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Saturday, 15 April 2017


Writers find themselves led down interesting pathways. Wine Tourism Spain is currently running a competition for stories based on aliens' encounters with wine. To give my aliens a true taste of Spain, I sent them on a detour via the pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela. Pour yourself a glass and read my entry below:


The rip in the fabric of time and space repaired itself behind them.

   The aliens took stock. A few hesitant movements assured them the human forms they had assumed were in working order, and they stepped forward with more confidence.

   They were on a narrow path that wound uphill. To each side stretched arid scrubland. Ahead the path vanished into a belt of dark trees. Their advance information had been that Spain was one of the lands of Earth that produced a mysterious product known as wine. Throughout Earth's history, men alluded to the charms of wine. The aliens were to investigate and report back.

   “We continue until we find a village, and then decide what to do,” Ekert told Bilic.

   Unaccustomed to walking, they soon panted with effort. Footsteps sounded behind them, and a human was upon them with a shouted “Hola!” He dropped his pack on the ground and drank noisily from a plastic water bottle.

   “Hola,” Bilic responded with caution.

   “Are you guys walking the trail? Where's your badge?” He wore a white scallop shell emblem on a cord round his neck. “Gotta let people know we're the real thing.”

   “We started only this morning, and would benefit from your advice.” Ekert's voice sounded human, even to Bilic.

   The earthling, whose name was Dave, needed no encouragement. “Back home, I was a teacher. Then I got burn-out, so I decided to get away from it all, get close to nature, and discover the meaning of life.” He waved a hand at the stony scrubland. “Like rivers to the sea, all roads lead to Compostela, so the Spanish say.”

   Bilic managed a grunt of assent.

   By the time the night's refuge came into view, the aliens were weary. Their companion's incessant chatter irritated them, and his spiritual pilgrimage afforded no useful information.

   The communal dining room was a welcome surprise, its depths cool against the afternoon heat. “Hola!” the landlord greeted the pilgrims, setting olives and wine in front of them. Dave emptied his glass in a few gulps, and belched before demanding a refill. “I'm more a beer man myself, but this ain't bad. Fourteen days down, five to go. Compostela, here we come.”

   Ekert noticed the landlord's tightened lips. He took a cautious sip and rolled the wine across his tongue, feeling the fresh tingle as it slid down his throat. The golden liquid condensed the flavours of the sun. It also reminded him of the bursts of fragrance they had encountered along the path, wherever straggly herbs had taken hold. He no longer felt his sore feet. A sense of peace took hold as he recalled images of the day. A hilltop village, dusty in the heat. A wide-winged bird hanging in the sky. He took another sip, set the glass down and turned to Bilic, who cradled his own elixir. “Now I understand. We have indeed discovered the meaning of life.”


Learn more about Spain's robust reds and aromatic whites at

Monday, 7 November 2016

Using the n-word in historical fiction

A reader commented that she was shocked I used the n-word in A Shackled Inheritance. I agree, the word is shocking. But historical fiction cannot airbrush the truth. If we want to understand the present, we have accept the realities of the past, even if those realities upset or offend modern readers.

I put the word into the mouths of my island-dwelling, slave-owning characters, who include free persons of colour, because I wanted to show how slave-owners used language to justify the gulf between themselves and the slaves they treated as goods to be bought and sold. From Babylonian and Egyptian times onwards, people in a position of wealth and privilege have justified their privilege by denying the humanity of others. I suspect a schizoid mentality of 'them and us', underpinned by wilful blindness, is easily triggered in human brains. English slang may have progressed from calling the poor 'the great unwashed' to dismissing them as 'chavs' but the negative intention remains the same.  

Again, ‘free coloured’ is offensive to modern ears, but it was the term used in the British colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries, in censuses and legal documents, to refer to mixed-race or black people who were free citizens.

It is not surprising that mixed-race slave owners and overseers aligned themselves with the white community and also treated slaves with cruelty and contempt. To admit any sort of kinship with people who were treated like animals, or to champion their cause, might have jeopardised their own comfortable situation. . .  

Tuesday, 27 September 2016



From childhood, I was a voracious reader. I read for pleasure, for the sheer joy of rolling undiscovered words round my tongue before inflicting them on my surprised family or shoehorning them into homework. Words were like stained glass windows, tiny fragments strung together in a sentence to form an entrancing whole.

For my younger self, writers were a breed apart, people born with the talent to string words together. It never occurred to me that what I read might be a fourth or fifth version of their initial attempts. In later years, having served my own apprenticeship as a writer, I began to analyse what I read. Why had I enjoyed the book? Was it plot or language? I appreciated the hard work behind the finished product.

However, academic criticism was something to avoid. Until I discovered the “I recommend” section of Chichester University’s Thresholds website. This regular feature allows contributors to recommend a short story, or collection of stories, by a favourite author. I chose For Six Cups of Coffee, a collection of vignettes and short stories by the Swiss author Rainer Brambach. To see why I enjoyed his work, and to take a walk round Basel in his company, go to  


Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Five star crowned heart review for A Shackled Inheritance

InD'tale magazine, a romance site which reviews over one hundred new releases each month, awarded A Shackled Inheritance a coveted 5-stars with crowned heart in its June issue. The reviewer wrote:

   "Upon the death of her father in Scotland, spinster Abigail Carrick discovers that she has a second family in the West Indies, with two grown daughters of colour - her sisters! Along with lawyer Euan Sinclair, she embarks on a journey to meet her new family across the ocean. Abigail's inheritance involves a slave plantation and Euan is against slavery, which drives a wedge between them. Once they arrive on shore however they both begin the understand the true cruelty of slavery. As Abigail's feelings for Euan grow, he is attracted to her half-sister, who has a very different attitude towards slavery than Abigail does.
   The author did an excellent job researching the era of slavery, the history of plantation houses, even the manner in which people spoke back then. The characters, in particular Euan and Abigail, are fleshed out and three dimensional, acting like real people would and struggling with real issues. The injustice and cruelty of slavery, and the narrow-minded ways people tried to rationalize this, are the red threads running throughout the book, and provide an interesting backdrop for the characters' relationships. 
   A Shackled Inheritance is not only entertaining, but provides the reader with a lot of new information and research while keeping a fast pace without the dreaded "info dump". A heart-wrenching love story, Abigail and Euan's story is one for the ages!" 

Monday, 4 April 2016

Mary Wollstonecraft, a thinker in advance of her time

   A character who plays an important role in my book A Shackled Inheritance was a real person. For the long voyage across the Atlantic, my heroine Abigail takes a copy of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft. Reading and re-reading this slim volume, a meek, conventional young woman acquires more backbone as she absorbs its radical ideas.

   Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1791, when she was only 31. It was a follow-up to her republican tract A Vindication of the Rights of Men, published in 1790. Despite the groundswell of radical ideas in the late 18th century, the so-called Age of Reason, the simple idea that the rights of man could be extended to the female sex provoked alarm and ridicule in the literary and political establishment of the day. Walpole referred to the author as a"hyena in petticoats". Wollstonecraft argued that girls should be properly educated, either to turn them into wives and mothers who would be intellectually equal to their menfolk, or to give single and widowed women the means of earning an honest living:
   "Contending for the rights of woman, my main argument is based on this simple principle, that if she be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge, for truth must be common to all."

   Yet her sensible suggestion that girls and boys be educated together was dismissed as the ravings of a deranged woman.

   By coincidence, the British Library in London currently displays an annotated copy of the book. See:

Friday, 26 February 2016

Free persons of colour in the West Indies

A Shackled Inheritance is launched today with a Saturday Spotlight feature on

When my heroine discovers that she has two unknown sisters, she crosses the ocean to meet them. On arrival, she is plunged into the half-world of free persons of colour. This segment of colonial society grew in numbers over the centuries as white men freed their mixed-race children. A census of Jamaica taken in 1788 recorded a total population of 254,184, including 18,347 whites, 9,405 free persons of colour and 226,432 slaves. However, freedom came with restrictions. Free persons of colour had property rights, and were often slave owners themselves, but had few political or civil rights. In 1802, the governor of Barbados, explaining his mistrust of them, wrote that "unappropriated people would be a more proper denomination for though not the property of other individuals they do not enjoy the shadow of any civil right."

As I try to show in the book, free persons of colour denied their African heritage and identified with white society. Not surprising in a society which treated slaves as subhuman, worked them to death, and inflicted horrific punishments on those who ran away or challenged authority.

A Shackled Inheritance can be pre-ordered from Amazon: