Saturday 28 March 2015


I’ll never forget the feeling of being on an overcrowded ferry forging through the waters of the Mersey while the sun sank in the sky as the boat headed for the landing stage at the Pierhead. I had sand in my knickers, in my hair and between my toes despite all my efforts to get rid of every grain with a towel stiff as a board from hanging on the line in our backyard in the sun. No doubt we were on the last ferry from New Brighton to Liverpool and that’s why we were all wedged together like sardines in a Skipper’s tin and the boat seemed to dip heavily from side to side.

This was in the fifties, a few years before Gerry and the Pacemakers' record hit the charts or Liverpool became famous for its musicians rather than just its football teams, actors and comedians, the Grand National and being the second premier port in the country.

I might have mentioned it before but I doubt it will hurt to repeat what my mother often said about Liverpudlians having salt water in their veins. Most of us also prefer to live beside the seaside or at least within a short distance of it. Maybe that’s why when my eldest brother moved south he ended up living in Westcliffe-on-Sea and three of my cousins who crossed the Atlantic settled near the coast, one in Canada, and two in the US of A.

So maybe it’s not surprising that my very latest 50s hardback LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND has several scenes set on local beaches. A couple of characters reminisce about their memories of New Brighton and there is also a couple of scenes set on the ferry and the beach.

I also have lots of memories of beaches this side of the Mersey. From Seaforth Sands to the dunes of Formby. More recently Crosby has hit the headlines because of the Iron Men. I reckon it also has the best view of the Wirral coastline and on a clear day the mountains of Snowdonia that can be seen from such a distance. In the other direction even before one approaches Southport one can see Blackpool Tower further north.

Besides beaches being places of pleasure they can also be dangerous. I could not resist putting on one of my characters’ mouths the tale of my mother sinking up to her thighs in sticky black mud. I cried, thinking she was going to get swallowed up in a patch of sinking sand. Fortunately it did not happen but her brand new white sandals were ruined. We were also warned about keeping an eye on the tide and not to go wading out to sandbanks.

My brothers, my sister and I all learnt to swim at Margaret Street baths in Everton. My father’s method of getting us to lift our feet off the bottom and go for it was bribery. When I managed to swim a breadth he gave me a shilling. I was paid another shilling when I jumped into the pool. My husband learnt to swim by being thrown into Burroughs Gardens swimming baths at the age of four by one of the attendants. John’s father worked there as a stoker and the pool was empty of people at the time. My husband went on to enjoy skin diving as a hobby and I have never lost my love of swimming.

The book begins with a prologue which involves my heroine getting into difficulties in the sea. A scene I hadn’t really envisaged when I started writing. It started with a different opening altogether. Yet having decided on the Pat Boone song that was a hit in the fifties for my title, I realised I had to get a scene on a beach in somewhere quickly and that is why I eventually settled on the opening I did, praying that it would grip my readers. I also set a chapter or two in Blackpool where I was born in a hotel on the South Promenade during WW2.

LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND is out in hardback this week, 31st March 2015. Please, do consider supporting your local library if you have one by ordering it.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

If You Ever Go Across the Sea To Ireland: Part 49.

A few years back I remember going to the evening do of a wedding in Liverpool’s Irish Centre at 127 Mount Pleasant. I remember being surprised once inside the building because it was quite fabulous. Then I discovered that it used to be the old Wellington Assembly Rooms and dated back to 1815. Those who know their history will remember that the Battle of Waterloo was fought June that year. Some will also know that Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, was a native of Ireland.

Growing up in Liverpool I recall that two popular songs during those times were “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” sung by Josef Locke, who I remember appearing in pantomime at the Pivvie in Lodge Lane. Mam would take my brother, sister and me and we would meet her sister, my Aunt Flo and our Hawitt cousins there. As for the song “If You Ever Go Across the Sea to Ireland” that was generally more likely to be heard sung by a slightly drunk Irishman on St Paddy’s night.

Ships have been sailing across the sea to Ireland from Liverpool ever since King John gave Liverpool its charter way back in 1207. The first time I set foot on the Emerald Isle was during the summer of 1969 when I went with my husband, John, and friends on a diving holiday near Durras, not far from Bantry Bay on the Atlantic coast. They had been the year before and the weather had been fantastic but when John and I and baby son, no 1 went, Ireland lived up to its reputation and rained more days than the sun shone. I didn’t dive but it was still a holiday to remember in that John got caught in some currents and nearly got swept out to sea. As it was he had a long walk back after a heck of a swim, too, before we saw him again. That holiday was also memorable for the size of the crayfish, mushrooms and having potatoes in their jackets served from the pan in Kinsale. I remember thinking there was something mystical about that green land. That was also the year we saw headlines about explosions on the billboards in Dublin on our way to the ferry to catch the boat to Liverpool.

My second trip to Ireland was years later and I went by bicycle and ship with my youngest son, Daniel. It was the school summer holidays and I was planning on writing an historical romance set in the 14th century. I was going there to do research. We cycled into the Wicklow Hills and stayed in an old farmhouse where mice ran along the rafters and the toilet was a bucket with a seat in an outhouse covered in rambling roses. Water was fetched from a nearby river and the fireplace had a cooking pot like a cauldron that hung on a hook. We were made very welcome and met interesting people. It was also the perfect setting for part of my book FATEFUL ENCOUNTER. We didn’t stay there long because I needed to do some research in Dublin. Unfortunately the castle was closed for renovation but there was still the museum to explore and the Liffy to wander along and the Book of Kells to see at Trinity College.

I was to use that experience again a few years later when I wrote FLOWERS ON THE MERSEY set mainly during the early 1920s.

September 2005 was the year I returned to Ireland with my newly widowed sister who was doing the driving and we were on our way to a B&B in Naas. Our niece was marrying an Irishman and the weather was perfect. The church was actually in a small village in Co Dublin and it was quite an occasion. The bride looked beautiful and the food was fantastic, as was the music and the wine flowed.

My sister and I were to return to Ireland again. This time by coach and ferry and the journey was long as we were staying on the coast in Co Mayo. This was after the big monetary crash and there were many deserted looking newly built houses. What stands out for me is visiting Croagh Patrick, the mountain visited by many pilgrims. That and being asked by a taxi driver where in Ireland did my family come from. I told him we had no Irish blood. He didn’t believe me, saying that everyone in Liverpool had a drop of Irish in them.

Was he right? When it came to tracing my ancestry a few years later, there it was in black and white William Walker, born 1791 in Ireland. I know that he was a weaver by trade who settled in Manchester and it is via his daughter who married and came to Liverpool that I am related to him. My difficulty is that there were numerous William Walkers in Ireland. Only the other year on WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? that II discovered comedian Graham Norton had a William Walker in his ancestry.

But Walker doesn’t sound very Irish to me and when I looked it up, it says that the name originated in Scotland or Yorkshire and had some connected to the word fuller. Now way back in medieval times fullers were involved in the clothing trade. So if my Walker ancestry came originally from Scotland or Yorkshire, but some were born in Ireland, do I still have a claim to having Irish blood? Happy St Patrick’s Day!

Friday 6 March 2015




Just sign here …and your name is?

 There was a time when a blank sheet of paper really scared me. I honestly believed I’d never be able to fill a sheet of A4 with words. But I had to try. In actually fact it took me a whole afternoon to write two hundred and fifty words on my old Underwood typewriter and not one sentence came from my imagination. Even so it gave me a terrible headache. What I had written was what I’ve heard so many beginners say when they’ve read their masterpieces out at our writers’ club in Crosby. “It was all true!” It’s as if they thought that what they had written was so incredible that those listening might believe it was rubbish.

 It took a while for me to draw on my imagination and at first I only did so because I seemed to have been given permission by the editor of the magazine I was writing articles for at the time. It gave me an overwhelming sense of freedom not only to discover I could make things up and embroider factual events but that fiction has a heck of a lot of factual events weaved into a novel.  Which is good because although my eldest son does some of my research, I used to do all of it myself in the beginning and even now I enjoy doing some as well.

 It seems a long time ago now since I did my very first talk. I remember standing in front of a group of people with my heart beating like a drum and feeling weak at the knees. I had never talked much about myself and my writing and I was worried about boring those gazing up at me waiting to hear what I had to say. These days I’ve done enough talking to enjoy sharing my love of writing and how I came to write my books not to worry about my listeners getting fed up of the sound of my voice. Even when some fall asleep before my very eyes.

My very first signing session had a similar effect on me except my fear was that no one would turn up. I would be left sitting there at a table in a bookshop and the bookseller and the publisher’s rep would decide it was a waste of time to promote me as no one wanted to meet me or read my book. I do remember being absolutely thrilled when the rep picked me up at my front door to take me on a tour of several Liverpool bookshops and stores. Some booklovers of a similar age to myself or even those in their forties will remember Wilson’s bookshop on Renshaw Street and Philip, Son and Nephew’s in Whitechapel. Today’s supermarkets had nothing on those booklovers’ havens. They had such character and I grief their demise. Having said that when W.H. SMITH’S took over the old Cooper’s building on Church Street it was a great place to visit for any dedicated booklover. How I miss that building!

 Although sometimes I would just go and sign stock in a back room, there were occasions when I also sat at a table near the entrance. Just before  Mother’s Day one year. I’ll never forget a man coming and buying a book for his mother. He returned twenty minutes later and bought another for his mother-in-law, saying to me, “I’m making you rich.” If only he knew what percentage an author gets of the published price he would have done a double-take and realised I’d have to sell a heck of a lot of books to become rich.

 I remember the arrival of Dillon’s on Bold Street, I recall sitting in a corner by the staircase waiting for someone to notice me and buy one of my books, not ask me where they would find Maps. Not long after Waterstone’s made an appearance further up Bold Street, except it had pillars either side of the entrance.

 In those days I remember even signing books in newsagents, one being in Central station’s precinct and another in Crosby village.

 My nearest bookshop is in Crosby, for those that don’t know the village it is about 5 miles from Liverpool to the north. I have spent many a happy hour in Steve Pritchard’s bookshop there. In the beginning way back in the 1990s the Crosby Herald used to print a BOOKSHELF compiling the top ten best selling books in Crosby. I still have the cuttings when my earlier books were at number one.

 Steve also had another shop and that was in Formby village a bit further north, nearer the coast. I remember my first visit to that Pritchard’s where Tony Higginson was the manager and how warmly I was welcomed. I have a photograph of me sitting outside in front of a window display of FLOWERS ON THE MERSEY.  Tony still gives me a warm welcome, although Pritchard’s in Formby has gone and Tony is now the owner of Formby Books situated in The Cloisters, near Marks & Spencer’s.

 This Saturday I will be visiting both Pritchard’s, Crosby, and Formby Books.  Between 11-12 I will be at Formby Books signing copies of A MOTHER’S DUTY  and at 1-2pm I will be at Pritchard’s in Crosby. Do come and say hello if you can. Love June.