieces for those just discovering my blog,

I thought I’d post a few every now and again. 

Morgen’s introduction:

Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the one hundred and sixteenth piece in this series. This week’s is a 100-worder by Jane Risdon. This story will be podcasted in episode 36 (with three other stories / with two other stories and some 6-worders) on Sunday 26th January 2014.

So here goes.

I hope you enjoy:


(c) Jane Risdon 2013

My only regret is that when the realisation hits him, when all the evidence points to him and his life is in ruins, I shan’t be there to see the look on his face when it dawns on him.

Revenge is a dish best served cold apparently.  

Well, I shall be cold in my grave, unable to enjoy the moment my murder is pinned on him. 

I’ve left clues, irrefutable evidence.

Revenge Clues (c) Jane Risdon 2013

Revenge Clues (c) Jane Risdon 2013

No one will ever suspect that I murdered myself, but no matter. 

I go to my grave content that, for once, I have the upper hand.


Morgen asked me what prompted this piece:

I love writing about crime and wondered how someone would exact revenge upon another in the worst possible manner.  It occurred to me that to be the victim of a crime that was pinned on the person for whom they sought to punish, whom they hated enough to ‘murder’ themselves for, would be a great twist in the tale.

There is the body, indisputably dead, with all clues pointing to the murderer and the victim’s own words convicting him.  I love writing twists in my stories and for me this was delicious; the ultimate dish served cold.  I hope you agree.

Morgen said:

I do, absolutely. Thank you, Jane.

Morgen’s wonderful blog can be found here:

I hope you enjoyed this little piece. Let me know what you think.  I love feedback. It helps me with future writing.

Have a fab week everyone.

Jane xx (my Amazon author page) (my regular music blog)

Flash Fiction 2013: The Letter

The Letter

The Letter

Flash Fiction Friday 099: The Letter by Jane Risdon 2013

A Blast from the past – this was first published on Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog:

I thought I’d share it again as I’ve been asked about it many times since.

Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the ninety-ninth piece in this series.

This week’s is a 450-worder by Jane Risdon.

This story will be podcasted in episode 32 (with three other stories) on Sunday 6th October.

Haunted by the neat sloping writing on the blue Basildon Bond paper which lay accusingly on her writing desk,

the old woman sat locked inside her thoughts. 

She couldn’t bear to pick the letter up to read it again, but there was no need really. 

The contents were not unexpected after-all. 

She’d been waiting nearly forty years for something like this to happen. 

And now it had.

Every knock at the door, every strange hand’s address on an envelope had filled her with such fear,

the like of which she could never share. 

She had never told.

The only reason she had an answering machine on her phone was so that she could screen her calls. 

Just in case. 

Now, there on the desk along with all her bills and other correspondence, the letter lay,

the words terrorising her silently across the darkening room.

She didn’t ask herself how or why. 

She knew the answers and had known this moment would come eventually, either in the form of a visit,

a phone call, or a letter. 

Forty birthdays had come and gone, and with each passing one she had agitated in case this time it would be the one;

the day when she would have to face her past.

Long ago she had put away the photo, the little sepia image now faded with age and fingering. 

There was nothing she could have done even if she had wanted to,

and she wasn’t even sure any longer if she had ever wanted to do anything. 

At first it was not a matter of choice but necessity, but there had come a time,

many years later when she supposed she could have, possibly should have, tried.

Soon it would be over. 

Of course she could ignore the letter but that might force a visit, in person, without warning. 

She could pretend it had never arrived and feign ignorance if anyone queried its receipt. 

Her stricken mind tried to battle with her emotions. 

Part of her needed this to happen, craved it, and dreaded it, fought against it and longed for it.

Her tired faded eyes moved across the room to stare at the blue ghost beckoning her. 

A date and a time had been suggested and if she didn’t respond the writer would understand,

after all it must be an awful shock after so many years, but hoped that she would consent to a meeting,

without strings of course.

Without strings, the old woman mused. 

There were always strings, and there would always be strings. 

She sighed heavily, tears brimming as she stood and made her way over to the letter. 

She picked it up, reached for the telephone and dialled.


Morgen asked me what made me write this story, here is my reply:

For thirty odd years I’ve been researching and writing our family history.

I’ve made lots of contacts, discovering long-lost and distant relations along the way.

Out of the blue some years ago one of them – a distant cousin by marriage –

emailed me asking if a person who’d contacted him had any links to our family. 

They did not, but the story he told me was fascinating and involved two women having babies at the same time,

in a mother and baby home. 

They each became Godmother to the other’s child and then went their separate ways.

A letter arrived many years later from one of these children,

asking if there was anyone in his (the distant cousin’s) family tree who might be her mother.

She’d been adopted, and since the surname of her birth mother was similar to a distant relative of ours,

her request was forwarded to me to check my records too.

Sadly there wasn’t anyone matching her mother’s details.

The letter had an enclosure, another letter destined for this girl’s mother,

which she had asked be forwarded in the event she could be found. 

I started to wonder what it must be like to receive such a letter, decades afterwards,

from someone kept secret from everyone else for so long. 

What would that do to a family or someone alone? 

Would they ever meet?  What would that meeting be like? 

So, I wrote The Letter.

I hope you enjoyed this story.  Do let me know.  Feedback is always valued and appreciated.

Doris Day, Sarah Weller, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, and me: the last of my 2015 birthday bashes

Doris Day: Public Domain

Doris Day – public domain

“I like joy; I want to be joyous. 

I want to smile and I want to make people laugh. 

And that’s all I want.  I like being happy.  I want to make others happy.” Doris Day.

Sarah Weller celebrates Doris Day's 91st birthday. Photo: Carl Hyde

Sarah Weller celebrates Doris Day’s 91st birthday Photo: Carl Hyde. Courtesy of Sarah Weller.

“I’ll remember this to my grave.  We all walked into a room to see the screen tests.  The first screen test was Marion Hutton’s. Then came Janis Paige [who ended up with a part in the film].  Then on the screen came Doris Day.  I can only tell you, the screen just exploded. There was absolutely no question.  A great star was born and the rest is history.” – Sammy Cahn

The second part of my birthday bash this year was a total surprise – a well-kept secret;  nothing was revealed to me as we travelled into the West End of London.

I hadn’t been up to Soho for some time and the amount of demolition going on was a huge shock.  They’ve even pulled down The Astoria – an iconic venue – where our artist’s performed back when. 

Tin Pan Alley is next on the demolition schedule I understand; what a travesty that will be – something to do with Cross-Rail apparently.

I recall many hours standing in this or that music publisher’s, back in the late 1960’s, waiting for my then boyfriend (later husband) and his band, as they trolled through sheet music with their management, looking for new songs to perform.  Their own song-writing efforts ended up as sheet music there as well.

It was a fab place to see, and be seen, and boy did we see some famous bands,  many singers – even the late Cilla Black was there on more than one occasion seeking songs – and songwriters too, all busy selecting their next big hit!

But, hey! That’s another story for another day.  

I have something coming out soon which tells a little of these times.

Back to my birthday bash:

I found myself in Frith Street, and there in front of me loomed another iconic venue.  Surely not!  It couldn’t be, could it? But it was. 

We were in the queue at Ronnie Scott’s world-famous Jazz venue and I still didn’t have a clue why I was there.

Ronnie Scott's Famous Jazz Club (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Ronnie Scott’s Famous Jazz Club (c) Jane Risdon 2015

Earlier in the year I’d been asked what I was doing on 29th March 2015 – a few weeks after my own birthday – I said nothing much, I seem to recall.

I was told not to plan anything; I was going somewhere special.

Then on 29th March I found myself outside Ronnie Scott’s, just after lunchtime, about to go in and see…I had no idea.

Questions went unanswered, smiles looked knowing. Nothing was being given away.  I looked round for clues, but there was nothing.

We were shown to our table and served huge Bloody Marys as the venue filled. I had a feeling of dread spread through me as I spotted a birthday cake set upon a round table on the stage; a spotlight shining upon it. 

Oh good grief!  They’d better not have! 

Still my companions wouldn’t let on who was going to be performing.  I was so excited, I’d never had a surprise birthday quite like this  before.

The lights dimmed; a pianist, a double bass player, a trumpeter, and guitarist, appeared on stage and settled themselves.  My heart almost stopped.

A spotlight followed a young blonde woman on to the stage.  She was wearing a lemon 1950’s style gown and she introduced herself and her musicians:

Sarah Weller and her band: The Mad Men.

Sarah Weller and The Mad Men

Sarah Weller and The Mad Men

I still didn’t get it.  Who was she?  I had no idea. Two pairs of eyes beside me watched my face eagerly, waiting for the penny to drop.

She continued to say that for the last four years she has performed a birthday celebration at Ronnie Scott’s Club for…

Oh my goodness!


Doris Day: public domain

Doris Day movie still – public domain

Tears trickled – I don’t do crying as a rule, so this was a big deal.

Anyone who knows me, cannot have failed to be aware that

I ADORE Doris Day.

Sarah Weller would be performing a tribute to Doris, whose 91st birthday would fall on April 3rd. 

She does not impersonate Doris – who could? 

At the end of the show she would be cutting birthday cake and sharing it with those celebrating birthdays around the same time.  She does this every year.  She is a massive fan too.

Sarah discovered – I later found out – that Doris sings in quite a low-key, which is not apparent when you hear her recordings.  If you hear Sarah sing you’d be forgiven for thinking she sounds quite low, and that perhaps the key is wrong.  It is not.

 “With a humble assurance befitting the experienced performer that she is, singer Sarah Weller treads lightly on the ‘American apple pie’ phenomenon of the iconic Doris whilst touching on some of the darker aspects of her often less than satisfactory relationships with the men in her life. No mere mimicry – this well-paced show is Sarah’s own ‘non-ironic’ take on Day’s life emanating from a genuine love of her heroine’s persona as a great actress as well as the show-stopping singer who touched all our hearts!” (Paul Pace – Music Co-ordinator for Ronnie Scott’s and The Spice of Life Jazz)

Sarah sings a tribute to Doris using the icon’s songs, with snippets of information about her life, recordings, and movies. 

Doris Day: Public Domain

Doris Day – public domain

Movies such as:

Calamity Jane (my favourite of her musicals)  featuring Howard Keel, another of my all time favourites.

 Pillow Talk with the gorgeous Rock Hudson,  and

Love Me or Leave Me, and Young at Heart. 

Songs such as: Sentimental Journey which was Doris’ first million seller in 1945 with the Les Brown Band. 

“She (Doris) was every bandleader’s dream, a vocalist who had natural talent, a keen regard for the lyrics and an attractive appearance.” – Les Brown

Rock Hudson was in the Navy when he first heard her singing this song,

which was number one for 9 weeks.

“It was evening, and we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge…its lights went on, and the voice of Doris Day began singing ‘Sentimental Journey’ over the loud-speakers. Well, that was the saddest bunch of sailors you ever saw. She had the whole ship in tears, including me. Fifteen years later, Doris and I worked together for the first time in Pillow Talk and by way of contrast, it was laughter all the way…” – Rock Hudson.

Rock and Doris made three movies together:  ‘Send Me No Flowers,’ and ‘Pillow Talk,’ and their last film together, ‘Love Come Back.’  Three of her funniest films I think.  Though my all time favourite is still ‘Calamity Jane,’ because I adore the songs.

  • “I remember writing with Hal David five different versions of ‘Send Me No Flowers.’ Finally they picked the last one — we kept going because we really wanted her [Doris] on the song. She did it great!” – Burt Bacharach(Songwriter/Pianist/Music Producer)
Rock Hudson in Movie Still for Giant. Public Domain

Rock Hudson in Movie Still for Giant. Public Domain

Doris Day1957 movie still - copyright unknow Public Domain.

Doris Day Movie Still 1957 – public domain

Sarah is a lifelong fan – like me – and her show pays tribute to the long and varied career Doris has enjoyed, and which made her a number one box-office star in the movies – she made 39 movies in 20 years – and a top-selling singer with almost 500 recordings.

“This girl has never had an acting lesson in her life but she draws on a wellspring of emotion and experience that makes her one of the finest instinctive actresses in the world.” – Michael Gordon (Director of Pillow Talk)

I could hardly contain myself, I was overcome and couldn’t speak.  My companions laughed as I choked back the tears.

The music started and Sarah told us a little about the song, when it was recorded, and for which movie, and she continued to do this for every song throughout her performance.

Her first song was ‘Let’s Fly Away, and this was followed  by ‘It’s Magic.’

The first set continued with her singing:

With a Song in My Heart,’ ‘Stardust,’ ‘I Know that You Know,’ ‘Makin’ Whoopee,’ ‘The One I Love (belongs to somebody else),’  ‘Bumblebee,’ and a medley from ‘Calamity Jane.’ which was awesome.

The audience went wild, many joining in singing along.  The atmosphere was magic. I was struck by the varied ages of the audience – young and older – and also by the many accents which we heard around us.  

The venue had sold out for the show well in advance of Sarah’s performance. I soon found out why. 

Sarah Weller is an amazing performer and singer in her own right, even without having the songs of Doris to interpret. 

Doris Day: unknown copyright

Doris Day – photo public domain

Sarah left the stage when she’d completed the first set, and meals and drinks were served for those wanting them. We were going on elsewhere later, so just had Bloody Mary refills. 

I love Ronnie Scott’s – it is such an intimate and vibrant club where all the greats have performed at some time or another. 

Ronnie Scott OBE (1927-1996) was a jazz legend; originally a  tenor saxophonist with the Johnny Claes band in 1944, and later with many others including Ted Heath and Bert Ambrose. 

He co-owned the club, which opened in October 1959, with fellow tenor saxophonist, Pete King,  situated in a basement in Gerrard Street, when it was known as ‘The Old Club.’ 

They moved to Frith Street in 1965 and the club became ‘Ronnie Scott’s,’ in 1967.

Sarah returned to the stage, dress in a beautiful green full length frock.

Sarah Weller sings Doris Day Photo: Carl Hyde Courtesy of Sarah Weller

Sarah Weller sings Doris Day at Ronnie Scott’s. Photo: Carl Hyde. Courtesy Sarah Weller

 Her second set continued with more chat and snippets about Doris, and her recording and movie career, as well as some more background (personal) detail about Doris’ life.

We were treated to:  

Ready, Willing and Able,’ ‘April in Paris,’ ‘Love Me or Leave Me,’

and one of my personal favourite’s, and Sarah’s, ‘Que Sera Sera.’

Then everyone joined in with ‘Hernando’s Hideaway,’ and ‘Teacher’s Pet,’ then ‘Close Your Eyes,’ followed by another personal favourite Sarah and I share; ‘Pillow Talk.’ from another wonderful movie she made with Rock Hudson – one of three they made.

Pillow Talk - public domain

Pillow Talk – public domain

On working with Doris, Rock said:

“Before we got under way, I had some apprehensions. I had never played comedy before, and here I was, thrown together with one of Hollywood’s most accomplished comediennes…but the best acting lesson came from Doris – her sense of timing, her instincts – I just kept my eyes open and copied her. I don’t really know what makes a movie team….I’d say, first of all, the two people have to truly like each other, as Doris and I did, for that shines through…” – Rock Hudson.

Rock Hudson and Doris became life-long friends right up until his death in the 1980s from Aids.

“…She asked me if I would speak to him (Rock), and move him to a guest cottage or property. She was gonna make chicken soup for the next 5 years if that’s what it took she’d do anything to nurse him back to health….” – Terry Melcher (Doris’s Son)

‘Move Over Darling,’ came next.  

A song co-written for Doris by her son; Record Producer, singer, instrumentalist, songwriter and publisher, not to mention her eventual manager,

Terry Melcher (1942-2004).

Terry Melcher in the studio 1965 with Gene Clarke and Dave Crosby of The Byrds working on Turn, Turn, Turn.

Terry Melcher in the studio 1965 with Gene Clarke and Dave Crosby of The Byrds working on Turn, Turn, Turn. Public domain

 Terry was her only son from her first marriage to trombone player, Al Jordan.  

They eventually divorced. She was married three times in total.  Terry was legally adopted by her third husband – the agent and producer – Marty Melcher.  A much disliked figure around Hollywood who eventually left Doris with huge debts. 

As I mentioned earlier, Terry was a talented musician in his own right, and in the early 1960s was in a duo, ‘Bruce and Terry,’ in which he partnered the future ‘Beach Boy’ Bruce Johnston, on the surf hit ‘Summer Means Fun,’ and he also recorded as ‘The Rip Chords,‘ and worked with Pat Boone and Frankie Laine, as well as the 1960s group, ‘Paul Revere and the Raiders.’

Terry Melcher with Paul Revere and the Raiders 1966 - public domain

Terry Melcher with Paul Revere and the Raiders 1966 – public domain

In 1964 Terry produced ‘The Byrds,’ on their version of Bob Dlyan’s, ‘Mr Tambourine Man,’ which is still a favourite of mine, as are ‘The Byrds.’  This record defined the folk-rock genre, topping the charts both in the USA and UK.  Other hits included: ‘I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,’ and another song I adore: ‘All I Really Want To Do,‘ as well as ‘The Bells of Rhymney,’ and the classic, ‘Turn, Turn, Turn,’ and ‘Chestnut Mare.’

A curious piece of trivia for you, which I will slip in, before I continue with Sarah’s set list.

It is widely believed that Terry Melcher was the intended victim of Charles Manson and his followers who broke into the home of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski in 1969 and committed numerous murders. At one time Terry had rented the property on Cielo Drive, in LA, with his then girl-friend, Candice Bergen. Luckily they weren’t there at the time.  Apparently the record producer had turned Charles Manson down for a recording contract and the Cult leader wanted his revenge.

10050 Cielo Drive - public domain

10050 Cielo Drive – public domain

Many years later our son went to work for a movie producer who lived in a newly constructed house on the site of the, by then, demolished house, which had born witness to such atrocities.  Before the original house was demolished it  was purchased and lived in by a member of the band ‘Nine Inch Nails.’  But he decided it was too sad a place to live and felt uncomfortable there.  Not surprisingly. 

Terry helped rescue his mother from financial ruin, brought about my her husband, Marty Melcher’s mis-management of her career, when, in the 1980’s he produced his mother’s come-back TV series, ‘Doris Day’s Best Friends,’ and helped her run the Doris Day Animal League and the Doris Day Animal Foundation.

  • “She can make a record sound like there’s a smile or some kind of tear behind it.” – Terry Melcher (Doris’s son)

Rock Hudson appeared on her show, just two months before he died.

“I had to have Rock Hudson as my first guest so I called him, and he said “I’ll be there…you can count on me” and that was the truth! All his friends, and there were so many, could always count on him. He didn’t talk about his illness any time…I can only tell you my friends, it was a heartbreaking time for me, without my faith I would be a lot sadder than I am today. I know that life is eternal and that something good is gonna come from this experience. Anyway let’s think of him with laughter ‘cause he was so funny!” – Doris Day

Sadly, Terry died in 2004 from cancer, leaving a wife Teresa and a son, Ryan.

Back to my birthday treat:

Doris Day - public domain

Doris Day – public domain

Sarah continued her second set with

another of my favourites (there are so many), ‘Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps,’ which

led into the final song performed by Sarah; ‘Sentimental Journey.’

Sarah went on to serve a birthday cake she’d made, to those in the audience who were celebrating their birthdays around the same time as Doris.  I was tempted to join in, but decided to sit and enjoy the atmosphere instead.  Sarah serves cake every year, which I felt was a lovely touch.  Needless to say, there was a long queue for cake.

Sarah Weller cuts cake celebrating Doris Day's 91st Birthday. Photo: Carl Hyde courtesy Sarah Weller

Cutting cake to celebrate Doris’ 91st birthday. Photo Carl Hyde courtesy Sarah Weller

Disappointingly, Sarah didn’t perform a song which I also really love, and which Doris is supposed to have recorded in one take. But I soon got over it.

 ‘Secret Love,’ from Calamity Jane.

To record a song in one take is special, and I have actually worked with two female artists (managed them) who could also do this.  True professionals and unbelievable talent.

 I seem to recall someone writing on one of Doris’ album covers, that she turned up at the studio at 5.55pm and left at 6pm – I don’t know how true it is, but in that time Doris recorded ‘Secret love.

“When I recorded for Columbia, I could usually do anything in one take…I would invariably want to use the first take because that would be the one that was spontaneous and fresh.” – Doris Day

I absolutely loved the whole show.  The musicianship was wonderful, and I should know.  Sarah is an amazing performer, she does not try to be Doris or look like her.  She sings in her own voice.  Hers is a real tribute to a fantastic performer.

Her band are talented players and it must be wonderful to perform with them.

The Mad Men Photo: Carl Hyde courtesy Sarah Weller

The Mad Men Photo: Carl Hyde courtesy Sarah Weller

They are:  Freddie Gavita, trumpet: Simon Golding, guitar: Arthur Lea, piano: Spencer Brown, bass: Simon Pearson, drums.

The Mad Men Photo Carl Hyde courtesy Sarah WellerThe Mad Men Photo Carl Hyde courtesy Sarah Weller

The Mad Men Photo Carl Hyde Courtesy Sarah Weller

Doris also made movies with other much loved actors such:  James Garner, David Niven, Rod Taylor, Cary Grant, and James Stewart to name a few.

 ‘The Thrill of It All’ was one of Doris Day’s top three highest grossing films and one of her most popular. She loved working with James Garner:

Day-Garner-Thrill of it All. public domain

Day & Garner. Public domain

“I had the same kinship with Jimmy (James Garner) that I had with Rock-truly a blessing to have had two such talented, amusing, darling men to work with, men with whom I have had enduring friendships. I really love Rock and Jimmy.”  – Doris Day, Her Own Story.

On hearing about James Garner’s death:

Jame Garner. Public Domain

James Garner: public domain

“I loved Jimmy. He was a wonderful actor and a joy to work with. We made two films together and just clicked from the minute we met. We remained friends over the years and spoke often on the phone. I knew he was quite ill and unable to talk on the phone in recent months. The world has lost an exceptional human being and I lost a dear friend. I will miss him so much.” Doris Day

Following the performance by Sarah and her band, my two companions, who’d treated me to such a fab time, took me out to eats and to meet some friends of theirs in the Palladium bar, at the London Palladium.

A perfect end to a perfect birthday weekend, although my birthday was earlier in the month. It was a fab way to join in Doris Day’s 91st birthday celebrations.

Ever since I was a little girl I have loved Doris Day, her songs, dancing and movies.  I cannot explain why, at such a young age, she captivated me.  I can sit through her movies time after time and never be bored. I can listen to ‘the voice with a smile,’ and she uplifts me.  There are few female singers I really like, but she is top of the list for me. I wanted to be her when I was growing up.

“I just feel so fortunate and so blessed to have been able to entertain people in the theatres and on record, it’s just an amazing life that I’ve experienced.” – Doris Day

“I always felt that making a living wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, and I decided I was going straight ahead and try to be as uncomplicated as possible. The important thing in life is just living and loving.” – Doris Day

I had great fun researching this article and I hope you have had great fun reading it, and you are uplifted by Doris Day the same way I am.  I hope you are left smiling after reading this, and that you might be tempted to go and put her movies or her records on, and dance.  Sing at the top of your voice and enjoy ‘The Thrill of it All.’ 

But…before you do

I thought you might like to know more about the talented Sarah Weller and The Mad Men

who made my treat so special and memorable.

I did, after seeing her wonderful performance.

 So, I contacted her and asked her to allow me to use her photos of her show at Ronnie Scott’s. She graciously agreed.  Not only that, she agreed to allow me to interview her.

Sarah Weller celebrates Doris Day's 91st birthday

Sarah Weller celebrates Doris Day’s 91st birthday

Here is my interview with Sarah Weller.

I hope this makes you want to see her perform, not just Doris Day hits, but Jazz, which she loves and performs in her own right.

She has a record out at the moment.

At what age did you realise you wanted to sing? Age 5.  My mum told me to get my head out of the clouds.

Where & when was your first performance (school/clubs etc)? I did a lot of acting at school and one of my earliest performances was as Levi in Joseph and his Technicolour Dream Coat.  I always loved both acting and singing.

Did you have, or ever contemplate having, singing lessons? – I had 11 lessons with jazz vocalist Lee Gibson at The Guildhall as a private student until the money ran out… I sang in the school choir and loved that.  The highlight was Carmina Burana at the Albert Hall as part of A Night of 1000 Voices.

Did you ever use a hairbrush as a mic, and did you sing in your bedroom? Of course, especially along to Barbara Streisand, Whitney Houston and George Benson.

Whose records did you sing along to growing up, and in your bedroom? Anything by Barbara Streisand, Whitney Houston and George Benson.

Do you play an instrument?  What is it, and how did you learn – lessons or by ear? NO.

Do you write songs of your own, or do you prefer to sing those written by others? I do write my own songs and it’s something I should do more often.  I have released albums with a mix of originals and covers but it’s hard to beat the likes of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin!

Who is your favourite songwriter/composer and why? Irving Berlin, Gus Khan, Cole Porter.  It was their job and so they continually churned out fantastic lyrics and music in so many genres.

What was the first real gig you ever went to?  Band?  Singer? And where? Michael Jackson 1989 during his BAD tour at Wembley Arena.

Who makes your frocks for your performances?  Are your Doris Day frocks made by someone else, or the same person, or do you buy ‘off the peg’? Vintage all the way.  I scour the charity shops.  The yellow one I wear was my wedding dress from 2002 when I got married in Vegas!

Sarah in her wedding dress cutting cake at Ronnie Scott's Photo: Carl Hyde courtesy Sarah Weller

Sarah in her wedding dress cutting cake at Ronnie Scott’s Photo: Carl Hyde courtesy Sarah Weller

Where do you get your blonde wigs?  Are these specially made? No, I chose one-off the internet from a site like that seemed appropriate for the show then had it cut whilst on my head at the hairdressers while showing the hairdresser a photo of Doris!

Sarah Weller and The Mad Men Photo: Carl Hyde Courtesy Sarah Weller

Sarah Weller and The Mad Men Photo: Carl Hyde Courtesy Sarah Weller

What do you do to relax? Cycle, a sport that Doris herself loved.

Who do you listen to when not learning someone’s songs/music to perform? Jazz, I can’t get enough of it.

What genres of music do you love and why? Jazz, soul and funk.  I have to listen to something that has a groove because I love to dance.

What genre of music do you dislike the most and why? There are so many genres I find it hard to appreciate.  There is so much good music that I just avoid the sound of anything that doesn’t interest me but then time passes and sometimes I can appreciate things from the past that I hadn’t liked at the time.  I’m quite open to change!

If you could travel anywhere in the world to see someone perform, who would it be and where would you love to enjoy the gig? I think I would love to listen to music in Tokyo, a place I would love to visit so it would have to be Pat Metheny at The Blue Note.

Who would you love to give a private performance for and why?  Or have you already?  Who and where and why? An influential agent who would sign me up and get me on the road 365 days a year! Singing is all I ever want to do.

If you weren’t a performer, what would you do for a living? Be a detective or a writer of detective fiction.  It’s the why and how I love.

If you met Doris Day and could spend time with her, what would you like to ask her? If I managed to speak (from adoration silencing me) I would ask her what it was like to be a woman of the 50s.  The era fascinates me and I would like every detail, who she met, who influenced her in her life, what made her so strong.

 Which is your favourite Doris Day song and why?  Que Sera Sera.  I love the sentiment, the idea of fate, the idea that no matter what the age nothing changes, it circles around and around. It also makes me think of my children then I have to try not to cry.

Which is your favourite Doris Day movie and why? Pillow Talk for the glamour and the comedy.

Rock Hudson & Doris Day. Pillow Talk publicity photo. public domain

Rock Hudson & Doris Day. Pillow Talk publicity photo. public domain

Who is your favourite leading man in a Doris Day movie and why? Rock Hudson.  He was so handsome.

Which frock from a Doris Day movie would you love to own and wear? Or trousers or other outfit? Anything from Pillow Talk

What is it about Doris Day that made you want to sing her songs and to perform a tribute to her each birthday? Her generous heart and I like strong women and I think there are very few as strong and enduring as Doris Day.  She worked so hard all her life and had to go through such hardships in her personal life and she still dedicates her life to others.

If you could have a songwriter/composer write specifically for you, who would it be and why?  I would like Cole Porter to write a witty song.  I miss comedy in performance.

What style would you like them to write in for you? Jazz from the 50s of course!

How did you come to have the band you work with?  When and where did you find them? I’m lucky to have seen and played with many musicians and now I like to choose musicians that I like personally as well as for their talents. 

Did they ask to back you or did you ask them?  When and where was your first gig with them? I had played with them all in different bands so asked them to join me when I got the band together.  The first gig together was at Ronnie Scott’s 2010. Only the pianist has changed.

Ronnie Scott’s is an iconic venue – when was your first gig there and what did you perform?  How did it feel being on the stage so many famous stars had performed on? June 2010.  It was a dream come true and extremely nerve-racking. I will never take any gig for granted especially at Ronnie’s.

Do you have a recording contract and is it for being a singer in your own right, or as someone who does covers of other artists? No I self-release under my label Daisy Dog Productions. I felt I didn’t want to record or release the Doris show as an album.  I encourage people to go out and buy her records and appreciate her voice for the marvel it is.

If you could record/perform with someone from the past – musicians or other vocalists – who would that be and why?  I think I would have liked the Donna Summer role in the song Enough is Enough with Barbra Streisand. Barbra was such an influence early on – not so much now, but as a girl wanting to be a singer.

If you could record/perform with someone from the present – musicians or other vocalists – who would that be and why?  Christian McBride on bass, Aaron Diehl on piano and Kendrick Scott on drums.  They are my favourite rhythm section at the moment.

Have you ever wanted to perform a Movie or TV soundtrack?  If you could pick one from the past what would it have been?  Are there any movies being made today you’d love to have a crack at performing the soundtracks for? I would love to.  I love Mad Men so to feature on the sound track would be amazing because the music is so well-chosen every episode.

Where do you see your career heading in the future and what are your ambitions? As long as I am singing I will be happy.

Sarah, many thanks for agreeing to feature in my blog and for taking the time to share your photos and other information with me.

Huge thanks also to Tim and Mark for giving me such a fantastic birthday treat.  

I feel so privileged and spoiled, and appreciate it more than you can ever know.


If you are interested and want to know more about Sarah and her musical career, her gigs, her recordings, and schedule, here are some links:

Sarah’s Website:

Sarah’s Facebook page (tribute to Doris Day):

Sarah’s interview of Jazz FM regarding her appearance this year at  Ronnie Scott’s:

Sarah live at Ronnie Scott’s:  Perhaps – YouTube

Sarah’s photos come from her own Collection.  The Photographer: Carl Hyde.  
Thanks so much for allowing me to use them.

I do hope you have enjoyed reading about my birthday bash, and finding out about Doris Day and Sarah Weller.  

Let me know.

Jane xx





The Honey Trap – Flash Fiction under 1,000 words. Another blast from the past…

Another blast from the past – 2012

Flash Fiction has always interested me.  

Here is another story I wrote in 2012 for inclusion on Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog.

Here is how she presented it:

Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the sixty-third piece of flash fiction in this series. This week I welcome back author Jane Risdon with a 968-worder…

Thames House home of MI5 (c) attributed to Cnbrb English Language Wikipedia

Thames House home of MI5 (c) attributed to Cnbrb English Language Wikipedia

The Honey Trap (c) Jane Risdon 2012

They flirted in the bar, drinking, and chatting, until the music stopped and the bartender shook his head. No more drinks.

Taking the hint they moved towards the revolving doors about to make for the bright city lights and another hotel bar, when his young companion shook her head and whispered her suggestion.

Why not go upstairs to her friend’s room and have some more drinks? Luckily her friend was away for a few days and she had the key, what did he think?

He thought it was a great idea. She thought he was too drunk to go much further anyway, and the prospect of getting the almond-eyed beauty into bed was more than he could resist, she was sure.

He nodded and followed her to the elevator.

She pressed the button for the tenth floor, snuggling up to him, nibbling his ear, whispering suggestive things in a husky voice full of promise.

She knew he couldn’t believe his luck.

His meeting with the Ministry of Trade representatives had gone well, and they decided to go for dinner at the Majestic Hotel a few blocks away. At dinner he and his colleagues were introduced to several young ladies, beautiful, and fluent in English.

A little reward for getting the Eastern Europeans to sign the contracts with little or no hassle, they all assumed.

She had made it clear that she fancied him from the start and they were soon alone, the others having returned to their hotels with companions of their own no doubt.

He had hoped she would want to spend the night with him, it had been on his mind all night.

They reached her friend’s room and she opened the door and put the light on, kicking off her stilettos and heading for the hotel fridge, as he put the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door, and took his jacket off, placing his extra-large briefcase on the floor near the bed.

Do Not Disturb

He moved behind her, kissed her neck and her smooth soft brown shoulders, taking in her musky scent and running his hands over her hips and thighs. She turned to kiss him and soon they were heading for the bed.

However, before things went any further she headed for the bathroom.

He quickly and silently moved around the room, checking the drawers, the cupboard, and looking under the bed and behind the pictures, and lamp fittings. The Cold War might be over, he thought, but he knew a ‘Honey Trap,’ when he saw one.

He found nothing, surprisingly, which worried him more than if he had found a hidden camera and microphone.

After a while she returned, all smiles, and full of enthusiasm, and before long they were having sex which, although he was enjoying himself as much as his partner, didn’t stop him from keeping one eye on the bedroom door.

He was sure that her controllers would be rushing in before long, ready for the ‘Blackmail’ pitch.

Therefore he had to work fast.

He turned her onto her stomach and she squealed with anticipation. Running his hands over her back and shoulders he leaned towards her and nuzzled her neck.

She lifted her head to meet his lips as he quickly took the scarf he had hidden under the pillows, and expertly wrapped it around her neck. At first she seemed surprised and then, thinking it was all part of the game, smiled wantonly at him.

After all, it was her job to please him.

Suddenly he began to squeeze tighter and tighter. As she began to choke somewhere in her oxygen-starved brain it dawned on her that this wasn’t a game after all.

By then it was too late. The last thing she saw was his laughing face gazing at her as she died.

He rose quickly, pulling on surgical gloves.

Then he placed her body on the floor as he removed the sheets and pillowcases, putting them in his large briefcase, along with the wine glass he had used.

He took her body into the bathroom and placed her in the bath where he washed her, and her hair. After she was dry he took her back into the bedroom and laid her on the stripped bed, arranging her in his favourite pose.

Bathroom (c) Jane Risdon 2012

A Bathroom features in my Flash Fiction story The Honey Trap 30th Nov 2012 – (c)
Jane Risdon 2012

He cleaned the bathroom, and with a last glance round the hotel room, checking he had left no trace of himself, he silently let himself out of the room and made his way down the back stairs where his driver waited for him.

He felt a sense of relief and elation as they drove away, sure in the knowledge that this was another ‘situation,’ which would go unreported by the authorities.

After all, she was their agent, and her job had been to involve him, the Second Secretary at the British Mission, in what has always been known as ‘A Honey trap,’ so they could blackmail him into working for them.

Well, he was too good for them, he thought as he settled back in his seat.

He had been in his post for years, working all around the world, and allowing himself to be drawn into their so-called ‘delicate situations,’ and yet he had never been caught.

He enjoyed his work and loved to tease the enemy.

He knew his little calling card would be recognised, but what could they do? Admit they had planned to compromise a British diplomat who just happened to eliminate their ‘Bee,’ before they could act – he didn’t think so.

Next month he was being posted to Tel Aviv. He heard the women there were beautiful and knew how to handle themselves.

They all had to do a stint in the Army. The challenge thrilled him. He couldn’t wait.

The Honey trap (c) Jane Risdon 2012

The Honey Trap, Pod-cast 24th March 2013 
(c) Jane Risdon 2012


I (Morgen) asked Jane what prompted this piece and she said…

Espionage has always fascinated me and I love reading anything about Spies and the way the Secret Services around the world operate. I worked at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall, London, in my youth and it was amazing – so different to anything I had expected; much less stuffy for a start.

All the stories I heard concerning the great Spies such as Burgess and Maclean, (The Cambridge Five), made a big impact on me, and deep down I think I do want to write a Spy Novel.  When I began to write The Honey Trap I had spies and espionage in mind, but as it developed it turned into a typical Honey Trap, but with a difference.  Many of my short stories have an unexpected twist in the tale… this is another.

I may develop it more one-day and turn it into a novel.

Yes, do, it was great. Thank you Jane.

Thanks for sharing my work, Morgen.

I hope you enjoy this. Let me know.


Morgen’s fab blog with so much for authors is at:

If you are interested in The Cambridge Spy ring, do check this out: