Saturday, 28 June 2014


I’ve  just got back from the Ladies Brunch at Caradoc Mission which is not far from Gladstone Dock, Seaforth, which gets a mention in the book I’m writing at the moment - as does the Caradoc pub. I meet my cousin and her daughter at the mission, so once a month we catch up on each other’s news, have a brilliant brunch and listen to how other people are coping with life. Our leader talked about her need to find a hiding place when life got a bit too much. I was reminded of the prophet, Elijah, in the Old Testament, and his trying to hide from God and in a storm he hears a still small voice telling him not to be afraid.

John and I were talking about hiding places on our way to Ormskirk yesterday. I remembered enjoying hiding in the rhododendron bushes in Newsham Park when I was a little girl and believing no one could see me. I loved hiding under the table in our kitchen with the table cloth pulled right down, so my sister and I could pretend we were in a tent. My brother preferred the coal cellar. All time favourite street games were “Hide and Seek” and “Stroke the Bunny”. We’d hide behind gate posts, private hedges, up jiggers (back entries) and neighbour’s front steps and shop doorways.  One of my own children used to like nothing better than a large cardboard box with the top firmly closed, while another of them much preferred behind the sofa. My youngest son, Daniel, made his own hiding place at the bottom of the garden and stealthy absconded with a bottle of orange juice, several cushions, a large towel and some biscuits.   

In the Fifties, the decade, my latest and last three books are set, there was a television programme called “No Hiding Place” which was a police detective series, staring Raymond Francis as Police Inspector Lockhart. Obviously the theme was that there was no hiding place for thieves when he and his sidekick were on the case. I discovered an episode on You Tube a few weeks ago and it really took me back to my teen years when my life seemed so much more simpler and less stressful.

When I feel the need to escape from everyday life, I like to get away or lose myself in a book. My perfect hiding place is in a book on holiday.  I read eight books, each one very, very different whilst staying at the Lindos View on the Island of Rhodes.

They are as follows: ELEGY FOR EDDDIE by Jacqueline Winspear. Our heroine is Maisie Dobbs who is  a woman sleuth, out of the norm, and the setting is mainly Thirties  London. There is a whole series of Maisie Dobbs books and I’ve enjoyed every one I’ve read so far.  PORTRAIT OF A SCANDAL  by Annie Burrows, is pure historical romance escapism with a likeable hero and heroine set partly in Paris during the Regency era. THE WYNDHAM CASE by Jill Paton Walsh, is a mystery set in a Cambridge college. Our heroine is Imogen Quy and there are another two in the series. I read it in a day. The author was known to me for having written two Lord Peter Wimsey books in conjunction with notes left by Dorothy Sayers, if I’m not mistaken.

 STARRY NIGHT by Debbie Macomber. I bought this for light relief and it is an easy read by an extremely popular American author. THE PROMISE by Freda Lightfoot is a family saga which involves a family mystery and is told from two points of view, that of the grandmother and which takes us back to late 19th century, early 20th century San Francisco and the granddaughter in late forties Britain. A page turner with lots of action and emotion. Well worth a read. THE ISLAND HIDEWAY by Louise Candlish. She is a new author to me but I went for the island of Sicily setting. Not my usual kind of read but I did enjoy the setting and found it interesting hiding out with modern characters whose lifestyle was so different to mine. I did finish it.

WE THAT ARE LEFT by Juliet Greenwood. This is a WW1 novel. Having researched the period myself, I still found plenty of interest in this book. I liked the main characters and enjoyed the settings. I was moved to tears and I’m glad to say there were happy satisfying moments as well as sad. Well worth a read. HEARTBREAK HOTEL by Deborah Moggach. I bought this because she is the author of THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, of which I have seen the film. It is a sort of Rom-Com. I had problems from the beginning with the title as I kept thinking of Elvis’s hit song of the fifties. Then the main character’s nickname was Buffy, so what with my having a son who is a great fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I kept thinking of that Buffy. Having said that as a lover of Wales, I enjoyed the mainly Welsh setting. Lots of characters who I had trouble distinguishing one from the other at times. I also had to suspend belief in their actions. Occasionally amusing and touching, I did feel the author was perhaps much more au fait with today’s young woman than I am as a mother of sons.

I also read a bit each day of Henri Nouwen with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird’s SPIRITUAL DIRECTION which I found interesting and helpful but will need to read again.

On the last day of my holiday and homeward bound I began to read THE IVY TREE by Mary Stewart, bestselling author of  romantic thrillers and historical novels. My favourites are THE MOONSPINNERS and MADAM, WILL YOU TALK.  She is one of my favourite writers, who died recently at the age of 97. I re-read her books and this one I actually read about thirty years ago, so could remember little of what it was about. I finished it a few days ago and enjoyed it.  

Now I have no hiding place from work as I have a deadline to meet and so I have to sit at my desk and get on with finishing my latest manuscript LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND. Definitely few hiding places on a beach, although there’s always the sea.








Sunday, 1 June 2014


 When I was a lot younger the Pierhead was a favourite place to visit when I lived in Liverpool. Whether it was to take the ferry across the Mersey to New Brighton or to Birkenhead where we’d catch a bus to Chester, Thurstaston or Hoylake for a day out. Sometimes we’d go the Pierhead, simply to watch the ships go by because in those days there were all kinds of boats and ships docking in Liverpool. It was a real working port and exciting. Now I live even closer to the Mersey but just a bit further along the coast a short distance from the Freeport at Seaforth where most of the container ships dock now.

But the other day I was meeting a reader of one of my books from California, whose mother had been born in Liverpool but emigrated to America not long after WW2. Her mother had passed on but my reader was visiting Liverpool for the very first time to meet a cousin and she emailed to say that she would like to take me out for Afternoon Tea. She booked a table on the top floor restaurant of the Maritime Museum which has a fabulous view over the Albert Dock.

I was early and had been dropped off the other side of the Liver Building, which meant I had a great view of the new Queen Mary at the new ocean liner terminal. It was huge with numerous decks, so extremely high.

Now I have several friends who really enjoy cruising, but although I have a yen to visit Norway where my great-grandfather Martin Nelson hailed from, so far my dh and I have not taken the plunge. It’s not that either of us fear suffering from seasickness. My husband just loves the fells and enjoys running up and down them.

I’ve been to the Isle of Man and also Ireland by ship several times. Once with my youngest son, Daniel, so we took our bikes and cycled into the Wicklow Hills for research purposes (Fateful Encounter)and we also stayed in a hostel in Dublin. The experience also came in useful for when I wrote Flowers On The Mersey. I’ve also crossed the English Channel more than once. The first time was also to research a book (Love’s Intrigue) and I took Daniel. We travelled by hovercraft and although much faster, I preferred a ship. Also John and I went on a trip to the Isle of Skye and Iona in the Hebrides on quite a choppy day and I’ve visited the Farne Islands to see the seals while on retreat in Northumberland. I’ve also been in a small boat off the coast of Anglesey whilst pregnant. Then there was the boat trip off the coast of Crete after walking the Samarian Gorge. So we do seem to have our sea-legs, although I have been told that you don’t really feel like you’re at sea in today’s huge liners.

So although impressed by the size of the Queen Mary, I was more interested in having a look at the changes that have been made to a place with which I was once so familiar with. I was relieved to see that the Liver Buildings was unchanged, except it was much cleaner than when I was a young girl before the Clean Air Act was passed. The India Building was also dazzling in the sun. I was later to tell my reader, Devo, that my plasterer father actually worked on the latter building after the war. I have a small photograph of him with some other workers high up outside the building standing on a balcony by what appears to be a flag pole.

I found myself moved to tears when I came across several memorial monuments, one dedicated to Merseyside seamen if I remember aright, another large one to the Norwegians who fought in the North Atlantic, the servicemen of Poland, another to those of the Netherlands, as well as the Chinese seamen who helped Britain in two world wars. There were probably others I missed because who could forget the Yanks helping us out.

I haven’t forgotten the statue of Johnny Walker, the hero of the Battle of the Atlantic. He was largely responsible for the final destruction of the German U boats who destroyed so much shipping and caused the deaths of so many British sailors. Sadly he died of exhaustion.

On another note there is a statue of Liverpool, singer Billy Fury, whose big hit “Halfway to Paradise” I remember well. Regretfully he died in his forties. There is also, of course, the Beatles Experience.

Close by the Albert Dock is the new Museum of Liverpool, and just further along is a Ferris wheel. There are also other changes to Liverpool’s seafront as just across the road from the Albert Dock is Liverpool One’s shopping centre and the Hilton hotel.

I had an interesting chat with Devo, who is from Santa Monica, over Afternoon Tea about all kinds of subjects, including, of course, books and Liverpool. The port did not disappoint her and I’m sure she’ll be back again one day.

For a time lapse of Liverpool by my son Tim Francis, writer, director, photographer,

LIVERPOOL TIME LAPSE City in Minutes from Tim Francis on Vimeo.

As for me, as I made my way up past Waterstone’s bookshop - slipped in there for a few minutes, to catch the bus, I thought I really should get out more away from my word processor and my characters living in the Liverpool of the fifties and mingle with those enjoying that of today.