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!