Monday 23 December 2013


I’ve had quite an eventful time since I last blogged. I was offered a 2 book contract by Severn House and decided to commit myself to just one book, having already the idea for LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND. I had to write a short synopsis which is something I hate doing but I managed it and now I'm glad I did because when I really get going after Christmas with it, I'll know pretty well the main events on the journey to the end of the book. Having come to an agreement with agent and publisher, I decided it was time for a break before Christmas.  

  Despite the dire weather forecast - rain, hail, gale force winds - John and I decided to nip up to the Lakes for a couple of days. This would be our Christmas present to each other. I’d recommend it. Especially as despite the weather we did manage to get a couple of walks in lovely Cumbria. Rydal Water was looking calm and beautiful with the reflection of the hills shining on the surface of the lake when we dumped our luggage at Highfield B&B in Ambleside. We visited the cave which must be known to thousands if not millions of walkers and mused with a couple of strangers over what must have been mined there. I presumed it was slate, only to be greeted with a shake of the head. I determined to google when I arrived home to find out the truth. As a writer I know just how important it is to get one’s facts right. If you get them wrong, there’s bound to be an eagle-eyed reader who will point out your mistake. I’ve never forgotten giving Runcorn a road bridge in 1952 when at the time cars were lifted over the River Mersey by transporter.

I’m pleased to say that I was right about what was mined at the cave. According to  Google, Loughrigg Quarry, to give the cave its proper name, was quarried for good quality roofing slate and building stone for Ambleside and the surrounding area. We also got a bit wet the following day when John went for a fell run into Little Langdale from Elterwater and I did the walk to Skelwith waterfall. The rain was relentless but I kept hoping it would go off but it didn’t until after we were both back at the car. 

                       Taken from the interior of Loughrigg Quarry by John Francis
Whilst away we made time to see the new Hobbit film - ‘The Desolation of Smaug’. I’d read THE HOBBIT to each of my three sons, as well as the sequel THE LORD OF THE RINGS. I’d also seen the three films several times. As well as the first of The Hobbit films, so naturally I was looking forward to seeing the latest one. I should have known not to take for granted it would be exactly true to the book. The special effects were fantastic and the two hours, forty-one minutes flew by. It’s true, though, that I whispered several times to my husband, ‘I don’t remember this happening in the book but I don’t mind a bit of budding romance really, but I’ll say no more. about that I hate spoilers! Besides I am aware that films and books require different treatments, otherwise there would be no need for screenwriters.

 On our return home, I visited Formby Books  to pick up a book by Jacqueline Winspear. It was one of the Maisie Dobbs detective crime series called A LESSON IN SECRETS. This one is set in Cambridge in 1932 and I’m really looking forward to reading it, once I’ve finished an ex-library book by Ann Grainger, who used to write historical romance for Masquerade at the same time I did. This book is a detective one, too, A MORTAL CURIOSITY but set in Victorian times and is the second in the Lizzy Martin series.

Whilst in Formby I met Sean Connelly promoting his latest book. Ex-army naturally he writes about his experiences as a soldier. At least I’m taking for granted that’s his subject matter. Apparently he’s also a rapper and was raising funds for Help For Heroes in Formby.  
I got things wrong in my last blog called FAMILY TIES when writing about the Gregory family. Due to misreading about about my Great-great Aunt Lavinia Gregory in the censuses, on Ancestry. I presumed that she had married the master of the house where she was a cook. The man she really wed was Thomas Williams, a widower with children. Her story wasn’t one that some might call a Rags to Riches, a bit like a Mills & Boon romance where the heroine marries her boss. Instead Thomas was a plumber, lodging in a large house on the Wirral. After their marriage, they lived in a two up, two down. Lavinia gave birth to seven children while living there, but then William went on to become an acetylene engineer and made enough money for them to afford to move to that large house, near Bebington in the photograph. It was there Lavinia gave birth to another four children. I think she belongs to my list of women in the family who were tough cookies. One of the children born in that two up, two down, was the mother of Laura (Pat) Holt, who emailed me the photos and she is the lovely bride,Hilda Mary Magdeline Williams and her handsome bridegroom was James Francis Edward Murphy. My apologies to that branch of my extended family.

Thursday 12 December 2013



It’s more than a week since I’ve blogged and that’s down to Advent and there being so much to think about and do before Christmas.

It started with the Christmas Ladies Brunch at Caradoc Mission, Seaforth, with lovely decorated tables, a buffet, lots of chat with my cousin Patsy, her daughter, Colette and friends, as well as jokes, a Christmas message and cupcakes and mince pies served at table.

On Thursday we had a Christmas social evening at Crosby Writers Club which was fun; Christmas readings, two quizzes and refreshments, including lovely mince pies baked by member, Joyce, to her special recipe. I read out my very first acceptance which was an article on Christmas Customs Around the World in 1983. I was paid a whole £25!

Then on the Friday there was the Novelistas Christmas lunch at the Bod Erw, St Asaph, with an exchange of writing news, a raffle in which everyone got a prize, and Christmas cake baked by Juliet Greenwood to her mother’s recipe which included the most tasty toasted almonds.

             The Novelistas celebrating Christmas at Bod Erw, St Asaph.

When Saturday arrived it was St Paul’s church’s Christmas Fayre. I was in charge of the second-hand bookstall which is always interesting. Crime is always popular as are sagas. I picked up a copy of Maeve Binchy’s SCARLET FEATHER. But my favourite stall was the homemade cake stall. There were more lovely homemade mince pies, cup cakes and my friend Elsie’s bun loaf which was absolutely scrumptious. People chattered and worked together and it seemed to me that a good time was had by all and we raised a decent sum for the church. (The cost of heating is horrendous).

You might be getting the impression from what I’ve written so far that all I have on my mind is food. With four hungry males in the house that has some basis in face because I’m already planning what to eat for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and Day.

But on Saturday evening John and I attended a performance of Handel’s “Messiah” performed at Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral by choirs from both Liverpool Cathedrals, accompanied by the Anglican Cathedral Chamber Orchestra. It was an experience not to be missed and was food for the soul. There was well over a thousand people in the audience and the performance was a real treat.

For lots of people Christmas is a time for family, although there are those who would do anything rather than spend time with their family. Too much pressure perhaps to play at happy families when the lead up to the day has been exhausting. I’m sure it was never meant to be like that and maybe it’s due to people seeing it only as a time for children and presents. Both can be a blessing but when expectations are too high, disappointment can follow. One of my sons has already said that he’s not doing presents this year and doesn’t want any either. He wouldn’t be the first. John and I decided a while ago not to give each other presents but settled on spending the money on two nights away in the Lake District before or after the Big Day. I can’t wait!


Despite what I said in my last blog about families and Christmas, my mother reared us in the belief that families should stick together. No doubt she saw the importance of doing so because her mother, Flora, died when Mam was only ten years old. Her aunts stepped into the breach to care for her and her siblings while her mariner father was at sea.

My parents, Stanley Nelson and May Lillian Milburn, married during the Depression in the Thirties and money was short. I remember Mam telling me how good my father’s mother, Ada Florence Nelson, nee Cooke, was to them, giving them tea and sugar and other food to help them out.

Since researching my ancestry, I know now that my grandmother Nelson, she also suffered the loss of her mother, Mary Ellen Gregory, at the same age as my mother did; although Mary Ellen was only thirty-one when she died and Mam’s mother was forty. Mary Ellen left a five year old daughter, Emma, as well as my ten year old grandmother.

Mary Ellen was born in Liverpool in 1854 and at seventeen was working as a general servant in Park Street, a long thoroughfare that ran from the docks up to Park Lane, a rather posh area of large houses in Toxteth in Victorian times. My mother also worked in service for a doctor and his family but that was in the 1920-30s.

Mary Ellen’s father, Stanley Gregory, was born in Aughton Street, Ormskirk, in 1821. But by 1845 he was living in Liverpool and that year he married Eleanor Nicholson from Anglesey, in the Church of our Lady, St Nicholas and St Anne. A bricklayer by trade, no doubt he had come to Liverpool like many another in search of work.

Stanley was one of fourteen children, including two sets of twins,(interestingly two of my Nelson cousins, Patsy and Audrey, gave birth to twins). His father, John, was also a bricklayer.

The Gregorys can be traced back to the reign of Queen Anne in the early 18th century living in the Ormskirk area. John had married a Moorcroft, as had his father, Robert, and there are several graves with the names of Moorcroft and Gregory to be found in the graveyard of Ormskirk ancient parish church, which is well worth a visit. The church is famous for having a spire and a tower and is open during the summer on market day.

       Ormskirk parish church in Lancashire: Photographer John Francis

Eleanor, whose mother was an Owen, was still living in Holyhead in 1841, so must have come to Liverpool between then and 1845. Her father, Jared, was a dock-gate man in Holyhead, so maybe one of his relatives was a mariner and married a woman from Liverpool and Eleanor visited them and that’s how she met Stanley. She had a couple of brothers and two sisters still living on the beautiful island of Anglesey.
                             My son Tim fishing at Trearddur Bay, Anglesey
                               Photographer: John Francis
                         Anglesey coastline with South Stack lighthouse in the distance.

By 1851 Stanley and Eleanor were living in Clive Street, Toxteth Park. She was to die four years after her daughter, Mary Ellen’s marriage to James Cooke, the year my grandmother Ada Florence was born, but Stanley lived into the 1880s. So my grandmother must have known her grandfather, Stanley Gregory, and possibly some of her Welsh aunts and uncles, too. I always wondered why my dad was called Stanley and now I know.

It was whilst tracing the various Gregorys that two distant members of the Gregory family got in touch with me. I was interested in particular in Lavinia Gregory, who was the sister of my great-grandmother, Mary Ellen, being thirteen years younger.

I found Lavinia in the 1891 census living the other side of the Mersey in Birkenhead. She was a maid but later became a housekeeper and was to marry the master of the house. Although they married at a church in Toxteth, they settled on the Wirral. He already had children but Lavinia was also to provide him with more offspring.

                                My Great-great-aunt Lavinia's family home on the Wirral

       Family wedding at the house in the thirties. Lavinia is second left at the front.

Laura Holt (known as Pat) who emailed me the above photos got in touch with me from Australia. She is Lavinia’s granddaughter. Her mother and my grandmother, Ada Florence were first cousins. Lavinia did well for herself, brought up in a terraced house in Toxteth, went into service, eventually becoming a housekeeper and then the mistress of a large house, near Bromborough. Born in 1867, she lost her mother at the age of 9, but lived to the ripe old age of 85, dying in 1952, having seen the advent of the steamship, the motor car, the opening of the Mersey Tunnel and lived through two world wars.


Tuesday 3 December 2013


Sunset over the Sandhills at Freshfield, nr Formby on the Lancashire coast: Photographer: Timothy Francis.

I did a talk recently for the Birkdale University of the 3rd Age Group. They were a friendly bunch, as well as attentive. One of the questions I was asked was “D’you ever get writer’s block?”
    It’s a question that has come up before and I can honestly reply that it is something that never bothers me these days; in as much that if I reach a place where I’m not sure where to go next, I either just type any old rubbish that comes into my head (brainstorming some call it) or I go for a walk, knowing that sooner or later my subconscious will come up with what will happen next.
    I was also asked by someone else whether I always worked everything out before I got started. Obviously not! I was also asked did I know how the book is going to end.  I could honestly answer that with “I have a vague idea” with the proviso that sometimes the characters themselves alter the ending I might have had in mind.

           June (me) and the chairman of Birkdale U3A: Photographer: Fred McCann.
It is essential, though, to get ideas down as they pop into my mind. Once I used to just carry them in my head but the older I get the easier it is to forget a brilliant plot development; although my son, Tim, says that forgetfulness isn’t just an age thing and that he often forgets things too and it’s best to write stuff down.
   Computer best to make notes but I find a calendar with lovely pictures and space enough to scribble in messages to myself hung on the wall in front of my desk is ideal for remembering talks and events. Diaries I’m inclined to put in a drawer and forget about. I already have next year's calendar that has photographs of lovely Lancashire which I bought in Waterstone’s bookshop in Southport when I was there for the Christmas lunch of the Romantic Novelist Association’s Northwest Chapter.
   There were about 27 of us and I was seated by Katy Flynn and Anne Baker, who both write Liverpool based sagas and are very successful. It was good to discuss the changes in publishing and the writing life with them. The writer on my right hand side was Lynne Connelly who is an author of historical, erotic and fantasy romance, mainly for the American market in e-book format. It is a market of which she is very knowledgeable. She is also a lover of gadgets and had one to show us. I am not a techie at all but she was so enthusiastic about her latest buy which apparently is ideal for an author who hops across the Pond at least once a year. She is very aware of the importance of keeping in touch with her American market by attending the RWA Conference in the USA. Those who have been in the business for years, like myself, need the younger ones like Lynn Connelly and Annie Burrows who writes Regency romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon.
   When I first joined the RNA there were no Chapters, only the meetings in London for its members. The idea of chapters was broached at the very first RNA conference in 1998 at Stoneyhurst College, Lancashire. Freda Lightfoot and I were the first to get involved in setting up the chapter in Northwest England.
    Interestingly Stoneyhurst College has literary connections of another kind. Former pupil, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, based Baskerville Hall on Stoneyhurst Hall and Moriarty was apparently named after a fellow pupil of Conan Doyle. Also J.R.R. Tolkein wrote part of THE LORD OF THE RINGS while staying at the college where his son taught Classics.
     It had also been arranged that some of us visited Magna Large Print Books in Long Preston whilst at Stoneyhurst. We met the lovely Diane Allan, who is in charge there and who is now a writer, herself. If my memory serves me right, not only were we shown the whole process of how our books were turned into Large Print but we were served a lovely lunch as well. Magna also produce Audio.
     I had seldom visited the beautiful Lancashire countryside until my husband, John, took up fell running and introduced me to such places as Downham, Belmont, Pendle, Rivington Pike and Parbold Hill. Writers do really need to take time out from the writing and I now regard Lancashire as not only a country where I find inspiration for my books but also it was great discovering that some of my ancestors, the Gregorys and Morecrofts came from the lovely market town of Ormskirk but more of them next time. 

Below is a lovely snowy scene of Pendle Hill in the distance taken from the village of Downham. Photographer: John Francis.