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Wednesday, 10 January 2018


Actress Madge Meredith

'She's too cute to be criminal!' said Humphrey Bogart  of forties star Madge Meredith whose life story was more  dramatic than any of the films in which she  appeared.

Madge, who died at the end of 2016, was convicted of  kidnapping her manager and given a three year jail sentence in 1946. Astonishingly she returned to films when her sentence was complete.This unlikely story was revealed in an obituary in The Times newspaper this week, of the actress  born Marjorie May Massow in Iowa in 1921.

As a young child she suffered from a stammer but this did not deter her from going on the stage.
She studied acting in New York before making her way to Hollywood. She took a waitressing job with 20th Century Fox and waited to be discovered.

Along came Oscar-winning star Jennifer Jones who agreed that the waitress had potential and recommended her for a screen test. Soon 20th Century Fox had signed her up and cast her in supporting roles in several films including Otto Preminger's In the Meantime Darling released in 1944.   When they eventually let her go, Madge got her own manager, a Greek called Nicholas Gianaclis.

All went well until Gianaclis lent Madge some money towards the purchase of a house in the Hollywood Hills. This led to arguments over ownership which ended up in court. The judge ruled in the actress's favour. Fighting back, her manager  went to the police and alleged that Madge had tricked him into following her car to a quiet place in the hills, where she had arranged for him and his companion to be kidnapped at gunpoint. They were beaten up and taken to a different location from where they escaped.

After a four-week trial Madge and three men were convicted of various offences, but there were doubts over the conviction. When the conduct of the trial was questioned the California /State governor ordered her release saying: 'This is a bizarre case, perhaps more fantastic than any moving picture in which the defendant acted.'

She was released on her 30th birthday when, as the Los Angeles Times reported, 'She ran from the main entrance and refused to look back as the big chain-link gates, topped with barbed wire, clanged shut on the past.'

Between her arrest an release she had spent just over three years in prison. Madge resumed her acting career but effectively had to start over again.  When she finished filming she worked in television into the 1960s, then married and worked as an estate agent in Hawaii.

At the time of her conviction Madge said: 'I know in my heart I am innocent of any crime. Some day, someone will believe the truth about what I say.'

Among her supporters was Humphrey Bogart who was known for his outspoken views on social issues...

NB If Humphrey said she was too cute to be criminal, who are we to argue? ;)

Saturday, 23 December 2017


I'd like to introduce you to Christmas Ted. Ted came into our lives on Christmas Day 1991 in a busy hospital ward near where we live.
Our daughter was in the children's ward recovering from a serious illness, but not well enough to come home. 'I'm getting too old for Santa,' she said, slipping into the day room as Father Christmas did his rounds. But when she returned to the ward, there was Santa Ted, sitting on her bed, a generous gift from the hospital volunteers who did their best to make Christmas for the children (many of whom were very young) extra special. Ted's been a part of our family ever since.
For most of the year he sits out of sight in the guest room and never makes his 'presents' felt. But around December he magically starts to move around and there's no telling where he might turn up next...
I found him yesterday upstairs, wrapping all the presents to take to children everywhere. I'd just returned from visiting a very dear friend of mine who, after two major operations, is too ill to go home for Christmas.
So if you know a child of any age, from one to 101, who'll be in hospital this Christmas, why not visit them over the next few days. Thank the doctors and nurses for giving up the festive celebrations with their families, not to mention the volunteers. And send them lots of love from Christmas Ted.

Thanks for all your support in the past year and wishing you all the best in 2018

Thursday, 30 November 2017

A new kind of royalty - or a would-be princess?

Front page exclusive in the Daily Mail yesterday

 Princess-to-be Meghan Markle strode into the history books  this week with a mix of confidence and compassion, challenging the ancient traditions that  have long defined the British royal family.

With eyes for Prince Harry only, many believe Ms Markle  is just what the country needs  if the monarchy is to survive into the next century.

Inevitably labelled the 'spare' to future king William, Harry might well have become just another playboy prince had he not inherited  his mother's desire to make the world a better place. Meghan, with her humanitarian work, stunning looks and spirited nature  has changed all that.

Strong American women have a habit of changing British history. Last night's Channel Five drama/documentary The Queen That Never Was.  showcased Wallis Simpson who was blamed by many for the abdication of King  Edward VIII  in 1936, an event that changed the course of history.

Fascinated by the story of Wallis since I was a child, I have read many opinions of her down the years, most of them harsh, some assumed without any knowledge of the woman herself.

For the first time last night, in what appeared to be uncanny timing, we saw a different side to the woman who helped seal her own fate with a mixture of naivety and ambition.  Morally, it seems, the world was shocked by her actions.  Why didn't she slip away quietly leaving the king to carry on with his life? Why were the couple so open about their relationship - cruising together in the Mediterranean when she was still a married woman - when such things were frowned upon  in far more lowly circles.

If we are to believe this  drama documentary, supported by Mrs Simpson's own diary entries, she was traumatised by the hate people felt for her; she did not want to be queen. She begged the king to let her go but  he threatened suicide if she did not go along with his wishes.

Years later when the Duchess of Windsor, as she was known after her marriage, stepped back on to British soil, clad in black coat and veil, for her husband's funeral in 1972, she cut a very lonely figure. In all those years the British royal family had pretended she no longer existed.

My generation grew up with the words be careful what you wish for ringing in our ears and though we believe we invented feminism, strong women have always made sure their voices are heard.

The tragedy of Edward and Mrs Simpson, as they were known, will never be fully understood, but for once I prefer to look forward than to ponder what might have been. Meghan Markle's childhood friend Ninaki Priddy, who provided the 1996 photograph (above) told the Daily Mail 'She's been planning this all her life.'  Let's hope this story has a happy ending.

'The Queen That Never Was' stars Georgina Rich as Wallis and Alex Avery as Edward.

Friday, 17 November 2017

A View from the Register Office? Great drama, Kay!

If you didn't watch Kay Mellor's new drama on BBC 1 last night, you missed out on her best writing yet. Love, Lies & Records is a new six part series by the BAFTA award-winning writer. The only thing I don't like about it is the title!

According to the hype '...the series follows Registrar Kate Dickenson (Ashley Jensen) as she tries to juggle her personal life with the daily dramas of births, marriages and deaths and the impact they have on her.
After a dream promotion to the top job of Superintendent, Kate finds herself increasingly torn by the endless responsibilities of being a modern working mother. Her daughter’s hiding suspicious messages on her mobile, her son hates her because she’s bought him the wrong trainers and now her stepson’s turned up unannounced to stay.
As Kate tries to hold her work, life and relationship together, things go from complicated to impossible when a disgruntled colleague threatens to expose a secret from her past.'

And what a secret! ( sorry, no spoilers here.)

I'm surprised no-one else has thought of setting a drama in a register office, a place where people find themselves at  the most significant moments of their lives. To me, the unlucky Kate appears far too emotional for the job, taking everyone's personal problems to heart, and yet the viewer is rooting for her all the way. That's the clever bit.

Maybe I like it because the heroine is emotional, vulnerable, and nothing like the strong female professionals we're witnessing more and more on television. A bit like feminism in reverse. Maybe it's because the programme tackles complicated human issues with just the right amount of empathy. Whatever the reason, I'm already looking forward to next week.

A review of the whole series in today's Wall Street Journal is headed A View from the Register Office.

Now that's a great title, don't you think?

Image result for love lies and records

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Ghosts, ghoulies and...ladybirds?

Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home, your house is on fire and your children all gone..

I wonder how many children sang this as a child, unaware of the implication of the words? It seems 1950s children enjoyed stories such as Red riding Hood (beware of the wolf) and Babes in the Wood (don't get lost in the dark)  supposedly without feeling scared.

Back in 1944, when a ladybird caught her eye, the unknown Iona Opie, began to wonder why such traditional rhymes were so scary, and then spent the rest of her life finding out. She began by borrowing James Halliwell-Phillipps' 1842 edition of Nursery Rhymes of England, from the library and soon  her husband, Peter, got hooked on the idea, too.

The couple began buying copious children's books to answer  the question 'what is a nursery rhyme?'  Their first purchase, The Cheerful Warbler, was a tiny book of rhymes from 1818 that cost exactly five shillings. They soon began creating a dictionary of more than 500 rhymes, songs, jingles and lullabies which, seven years later, became The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book. In it they explored the history of children's play, especially in the schoolyard. This was followed by the Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes in 1963.

Some of their early observations were labelled 'timid' but years later Iona was quoted as saying: In 1959 you didn't publish anything worse than the word 'Knickers.' She made up for that with the People in the Playground (1993) which detailed the sexual language games and jokes enjoyed by children at primary school.

 Born in 1923, Iona was the daughter of Sir Robert Archibald, director of the Wellcome research laboratory in Khartoum, Sudan. She was brought up by her mother, Olive, and regularly looked after by maids. 'It didn't occur to me that I was suppose to speak,' she once said. 'My whole attention was given to noticing and taking things in.'

In 1951 the couple's appeal for information about playground games was published in the Sunday Times and lead to an overwhelming response from teachers across the country. The result was The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959) which aimed to prove that the mass media was not ruining childhood traditions.

Reading  Iona Opie's obituary in this week's Times, from which these quotes are taken, it seems that the couple lived a frugal life, without car or television, that 'involved the us of old newspapers for lavatory paper.'
They had three children: James, who became an authority on toy soldiers, Robert,who founded the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising in Notting Hill, and Letitia who 
worked in adult education.

Iona Opie's obituary in TheTimes

Despite the demands of her work, Iona was devoted to her children, loved cooking, and made endless birthday cakes, puddings and pies when she wasn't amassing her collection of 2,000 books. By 1998 she had sold them to the Bodleian for £500,000.

And what of the original ladybird? 'I believe now the ladybird has something to do with witchcraft,' she concluded.  A pretty apt quote for Halloween.

Iona Opie, CBE, author, anthropologist and folklorist, was born on October 13, 1923 and died on October 23, 2017, aged 94.

Monday, 9 October 2017

'Fate' accompli?

When my second daughter was sixteen, a gypsy told her she was going to marry a Yorkshireman. I laughed. Not because I had anything against Yorkshire, (or its men) but  she was still so young and, anyway, who could  predict such a thing?  What's more she would work in a big factory surrounded by lots of people - including her future husband.

That was more than twenty years ago, yet the gypsy's words were as clear as ever as her father and I embarked on our latest trip to York. This beautiful city is famous the world over but I wonder how many of its people appreciate how lucky they are to live there?  Or believe that my gypsy friend really knew what she was talking about? (Daughter Two,  a happily married mum,  is now a microbiologist in the city.)

Yes, the predictions came true. Yet I've always believed in the 'Sliding Doors' theory that we can, if we really want to, influence our own destiny. Otherwise, why are we here?  As a writer it is easy to be self-critical, to compare yourself unfavourably to those who are more prolific than you, or more successful, especially in these days of non-stop social media. So I've tried to live by the mantra: if you think you can, you can, and if you think you can't, you probably can't.

One of the things I promised myself earlier this year was to concentrate on what I really want to do (write novels) and spend less time interacting with those I believe make my goal achievable (everyone else.) So, after writing this  blog almost every week for the last seven years, I have decided to cut it down to once a month.  I have taken a break from my facebook account, leaving only my author page active. I still log on to twitter, but just for a few minutes each day, so that I can keep in touch with what's gong on around me.

Do I feel happier?  No, I feel quite bereft. I've taken away the crutches, hobbled out of my comfort zone and started to rely on myself again. But isn't that how it all started?

From cub reporter to freelance journalist, from mother to grandmother to novelist, I've tried to make things happen.  That's my story, anyway.  You don't have to believe it. Novelists, so I've heard, are good at making things up.

York Minster - the world at its feet?

Monday, 25 September 2017

Who's got The Power now?

'She is as pretty as a picture and powerful as a rocket launcher, and anything she touches begins to hum and buzz and send out sparks within half an hour...'

Journalist Anna Marshall writing about Fleet Street editor Phyllis Digby Morton in the 1950s

'Like needle-pricks of light from her spine to her collarbone, from her throat to her elbows, wrists, to the pads of her fingers. She's glittering inside.'

Naomi Alderman in her current bestseller The Power

I've always believed that history repeats itself and never more so than this week. Just as I finish reading Naomi Alderman's dystopian novel about powerful women of the future,  the Mail on Sunday's You magazine sheds light on a powerful woman of the past. Here's to powerful women.

Sunday, 6 August 2017


'THE' is a very short  word - one we use  a myriad times every day. So why has it  been causing excitement in the world of fiction?

Just in case you hadn't noticed, this three- letter word heads some of the most successful book titles of 2017. Of the top paperback fiction bestsellers listed in Saturday's Times newspaper six out of the ten  titles follow the trend. Just look at the list:

At number one, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is followed by Jane Harper's The Dry. At five is The Power by Naomi Alderman, at six The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena followed by John Grisham's The Whistler at number seven. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, (now a television series) is number eight and Michelle Frances' The Girlfriend comes in at number nine.

So while many experts still believe that you should choose a book by its cover, these days it seems to be the title that's pulling in the readers. And the more a new-release resembles the title of a current best seller, the more  likely it is to attract the reader's attention.

If you watched The Little House on the Prairie as a child, you won't be surprised to know that 'house' is now an in-word for book titles. One of the most popular  is The House on the Hill (I found several different novels with this same title on Amazon) along with Kate Morton's The House at Riverton. Finally, the word 'girl' is also very prevalent as in the bestsellers Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. A throwback, maybe, to Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?

Book titles, despite common belief, are not subject to copyright which explains why we sometimes come across two authors publishing different novels with the same title at the same time. Take, for example,Julie Cohen and Jane Green, both successful authors with recent novels entitled Falling.

But is success just about sales? It's not unknown for a Booker Prize winner to have far fewer sales than many commercial  fiction authors today, though not in the case of  prolific writer Julian Barnes whose 2011 novel The Sense of an Ending had me riveted from start to finish. Clearly he was ahead of the trend.

I wonder what the title of the next number one bestseller might be? The Daughter of The Girl in the House on the Hill above the Hidden Railway Train?

You never know. It might just catch on

The Sense of an Ending