Tuesday, August 22, 2017


I am a little sad that we won't hear our beloved Big Ben's 'bongs' for a couple of years.  This is due to a controversial renovation project that will stop it ringing out for up to four years. Hundreds of MPs and parliamentary workers gathered in the courtyards to listen as the Great Bell chimed noon before being stopped to allow work to begin.

Since 1979 when I first worked in Parliament, I had always been fascinated with the history of the Palace of Westminster and particularly its restoration work completed around 1860 and the great bell itself: couldn't wait to get up to the little turret in Elizabeth Tower (previously known as the Clock Tower) for a close-up. Must admit, it was a little noisy, but loved the charm and chime of the place. These images were taken twenty years ago and here is a view from my window.

Monday, August 21, 2017


There was I - searching the evening sky trying to catch a glimpse of the solar eclipse, but too much cloud to see the phenomenon.  What a shame - but here you will see some photos of the last eclipse that Sally and I (and broadcaster and author Claire  Rayner) witnessed on 11 August 1999.  You see, I do keep my pictures in good order and, more importantly - filed!

The venue was that fascinating garden in the sky (originally Derry & Toms' departmental store) in Kensington with gorgeous rooftop gardens and the flamingos performing their elegant strutting in the shallow pools. This place - now owned by others - was a perfect London venue to put on media events and I was a frequent visitor. I used their top gardener in charge of the gardens, for a three-page spread for the Essex Life magazine at the time. Well, it was the Millennium and change was all about us!  It is now a Grade II building.

Derry & Toms building in Kensington circa 1999

Sunday, August 20, 2017


I've just taken on a new writing project which is linked with the past. It's surprising how much you can remember when you are with people whom you knew in days gone by.  In this case, more than fifty years! The problem is locating those folk who attended your school, church and places where you loved to dance, not forgetting friends you've managed to keep in touch with.  Family members with good memories are important and they seem to like reminiscing (which keeps the old brain working)!  The best way to gather material for your  "Book of Reflections" is to start NOW and begin talking to people around you; better still,  I've found the internet's social media pages more than helpful. 

Next week, I will be meeting a group of people from the past and it will be fun to see if we recognise each other.  Now, who could she be? Circa 1963 - Location Barking Town Hall.

Monday, August 14, 2017


With a background of collaboration with more than sixty newspaper and magazine editors over many years, not including current publishing on-line editors, I must admit to reflecting on their differences. On the whole, I found them most agreeable, expecting copy to be filed on time and supported by good, sharp images, difficult sometimes when sending illustrated features for weekly columns.  

One such editor, Brian Lynch whose colourful life was celebrated at his funeral service last week, was one of the very best.  He was a good friend and efficient editor, who himself wrote his famous Lynch Lines for the local rag for decades, as well as producing a dozen books filled with humour and fun.

We shall all miss Brian and his work for the local press and his non-fiction books and I would not have missed the opportunity of saying goodbye to a perfect gentleman of Fleet Street.  

Sunday, August 13, 2017


Such a happy morning on Friday at Phoenix 98fm studio in Brentwood with presenter Michelle Ward meeting our guest author for August  CINDY BARBER.  Cindy is an Essex writer who is celebrating the launch of her latest book THE KEEPER OF THE KEYSTONE and this was her first writer's radio interview. Look out for the streamed interview on Phoenix 98fm and learn more about this aspiring author whose next two books will be issued within the next year. She is a member of Brentwood Writers' Circle.

Cindy writes under her name: CL Barber. Her current book Keeper of the Keystone Volume 1 by Satin Publishing ISBN: 9781539364429 can be purchased from Amazon: Paperback £9.99  ebook £1.99 

Sunday, August 06, 2017


It really is an honour to be a vice president of the SWWJ (as well as being the person who looks after our historical archives). Our alumni reads like a list of the world's most famous women writers.  If you check our website www.swwj.co.uk you will learn so much about our famous organisation that was born on 1 May 1894. 

Because women had such a tough time earning a living as writing professionals in the 1890s, many of them adopted male pseudonyms. Our first President was Mrs Pearl Craigie, one of the most famous playwrights of the late Victorian era, but she felt forced to write under the name John Oliver Hobbes. Other female journalists, novelists and playwrights also used male by-lines in order to be accepted.

Yet the reason for our existence in those late '90s days was because of a wonderful man - Joseph Snell Wood (1853-1920) who founded our Society. It was Joseph who created the famous Chelsea Arts Ball and held high editorial positions in Fleet Street at the time. He was a director/editor  of The  Graphic, Bystander, The Gentlewoman and many other newspapers and journals. It's amusing to see that modern day professional male authors often adopt female pen names in order to promote their work.

Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham OBE, DL
Image Ayo Banton
The Presidents heading our hardworking Councils, over the last 123 years have been superb, working mainly in London but caring for members all over the world in their writing endeavours and varied genres.

Among our Presidents, patrons and council members are the famous Scottish novelist Flora Annie Steel, Mary Frances Billington (first Daily Telegraph woman journalist), Lady Sarah Wilson, Lady Violet Astor, Clemence Dane, Vera Brittain, Phyllis Bentley, Dr Marie Stopes, Margery Allingham, Radclyffe Hall, Lady Troubridge, Rebecca West Joyce Grenfell, Nina Bawden, Lady Longford, and so many more notable names including, Jacqueline Wilson, Lady Shirley Williams, Ann Widdecombe, Lady Sandra Howard, and many more modern writing women including the lovely late Victoria Wood. Much more detailed history is  listed in our book THE WOMAN WRITER.

Our very latest lovely news is that we are to welcome Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE, DL into our Society as our new President. Floella is well known as an actress, broadcaster, writer and charity campaigner, and an enthusiastic supporter of a wide range of public and voluntary organisations.  We hope that our members and guests will be able to meet her at one of our forthcoming events. Look out for a full interview with Floella in the Autumn issue of The Woman Writer. Meanwhile, the Summer issue is out now.  www.swwj.co.uk

Tuesday, August 01, 2017


This week, I have been reading non-stop before writing reviews of some of the books that have landed on my doormat. As well as creating regular non-fiction features for my editors, another aspect of my work is reviewing novels written by some of my SWWJ colleagues.  There are four new titles on the shelf - each one so very different in style and subject and these will be discussed on Phoenix 98fm Book Club monthly show over the next few months.

Our super energetic presenter, Michelle Ward  enjoys meeting my never ending list of authors in her studio.

The first novel TWELVE DAYS TO DREAM by Bradley Bernarde has been useful in filling in my lack of knowledge of the British Regency era. Well, with the commemoration of Jane Austen's demise in 1817, she and her village of Chawton are currently constantly in the news. Members of our SWWJ enjoy visting Chawton and its connection with Austen and the support they provide our Society.  Some of our members make regular trips to this lovely place in Hampshire.   

In Bradley Bernarde's new book, her protagonist Anne Reed is a legal Partner employed in a legal firm based in London's Gray's Inn.  A hardworking lawyer, Anne is a rather solitary character.  Her literary idol is Jane Austen and the reader soon realises that Anne is an expert in all matters Regency.  She regrets not having been born during this interesting period. 

After taking some medication  purchased from a strange elderly gentleman in old fashioned chemist's shop, Anne finds herself transported back two hundred years into the world of Lady Arabella Clyde, whose husband, Sir Andrew, bears a strong resemblance to Andrew Hargreaves, her colleague in Chambers. 

Anne learns from an apothecary that she is destined to stay in  the year 1816 for twelve months, which will only correspond to twelve days in the present time. So much happens to our heroine who, at first, finds herself in a mystifying world where her lack of knowledge of the everyday running of her mansion and estates is put down to loss of memory following an accident.  In the following period she is flung into numerous situations, such as helping to deliver a baby, discovering the mysterious influence of Lady Arabella's companion, Hortense, and witnessing a public hanging at Newgate prison before escaping from a murderous mob.

As the date approaches for Anne's return to the 21st century, she learns of an underlying secret which enables her to overcome problems in her past life, and educates her to love in her present life.  This is an intriguing story, certainly for lovers of the Regency period, and those with a penchant for the world of Jane Austen. Soon to be released as an ebook by Scriptora - the publishing arm of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists - the plot for this novel was inspired by a visit to one of London's four Inns of Court and catching sight of a very modern young lady who captured the author's imagination.  Tremendous research ensued for information on the early nineteenth century and the story and characters gradually took shape. 

I did enjoy reading this book and it has helped my own research into the world of Jane Austen and her six famous novels.   Twelve Days to Dream by Bradley Bernarde will be available as an ebook in September by SCRIPTORA PUBLISHSING. Further details and price will be published in The Woman Writer magazine asap.

Friday, July 28, 2017


I love gardening as my Dad and most of my family have since we were small. Dad particularly enjoyed watching Percy Thrower, one of Britain's most famous horticulturalists who appeared regularly on television, and who introduced Gardeners World 1967. I believe this was even before colour TV came to our screens. What a huge pleasure it was for me some years later to meet Mr Thrower at Chelsea Flower Show and ask him to sign one of his books.

Around that time, too, I met Roy Lancaster who was on tonight's anniversary programme BBC 2. As a writer on this topic in years past, I enjoyed attending the Chelsea Flower Show every third week in May, particularly on VIP Monday and meeting so many of the top horticulturists and Britain's favourite presenters. These included Monty Don, Alan Titchmarsh and the whole tribe.  Most of them were caught on my camera over the past fifteen years and I can't remember one who refused to give me a grin!  Gardening folk are probably the best and kindest of all the different groups of people I know.

The Chelsea RHS media room, although packed, was full of journos and photographers from all over the world and I enjoyed their friendliness and sometimes being allowed to use some of their more sophisticated images to illustrate my own features.

Monday, July 24, 2017


As well as being the current archivist to the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, I've started updating my personal collection of photographs, features and of course memories covering many years of meeting and greeting hundreds of  fascinating folk. This work is going to take time as it covers a lifetime starting with my favourite writer Enid Blyton whom I met when I was a Brownie aged seven and received my own writer’s badge at London’s Central Hall. I remember climbing the dusty steps onto the stage, it was certainly a mind-blowing event to shake  hands with my heroine, author of the Magic Faraway Tree, Sunny Stories and so many other books available to us in those early days.

Sixty years later and still keen on writing and meeting other authors and journalists, it was a pleasure to meet, chat to and photograph Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE at a recent gathering in London.  As we all know, Floella Benjamin appeared on our television screens in the 1970s presenting Play Away and Play School,  but she was already a published author and concentrates on books for children - some twenty of them at the last count. Perhaps the most memorable is Coming to England which is a great read and is now part of the academic curriculum - a tremendous literary success.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Columnists Brian Lynch, Sylvia Kent and Editor Nev Wilson
So very sad to learn of the death of my old friend and colleague, Brian Lynch. My personal connection goes back more than thirty years when he was editor of a local Brentwood-based newspaper. I've had dozens of editors, but none like Brian who was always a joy to talk to and someone who, like me, loved words and their derivation. 
Brian wrote thousands of words for several newspapers including the Brentwood Gazette under his Lynch Lines columns and turned later to write books, poetry and humour.  He was kind enough to contribute a couple of chapters to some of my early books, and again, I was so grateful for his funny take on life. He gave our local Writers' Circle some interesting talks and I have never met any journalist who didn't have a soft spot for 'our Brian'.  We shall all miss this lovely man and send our condolences to Elizabeth and Brian's family. 





Friday, July 14, 2017


Congratulations to our super SWWJ Patron Sandra Howard whose new novel was launched last night in London. The Consequence of Love is published by Simon & Schuster and has already received some excellent reviews. Wishing you great success with this new book.  ISBN 13-97814-71111396 
Sandra Howard and Pamela Birley


Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Could it be eight years or so since Hilary Mantel paid a visit to Billericay? She was a guest of our Reading Group - her recent Reith Lectures have been fascinating.  Hope she comes back to us one day. By the way, our own Billericay Readers' Group (which meets today) was formed in 2000 and what a great team of bibliophiles we are!    www.sylviakent.blogspot.com  

Monday, July 10, 2017

Since last week's AGM. there's such a lot of activity and positive plans going forward in our Society.  We are delighted to welcome Janice Grande as our new Secretary and Rebecca Harding who will help with our marketing. 
Janice Grande - new SWWJ Secretary

Chairman Barbara and Marketing Co-ordinator Rebecca

Thursday, July 06, 2017



Back: Jim Reddell, Joe Ellis, , Norman Gunby  Geoff Perrior, Cyril Giachardi, Edward Clack
 Front Row Jack Bartlett  and Terry Parsons
Now that memory groups and a multitude of books on the past are currently so popular, it is lovely to look back to the time I started my own Memory Club in Brentwood in the mid-1990s. Word soon got around and old soldiers, sailors and Royal Air Force veterans turned up for lunch and a good natter to share their stories of World War Two. 

Some of the boys were writing their own memory books and others were happy to tell their personal stories which appeared on paper, film or were happy for me to record them for posterity.  Some of the gentlemen above actually published their reminiscences and it was lovely to attend their book signings at local and regional bookshops.  I was writing a regular newspaper column at the time and my new friends certainly enjoyed seeing their stories in print.

Here is a snap of just a few of our friends who enjoyed each other's company (ttere were more than twenty members) and gave me some of their personal recollections.  Oh - and eventually, we did attract some lovely ladies - Land Army Girls, WRENS and Bletchley Park veterans - but that's another story.    

Monday, July 03, 2017


We are proud of our pretty garden at the rear of 74 High Street - the home of the Cater Museum, Billericay. Each season new flowers appear and we hope to increase the varieties and introduce new herbaceous plants and herbs. We would love you to pay a visit - open most afternoons except Sunday. times: 2-5 (Saturday 1-4pm)
Katie's snap of her little blue tit  friend learning to fly
The ancient wall at the Cater Museum, Billericay High Street

Sunday, July 02, 2017


I do have a vested interest in Evergreen Colorado  and the fabulous paintings - forty of them - created by my nephew STUART WALLACE  which are currently on display - through July 2017. Stuart's paintings are located within the Theatre Gallery, part of the same building as WHERE THE BOOKS GO in Evergreen, Colorado, 27888 Meadow Drive.

To purchase these or any of the other paintings currently displayed, contact Padma Thornlyre at 303-674-1857 or padmathornlyre@yahoo.com to make an appointment. Padma should also be contacted for any questions or inquiries related to future Visual Arts exhibits or the Literary and Performance Arts events held at the same location.​

Friday, June 30, 2017


So sorry to hear of the passing on 19 June of Brian Cant, the actor with the lovely voice and someone I met a few years ago. His involvement in Play School directly led to his work on three linked Gordon Murray puppet TV series. Who remembers  Camberwick Green, Trumpton and Chigley - certainly our children (and thousands of others) do? Play Away and other projects for older children during the 1980s.   Brian also starred as Brian the farmer in the children's television puppet programme  Dappledown Farm and he was famed as the storyteller in the UK version of Jay Jay the Jet Plane. and the narrator for the popular Canadian children's show  Bruno.
  He fabulously co-hosted the children's programme

Brian also appeared in television series for adults, twice in Doctor Who stories, Doctors and several other programmes.  I was delighted to meet him at last when my friend actor Mike Edmonds invited us back stage in Southend for that great play by Paul Elliott There's no Place like a Home and Brian valiantly posed for me. We will certainly miss this lovely chap.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Celebration day tomorrow for the AGM and gathering of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists - hard to believe we look back on 123 years of continuous membership. 

Members, visitors and special guests will meet, as usual, in the stately National Liberal Club and enjoy a special meal, with the well known speaker Richard Combes, Head of Policy at the Authors Licensing & Collecting Society.  It's always a great pleasure meeting new and long-standing members who share our fascinating  craft of writing and publishing.  For details of more of our events and useful links:   www.swwj.co.uk

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


Anthony Horowitz is my current favourite author and my thoughts on his new book are summed up by most of the well known literary reviewers.  He is also one of the UK's most prolific and successful writers. His novels The House of Silk and Moriarty were Sunday Times Top 10 bestsellers and sold in more than thirty-five countries around the world. He was recently commissioned by the Ian Fleming Estate to write the James Bond novel Trigger Mortis. His bestselling Alex Rider series for children has sold more than nineteen million copies worldwide. 

As a TV screenwriter he created both Midsomer Murders and the BAFTA-winning Foyle's War; other TV work includes Poirot and the widely-acclaimed mini-series Collision and Injustice. 

Anthony has recently joined the board of the Old Vic and regularly contributes to a wide variety of national newspapers and magazines. In January 2014 he was awarded an OBE for services to literature.


I'm just starting to write copy for the September edition of this really rather wonderful monthly journal, for as you know, research, interviewing, reporting and eventual writing absorbs quite a lot of time.  In my case, because my work is so varied and covers many aspects of history, books, folklore, healthy living, eating and drinking, the list grows longer.  However, it is wonderful to find so many like-minded folk around the world and receive their thoughts, advice and even recipes which are offered with permission to use in my various writing outlets.  Many thanks to you all. 

Next edition (August) of Home Farmer will be published around the lst July. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017


Keen gardeners - I need your help!  This pretty tallish daisy has been growing in our garden for many years, given to me by the lovely Margaret.  Have asked so many gardeners about its name - no one has been able to help so far, but have now posed the question to the RHS Plant Finding team.  Will let you know when I receive an answer.  In the meantime, you can see it in bloom at the Cater Museum, Billericay, Essex.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


Currently reading the Reverend Smith's 1912 version of The Diary of Samuel Pepys is probably the most famous diary in the English language. This is research I am carrying out for a commissioned feature.

Pepys began documenting his activities on January 1660 and finished in May 1669, a relatively short period. I am enjoying learning first-hand about some of the most turbulent events of the nation’s history, including the coronation of King Charles II, the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London. Pepys was an extremely observant commentator and his diary is an important historical document. Written in his own special shorthand, it is now housed at Magdalene College, Cambridge. I also learned how to write shorthand - in my case, Pitman's New Era which took years to reach 140 words per minute - but well worth the effort. 

Pepys’ diary entry for 22 February 1664 is typical of his blending of domestic details with affairs of state. It begins with an account of Pepys shaving and setting off on his daily business, but goes on to focus on an issue of immense political concern: the acute financial shortages that were a feature of Charles II’s reign. The revenue granted to the monarch by Parliament fell short of the amount actually needed in order to run the country, and the Anglo-Dutch wars of 1664-7 and 1672-4 – coupled with Charles’s extravagant lifestyle – were a further drain on his income. The extravagance of the Royal household was resented by many, and the introduction of a Hearth Tax as a means of raising additional money caused a significant amount of dissatisfaction. Research continues (many thanks to some of my more academic friends for their advice).


Marketing your book

Just finished off a feature about the next stage of writing.  Many writers feel a great sense of relief when their book is finished and their precious manuscript has been safely received by their publishing company. Their job is done – or is it? It’s true that publishers have marketing departments whose job is to sell as many books as possible, but it is a well known fact that the majority of books are unlikely to earn large amounts for the publishers. It’s up to the author to do all he/she can to market his book and generate sales both to the trade and potential readers.

An excellent way is to approach bookshops – preferably the larger chains - and offer to put on a book signing. A good, sharp photo of yourself attached to a short press release with illustrations of front cover and quotes could be sent to local newspapers and radio stations, which will generally attract media attention.

Sell your latest book or non-fiction articles by posting the work on your own website (which usually has to be paid for) or a blogsite  which is an effective marketing tool and is offered freely by Google. Don't forget local and regional radio - national, too, if you can interest a producer (and we do have a few connected to SWWJ), but do get into the mood and 'go off to market'.  Check out the Society of Women Writers and Journalists www.swwj.co.uk and study our list of great opportunities provided for SWWJ members around the world. 

SWWJ Chairman and new Council Member Rebecca Harding

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Friends and family (plus my readers in HOME FARMER) know that I enjoy creating my own wines from fruit and veg grown locally in Essex, England.  Currently picking pounds of strawberries; freezing some for sorbets and flans and others for the fermentation bucket.  Everything is ready, sterilized and off we go.  

Do check out current edition of HOME FARMER (June) which is a mine of superb features on everything from keeping chickens, making best use of your allotment bounty and, of course, making a lovely organic wine from your own home-grown fruit (and vegetables). 

Friday, June 16, 2017


When I am stuck for a prezzie for one of the chaps, a visit to Trevor Jeffery's Beer Shop always solves a problem.  Helpful and knowledgeable about the brewing industry, Trevor and his team are always happy to show customers around their mini brewery. Super atmosphere! 

There is a very nice article about Trevor in this month's glossy Essex Life and we learn a little about the maestro and how he left his job as a teacher to learn about the intricacies of making good artisan beers.  And if you look carefully around his shop, on the counter, you may even find one of our books published by the one and only Cater Museum at 74 High Street, Billericay. 

We, in the Cater Museum, have a fine collection of books authored by some of our present and past curators. The latest is BILLERICAY'S ZEPPELIN which was published following last year's centenary of the shooting down of the L32 Zeppelin on 24 September 1916.  So do pop into see Trevor at his Billericay Brewing Company at 52 Chapel Street, Billericay CM12 9LS
T: 01277 500121/07788 373129 and maybe even buy one of our books.  

Thursday, June 08, 2017



 We are all turning out today to place our votes - just as we have done for all general elections.  Look at this photograph taken over fifty years ago in Billericay.  

Did you know that little old Billericay in Essex was regularly the first constituency in Britain during the late '50s to return the vital voting figures to Parliament? No longer, however, as this was so long ago, but doubtless our name will crop up in the news much as it has done for every general election ever since.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


With such current awful news experienced by people in Manchester, a place I have visited a few times, there's too much sadness in the news at the moment, so really not in the mood to write frivolous and unimportant posts, even in such an apolitical weblog.  

Monday, May 15, 2017


Monday morning chat with editor Nik Allen whose new journal  VISION  has just arrived in Billericay homes.  A nice slick little monthly magazine which, although obviously carrying a great deal of adverts promoting local firms, also promises to be interesting and will be focusing on upcoming events with lots of information supporting our local community.  Welcome!