Tuesday, 30 December 2014


I love the sound of bells and for me church bells in particular. Their chimes used to be a familiar part of Sunday mornings years ago, not only in my part of Liverpool but throughout the British Isles. Church bells and their ringers have played important roles in books and films. Those who have seen THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME will never forget Charles Laughton in the title role as the bell ringer who saved the gypsy girl, Esmeralda’s life, played by the lovely Maureen O’Hara. I also remember reading Dorothy Sayers’ THE NINE TAILORS set in the Fen countryside, featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. The nine tailors, of course, referred to bells. More recently bell ringers fell victim to the killer in “Midsummer Murders” when one of their member was determined to win a coveted cup in a yearly competition.

The joyful sound of church bells, just like the ships’ hooters on the Mersey, were very much part of the celebrations that saw the passing of the old year and the arrival of the new over the years. So not surprisingly in my latest book, my thirty-fifth, LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND, set in the fifties, both bells and ships’ hooters get a mention as part of it takes place around that time of year.

These days I generally welcome New Year in the warmth of my living room with my family, watching the countdown in London and other capitals throughout the UK, listening to the bongs of Big Ben and gazing in delight at the fantastic fireworks displays. Once Andy Stewart and all things Scottish were popular and Clive James’s take on the old year was a must in our house for years and we still miss his humour.
And after watching THE KING’S SPEECH I am reminded of George V1 quoting from Minnie Haskins’ poem “The Gate of the Year” (1908) : I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’

When I was less nesh (a dialect word taken from the Old English word hnesce and now in the wordbank at the British Library) I would be out celebrating, despite the cold weather. Crowds would gather at the conjunction of four main roads, Breck, Lower Breck, Belmont and Oakfield, the latter leading to Liverpool’s football ground and not that far from Everton’s Goodison. It was exciting being part of that lively group of Scousers welcoming in the New Year. First footing also played its part and my dad and later John and I would make sure we had a coin, a small lump of coal and a piece of bread in a pocket to take into the house with us to hand over to Mam or Dad as we passed over the threshold and brought in the New Year, hopefully bringing good fortune with us.

I wonder what you are hoping for in 2015. As I get older keeping healthy figures a lot. I also long for world peace and tolerance between people of faith and none. As well as food, warmth and shelter for all those without such essentials. But mostly at the moment I’m hoping that my youngest son will turn up on my doorstep. Not only is it a while since he took off for Eastern Europe and I miss watching old black and white films with him, but I need him to update my website, hear of his adventures and see his smiling face.
As it is I’ll have to make do with blogging about my books for now that will be published in 2015. They are as follows: A MOTHER’S DUTY will be released 26th February in paperback and as an e-book, previously published as KITTY AND HER BOYS. LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND out in hardback 31st March. A DAUGHTER’S CHOICE out in paperback and e-book 16th July, previously SOMEBODY’S GIRL. I’ll tell you more about the books and where I got my ideas from nearer the time. For now hopefully I can put up a cover or two on my Google + page.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014


It’s that time of year when lit up reindeers, snowmen and Father Christmases climbing ladders appear on walls of houses. Very different from when I was a lot younger living in Liverpool. The most I would expect to see would be lit up Christmas trees in front parlours in the gap between open curtains. Mind you they never appeared until the week before Christmas, whereas these days, such decorations arrive at the beginning of December. I’m all in favour of such lights because they make me smile and brighten the dark nights. I can even understand the sense of Father Christmas needing a ladder if he’s parked his sleigh on the roofs of the new houses at the bottom of our street as they have no chimneys. But it’s the bright lights that I really go for and maybe it’s because I was born when I was that I love them so much.
When I was a very little girl in WW2 the streets were very dark in the winter evenings and even when I went to infants school in Whitefield Road, Everton, in the mid Forties, our house was lit by gas. Going upstairs to bed could be quite scary because the stairs were unlit and so was the landing and I don’t remember the gas ever being lit in the bedroom. Even downstairs in the kitchen (these days it would be called the living room) if the gas ran out, the room would be plunged into darkness and Mam’s fingers scrabbled for a penny beneath the runner on the sideboard to put in the meter in the parlour. I remember the sense of relief when the penny dropped and one of my brothers would get on a chair and light the gas mantle.

Of course, often there was some light from the fire in the grate but that could send shadows dancing around the walls which could be spooky if I was on my own, especially if I had been to the flicks with Mam and my sister the evening before. I’ll never forget watching a Flash Gordon film in which the walls were closing in on our hero, threatening to squash the life out of him. For days I was a nervous wreck. A certain Laurel and Hardy film on the telly with a flying sheet representing a ghost frightened the life out of my own son Tim when he was little. So it’s best never to under-estimate what a child’s imagination can do.

Going down the backyard to the lavatory during dark winter evenings was scary, too. Fortunately our house was the end one of a row of terraced houses, it was next to a jigger (entry) that led to the next street and was divided into two more narrow entries onto which the backdoors of yards opened. No doubt it was because of the entries that on the corner of our yard wall was fixed a street gas lamp. I loved that gas lamp and I’m glad that my husband thought of photographing it before it vanished forever when our street and neighbouring ones were demolished in the seventies. ( See my google+ page of this blog for the photo).

I’ll never forget the day the men came to put electricity into the houses in our street. Us kids would come home from school and there would be a cocky watchman with an arched covered shelter and a brassiere that burned coke which glowed brightly in the dark, guarding the equipment. It was probably from seeing that brassiere that my brothers and my future boyfriend had the idea of putting holes in tin cans and setting stuff alight inside. With string attached to the cans, they would swing them around as they ran. What was more magical than those cans glowing in the dark was being able with the press of a switch to light up the four main rooms in our house. They did not include mine and my sister’s bedroom or that of my brothers’. Dad who was a plasterer but worked with electricians in the building trade, connected our bedrooms, the landing and lobby to the power. I can’t say that rooms were no longer plunged into sudden darkness because they did when the money ran out in the electric meter.

As it was the street lamps in Liverpool were to be lit by gas for many years and as a teenager, I would gather with friends around the lamp post after dark. It’s only since I became a novelist that I gave a lot more thought to what it would be like in earlier times. I read about mutton fat being burnt in small homemade bowls to provide light in hovels in the 13 century and when researching my ancestry I discovered that on my grandfather William Nelson’s marriage certificate, his occupation is listed as lamplighter in 1896. I well remember the lamplighters coming around when I was a girl, so I can picture him in that role.

In our church and many others during Advent there will be Christingle services.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christingle  Now they are really magical! Happy Christmas!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014


Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that my maiden name is Nelson. The same can be said for readers of my novel IT HAD TO BE YOU as that nugget of information gets a mention at the back of the book in connection with my tracing my ancestry.

It was the latter that led to a reader emailing me, wondering if we could possibly be related in some way as his name was Rodney Nelson and he had traced his Nelson ancestry to the Scottish and English border country. Just like my Nelson great grandfather, Martin, some of his ancestors were mariners and Rodney’s father had gone to sea for a while, having set sail from Liverpool.

I haven’t been able to get far with my Nelson ancestry as the only information I have found is that on my great-grandfather’s marriage certificate in 1865 and children’s baptismal records. On the marriage certificate I discovered that Martin’s father’s name was Hance Nelson. I had long known that there was Scandinavian blood in the family and have found that there was quite a number of Nelsons who had settled in the Toxteth area in Victorian times. But alas I haven’t been able to link them positively with my great-grandfather, due to my great-grandmother Mary Nelson being widowed within a few years of their wedding. She remarried in 1874 and so the trail went cold on me.

Having received more information about Rodney’s Nelson ancestry it seems unlikely that we’re closely related because while he has managed to trace his Nelsons to Scotland in the time of Robert the Bruce and discovered that the original Nelson, or son of Neill, had come from Scandinavia, I like to think that somewhere in the distant past all us Nelsons are linked.

As far as I know Rodney’s mariner Nelsons have achieved more fame than I can claim to for mine. One of his has had a book written about him called MASTER OF CAPE HORN, the story of a Square-rigger Captain and his world, name of W.A. Nelson, 1839-1929. The author is Hugh Falkus who was a wartime Spitfire pilot, with a love of sailing and an acquaintance with the Nelsons. His book was published in 1982 and although it is now out of print I have managed to purchase a second hand copy.

Interestingly Rodney Nelson was brought up in Carlisle in the English border country. As I was due to go on a week’s holiday to Keswick in the northern Lake District just after we got in touch, I mentioned to him that on a previous November holiday, I had visited my maternal Milburn roots in Culgaith and the hamlet of Milburn up that way. He knew the area well and of course, recognised the Milburn name. The Milburns were one of those Border Reivers families who raided over the border into Scotland way back in the Middle Ages. These days the most famous Milburn I know is known for his skill on the football field and that is all I know.

I enjoyed my visit up in the beautiful Lake District and the weather was kind to us with scarcely any rain. Whilst there we visited Grasmere, famous not only because the poet William Wordsworth lived there for a while but because of its special kind of gingerbread. The recipe of which is the same as that made by - wait for it - a Sarah Nelson in Victorian times. Her maiden name was Kemp and she married a Wilfrid Nelson after a whirlwind romance.

 Perhaps we’re related somewhere along the line because I had an uncle Wilfrid, who was born during the Great War!

On a different note when I arrived back from holiday it was to discover an email from my editor who had sent me a copy of the cover for my next book LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND that will be out in hardback at the end of March 2015. But before then I have a paperback out in February, a reissue of KITTY AND HER BOYS called A MOTHER’S DUTY. More about these books when I blog in the New Year but before then I’ll hopefully be blogging in December.





Wednesday, 5 November 2014


The other afternoon I was watching a heated argument on the telly about Health and Safety in connection with Bonfire Night. Apparently some bright spark wants children banned from having sparklers. The words Nanny State were bandied around and I had to agree with those who said it’s about time the government accepted that most parents had some commonsense when it came to overseeing younger children and knew to teach their older children to abide by certain safety rules.

While both views on the subject continued to be voiced, my mind drifted back to the cold dark autumn days of my youth and the build up to Guy Fawkes Night. Not for us children growing up in the late forties and fifties organised firework displays, the great thing was collecting wood for the Bommie on which to burn an effigy of the man in charge of the gunpowder intended to blow up King James and his Parliament.

We had to find somewhere safe from the thieving hands of kids from neighbouring streets who were hell-bent on having a bigger bonfire than us. It was a time when even a decrepit backyard door could be nicked or even part of your wooden fence. The gift of any old furniture when someone was buying new was met with effusive thanksgiving.

Then there was the Guy to make and I remember one particular year that my dad drew and painted us a brilliant mask depicting a man of the appropriate historical period (1605). It was attached to a drumhead cabbage head which was fixed to a body made from stuffed with paper men’s clothes.

Our parents could not afford money to burn so we only ever had about two or three fireworks, such as Golden Showers or Roman Candle and a Catherine Wheel, as well as a packet of sparklers each. Any extra fireworks involved lugging our Guy to the nearest shops and hanging around outside, pleading A PENNY FOR THE GUY, PLEASE! Us girls didn’t do none too badly. Of course, times have changed and the notion of burning an effigy of poor ol’ Guy Fawkes these days wouldn’t go down well. Besides he suffered a completely nasty fate altogether. 

In my early teens I remember sitting on an old sofa intended for the bonfire with some other girls, gazing dreamily into the flames, little suspecting that any minute the lads would toss several bangers beneath the sofa in an attempt to frighten the life out of us.

Naturally us girls ran, screaming when the bangers went off but we had seen them coming. The only time I ever did get hurt on Bonfire Night was when I was sixteen and walking with my boyfriend to have a look at the various street bonfires to see which was the best. A wandering spark found its way inside my school scarf and burn my neck slightly.

There were always adults present to keep an eye on things. Besides living in the backstreets of Liverpool where houses were heated mainly by a single fire in the kitchen, there was something mesmerising about those bonfires. And towards the end of the evening one could guarantee finding a baked potato in the dying embers of the fire. The spuds might have been blackened but that didn’t stop us enjoying them with a bit of salt and a knob of melting butter on them and none of us suffered upset tummies.

I, like many another from that era, accepted there was risk involved where there was fire and fireworks working their magic. Some people do act stupid and so there will always be accidents but as long as the majority show commonsense and stick to certain general rules, then is there really any need for laws to be passed as if we’re all idiots?



Monday, 20 October 2014


I was watching repeats of WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE on BBC2 last week and the one featuring Len Goodman, the primary judge on Strictly Come Dancing, struck a chord with me.

    One of his ancestors was a silk weaver in London and due to his father having been involved in the trade there was enough money to buy two properties in the capital. This was way back in the early 19th century and as governments were wont to do, they passed a law that meant those involved in the silk trade had to move from London, otherwise they had to pay a hefty levy. Within a short space of time the government passed another law which meant cheap French imports of silk goods completely ruined those involved in the silk trade in Britain. Len’s ancestor lost everything and ended up working as a porter in London’s dockland.


Those of you who might have read my blog over the past year might remember my mention of my paternal great-great grandfather, Charles Cooke, who was born in Coventry and came to Liverpool in the 1840s. His father, John, had been a ribbon manufacturer and I wondered why it was that Charles left the family home in the Midlands for Liverpool. I discovered that there was a silk industry in Coventry involving a large workforce of silk weavers and the manufacture of silk ribbons was part of that industry, as well as other goods.

   Just like Len’s ancestor those in Coventry were made destitute when the government passed that law that enabled the import of cheap French silk goods. Things were so bad that soup kitchens were set up to feed the starving. Reason enough for my great-great grandfather, Charles Cooke to make his way to Liverpool where he found a job as a warehouse porter down at the docks, just like Len’s southern ancestor did in London.

     It was in Liverpool that James must have met another warehouse porter, Thomas Woolley, who had come up from Shropshire. Charles married Thomas’ s daughter, Jane, who had been born in Liverpool. The couple were married at St Peter’s church and lived in Toxteth down by the docks at a time when Liverpool began to expand rapidly into the thriving city it became.

     Charles and Jane’s son, James was born in Toxteth and he became a baker. (I can still see in my mind’s eye, Mary Berry’s face on WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE a few weeks ago on discovering that she had a baker in her ancestry). 

     But back to Len. My interest in him as such that this morning I googled him. I knew him to be a Londoner and that he could have been born within the sound of Bow bells but was actually born in Bromley, Kent. As it happens my maternal great-grandfather, William Milburn, whose joiner father, came from the Lake District during the building boom in Liverpool, took his family south to Bromley, St Leonards, which is by Bow, London, where he and his wife, Mary, had another six children. My Liverpool born grandfather, John Milburn, was to work in an iron foundry in London dockland before taking to the sea and returning to Liverpool, where his daughter, married my father, the great-grandson of Charles from Coventry.

     Len, also discovered Polish blood in his family and therein lay another interesting tale for the Strictly Come Dancing judge. Like so many of us who trace our ancestry, he, too, pondered and marvelled about how if such a person had not done this or that, then he wouldn’t have been born.

    I have never really asked myself the question Who do I think I am? I know who I am but I’ve always had an interest in how things came about. That’s why I, like many another, find it so fascinating delving into my family, city and country’s past.

    I just wish I could find out more about my great-grandfather Martin Nelson, a Norwegian mariner just like his father, Hance Nelson. Martin came to Liverpool and met a girl from Toxteth. Unfortunately I can only find mention of Martin on his marriage certificate and that of his children. Within nine years of that marriage, his wife Mary is a widow and remarries another Norwegian mariner who is a Nationalised Brit. If only I had one of those experts from WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE to help me in my search!

     P.S. On another note, I have put up a new banner photograph of the Liverpool waterfront on my Google + version of this blog that was taken by my son, Tim. I’ve also changed the photo of myself to one from the 1960s for your interest. 

Saturday, 11 October 2014


I was made up the other week when I read that as we get older it isn’t that our brain stops working as efficiently, it’s just that when we try to remember things, it takes longer because we have more in our memory banks for our brain to sift through. This made perfect sense of my remembering just the first letter of a name or a place I can’t recall straightaway but do so a few hours later or the next day. It reinforces what I’ve thought for a while and that older people are at a disadvantage when it comes to quick-fire quizzes, such as Mastermind.

In our house it’s not only me that can be forgetful but my husband as well. Who hasn’t been asked, ‘Do you remember where I’ve put my keys?’ His have turned up on the second stair up by the front door or on the top of the fridge…or even inside his woolly hat with his gloves.

I always remind him of an episode of Poirot in which Miss Lemon couldn’t remember where she had put her keys and had to stay at his flat. The next day she remembered something Poirot had told her and backtracked on her actions of the day and she found the keys in a bowl of fruit in the hall.

When I first set out to be a writer and was looking for ideas for magazine articles, the smell from a tar machine where workmen were resurfacing a road, instantly reminded me of when I was a little girl bursting tar bubbles between the cobbles on Whitefield Road, near where I went to junior school. That I managed to get tar on my white ankle socks didn’t please Mam at all. Especially when her method of getting rid of the tar involved rubbing butter into it.

But that memory led me to writing an article called SENSES OF THE PAST - smell, hearing, sight, touch - I sent the article to LANCASHIRE LIFE. It wasn’t accepted but the editor did tell me that it was a near miss and that letter encouraged me to carry on writing.

The sight of laden branches of blackberries takes me back to a Sunday School trip on the Wirral or a holiday in Towyn, North Wales. I still enjoy picking blackberries and this morning I decided to make jam, I’ve had three ice cream containers of the fruit in the freezer for weeks and decided it was time to do something with them, as soon I’m going to need the space for Christmas goodies. I decided to make apple and blackberry jam and John helped with the peeling of the apples and sterilising the jam jars. The bubbling mixture smelled gorgeous but after spooning the jam into jars, left at the bottom of the pan was a mush of blackberries and syrupy liquid that was fragrantly toffeeish.

My mam never made jam but she did make toffee apples. I can picture her now in her floral pinny in our old back kitchen. Us kids loved those toffee apples because they were a once a year treat. Having said that there was a woman who used to make toffee apples who lived near Ogden’s tobacco factory on Boundary Lane, and there would be a queue of us kids waiting to hand over our pennies to buy one. Today’s shop bought ones just don’t taste the same.

On a slightly different note I received an email this week from a lady called Deborah who lives in Perth, Australia. (Isn’t the internet magic!) She had recently read my books STEP BY STEP and A DREAM TO SHARE; both of which are mainly set in the beautiful city of Chester. She wanted to know the titles in the right order of the other books in my Chester series because she wanted to know what happened next to the characters. I have been asked this question before about that series - which is partly set in Liverpool as well.

For anyone else who would like to read about my Chester families who discover they have links with Liverpool. They are as follows:


Just like Liverpool, Chester is a fascinating place to visit. Chester as a port came to prominence much earlier than Liverpool but Liverpool was to supersede it when the Dee silted up. I discovered the main similarities between the cities were both had rivers, cathedrals, canals and markets, as well as a main railway station. The differences were obvious, but most interesting to me was that Liverpool had numerous pawnbroker shops during Edwardian time, while I could only find two in Chester.

I would have liked to have carried on writing that series whose stories came to an end in the twenties, but my publisher at the time decided it was time to leave that era and the characters. She wanted books to be set around the fifties. It is where my latest Liverpool books are set and I have to confess that the fifties is one of my favourite decades to write about.


Monday, 29 September 2014


The other week I was given two tickets for the Plaza Cinema in Crosby by one of my neighbours, Val. She wasn’t able to go but thought I might be able to use them.  There was to be a special showing of a film called Life on the Home Front in North West England. It was rare footage that had been put together by the North West Film Archive who are determined to save our region’s filmed heritage.
     It was a while since I’d visited the Plaza which was saved from closure several years ago by a group of volunteers and is now a community cinema. When my sons were much younger, we would do the half hour walk to Crosby quite often. It was at the Plaza we saw ET, THE BLACK HOLE,  ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING, as well as DEATH ON THE NILE, so I remember it with fondness. It is situated opposite Crosby library which I visited last week because I had a yen to browse shelves of books. Sadly we lost our local library in Litherland almost a year ago.
     I’m glad to say the Plaza still has the atmosphere of the cinema I remember,  although the seats are no longer those ones that would threaten to spring closed when you stood up or tried to sit down. John and I found the new ones really comfortable with a decent back so you could rest your head as you gazed up at the screen. The film lasted just over an hour and was narrated by Maxine Peake, who can be seen on our television screens at the moment and has played Hamlet at the theatre in Manchester recently.
     It was not quite what I expected as the footage did not cover just the First World War but some of the years in the lead up to it and several years afterwards. Neither was it local in the way I had thought it would be. Still I found it really interesting because it gave me a proper feel for the people living then and I received a good impression of their lives.
     I had not realised just how prosperous great swathes of Lancashire was in the year up to what they would have called the Great War. The cotton industry was booming and we had a good share of the export market. Neither had it struck me just how many coal fields there were in Lancashire. I enjoyed seeing the marching bands and girls and woman dressed up for the annual festival when the rose queen was crowned.
     I actually have a photograph of my sister and I dressed in long frocks in a procession when we were part of such an occasion in late forties Liverpool.
      So many happy faces in those pre-WWI films.
     Then came the announcement of war and films of marching men. Fortunately we were spared shots of the Somme and the awfulness of the numerous dead, although there were photographs and names of men who had died. Some of the film did show a whistle stop tour of King George V and Queen Mary visiting towns in Lancashire and the multitudes that turned out to catch just a glimpse of them.
      I was reminded of the one time I saw Queen Mary. She was in an open car with her son King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth when they visited Liverpool. My parents had taken my sister and I to see them. It must have been in the late forties because my sister was sitting on Dad’s shoulders and I remember being lifted up so I could see over people’s heads in front.
      The last part of the film was quite sad because it showed the commemoration of various war memorials in towns and villages in Lancashire. The excellent voiceover by Maxine Peake also informed us about the changes wrought after the war with the loss of jobs due to the decline in the cotton industry. Factories having gone over to making munitions during the war had lost markets worldwide and it was a similar story of lost markets in the coalfields of Lancashire. Altogether I found it fascinating.
     A DVD is available from Manchester Central Library, IWM North and other outlets. Price £12. The First World War Life on the Home Front in North West England. www.nwfa.mmu.ac.uk 
      As my husband and I walked home afterwards, I could not help thinking of when our expectations of an evening at the flicks would be a main feature film, a B movie, a cartoon and the Pathe News. Our hearts might have sunk when confronted by bad news but by the time we had left the cinema in a great crowd of cinemagoers and walked home in the fresh air, the news wouldn't be playing over and over in our minds but we might be singing the songs from a musical or discussing the plot of a murder mystery or laughing over a comedy. 
      Lately the news on our television screens has been really upsetting and the horror of it all is hard to banish from our thoughts because it is so in our faces. Again and again. I’ve taken to switching over if I can get away with it but I don’t live alone and others think we need to know what’s going on. What do you think?


When my sons were much younger, we would do the walk to Crosby quite often. It was at the Plaza we saw ET, THE BLACK HOLE, ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING, as well as DEATH ON THE NILE. I remembered it fondly as what some would call now an old fashioned proper cinema.

Monday, 15 September 2014


The Sunday evening when I last blogged I went to Formby Books to listen to Ann Oakes talking about her grandfather who died from a result of wounds received during the Great War. Most likely she would never have thought of writing a book if she had not discovered his letters in the attic when clearing out her father’s house in Worcestershire. Ann was brought up in the small village of Wilden and one senses that a part of her heart is still there, despite having married a Merseysider and moving up to his home ground. I had met her husband when he had come to listen to me talk at a University of the 3rd Age meeting and discovered their son had been at school with my eldest, Iain, who does research for me.

It was a very interest talk, much of which can be found in her book Yours Ever, Charlie. A WORCESTERSHIRE SOLDIER’S JOURNEY TO GALLIPOLI by Ann Crowther. Space is given to her grandfather and great-grandfather’s relationship with the Baldwin family, one of whom Stanley Baldwin was to become prime minister of Britain. Rudyard Kipling was also known to the Crowther family, being a relative of the Baldwins. As it says on the back cover, the book is a poignant reminder of how beneath the staggering statistics of the First World War lie innumerable personal and tragic stories.  


Part of Ann’s research took her to Malta but my latest was closer to home. Having had my latest book LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND accepted by my publisher, I decided to make a start on a project close to my heart. So last week I decided I wanted a look around Toxteth as that was where a number of my ancestors had lived for a while in Victorian times. I’ve read a fair bit about that period and I wanted to connect places in my head, such as how far was a certain street from the docks. So with my 1928 Bartholomew’s map of Liverpool in hand (mentions a lot of the old streets), along with a present day map, I persuaded my husband that a morning out trying to find old Toxteth would do us both good.

We-ell, it didn’t quite work out like that!

We both knew that the old docks and just up from them on the South side had changed a lot, but we did not realise just how much it had done. Although a few of the streets and roads were still mentioned on the present day map.

We had a lovely run along Derby Road and the dock road (real name Waterloo Road if I’m not mistaken) our side of the Liver Buildings but then all changed. We ended up motoring up the wrong street instead of  Parliament Street as we intended. We went down again and then along Grafton Street, which runs parallel with the southern end of  the dock road. We did actually see the name Mann Street or Upper Mann Street where my great-grandmother, Mary Harrison, grew up and lived for the first few years of her married life to Norwegian sailor, Martin Nelson, but we’d reached a dead end and it was blocked by bollards, so we couldn’t get to it. After a quick look at the map we decided to go down towards the Mersey again, thinking there must be a way to find another street where another of my ancestors had lived.

No way! What struck me afresh was just how steep the streets run up from those nearest the docks.

So I suggested to John that we go to Princes Park, named after Edward VII when he was born, as I’d never been there before. Somehow we ended up in Otterspool but that was better than being at Speke Airport, or John Lennon as it’s called today. At least as it was a fine day, there was a lovely view over the Mersey to the Wirral. We parked and out came the map again.

We decided we’d backtrack, John was certain he’d be able to find Princes Park, where he’d been before in his youth, if we made for the Anglican Cathedral where my school used to go every Ascension Day, along with St Edmund’s. 

We found Parliament Street this time - and I noticed Toxteth Library on the right, and decided I must go there one day. We went along Catherine Street and eventually motored down Princes Road. There were some really attractive big house there, which no doubt had been inhabited by the rich upper middle classes at the time my ancestors were living just up from the docks. Then we went along Croxteth Road, named after Croxteth Hall, owned once upon a time by the Earls of Sefton. We missed the turning to Princes Park.

Where did we end up? Sefton Park which had once been part of the Royal hunting park of Toxteth. This whole area, including West Derby not far away has a long history.

Now I have warm memories of visiting Sefton Park aviary, the lake, grotto, or cave as we called it, and seeing the statue of Peter Pan with my sister and parents when I was a little girl. We generally travelled to the park on the 26 or 27 bus, so we had entered the park by a different gate. I also cut through the park after school games near Green Park.

I wasn’t really in the mood to hike across the park to find the palm house which son Tim assures me is well worth a look, because I was getting hungry. What I did find was a monument by the main gateway to a Samuel Smith, born in Kirkcudbright, Scotland, in the 19th century. He was a philanthropist, who became member of parliament for Liverpool. He was a bit of a traveller like many another who settled in our fair city and died in India.

We headed home, but not before traversing along Park Road, a well known shopping centre for my ancestors. At least I felt I had a bit of a feel of the place after getting lost several times in Toxteth and the area still known as Toxteth Park. So next time when someone mentions the Toxteth riots and your mind is filled with images of burning cars, remember there is another side to that ancient part of Liverpool.

Thursday, 4 September 2014


Having finished the book, I’ve been sort of relaxing by sorting out my ancestry files on my father’s side of the family, doing a couple of jigsaws and meeting my sister, who lives near Chester for lunch. Anything to escape catching up on the housework. 

She said, ‘Where d’you fancying going? What d’you feel about New Brighton?’

I felt fine about New Brighton, having not visited that childhood haunt for several years and then it had been in her company. Last time I was there my heart had plummeted. It was winter and it didn’t feel a bit like when we were kids and our parents would take us on a crowded ferry from Liverpool across the Mersey on a bank holiday Monday.

Like most Scousers I have memories of paddling in the pool that was sort of enclosed by a low wall from the rest of the shore, making it reasonably safe for children when the tide came in. As well as crabbing amongst the rocks and, of course, making sandcastles and walking along the prom.

My sister and I never got as far as the paddling pool this time around because I’d actually taken the train to Capenhurst, her nearest train stop, where she picked me up and drove us all the way to New Brighton, so we came to it from a different angle to which I was familiar.

We had lunch at a Harvester’s overlooking the sea - lovely friendly staff and good fish and chips. Then we drove in the direction of the main part of New Brighton and parked by the sea wall. (Apparently during the bad storms of last winter the waves had come right over it and reached Morrison’s!) There was still no sign of the seaside resort I remembered but I could now see the more familiar Lancashire coastline where I lived across the Mersey as we walked along in the direction of the new superstores where my sister fancied a cappuccino in Morrison’s. She reckoned that it's the big stores that have helped to bring New Brighton alive again, as well as the coastal walk.

We paused to speak to a bloke fishing as the tide was in and asked him what he expected to catch.

‘Flatties!’ he said.

‘Plaice!’ I murmured, and I was a child again going shopping with Mam to Charles, the fishmonger’s, on Breck Road in Everton.

Fridays were fish days despite us not being Catholics. The queue would be outside the shop. Now Charles was what I’d call a real fish shop. They didn’t just sell mackerel, kippers, herrings, haddock and cod, but skate, ray, conger eel, salt fish (of course), fish roe and cockles and winkles (we called the latter cuwins for some inexplicable reason) You’d winkle the snail-like creature out of its shell with a pin after they’d been boiled. Fishmongers also stocked eggs and rabbits still in their fur. My mother was skilled in preparing this cheap meat and making delicious stew.

But I digress. As my sister and I walked along, enjoying the sea breezes, I noticed a plaque and being nosy I went over to see what it said. It was dedicated to an Ian Fraser (now there’s a good Scottish name) who had lived in Wallasey. A Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy, he had won the VC for his bravery in a midget submarine during an attack on a Japanese ship.

He had died not so long ago at the age of 87. You can read his obituary online which, as well as providing a detailed account of his wartime exploits, mentioned that he had married Melba Hughes, who was serving as a Wren at Pwllheli, North Wales, when he met her.

Now Hughes is what I’d call a Welsh name and I couldn't help thinking of the debate going on at the moment about Scotland having a referendum in September whether to leave the union and go it alone.

Liverpool and towns on both sides of the Mersey have long welcomed people from all over the world, many have settled in the area,  but none more so than those from Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

My husband although born in Liverpool, is what I’d call a true Celt.  On his mother’s side of the family he has inherited mainly Scottish and Irish with just a touch of English blood and on his father’s Welsh and Scottish with just the slightest hint of English blood. He would say he was a true Brit. As for me I am more English than he is but I do have a large dose of Welsh and a touch of Irish as well as Scandinavian. It is likely that I could have a streak of Scots because my mother is descended from a line of Border Reivers who along with the Lowland Scots, no doubt raiding across the border between England and Scotland.
It truly grieves me to think of the UK being split up. It’s almost like saying those on the other side of the Mersey are a different race from us Liverpudlians, although there are those who would say they are, I add, tongue in cheek.     

Saturday, 16 August 2014


It came as a bit of a shock to me to realise that it’s over a month since I’ve blogged but I’ve told myself I should’ve feel bad about that because I’ve been working really hard getting to the end of my latest manuscript LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND. Actually I didn’t get right to the end before sending it off to my agent because I reached a point where I thought I’ve had enough, I’m over the word limit and it could be that it might need another book to come to the end of the story and my deadline is the 1st September … panic, panic. So I emailed it off to my agent and waited for her comments. She told me to spend some time thinking while she went through it and that’s what I did.
During the last fortnight or so I’ve been through her copy edits and comments and on Thursday evening I came to the end of the rewrite, feeling satisfied with myself, and emailed it off to her. I did have to bring the action forward a bit which meant reading through the notes, my researcher son, Iain, had done of events in 1958 as reported in the Liverpool Echo of the times and do a bit of research online but I think the story all hangs together and hopefully, my agent, publisher and readers will enjoy it.
    The titles of my latest books set in the Fifties are taken from songs. Not surprisingly as to me that decade has a lot to do with music, so when I felt stumped for a title for this latest entry for my blog I naturally began to think of songs and what came into my head was “When You Come to The End of …a Lollipop” which immediately made me smile and go online …and what came up but Max Bygraves singing the song on You Tube. (I did try to do a link to this but it was so difficult that I gave up but just google it if you want to see it.)
      I sometimes think that some of the words of today’s hits are crackers but after listening to Max singing what was a hit in 1960 I decided that there were some daft songs around in my younger days, too. It made me come over all nostalgic, though, because the version I watched showed a variety of lollipops and I could almost taste the Swizzels solid sherbet kind you gnawed on or gobstoppers that you could suck for ages and then there were sherbet dips and even toffee lollipops, as well as fruit flavoured ones. On the telly last evening there was a programme about how to make your own lollipops. I don’t think I’ll be making any but I will be making chocolate and sultana bread and butter pudding this evening as we’ve a friend coming to dinner.

     But since coming to the end of the manuscript and thinking about my blog, I homed in on its title AND THEY CAME TO LIVERPOOL which originally referred to my ancestry but now contains much more than just that. In the past month Liverpool have had a visit from the Giants. Whilst I didn’t actually go and see them myself, my photographer and filmmaker son, Tim, did, and as he knew one of the girls who was helping out with the project (she spoke French) he was able to get some interesting shots.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/timfilmmaker/   This is Tim's photo stream, to see the Giants, scroll down and you'll eventually come to them.

Of course, there were also lots of photographs in the Liverpool Echo and on North West television of the Giants, their tour of the city and their leaving of Liverpool by ship for France. They were such an attraction that thousands and thousands of people came to Liverpool to see them.

      There was a time when I was younger when the city was in decline and more and more people were leaving for pastures new. My brother Ron, left with his wife and baby daughter in 1959 for Essex, in the sixties my sister went to Cheshire, and several of my cousins went to America and Canada. Now Liverpool attracts many tourists from all over the world, thanks in part to the Beatles and the music scene, but also to its fabulous maritime history and its situation on the Mersey and it being within easy travelling distance of so many beauty spots on the Wirral, Cheshire, Wales, Lancashire and the Lake District.

      Recently I’ve been reading two books by the same author, Michael Mitton. One is called DREAMING OF HOME and the other TRAVELLERS OF THE HEART. In brief, the first is about finding a sense of home, a special place of acceptance and belonging. The second is about exploring new pathways on our spiritual journey, although it spoke to me about much more than that. I reckon it take a lot of courage to up stakes and go in search of that something you haven’t found yet.

      Now I’ve come to the end of my latest saga, I want to step out of my comfort zone and put parts of my blog in some semblance of order and turn it into a book, or even a couple of short books with extra material.

I forget where I might have read it but isn’t it true that in every ending there is also a beginning.




Sunday, 6 July 2014


Just been watching the first stages of the Tour de France in beautiful Yorkshire . With hand on my heart I admit that the White Rose County is as lovely as Lancashire, county of the Red Rose - the Red Rose can been seen wrought in the gates of Liverpool’s Central Library. Watching the cyclists who were as colourful as the scenery in their cycling gear, I was transported back to 1962, the year John and I went youth hostelling on the bikes we had bought second hand that Spring. His was a Claude Butler with gears. Mine was a lady’s bike without gears. I had never owned a bicycle before. No, I tell a lie, my sister and I were given my sister-in-law, Elsie’s, to share. I learnt to ride by simply getting in the saddle and peddling up and down our street. I only fell off a couple of times. That was around about 1957 - the year most of my present manuscript, LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND is set.

But back to 1962. John, having decided we were going to cycle from Liverpool to Cornwall, had me getting into condition by cycling to places such as Formby on the Lancashire coast and for hills, those ones in Liverpool that rise up from Great Homer Street, and up to Netherfield Road and Everton Brow. I can’t say I arrived the top without getting off my bike.

When we eventually did set off for our epic cycling trip two hills stand out in my memory. The first is Porlock Hill, Devon, which has gradients of 1in 3.
 John, of course, took it all in his stride. As for me, I spent most of that climb, pushing my bike up the hill. I discovered that passing motorist informed him that “She’s on her way, lad!” and he kept cycling down to where ever I was at that point. I did eventually reach the top and remember crossing part of Exmoor on what some would call a typical English summer’s day, mist, rain, etc. Suffice to say I never did reach Cornwall because by the end of that day when we arrived in Barnstaple on the north Devon coast, I’d had enough.

Going back a bit - the other hill - a gorge actually. We took what we thought was a short cut to get out of the wind after leaving Chepstow, bypassed Bristol and went through the Chew Valley, Somerset and ended up at the top of what we discovered was the famous Cheddar Gorge.
 At the more sensible age I am now, I would never have cycled down it but it wasn’t until we had freewheeled down it and were almost at the bottom that we read a notice saying that cyclists were advised to walk.

I have had several bikes in my life so far, never having wanted to learn to drive. When I had my youngest son, Daniel, in my mid-thirties, when he was a toddler we bought a bike seat for him. I used to cycle with him on the back and a shopping basket on my front handle bars . I suppose it’s not surprising that when he was in his twenties, he cycled from Liverpool to France and throughout that beautiful country.

Those were the days, my friends.

I still have a bike which I generally remove from the shed to cycle along the canal towpath and in our country park that used to be the local council tip. It is now full of bird song in spring, wild flowers in summer and is great for picking blackberries in Autumn.

In my early writing days one of the first things I had published was an article in a series called MY FAVOURITE THINGS, you’ll probably guess that mine was MY TWO WHEELED FRIEND MY BIKE.




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.


Sunday, 25 May 2014


This weekend is what most now call the late Spring Bank Holiday. When I was young and even now many of my generation call it the Whit Bank Holiday weekend. It’s when Christians celebrate Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

    But I knew little about the Holy Spirit when I was growing up in Liverpool and what I remember about Whit was it was one of those rare occasions when my sister and I were bought new frocks. I can recall one frock in particular being made of a waffle material in pale turquoise with a stand up collar and a V opening at the neck. It had a fitted waist and a flared skirt and I wore it with white ankle socks and white cross bar pumps (plimsolls). My sister, Irene’s frock was of a different design and colour.

    At that time, although, I was only 18 months older than her, I had shot up during the previous months and was at least four inches taller than her. My dad took a photograph of us standing on the kerb at the bottom of our small front garden. I wish I had that photograph now.

     Unless my memory is playing tricks on me, I also remember Mam taking us girls to the corner of Boaler Street and Sheil Road to watch the Orange Lodge process to Newsham Park on a Whit Monday where they would picnic and play games. At least that’s what I presumed they did because we would just watch them march past and then go home. My Uncle Jim was a member of the Orange Lodge and played the flute and we also went to watch some of the family who lived across the street to us, the girls dressed up in satin frocks and their widowed mother with a sash across her ample bosom.

      The sound of the drum and then the flutes when the procession was still in the distance stirred something inside me and a marching band still does. I remember snatches of a song from those days and know now that I muddled up the words because I’ve just found it online. But us kids used to sing: Sons of the sea, and we’re all British boys, bobbing up and down like this. Sailing the ocean, laughing folks to scorn. They may build their ships by night and think they know the game but they can’t beat the boys of the bulldog breed, that made old England great!  Bobbing up and down like this.


This past week I read in the Radio Times about a programme concerning polio and what a scourge it was years ago. In 1955 I fell off a wall while at school and fractured my spine and skull and was transferred from Myrtle Street Hospital, Liverpool, to the Agnes Hunt orthopaedic ward in Heswall Hospital on the Wirral. I was to lay flat on my back for six weeks and fortunately after that period the vertebra that had been cracked in my spine knitted and I was able to walk again. But in that ward there was a girl who’d had polio and her means of getting around was to leap from bed to bed.

     When I began to think about what I would do when I left school, I considered being a nurse and one of my teachers arranged for me to visit Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. The only memory I have of that visit was of seeing an iron lung which had a dummy in it and the noise of the machine that helped some polio sufferers to breathe. I knew then that I wasn’t made of the stuff that those angels in starched uniforms and caps that tended me in the Agnes Hunt Ward were, as well as others caring for the sick and suffering worldwide. My strengths lay somewhere else, although like many a mother, daughter and wife, I’ve acted the role of ministering angel to members of my family many times.

      I never knew who Agnes Hunt was in those days but interesting when reading a book called “Liverpool’s Own” by Christine Dawe about famous Liverpudlians and those born elsewhere but who came to Liverpool and performed outstanding acts to improve people’s lives, I came across her name in a chapter about Sir Robert Jones, an eminent surgeon, who in 1899 was working at the Royal Southern Hospital. One of his patient was to be Agnes Hunt, a nurse from Shropshire, who’d had osteomyelitis as a child. A painful hip was what had brought her to Liverpool. They hit it off and he was to visit her Home for Crippled Children back in Shropshire. Later they were to create the first children’s orthopaedic hospital in the world and they were to open many more. In 1926 Agnes was made a Dame of the British Empire. She died in 1946 at the age of sixty. I am indebted to Christine for learning about a wonderful woman who did so much for crippled children.

     The book I am working on at the moment is set between the end of 1956-1958. It was a period when a vaccination for polio was on the horizon. When I hear people on the telly giving the impression that the fifties in Britain was drab, it never seemed like that to me and I only have to think of the music and all the changes in Liverpool going on, as well as the strides that were made in the field of medicine. This was also a time when there was a mass X ray programme for TB and I remember being vaccinated in school. Within years that scourge was to be pretty well eradicated from the western world, as was polio. By the time my three sons were born they were being given the vaccine for polio on a spoon and then a sugar lump.


I was reminded also this week about how different it was in the fifties when it came to travelling to America and Canada. My cousin, Maureen, went with her husband Pete, by liner to Canada in the late fifties. The voyage would have taken about five days. They were later to travel down to New Jersey where they lived for a while before returning to Liverpool several years later. They’ve been of a great help to me when doing research for a chapter in my latest book. A couple of days ago I had lunch with another cousin, Lee, her husband, Jerry, and daughter, Erin, who had flown over from Canada. The journey altogether from New Brunswick took less than a day. Erin and I know a little about what the other is doing, both of us being on Face-book.
     The wonders of technology!

    This week I have been invited to have afternoon tea with one of my readers from Santa Monica, California, at Liverpool’s Maritime Museum. Her mother was from Liverpool but she has never been here before and will be staying with a cousin. I’ve met readers before but never one, outside family, who have come so far. I’m looking forward to it. Now this wouldn’t have happened to the girl that was me in the fifties that's for sure. I never dreamed then that one day I would become a novelist!  




Saturday, 3 May 2014


This week I’ve been doing two writerly things: filling in a questionnaire for Ebury Books in connection with my forthcoming release in August of A MOTHER’S DUTY and also I’ve been working on the second draft of my latest book in progress LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND. I enjoy this stage of writing because I’ve a good chunk of the story written and it is a matter of putting in more emotion, action and description but there are also gaps to fill in.

On Friday I was writing a new scene. Irene Miller, who has featured in some of my other books, is now a trainer nursery nurse in the late fifties. I’ve done some research on the subject but it’s not always easy setting up a scene when you don’t have that much information. But having read that part of the toddlers’ routine was having a ramble or walk in the morning online, I placed Irene with another nursery nurse and some children on a walk to the beach in Blundell Sands.

An idea struck me that I could have them chanting nursery rhymes on the way. This meant my scene would hopefully contain some realistic dialogue. Inexplicably the nursery rhyme that came into my head was Georgie Porgie, Pudding and Pies. The second line is kissed the girls and made them cry. Immediately I had a name for one of the little boys and the words to put in his mouth.  (There’s a lovely site on the internet that tells you where this nursery rhyme and others originated from.) http://www.rhymes.org.uk/
   Thinking of nursery rhymes took me back, not to the days when I was learning them myself but when I bought this enormous book of Nursery Rhymes to read to my own children. It had amusing illustrations and more rhymes than I had ever heard of and can remember now but it’s surprising what does come to mind.

My mind seldom stops working and I was reminded last Sunday whilst watching “Country File” of several days I spent on retreat near Whitby in Yorkshire because that’s where part of the programme was set. Mention was made of jet which can only be found in that area. It is fossilised monkey puzzle tree and jet was made into jewellery and was extremely popular with widows in Victorian times. In my book IT’S NOW OR NEVER I have a character who never actually appears but gets a mention as does Whitby and jet jewellery. Then on “Flog It” the other day Fireweed was mentioned as growing on bombed sites in London. And I was reminded that was another name given to Rosebay willow herb which also grew on what we called bombed hollas in Liverpool after the war. One of those snippets of information I remembered from childhood and put in a couple of my books set in 40s Merseyside.
Earlier this morning whilst walking and thinking of my writing, Maggie Thatcher popped into my mind and the rhyme, Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher. When was this? In 1971 when she was Education Secretary and wanted to pass an act through parliament which meant children over 7 would no longer get free milk at school.
 Milk for secondary school children had been stopped in 1968 by Harold Wilson’s Labour government. It was the former Labour government leader, Clement Atlee who had introduced free milk for school children under 18 in 1946. 

I well remember as a child drinking my third of a pint through a straw along with the other 51 children in my class. I’m sure many other war babies like me and post-war ones, too, do. Which mean I can have my nursery infants in the 1950s drinking their free milk on their return from their walk. A true glimpse from the past.


Friday, 18 April 2014



On Saturday I went along to Formby Books to do a signing. Fortunately Tonythebook (Higginson) had some of my books in stock because the order he had put in two days before, including my latest book, had not arrived. These things happen as many a novelist will tell you. The lovely Jane Costello was also there to meet fans and sign copies of her novels. I had met Jane when she came to talk to the North West Chapter  of the RNA a couple of years ago. Her latest book is called THE TIME OF OUR LIVES and in brief is about a group of girlfriends going on holiday abroad where all sorts of mishaps happen. Unlike my books it is set in modern times.

https://www.facebook.com/june.francis1?fref=ufi  This link will take you to some photographs.

The highlight of the hour for me was when someone asked, ‘Is June Francis here?’ The lady asking was called Elsie and her family used to live in the street where I grew up off Whitefield Road in Anfield. She had seen the board outside Formby Books advertising that I would be there between 11-12. When she told her mother, another Elsie Clarke, aged 88, who still lives in Liverpool, she was given her orders to go and buy a signed copy of one of my books and make herself known. She had brought photographs of her mum and other members of the family. It was a real thrill, knowing that she and her mother remembered our family so well, especially my mother and brother, Don, and me. She took a photo of me for her mum and we exchanged email addresses.

      Several members of Formby Writers’ Group came along to chat, ask writing advice and bought some of my books. One of them, David, had asked me to read his manuscript several years ago and I’m pleased to say the book about his Irish childhood and growing years made it into print in the US of A.

     I must admit that talking of years gone by and being in a bookshop made me come over all nostalgic. I remember clearly my father first taking me to choose my birthday present - I think - it was my tenth birthday. I wanted a book but there were no bookshops nearby, so we visited the post office on Breck Road, the one near Belmont Road for those who might remember it.

     The books were all hardback and kept in a locked glass fronted cabinet. It was such a thrill getting my hands on the latest Famous Five book by Enid Blyton. Although I visited the local library every week, it was tremendously difficult borrowing a copy of Enid Blyton’s books because they were incredibly popular and never on the shelves.

      We had very few books in our house because there just wasn’t money to spare for such luxury items. My father had just one or two to do with art and sigh-writing and, of course, we had the family Bible that I think had been my grandfather Nelson’s. My eldest brother, Ron, possessed a book of WW2 spy stories, one on ju-jitsu and a copy of CORAL ISLAND. I think it was my brother Don, who had the TARZAN books. I sneaked them from their rooms because I was so greedy for reading material. I also read their comics: The Hotspur, The Wizard, The Dandy, The Beano, Radio Fun and Film Fun. But I also read School Friend and occasionally Girls’ Chrystal and The Girl.

      The year I was given my very first book, Dad bought me another for Christmas which again I was able to choose for myself from the Post Office’s locked cabinet. Of course, it was another Enid Blyton but one of the Adventure series with Jack and his parrot Kiki and sidekicks.

     Such books were so valued not only because I so love reading to learn and for escapism, but because my father would have had to save up to buy those books for me.

     Those visits to the post office became a twice yearly event which I looked forward to for months on end. When I was about fifteen I cadged an old orange box from the local greengrocer and painted it blue and used it as a bookcase. By then I had my own very limited library enlarged by the DAILY MAIL ANNUAL and SCHOOL FRIEND ANNUAL which my Aunt Flo and Uncle Bill, and Mam used to buy me at Christmas. I learnt the names of the planets from the DAILY MAIL ANNUAL, as well as the words to The Twelve Days of Christmas.  

       I never went inside a real bookshop until I started work and earned my own money. Working in Liverpool city centre I used to go out for a walk at lunch time and not far away was Wilson’s bookshop on Renshaw Street. The other bookshop I loved was Phillip, Son and Nephew’s in White Chapel. I would visit these shops and the book departments in big stores such as Blackler’s and Lewis’s, as well as W.H.Smith’s.

      Alas, not only have the best two bookshops in Liverpool closed down but so have Blackler’s and Lewis’s. As for W.H.Smith’s, it went and moved from the lovely building in Church Street where I used to do signings of my own books to the one in Liverpool One, which for me will never match up to its former home in Liverpool.

      On Tuesday by special request I visited Formby Books again. As it was a lovely sunny Spring morning, I sat outside the shop behind a table containing my books which had at last arrived and chattered to fans of my books and passers-by and sold quite a few books. This really is the way to do it, I thought.

     Alas, independent bookshops are getting fewer and fewer. The internet might have put us in touch with a larger market so we have more choice and e-readers do have certain advantages over paper books but they lack the wonder and magic I found as a child in public libraries, the old post office and our independent bookshops. It’s the same with supermarkets, books might be cheaper there but they don’t have the range that the independent have, mainly just bestsellers. Neither would I think of asking the staff for advice and to recommend a book. I know time can’t stand still - thank goodness or the working classes might never have the opportunity to learn to read - most of my great-great grandparents certainly couldn’t read or write - and there’s much I love about the new technology but there are some things that I will always feel nostalgic for and I don’t think I’m alone.