Give a book for Christmas! Talking Books does the perfect present…

booksChristmasWell we are nearly there – just a week left to do your Christmas shopping and find the gift that will really mean something to the recipient, offering pleasure that will last well after the 25th December. Okay – there may be a few electrical devices that will offer a similar sensation but in truth – what is better than a book?

On Talking Books, my show on 10Radio, last week I discussed books as gifts for Christmas with my resident book expert, Julie Munckton. Julie works tirelessly to support local bookshops through the website, which offers an alternative to the faceless Amazon via your own local high street bookshop (or your favourite bookshop in any part of the country) and she really knows her stuff. Twenty five minutes sped past as we offered hints and tips for presents across many subjects – from fiction to gardening and from history to biography. Whether you have a loved one fascinated by football or a fan of Dr Who, into soap stars or the natural world, Victorian gothic fiction or a cosy mystery – there was something for everyone. We even looked at incredible jolting chairs and cures for dimples via the Quackdoctor.

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‘My Black Sheep’


Today I am thrilled to be featured on The Victorian Supersleuth blog, writing about my saucy ancestor Samuel Furneaux. Angela Buckley has established this fascinating site, to examining the work of Joseph Caminada, a great Manchester detective of the 19th century and the ‘original’ Sherlock Holmes. Angela has written a book about his work for Pen & Sword History and it will be published in the spring of 2014. I can’t wait to read it and feel lucky to be writing for the same imprint. ‘Victorian Supersleuth’ is full of family stories of skeletons in closets and the trials and tribulations of fighting crime in the nineteenth century. Do take a look!

Originally posted on Victorian Supersleuth:

Wonderful writer, researcher and family historian, Suzie Grogan aka @keatsbabe has kindly agreed to share this fascinating, and highly entertaining (not for his poor wife!), story of her naughty ancestor:

Samuel Furneaux, the brother of my Great Grandfather George Furneaux, was born in the very poor area of London around St Pancras Station in 1839. The Furneaux family were generally hardworking and sober and later in the century took advantage of their proximity to the tracks to embrace lives working on the railway that carved up their neighbourhood.

As a Furneaux (I have always loved my maiden name) I felt quite glamorous. My father was convinced we came from France with the revolution, or following the persecution of the Huguenots. It was only later, after detailed analysis of the family tree that we found little blue blood and a lot of cobblers. Literally. I was disappointed. We do so love a little…

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It isn’t all about hacking….Talking Books talks journalism with Rin Hamburgh

online-journalism-296x300 (1)Last week on Talking Books, my radio show on 10Radio, I was thrilled to welcome the lovely Rin Hamburgh (nee Simpson) to talk about journalism. I wanted to discuss her life in writing, what inspired her and how she negotiates all the obstacles the editors seem to put in the way of those keen to get their point across in print.

There are a lot of reasons to be cynical about journalists at the moment. The Leveson Inquiry and court cases that, as the time of writing, are ongoing are very depressing for anyone who believes in the freedom of the press and the wonderful way in which British newspapers (well most of them) have covered key events and important issues over the years. Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, disturbingly close friends of high ranked government ministers both, face years in prison if they are found guilty of phone hacking whilst working at the News of the World. The public have, rightly been disgusted at the lengths journalists will go to in order to get a story they deem to be in the public interest.

But journalism is not all about the tabloids. Nor is it all about getting sales by telling tales. There are many people out there writing about important issues at local and national levels. They are writing about health and well being and about things that are important to us in our daily lives – child rearing, the welfare system, how we protect vulnerable elderly people, our housing, gardening, crafts, music, weddings…. the list is endless.

Rin is one of those journalists that you know will be honest and make sure a story is told with integrity. We had a great chat on air about what makes her sit up and think ‘yes – that is a great story!’ and she offered lots of hints and tips for wannabe journos to make sure any pitch gets to the top of the Editor’s list and into print. If you have ever had an idea that you thought would make a good article or want to highlight an issue of importance to you, then listen to the show and hear Rin’s views on the best way to success.

Rin now works with Jo Middleton, another writer with loads of expertise in social media. They both featured in and helped with Dandelions and Bad Hair Days, an anthology I published last year for mental health charity SANE. They now offer training and mentoring to those who want to make the most of writing and social media in their business, as a freelancer or just for interest – see Inside Scoop for more details. She had more than one new fan before she even left the 10Radio studio and I know there will be some ideas heading her way after this interview. So thanks Rin – you really are the ethical face of journalism….

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The 31st October is not just Hallowe’en – Happy Birthday John Keats…

keats-charcoal1218 years ago today a wonderful Romantic poet (who still unites and interests the literary world) was born.

So for John Keats’ birthday AND for Hallowe’en,  I give you this chilling fragment…

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is—
I hold it towards you….

Some have thought this written to Fanny Brawne (how cruel that seems) but now I believe scholars agree it was written for a poem or play that was never completed. This fragment was not published until much later in the 19th century.

I love it. Happy birthday John.


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Hallowe’en horror – why we love a great ghoul & the scary art of self-publishing

MarrowScoopWell I did it. I doubt anything All Hallows Eve could throw at me could be more frightening. My admiration for all those out there who regularly self-publish their fiction is immense – putting work that has been part of your life, perhaps dredged from your writing soul, out to strangers is terrifying.

Yesterday I published three of my ghost stories as The Marrow Scoop and other Stories, on Amazon for Kindle (knowing now that anyone can download it via a Kindle app for pc or iPad etc). I love writing spooky stories and think I write best in a tone that anyone who is a fan of M.R. James and the writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries would recognise. Two of the stories pay homage to that great writer and in my opinion it is much harder to write a really chilling ghost story set in the 21st century. Is it because we are now so used to the special effects on television and in computer games perhaps? Are we more cynical and less ready to believe in spirits? Have shows like ‘Most Haunted’ and the NLP and illusions of Derren Brown convinced us that we are always being fooled by photographs of ‘ghosts’ and contact of any kind with the dead?

Brown_ladyAt a time when many of us are struggling to deal with the world we live in; the speed we must work at and the loss of control; the horrors we are faced with from local issues (here in Somerset I have been horrified by both a badger cull and the development of a new nuclear power station for example) and from across the globe, I am surprised at this lack of belief. I am not talking about clanking chains and white sheets or pumpkins and vampires but this reluctance to embrace the possibility that there is another dimension to our lives. I am not convinced of one faith over another but I would love to have some faith in the worth of us all beyond this mortal coil.

Perhaps that is why I am drawn to the mysterious art of the supernatural story. Or maybe it is simply a way to express that darker side of my nature that must generally be repressed, in the same way I love a good crime novel? I have included antique artefacts and a little of the paraphernalia of the classic ghost story, but hopefully with a little sprinkle of originality.

Who knows…. But putting The Marrow Scoop together I felt increasingly aware that some of my stories were simply not quite ‘right’, and good friend and fellow writer Vivienne Tuffnell (who has her own volume of eery stories available as The Moth’s Kiss) was honest enough to mention some weaknesses. So they will have to wait until I have a break from my non-fiction writing (Shell Shocked Britain is due at the publishers in eight weeks time) before they make it into print.

So hopefully the three stories I have published will offer you a shiver as you sit in the warm comfort of your Halloween homes tonight. I found it a hard volume to price, but it is £1.53 (Amazon do funny stuff with VAT) and I hope it is worth it….

What do you think about our continuing love of being spooked? And if you are a self-published author, which is more frightening – the idea of being in a room with the most ghoulish ghoul or pressing that ‘publish’ button?!

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Georgian Circus from a Georgian Gentleman – Mike Rendell on Philip Astley – the English Hussar

Mike Rendell

Mike Rendell

Today I am lucky to have a terrific guest blogger on No wriggling. Mike Rendell, author of a wonderful book based on the writings of his  4x Great Grandfather Richard Hall, The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman and keeper of the fabulous Georgian Gentleman blog. Here he writes of his fascination with the story of Philip Astley , one of the original circus impresarios and the subject of his latest book.

If you had suggested to me six months ago that I might write a book about the origins of the circus in the 18th Century – a subject about which I knew absolutely nothing – I would have assumed you were a trifle unbalanced. Yet here I am about to publish a 145-page book about Philip Astley – the guy who made the modern circus possible. The bi-centenary of the anniversary of his death is on October 20th next year and I thought I would mark the occasion!

It is not as if I have ever been particularly fascinated by the circus – here is one person who never dreamed of running away to try my hand on the high wire, or juggling. But having heard about Astley, and delved into some of the material about him, his life and achievements quickly became an obsession. He was one of the greatest showmen of his Age – indeed of any Age. His name is now almost forgotten – but why?

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On World Mental Health Day – Dandelions, Depression & Desperate marketing

Book Cover resize (2)(Please note – this is not just a sales pitch for a great cause! I include some poems to add value so bear with me…..)

I am proud to say that today is the first anniversary of the publication of Dandelions and Bad Hair Days, the book of wonderfully creative and heartfelt life-writing, poetry and photographs on the subject of depression and anxiety. More than twenty people allowed me to use the pieces they had provided for the monthly mental health blog post I ran on No wriggling and I am terribly proud to be its editor.

To celebrate World Mental Health Day (the launch of the book was planned to mark it last year) I have reduced the price of the Kindle version of the book by half to raise awareness and get it up the charts and royalties on the ebook mean that even with a price of £1.53 more than a £1 goes to mental health charity SANE. To go direct to buy (please!) click HERE. If you would like a copy of the paperback (and a chance to see Nettie Edwards’ great photos which we couldn’t replicate in the ebook) it is just £5.99, but I have a few copies I can send at a reduced price of £4.50, dedicated if you wish. Just leave a comment below for more details.

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