Lightly Done – November 2019

The Greyhound Trilogy

I didn’t go looking for greyhounds, they just walked into my life. It all began in 1971 when I was traveling from York to St Pancras on an over-crowded train. The Guard noticed me trudging wearily backwards and forwards past his van as I searched for a seat. The train was crammed and the Guard eventually invited me to share his van.  The other passenger with him was a large and very beautiful golden greyhound who raised his head to greet me with gentle politeness.  For the rest of the journey I listened to a very angry man describing how greyhounds were regularly dumped in his van  to travel across the country and make money for their owners. At the age of five, they were considered ‘past their sell by date’ and many disposed of by any convenient means. It has been common practice for them to be  turned loose on a highway, dumped in a pond with a brick tied around their neck or just simply shot.  That day I promised myself that one day I would make a home for a retired greyhound.  Since then a series of greyhounds have come through our front door and made their homes with us, each one has become more than a family pet, every one has become a close friend and part of our lives.  I completed my first novel Phoenix House in 2006 more or less in control of the plot although the characters often made decisions for me, telling me how the story should develop. As I began to plan the next three novels, Willoughby’s Will, Dragonfly, and Loneliness is a Killer,  uninvited greyhounds began to quietly walk into my imagination and into the plots and The Greyhound Trilogy became a reality. These are not books about greyhounds, they are books in which greyhounds play a part just as they do in my daily life. I hope you enjoy their company as much as I do. This morning the postman delivered a box filled with copies of Willoughby’s Will, the first volume of The Greyhound Trilogy. Dragonfly is with my editor Judy Manville, and Loneliness is a Killer is now at the planning stage on my desk. No other canine is as closely associated with speed, grace and agility. For thousands of years they have been cherished and bred as hunting dogs and loyal companions in the courts of kings, their portraits are painted on the walls of the pharaohs so we know for certain that they have been part of the lives of humanity for at least four thousand years. Their mummified remains have been found buried in Egyptian tombs so that they could accompany their masters to the hunting grounds in the after life. In Homer’s epic the Odyssey only the old greyhound Argus who has been patiently waiting for Odysseus since his departure many years before, and recognises the hero when he returns home. If you open your home and your heart to them in return they will pay you with love and loyalty overflowing.

Lightly Done – September 2019 – The Importance of Recollection by Tom Hayhoe


BBC Radio 4 marked the August bank holiday by filling its schedule with 11 episodes of Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu / In search of Lost Time.  The idea of “lost” or “forgotten” time is sad and should be unnecessary. There is value in capture and recording the essence of what becomes memory before it becomes remote and can no longer be recalled.  It is of value for those who have lived through those times, and it also of value for those with whom it can be shared.  We are the sum of our memories, whatever of our memories that we can share with others lives on beyond us.  What we know of the past, particularly captured in what those who have gone before us have set down, helps make sense of the present.

That’s enough of these weighty thoughts!  I relish having heard my father’s accounts of naval service in the Mediterranean as a midshipman just after the end of the Second World War, including a visit in the training cruiser into the Black Sea and his accompanying a young Russian officer on what was probably a completely illicit trip in a launch around the Soviet fleet moored in Sebastapol.  I recall his accounts of a contrasting time in the depths of the Cold War, commanding a submarine spying on Soviet fleet movements, anxious that at any moment that they might have to come the surface in a hurry if they sailed into one of the pockets of nearly fresh water in the Baltic that couldn’t support a submerged submarine.   And then there are my own direct memories of my father’s submarine service: the distinctive smell of diesel and sweat in his kit bag on returning from sea; visits as a small boy to the wardroom of his submarine and those of other submarines visiting Portland while I was growing up; and finally, almost certainly as illicitly as his trip round Sebastopol harbour, being taken on an exercise on the submarine he commanded, including looking out through the periscope while the submarine was under water, and a torpedo being fired.

I regret having never sustained keeping a diary, although I did try a couple of times.  I also regret not having been more consistent about capturing experiences on camera.  However, I doubt whether the current appetite for the selfie really addresses the purpose of recollection either, since it feels narcissistic and I fear that so much is about pretending to be happy, impressing a network of friends and acquaintances on social media and seeing “fifteen minutes of fame” in an age that values faux celebrity.  I sometimes tell myself, and have on occasioned counselled my daughter, to “bottle” the experience (in the sense of preserving in a bottle).  But this on its own is not enough.  You may need something to prompt the recall of what you have “bottled”, and this is where the diary entry or the photograph may come in. My memories of a magical trip, three days hiking unsupported through the backcountry of Yosemite National Park in California, with my daughter when she was sixteen, are supported by a handful of photographs that bring back the atmosphere, the incidents along the way, and her excitement at what felt like, literally, being on the top of the world as we looked out across the Sierra Nevada, and her apprehension beforehand at the prospect of camping in an environment we shared with black bears that might steal our food.

Sometimes other triggers are sufficient to help us recall the past.  I experienced something akin to Proust’s smell of the madeleines almost twenty years ago, albeit in reverse.  I was planning a tour of New Zealand, where my family lived briefly in the early 1960s.  As I started to plot our route, memories started flooding back of places that I had visited as a six year old.  Most spookily, as the geysers of Rotorua found their way into the itinerary, I was spontaneously overwhelmed by the distinctive sulphurous odour that hangs over the town, with the memory triggering a sensory response that felt completely real.  Buildings and places can do it for me too.  Hearing music can also transport me back to moments in the past, and how I felt at the time.  Late summer, and the annual broadcast of the last test match of the summer from Oval (incidentally, I am shocked that next summer’s test matches will open rather than conclude with the Oval test) transport me back to the last days of the school holidays in the summer of 1968, an eventful August during which the radio waves were also full of news of the invasion of Czechoslovakia. 

Anyway, it all adds up to the importance of not losing our own past, and also the pasts of others. There is purpose in recording material to trigger memory, and it is fundamentally enriching and essential to fulfilling the human condition.  As TS Eliot wrote in East Coker, itself a wonderful evocation of atmosphere that can still be recognised almost eighty years on from when it was written (go to the poem to see how talks about country lane in the evening, or what happens in an Underground train if it stops between stations):

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older

The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated

Of dead and living. Not the intense moment 

Isolated, with no before and after,

But a lifetime burning in every moment

And not the lifetime of one man only

But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.

There is a time for the evening under starlight,

A time for the evening under lamplight

(The evening with the photograph album).

Lightly Done – August 2019

The Bouncing Bomb

Some reports claim that July 2019 was the hottest since records began.  My childhood memories tell me that during world War II July was a month of very long hot days, days of hay making and double summer time.  The grownups forgot about putting us to bed, getting the hay in was all important, children were released from school for harvesting crops, health and safety had not been invented.  If a job needed to be done, you did it.

To escape from the world of grownups my favourite place was still under the table where, without interruption, I could enjoy my new found skill of silent reading. Above my head the wireless would be talking to itself.  It was powered by an accumulator, a square glass jar filled with some sort of acid which had to be topped up every week or so to keep it going. Ever since the battle of Torbruk and the sinking of the Ladybird I had come to think of the man on the wireless as my personal friend.

The most important moment of the day was one o’clock when the grownups would gather round in silence to listen to the news.  The same silence was required on the special occasions when Winston Churchill was talking,  I can still recall the sound of his voice. It was as important to me that the wireless was kept going as it was to the grown up world around me.  At the age of six when the accumulator  needed attention I was considered quite old enough to take it down to the village on my way to school and leave it to be ‘topped up’ and collected on my way home in the evening.

 Watching the television reports of the threatening collapse of Whaley Dam brought an early image of cars fleeing from the flood waters following the collapse of the Möhna Dam in my six year old mind from May 1943.  

RAF 617 Squadron was formed under the command of Wing Commandeer Guy Gibson at Scampton in Lincolnshire with airmen from Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Americans serving in Commonealth air forces.  I knew that he had been born in India which gave me, at the age of six, a  feeling of connectedness with him for I too had been born overseas.  This bouncing bomb was unlike any other, it had been designed on a principle that any child familiar with the sea shore could understand.  Instead of being dropped and going straight to the bottom it would bounce like a pduckie stone skimmed from a beach across the water.  The principle was tested along the Fleet, that stretch of water that lies between Chesil Beach and the main land giving it special meaning for a Portland child.  The BBC Home service report explained there were three dams in the Ruhr Valley and the aim was to bring chaos to the heartland of German industry. The bomb dropped by Guy Gibson fell short, the second attacking aircraft was shot down. Wing Commander Gibson then flew along the dam to draw German fire enabling the bomb dropped by the third aircraft to break it the dam under water.  The pilot was interviewed and described how 1,300 people were killed in the resulting flooding, mostly civilians and prisoners of war.  As I listened the pilot told us how he saw the stream of cars driven by people trying to escape, the headlights were white at first, then as the flood water became deeper they lost their shine and became mustard coloured, then purple and finally the lights went out.  The fear of rising flood water has been with me for seventy six years. 

These childhood memories are stories waiting to be told.  If you are beginning the journey of creative writing you will find that journals and old letters are of immense value.  (Don’t ever throw anything away!) Always keep a note book with you, even beside your bed.   I have a friend who writes all her best poems at 2am, they arrive in finished form just as she wakes up. It is never too late to begin! In the next two weeks Wiloughby’s Will – the first of the Greyhound Trilogy – will join Phoenix House and Moss From a Rolling Stone In the collection of my work available from Amazon.  

We thank God for our heritage
And the heroes of the past
For Admirals and for Captains
And the boys who climbed the mast
May we who in their memory
Are gathered here today
Show forth our gratude to them
In all we do and say.
Let us give thanks for food and wine
And ask God’s blessing as we dine.

I wrote this grace for the first Guest Night Dinner I attended at RNH Haslar as Lay Chaplain in 1990.

Lightly Done July 2019 – Never say Never

Summer is here at last, the sky is a clear blue without a cloud in sight, the garden cries out for weeding or a pair of secateurs to dead head the roses. Better still there’s that sun bed under the apple tree and the temptation of a stolen hour to dream.

Last month I posed the question – what keeps you going, inspiration or imagination? Every writer knows those two feelings, the first and best, a sense of excitement when an inspiring experience takes over followed by a longing for the opportunity to find a corner to write uninterrupted confident that words will flow freely onto the page driven by the force of imagination. The second, the dreaded writers block when only the drive of a dead-line will get you to your desk.

Where do you go to refuel when your mind feels dry and empty, when you feel you are not up to the task in hand, when you want to give up? I go back to a time when I was very small, to the days when I would hide under a table and listen to the grown-up world going on around me, careless of what they did or said, unaware that I was there. Sometimes the room would be empty and the wireless which sat on the table above me would be talking to itself. 26 February 1941 was one of those days.

HMS Ladybird

During the war years the BBC news at one o’clock was all important to the grown-ups, something I usually found inexplicably boring but for some reason that day even though it was lunch-time there were no grown-uos about when I realised that the man on the wirelesswas talking about HMS Ladybird, my ship. Of course she wasn’t really my ship but I had been born in Hankow on the banks of the Yangtze when my father was first lieutenant of the Ladybird, the only member of the ship’s company whose wife had been able to join him in China so, soon after I was born I was adopted by every member of the crew as their baby. The ship’s bell was used for my baptism and my name was inscribed on the inside. My mother got me and my amah back to England in the last passenger ship to leave Shanghai as the Japanese forces came over the northern border, and I grew up in England thinking of Ladybird as my ship. The day of that broadcast I was only five but I listened so closely that the report has been my driving force to this day.

Ladybird, an Insect Class gunboat was built in 1916 and deployed in the China fleet. She came under fire from Japanese artillery near Wuhu, was hit by six shells but not badly damaged and so was able to join her sister ship Bee in picking up survivors after the sinking of USS Panay. In 1939 she was fitted with more modern guns from the decommissioned battleship HMS Agincourt and sent to Singapore where she and five others of her class were stripped down and towed to the Mediterranean. On the journey she was damaged again and from then on was limited to no more than 7 knots as her hull had become misaligned. First of all she was sent to defend Port Said but in December she was sent to bombard the port of Bardia. In February she landed a Royal Marine unit during Operation Abstention and was hit by an arial bomb but was still able to carry on until, acting in support of the Tobruk Garrison, she was involved in shelling the Gaza airfield and ferrying in supplies. This time she was badly damaged by dive bombers and set on fire. The end was in sight. She settled on an even keel in 10feet (3.0m) of water.

By this time I was listening more closely to the report than to any story designed for a child. This was my ship, she was a real personality, she was brave, she was sunk but she was a survivor. Her 3inch (76mm) gun was still above water and continued the fight as an anti-air craft gun. As an adult I learnt to recognise the bravery of her crew but for me and for all involved with her, her crew and their families, the ship herself had a real personality. For seventy seven years the story of that little gunboat HMS Ladybird sunk at the battle of Torbruk but still fighting has been my inspiration. You may be at the bottom but you never give in!

The gun that continued to be fired after the ship was sunk

June 2019 – Lightly Done

Inspiration or imagination?

Which is the most important? Every month a group of writers meet in our house to exchange news and ideas. As a parting challenge someone will suggest a word or phrase to be used in a poem or short story. The single word ‘Tissue’ left me high and dry right up to the last few days when I was tidying a drawer and found a forgotten piece of blue tissue paper wrapped around my father’s medals. The following piece of flash fiction was the result

Mum brought us up on her own. . . she said men were, and always would be a waste of space.  ‘Don’t you believe anything they tell you,’ she would say.  ‘They’ll pay you compliments as long as it suits them, but when you need them you’ll find their priorities are all wrong.  Got to look after my mates, or some such nonsense and off they go.’

     My dad was in the navy, a stoker, mum said.  Good looking guy to judge by the photo she kept beside her bed, taken on their wedding day.  She held a bunch of flowers in front of her, to hide me and my sister was all she would say. She said we turned up three months later but by then the war had started and my dad had gone.  He never came back.  

     We lived on benefits and hand-me-downs from cousins and stuff from jumble sales and mum took in ironing until we were old enough to go to school.  If we asked why we didn’t have a dad like the other kids, she would get angry and talk about the swindle of sex and wrong priorities.  ‘You’ll find out one day.  Just don’t trust them, if they are in the navy you will always be second best.’

     Mum loved pretty things and as soon as we were old enough to be left alone at home she got a job in a local dress shop.  ‘I can’t afford beautiful clothes but this way at least I can enjoy them,’ she would say as she wrapped up delicate lace underwear for some man hoping to woo a fair maiden with a seductive gift.

     Mum died in the hospice last week.  Me and my sister, we clubbed together and bought her a beautiful lace nightgown to wear in her coffin, it seemed only right.  Yesterday we began to clear out her flat.  I’m glad the two of us were together when we discovered what our mum kept hidden under the lining paper in her bottom drawer. Folded between the pages of a local newspaper was a letter from the Commanding Officer of HMS Repulse offering sympathy and congratulating our mum for the selfless bravery of her husband and inviting her to receive his posthumous award, the Victoria Cross. Our dad had died a hero saving the lives of his mates.  Wrapped in blue tissue paper was proof of his priorities.    

Which is the most important to a writer, inspiration or imagination? I would say both. On those days when both are lacking what is the solution – do you despair and give up? What keeps you going?


Lightly Done from The Shed – May 2019

the centre of this writers world.

I promised that I would post a Lightly Done newsletter from the shed during the first weekend of every month. Age is only a number and as a six year old friend told me ‘Life should be an adventure.’ Seize every opportunity and hang on to your dreams!

 All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages

. . . the seven stages can apply today just as much as they did in Shakespeare’s day. Becoming a pensioner can be a depressing event, surrounded by expectations that we should become the equivalent of Shakespeare’s slippered pantaloon with spectacles on nose, voice a childish treble and should down size, move into protected housing, even a care home and give up. 

I can see the pattern in my own life, though not in quite the same order. Baby, school child listening to stories, mother telling stories, OU mature student writing articles, studio potter writing more articles, grandmother writing short stories  and novels, and finally, one day eventually slowing down, too tired to do more than doze and dream – but oh, the adventure has been fun!

Writing poetry and story-telling are means of making sense of the world we live in and the traditions we inherit but how to begin? There are no rules. W. Somerset Maugham is reputed to have said ‘There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.’ The same can be said of short stories though in today’s world some universities run creative writing courses and there people on line who will tell you they have the perfect formula – at a price. There are shelves of books on how to write great short stories and more on plot structure, developing characters and submitting work for publication, but there is only one real answer – write, write and write. Hang on to your dreams and – write some more.

The most valuable resources we all have are memory and imagination.  If you have never kept a journal, start today.  A journal is more than a diary, how many of us make a resolution to keep a diary that by the second week becomes a chore and by the third is set aside.  A journal lies there waiting for quick notes of intriguing events and sudden thoughts or those moments when something so special happens that you want to record every detail, or an idea haunts your mind until you have to explore it, taking pages before you see the way ahead. Take time to record your very earliest memories and see if you can prove them to be fact, then set them aside until you need them as an asset for your fiction – more of that next month. In the mean time take time out to read as well.

TRIBUTE TO A DISTILLED SPIRIT
(thoughts on poetry and prose)

A novel, like an evening with a friend
Accompanied by tankards of good beer
Allows us to develop themes and share
Love, laughter, jealousy or fear
And contemplate a carefully crafted end.

A glass of wine, a connoisseur’s delight
Will be remembered for bouquet and taste
And for the dinner that it graced
Never a drop allowed to go to waste,
A story shorter than a summer’s night.

But for a poem I would choose
A single malt to be my muse.


Lightly Done – April 2019 – Grab Every Opportunity

and if there isn’t one – make it!

As I packed for our longed for cruise to the Canary Islands I remembered a previous one where I met Sandra Howard who was travelling with her husband Michael Howard, one of the official lecturers. As an after thought the Cruise Director had invited Sandra to lead a series of Writers’ Workshops and I wondered if anything like this would happen again so (hang on to your dreams) I added some notes and a couple of short stories before I locked my case. On the first evening I during the after dinner entertainment I saw the Cruise Director sitting on her own to one side so I tiptoed over and asked if there was any room to add a Writers’ Workshop to the programme?

If you choose to go to the Canary Islands by sea during the Spring Equinox you have to cross the Bay of Biscay and you can expect (to quote Kipling) that the ship will go ‘Wop with a wibble between’ and it did, but most people got their sea legs remarkably quickly. On day two about eighteen of us gathered for a Writers’ Workshop, an extra item on the programme. Most confessed that they had thought about writing, and had been told that ‘most people have a book inside them.’ Some had been asked by their families to write a family history and one lady had been begged to write down the stories she had told her children when they were small. A man who had done National Service during the Suez Crisis kept us spell bound as he called back his memories and finally another confessed that he had completed an e-book and self published it on Amazon to discover too late that it was full of typos and worse, he hadn’t noticed that he had changed his hero’s name half way through the book! We all agreed that to complete a book is a triumph but I took the opportunity to explain that we all need a professional editor and proof reader whether we are going down the traditional route with an agent and publisher or are taking the increasingly common indie route. Friends and family members can be wonderful supporters but if we are serious we need more than a kindly ‘that’s brilliant dear!’

The would be writers met a second time and we discussed the dangers of being conned by rapacious vanity press publishers and I suggested that the first step is to start keeping a journal . When are we too old? Never!

A proof reader and editor who I would recommend very highly is Judy Manville, in my opinion she is perceptive, knowledgeable and efficient and even if you are a complete beginner she will edit your work ready to publish at a professional standard without destroying the presence of your voice. https://judymanvilleproofreader.wordpress.com

Here are some of the useful sources I promised last month:-
Https://creative-writing-now.com
Https://annerallen.com.  Through this web site you will find Anne R Allen’s blog with Ruth Harris ‘Writing about writing.Mostly’
Https://thecreativepenn.com.  Joanna Penn publishes a Podcast every Monday, a regular blog with resources for writers and authors as well as writing novels herself and running courses from time to time.
www.dyingwords.net/author/garry.Garry Rodgers is a retired Canadian homicide detective and forensic coroner with a regular blog. I find his blogs very stimulating.

I’ll be back at the beginning of May

Lightly Done

Lightly Done will be a monthly blog exploring the possibilities for those of us who believe that age is just a number and life is for living. My intention is to post during the first weekend of every month.

Each month I will thank some one who has helped me to come out of the shadows to admit that I am a writer with news and ideas to share.

I have been amazed by the generosity of so many established writers. It was more than ten years ago that I came across Randy Ingermanson’s Fiction Newsletter and realised that anything is possible if only I hang on to my dreams and never give up. Questions published in Randy’s E-zine fitted all my needs –

  • You always wanted to write a novel but didn’t know how to get started.
  • You started writing your novel and want to learn how to write better.
  • You finished writing your novel and need to polish it.
  • You revised your novel and want to get it published.
  • You published your novel and want to market it.

I have enjoyed Randy’s E-zine ever since and know of no better way of organising my thoughts and exploring ideas for a new novel than by using Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake method.

This month I have been asked by a new writer how she should use her journal and I found myself wondering what draws late-comers to creative writing instead of any other art form. Is it to share memories and experiences or to create a new world of ideas and possibilities. Is it something you want to do or that you have to do, impelled by the plot or characters of your own creation?